Psalms 30-32 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He watches and advises us as He guides us on our best path

If I made a list of the things I like least about going to the dentist, it would be difficult for me to choose my very least favorite aspect.  Surely close to the top of the list would be having equipment larger than my mouth shoved in it along with hands, suction devices, and gauze.  And usually, this is the moment when the dentist casually asks me a question about my day.  Of course, answering is impossible, and nodding could send a drill up my nose, but I will admit I’ve become very adept with eye signals.  In this position, we can’t speak, we can’t move, and we know that the dentist is in control of things.

I’ve wondered if this is somewhat how horses feel when their owners choose to use a bit in their mouths and a bridle to control them.  From what I understand, when basic training steps are given and followed by the horse because of its trust in the trainer, a smaller, less offensive bit can be used to guide and direct the horse or even no bit at all.  If these steps are not followed or if the horse has lived in the wild for some time, the will of the horse is more difficult to train and often more severe bits are needed.  It just seems that trusting and following the guidance given in the first place would save a lot of pain and discomfort, not only for horses but for us as well. 

@ Psalm 32
“The Lord says, ‘I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.  I will advise you and watch over you.’” (8)  When I was a young girl, the Lord directed me to this treasured verse at a time of uncertainty.  The thought that God, the One who knows my future, would guide me along the best pathway for me brought tremendous peace to my young heart because I knew He could be trusted.

David’s quote from the Lord goes on to say, “Do not be like a senseless horse or mule that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.”(9)  The bit is restrictive and causes a measure of pain if resisted, but in time the animal learns to respond to its direction. Just as with the horse, when we come under the Lord’s training, He sometimes will use even more purposeful means to challenge us to surrender to His gentle guidance.  How much better it is to trust our guide and trainer from the start!

Just as thrilling as His guidance is the fact that He promises to advise and watch over us.  God doesn’t just set a course and expect us to go it alone.  No, not our Guide.  He watches over each step, taking care that we don’t stumble. The success of the popular horse whisperers of today is in the relationship that develops through trust – man and animal alike.  And it is through a trusted relationship that the Lord whispers cautions and comforts to help us along the way.  What a great alternative to mouth gear! 

Moving Forward:  Since those early years, the Lord has proven over and over again that He will guide me along the best pathway, watching, advising and often carrying me in the process.  Yes, I will trust Him today!

Tomorrow @ Job 21-22

I Samuel 1-5 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He is speaking to us all the time

One of my earliest memories is listening to my mom tell the story of Samuel.  I remember her emphasizing Samuel’s early years, about hearing the voice of the Lord and obeying Him.  The story was so real to me that I often fell asleep expecting to hear the Lord calling my name; and just for the record, that was a wonderful way to fall asleep.  In reading Samuel’s story today, I’ve thought about how the years have made me less expectant and more sophisticated in my approach to God and to how He speaks to me.  But in this reflection today, just thinking about the Lord audibly saying Phyllis sends chill bumps all over me.  I’m listening.

The story of Hannah touches every woman’s heart because of her desire to bear a child. We get it.  Sharing our husband with another wife?  This we really don’t get, but only understand that it was tolerated in Hannah’s day to fill the earth with God’s people.  Peninnah’s ridicule of Hannah made her more desperate than ever for a child, but she did not take matters into her own hands and resort to a surrogate as Sarah had done.  I mean, really, there were enough women around the house.  Hannah did the one thing that would change her dire situation.  Hannah prayed, and God answered her prayer. 

@ I Samuel 2
With gratitude for God’s answer to her prayer, Hannah dedicated her child to God for fulltime service.  Because the exploits of Eli’s ungodly sons were known throughout Israel, I’ve often wondered if Hannah truly understood that she was sending her beloved son to a home without apparent discipline and care.  However, God was with him, “Though he was only a boy, [Samuel] served the Lord. He wore a linen garment like that of a priest. Each year his mother made a small coat for him and brought it to him when she came with her husband for the sacrifice…Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord.” (18-21)

When we dedicate or set aside our children for the Lord, it’s no small thing, and God takes it seriously.  However, Hannah’s responsibility didn’t end with her act of dedication.  Samuel remained in Hannah’s heart as she made clothing for him, no doubt praying for him with every stitch as any loving mother would do and trusting God to keep what she had committed to Him. While Eli’s sons carried on in their sin and disobedience to the Lord, Samuel did just the opposite.  “Meanwhile, the boy Samuel grew taller and grew in favor with the Lord and with the people.” (2:26) 

@ I Samuel 3
“The boy Samuel served the Lord by assisting Eli. Now in those days messages from the Lord were very rare, and visions were quite uncommon.”(1)  But that was about to change.  Israel’s spiritual condition had degraded to the point where God’s visitations were mostly ignored, but now God had the ear of one who would listen.

“Samuel did not yet know the Lord because he had never had a message from the Lord before.  So the Lord called a third time… Then Eli realized it was the Lord who was calling the boy. So he said to Samuel, “Go and lie down again, and if someone calls again, say, ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’”(7-8)  Samuel knew about God, but now he would know God in a personal way and would listen to His voice, “And the Lord came and called as before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’  And Samuel replied, ‘Speak, your servant is listening.’”(10)  God protected Samuel in Eli’s house of cards because he listened to the voice of the Lord and obeyed Him.

In the dedication of our children to the Lord, what greater training can we give than to teach them to listen for God’s voice because He is speaking all the time.  As my mother encouraged so many years ago, I’m listening for His voice.  Whether He speaks audibly to me, through His still small voice to my heart or through His anointed Word, I know He speaks! 

Moving Forward: My heart is saying to the Lord as I move through this day, “Speak, your servant is listening.”

Tomorrow @ Psalms 30-32

Isaiah 45-50 (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  He provides the best guidance for our lives

It seems like almost every day I run to the Internet for answers that I need immediately – what did I do before Google? Guess at the answers?  The internet offers us an answer to every possible question within seconds just by one quick little Google click.  It gives guidance and directions based on information handcrafted by man.

I love the 30 different German Chocolate Cake recipes I immediately had at my disposal to choose from today. Well, I may allow it to give me directions for a cake, but there’s not a chance it will provide instructions for my life unless, of course, God chose to use it for that purpose.  Many wonderful scripture-based Christian sites are uplifting and are great ministry tools, but ultimately I turn to the Source of all knowledge for His guidance and direction.

Just as we are sojourners in this life on our way to Heaven, the Israelites were captive sojourners in Babylon.  They were struggling to keep their faith grounded in the true and living God and were tempted by the idol worship of Babylonian gods going on all around them.  In Isaiah 46, God reminded His people of the origin of these idols, “Some people pour out their silver and gold and hire a craftsman to make a god from it. Then they bow down and worship it! They carry it around on their shoulders, and when they set it down, it stays there. It can’t even move!  And when someone prays to it, there is no answer. It can’t rescue anyone from trouble.” (6-7) I’ve known more than a few individuals who treat their computers/smartphones like an idol…pour out their cash to buy it…carry it around all day…and nearly worship it. Help!

As sojourners, we are surrounded by idols crafted by the world and capable of pulling us away from the true and living God.  Besides the distraction the internet offers, we can find advice and counsel from television talk shows and news programs on just about every subject imaginable.  Most of the information sources available to us today are helpful, but they are fallible and often derived from ungodly resources.  Would we really want them to direct our lives? 

“Only I can tell you the future before it even happens. Everything I plan will come to pass, for I do whatever I wish.” (46:10) While our enemy would like us to think that he knows the future, he does not and only spews out what he wishes to be the future.  Basing our direction on this false information is just as useless as man’s handcrafted devices.  There really is only one Source that can be trusted.

“I am the Lord your god, who teaches you what is good for you and leads you along the paths you should follow.” (48:17) While this is amazing in itself, God reveals the intimacy of His love for Israel and for all those who love Him, “See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.” (49:16)  Incredible!  Why would I ever look to anyone or anything else for guidance in my life! 

Moving Forward:  It’s you, Lord, the one whose direction I seek, no one other than you. 

Tomorrow @ Matthew 23-25

Psalms 24-26 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He is faithful to give direction to our lives

What is it with men and asking for help with directions when driving?  I’m not into man bashing by any means, but I don’t understand their reluctance to ask for help in finding an address, store or whatever.  I think it may have something to do with their God-given drive to conquer, defend and provide, but I’m not certain.  Fortunately, put an electronic device in the hands of a man, and he’ll ask it to find absolutely everything.  A word of praise for the GPS!  The Psalmist David, on the other hand, had no trouble asking God for directions – a great paradigm for men and women alike! 

@ Psalm 25
“Show me the right path, O Lord; point out the road for me to follow.  Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you.” (4-5) Astonishing! A man asking for directions – a King nonetheless!   In truth, women are often guiltier than men in trying to move forward in their own strength and wisdom without asking for God’s guidance because they are multitaskers, always doing, fixing and nurturing.  Most certainly, everyone needs God’s direction every day.

In the next several verses, David shared who may receive God’s directions and how He reveals His direction.  The Lord gives directions to “those who go astray…the humble…all who keep His covenant and obey His demands…those who fear the Lord.” And God reveals His direction in different ways, “he shows the proper path…he leads…teaching them His way…with unfailing love and faithfulness.” (8-12)

Sometimes we miss God’s directions because our view of how He reveals His guidance is too limited.  Yes, we love the wide open door that only the clueless individual could miss; but most often He reveals our path by leading us one step at a time to our future.  The Word of God is God’s instrument, His GPS if you will, to teach us His ways, the non-negotiable path to His promises.  Regardless of how God leads, we can rest assured that He will lead with “unfailing love and faithfulness” when we follow Him with a heart of obedience.

When we stand before that fork in the road, when we see no way forward at all or when we cry, “Show me the right path, O Lord; point out the road for me to follow,” we have this assurance from David, “Friendship with the Lord is reserved for those who reverence Him, and with them He shares the secrets of His promises.” (14,TLB)  To His friends He will reveal His promises; and the path to His promises that may be hidden from view at times, He will show the way.  His guidance is never early, His guidance is never late, and it will always deliver us safely to our destination. 

Moving Forward:  Based on our friendship, I believe He will direct my path today, and I will trust His faithfulness and His perfect timing.

Tomorrow @ Job 17-18

Psalm 21-23 (NLT) 

Discover His Heart: He longs to guide us, heal us, protect us, comfort us and cover us with the oil of His blessings

@ Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.  He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.  He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.  You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.  You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.  Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.

It was while reading the Bible on a day in February 1998, just like I’m doing today, that the familiar 23rd Psalm became more real to me than I had ever known before.  The presence of the Lord filled my little family room in a very special way and from that day forward I started to record His revelation to me of the Shepherd’s faithfulness to His sheep.  From that experience I wrote the devotional book Intimate Moments with the Shepherd – Guidance through the Challenges of Life, an illustrated portrayal of the Shepherd’s intimate relationship with us.

While researching and taking photos for this project, I visited dozens of sheep farms and learned some valuable lessons.  Out in the sheep pastures I could have called the sheep over to me all day long, but they only came when they heard their shepherd calling. At his or her call, they came running.  I learned that even with a flock of 200 or more, the shepherd knew each sheep, their lineage, their illnesses and even the grains and grasses that some preferred.  These experiences and many others like them were valuable lessons that revealed to me first-hand the intimacy we have with our Shepherd as David understood it.

Something that always blesses me when I read Psalm 23 is the subtle, yet significant change that takes place between verses 3 and 4, “He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name.  Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.” (3-4)  Up to verse 4, David had been talking about his Shepherd, His guidance, His rest, His strength.  But when David reached the dark valley, he began talking to his Shepherd.

The Lord leads us along life’s path giving direction and guidance. When we face the dark valley that may be death or may just seem like it, a shadow of it, He is right there beside us often carrying us through our challenge.  We can talk to Him, confident that we are not alone.

In a personal way, David continued, “You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.”  Then, right there in front of our howling enemies, He anoints us with abundant favor, as if to say to our enemy, “Be gone!  This one is Mine, eternally!”  What an honor to sit at His table and to be marked with His fragrant oil for everyone to see and smell. “I’m my Beloved’s, and He is mine.” What a Shepherd! 

Moving Forward: As I move forward to live out the challenges I may face today, I will walk with the confident knowledge that my Shepherd, my Lord, is with me.  When the enemy comes with his taunts, I will boldly declare that I am anointed with the Lord’s favor, “Be gone! I belong to Him.” 

Tomorrow @ Job 15-16

Job 13-14 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: The all-knowing God directs our lives according to His knowledge

We’ve all heard the sayings, ignorance is bliss and what you don’t know can’t hurt you, but it’s difficult to not know or be ignorant in this information age. There are times, usually about midday, when my brain just hurts from too much input, but thankfully it’s nothing that a good cup of coffee doesn’t cure.  Most often knowledge on just about any subject is invaluable and helps to protect us. It enriches our lives, although sometimes not knowing does offer momentary bliss.  However, in Job’s situation, not knowing was almost killing him. 

@ Job 13
After much discussion, Job’s dialogue with his visitors became, well, cranky to say the least, and I really don’t blame him.  “As for you, you smear me with lies. As physicians, you are worthless quacks.  If only you could be silent! That’s the wisest thing you could do.” (4-5) Job also questioned their audacity to speak for God without His permission.

“Listen closely to what I am about to say. Hear me out. I have prepared my case; I will be proved innocent.” (17-18) No longer filled with the earlier lofty questions to his friends about God and His actions, Job took matters into his own hands and decided to take his case to court before God—and became his own lawyer!

He personally wanted to ask God what the charges were against him, why had God turned from him.  But in the closing remarks of his trial, this broken man, filled with sorrow over loss, covered with sores, acquiesced, “You have decided the length of our lives. You know how many months we will live, and we are not given a minute longer.” (14:5)  Job lost all hope for the future.

It’s important to remember here that we know some things that Job was not privy to. We are aware of Satan’s challenge in Chapter 1, but Job had no knowledge of it.  He had no idea of the purpose behind all his pain, and while Job felt he was being wrongfully punished, we know he was being tested.  Walking through difficult times in the past, nothing comparable to Job’s trials I might add, I often wondered if I had done something to cause it – why this pain?  After examining my heart for a cause, I came to realize that there are just some things I am not privy to. God has a plan and a purpose that I may or may not someday understand, and that’s okay because I have hope.

Where Job had little to no knowledge of eternal life, we are well aware that we are simply sojourners through this life on our way to heaven.  It makes me smile to read Job’s hopeful question, “Can the dead live again?  If so, this would give me hope through all my years of struggle.” (14:14)  Job was brave to even ask the question in his day.  Can the dead live again?  Yes, Job, yes!

We are blessed to live on this side of Calvary with a Bible to read, where we learn about God’s purpose for us and the knowledge that we will one day live again to spend eternity with Him. “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18NKJ)  Where Job sat in despair, uncertain of his future, we have hope of an eternal future with God.  Be comforted! 

Moving forward: Because God is in control of today’s challenges, I have hope for the future and the assurance of eternal life with Him. 

Tomorrow @ Isaiah 34-39

Isaiah 29-33 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He waits for us to come to Him so that He can show His love

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, our thoughts are turned to those we love and the ways we will express our love.  Capitalists that we are, we have turned this sentiment into a multi-billion dollar enterprise – chocolate, flowers, diamonds…and again I say chocolate!  In step with this focus on love, television programming is filled with love stories to touch our hearts and to remind us of our own love story.

A familiar story is one of unrequited love where the dear young man desperately loves the young woman who seeks after the more dashing or successful men in her life and ignores his adoration.  Or another story is where the young woman, listening to her biological clock, becomes impatient in waiting for the right man to come along and almost marries Mr. Wrong.  Fortunately, with television movies of this nature, love sweeps in at just the right moment and everybody lives happily ever after. (Sigh) In our reading today, Isaiah talked about God’s unrequited love for an impatient nation, a love deeper than Hollywood could ever imagine. 

@ Isaiah 30
“Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved.  In quietness and confidence is your strength.  But you would have none of it.  You said, ‘No, we will get our help from Egypt.  They will give us swift horses for riding into battle.’” (15-16)  As the advancing Assyrian army threatened Judah, God asked them to rest in Him, and in due time He would deliver them, but Judah was impatient.  Time was ticking away, and they considered an alliance with Egypt. This response reminds me of an impatient young woman, her biological clock and unfortunate alliances.

“So the Lord must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion.  For the Lord is a faithful God.  Blessed are those who wait for his help.” (18)   Here was a compassionate God waiting for Judah to fall in love with Him, to stop looking to others for love and protection.  Unrequited love.

If they would once again fall in love with God and not turn to others, He would love and protect them beyond their wildest dreams. “He will be gracious if you ask for help. He will surely respond to the sound of your cries…he will still be with you to teach you… Your own ears will hear him.  Right behind you a voice will say, ‘This is the way you should go,’ whether to the right or to the left.” (19-21)   Their gracious God who loved them so dearly would answer, teach and guide if they would only turn to Him, forsaking all others.

And what a great message for us in the climate that we live in today!  Instead of turning in panic to unknown sources for our answers and help, God asks us to patiently wait for Him to respond to our hearts cries.  He will be gracious if we will ask for help.  He will respond to our cries and teach us along the way as we wait on Him.  He will direct our steps on the very best path and at the perfect moment in time.

When we are tempted to turn to others first for help, He waits for us to come to Him so that He can show His love and compassion to us and be gracious to us.  A sovereign God, so full of love, created us to be the recipients of this great love – He only has eyes for us!  How can we resist so great a love?  How can we make Him wait? 

Moving Forward:  As I patiently wait on Him today, I’ll listen for His voice right behind me, directing my path.  I love Him so. 

Tomorrow @ Matthew 14-16

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