From the Negev he went from place to place until he came to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier 4 and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the Lord.Genesis 13:3-4
I heard a great sermon the other day about Genesis 13. I love how God lets us view people in the Bible with an almost cinematic touch. We reach deep into their thoughts, their trials, their sins, their joys. We can sit back and know they are about to fail or conquer. But like any good director, God places seemingly insignificant artifacts and occurrences into the story that, in order to get the beautiful breadth of the story we need to look again and dig deeper.
That’s the advantage of being in a church which hosts a good teaching pastor. They find the nuggets and carefully remove the outer layers, revealing the gems.
And so, I learned the other day about Bethel. About coming home. About retracing my steps to bring me back closer to God. Two little sentences in the Bible showing me where to go when I feel lost. When I have gone off track. I praise God today for Bethel – for His welcoming home.
Many years ago, I wrote a short poem for my mother in law. The gist of the poem was that like a bird finds its comfort in a beautiful birdhouse, so I find my home with her. A lot of people feel that way around her. She brings you in and gives you rest and comfort. In Abram’s case, after he had made some disastrous decisions while in Egypt, he made the wise choice to go back to God’s house – Bethel. It’s where he had built the first altar to honor God.
He didn’t just show up there, he entered back into communication with God. And he was surely welcomed.
Our human nature is to grow up and out of our parents’ homes. To plunge into the world of adulthood, seemingly going it alone. But for many who come from loving, healthy homes they know they can always come back for advice and aid.
Our relationship with God is unique. He wants us always tethered to Him. He desires to be constantly asked about who to marry, where to work, how to handle difficult relationships. He wants us to join His home gym, giving us strength to make it through trials and tribulations. He longs to have us sit around His dinner table sharing our day – our joys and our pains.
And when we wander too far away, we need to remember to retrace our steps. We need to follow our hearts back to Bethel.
So here we are — Day 30 of 30 Days of Praise! And although my daily prayer praise of the Almighty doesn’t end with today, my challenge to find different ways to write about God’s amazing characteristics is complete. When I started this more than 30 days ago I was on a journey to help me learn a new way of praying. I felt comfortable with thanking God, asking God for help, and asking Him for forgiveness. But praising God seemed so strange and uncomfortable to me. True to His character He placed a challenge on my heart and mind to help me grow.
I heard a great comment about God’s character yesterday. “God never allows us to fail a test, he just gives us the test over and over until we pass.” It goes right along with Charles Stanley’s Life Principle #7:
The dark moments of our life will last only so long as necessary for God to accomplish His purpose in us.
Charles Stanley, 30 Life Principles
God Allows Us to Be Reduced to Brokenness
You see, I didn’t start my journey of learning how to praise God 30 days ago. I started the day God spoke to me in my bedroom a few years ago. While I sat enjoying my little pity party God said, “Enough is enough.” He shook me with the simple statement: “What have you really done?” You see I was whining about being such a “good Christian” and yet my life felt like a mess. He spoke those words loudly again, “Yes, what have you really done?” He had been letting me do things my own way for a long time. But He loves us too much to let us continue down destructive paths for too long. That day started my training. And it was intense. He taught me that the secret to a peace-filled life was a lot simpler than what I imagined. I didn’t need to be “doing” so much. I just needed to obey Him — no matter the consequences, no matter how outlandish the request sounded. 1 John 2:25 says:
But if anyone obeys His word, love for God is truly made complete in them.
1 John 2:25
Not only was I reduced to brokenness but God was right there to put me back together as a much more simple, faithful Christian with one goal: Obey.
God Re-Uses Lessons To Get Us to Listen
Throughout my continuing journey I have experienced many times when the same lesson pops up over and over. It’s when I give in and say, “ok, ok, I get it!” that He finally moves on. From podcasts, to daily devotionals, and songs on the radio to a Bible study, His Word weaves its way seamlessly throughout our lives. On August 1, I started with my devotional, “New Day, New You” by Joyce Meyer. The day’s lesson? “Simple, Believing Prayer” based on Matthew 6:7. “And when you pray, do not heap phrases as the gentiles do, for they think they will be heard for their much speaking.” Good start as I then turn to my “30 Life Principles” Bible study lesson for the day: “Listening to God is essential to walking with God.” In it the question was asked, “What does Jesus say about the use of many words?” Based on, guess….. Matthew 6:7. I saw a message forming here. I then decided to read a bit of my “Spurgeon on Prayer & Spiritual Warfare.” I don’t read it everyday but I felt led to that day. And lo and behold, the topic was approaching God with reverence, joy, submission, confidence and sincerity. Not babbling on with useless words intended to make myself sound “christian-like.” Point taken.
God Takes Trash and Makes It Into Something Beautiful
Each Sunday we would see him. A man in about his 40s dressed to the 9s. Not just full suits but “zoot” suits. Big shoulder pads, double breasted suits. But what was most impressive was his hair. I dated a guy back in the 80s who played in a 60s throwback band with that same hair — pumped up, rockabilly pompadour. He stood out among the mostly white, upper class 60-80 year olds. It came to pass we ended up in the same membership class. I told him how I enjoyed seeing what cool and interesting outfits he was going to show up in each week. And, I was definitely impressed with his hair. Both being named Chris/Kris we of course, hit it off. When it came time to tell our testimony I realized what a blessing it was that God put me in the same group as Chris. He told us how his family growing up were Christians. But he rebelled. He wanted long hair, hard rock and a free spirited life. One day when he was 15 his father came to him and said, “We are going to Africa to be missionaries. You have two choices, you can cut your hair and come with us or you stay here in California and find your own way.” He chose to keep his hair. He also decided that Los Angeles was the place to become a rock star. He played bass and guitar. He ended up on the streets, homeless. And he turned to drugs which eventually led to heroin. He told us he should’ve died at least 10 times. But God was not done with him. He pulled him from the fire after yet another devastating drug-fueled, car accident. And led him on the path to recovery. He now goes all over the country speaking on the perils of heroin and his faith in God. He jumped in to help mentor middle school and high school kids at our church. He’s one cool cat. Chris was like the trash that rolls along our city streets, finding its way into doorways. Crumpled up and seemingly useless. God transformed him into a true follower of Christ — a thing of beauty. His transformation story gives me hope for my, much smaller problems.
I praise God today for all the work He has done and will do in our lives. He whispers to us. He shouts at us. He shakes us and he nudges us. He will never force us to follow Him. And He will never fully let us go. Click on the photo below to enjoy the song, “Raise a Hallelujah” by Bethel Music — but here’s a hint, play it loud and raise your hands high!! I look forward to having you join me on my next challenge — “His Works Project”– coming soon!