His Name is “Faithful” – El Hanne’eman

el-amanKnow therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.  Deut. 7:9

This is a hard one to articulate correctly, so I pray that I can with great grace. When a #believer says #God never lets us down, never fails us, it can appear to #nonbelievers that we’re delusional or just saying things to justify our #faith. He has never failed me…but to be sure, God has not always met my human expectations; neither has He said ‘yes’ to certain prayers I’ve prayed. He has not always diverted my feet from walking into hard places, or spared me from having to wait; or from having to believe for what I could not already see in the natural. He hasn’t always let me get the promotion, let my team win, or shielded me from false accusation. Some of the not-so-bad things I’ve asked for, I didn’t get. So on the litmus test of the world, my testimony that He never fails seems to not make sense–those who expect that we always get a trophy for participation, that we are never denied, never discriminated against, never left standing alone.

But I am firm in my conviction when I reiterate that my God has most certainly never failed me! I don’t have to make excuses for the times He has said no…for it’s what He’s said YES to that proves that all things work together for good for me and for every believer who’s called according to His purpose. Jesus didn’t come and live a shielded life. He wasn’t some celebrity’s son who served in a safe zone and was then hailed a hero for wearing the uniform of flesh away from the field of front-line combat. He was tested, tested, tested. He was the prototype who was subjected to more hardship than I would ever be, pushed to the point of death, so that I would never have to bear up under more temptation than I could handle without an escape route.

Salvation isn’t a Kevlar jumpsuit that keeps us from getting scraped, burned, uncomfortable here on earth. We were never designed to be so fragile that we couldn’t take being ordinary, frail earthen vessels holding the treasures of a holy God inside of us. It’s not what He spares us FROM that makes us remarkable. It’s how He holds us together in spite of what we encounter. Some of us are cracked and broken and glued back together and His light is shining not out of the top of the vessel, but through all the wounds we’ve encountered. And if I believe anything in the whole 66-book volume called the Bible, I believe Romans 8:28 when it shows that no matter what we encounter, He will not let us go. He will not allow us to not recover. He will somehow make up to us our deficiencies and losses and disappointments. He will give us peace on the worst day of our lives that the world cannot explain, and neither can we. It just IS. His children going through their bitter seasons will have friends coming to bring encouragement, only to go away themselves encouraged by the very ones going through the fire.

And He does all of this for His glory. He will take His children and place them in assignments far beyond their credentials. Oh, they’ll have to plead with Him for wisdom and strength and divine guidance just to pull it off…and He’ll give all of the above. And people will marvel that the worst possible appointee to that assignment just did the best possible job of it, because God was with him or her. He will bring His children through to the other side of inconsolable sorrow. What would destroy anyone else seems to build a resolve in them that contradicts every reason for them to still be able to dredge up a remnant of joy and hope and optimism. And there really is joy. There are abundant blessings and abundant life to be had. There are better outcomes to situations where believers obey a now-word from God on a matter and miss the heartaches that come from wallowing in sin and rebellion. It’s an infinitely better life with Him than without Him here on earth. We’re not even talking eternity yet…life’s better HERE, now, because He lives. His Word is full of truth that causes us to make better decisions that invite honor, favor, blessing…certain advantages we don’t have outside of relationship with Him.

I’ll be honest: I’m a path-of-least-resistance kind of gal. I would be thrilled if the path God chose for me had no speed bumps on it. I don’t like confrontation, or dealing with people or circumstances that vex me and get on my nerves. I don’t like failure and I certainly don’t like burying my loved ones. Truth is, I’m going to encounter every type of situation that a nonbeliever encounters (aside from some circumstantial consequences, like getting shot while robbing a bank of course). I’ll have bad days and wake up grouchy or depressed. I’ll have to confront what makes me scared. I’ll be the one not chosen. I’ll be misunderstood. Someone will be prejudiced toward me or just not like the way I fix my hair. I’ll have the choice every day of my life to either push through or give up. And when I make bad decisions, I’ll have to live with what comes of them.

However, what I have that a nonbeliever doesn’t is HELP. I’ll face those exact same life encounters as anyone else, but I will not be alone. He will whisper to me when I have negative feelings. He will bring to my remembrance His promises, and reward my faith for embracing and believing them. He will supernaturally stretch my finances when I put Him first, so that not only am I able to meet my own needs, I’ll be able to do something to bless someone else, too. He will heal my body if I’m sick or injured. Sometimes He’ll just bless me for no good reason, too! And when I ask something and put full faith on what His Word has said in that matter, He really does say yes! At a time when I’ve been my worst, expecting a rightfully disapproving hand of judgment, He will extend mercy and just lavish me with love and totally unexpected favor. Though it appears to some that I’m an underachiever (and occasionally an undeserving winner), He will never let me ultimately be a loser. He will mix my tears, my losses, my disappointments, my frailties together with my praise and my prayers on His altar of incense and will ultimately cause me to emerge whole and shining–His trophy. His trophies aren’t flawless, by the way. You can see every scar on our bark where we’ve lived to fight another day. That’s what makes us trophies.

So, half a century into this journey of life, I’m still here. If you’re reading this, so are you. Every fracture in my framework has grown back stronger for having trusted in the God who fails me not. So I am not basing my joy on whether today and tomorrow rack up nothing but wins for me. He’s got the scorecard…and though I look to be irrecoverably down, He has a plan to emerge me a champion; a survivor. He won’t let go of me. He won’t wad me up in the wastebasket of life. My life is so much richer for having put my trust in Him for most of that life. I doubtless would have been destroyed long ago if He hadn’t had good plans for hope and a future for me.

The Old Testament passage above calls God (in Hebrew) “El Hanne’eman” or “El Aman”–Faithful God.  (Sound a little like Immanuel, God with Us?)  For a life that has no ups and downs, there’s little need for faith and faithfulness.  Speaks clearly to me, then, that in good times and bad, God is with us.  Will you consider allowing Him into your life as well? I can’t promise you’ll never have another bad, sick, or lonely day again, but I can promise you that if you put your hand in His, He will never let go.

Lord, our El Hanne’eman, reveal to us what it really means to be in relationship with You. There are a million flowery prayers out there that use Christian-ese words which mean little to someone who’s never darkened a church door. I am asking You to reveal Yourself to those who don’t have a concept of what a “personal Savior” is. Reveal Yourself to the ones who’d just be grateful to have a helper and a friend. Meet them where they are. Put someone in their path who can help them know You better. Reveal Yourself to them so they can say yes to a relationship with You. Extend some sign of Your mercy in their lives today that causes a light to come on where they say, “Hey, maybe there really IS a God after all.” In times when they acknowledge You, cause them to be flooded with such a noticeable peace that, whenever there’s an absence of that peace, they know that they truly need You in order to maintain it. Help their desperation. Hear their cries even when they’re throbbing with addictions from which they aren’t sure they want to be delivered. And while knowing You will never whisk them away from having to sometimes wait and believe for answers to prayer, let them know that You will hear every single one they pray; and that You will hold onto them while You work a solution that will be for their ultimate good.

All the times aren’t always good, but all the time You are always good. Thank You that, through the good, the bad, and the ugly, I’m still here and I’m still Yours.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Velcro Devotion in a Teflon World

Velcro

“But if your servant says to you, “I do not want to leave you,” because he loves you and your family and is well off with you, then take an awl and push it through his ear lobe into the door, and he will become your servant for life.”  Deut. 15:16-17 NIV

In these last days, it seems harder than ever to find people who will serve in any capacity—much less ministry–with lasting devotion.  In the era of contractual service, we seek an “out clause” in almost everything we say ‘yes’ to.  Marriages dissolve once the honeymoon is over; parents abandon their post and leave their children to be raised by the grandparents (an alarming trend); and, few places of employment are left where someone can hope to work clear up until retirement. We all tend to want to milk the best out of something and then discard it once it no longer profitable or fulfilling to us.  It makes me think of the Winans song, “Bring Back the Days of Yea and Nay.”

The above Scripture related to someone who had sold himself (or herself) into servant hood.   It was an understood law that in the seventh year, that person would be set free from the master, at which time the master awarded a blessing for the service before releasing the servant.  Now, I’m aware that sometimes it’s entirely fitting for someone to operate in a season, or an agreed time of service, and then be released from it.  I don’t wish to condemn anyone if that has been your chosen path; on the contrary, I respect and am grateful for all these days who sign on for any level of service, even the temporary!  Laborers in the field are often hard to come by!  What I do want to encourage in this writing, however, is for a special remnant of people to catch the vision of becoming a servant for LIFE.  Can we say to the Lord, “I will faithfully tend this patch of Your field, in good times and in bad, in season, out of season, when I’m praised for it and when I’m an unsung hero too.  I’ll be so predictable and so constant, You and my leaders won’t have to wonder if I’ll show up to serve…it’ll be a given!”

In terms of commitment in our service to the Lord, Who has so abundantly blessed us all, I would just challenge you today to examine yourself. Do you consider His work and His priorities something that you do ala carte, or is it an integral part of who you are?  You may never be called upon to sell completely out and go full-time into ministry, but if He were to ask, would you be willing?  What material possessions, hobbies, or other preoccupations would you find hard to push aside in favor of going to a higher level in your commitment to the Lord and His work?  Do you ever bow up and feel offense rising within your spirit whenever the pastor or a leader asks you to give up some of your closely guarded leisure time for a worthwhile investment in kingdom work?

Most of us who serve in the ministry do so on a purely volunteer basis; but may we, from this day forward, never look at it as a “favor” that we do for God.  Whether the time we invest in ministry is a few minutes a month or several hours each week, may we treat our offering of ourselves in this way as a holy thing unto the Lord.  May we not look at our service as something which we can do with less than excellence, or with less faithfulness than someone who is, for instance, a pastor.  May we not feel as if we are exempt from accountability just because we do what we do on a volunteer basis. The truth is, all of us are “paid” by the Lord.  As you are sowing your service into the work of the Master, He is returning blessing upon your life and upon your family’s lives in ways money can and cannot buy…and He has an excellent memory when it comes to keeping record of your faithfulness!

Those servants released at the end of the period of service walked away with their masters’ blessing—and reward–with no questions asked.  God will not withhold blessing from you for going no farther than what you may have originally pledged in His service. And He also knows that there are times in your life when you’ll be able to give less of yourself—He knows babies will be born, times of sickness may temporarily slow your pace, aging parents will need cared for.  He is not a tyrant Master! That said, in whatever capacity you choose to give yourself to kingdom work, I pray that, beginning today, you will do so with joy and with excellence, and with a renewed sense of zeal for His purposes.

Just know that you are a set-apart, unique, and treasured member of His household—bearing the mark of His awl, if you should choose to say, “Use me Lord, however You wish, for the rest of my life!” What a testimony of the goodness of our Master, when we declare to Him in the presence of a mixed-up and ambiguous, fickle world, “It’s unthinkable that I should ever be separated from my submission and service to You!’

My prayer today:

Heavenly Father, thank You for bringing us into Your family, both as sons/daughters and as Your servants.  I pray today that all of us will be consumed with zeal for Your house; may the plight of the lost and the destitute move us like it moves You.  I pray that we will always have a godly, meek attitude with regard to our giving of time, talent, and treasure—and that we will never look at what You ask of us as encroachment upon “our” territory.  Father, we love You, and we love being a part of Your family and Your work.  Whether our involvement is to serve in ministry in the church, or to be salt and light out in the secular world, we pledge to You that we will let our light so shine among men, and that we will take Your kingdom wherever we are planted.  We may not always be asked to serve in the same areas we start out in, and that’s ok–we realize the importance of times and seasons—but we yield ourselves in undying devotion to Your will, knowing that You’ll find ways to make us fruitful in every stage of our lives. You will never ask more of us than we are able to perform; Jesus assured us that His burden is easy and His yoke is light!  Bottom line, we make ourselves permanently available to You, to do with as You will.  With our ear against the door, willing to be pierced in covenant, we say to You, “Yours, unconditionally.”  In Jesus’ name, Amen.