You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.
The other morning my husband and I were out for an early morning walk. The clouds were building to the east and I commented that I hoped it would rain. You see, living in Southern California we don’t see a lot of rain. And I love the rain. I love the sound of it hitting the pavement, especially when it wakes me in the middle of the night. We get up just to watch it rain. I even love the sound of the water hitting under my car as I drive down the road. There are so few times when the rain becomes a long, monotonous affair where I live that I never get tired of it. At my daughter’s house in Missouri, I could sit for hours watching and listening to the thunderous rain come down!
The sound of rain is just one instrument in God’s beautiful orchestra. The music of His creation is so glorious! And that’s what I praise today.
I’ve been praying the last few days for God’s direction for these last few days of praise. And on my way to have lunch with my parents – which typically is a difficult visit – my playlist of Christian music came on. A fun and almost silly song began playing which put me in just the right frame of mind for my impending encounter with my parents. And I praised God for His music. And then I praised God for putting this entire line of thought in my head!
When I think of all the beautiful instruments in God’s orchestra what also comes to mind are the voices of some of my closest friends. Their laughter and warmth. Their sarcasm and wit. I told one of them, in preparation for her day at a school office, that no matter what is thrown her way I know the office will be blessed with hearing her joyous giggle.
During the stresses of the last year and a half I started doing a sort of mediation technique to help me rest in God’s peace. When I’m at our local park with my dog I sit down on the grass and do a centering countdown. It goes like this:
What 10 different things do I see?
What 9 different things do I hear?
What 8 different trees can I find?
What 7 different smells can I smell?
And so on..
It’s amazing just sitting and listening to the music of God’s creation. The breeze rustling in the trees. Birds chirping. Children laughing. Moms talking on their phones. Cars driving by. Airplanes overhead. Bees buzzing. My dog panting. So many sounds, some of which are exactly the same as at the time of creation others unique to this very time and place.
And of course, there’s what we traditionally call “music.” I marvel that since the beginning of time we humans have been creating new types of music and songs. When you look at a music book there seems to be a limit to what can be created. There’s only a certain number of notes to use, right? And yet day after day, year after year someone creates a new song or even a new sound! How else can this happen than by some glorious design by a being who loves music and who loves the sounds of the earth?
Praise God for music that speaks to us when we need it most. Praise God for the sound of crashing waves. Praise God for thunder and chickens squawking and the crunching of gravel under my feet. Praise God for his magnificent orchestra of life!
On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17
“We are pretty much the only hope that God has for reaching people who need him.”
On a recent visit with my daughter back in St. Louis, Missouri, she invited me to her friend’s 50th birthday gathering. It was to be just a small group as her larger party had already taken place. My daughter, who is 23, is blessed to have a number of women in her life who are not only mature in their marriages and in life in general, but in their faith. As I sat listening to them, I said a silent prayer of thanks to God. He, once again, put me right where I needed to be.
I listened as these Christian women of varied ages shared memories of shared events and the joy of being disciples to younger women. You see, their church encourages all ages to seek being discipled by more experienced Christians – something I haven’t experienced in the 20 years I’ve been an active Christian.
The birthday girl’s good friend suddenly announced we were to all take turns expressing what we loved about the newly christened 50 year old. She turned to me and said, “You don’t know Renee well so you don’t need to say anything.” I disagreed. I definitely had much to love about this woman that I had just met.
As each woman spoke, I felt the love flow throughout the group. It was sweet and brave and authentic. And at my turn I’m sure they all wondered what I would have to say.
“As a mother I miss my daughter terribly. She’s so far away. She has no family for hundreds of miles. And now with a baby on the way it grieves me that she is alone out here. But I realize she isn’t. I am so thankful she has Renee as her friend and godly counsel. A mother couldn’t ask for anything better besides being here herself,” I said.
You see my daughter’s friend, Renee, has taken her under her beautiful wings. She provides wise counsel about marriage, faith, motherhood and more. I could be jealous when I hear my daughter talk about her relationship with Renee. But my faith progression has brought me instead to a place of thankfulness. My daughter is incredibly blessed to be surrounded by Christian women who are prepared and ready to offer Biblical counsel.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free" Luke 4:18
That’s Jesus in the above verse. Jesus our wise counselor setting us free from our prisons. And He trained up His disciples to spread His message of salvation and freedom. Like the old shampoo commercial goes, “and they told two friends and so on and so on.” Which brings us thousands of years later to this little group at a café in Missouri.
Here’s what I noticed about those six women I sat with that night. 1) They didn’t gossip 2) They lifted each other up with genuine compliments 3) They showed love and concern for each other 4) They were confident in expressing their faith and 5) They were eager and willing to take up being disciples.
"Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20
These women are living the Great Commission. Teaching and guiding and loving Jesus’ flock. I sat there like a fan-girl marveling at being in the midst of ordinary women who were so extraordinary. Yes, ordinary women. They aren’t pastors or scholars although one is in fact a trained Christian counselor. They are students of Jesus. It gave me hope of what I could achieve with faith and the blessings of God.
I took the opportunity to ask a few of them a Christian counseling question.
“If I find myself in a situation with a fellow Christian who is struggling with an issue, what’s your best advice?” I inquired.
Without hesitation three of the women, including my daughter who herself disciples young women, said: “You need to really get to know the person. There needs to be a sense of trust that you come from a place of love.” And the birthday girl? She emphasized my old favorite, truth plus love. Not being afraid to speak God’s truth into someone from a loving perspective. Remember that Jesus trait of having a warrior spirit? Renee takes it to heart. She knows the end game – saving a soul.
“As you being the process of bringing correction into someone’s life, put yourself in his shoes. If you were the one sitting there, would it be easy or difficult for you to hear what is about to be said? If the person you are correcting acts closed at first it may be that he’s just embarrassed or reacting out of insecurity. Therefore don’t stop the conversation unless you can see that he’s just being combative. You need to be patient and slow in judging their reaction to your correction.”
Rick Renner, Sparkling Gems from the Greek
Isn’t this the reaction we worry about the most when we need to speak truth to our Christian friends or family members? A fear of making someone angry or embarrassed? But here lies the reason why “Wise Counselor” sits at the end of our faith progression. Without love, without a sense of serving God, without courage, without knowledge of the Lord’s will, we will probably fail at being what our friend, child, sibling, co-worker, or sister in Christ truly needs.
So, when Jesus asks us to “follow” He isn’t just offering Himself up to save us from eternal damnation which by itself is a pretty amazing gift. He’s saying “join me in a journey.” He’s saying, “we’ve got work to do together.” And if we stop partway on the journey and decide we are “fine” where we are at, we miss the opportunities He wants to put in front of us to free more captives.
I don’t know about you but I need wise Christian counselors in my life. And if I could be like Renee and be a blessing in other’s lives, I know it’d make Jesus smile. My imperfect progress, as my friend Betsy likes to say, is still progress. I want to know and live out having the mind of Christ. I’m not where I was when I started and I still have a ways to go. Thankfully, I can trust that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are my guides and cheerleaders.
When we started this journey, I invited you to say a prayer of confession I found in Sparkling Gems from the Greek. And true to God’s ways He put another in front of me to close out this series. Please join me in this prayer and confession. I pray that you seek love, humbleness, courage, and wisdom on your journey.
“Lord, I ask you to help be kind and patient when it is essential for me to bring correction. Help me to not be offended if the person I’m trying to help doesn’t respond at first the way I wished he would have. Help me put myself in that person’s shoes and to sympathize with how he might feel. I ask You to give me wisdom to know what to say, when to say it, and how to say it. I also ask that You give the other person the grace to hear what I am telling him so he might see that I have his best interest at heart and that I am only trying to help him. I pray this in Jesus’ name!”
“I confess that I have the mind of Jesus Christ! When it is needful to me to speak correction to someone else I do it with love, kindness and patience. I refrain from allowing anger to rise up inside me. I am careful about the words that come out of my mouth, and I refuse to participate in vain arguing. I remain in control of myself as the Holy Spirit works mightily inside me. My words bring life to all who hear and receive them! I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!”
This is what the Lord says to his anointed,to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut:I will go before you and will level the mountains;I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron.I will give you hidden treasures,riches stored in secret places,so that you may know that I am the Lord,the God of Israel, who summons you by name.Isaiah 45:1-3
When I was 17, I moved across the country, away from my family to the Midwest for college. I was unsure what God had planned for me there, but I knew that I needed a new adventure and was excited to strike out on my own. It is difficult to describe with words that first feeling I had when my parents dropped me off at school and drove away into the distance to go back to California. I watched their car drive out of my university and eventually out of sight. For the first time, I was truly on my own. I felt my stomach drop and tears welled up in my eyes. Reality hit and I began to immediately doubt my decision.
Those first months away from home were difficult. I spent many nights deep with sadness, missing my old life at home. Other nights I would be filled with joy at the exciting new venture I had bravely took head-on. Amidst the rollercoaster of emotions, I always had one underlying questions – What did God have planned for me here?
I wasn’t really a believer at the time, but I had gone to church my whole life and *generally* knew that God had a plan for our lives. Being from San Diego, I knew it was no coincidence that I ended up in Saint Charles, Missouri. It was random and I had zero connections to the area other than being recruited to play field hockey there. Despite not proclaiming Christ as my Savior yet, something inside of me knew there was a reason God brought me to this place.
Rewind back to the initial verse I kicked off with. Isaiah 45: 1-3 discusses a prophesy of Cyrus, who is a pagan leader God chooses to deliver the Israelites from their captivity. These verses were written 200 years before Cyrus was born. Meaning, Cyrus’ life was already planned out way before he was ever a thought in his parent’s minds. God had a plan for Cyrus’ life – He has a plan for yours too.
God planned to use Cyrus in mighty ways, even though he was no mighty person. God chose him, predestined him to be the deliverer of God’s people. God wasn’t particularly favoring Cyrus, rather he was caring for His people as a whole by providing them a way out of their suffering through Cyrus.
I know that God loves me, cares for me and sees me as beautifully and wonderfully made. But just as much as he sees me as His child, He also sees me as an instrument to His Kingdom, a vessel for which he can work through me. Just as he did Cyrus.
I quickly found out that God’s plan for me in Saint Charles was to find salvation in His son Jesus Christ and to dedicate my life to serving Him – no matter where I was living, working, etc. God saved me so that He could use me on my field hockey team, amongst my roommates and in my workplace. Just as Cyrus’s plan for his life was written 200 years before he was born – so was mine, and yours.
When I look back to my years in college, I am reminded of the good and perfect plan God had for me during my time there. Every day was certainly not good and perfect, but the things He brought me through and the lessons He taught me showed me that He truly is a good and perfect God.
Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path.Psalm 119:105
God has already prepared a way for us. This truth alleviates me from worry and stress about tomorrow – something to which I still occasionally fall victim. God wrote the story of our lives generations ago, and has every intention of carrying out His good and perfect plan for us. All we must do is surrender control and open our hands to His authority.