Tag Archives: security

Suffering or Prosperity? The Gospel for a New Year

“I just prayed that your book will be published this year.” My husband’s voice broke through my sleep-obscured thoughts as we snuggled in the New Year this morning. Putting off the inevitably icy reception of the air outside our covers, I lay in bed praying and wondering what this new year will hold for us.

We have heard with our ears, O God; our fathers have told us what you did in their days, in days long ago. With your hand you drove out the nations and planted our fathers; you crushed the peoples and made our fathers flourish. It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them.
Psalm 44:1-3

I remember wondering the same thing on a New Year’s Day several oceans and years ago. We had set the day aside to fast and pray, asking the Lord’s direction and blessing on our upcoming year. Small children and frequent visitors had kept me busy, but I finally managed to slip away for some focused time in God’s presence. As I meditated on His sovereign rule over governments and toddlers, ministry plans and personal resources, His voice broke through my thoughts.

“Take all that you hold dearest and lay it in My hands.”

One by one I named my children and my husband and offered them up to Him in worship. This wasn’t a completely new exercise for me. I had occasionally used it as a litmus test for the state of my heart, checking to see if God still had first place in my affections and loyalties.

But He was after something else this time. He urged me to go on. I began naming everything else I could think of that was important to me: my beautiful home, the treasures that filled it, my friends and communities on both sides of the world, my health, financial stability, and success in ministry. Each of these I surrendered into His hands with a growing sense of dread, wondering why He was asking me to do it.

Finally He let up, telling me to leave it all there in His hands.

I agonized in His presence, chafing under the thought that perhaps this had not just been a test, after all. What if He was going to take me up on my offer? And yet He had already anticipated my next impulse, reminding me not to try to take it all back.

I do not trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory; but you give us victory over our enemies… In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise your name forever.
Psalm 44:6-8

I walked through January not knowing whether to dread the upcoming year or to look forward to it. Did this mean that God was going to take all of those things and prosper them or simply take and keep them?

But now you have rejected and humbled us; you no longer go out with our armies. You made us retreat before the enemy, and our adversaries have plundered us. You gave us up to be devoured like sheep and have scattered us among the nations. You sold your people for a pittance, gaining nothing from their sale.
Psalm 44:9-12

Little did I know that by the end of that year, we would have lost our entire income, our home in South Asia, our status in ministry, and many of our closest relationships. I would be a mental and emotional wreck, struggling to survive the aftermath of trauma and incapacitated to serve my family or my God.

All this happened to us, though we had not forgotten you or been false to your covenant. Our hearts had not turned back; our feet had not strayed from your path. But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals and covered us over with deep darkness.
Psalm 44:17-19

That was the darkest year of my life, scored by a valley of suffering deeper than any I had thought humanly possible. I had placed all of my eggs in one basket and entrusted it to God’s hands. After all, wasn’t that supposed to be the safest place? But He dropped the basket. As I reviewed the chain of events that led to my utter devastation, His was the hand I saw behind it all.

Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits–who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
Psalm 103:2-5

Years later I can look back and recount the ways that He caught each of those “eggs.” Not a one of them hit the ground and was permanently destroyed. In fact, most of those precious treasures that I entrusted to Him have been returned to me, radically altered but greatly enhanced through the process. I still bear the scars of my losses, but I have gained new stories to tell of God’s faithfulness.

As I survey the life He has reconstructed for me, drastically different from the one I would have chosen for myself, I can see how He was working all along to fulfill the deepest desires of my heart. I look around my Scottish home and marvel at its beauty. I consider the friendships that sweeten our life from near and far, the ministry opportunities that fill my days, and the rich provisions that make our life possible and I can’t help but see God’s hand in all of it. I watch my husband flourishing and my children developing into mature, well-rounded disciples of Christ and fall to my knees in gratitude.

Screen-Shot-2014-12-29-at-9.37.45-PMWill this next year hold success or suffering, prosperity or pain? I really don’t know what to anticipate. But I do know the glorious, nail-pierced hands of the One who holds it all.

The good news for 2015 is: He reigns.

When My World Fell Apart

I never realized how much I took for granted until so much of it was taken from me. Physical safety. Financial security. A sense of control over what happened to my body, my possessions, my future. The ability to predict how others would act: confidence in my friends’ solidarity with me and certainty in what God would never allow my enemies to do to me.

When I felt secure, I said, “I will never be shaken.” O LORD, when you favored me, you made my mountain stand firm; but when you hid your face, I was dismayed.
Psalm 30:6-7

But in one tidal wave of events, the peace of the garden was replaced by the chaos of the flood. My assumptions of how the world worked were overturned, my soul left tumbling and swirling in a sea of helplessness and confusion. The foundational truth of the first Psalm, that the righteous always stand firmly planted by God’s nourishing stream, gave way to experiences that forced me to question everything I had ever known.

The seas have lifted up, O LORD, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves. Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea– the LORD on high is mighty
Psalm 93:3-4

That tame, predictable stream had now run over its banks, rising until it threatened to completely engulf me. The world was no longer a safe, nurturing place for me, those who populated it no longer a source of understanding and acceptance. Who could comprehend the atrocities that had been forced on my body, the horrors that would forever be imprinted on my soul? Who could protect me from further attack, both in physical reality and in the ongoing reality of my memories?

When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do ?”
Psalm 11:3

As the fallout of those experiences continued to break over me, I felt myself being washed away in a torrent of devastation and confusion. My secure foundations crumbled beneath my feet, failing me just when I had counted on them the most. Tossed about by the chaos of uncertainty and the power of destructive forces, I reached a breaking point within myself.

The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me… In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help.
He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me.
Psalm 18:4-5, 16-18

I could no longer cope with the overwhelming circumstances without and the rising terror within. Without immediate intervention, I would be overcome. I cried out to God in panic, a drowning soul with nothing else to grab on to. And He showed up with an ark.

The ark of His love saved me from the overwhelming flood of my trauma.

Safe in His hold. Secure in His love. His ark held me through the gale that continued to swirl all around me. This ark of our relationship was one that He had called me to build long before I could have comprehended the life preserver it would turn out to be. Year after year I had worked on it, dutifully laying plank after plank of prayer and Bible study, faith-building choices and love-driven obedience. Little did I know that what I thought I had been constructing for His sake, He was planning for mine.

O LORD God Almighty, who is like you? You are mighty, O LORD, and your faithfulness surrounds you. You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them.
Psalm 89:9-10

As my life as I had known it continued to be washed away by trauma’s flood, I found rest in the sweet security of my relationship with God. His unfailing love for me became my anchor in the storm, my safe place in the midst of danger, my true north through waves of disorientation. He became my defining circumstance. More than the storms of traumatic events, more than the messy wasteland of their aftershocks, His unshakeable love formed the foundation in which I could root myself.

God became my defining circumstance.

The storm did eventually subside. The waters slowly receded, revealing the radically altered terrain of my world. Relationships redefined. Circumstances changed. I held back, afraid to emerge from the safety of the ark, reticent to leave the comfort of the cocoon. But His dove-like Spirit nudged me forward, assuring me with the rainbow-sealed promise of His ongoing presence.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall…
Psalm 46:1-5

Together we have done a lot of rebuilding, not according to the blueprints of my former life, but from scratch, making something new. For a long time I looked back and mourned all that I had lost; I now rejoice in what I have gained. New roles. Different abilities. New communities. Old relationships, deeper for having withstood the storm. But most of all, I rejoice in the new identity He has given me, one so firmly rooted and established in His love that I no longer fear the future. Now more than ever, I am that tree flourishing in the garden, roots sunk deep into the stream of Living Water.

Unemployed but Rich

“You have no idea how rich you are in Jesus.”

I stared incredulously at my friend through tear-swollen eyes, thinking to myself that she was the one who had no idea how terrifyingly poor I was. We had just lost our job, and were subsequently being forced to abruptly leave the country in which we had been living and serving for eleven years. We were in the midst of selling and giving away most of our possessions, saying goodbye to all our friends and church family, and leaving behind the only life we had dreamed of. Ahead of us lay a great void, with no certainty of a job, a home, or a community awaiting us. I had never felt so poor.

Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked … The days of the blameless are known to the LORD, and their inheritance will endure forever. In times of disaster they will not wither; in days of famine they will enjoy plenty.
I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be blessed.
Psalm 37:16-19, 25-26

But as much as the weight of our poverty pressed in on me from all sides, my friend’s words rang true. I may be selling my cherished table and chairs in order to buy next month’s groceries, but I had to believe that all we had invested in the kingdom of God was not lost. As we launched into a season of severe financial insecurity, I wondered how true the psalmist’s words were about never seeing the children of the righteous begging for bread. I had always been the one distributing food to other people’s children. What would now become of my own?

The nation of Israel worried over the same question as they launched into the great unknown of the wilderness. Slavery hadn’t been a lucrative form of employment, but at least it had kept a roof over their heads and bread on the table. Wandering about in the desert as unemployed nomads didn’t exactly smack of financial responsibility. How would they feed and clothe their families? How could they provide a stable home and a secure future for their children?

You gave abundant showers, O God; you refreshed your weary inheritance. Your people settled in it, and from your bounty, O God, you provided for the poor.
Psalm 68:9-10

Yet in the midst of their poverty, they never lacked what they needed for each day. Clothes and shoes that didn’t wear out. Meat and bread falling from the sky. Water gushing from unexpected sources, unattached to bills or taxes.

Even major life expenses were covered in the most unanticipated ways. When it came time to build a place for worship, they didn’t have to settle for crumbs, cobbling together a makeshift structure with which they could “get by.” They found they had more gold and silver, precious gems and expensive fabrics than they could use, all unexpected gifts that had been handed to them by their former masters as they had hastily exited Egypt.

Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
Luke 9:58

Similarly, Jesus lived out the same juxtaposition of poverty and wealth, of financial insecurity and abundant provision. He left behind the steady income of his earthly father’s business in order to invest Himself in His heavenly Father’s business. It didn’t pay much; in fact, He didn’t have a pillow to call His own or a bank account to fall back on.

…if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
Isaiah 58:10-11

Jesus may have been God, but He still experienced the needs of a man, complete with all of the demands and expenses of life in the real world. Regardless, He never lacked what He needed. Scraps of bread stretched to feed thousands. Jars of water became the finest of wine. The tax collector still showed up to demand his share, but a fish caught from the sea coughed up just the right number of coins to cover it.

He was assigned a grave … with the rich.
Isaiah 53:9

And as the Israelites in the wilderness had experienced before, even Jesus’ major life expenses were provided for in the most lavish of ways. Just the right vehicle given on loan for His triumphal procession. Just the right facility offered rent-free for a farewell banquet with His disciples. The finest perfume for His anointing. The finest real-estate for His burial.

Peter said to him, “We have left everything to follow you!”
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields–and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.
Mark 10:28-30

As I meditated on God’s promise to provide for His needy people, to exponentially supply them with all the things they had given up for His sake, I was deeply convicted. My pauper’s spirit betrayed my miserly faith. Of course He would feed my children. Of course He would meet all of our needs, not just the spiritual ones.

In the months ahead, the bills still came in and our cash still flowed out, but we saw God take care of us in the most lavish of ways. He dressed us in designer hand-me-downs. He fed us with gourmet day-old bread. He spoiled us with up-scale temporary housing. And He showered us with the priceless gift of experiencing the abundance of His love.

I look back now and see that my friend was right. I had been measuring my wealth by the wrong standard. I had no idea how rich we were in Jesus. We still are.

Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?
James 2:5

Homeless but Hopeful

I hate packing. Hate is pretty strong language for such a mundane task, but the sight of jumbled piles and a deconstructed home revives unsettling memories of years of frequent moves and unexpected transitions. More than once I have awakened in the morning, knowing that my family’s belongings needed to be sorted through, packed up, and moved out before the end of the day, but not knowing where our next home would be, let alone where we would sleep that night. I have too often fought off that familiar lump of panic in my throat while paring down our possessions, making an endless series of emotionally laden, partially informed decisions about what we should hold on to and what we can give up.

Packing reminds me that I am essentially homeless. Each time I go through the process of either relinquishing or transporting the sum total of my earthly goods, I live out the reality that there is no place on earth that I can call my own. And each time I empty a place that I had cleaned, decorated, and made into a refuge for my family, I am faced with the bare truth that it was never really my home.

What happened to the blessing of being securely settled in the land, of planting gardens and still being around to enjoy their fruit? Is that sense of settled security not something that I should look for, too?

The more we feel our current homelessness, the more we love our future home.

Displacement and homelessness have always been a reality for God’s people, transition and immigration have always been our lot in life. When God brought His people out of slavery in Egypt, He took them through forty years of homelessness, forty years of waking up each morning and wondering if this day they would have to pack and move again, forty years of going to bed each night and wondering where the next day’s food and water would come from. No continuity with their past. No security for their future. No place on earth they could claim as their own, except what God provided.

“In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling. The nations will hear and tremble… By the power of your arm they will be as still as a stone– until your people pass by, O LORD, until the people you bought pass by. You will bring them in and plant them on the mountain of your inheritance– the place, O LORD, you made for your dwelling, the sanctuary, O Lord, your hands established.”
Exodus 15:13-17

But He did provide. Day after day He showered down food. Night after night He kept watch from the pillar of fire in their midst. He took them through harsh conditions and terrifying moments, leading them away from the only known sources of water and civilization and towards the unknown of adverse terrain and hostile people. Sometimes they were overwhelmed with gratitude at His past provision. Sometimes they were overwhelmed with fear at their future uncertainty. But at all times, God was their refuge, their safe place, their home.

“In your distress you called and I rescued you, I answered you out of a thundercloud; I tested you at the waters of Meribah. …If you would but listen to me, O Israel! You shall have no foreign god among you; you shall not bow down to an alien god. I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.
Psalm 81:7-10

Like the forty days that Jesus endured in the wilderness, these forty years of insecurity and homelessness were a time of training. God was walking his people through a series of carefully crafted trials, designed to disconnect them from their former home, deconstruct their former identity, and detach them from every source of security save Himself. But through that painful weaning process, He was preparing them for a better home than the one they had left.

…They admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. … If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country–a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
Hebrews 11:13-16

Looking back on all they had lost, the price seemed too high: at least in Egypt they had been settled. But looking forward to the home God had promised, they had every reason to persevere, to embrace the pilgrimage on which God was leading them.

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.

Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
Psalm 84:1-2, 4-7, 10

Comfortably settled in my own current dwelling, I find it easy to lose sight of the life-long pilgrimage to which God has called me. But when I raise my eyes beyond my pretty kitchen curtains to gaze on the beauty of His dwelling place, my heart churns with longing for my real home. In seasons of comfort and of distress, He has been my shelter.

Pilgrimage is not easy; frequent moves and unsettling circumstances inevitably feed our fears about whether we will survive the journey. But along the way He turns our struggles into blessing, our tears into sources of fruitfulness and beauty. The more we feel our current homelessness, the more we love our future home.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.
Psalm 90:1