The Lord, the God of Israel, says: “Because you prayed to Me…” (Isaiah 37:21a)
Our prayers make a difference.
That’s not to claim we always get what we want. But when we seek God as we pray, we step toward lining up with Him. Our prayers make a difference, not just in the context but in the relationship.
We don’t have to apologetically back into prayer. “I’m so sorry to bother you, God. This is such a little thing. I know you’ve heard it before.” Oh, He still listens to us regardless of how we approach Him. Starting somewhere is better than not starting at all. Approaching Him in any way is better than not approaching Him at all.
But we can be bold. We can declare who He is. We can set aside our insecurities, because the One we’re to talking to is our security.
In all his scheming, the wicked arrogantly thinks: “There is no accountability, since God does not exist.” (Psalm 10:4b)
No accountability. It’s what a lot of people think, and I wouldn’t categorize all those people as “wicked.” Maybe we all agree to some semblance of accountability, but it’s often accountability we determine as allowable. People are often willing to be accountable to what or whom they agree with, what’s acceptable and comfortable enough for us to handle.
But if our basis premise is wrong, what good is the accountability? If we hold ourselves accountable to the wrong things, is it actually accountability?
Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. (1 Peter 3:15)
Christians are taught to be prepared to give an answer when faced with a question, curiosity, or challenge. But being prepared to give an answer doesn’t mean our answers are always set in concrete. We’re human. We grow, change, question, settled in (sometimes too much). Sure, there are times when the answer is clear and certain, but I think much of the time we oversimplify and give an answer to a question someone doesn’t even ask. We don’t listen well enough to be able to answer well. And even when we think we listen well, we look for an answer that might fit instead of the answer that fits best.
Sometimes the answer is another question.
There have been many times in my faith journey that I’ve given a concrete response, because certainty seems reassuring. It gives a sense of security. But that sense of security is a deceptive one. Just because we think we understand doesn’t mean we do. Just because we’ve been taught something or have interpreted something doesn’t make us completely right. Sometimes we burrow into a snippet of truth so intensely that we fail to explore the full breadth of truth.
Faith is about trust, and trust has to do with a Who more than What. I don’t trust my faith. I trust who is at the center of my faith: Jesus. So, I guess I am prepared to give an answer for my hope. My hope is Jesus, plain and simple. But just to be clear, just because I know the core of my hope is Jesus, it doesn’t mean I have an answer for everything. It certainly doesn’t mean I understand everything. I can give you an answer for why there is pain in the world, why innocent people get hurt, why injustices seem to go unpunished, and so on, but I don’t completely understand those things, so I’ll hesitate to give you an answer, knowing whatever I offer will be insufficient. I know Jesus gets it all, and I trust Him. But it doesn’t make answers easy. It doesn’t make life easy. And it doesn’t make faith easy.
But He makes trust easier, because He is always trustworthy.
The LORD is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does. (Psalm 145:13)
I expect the freezer to keep my food frozen. I expect the clothes I put into the washing machine to come out clean. I expect my laptop to load my inbox messages. Despite the trust I’ve put in these things, I’ve been surprised when I find soggy, spoiled food in my freezer, soapy, drenched clothes in the washing machine, and an error message in my email inbox.
It’s not just machines and electronics that let me down; I’ve also been disappointed by people I’ve trusted. I’ve been untrustworthy at times, too. But God is completely trustworthy every single moment and every single situation.
When we’re in situations where we feel challenged, threatened, or unsafe, we might question God’s presence and His trustworthiness to care and provide for us. But God’s goal is not for you to remain safe from all danger and mishap. If you’re looking for a cave of faith in which to hide for the remainder of your life in preparation for joyful eternity in heaven, you’re not going to find it.
Some of us seek safety, and others seek adventure. If you enjoy the comfort of safety, God will challenge you with adventure. If you prefer adventure, He will challenge you with stability. God gives us safety when we need it, but He doesn’t give us a place to hide when we need to face a conflict, person, or fear. He knows when we’re depleted or in danger versus when we’re running to hide from something or someone we need to face.
We can trust God to give us security in any situation, whether we need to retreat to His safe haven or advance with the security of His boldness and provision. Ask God to help you fully trust His timing, provision, and guidance today.
Bethlehem wasn’t on our itinerary. It’s impossible to do everything in Israel. It might be a small nation, but it’s packed with possibilities. During my first trip to Israel, I had quite an adventure in Bethlehem. It’s a walled city that requires time-consuming procedures to enter, exit, and tour. I decided the time required wasn’t worth the benefits of the visit, especially with the additional options I could add to our itinerary if I removed it, so Bethlehem wasn’t on the schedule for the 2014 trip. Everyone who signed up for the trip knew we weren’t going to Bethlehem. However, one night, a couple women asked if they could fit it in.
We had no touring or serving scheduled for Shabbat. I encouraged everyone to soak in God’s presence and rest as He guided them. Understandably, many women wanted to pack in as much as they could while they were in Israel. We were close to Bethlehem, so some asked, “Can’t we fit it in on our free day?”
I explained the security issues, the necessity for a guide, and so on. I tried to encourage everyone to experience Israel in whatever ways they wanted and felt comfortable doing, but for a variety of reasons, I asked that no one go to Bethlehem on Shabbat. I like adventures, but it wasn’t worth the risk of small groups venturing outside Jerusalem, finding a guide who could tour in Bethlehem, and going through the security without having someone who spoke more than English. Everyone respected the decision, yet I felt there was a little tension about it.
Fast forward a few days, and I brought it up with a couple women I knew had been disappointed. I wanted to make sure they understood why I had said, “no.” They said, “It’s okay. We’re over it.” They assured me they wanted to ask in case it was possible but trusted my decision. They knew they couldn’t do everything in Israel; they knew there were choices to make.
With acceptance and submission often comes blessing.
Only a few hours later, our guide quietly asked me if I’d be interested in adding something to the end of that day: Bethlehem. I nearly laughed aloud, knowing only God would orchestrate such an abundant blessing for the two women who wanted so badly to visit Jesus’ birthplace. Apparently, our guide was certified to lead groups into Bethlehem (with several required arrangements), so he would stay with us. I asked him not to tell the group until later in the day so no one would get distracted.
I watched each of the two women for their reactions when he announced the addition to the itinerary. They were surprised by joy, overwhelmed with the blessing. So, we ventured to Bethlehem as the sun set.
As before, it was a chaotic place. It wasn’t the peaceful place we might imagine it to be. For many, it was unsettling. Yet another surprise. I was surprised, too. Surprised by the blessing of seeing Bethlehem by night, by talking to people I didn’t know and might not meet otherwise because they were “behind the wall,” by watching women process Bethlehem for the first time, and by taking time to reflect as we sat in the long security line to leave Bethlehem.
We can’t know surprises are coming, but we can certainly appreciate them when they come our way.
When they heard this, everyone in the synagogue was enraged. They got up, drove Him out of town, and brought Him to the edge of the hill that their town was built on, intending to hurl Him over the cliff. But He passed right through the crowd and went on His way. (Luke 4:28-30)
We stood on Mount Precipice outside Nazareth.
I thought of Joseph’s words: “You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result–the survival of many people.” (Genesis 50:20)
God’s plans prevail. “Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the LORD’s decree will prevail.” (Proverbs 19:21)
Mount Precipice is a daunting place. Unlike many other mountains (more like large hills, but they classify as mountains in Israel), the side we stood on wasn’t a gradual decline. I couldn’t see the ground, so I walked a short distance beyond the platform among the large boulders to get a better look. I still couldn’t look far enough over the edge to see the drop. I decided I could miss that vantage point, and I stepped back. This was no rolling hill. If anyone was pushed over (or slipped as she was straining to see over the edge), it wouldn’t end well.
Yet the view was beautiful. We could see Nazareth by night…
And Afula with Tel Meggido in the background across the Valley of Armageddon…
Pieces fit together as I looked at the relationship among places. Because I had stood on Meggido a few years before, I could follow roads and mountains and make connections.
Journeying through Israel isn’t about going to all the places that make us feel warm fuzzies because we’re walking where Jesus walked. If we walk where Jesus walked, we’re uncomfortable at times. There are risks. After all, He took risks for us.
Walking in Jesus’ footsteps isn’t limited to Israel. We have His footsteps in God’s Word. If we’re willing to go with Him, we’re not always going to have warm fuzzies. Faith isn’t about feeling good. It involves being bold. It’s risky, because faith isn’t safe. We can be secure with Jesus, but we’re not always safe by the world’s standards.
I’m glad I stood on the precipice. As I stepped near the edge, my heart quickened. And that’s okay. If I hadn’t walked to the edge, I wouldn’t have seen the view.
I looked for a quiet place to read my Bible. I stepped onto the ledge of rocks and could look to both sides and see the coastline for quite a distance. I heard the waves lapping the shoreline and felt the cool breeze and sunshine on my face. It was “my” spot. I sat down and settled in.
After reading for a while, I looked down and decided to snap a photo. It looked as if I was precariously sitting on a dangerous ledge, but I felt secure. I wasn’t uncertain, teetering on top of a slippery, unstable ledge. My feet dangled in air. They weren’t on solid ground, but that was okay.
I went back to reading God’s Word and thought about the security yet uncertainty of God’s Word. By uncertain, I don’t mean I’m not certain about it, or even more so, that God is uncertain in any way. It (and He) is unchangeable. However, I am changed every time I open it. It’s as if I feel secure as I settle into it, yet I don’t know where it’s going to take me. I don’t know exactly where God is going to guide me. With each word, God might guide me into exploring a new path, challenging me to change, weeding through my thoughts, changing my heart. I can certainly rely on Him…including relying on Him to guide my next steps.
I can be secure in God’s will without being certain about everything it entails. I don’t have to understand everything. My life might not be safe at times. God doesn’t promise me safety. He promises me security, and that doesn’t depend on my surroundings. Security is about my heart. It’s about eternity. I’m okay with my next steps being uncertain because of the certainty I have in eternity. I want my next steps to make a difference, inviting God to change my heart along the way. I don’t want to focus on the “someday” with Him. I want to live today, right now, for and with Him.
I don’t really mind that my feet are dangling over the edge, as long as I’m standing firmly on His Word.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were created through Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created. Life was in Him, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, yet the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)