Feeding the 5,000 – Before the Feast

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

We’ve looked at “points of view” coming from the four gospel writers on several happenings in the life of Jesus. When we looked at the feeding of the 5,000, you may remember I said I might want to revisit that exciting day in more detail. That will be our focus for the next few weeks.

What was happening before the great feast? I think it’s always important to get the setting, set the stage so to speak.

At some point in the time line, Jesus heard about John the Baptist’s terrible death. Recall the story. Herod caved when his wife, Herodias, (through her daughter) asked that the head of John the Baptist be brought to her on a platter .

As soon as Jesus heard the news, he left in a boat to a remote area to be alone. Matthew 14:13

What do you do when you have received tragic news? You may want to have the love and support of close friends or family, but, at some point, you may just want to be alone to collect your thoughts and deal with your emotions in private.

My hunch is that Jesus wanted to be alone with God and gather the inner strength he needed from his heavenly Father. Very possibly, Jesus thought about how he, too, would one day come under the cruelty of those in high places.

Think of those times in your life when the weight of tragedy or trying experiences brought you to a low ebb. Perhaps frustrations with a job or the cruelty of unkind words struck the very core of your spirit. Somehow, with God’s help, you managed to continue to function. It is in this kind of human condition, we find Jesus.

Later, when He looks up toward the shore, He sees his disciples who have returned from their ministry tour of the villages of Galilee where he said:

“Go and announce to them that the Kingdom of Heaven is near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons.” Matthew 10:7-8

He shares in their excitement, glad to see their happy and hear their stories, then he tells them,

“Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” Luke 6:31

After more sharing, He looks at the shore where the crowds are gathering to meet him. I envision him sighing greatly and whispering, “Give me strength, Father.” Then we see his heart.

…as he stepped from the boat, he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Mark 6:34

He welcomed them and taught them about the Kingdom of God, and he healed those who were sick. Luke 9:11

Jesus moved forward in the strength God gave him—an important lesson for us. For you see, that same power is available to us as we push out alone in out boats to receive healing and inner strength from our Lord. May it be so for us all this week.

~ Joyce ~

 

 

Nehemiah – Obstacles

 Searching His Word
  Seeking His Heart

Nehemiah rallied the wall-building troops with persuasive voice and authoritative demeanor. They divided up the work load and rebuilt side by side, neighbor next to neighbor. Even some from near-by towns came to join the project. 

As always, Satan reached out to overtake the good like a prowling lion. The obstacles began through three antagonists, one north of Judah, a second east of Judah, and a third trouble maker south of Judah, all who came to mock and ridicule.

But Nehemiah stood up to them.

“The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.” Nehemiah 2:20

The work began, priests and merchants, goldsmiths and commoners all reconstructing together. Once again, the antagonists complained and ridiculed vowing to join together in war against Jerusalem.

Nehemiah got word of their plan. Not to be undone, he posted guards day and night around the workmen. Each workman kept sword, spear, or bow with him at all times. Nehemiah prayed with them and stood by them. He reminded the workers—

“Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and daughters, your wives and your homes.” Nehemiah 4:14

The workers stayed alert and continued their work, but later, instead of trouble from without, trouble started brewing from within. A famine, due to lack of grain, had set up a series of challenges. 

“We are mortgaging our fields, vineyards, and homes to buy grain.” Nehemiah 5:3

“We have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax on our fields.” Nehemiah 5:4

They complained that their fellow Jews had caused them to—

“…subject our sons and daughters to slavery.” Nehemiah 5:5

Nehemiah again met the obstacle directly. He called together the nobles and officials who had caused this situation and pointed out their lack of integrity. Their guilt was obvious.

They kept quiet for they could find nothing to say. Nehemiah 5:8

Nehemiah followed through by committing them to better practices.

These were only some of Nehemiah’s obstacles, but each time he dealt with them head on.

What a great lesson for us. We all deal with obstacles, things that set us back in some way. A wayward child who is plunging head long into dangerous territory; a health issue that is dragging us down, an aggravating kink in a major project, a gnawing flaw in a relationship. Name your issue.

Have you prayed about it? Have you grabbed the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God? Have you dealt with it head on? That would be Nehemiah’s strategy—not a bad idea!

~ Joyce ~  

 

 

 

  

Nehemiah – Praying Leads to Opportunity

 Searching His Word
  Seeking His Heart

Last week, we found Nehemiah weeping, mourning and fasting over the devastation of the wall in Jerusalem. Four months later, he continues praying about the matter and senses that God is leading him to do something about the crumbling wall.

There’s a gigantic problem with this calling. Nehemiah is cup-bearer to King Artaxerxes of Persia, a high and prestigious position. Only the king could grant such a request and the king’s already listened to complainers back in Jerusalem and commanded that all rebuilding stop. Double whammy! 

Nehemiah faithfully performs his duties to the king, perhaps even serves as an adviser in certain situations. He dare not point blank ask the king for permission to leave for an extended time to build a wall that the king himself  has already put to an end.

It’s hard for Nehemiah to be cheerful everyday when his heart is aching. One day as he serves the king, Artaxerxes asks him,

“Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.” 

Fear strikes Nehemiah, nevertheless he draws in a deep breath and takes the plunge. 

“May the king live forever! Why should my face not be sad when the city where my forefathers are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” 

There, he said it. He holds his breath wondering how the king will respond. What comes next is more than he could have hoped for. The king asks,

“What is it you want?”

Hardly able to believe how this opportunity has been dropped in his lap, he shoots up one of those quick prayers. You know the ones, “Help me, Lord.” His face is flushed, his breath shallow, but he pushes forward.

“If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city of Judah where my fathers are buried so I can rebuild it.”

“How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” Nehemiah 2:1-6

“Whew!” I wrote in my Bible margin. Have you ever had an opportunity open up suddenly, one you’ve been mulling over for some time? You may have asked, “Is this really happening?”

Keep in mind that Nehemiah has been praying about this for four months. God provided the opportunity and Nehemiah took the plunge!

Oh the things He has for us when we go to Him in earnest prayer.

Can you share one of your aha moments?

~ Joyce ~

 

 

Praising God for Color

Every now and then, I thank God for color.  Have you thought what our world would look like without it?

When our son was six years old, he asked if our activity was something they did in the gray days. I tried to think what he meant by the “gray days.”

Finally, it dawned on me that he had seen older TV shows produced before we had color TV. I realized that he thought everything was shades of gray back then.

I suppose if we never had color, we wouldn’t know to miss it. God didn’t have to create color, but aren’t you glad He did? Color is pleasing to the eye. It enriches our lives. 

Color helps us distinguish one thing from another: “Put the red wire in the red plug, blue wire in blue,” “Take this receipt to the lady over there in the yellow dress,” “Paint white letters on a red sign. It will make your message stand out.”

I imagine the garden of Eden with its shades of green leaves against dark brown trunks and flowers of all shapes and colors.

In biblical days, dyers learned to dip their tunics in vats of boiling water mixed with green grass. Result: light green tunics. They used onion skins for ecru and oil from a certain kind of snail around the Mediterranean Sea for purple. (Hard to come by. That’s why only the wealthy wore purple.)

When God gave instructions about the tabernacle, He called for specific designs and colors.

“Make a curtain of blue, purple, and scarlet yarn and finely twisted linen, with cherubim worked into it by a skilled craftsman. Exodus 26:31

He even told them to make fifty blue loops on the bottom of the curtains on either end. God loves artistic design. Perhaps that’s a part of how we are made in His image—appreciating design and color.

In our day, paint stores have discovered they can add one or two drops of another color and come up with two hundred shades from pastel lime to forest green.

When we are at the beach, I love those cloudless days when the sun shines and the sky radiates the most intense true blue. The sea below mirrors that deep blue. God’s palate at work!

Look for color today. Praise Him for this creative gift to us.

~ Joyce ~

Prayer – Let’s Get Practical

Searching His Word
 Seeking His Heart

It’s time to get practical about our praying.

Do you know what it is to turn everything over to the Lord? Allow Him to have the lead? Relinquish the control to Him? Pray fervently to know His will? 

Have you also experienced times when you took the load on yourself. Worried and stewed over it. Got frustrated, agitated, and consumed with it? Then finally realized you hadn’t even consulted the Lord about it?

Okay, time for a personal confession.

A few years ago, the Lord spoke to me in many concrete ways and lead me down the road of writing. While I had written a few Bible studies, devotions, and scripts, I had not written a book of all things!

Little by little, He kept moving me in that direction and even led me specifically to the Bible character who would star in the first book!

I traveled down that road one mile at a time, not knowing what would be next over the hill or around the bend. I learned dependence on Him, because I felt so inadequate for the task.

Unbelievably, I now find myself 37,000 words into book number three.

However, the writing world includes more than putting words on a page. Research and editing take a huge amount of time.

Next is the task of publishing which can take forever. All along the way, I fervently prayed about next steps, aware of my dependence on the Lord’s leadership.  

Do you hear the “but” coming?

But I came to the third tier—marketing! Whether one has a traditional publisher or a self-publisher, the bulk of the marketing is up to the author. “Get on Facebook,” the conference leaders would say. “Have a blog.” (Okay, it will soon be four years, once a week.)

“Get on other social media. Do interviews, speaking engagements. etc., etc., etc.,” as the King of Siam would say.

Can you tell that this is not my favorite leg of the writing triangle? I have admitted, no, complained of my dislike of marketing to any poor soul who would listen. I have fussed and wrung my hands over and over for months. 

Finally, I realized that I had taken this thing on by myself. It was all up to me. Worse yet, I realized I had not really poured myself out to Him in prayer. Instead of being the last resort, prayer should have been the first thing. When will I learn that lesson?

“But seek first his kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well. Do not worry about tomorrow.” Matthew 6:33-34 

God has led me not to worry over this right now, but to put my effort into book three about Matthew. In His time, we will deal with the marketing. “Forget the detour,” he said. “Get back on the road.”

That’s my practical application. What has he taught you lately in seeking Him first? 

~ Joyce ~

Prayer – Practicing His Presence

Searching His Word
     Seeking His Heart

Scripture encourages us to:

Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face continually. I Chronicles 16:11

We can thank 16th century monk, Brother Lawrence, for coining the phrase, “practicing the presence of God.” I love that thought!

It conjures up the idea of being aware of God’s presence often—definitely when we are praying, especially when we are praying. I admit that, at times, I can verbalize to God but not fully key in with His very presence. Words in the wind, you might say.

It takes discipline to truly be aware of entering His presence as though He is sitting there with you in the room.

It means seeking the very heart of God, crying out to Him in repentance, in fervor, in earnestness  Are we willing to express our anger to Him, our heartache, our desire to know Him and seek  His direction more than our own, to grow in Him and receive nourishment from His vine?

That kind of praying takes work, my friend. It takes concentration. It also takes time.

Time to move from my presence into His presence. Time to talk out loud to Him, to draw up my inmost thoughts, pleas, and concerns. Time to praise and adore him before I jump into the sick list or intercession for those having difficult circumstances.

Time to sit quietly, focus, and… listen. (Oh, the hardest part of all!)

But look at the rest of Brother Lawrence’s phrase, practicing the presence of God.

Practicing means to be very intentional, even through the day—while making the bed, driving to work, walking to the grocery store, preparing to meet a friend, sitting on the bleachers at a ballgame, finding the right words in difficult situations, practicing, practicing his presence.

As Paul urges,

Pray without ceasing. I Thessalonians 5:17

This takes extreme discipline because we normally go through our days thinking about the next thing we have to do, going over our lists, engaging in an activity.

I did a little survey on Facebook this week, asking, “What time and how long do you usually spend on emails and Facebook each day. Most said about 30 minutes in the morning and 30 in the evening. One admitted what many of us need to admit—too much time.

Like all things, today’s tools can be used for good, but can also be used to excess.

Maybe social media isn’t your nemesis. There are thousands of other addictions. One way to self-examine is to think, What things are constantly on my mind?  

Is it possible for us to practice the presence of God as naturally as we practice other things? As with all challenges, one step at a time.

I paused just now to pray that some phrase in this blog would stand out to you with flashing neon lights. And I prayed that I would practice what I preach.

Let’s start practicing!

~ Joyce ~

Prayer – What Doth Hinder Thee?

  Searching His Word
     Seeking His Heart

…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles… Hebrew 12:1

Nothing delights our enemy, Satan, more than entangling us. Sometimes he does this through devastating circumstances—anything that overwhelms and brings on worry, stress, or fear.

The more dramatic, the better.

Most of the time, however, Satan is far more subtle. It is his specialty.

As I was led to write today’s blog, I felt an oppressive heaviness. I usually do my first draft on Sunday, but each time I started to sit down to write, something else took my attention. 

I’ve been reading a wonderful little book by Robert J. Morgan called “The Red Sea Rules.” He traces  the Israelites’ journey from the pillar of cloud to the Red Sea and through to the other side. The book provides “ten God-given strategies (or rules) for difficult times.” 

Rule #3 is “Acknowledge your enemy, but keep your eyes on the Lord.” Satan is likened to a serpent in Genesis 3, a bird in Matthew 13, a wolf in John 10, a lion prowling around in I Peter 5, and a dragon in Revelation 12.

As if to emphasize that point to me, the Lord led a blogger friend to include in her writing this week that very verse from I Peter 5:8 about Satan being like a lion prowling around to devour us. 

Our job is to be aware of him, but to put our focus on the Lord. How?

The next day I turned to another chapter—Rule #4 Pray!

We must practice continuous, fervent prayer—even when things are going well (especially when things are going well), for we can be lulled into passiveness, one of Satan’s favorite tactics. 

The author quotes seven verses that each use the word “earnest.” My favorite:

The earnest prayer of a righteous man has great power and produces wonderful results. James 5:16 (NTL)

Or if you prefer: The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. (KJV)

Interestingly, the Greek for both “effectual” and “fervent” have to do with working diligently. Therein is the key, I believe. We must work fervently in our praying until it becomes as natural as breathing. I confess I am still at the working stage.

Satan is delighted when we aren’t working at all!

While my husband and I are away from home right now, we visited a church Sunday. The pastor spoke about how the Israelites forgot their need of God’s presence.

Then I read a subscriber comment from my blog last week—”Life and laziness crowd in and Satan does a happy jig when I fail to take time to pray.”

That was the final push the Lord gave me to go ahead with this blog.

What was hindering me? That old serpent, the dragon of Revelation. But, while earnestly seeking the Lord, He gave me Scripture verses, a devotional book, reinforcement through a friend’s blog, a pastor’s sermon, and a comment from one of my subscribers.

He does things like that when we are fervent in prayer.

Get thee behind me Satan!

~ Joyce ~ 

 

 

Prayer – Is It a Struggle?

         Searching His Word
               Seeking His Heart

For our new year, let’s talk about prayer.

 In those things-we-need-to-do lists or New Years resolution lists or how-to-be-a-better-Christian lists, we often couple “prayer” along with “studying your Bible” and rightly so.

We know in our heads that prayer is essential to healthy spiritual life. But… like so many things in our lives, we may fail to prayer effectively, regularly, or even pray at all.

Jesus said,

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

In other words, our job in His kingdom work is to be fruit bearers, but we can’t bear healthy fruit (or any fruit at all) without abiding or remaining in Him—attached to the vine, our source of strength. While there are many components to drawing our strength from Him, one of the major elements is prayer.

I’m talking to the choir, aren’t I? You know all this. I know all this. It’s just the consistent doing and deepening, isn’t it? Our branch can get so dry, so withered, barely clinging to the vine.

Perhaps your prayer life is fervent and vitally active. Your  branch is plump and full, brimming with fruit because of the way you are communicating with the Father, trusting the Son, and guided by the Spirit. Praise God. Your ministry is alive and active.

Many are coming to know the Savior because of your influence. Your branch is bearing the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness kind of fruit he wants you to have. We rejoice with you.

But some of us struggle either with not having powerful, productive prayer, or remaining faithful in prayer, or praying at all. Life crowds in, activities take priority, or our prayers feel more like duty than joy.

Our “need to” or “want to” has fizzled out.

Quite honestly, when life is moving along at a relatively good pace, we often become slack in fervent prayer. We can become more engaged when we hit those set backs and realize all over again our great need for the Father to intervene.

But unless we are “prayed up” as some like to say, we may be at a loss as to how to get reconnected to the vine. When catastrophe comes, we end up with “if You will do this, I’ll do that” kind of prayers.

When we have tasted deep, agonizing prayer: jubilant, victorious kind of prayer, or cleansing, life-changing, tear-producing kind of praying, we know what we’re missing and want it again.

So this month, let’s explore where we are, where we can be, and how to get there. I would greatly appreciate your input, testimonies, and questions as we focus on growing our branches through prayer.

   ~ Joyce ~   

 

 

 

Great Is Thy Faithfulness

Searching His Word   Seeking His Heart

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

As I write this, my husband and I are having a get-away 50th anniversary celebration in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. One feels a certain serenity in these beautiful Smokey Mountains, a sense of the majesty of our great Creator. 

We came here several times through the years and often brought youth groups to conferences. Now here we are—full circle. We tend to reminisce on such occasions. I’ve considered how faithful the Lord has been to us in these years through many productive times and in those difficult life challenges.

Great is thy faithfulness, oh God, my Father. There is no shadow of turning with thee.

Thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not. As thou hast been, thou forever will be.

Great is thy faithfulness, great is thy faithfulness. Morning by morning new mercies I see.

All I have needed thy hand hath provided; great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.

I came across an article the other day that so fit this topic. It came from the Glendale Star (a newspaper, I presume.) When I picked it back up, I smiled when I saw where it took place. Note the location.

A small congregation in the foothills of the Great Smokey Mountains built a new sanctuary on a piece of land willed to them by a church member.

Ten days before the new church was to open, the local building inspector informed the pastor that the parking lot was inadequate for the size of the building. They would not be able to use the new sanctuary until the church doubled the size of the parking lot.

Unfortunately, the church had used every inch of their land except for the mountain against which it had been built. In order to build more parking spaces, they would have to move the mountain behind the church.

Undaunted, the pastor announced Sunday morning that he would meet that evening with all members who had “mountain-moving faith.” They would hold a prayer service asking God to remove the mountain from the back yard and to provide enough money to have it paved and painted before the dedication service.

That evening 24 of the 300 members assembled for prayer. They prayed for three hours.

We’ll open next Sunday as scheduled,” said the pastor. “God has never let us down before, and I believe He will be faithful this time, too.”

The next morning there was a loud knock on the pastor’s study door. When he opened the door, a rough-looking construction foreman appeared.

“Excuse me, Reverend, I’m from the construction company over in the next county. We’re building a new shopping mall and need some fill dirt. Would you be willing to sell us a chunk of that mountain behind the church? We’ll pay for the dirt and pave the area free of charge, if we can have it right away.

The little church was dedicated the next Sunday. There were far more members with mountain-moving faith on opening Sunday than there had been the previous week.

~ Joyce ~

Thanksgiving – or Not

Searching His Word   Seeking His Heart

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

The Halloween costumes are stored away and the moldy jack-o-lanterns are thrown out. Time to think about gathering in Christmas presents. After all, earlier this week, we lunched  at White Castle to the accompaniment of Christmas songs!

Perhaps you’re like me. You want to scream, “What about Thanksgiving?”

Thankfully, that is one of the holidays our forefathers saw fit to establish—a country of people with hearts of gratitude. I wonder when those with atheist leanings will protest this holiday. After all, who are we thanking for blessings?

Ah, but I digress. 

My main point is that I want to urge us to enter this season (and all the time for that matter) with hearts of gratitude to our heavenly Father. Let’s think in these next three weeks of some practical ways of carrying that out.

One of my favorite times of prayer is in the car—with eyes open, of course! Before I turn the radio on, I pause to talk to the Lord. May I suggest that we make that kind of time to spend in thanksgiving.Let’s see what endless list we can make.

For this week, let’s focus on material blessings. Mine often starts something like this:

– Thank you for this car and that is running well and I have gas to keep it going.

– Thank you that I can have a hot shower anytime, unlike others in our world who have to wait every two days to get two hours of hot water. 

– Thank you for the sunshine today and the way it cheers my very soul.

– Thank you for clocks that keep me on track for the day. Help me make good use of the time you give me.

– Thank you for music and the joy and inspiration it brings.

You get the idea. Having grateful hearts is pleasing to the Lord and helps spark our awareness of his blessings.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. Psalm 100:4

Well that’s it for week number one of gratitude. Short and sweet and easy. Can you promise yourself every day to give some time to thanksgiving? The very act will be a blessing.

I look forward to hearing your revelations!

~ Joyce ~

On a side note: Many of my friends are in great mourning this week because of the election. Many are rejoicing and filled with great hope. Others are watching cautiously and praying that the heart of our new president-elect will be touched by God’s Spirit. Let us add to our list, thanksgiving for our great country, pleading for God’s wisdom and direction.