Martha was frantic with all the work in the kitchen. “Master,” she said, coming in to where they were, “don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work all by myself? Tell her to give me a hand!” … He replied, “You are fretting and fussing about so many things. Only one thing matters. Mary has chosen the best part, and it’s not going to be taken away from her.” [Luke 10: 40-42 (NTE)]

great blue heronThe guest pastor shared an experience when he was an intern at a large church. Posted on the door leading into the senior pastor’s office was this quote by Stephen Covey: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” At eye level and in large letters, anyone entering the pastor’s office was sure to see it. He’d given the sign little thought until one day, hot under the collar and ready to voice a complaint, he started to knock on his boss’s door. Seeing the sign, he paused, quietly returned to his desk, gave his complaint more thought, and asked himself if he was keeping the main thing main with his grievance.

Of course, to keep the main thing main, we must identify it first. Scripture, however, makes the main thing rather clear: love God, love others, and follow Jesus. Nevertheless, even when we’ve determined the main thing, it’s easy to get distracted and shift our focus. Like a reader who nitpicks over semi-colons and spelling while ignoring the significance of the words, we frequently cease focusing on God and His purpose to focus on ourselves and our interests.

Martha, for example, lost sight of the main thing when she complained to Jesus about her sister Mary. The mother of James and John lost sight of the main thing when she demanded special treatment for her boys and the disciples lost sight of the main thing when they squabbled over who was the greatest. Losing sight of the main thing, Elijah threw himself a pity party when things got tough, Jonah tried to escape his assignment in Nineveh, and the Pharisees carefully tithed their spices but neglected their parents and neighbors.

Our complaints to others (and to God) usually have little or nothing to do with God’s plan but rather with how it affects us. I’m busy, tired, bored, annoyed, angry, unappreciated, taken advantage of, better than him, too good for that, underpaid, or over-scheduled. Maybe some of our complaints are true. The question, however, remains—are any of them the main thing? If not, what is?

Father in heaven, help us keep our eyes on the main thing—you, accepting your plan, and furthering your kingdom. May we always remember that the main thing is never about us and always about you!

Let the king’s word dwell richly among you, as you teach and exhort one another in all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God with grateful hearts. And whatever you do, in word or action, do everything in the name of the master, Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the father. [Colossians 3: 16-17 (NTE)]

Look at it like this. People whose lives are determined by human flesh focus their minds on matters to do with the flesh, but people whose lives are determined by the spirit focus their minds on matters to do with the spirit. [Romans 8:5 (NTE)]

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Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. … God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. [James 1:2-4,12 (NLT)]

donkeyThe story is told of a donkey who fell into a deep pit. Unable to get out, the animal brayed loudly until the farmer came to investigate. Seeing no way to get his donkey out of the pit, the farmer decided the only thing he could do was to put the poor animal out of its misery. Since the pit needed to be filled anyway, he got a spade and started to shovel dirt into it. When the donkey felt those first clods of dirt on his back, he lost all hope of rescue and brayed even louder. As he shook the dirt off his back, however, he discovered a growing mound of dirt beneath his feet. Seeing a possible solution, the donkey grew silent as he continued to shake dirt off his back and started tamping it down with his hooves. As the dirt piled up beneath his feet, the donkey got higher and higher in the pit. Paying no attention to the now silent animal, the farmer kept shoveling until he finally stopped for a rest. When he turned around, the man was shocked to see the donkey step out of the pit and trot away. The animal could have chosen to wallow in his misery—simply hung his head and let that dirt cover him up—but he didn’t. Instead, he took steps to change his situation.

Giving up is often our first response when we get buried in our troubles. Deciding the marriage can’t be saved, the situation is hopeless, we’ll never beat the addiction, we’re worthless sinners, we failed, no one understands, or that the pain will never end, we don’t even try to find a fix! That, however, means we’ve ceded control of our lives to something or someone other than God. By giving up, we’ve stopped living God’s will because we’re not letting Him shape and mold us in our circumstances. God’s not done with us until He says so!

When I look back at some of my worst experiences, heaviest trials, and most heartbreaking times, I see my greatest emotional and spiritual development. Growth seems to occur in the valleys (or pits) rather than on the hilltops. Perhaps that’s because we want to maintain the status quo in the good times; when all is going smoothly, we certainly don’t want to rock the boat with any change. Bad times, however, make us as uncomfortable as that trapped animal. Like the donkey, when we are buried in trouble, we have a choice: wallow in misery or make a change.

Instead of letting the dirt bury him, the donkey turned it into a gift. We can see our troubles as penalties or gifts, endings or beginnings, impediments or opportunities. The choice is ours. Life is always going to try to weigh us down; the trick is in deciding to get out of the pit. The donkey did it by shaking off the dirt. As people of hope who know that Jesus can do within us that which we can’t do for ourselves; let us do the same!

We are always on the anvil; by trials God is shaping us for higher things. [Henry Ward Beecher]

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. [Romans 5:3-5 (NLT)]

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And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:38-39 (NLT)]

rainbowDays bled into weeks, weeks into months, and every day seemed the same for much of the last eighteen months. Life became a series of postponements, rebookings, cancelations, setbacks, inconveniences, letdowns, and disappointments. Visiting Grandma meant waving at her through a window, final farewells were FaceTime calls on a nurse’s cell phone, and we mourned from a distance while attending celebrations of life virtually. Weddings were postponed, family reunions put on hold, shut-downs and travel restrictions kept loved ones apart, theaters and concert halls went dark, vacations were delayed, businesses closed, jobs were lost, and junior year abroad became junior year on Zoom.

Many of us had something specific to which we looked forward in the COVID-free future. It was anticipation of that reward that helped sustain us through the dreary months. When vaccines rolled out and numbers dropped, we began to think the end was in sight and we finally saw the end of the rainbow! Plans resumed for family reunions, the delayed semester abroad, or the cruise of a lifetime. Vacations were scheduled, wedding venues rebooked, businesses set dates for returning to the office, and nursing homes and hospitals again allowed visitors. With the surge in cases and the return of restrictions, however, many of those plans have been pushed back yet again or cancelled altogether. We’re frustrated and disappointed because the future we hoped for isn’t the one we got!

In C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, the demon Screwtape strategizes with his nephew Wormwood on methods of capturing a young man’s soul. The senior demon suggests using time as a weapon. Screwtape explains that the “enemy” (God) wants man to focus on only two times: eternity (which means attending to God) or the present in meditation, obedience, service, receiving grace, or giving thanks. Having found tempting someone to live in the past to be of “limited value,” Screwtape advises a far better approach is to tempt the man to attend to the future. God, he says, “does not want men to give the future their hearts, to place their treasure in it,” but the demons definitely do! He adds that, “We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end.” Rather than being faithful, kind, happy, or thankful in the present, the demons want people to miss the gifts of the present day while looking for them in the future. “Gratitude,” says Screwtape, “looks to the past and love to the present,” but, the demon adds, it is things like fear, desire, greed, materialism, and ambition that look to the future.

As Christians, we can’t let our disappointment in the future we’d anticipated dominate our life or cause us to lose hope. Keeping our eyes on the real hope found in eternity with God, let’s not allow our disappointment in tomorrow steal today’s joy. As followers of Jesus, we live with a hope that isn’t dependent on pandemics, positivity rates, restrictions, weather, or finances because we know how the story ends. Yes, we’re disappointed now but, ultimately, we won’t be disappointed by what God has waiting for us.

Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.  [Mother Teresa]

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. [2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NLT)]

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My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. [Isaiah 55:8-9 (NLT)]

mockingbirdAfter Jane Marczweski’s stunning performance on America’s Got Talent last June, I posted a devotion (It’s Okay) about her. Known as Nightbirde, the 30-year-old vocalist (and three-time cancer survivor) sang an original song called “It’s Okay” and received the “golden buzzer” from judge Simon Cowell. Last week, the brave young woman had to withdraw from the competition because her health has taken a turn for the worse. In an interview on CNN with Chris Cuomo, she shared that her metastatic breast cancer has now invaded both lungs and liver and her fight with cancer is demanding all of her energy and attention.

When we see a young person like Nightbirde, a beautiful person both inside and out who seems so deserving of good future, it’s easy to ask the age-old question of “Why?” Why do some of the best people, the ones with the most to offer, seem to suffer the most or have their futures cut short when many of the worst and worthless seem to breeze along without a problem? Why, when life begins to look up does God so often pull out the rug? “Life doesn’t always give breaks to those that deserve it,” said the singer while adding, “but we knew that already.” Indeed, we did; nevertheless, we don’t like it!

When Cuomo asked Nightbirde if she ever wonders, “Why?” the young woman replied, “I try not to occupy myself with questions that are too big for myself to answer. It’s a waste of time. You know, just because it’s a mystery doesn’t mean it’s the absence of meaning. Sometimes, the mystery means there is more meaning there than we can even understand and so I accept that and I let go of the question because it’s too heavy.”

Indeed, much in our lives seems inexplicable and far beyond our comprehension. But, as the young singer pointed out, incomprehensible or unknowable doesn’t mean meaningless or pointless. It’s a mystery why Nightbirde’s promising future probably will be cut short; then again, it’s a mystery why my mother died when I was fifteen, why my brother was struck with inoperable cancer at the moment his life finally took an upturn after years of trouble, and why the God-fearing believers on my prayer list have been burdened with things like mesothelioma, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, MS, schizophrenia, and chronic pain. This young woman’s words remind us all that our lack of understanding of God’s purpose doesn’t mean that what happens is without meaning.

I can’t understand quantum physics any more than I can understand the ways of God. The difference between the two is that, given enough time, effort, and tutoring, I eventually could understand quantum physics but I will never be able to fully understand God. While we can come to know and love Him, we never will be able to comprehend His mysterious ways. Indeed, some questions are so weighty that we’d never make sense of God’s answer even if He explained it to us!

This optimistic young woman says she’s planning for her future rather than her legacy and says, “I want to be the bird that sings in anticipation of the good things that I trust are coming.” As a Christian, Nightbirde doesn’t need to ask God “Why?” because she knows good things are coming, whether in this world or the next!

Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! For who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give him advice? And who has given him so much that he needs to pay it back? For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen. [Romans 11:33-36 (NLT)]

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God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through? [Numbers 23:19 (NLT)]

 I will look up for there is none above you;
I will bow down to tell you that I need you.
Jesus, Lord of all; Jesus, Lord of all!
I will look back and see that you are faithful;
I look ahead believing you are able.
Jesus, Lord of all; Jesus, Lord of All!
[I Will Look Up (Redman, Ingram, Joye, Brown, Brock)]

columbineIn our family, the car’s driver controls the music. Since my husband usually drives, that tends to be ‘50s and ‘60s rock. My thrice weekly chiropractor appointments, however, have given me the opportunity to listen to worship music rather than golden oldies. Last week, while alone in the car, I joined with Elevation Worship as they sang of laying the worries of the world, the needs of their loved ones, their hopes and dreams, and every anxious thought at God’s feet. “I will look back and see that you are faithful; I look ahead believing you are able!” Those words are so true and yet I frequently forget to look back to God’s past provision or ahead with trust that He is able to provide exactly what is needed.

Singing, “All my life is in your hands,” I wondered if we truly believe that. After laying our worries at His feet, do we ever doubt His faithfulness and ability, pick them up, and take them back again? Do we have reservations about our incredibly faithful and overwhelmingly able God because we know how fallible and incompetent we often are? My life is filled with a series of mishaps, misunderstandings, and failures and I suspect yours is, too. We misplace our phones and have to call ourselves to find them. We read the words “dry clean only” but toss the sweater into the washer. We proof-read a dozen times only to find mistakes in the finished product and write grocery lists but leave them at home. We miss appointments, arrive late, and don’t return calls. We mean to do a task but forget and often claim to know what we’re doing when we haven’t a clue. We promise but disappoint, plan but fail to carry out, and our repairs frequently make the problem worse. We say we’ll pray for someone and don’t, intend to write a letter but never get around to it, or get exasperated when we mean to be calm. That’s not even mentioning the other assorted betrayals, deceit, debacles, and transgressions of which we’re all capable. Knowing how incredibly unreliable and faithless we can be, we often doubt God. God, however, is perfect—we, most certainly, are not!

Hearing the words, “I will look back and see He is faithful,” I did just that. I looked back and saw God’s faithfulness to me in every crisis and dark valley I’ve encountered. From Genesis through Revelation, we see God’s faithfulness to His children and, in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus we see His promises fulfilled. Flawed beings that we are, we’re often unfaithful to our promises or unable to fulfill them but our perfect God is both faithful to His promises and more than able to fulfill every one! Although I’ve failed the ones I love and, at times, they’ve failed me, God never has and never will!

Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands. [Deuteronomy 7:9 (NLT)]

Your eternal word, O Lord, stands firm in heaven. Your faithfulness extends to every generation, as enduring as the earth you created. [Psalm 119:89-90 (NLT)]

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Always celebrate, never stop praying; in everything be thankful (this is God’s will for you in the Messiah Jesus). [1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NTE)]

green heronEarlier this week, I wrote about the ten Boom sisters giving thanks in their horrible circumstances. Because of the physical pain I’ve been experiencing these last several weeks, I know how easy it is to talk the talk but how hard it is to actually walk it. Indeed, when you’re hurting, giving thanks in all circumstances is far easier said than done.

1 Thessalonians 5:18, however, doesn’t say we must give thanks for everything; we are to give thanks in everything and there’s a big difference between the two. Knowing that God’s love and mercies never cease and that we are His well-loved children, even though we don’t welcome our circumstances, we can be thankful in them. Even when we can’t see His purpose in our present situation, we know that God is intimately involved in them and is working for our good through them. We can be thankful that we are not facing our affliction alone. Jesus was with Corrie and Betsie ten Boom in Ravensbrück, He’s here with me, and He’s there beside you wherever and whatever you’re going through. Knowing this enables us to give thanks in all circumstances!

While writing about Betsie and Corrie ten Boom, I remembered Betsie’s response to Corrie when she asked how they could live in the deplorable conditions of the Ravensbrück concentration camp. Rather than answering her sister, Betsie immediately started to pray, but she didn’t ask God to change their situation. Instead, she simply asked God to show them how to live in their present one; “Show us. Show us how,” she prayed.

Recalling Betsie ten Boom’s prayer of “Show us,” I realized that, along with discerning God’s purpose for my pain and giving thanks in my circumstances, I needed to ask Him to show me how to function in my new normal. If given a choice, I wouldn’t have selected back and neck pain from life’s menu but my pastor friend wouldn’t have chosen stage-4 cancer nor would my sister have selected MS. The ten Boom sisters wouldn’t have chosen a concentration camp and none of us would have selected a pandemic. As unwanted as they were, however, they were what we got. Let us graciously accept them as we ask for God’s guidance and the power to live in them. Someday, it all will make sense. Until that time, as we wonder how we can function in our difficult circumstances, we can pray Betsie’s prayer: “Show us. Show us how.” God answered me and He will answer you!

There is nothing—no circumstance, no trouble, no testing—that can ever touch me until, first of all, it has gone past God and past Christ right through to me. If it has come that far, it has come with a great purpose, which I may not understand at the moment. But as I refuse to become panicky, as I lift up my eyes to Him and accept it as coming from the throne of God for some great purpose of blessing to my own heart, no sorrow will ever disturb me, no circumstance will cause me to fret, for I shall rest in the joy of what my Lord is—that is the rest of victory! [Alan Redpath]

For this reason we don’t lose heart. Even if our outer humanity is decaying, our inner humanity is being renewed day by day. This slight momentary trouble of ours is working to produce a weight of glory, passing and surpassing everything, lasting for ever; for we don’t look at the things that can be seen, but at the things that can’t be seen. After all, the things you can see are here today and gone tomorrow; but the things you can’t see are everlasting. [2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NTE)]

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