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Posts Tagged ‘King David’

Jo 17‘So how is the moving going?’

I looked around, trying not to drop the mountain of things I was carrying into our lovely, new unit in a village complex. Then I saw a lady eyeing me curiously as she worked in a nearby garden.

‘Oh, not bad, thanks,’ I responded, keen to keep going, yet realising I needed to introduce myself. ‘My name’s Jo-Anne. You’ve done a beautiful job in the garden here.’

We chatted on—and then my new friend came out with something that took my breath away.

‘We’ve been praying for you, ever since the man who lived in your unit left ages ago,’ she said in such a matter-of-fact manner that I wondered if I had heard her correctly. Did she really say that word ‘praying’? I decided to fish a little.

‘Er … did you know my husband has been a minister all our married life?’

‘Yes—we did hear that,’ she admitted. ‘We go to church in Auburn.’

‘Which church?’ I asked, unable to resist fishing further. ‘I know Auburn quite well.’

‘The Salvation Army,’ she responded. ‘We have so many different nationalities there. They all love us and call us “Mum and Dad” or “Aunty and Uncle”.’

I was gobsmacked—as I have been several times lately during our move from our old home into our beautiful unit. At each step of the way, God has guided us, protected us and watched over us. Now here someone was telling me she had been praying for us for months!

‘Wow—thanks so much for those prayers,’ I told her. ‘Lots of people were praying for the sale of our old home and that worked out so well. Now I find you’ve been praying for whoever would move into this unit. No wonder our move has gone so smoothly!’

The next day, I saw her again. I had decided to ask our near neighbours first, before playing my piano, but as it turned out, I had to practise briefly before I could do this. You see, just before moving into our Village, I was asked to play for the monthly church service here, to be held two days after we arrived. I usually don’t play for services anymore—so what a surprise to find myself doing such a thing again! It was as if God was saying, ‘Come on, Jo—you can do this! Let’s bless some more people with those gifts I gave you!’ Now however, I decided to ask at least this one neighbour.

‘Oh, I’ve been waiting for you to play!’ she said. ‘And I’m sure no one will mind at all.’

I was relieved. It had been a moot point whether to bring my piano with me at all, but now through this lady’s response and through being asked to play for the service, it seemed so right that I had.

Truly, God hems us in, behind and before, as David wrote, watching our backs but also smoothing the path ahead for us. And, just like David, that is the type of love I still cannot fathom. How blessed we are!

You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Psalm 139:5-6

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Jo 12I enjoy doing crossword puzzles and was recently given a crossword book that is just the right level for my slightly addled brain. This enables me to take a break from writing now and then, yet still play with all those fascinating words in the English language. What fun!

The other day, while tackling one of those mega crosswords that completely fill a large page, however, I found myself flummoxed. There seemed to be so many clues that could be taken different ways. For example, one clue simply said ‘hide’. So … did that mean the noun ‘hide’ or the verb ‘hide’? But if it meant the noun, ‘hide’ can have at least two different meanings. Or take the clue ‘sort’. Did that refer to the verb ‘sort’ or the noun meaning ‘type’? And what about that one little word ‘dear’? Did it mean the opposite to ‘cheap’? Or did it mean ‘sweetheart’ or ‘beloved’?

But most confusing of all was the clue that simply said ‘badgers’. Now I took that to mean those animals called badgers. ‘They must have another obscure name,’ I thought. ‘I’d never know that.’ So I left the spot blank until the end. Then, when I saw that the answer had to be ‘pesters’, it finally dawned on me that my ‘badgers’ clue meant the verb ‘harasses’ or ‘nags’, rather than any animal! There I was, trying to think of a scientific name for a badger when the clue meant something quite different.

As I thought about those crossword challenges, I began to wonder how often I myself confuse or mislead others with those words that roll off my tongue so readily each day—or spill out onto my computer screen. How glibly I can say one thing yet be thinking the exact opposite! How many times I seem to opt for those pious-sounding words and phrases that sound good but lack integrity and can leave others feeling puzzled or, even worse, discouraged!

There are some verses in Psalm 139 that have always challenged me about the words I speak—or write.

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord. Psalm 139:1-4

Hmm. To me, it is a very comforting thought that God sees into the depths of my heart and knows me through and through. There is no pretending with God—and that is so freeing, don’t you think? But it also challenges me deeply that God knows every word I utter, before it even leaves my mouth. I cannot fool God with my words. I cannot get away with saying one thing and meaning another with God. And it does not please God whenever I try to fool others around me either.

So Lord, this day and forever, may all the words I speak and write honour you and be as honest and unambiguous as I can make them. And, as King David also prayed:

May the words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.  Psalm 19:14

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Jo 23You have to hand it to King David. So many times in the psalms, he doesn’t use any softly, softly approach when it comes to asking God for help. I have to say that’s a bit different from many of the prayers I’ve prayed over the years—and from some I’ve heard prayed aloud in public meetings at times.

‘Lord, we just ask you to heal her now, if that’s your will. But if it isn’t, please just show her what she needs to do to get better.’

‘Dear God, we invite you to be with us today. We welcome you to this place. We know you are here anyway, but please just be close to each one of us.’

Now I’ve discovered God is truly gracious and does hear and answer such prayers. Despite our slightly weird theology at times, God sees our hearts and knows what we need before we even ask (Matt 6:8). God isn’t confused by the words we use when we pray in public either. And David knew that, since in Psalm 139:4 we read: Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.

But how refreshing it is to read those honest, gut-wrenching cries from David’s heart! Recently, I came across Psalm 35 again which begins:

Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me. Take up shield and buckler; arise and come to my aid. Brandish spear and javelin against those who pursue me.

There I was, cheering David on as I read and thinking about how this prayer could apply to the challenges in my own life, when I was stopped dead by his words at the end of verse 3:

Say to my soul, “I am your salvation.”

Hmmm … could David actually be telling God what to tell him in return? It’s as if he’s saying to God: ‘I think you said you’d save me. I was convinced of that—but now I’m not so sure. I want to know that deep down inside me, so please tell me it’s true.’ In The Message version, Peterson puts it this way:

Reassure me: let me hear you say, “I’ll save you.”

But I think there might be a bit more to it too, given David’s bold approach in the rest of the psalm. It’s as if David is calling God to account—as if he’s saying something like: ‘God, this is what you told me you’d do for me, but it doesn’t look like that’s happening. So if you tell me you’re my salvation, you’d better make good on your promise—because if you don’t, then you won’t have lived up to your name!’

What a challenge David is to me in the way he talks with God! And God doesn’t seem to have been offended, but rather sees David as ‘a man after his own heart’ (1 Sam 12:14). Surely it is that David understood God’s heart very well and, because of that, knew he could be completely honest and that God would not turn him away.

I want to pray big, fat, bold prayers like David did. I want to be a person after God’s own heart. Don’t you?

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I wonder if you have ever been in the situation of trying to make yourself understood to someone who does not speak the same language as you. It can be fun but also frustrating, can’t it? We can get so far with sign language and facial expressions, but there is a limit, after which we are stuck. Once when I was in Turkey, visiting a friend, I offered to go and buy some sugar for her, as she was in the middle of cooking and had run out. I knew the basic Turkish word for sugar (şeker), but what fun I had, trying to make myself understood, as the helpful shopkeeper showed me raw sugar, brown sugar, icing sugar, cube sugar, even lollies (also called şeker in Turkish), and eventually what I wanted—plain old white sugar!

Our two year old grandson Zain now has a beautiful little sister Maxine, who is all of seven weeks old. Now Zain has a special puzzle at home that helps children learn counting and also teaches what the numbers look like. A few days ago, according to Zain’s mum, he recognised the number four and wanted Maxine to appreciate this momentous event.

‘Maxine! Maxine! Look, Maxine—four! Dat’s four, Maxine!’ he told her earnestly, showing her the relevant puzzle piece and trying to help her understand. I doubt that he was duly impressed with her response! But at least he tried.

In John’s Gospel, there is a lovely, honest account of an interaction between Jesus and his disciples that I have often smiled over. In Chapter 16, just after Jesus has explained as clearly as he can that he is leaving the world and going back to his Father in heaven, his disciples respond:

Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have everyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.” (30)

We can almost hear the relief in Jesus’ voice as he responds simply: “You believe at last!” (31) Finally, after being with Jesus for many months, hearing him teach and watching him perform many miracles, it all seems to click with them. Finally, they seem to understand what he was on about.

Yes, we often strike limitations of some description when it comes to understanding others. Thankfully, however, God has no such limitation. In 1 Chron 28:9, David points out to his son Solomon that God understands not only what we say but what we think, before we even say anything:

And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts.

Then in Psalm 147:5, we find the following simple but profound and all-encompassing statement:

Great is the Lord and might in power; his understanding has no limit.

This means that, wherever we are at, however confused and frustrated we might feel, God sees through it all and understands straight away—in fact, even before that. God speaks our language, wherever we are from and however young or old we are. While others might look blankly at us and misunderstand us and our motives at times, God never does. Everything is transparent with God—and I’m so glad of that, aren’t you?

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P1030759I think I might have told you once or twice before about our cute little grandson Zain. Well, okay … maybe a few times more! One thing he loves to do at the moment is to find an interesting little space behind or under some item of furniture and quickly ‘hide’ there. It could be in between our piano and the piano stool in our lounge, for example, or perhaps under the desk in his granddad’s study. Either place, he is hardly invisible—he just thinks he is. If he can’t see me, he has obviously decided, then chances are we can’t see him! But I join in with his little game anyway.

‘Where could Zain be?’ I wonder out loud as he stays very still and quiet where he is.

‘I can see you!’ I say after a while in a teasing voice. The next moment, he appears, his little head to one side, eyes gleaming with mischief and a cheeky grin on his face.

There you are!’ I exclaim, to his delight. ‘You’re such a tricky boy!’

You know, sometimes I wonder if God isn’t tempted to laugh out loud at times at our bumbling efforts to deceive ourselves and hide from him as Zain does with us. It’s exactly what Adam and Eve tried to do back in the very beginning after they had disobeyed God and eaten from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The almighty Creator of the whole world surely knew where they were hiding and what had happened. Yet God calls out to them ‘Where are you?’, as if willing them to come and be up front about it all, but they choose to hide in fear (Gen 3).

Later, in Genesis 16:13, we read how the Lord finds Hagar after she has run away from her mistress Sarai. Hagar proceeds to give the Lord a simple, unique title—‘You are the God who sees me’.  And in Psalm 139:11-12, as King David realises there is no place where he can flee from God’s presence, he exclaims almost with an air of relief:

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

By the power given to him by his Father in heaven, Jesus understood what was in men’s and women’s hearts without having to be told. ‘I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you’, he says to Nathanael, Philip’s brother (Jn 1:48). He was well aware of the type of life the Samaritan woman at the well had led without her having to enlighten him (Jn 4). And in the same way today, God sees into our hearts, bringing to light the things we still try to hide at times.

I’m so thankful God doesn’t laugh at me and the foolish games I play. I’m so glad that instead, God treats me with such love and forbearance, forgiving me and patiently setting me feet on the right path, ready to do better next time.

I’m known. I’m seen. I can’t hide from God. And that brings me deep joy and true freedom.

How about you?

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Here we are at the brink of 2013, with a blank slate before us yet again. Some of us may feel we know already what our year will contain. For others, there may be all sorts of unknowns, options, possibilities, decisions ahead. But for all of us, there will no doubt be those challenges or hiccups along the way we didn’t foresee that may threaten to discourage or even derail us.

I love the Psalms. Even when I am reading another part of Scripture, I keep on returning to them. And as I did this yet again recently, I came upon Psalm 25:15:

My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare.

What is this snare King David talks about here, I wondered. What will such snares be for me in 2013? What traps lie ahead for you, do you think?

In one sense, such snares or traps are by definition unexpected—we don’t know where or what they are so we fall into them. But judging from past experience, for me one of the most obvious could be failing to give myself enough time, in the midst of everything else involved in a writer’s life, for actually writing. There is nothing like being truly creative, listening to what my characters want to say and do, letting my imagination take wings. This brings me such fulfilment. And in those times, God is also very close—even intrinsically involved in the whole process.

Another obvious trap for me could be forging ahead in my own strength and according to my own wisdom, rather than looking to God for such things. I should know by now not to load myself down with speaking engagements, for example, that may not be God’s idea, but instead may arise from my own fear that God is incapable of providing me with such opportunities. Of course I have to play my part in finding these, but there is a fine balance between trusting in God and trusting in myself.

Yet another possible trap for me could be comparing myself with other authors. Their books are so different from mine. Am I completely on the wrong track? They seem to be doing so well—everyone seems to be reading their books. Should I try to change my style? Should I stop writing altogether? Should I expend my energy in other, more fruitful directions?

But the trap that could present the most danger for me in 2013 is that of crowding God out in the midst of everything else. How could that happen? How could I possibly lose sight of my Lord, the one who gives life, who comforts, guides and sustains? Yet I have found, even in a busy ministry and speaking role, how easily this can happen. Our enemy doesn’t give up and is always busily setting those snares and hiding those traps.

So today, on the brink of a new year, I take note again of David’s words in Psalm 25:15. It is only God, I know, who is capable of helping me see those hidden traps and of releasing my feet when I do stumble into them. I want to walk through 2013 with my eyes on the Lord, who alone can show me the way ahead.

How about you? Are your eyes in the right place too as you step into the new year?

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There I was, sitting quietly as I waited for the meeting to start at which I was to speak. I chatted to a friend nearby, then glanced around to make sure all my books set out on a nearby table for sale later looked neat and inviting. And in that moment, it was like the scales were lifted from my eyes.

In an instant, I saw more clearly than I ever have how gracious God has been to me over these past nine years since I began writing and how thankful I need to be for this. It was as if God had taken a beautiful colour photo of my book table, with its display of my five novels and one non-fiction book, enlarged it and held it before my eyes for a moment so that I could not ignore it. And as I looked, the many opportunities I have been given in these years to speak at different places also flashed into my mind. What rich experiences had come my way in all sorts of shapes and sizes! And what a privilege each one of them had been!

As the enormity of this moment sunk in, I felt almost overwhelmed—and very humbled. Apart from the grace of God at work in my life, none of this would have happened. I would not have written one book in this time, let alone six, with a seventh due out next year! Apart from the absolute faithfulness of God in encouraging me, both directly and through others, I would not have begun my writing journey or persevered through all sorts of discouragement and lasted the distance.

I sat there, wondering how I would be able to get up and speak after such a revelation. But then I decided the best way was to be honest and share what God had shown me—so that’s where I began. And I hope and pray something of the awe I was feeling at God’s grace and faithfulness to me touched those present, causing them to praise God too and to realise that without God, we are nothing.

How much we all need to remember the grace and faithfulness of God to us! King David challenges us to do exactly that in 1 Chron 16:8-13:

Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done.

Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts.

Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.

Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.

Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced, O descendants of Israel his servant, O sons of Jacob, his chosen ones.

So … thank you, Lord God, for all you have done for me. As I speak and write of your love and grace to us your children, may I do so with great joy and gladness. Where would I be without you? Help me to stay close to you and to rely on your strength in everything I do. I remember you, Lord, with a heart full of gratitude. I remember what you have done for me. I remember how awesome you are and I honour you—now and forever. Amen

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