“Faith begins where Reason sinks exhausted.” (Albert Pike)
To the untrained eye, it had to be the most unorthodox move in the armed history. The fact that a kid with no combat training had squared off against a giant even the king’s most would not challenge was one thing. But to do it without a shield? The battalion must have whispered to one another as he walked by. Hadn’t the king provided him with armor? But David won one of the most decisive victories in military history, all without the aid of a shield – to the untrained eye, at least.
So why did David reject the armor of his king? Perhaps, being as covenant-minded as he was, he recalled God’s words to Abraham as Saul’s men adjusted the ill-fitting armor:
“I am your shield, and your exceeding great reward.” (Genesis 15:1)
Perhaps he realized that with God as a shield, Saul’s armor was not so necessary after all.
Years later, David, now king, would find himself on the run from a son who had not only betrayed him but who had also amassed an army against him. Perhaps he thought back to that same moment with Goliath – the moment he had prepared for battle by laying aside his terrestrial shield, when he wrote in Psalm 3:3, “
Thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.”
As we move through life, we tend to collect pieces of armor to keep us safe from all manner of pain and injuries, physical and personal. Even so, even our greatest armor cannot always keep us safe. Still, as we face our greatest battles, we can cast our eyes to the hills and exchange our earthly shields for a divine one that will never fail not only to defend us but also to lift us in our hour of greatest need.
It must have been terrifying – possibly one of the most frightening moments of her life. She had been in a similar spot just before meeting the king. She had had no idea how he would feel about her and whether he would love her or shun her. But somehow this moment was worse. She was attempting to see His Majesty without having an invitation. Even though she was married to him, if his temper was fowl on that particular occasion it could cost her her life.
And so Esther made her way to the throne room, heart pounding with each tentative step. Would he send her to her death? Her eyes were fixed on the golden scepter in his hand. If he raised it, she would be granted an audience. If not, it could mean her death. She prayed silently to the God who had seen her people through every trial through the years. She needed His help now more than ever – the fate of the entire Jewish nation hinged on this moment. And then the king saw her. He immediately raised the scepter and welcomed her into his presence. It was a pivotal moment. It signaled the beginning of salvation for God’s people.
There is something intimidating about walking into the presence of royalty. Whether they are surrounded by armed guards or have a scepter that signals our life or death, monarchs are famously unapproachable.
And yet the King of Kings makes Himself available to us at any moment. We do not have to wait for a scepter to be raised or for a special audience to be granted. In fact, our King pursues us. He leaves His throne to reach for us in our lowest and darkest moments. We have the incredible privilege to be able to walk into His presence whenever we need Him. What an awesome God we serve!
If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain:
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.
In a world where it seems bigger is always better – especially in the great state of Texas– it can be so easy to dismiss small things. We focus on the big moments in life: births and deaths, doors that open and close, triumphs and tragedies. While acknowledging pivotal landmarks and milestones, may we continue to keep the smaller things in mind as well. While we may define our lives by the big moments, the actual living of it takes place in the smaller ones.
The celebration of a wedding anniversary is possible because two people have striven for at least a year to recommit themselves to love. They have worked through challenges and celebrated tiny joys along the way. The celebration of a birthday commemorates thousands of moments that have made that life possible. If there are loved ones there to celebrate alongside the birthday boy or girl, it is because efforts have been made throughout the year to sustain those relationships.
As we reflect on the things that give our lives meaning, may we celebrate the big things but not forget about the small ones. The tiniest of smiles can bring joy into the heart of someone in tears. A gentle touch of the hand can bring healing into a broken life. A small step can be the beginning of a monumental journey.
As we progress quickly through this new year, take the time to dream big but never underestimate the value of small dreams as well. Whether you are saving the world or simply helping a fallen robin find his nest, your efforts are not in vain.
I wish that there were some wonderful place
In the Land of Beginning Again.
Where all our mistakes and all our heartaches
And all of our poor selfish grief
Could be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door
And never put on again.
I wish we could come on it all unaware,
Like the hunter who finds a lost trail;
And I wish that the one whom our blindness had done /
The greatest injustice of all
Could be there at the gates
Like an old friend that waits
For the comrade he’s gladdest to hail.
We would find all the things we intended to do
But forgot, and remembered too late,
Little praises unspoken, little promises broken,
And all the thousand and one
Little duties neglected that might have perfected
The day for one less fortunate.
It wouldn’t be possible not to be kind
In the Land of Beginning Again,
And the ones we misjudged
And the ones whom we grudged
Their moments of victory here,
Would find in the grasp of our loving hand-clasp
More than penitent lips could explain…
So I wish that there were some wonderful place
Called the Land of Beginning Again,
Where all our mistakes and all our heartaches,
And all of our poor selfish grief
Could be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door
And never put on again.
Her daughter’s suicide fresh on her mind, Louisa Fletcher must have wiped away a few tears as she penned the words to her most well-known poem, “The Land of Beginning Again.” And, as it often happens, from great pain stems the inspiration for great courage.
For all who have wished for a fresh start, Isaiah 43:19 offers the beautiful promise that God:
“will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.”
With a God whose specialty is crafting beauty from ashes, our feet may cross into the Land of Beginning Again with the simple act of letting Him do what He does best.
Little Jim was known for two things: his slow mind and his tender heart. When the time came for the church Christmas pageant, his Sunday School teacher cast him as the innkeeper. Although he only had one line, someone in the front row sat ready to help in case he forgot it. He had spent weeks whispering it to himself:
“No room in the inn.”
His moment to shine came when Joseph and a very pregnant Mary hobbled across the stage. They stood tall and delivered their lines perfectly. “We are looking for a place to spend the night.” Proudly, Jim remembered his line:
“There’s no room in the inn.”
But Joseph did not give in so easily. He begged and pleaded and Jim was moved. He looked at his prompter, suddenly unsure of himself, but obediently repeated his message: “There’s no room in the inn.” Joseph pleaded more ardently and this time Jim’s eyes filled with tears. He looked at his prompter once more, hoping for a different line. With trembling lips and a shaky voice, he whispered,
“No room in the inn.”
As Joseph argued, Jim’s resolve continued to weaken. Ultimately, however, he made the pageant director proud as he held fast to his single line. Finally, as Joseph and Mary turned to leave, Jim’s compassionate heart could take no more.
“Wait, Mary!” he cried out, to the director’s chagrin. “You can have my room!”
How different Bethlehem might have been if Jim had indeed been the innkeeper. Two thousand years later, as innkeepers of our own hearts, we often open our doors to things that clamor loudly but ultimately have little value. Sadly, our lives can become so cluttered with debris that even as Jesus knocks, we only wish we had room.
Neither Hollywood nor Broadway would ever come calling for an actor like Jim, but our world is in desperate need of others like him. As we move into this Christmas season and beyond, may we learn the art of welcoming in the things that truly matter in life.
There is something unnerving about a waiting room. No matter how comfortable the seats, how trendy the décor, or how fabulous the magazines, our attention is always focused on the door that will lead us into the purpose of our visit.
The people of Judah found themselves in a millenia-long waiting room. God had told Abraham that he would be the father of many nations but Abraham had to wait until old age before his son was born. God told Moses that he would be a great deliverer but Moses spent eighty years waiting for the chance. God told David that he would be a powerful king but he had to fight a number difficult battles before it was possible. When God’s chosen people fell captive to the empires of the age, He raised up prophets with yet another promise: I will send you a Messiah.
Their time in the waiting room would end with the opening of a door they never saw coming: a baby born in a little town called Bethlehem.
Their waiting room time, while long, served a purpose. Judah had struggled with faithfulness to God but it was in their waiting room that they committed fully and completely. They developed a system to educate their children and established synagogues – the very places that would eventually be used to spread the gospel of the long-awaited Messiah.
Waiting rooms are not the easiest places to stay but they provide a valuable preparation space.
We sometimes forget that while we are waiting, someone is preparing everything for us on the other side of the door. During this holiday season, whatever waiting room you may find yourself in, remember that He has promised to prepare a place for you. Let us determine to make the most of our personal waiting rooms until He opens the door and calls our names.
Sarah Josepha Hale penned her first letter to President Zachary Taylor in 1846. Thus began her seventeen-year quest to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. She wrote letters to Presidents Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchannan, but it was not until war split the nation in half that her letter reached the man it had been destined to impact all along.
Abraham Lincoln made the official proclamation in 1863: Thanksgiving would be celebrated every fourth Thursday in November as a national day of
"Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens."
Lincoln could not have foreseen everything our country would become, but between Halloween and Christmas he created a bridge of gratitude that would transition us into the Christmas season with a thankful attitude. While the war did not end for two more years, the president of a broken country chose to offer thanks before salvation came. While brothers fought brothers and families were ripped apart from painful politics, he saw a need to be thankful.
Even as the nation he loved so dearly seemed broken beyond repair, he chose to be grateful.
And so Thanksgiving comes before Christmas. I love that we celebrate in that order, choosing to see Christmas through the lens of gratitude. Much like pilgrims and Native Americans sat down to forge bonds of brotherhood, so shepherds and kings came together to kneel at the bed of a newborn Child.
And so Thanksgiving and Christmas comingle, each enhancing the other, allowing us to bask in the splendid dance of Gratitude and Grace.
There was once a man who loved earthly treasures. As his life drew to an end, he decided to sell everything and purchase a single bar of gold – a bar he was determined to sneak into heaven. He loved his family but he just could not let go of his desire for wealth. When his eyes opened on the other side of death, he took in the splendors of New Jerusalem, relieved to find his golden bar had made the journey intact. Noticing how the man’s hands trembled with the weight of the gold, Peter asked,
“Sir, why are you carrying pavement?”
The man looked down in shock. Sure enough, he had sacrificed relationships with those he loved for something that was merely used to pave the streets of heaven.
We tend to carry the oddest things through life. We hold onto old grudges as if we will fall apart if we were to let them go. We remember every person who has ever wronged us and can tell our stories with remarkable accuracy. All the while, life goes on around us. We carry our bitterness like a treasure, rarely realizing just how much it has cost us in terms of relationships and joy.
We all have Peters in our lives who can help us to understand the fallacy of carrying unimportant things; we just have to be brave enough to let the blinders fall. Only then can we recognize how these burdens we carry are really nothing more than rubble.
When we turn our hurts over to God, He can place them under our feet where they become the very substance we stand on.
Rather than breaking our backs with the weight of our pain, it can be the level ground that we look upon from higher places. We may remember our injuries, but they are no longer hurting us – they are simply giving us a vantage point and are providing the ground that lifts us up.
What are you carrying through life right now? Are there things God has been urging you to release? Are your hands and back weakened by the load? When we offer Him the burdens that have left us bruised and broken, God can bring healing and forgiveness into our lives. It’s truly amazing the wonderful things we can accomplish when let the pavement slip from our grasp.
Ezekiel had had quite a journey. Carried away from Judah into captivity at a young age, he had seen his nation scattered and absorbed into the ever-expanding Babylonian empire. In his latest vision, he found himself wading through a hot, dry valley scattered with bones – dusty, remembrances of lives that had surrendered to their inevitable end. Just as Babylon had taken the identity of his people, this valley represented the triumph of death. Bones were mixed together in such a way that each life represented was indistinguishable from the last. The graveyard stretched before him, filling the open valley with its dreadful presence as he stared across the vast sea of lost lives.
And then a voice from heaven broke the solemn silence:
“Son of man, can these bones live?”
It might have seemed a strange question to Ezekiel. Could these innumerable dead really rise up? But he had learned early in his ministry to focus on the God who could do all things.
At the Lord’s command, Ezekiel delivered a message of life to the dead bones. As his words floated across the desert winds, he heard the distinct sound of rattling. Bones that had been scattered across the valley came together to form the people they had once been. Muscles crept across skeletons, quickly covered themselves by skin. But God’s purpose for the bones to live – not to merely have the appearance of life. So once again Ezekiel preached, this time calling for them to breathe. As lungs began to take in the dry desert air, that mess of bones suddenly became a mighty army standing at attention, a picture of God’s promise of new life for His people.
So often our own valleys are littered with personal boneyards – wide stretches of land scattered with the lifeless remains of dreams, plans, hopes, and potential. We see opportunities we have squandered, chances that have passed us by, relationships that did not work out. But, just as He spoke to Ezekiel, God begins with a simple question:
“Do you believe I can bring newness into your life?”
It is in those moments that He reminds us that He is the life giver. The same God who breathed physical life into man in Eden also breathed spiritual life into His church at Pentecost.
What are the dry bones in your life right now? Whatever you may find yourself facing today, remember that the very same God who spoke the world into existence can speak new life into your situation. Dry bones can come alive and broken lives can be reborn. It is truly remarkable what we can find in a valley when we take the time to let God speak to us through our lowland experiences.
This concludes our 10 Things You’ll Find in a Valley series. Thank you for joining us!
The sun was hot over the Wilderness of Paran where a group of expectant families looked to the land of Canaan, anxiously awaiting the return of the twelve men who had been sent to check out the land. Everything in their lives hinged on the moment they would cross the Jordan River. The long hours they had toiled as slaves in Egypt, the years spent in the desert, the stories they had heard as children – everything was building up to this.
Then, to their families’ delight, a dozen tired men cast shadows on the road home. What tales of the land would they bring? What were they carrying? Could it be fruit? Indeed, two men were carrying an enormous cluster of grapes on a pole between them. Others had packages laden with pomegranates and figs. Taking everything in, their hopes must have soared. The Promised Land was everything they had hoped it would be.
But then the spies issued their report.
In spite of the riches they had encountered, most were upset. In observing the people of the mountains and the harvests of the valleys, they could only see trouble. In spite of the fertile soil and abundant harvests, they only saw the hardships ahead. In spite of God’s awesome promise of provision, they could not seem to take Him at His word. When they looked across their valley, they could only see the giants that blocked their pathway – not the nourishment that would keep them through it all. Sadly, it was this mindset that caused Israel a forty-year delay before they could set their feet in the Promised Land.
But the story goes on.
With their aged leader near the end of his life, the children of the previous generation looked across the fertile valleys, awaiting Moses’ instruction. They were ready. They took in the rolling hills and bubbling springs and could not wait to cross over. God had promised that there were valleys filled with nourishment. For a people who had spent years as slaves, struggling to get by, then years in the desert, living on faith that God would provide, it was an awesome promise:
“For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, that flow out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing; a land whose stones are iron and out of whose hills you can dig copper.” (Deuteronomy 8:7-9)
While it is wonderful to live in the promises of God, it does not mean we will not walk through valleys. It does not mean there will not be obstacles to face. But it is often in the valleys were the soil is richest and nourishment abounds. If we only focus on the giant obstacles that block us from reaching everything God has for us, it can be so easy to overlook the blessings He provides for us along the way. Even in the darkest valleys of life, God provides everything we need to flourish.