Category Archives: hard times

Landmarks

“…be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me. Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me.” (Psalm 31 2b-3 NIV)

This is the Psalm I read this morning. I wondered what rocks and fortresses have to do with leading and guiding. Then an image came to me of a large rock, big enough to serve as a fortress, sticking out from the terrain around it.

Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

Even if you are in unfamiliar territory, as long as you can see the rock, you know the way to safety. The rock acts as a landmark. You need only to go in the direction of the rock to be sure you are on the right path. If the trail deviates, or obstacles block the way, you can re-orient yourself towards the rock once you have passed the obstacle.

On occasion, my husband and I have visited a shopping mall that is unfamiliar to us. My sense of direction is terrible and I am always afraid that I will get lost and won’t be able to find the way back to the car. What works for me is to spot a memorable shop where we emerge from the parking area. Then when we are in the midst of side passages and different floor levels, we can follow signboards to the shop we noted or even ask for directions.

In the same way, if we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, we can see the way to safety and shelter. Sometimes obstacles do come along and obscure our view and we might find ourselves heading in the wrong direction. When that happens, we need to get a clear view of our Rock as soon as possible, even if it means following signposts or asking for help. Paul says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the crossConsider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrew 12:2-3 selected verses NIV)

My Prayer

Lord Jesus, I have a fear of getting lost. Please help me to have a clear view of You, even when obstacles impede my progress and distractions fog my view. Be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me. Amen.

It’s All About the Heart

It was in the newspaper.

A woman left home to look for her poodle which had gone missing. On the way she saw a pit bull mauling a little girl. According to onlookers, she did not hesitate but threw herself onto the child/dog maelstrom thus saving the little girl’s life. The woman is badly injured, recovering in hospital.

Would I have done a thing like that? If I am honest, the answer is “no.” That is because of what is in my heart.

Proverbs 4:23 reads, “Above all, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (NIV) What is important to us determines our actions and words.

The first commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart…” really makes the rest of the commandments unnecessary. If God had His rightful place of first in our hearts, we would want, above all, to please Him and glorify Him.

So why would I not throw myself onto a vicious dog to save a stranger? Because other things take first place in my heart. First in line would be me, myself and I, followed by my plans, my family, my comfort. I am not prepared to risk my life and skin for another.

But Jesus is. While we were still His enemies, He gave His life for us, enduring excruciating pain before He died. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this. while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 NIV)

Would Jesus have saved the little girl? Of course. So I am still very far from being in the image of Christ. I can’t even keep the first and most important commandment. I am an idolater.

My Prayer

Lord Jesus, I realise I am a sinner. I am not even capable of keeping the first commandment. I confess You do not have first place in my life. Please forgive me and grow me by Your Spirit to a point when I can love You with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. Amen.

Air Plants and Missionaries

While my brother and sister-in-law are away, we walk my Mom’s dogs every morning. This morning, on our way home, I found clumps of an air plant growing in a tree.

I’ve been trying to cultivate my own air plant. They are totally independent. They don’t need soil, they don’t tap into the plant they are on, they photosynthesise to make their own food and absorb water from the atmosphere. They might be more successful at that in Gqeberha which is on the coast than in Randburg where we live.

Air plants remind me of missionaries. They are taken from their home clump and placed somewhere geographically different. They are exposed to all the weather conditions of the new location but retain their dependence on the water in the atmosphere and not on the tree or construction that supports them.

Our church supports a number of missionaries in different countries. They have to learn the language and culture of their new home, sometimes before they even leave South Africa, yet retain their distinctive Christian identity in their mission country, relying on the Lord to sustain them.

Sometimes God organises His own mission and it is usually on a much bigger scale. I was reading Daniel 1 today and that is exactly what happened.

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia[a] and put in the treasure house of his god.

Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility— young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians.” (Daniel 1:1-3 NIV)

We all know the amazing way God saved Daniel from the lion’s den and his three friends from the fiery furnace. In each case the pagan king involved realised that the God of the Hebrews was far greater than all other gods and decreed that the people of Babylon recognise Him as such. Quite a significant outcome for a mission!

On this occasion, the language learning and integration took place at the expense of the mission country, not the sending one. Daniel and his friends did not compromise their faith although they remained respectful to the Babylonians they encountered.

When God transplants us to a different location or situation, it is up to us to retain our identity as children of the Risen Lord and to rely on His Spirit for all our needs. “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” (2 Peter 1:3 NIV)

My Prayer

Thank You, Lord, that You sustain me when I am out of my comfort zone and away from my support system. Help me realise that You are all that I need to live a godly life. Amen.

Lemon Tree

My sister-in-law has planted a lemon tree in a pot in their sheltered patio. It has three lemons almost ripe. My nephew and I were discussing recipes that use lemons and there are thousands. My favourite might be lemon meringue pie. I make mine with condensed milk to which an egg and the lemon juice are added. What makes it special is the juxtaposition of the sour lemon juice and the super sweet condensed milk. Either on its own would be either too sweet or too sour.

Life is a lot like that. If only good things happened, it would be more like a fairy tale where everybody lives happily ever after. It is the negative aspects of life that make the positive more special.

Jesus said, “I have said these things to you that you may have peace. In this world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 ESV)

Life is not a fairy tale and we must expect setbacks, heartaches and trouble. Only in heaven will there be no more tears, no death and no pain. Meanwhile we are in a fallen world.

Jesus promises to be with us always, strengthening us for times of setbacks, heartaches and trouble. The best we can do is stay close to Him and allow Him to shape our reactions to circumstances, good and bad.

They say, “If life serves you lemons, make lemonade.” I say, “If life serves you lemons, make lemon meringue pie!”

My Prayer

Thank You, Lord Jesus, that You are with me through good times and bad. Please keep me close to You and may I be aware of Your presence especially in the times when I am too weak to hold on to You.

Pruning Time

When our youngest child was two, the bank where my husband worked transferred him from Durban to Johannesburg. We bought a house we liked but made the mistake of agreeing to the sellers’ requirement that we only move in after six months. Fortunately the bank paid for us to be accommodated in a guest farm for that period. It was called Siesta.

I met an older lady there whose family was also in limbo. They were waiting for all the red tape to be processed before they could move to Australia. They had had a very traumatic burglary and had decided to get out of South Africa as soon as possible. She took me under her wing. One of the things she taught me was how to prune roses. She said you had to control where new shoots would grow so you get an open look and not a crisscross pattern in the bush. You do this by cutting just above a growth node in the direction you want the branch to go.

Image by RitaE from Pixabay

We had a visiting preacher at church today and he preached on John 15. “I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful…Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (vs 1,2,4 NIV)

If we want to bear fruit, he said, we must do two things – remain, and expect to be pruned. Pruning is not a punishment or a sign of God’s displeasure but a necessary step to growth. Just as gardeners prune roses to produce bigger and healthier blooms and well shaped bushes, God prunes us to train our vigour into healthy growth and much fruit.

It is nearly pruning season for roses. If I were a rose, it is certainly not something I would look forward to, even if it were for my good.

My Prayer

Father God, pruning is not something I relish nor look forward to, yet I have to trust You to know exactly when I need pruning and how to do it. I submit my life again into Your hands. Please help me to remain in Christ. Amen.

Water

Yesterday I was still in bed when my husband told me we had a water problem. Fearing that our pipes had sprung another leak and anticipating that we’d be frantically mopping the laminated floor to try to save it from being ruined, I was slightly relieved when it seemed to be only a pressure problem. Instead of a gush, there was a trickle.

Image by Mikes-Photography from Pixabay

It soon became clear that this was not only our problem but that there was a generalized water disruption in our area affecting a number of suburbs. All sorts of problems surfaced which I would never have thought about. My daughter came to borrow the vacuum pump pot because the water boiler in the art studio wasn’t working. For a while hot water trickled out of the cold taps but before long even that dried up. We hadn’t realized how dependent we are on our water on tap. I kept trying to wash my hands after cutting an orange or before cooking. We couldn’t flush the toilet. Fortunately there is a borehole on the property so my husband fetched water in a bucket. To wash dishes we had to heat it in a pot because I didn’t want our kettle to scale up too much. As the day got later and there was still no water, I started contemplating how I could bath. It might have to be a quick cold wash instead.

Drinking water is a necessity for life but we use water for much more than drinking. Without water, plants won’t grow and there would be no life on earth. But water is also used for cleansing.

Jesus referred to water a lot.

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'” Now this he said about the Spirit,.. (John 7:37-39a ESV)

Jesus knows that in the same way as people without water will die, so without the Spirit of God, a Christian cannot survive. Moreover, the Christian can be a channel of life to others, leading them to cleansing and eternal life.

My Prayer

Jesus, I want to come to You often and drink. Please fill me with Your Spirit and may rivers of living water flow out of my heart. Amen.

Like a Little Child

Jesus said,” Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me,…” (Matthew 18:3-5 ESV)

Image by Steven Batty from Pixabay

After church this morning, we met the missionaries our church supports from the Ukraine, Arkadiy and Anneke Naydenov. Since the calamitous events that have been happening in the Ukraine recently, their life has been turned upside down. They managed to escape to Hungary and recently arrived safely in South Africa. They have a five month old baby, a contented, peaceful, happy child. Anneke was telling us that during air raid sirens, crossing borders, living in different countries and four different houses, he would just look at her in complete trust and coo happily. “That,” she said, “is how we should trust God.”

I’ve been meditating on that picture all afternoon. My trust in God is so far from that ideal and yet, all of us, at one time, had that same unquestioning trust in our parents. We could do nothing for ourselves, we were totally dependent on our parents, particularly our mothers. Imagine how stress-free our lives would be if we could recapture that trust and place it in God, Who loves us more than our parents ever could, Who has promised to care for us and provide for us, Who is the perfect Parent.

My Prayer

Father God, I know that You love me. I believe You know how to care for those who belong to You. Why do I find it so difficult to trust You with all my heart? Please help me. Amen.

Insiders and Outsiders

Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew’s house with his close followers, a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus’ followers, ‘What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and misfits?’

“Jesus, overhearing, shot back, ‘Who needs a doctor; the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m hear to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.'” (Matthew 9:10-13 MSG)

As far back as my school days, there always seemed to be an “in-crowd.” They were the popular girls. They seemed to have secrets that the rest of us didn’t understand. They were confident and poised. I was never one of them.

Image by DONT SELL MY ARTWORK AS IS from Pixabay (adapted)

What Jesus said in this passage makes so much sense intellectually. We need a doctor when we are sick, not when we are well. However it is difficult to understand with our hearts. It is exactly because of our failings, struggles and imperfections that Jesus came. While He came for everybody, It is those who are not in the “in-crowd” that need Him most, those of us who feel like we don’t quite fit in to society, who battle to live a victorious Christian life.

My Prayer

Lord, when I’m not coping, when I feel spiritually weak or unwell, I run to you, my doctor. Please help me to allow You to speak to me, then do what You say. Amen.