My fix

Standard

I was going to have an early start. I need a productive day around the house. I am even chewing on the idea of sending hubby to work with the car so I will be forced to stay home and get busy with my too-long list of things that I need to accomplish.

So I got up and got busy organizing my walk-in closet, which periodically disintegrates into semi-chaos and needs an overhaul every now and then. As I passed the little coffee table downstairs on my way to get a trash bag for old clothes, a little thought edged into my purposeful focus. It has been a while since I sat down with my bible. I pushed the thought aside and continued on my way. I passed the coffee table a second time, this time with a freshly brewed cup of coffee. The thought tugged at my heart again, and I couldn’t ignore it. I slid my beautiful red leather bible from its perch on a shelf underneath the coffee table.

Truth is, I have been holding God at a bit of an arm’s length lately. Oh, I still pray. I am still overcome with moments where He permeates the barriers around my heart and like osmosis, diffuses His sweetness into my being. Every now and then He visits me in the words of a song, in our car-time conversations, even through memes on Facebook. (To the hungry soul, every bitter mundane thing tastes sweet  😉 )

It is just that I am not currently in the place where I am faithfully seeking him out, as I have in times past. When He shows Himself, it is through grace-filled moments that are precious but fleeting. These little visits sustain me, yet the three-hour-long bible studies that characterized my summer breaks and weekends of a year ago are less common. I think I have become weary of well-doing (Galatians 6:9). I have circled the same mountain in my life for the umpteenth time, and have resigned myself to the status quo. I’m tired of me, and the messy parts of me. (Just so you don’t think I am throwing a pity-party, there are big chunks of me that are good and strong and wholesome, for which I am immensely grateful.)

Still, my prayers at the moment can be contained in two words that, in my weariness,  I do not always believe will come to pass: “Fix me.”

So I carried my bible upstairs and cracked it open on the little love seat in my bedroom. Psalm 136. A Psalm that has 26 verses. And 26 repetitions of the refrain: “…for his mercy endures forever.” 

In the margin, I had written the Strong’s definition of the word mercy. Kindness, favor, goodness, faithfulness. But it was the root word that got me. To incline the neck in courtesy to an individual. 

I pictured it in my mind. (I may or may not have acted the whole “inclining my head in courtesy to an individual” thing out.) And it hit me. He sees me. The God of the universe looks on puny, broken, messed-up little me and gives me the nod. I felt like He whispered to my spirit: “I will always see you.”

One of my favorite movie moments is when one of the Chinese mamas in The Joy Luck Club confronts her humiliated and broken daughter in the kitchen and says those very same words. It is a moment where she assures her daughter that she does not (as others might) look on the outward appearance, but looks at her heart. It is a vignette that is so evocative of the redemptive power of true words spoken in love.

Jesus spoke those words to me today. “I will always see you.” He looks past the masks, past the scrappiness of a Sumi who tries to fight for things she wants but can’t seem to trust God to give to her. He sees all of me, and I realized again that he knows everything. He knows my heart. He knows my deepest longings. He sees even my brokenness but he doesn’t look away. He is steady. He is faithful. And He loves me – the whole Sumi-package, just as I am.

I don’t need to go it alone. He is my fix.

When my student learned about Jenna

Standard

I was flipping through my cell phone in one of my high school classes this week when one of my students caught a glimpse of my screensaver – a picture of Jenna pulling her long curly hair out of her sweet little chubby-cheeked face.

“Who is that little cutie?” asked my student. And thus ensued the explanation, the shock on her face, my student’s consternation and pain at the thought that such a terrible tragedy has affected my life and that of my sons with whom she has been friends with since she came to our school. Her expressive eyes clouded over, and even later that day when the topic came up again they filled with tears. Our conversation felt oddly awkward since I was aware of myself flashing a smile while answering her questions. It was a smile that was meant to say, “It’s OK, don’t feel bad for noticing the picture and asking, don’t feel bad for uncovering this topic and making me share it with you, don’t feel bad for me or for my boys, we are really OK.” I was so conflicted about that smile. Did it make me look callous? Did it dishonor Jenna?

It is a conflict I feel every time this topic comes up. Here is the honest truth though. My smile rides on an undercurrent of peace that I cannot explain, and though it may sound callous or strange to an outsider, who cannot fathom ever experiencing the loss of a child, I can actually utter the words: “I am remarkably whole. I don’t walk around with a heavy heart.”

There is a “missing” that is always in the background when I kiss a toddler, or hear a little toddler voice sing “Old MacDonald had a farm,” or whenever I see little Abby Jensen being her cutie-petootie self. But I don’t consider myself or my family “damaged goods.” We don’t live in the past, instead we look forward to seeing Jenna again. Sometimes when I am worshipping God Jenna seems so close, like she is joining in.

That afternoon, I mentioned my student’s reaction to a group of friends. See, she seemed to be devastated by the news about Jenna. It hit her like a punch in the gut. And I think I can guess at a possible reason why. I suspect that this girl, along with so many teenagers I know, is going though some pretty heavy stuff herself right now. Stuff that has made her seriously question God. Hearing about Jenna just helped her to chalk up another indictment against God. See, how can he be a good God, if he let such an agonizingly painful thing happen to “good people”?

I am hoping for an opportunity to talk to my student at some point, but the reason I am writing this post right now has to do with the conversation that ensued with my friends after I mentioned all of this to them. We had a friendly theological debate, if you can call it that.

One friend started saying how wrong it is for Christians to blame God for bad stuff that happens, that we need to stop saying that God allowed it to happen for a reason. She felt that too many people lose sight of the fact that we live in a fallen world where bad things happen just because they do. That we have an enemy who can cause havoc when he wants to. Her argument is that if God was behind the tragedies and suffering in the world, how can anyone trust in his goodness and his kind heart towards them?

I suppose my answer will be one that you, my reader, are going to love or hate depending on your worldview. I can’t help that, but I do hope you will hear me out and consider my thoughts.

I told her that if I had to have that point of view I would have fallen apart, because it somehow suggests that the hand of satan trumps the hand of God. Her philosophy implies to me that there are things that happen to us in this life that come about because God chooses to turn aside and turn a blind eye. I needed (let me say it again, NEEDED) to know that above all, in everything that happened, God was there, that he knew about it, and that he was sovereign. Anything else would have set my world on a very shaky foundation.

If God had simply turned a blind eye and allowed satan to take over the reins of the world for a spell, it would have caused me to wonder: “Should I have prayed more? Did I do something to open a door for satan? Was it my failure that caused this tragedy?” Self-blame and loathing would have followed – it would have caused me to self-destruct. It would have also left me in the position to wonder when the next devastating blow might come. I would have become a victim to fear and uncertainty.

My trust in a sovereign God made me feel secure in the knowledge that while I didn’t know why this happened, he allowed it, and not out of a place of vindictiveness or in a desire to punish. I knew without a shadow of doubt that he loved me, and that he is a good God who only has our best interests at heart.

But how can a good God allow bad stuff, you ask? Some of you even ask if there CAN possibly be a God, seeing that there is so much suffering and tragedy in the world. I cannot claim to answer that question. I can tell you what I think.

Note, first of all, that I think God ALLOWED it, not that he actually did it. There is a difference. I don’t believe that God makes bad stuff happen – I actually think our sorrows make him weep too.

I think God is not like us. Instead of living in a world of time and space, of birth and death, beginnings and endings, he lives in an eternity where all things are reconciled and made beautiful. He has the advantage of a perspective that you and I don’t have. He sees how it all plays out. I have actually experience glimpses of that eternity in times of prayer and worship, and it is a beautiful place where I truly believe all pain is wiped away. When Jenna looks down on us she doesn’t blame us for her short life, she doesn’t regret reaching for that ball and falling into a pool, she doesn’t wonder why I never took her for swimming lessons. She rejoices when we rejoice, she cheers our successes on, she shrugs at our failures because she knows that in the end it will all be made beautiful in his time. She looks forward to the day we will meet again as much as we do.

I think our perceptions of pain and suffering are miniscule in the light of such an eternity. I think when it all plays out, when we are there on the other side looking back at this mess called life, it will not matter, because God will have redeemed it all and made it all beautiful in his time.

I have an unshakeable conviction of the goodness of God. I know his heart towards me, that his plans for me are for good and not evil. See, evil is not the presence of pain and suffering. Evil is a bitter heart. Evil is being filled with hate and unforgiveness and self-loathing. Evil is where there is no peace and no hope of reconciliation. Pain and suffering always comes to an end, but what we carry in our hearts lingers on.

There is a place in God where you can feel pain and yet have indescribable joy. Where a song can fill your darkest night. Where you can feel his sweet presence washing over you and carrying you though. I am not guessing at this, folks. I have lived it.

I know God is good, but I also know he is sovereign. I can trust in his sovereignty because I know he is good. Things do not always make sense, but it does not matter because I know who undergirds my life.

I prefer to think that God knew, that he didn’t turn a blind eye (except for perhaps glancing away briefly at the time of my deepest pain because it overcame his heart with pain too) but that he was there ALL ALONG.

I am not trying to come up with pat answers. I am not trying to predict an outcome or form a neat little construct of how God made “good” come out of my suffering. I don’t know that anything good did.

I do know that he was with me. And I do know that his nearness in my time of sorrow was something so precious, that I would walk that road again, if I had to.

Dayspring

Standard

My word search of the day today came out of Luke 1:78. In it, Jesus is called the dayspring from on high, who comes as a result of the tender mercies of God, to give light to those who sit in darkness, and to guide our feet in the way of peace.

Dayspring. Isn’t that an evocative word? I love the way it sounds and the images it conjures up in my mind.

The meaning of the word at face value is precisely what it sounds like: it refers to the dawning of a fresh new day, the springing up of light at the very tip of a dark horizon, a new beginning.

As so often happens though, it is the behind-the-scenes meaning of this word as it is traced back to its root words in the Hebrew, that makes my heart sing.

The root word for this is “tellos”, a word that in its simplest form, means ending. “What?” You say. “I thought this word referred to a beginning, a dawning of something.” And so it does. It means both. Tellos in the Greek language means to arise in order to set out towards a definite point or goal. An ending, in other words.

I picture it like this. The sun does not rise in the morning and think to itself: “Hmmmm. Where do I want to end up today? Should I take a roundabout route and end back close to where I started?” No. The sun follows a set pattern across the sky. It has a defined beginning and a pre-ordained end. It rises in order to set. It begins in one place in order to end at another.

To me this word dayspring is crammed with meaning! It reminds me that we have an intentional God who acts full of purpose. He arises in order to bring a specific end to fruition.

When you look into other words that are akin to tellos, you find that Jesus uses it often in some form or another. He says on the cross: “It is finished.” He declares in the book of Revelations: “I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending…” He also says: “I have loved them until the end.” This word is also the root word to the word “perfect”, as found in Matthew 5:48 where Jesus tells his followers to be perfect as his father in heaven is perfect.

To be perfect does not mean we have polished our shoes until they shine, peeps. It simply means that we have allowed God to do his work in us, to bring us to the set goal that he has aimed at. It means we have his magnanimous character and his tender heart for others. This is the ultimate point that I believe we need to reach in our lives. To be like him.

In this specific verse, Luke 1:78, we are told that Jesus has visited us through the tender mercies of God, not just as a dayspring of new beginnings (Lam 3;23), but also as the author and finisher of our faith. (Hebrews 12.2). He is an INTENTIONAL God! And his intentions toward us are infinitely good: He desires to bring light in our darkness and to teach us to walk in his perfect peace.

Gotta love that. 🙂

Being kind to one another

Standard

So I have been doing this bible study, and more for my own sake than for anyone else’s, I want to try to capture some of my thoughts regarding it.

A visiting pastor mentioned Psalm 133 in passing last week. You know, that short and sweet little portion of scripture that goes like this:

Behold how good and how pleasant it is for the brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments. As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life forever more.

I love this Psalm! To me it speaks of a copious blessing/anointing awaiting the people of God. It is so abundant that it flows from the head, all the way down to the ground. It is a blessing that comes down on a mature people – children do not have beards. 🙂 It is a blessing that has a prerequisite. It flows down upon a people who are in unity, and in right relationship with one another. That in itself takes maturity, doesn’t it? Ever seen two-year olds (or middle schoolers for that matter) fight?

If you know me, you will realize by now that I have a curious fascination with the meaning of words in the original Hebrew and Greek. I feel it opens up so much revelation about the scriptures, beyond what is seen at face value. So I searched out the meaning of the word Hermon. It comes from a root word that means to seclude, to devote to God, to consecrate, etc. The word conjures up the idea of a “doomed object”, something that is to be utterly destroyed or exterminated, a religious object that is dedicated to destruction. It is on this doomed object (mount Hermon) that the dew of God descends upon.

We can only be in right relationship with one another if we are willing to bring our own selfish nature to God and allow him to destroy it. It is in that place where God is enthroned upon our hearts (Mount Zion) and we exterminate our own flesh (Mount Hermon) that this copious blessing is found. And where the last few words of this Psalm speaks of “life forever more”, I don’t read it is talking about eternal life with Jesus when we die. That is pie in the sky. It is talking about an abundant life, the life God promised, in the here and now. The meaning of the word life in this passage is: “a lush green vegetation, flowing with fresh water.” It comes from a root word that means “to revive, to nourish up, to quicken, to repair, to make whole.”

We hold the keys to our brother’s and sister’s abundant life (and by extension our own). If we can just be a little less self-centered, a little more willing to die to ourselves, a little more willing to put other people first, we will discover a vitality and a wholeness in our relationships and in our walk with God. We will reflect the heart of Jesus! God is so moved when he sees that in his people that he cannot help but pour out a blessing. I like the fact that this passage includes the idea of a priesthood (Aaron.) What do priests do? They mediate between man and God. They bring the presence of God to others. In the new testament, Peter talks about the children of God being a royal priesthood. So to me, this passage talks about us! We can be the vehicles that God uses to minister his grace and his presence to our brothers and sisters in Christ. We can help to bring wholeness to their lives because of the compassion and love that we show them.

In my rabbit-trail word comparisons concerning Psalm 133, I stumbled across what I consider to be a little gem in Psalm 102.

“Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion, for the time to favor her, yea the set time, is come. For thy servants take pleasure in her stones, and favor the dust thereof. So the heathen shall fear the name of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth thy glory…”

There is a set time in which God will pour out his favor. The second use of the word “for” in this passage tells me it will happen when God’s people take delight in the stones of Zion, and favor its dust.

Time for a Sumi-word-search, haha.

There is a juxtaposition between stones and dust here. Stones refer to building material, from the root word to build, make, repair, obtain children (from the idea of putting a roof over their heads). The bible talks about Jesus as the chief corner stone of a spiritual house that God is building for himself. I don’t want to spend the time on this aspect, but we ARE the building blocks of a city (Zion, or the New Jerusalem) that is not being made by hands, but that is being built together by God. We ought to take delight in what God is doing in our brothers and sisters, as he uniquely places them where he sees fit during the construction of this building.

Dust talks about clay, earth, mud, ashes, rubbish, powdered sand. Adam was created out of clay. The bible says that God has mercy on us, because he remembers that we are dust. So to me dust talks about our frailties, our humanness, our flesh, our tendency to fail one another.

Which brings me to the one word that made this passage so precious to me: favor. We are to favor the dust of Zion (which talks of God’s people. We are Zion.) Favor here means: to stoop in kindness to an inferior one.

Wow.

This is key, peeps. I believe it is when we have both joy for the positive up-building things God is doing in others, as well as extend mercy, forgiveness, and kindness to their shortcomings, that the favor of God will be poured out on the body of Christ collectively. We are called to minister the grace of God to one another, and bring the presence of God into every situation. That is what priests do. Read Colossians 3:12 to 14. It is precious.

When this happens, when we all come into that relationship of unity with one another, the heathen will see the glory of God reflected in the church. They will know that we are christians by our love… (John 13:35)

 

The fragrance of water

Standard

Yesterday, while shopping for inventory for my little Ebay business, I came across some pretty clay pots, imported from Thailand, for a steal. I lingered at them, deliberating, and walked away. I really don’t have extra money to spend right now. I purchased my Ebay stuff, but couldn’t shake the desire to buy a pot. You see, I have this plant. My kids laugh at it. The youngest calls it “the stick in a pot.” It is an apt description, because right now, it literally looks like a stick in a pot.

Last night, I explained to the boys why I coddle this ungainly looking plant so much. It has a history, and I have high hopes for it. The plant in question, is the beginnings of a frangipani tree. Here in America, people call it a plumeria, after its scientific name. If you are familiar with a plumeria, you will know that it has the most gorgeous, waxy-like, fragrant flowers. I fell in love with these flowers as a young girl. To get to the ocean at our family beach house, we had to walk through a lot lined with numerous frangipani trees. They blossomed prolifically, and there were always flowers scattered among the grass at the base of each tree. Many of them were still strangely perfect, without blemish, even though they had been dislodged from the branches above them. I would collect them, tuck them behind my ear, or carry them home as a display until their beauty faded. Later on, in South Africa, we would live in a house on a street named Frangipani Crescent. Two of my boys were born there.

On that life-changing South African trip when Jenna went to be with Jesus, we encountered the frangipani tree again. It was our last morning on the family farm (which has since been sold), and while everyone was packing, I walked around this place which held so many dear childhood memories for me, saying goodbye. I didn’t know if I would ever sit on the lapa with its inbuilt stone seats again. I wondered if I would ever again have the privilege of making the fire for our morning coffee in the old wood fired stove. I said goodbye to the silent red Bonsmara cows with their curious eyes, who were watching our preparations from the other side of the fence. As I walked through the garden one last time, a lone frangipani flower caught my eye. It had fallen from a tree which was stripped of almost all its leaves. I called Jenna over and we breathed in its fragrance. I took a picture of the flower, and tucked it behind her ear.

I was at Epcot in Orlando when a dear friend purchased the “stick” for me, to remember Jenna by, how perfectly beautiful she was. The little tree has become a symbol of resurrection for me, because every winter it sheds all its leaves and becomes a stick. But as spring approaches, a little crown of leaves start peeking out at the top, which grows into large and glossy leaves in the summer. Even in summer though, the stick doesn’t look like much, since it has no branches yet and only displays that single crown of leaves. It is too young to bear flowers, but as I have said, I have high hopes for it.

I had the urge to buy a bigger pot for the stick because right now, in my life, there is an issue that can only be fixed by God’s redeeming, miraculous, resurrection power. It looks dead, like the stick in the pot. In fact, this week I have cried many tears, tears that are familiar to me because they are tears of grief. I mourn over something precious that has been lost and I have been tempted to sink into despair.

But this one thing I know: my God is a God that redeems everything and makes all things work for good for those who love him. He takes that thing which looks like it has no life in it, and carefully tends to it, aerating the roots and adding just enough water and sunshine to make it flourish. He has done that for me countless times in the past, and I know his heart. He will not fail to do it again.

I read this scripture today from the book of Job:

“For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof shall not cease. Though the root thereof wax old in the earth, and the stump thereof die in the ground, yet through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant.”

I love how that old, dead, cut-off thing in Job’s description could spring back to life at the merest whiff of water. It doesn’t take much. I don’t need to be-labor and struggle with this thing. I can rest in the knowledge that all I need to do is bring it to Jesus and let him wash over it with his resurrection power.

Like the almond “stick” that Aaron lay in the tabernacle overnight in Numbers 17, which miraculously blossomed the following morning, the dry, cut-off stick in my life can be restored.

So I will do what I hope for God to do in my life. I will plant the “stick” in a bigger pot, with the expectation that the roomier roots will encourage it to sprout more than just a single crown of leaves next summer. I will give it prime real estate on the pool deck, with just the right amount of sun. I will water it faithfully. Perhaps, one day soon, maybe next year, or the next, I will discover a delicately perfect, fragrant blossom on it.


“He gave me beauty for ashes
the oil of joy for mourning
the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness
that we might be called trees of righteousness
the planting of the Lord,
that he might be glorified”
(Isaiah 61)

Limiting God?

Standard

Have you ever been in a relationship where you are not able to be yourself? Where other people harbor false impressions of who you are or place expectations on you that go against your grain? It is a very limiting, frustrating situation to be in! I love hanging out with people who just take me as I am and allow me to be my slightly quirky self. 🙂

In reading my bible this morning, I was reminded again that Jesus does not want us to limit him with our expectations of him either. Let me explain.

Right now, as I type, there are a bunch of sleepy teen-aged blobs sprawled out on the sleeper sofas downstairs, where I usually settle in the mornings with my cup of milky coffee, bible and concordance. I opted to read my bible up here in my bedroom, and was graced by the presence of Tabby-cat, who is unusually cuddly on account of the colder weather. Like cats usually do, she plonked herself down next to me – right on top of my open bible. Trying to not disturb her, I gingerly pulled my bible out from underneath her, but the pages flipped, and my bible opened on a page that is well marked and well loved. My eyes fell on this passage immediately: “What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits to me? I shall take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord.” (Psalm 116)

Boom. I was instantly aware of the sweet presence of my Jesus as I read that passage. David is essentially asking a rhetorical question: What can I do to bless my God in return for the goodness that he so lavishly showers over me? What is the one thing I can do that will please him the most? David’s answer to his own question never fails to move me: he understands that the one thing that will bless the heart of God the most, is for him (David) to reach out and grab a hold of the saving grace of God over his life, and to allow Jesus to live up to his name – the name that I explained in my previous post. (Read it if you can, it will explain a lot.) The name of Jesus is above every other name, and so perfectly describes the character and precious heart of my God.

Jesus wants me to see who he is, and to allow him to be himself in my life. All too often I am like that girl in John Mayer’s Daughters song. You know, the girl that is so messed up because her father abandoned her when she was young. John Mayer laments: “I’ve done all I can to stand on her steps with my heart in my hands.” Yet still this girl rebuffs him, and he realizes it has nothing to do with how much he loves her, but everything to do with a brokenness that blinds her to being open to being loved.

I am not saying that I am in that place. I had a happy childhood and my father never abandoned me. But I was reminded of that song because far too often, I fall back on a go-it-alone/do-it-myself attitude towards my life. I tend to think that my issues are too minor to be important to God. I forget that God cares enough to even count the hairs on my head, and that he is right there on my doorstep, waiting for me to link arms with him, and walk this thing out together.

A few verses before this one reads: Return to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with thee.

Oh, how easily I forget the goodness of God towards me! I get so caught up in financial stress, lamenting my personal shortcomings, pondering about relationships that are not going as smoothly as I would like. But all God is saying to me is to step back from all of those things and to recognize his never-failing, bountiful goodness and provision in my life. His grace is there. His presence is near. All I need to do is switch focus, and return to that place of rest in him. To open the door as he stands there on the steps, to see that precious heart that he is stretching out towards me, and to invite him over the threshold into the deepest parts of me. The great thing about Jesus is that he doesn’t even mind when my “house” is a mess, he just wants to hang out with me as I am. He wants me to be myself, and he wants me to take him for who he is.

I have invited him in already. 🙂 I don’t want to limit his goodness today.

Postscript: As I type this Tabby has moved from her previous spot, and is right on top of my bible again, haha.

The words in my head

Standard

I am sitting down here with my laptop and my coffee, because yesterday while I was baking meringues for our Thanksgiving get-together, I was preaching in my head. I sometimes do that. I share from the scriptures to an imaginary audience, and usually the words flow and encourage even me. Yes, I realize this may sound strange. I love moments like that though because, in speaking the words aloud in my head, they seem to arrange themselves into a logical pattern that seems so simple, and concrete. They become more than just a random bunch of ideas, they clothe themselves with the heart of Jesus and they minister to my heart.

In my little “head-sermon” yesterday, I was saying what I might have said if I had taken more time to share to the girls at our high school retreat last week. Yes, I got up to share a portion of scripture with the girls. I know that some of the words reached out and encouraged them. But as I took my seat, I thought about all the things I didn’t say. There is so much more, the word of God is infinitely richer than what I could have shared in less than 3 minutes. I could post a lengthy blog about what I said, and what I could have said, and still not even capture a fraction of the depth of the heart of God towards us.

For my own sake, I am going to write something down, but I know that when I come back to read this again I will have the same reaction as when I took my seat that day at the retreat. There is always so much more to say. Sometimes, words don’t cut it. Sometimes we just need to “see” the heart of Jesus. In this instance, a picture is worth more than a 1000 words.

I have been going through a bit of an overwhelming time in several areas of my life. My teaching job is a huge part of it. Teaching is just time-consuming, y’all. Then there is the ever-present financial stress, which I think Jesus allows so that I could exercise my trust muscle a little more. Add to that several niggly little foxes that threaten to spoil the vineyard and you get the picture.

I was driving to work one morning a week or two ago, just down in the dumps and struggling to keep my head above water emotionally. In this whole season the word of God to me is: “Cry out.” I think he is allowing all of this, so that I will cry out and see his deliverance.

So I cried out. The scripture that came to me was the one in 1 Samuel 30, when David and his men returned from battle to find that the Amalekites had raided the city of Ziklag, burned it down, and had carried away all their wives and children with them. The bible says that David and his men were so grieved at their loss that they wept until they had no more tears left. To make matters worse, David’s men started blaming him for all the trouble and started to speak of stoning him.

Talk about an overwhelming situation. David had done nothing wrong. Yet here he was with nothing left, and even his men turning against him.

I love the second half of verse 6: “…But David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.”

The word “encouraged” in this passage has a precious meaning in the Hebrew. It means to “fasten upon,” with the idea of grabbing a hold of something in order to grow strong. Other words used to describe this word are “to make firm, to bind oneself to, to prevail upon,  to restore to strength, to be secure.”

Note the words: “his God.” David had a personal relationship with God. He didn’t just reach out to any god. He grabbed a hold of HIS God. It makes sense then, that he knew who he was prevailing upon when he encouraged himself in the Lord. He understood the character of God, and he knew that there was something in the heart of God that offered him hope, even in the most dire circumstances.

Which brings me to my favorite word in all of the bible. It is the name Jesus.

I have done a word search on the name of Jesus and every time I re-visit it, it never ceases to move my heart to utter adoration for how immensely precious and good and wonderful he is.

Before I write about that, let me just add that God places great value on the names of things and people. In the bible, names can reveal much about the character of a person. David’s name means “to boil with love for his God,” and I cannot imagine a better name to describe him. For all of his flaws, there is one thing that David was passionate about, and that was the presence of God. (Read Psalms 27:4.) Names reflect the character of a person to the extent that when the nature of a person changes, God changes their names too. Thus Abram (exalted father) becomes Abraham (father of a multitude) and Jacob (deceiver) becomes Israel (champion of God).

It is no co-incidence that Jesus was given that specific name. We pray in that name, we quote the scripture that says that “at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow”, we affirm that is a name that is higher than any other name, but too often we do not quite grasp what it reveals about the character of God and his heart towards us.

The name Jesus comes from two root words that are compounded together. The first root word, is “yahweh”, which means the self-existent, or eternal God. My Strong’s concordance describes it as “the proper name of the one true God.”

The second compounded root word is the one that moves my heart to tears of joy and gratitude. It is the one that grows a faith in me that, in whatever circumstances I find myself in, I can grab a hold of my precious God and overcome. It is the word “yasa,” and the basic meaning of it is, to be (or make) wide, open and free. To me it personifies the idea that God’s heart’s desire is to put us in a place where we are unfettered with chains, where we are free to be ourselves, where our steps are enlarged beneath us (Psalms 18:36), where were are unconfined by legalistic restraints and find ourselves in a wide, open, and “large place”. (Psalms 18:19).

If you search deeper into the meaning of the word “yasa”, it means:

to make safe

to liberate

to avenge

to defend

to help

to preserve

to rescue

to deliver

to bring salvation to

to give victory to

This is the point in my blog where I doubt that I can capture the essence of what I want to say in words. If you are reading this, I want to encourage you to open your heart and read the above paragraph again, slowly, and ask Jesus to give you a word picture of his heart that goes beyond these mere puny characters on a page.

Do you see it? Do you see the heart of God towards you? Jesus could have had another name. His name could have meant “powerful”, because he is. It could have meant “magnificent”, because he is. It could have meant a myriad of other things, because he is so huge and his character stretches so wide to encompass all of those things. But I want to go out on a limb and say that he is magnificent, because he is good. He is powerful because he is good. And he is good because the word “yasa” describes his heart which is beyond loving and generous and kind. He is love, (1 John 4:8) and “yasa” is the perfect outflow of that love.

In the story about Ziklag, David goes on to ask the Lord: (Sumi paraphrase) “What now, God? Shall I go after them? Will I be able to overtake them?” God answers: “Pursue them. You shall surely overtake them, and without fail recover all.

So, as I drove in my car that day, I grabbed a hold of Jesus. And in his typically sweet fashion, Jesus whispered back to me: “I am Immanuel. God with you.” So, I am holding on to his promise that I will “without fail recover all.” I’m not there yet. I have some more crying out to do. Past experience tells me that in the end, God never fails.

One thing I do know. My troubles are blessings, because far too often they manage to do what the good times cannot. They place me in a narrow and confined place where I, a prisoner, cry out for my Jesus to come and make me wide, open and free. They make me see his face, and how infinitely good he is, and something more than trust is born in my heart. It is called adoration.