Follow Where God Leads – Pt 2

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Daring To Believe God

In our last article on this topic of “Follow Where God Leads“, our author, Mark Atteberry, advised us to think and pray through the opportunities that present themselves to us.  If we have been wrestling through a difficult period in our lives, and then an amazing answer to our problems shows up, we still need to read God’s Word, pray to receive peace from the Holy Spirit, and listen to the advice of godly people to be sure this is what we should do next.

Now if the answer is “Yes”, then by all means, go forward and enter into the blessings that God has put in front of you.  It is at this point that we must exercise both faith and courage to believe that this “present” is from God.  Unfortunately, some people can become paralyzed at this crossroad and not move forward.  Either the person believes that the gift is too good to be true, or they believe that they are not worthy of the gift, and they decide to punish themselves for some reason and don’t take the gift that God is offering.

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On the other hand, the very opposite can happen for some people when they see what looks like their “promised land” flowing with rich opportunities and bright futures.  A person can be so captivated by the wonder of what lies ahead, that he or she throws caution to the wind and dives into the new experience without taking any precautions against heartaches or disappointments.

What Atteberry says is that we need to “cross our Jordan” and enter into our “Promised Land” with care, still paying attention to the details of the people and the events that we are encountering on the other side. Realistically, we may have come out of a difficult period of our lives, but that does not mean all of our troubles are suddenly over.  He goes on to say:

You can never let your guard down, even after you’ve left the wilderness.  You may feel as though you’ve stepped into a utopian paradise and left your troubles far behind, but that will never be completely true this side of heaven.                (pg. 163)

This is good advice to follow.  And I wish I had paid more attention to this principle before our family headed over to Africa in 2006-07.  Prior to this, our son had developed cancer, which meant leaving our mission work in Papua New Guinea.  We all experienced the hardships and heartaches of the three-year-long cancer journey.  I felt lost in what I was supposed to be doing in ministry.  We weren’t even sure if we would be able to return to doing overseas mission work. (You can read about this is my “Who Am I?” series.)

Then we were approached with the idea that we could go over to one of our Branches in Africa and help out.  Great!  Wonderful!  An opportunity to return to the mission field.  Now I would be helping out in the administration of the Branch, instead of doing translation work.  And Jill would be doing a lot of work in the Finance Office, instead of being involved in literacy or Scripture Impact or home schooling our high school boys.  But hey, we would be back in mission work.

Perhaps one of the greatest oversights I made was to think that we could recapture what we had as a family living in Papua New Guinea.  But living in an African city of a 1/4 million people, with nationals paid to be your house guards, and thinking we could learn Swahili in just a few weeks, was nothing like living in a small, rural PNG village where we at least knew the trade language. All of this and more led to great disappointments and pain instead of the Mission Paradise we had expected.

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But does that mean that because we had a terrible experience when we tried to return to a life overseas that we should just forget about ever trying again?  Not at all.  Atteberry himself gives us one more important piece of advice when we are emerging out of our wilderness experience and are on the edge of entering into a new “Promised Land” experience.

Atteberry says we are still to be characterized as people of hope.  It doesn’t really matter if we have had one, or two, or a hundred bad experiences in the past.  We know from Scripture that God is a God of love, and that He is a giver of all good things.  Just as God went before the Israelites as a cloud of smoke by day and a pillar of light by night to lead them all the way to their promised land, so God will go before us and lead us too into a better life.

Now does that mean that things will suddenly get better for you tomorrow, or next week, or next year?  I don’t know what God has in store for you.  But even if it is not fully realized in this life that our troubles and trials will be overcome, we do know that in our life to come with Christ in eternity that we will see the end of every hardship and heartache.

Just like Paul, we hold on to these promises from Romans chapter 8:

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? …. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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God Answers Our Prayers

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“Thank You God!”

In the past few weeks, there have been four significant events that cause me to pause and remember and give thanks for all that God has done for me and for my family.  November 11th is known in America as Memorial Day, but in Canada we call it Remembrance Day.  November 24th was Thanksgiving Day in the United States.  It also happened to be the 1st year Anniversary of this blog, The Listening Post.  And November 27th was my birthday.  Each of these events have given me reason to look back at the last year.

There is another reason for me pausing in my blog writing to think back and be thankful.  There are so many people who read these articles and the email updates and prayer & praise reports that we send out, that I am receiving wonderful and encouraging responses which help me to see my own life through the eyes of another person.  And one of them that I received fairly recently is worth sharing with all of you who are reading this article.

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The following message came from a good friend of ours:

Remember the first list of prayer requests you and Jill sent out when you were asking for special prayer partners? If I remember right, they have all been answered now. The condo sold, for less than you wanted, but it sold. Glen is now in the military, took time, but it happened, Eric has a job, you have been doing really well health wise most of the time, Jill is working full-time and doing well in school.

You have had good health to preach when you needed it. I don’t know how your Partnership Development has gone, but praying well, and praying that you can get some translation done for Papua New Guinea. I am praying for Jill while she is by herself. Eric and his wife live there in town don’t they, so if she needs to talk to someone, she can call him or you or if it is the right time even Glen. All in all I think that the Lord has really answered the prayer requests that your friends have been praying for you.

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In just two short paragraphs, our friend has been able to summarize well all the events that have happened in the lives of our family members over the past four months.  And in every case, we can see that the things that we were all so anxious about and fervently praying about this last summer have all been answered.  It really is amazing to step back and see from this perspective how everything we were concerned about most has been addressed, and for the most part we can say have turned out quite positively.

Now this does not mean that life is a breeze and we have nothing else to worry about.  On the contrary, we find there is plenty of things for us to get concerned about.  I am doing well physically, but it has meant being away from Jill and the family for most of the last four months.  Jill has been doing well at her schooling, but it has been a constant pressure nearly every day since June to get her assignments done, even when she wasn’t sure if she was understanding the assignment but had to do it anyway.

Yes, it is good that Eric has a job.  But as most jobs go, there are good things and some not so good aspects to the job that will drain his energy.  And it is not in the field he just got trained in, Graphic Arts Design.  And then with Glen, of course we are happy that he got into the Army after having a shut door in front of him for over a year.  But you can also believe that our prayers for Glen have increased for him since he joined the Army, not lessened.

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So what am I trying to say?  “Gee, I wish God had not answered our prayers.  Or at least not this way.”  Of course not!  As my friend has reminded me, and as I practice stepping back and looking at the big picture, I am amazed at how God has truly answered all of our prayers.  And in each of the specific answers He has given us, I can also truly say that there is definitely more good than not good in the situation.

What I am trying to say is that even when we are right in the center of God’s will and we see answers provided for the things we pray about, that there will always remain in our lives more questions and more concerns as we go through life.  That is life!  But that is not meant to be discouraging to us.  On the contrary, it provides an opportunity for us to  return to God and lay down our worries and our cares before Him and see what next He will do for us in our lives.

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And for me, that is exciting.  If every question I had was answered, if every problem had already been solved for me, then in many ways, I would not need to come to God and ask for a fresh experience of His mercy and grace.  And because He loves us, He is quite willing to have us come again and again to Him with our problems and our questions.  And then once again, as our Loving Father, He will provide just what we need, even if it might not be what we expected.

And in this life of dependence upon God, I have learned that in all things to offer back this response to all that happens, “Dear God, I give You thanks!”

Tunnels, Caves & Claustrophobia

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Claustrophobic – Who Me?  Never!

One of crazy things I remember doing as a kid was to climb down into sewer and water drainage tunnels and crawl through them to see where they would lead me.  Some of the drainage pipes were the large corrugated steel  man size under-the-street ones which led from one open gully part of the hill to the other open gully on the other side of the road.  So they were tall enough to stand up inside, stooped over a bit, and only about fifty feet long.  Fun to hide in, but no challenge to an adventurer.

No, it was the small concrete drain tunnels that I liked to crawl in.  These tunnels would be just a bit larger than shoulder width and could be hundreds of feet long.  I would find an opening to one of these drainage tunnels in one of the gullies and start crawling, head first, wriggling my body to squeeze my way down the tunnel until I got to one of the junction rooms that had rungs on the vertical tunnel that led up to the manhole on a street level high above.

Looking back, I know it was rather insane doing what I did.  I was more than 20 feet underground, crawling though drainage pipes that if they had been a couple of inches in diameter smaller I would have been stuck there like a cork in a bottle.  And just imagine if after crawling for hundreds of feet head first I had come to a dead-end.  No way to turn around.  I would have had to wriggle backwards the same distance to get out.  Needless to say, I never told my parents about this adventure, at least not until I was an adult and moved away from home.

And I have had the same fascination with caves.  I’ve only gone into a few though, the most famous ones being the Mark Twain caves on the western edge of Illinois, and the cave in the center of the town next to Mount Rushmore.  I loved crawling through tight spaces, and climbing up or down on areas where there were just toe and finger holds.

So being interested in caves, I looked up in the Bible references to caves and I found some interesting connections in most of the verses.  Due to the rocky nature of the ground in the land of Canaan, one of the primary uses for caves was to use them as tombs and to bury the dead there.  The second main use for caves in Scripture was to use them as hiding places.  Samson hid after killing Philistines, David his from King Saul who was trying to kill him.  And Elijah hid from the wicked Queen Jezebel.

Even today, we jokingly talk about men retreating from the stresses of life and going into “their caves”.  So caves seem to be places to go to get away from others and anything connected with life and real living that is perceived to be a threat.  If this is even half-true, then it forces me to ask myself this question, “Why did I like to spend hours on end crawling around down in tunnels and caves underground?”  A big part of me says, “It was wild, crazy and fun.  It was an adventure!”

But another part of me which is honest says, “I didn’t know how to handle my life (which involved being picked on by my peers, made fun of at the church youth group, and not being paid attention to at home by my family).  So I think I can say now that partly I was running towards an adventure, but I was also partly running away from the troubles I was having in life.

Today, I don’t crawl through narrow tunnels.  And I don’t know if I can climb through any more caves.  But I still can retreat from life emotionally and crawl into a cave deep in my mind.  I must resist this, and work with people, not avoid them, and most of all trust in God to help me face whatever issues I need to deal with in my life.

So how about you?  Are there caves you run to which you hope will keep you safe from the troubles of this life?  I hope not.  And believe me, eventually you have to come out.  And whatever you may have run away from, in all likelihood, it is still there, and it may have grown bigger and worse than when you first went to hide in your cave.  May God give you the strength you need to face your world.