See how the river meanders through the trees. It’s not concerned about how it moves, just that it is moving. Your life is like that river. It twists and turns around circumstances and events. Sometimes it moves quickly, like when there are rapids, and other times it seems to swirl in a corner not going anywhere for a while. Sometimes the flow is peaceful, other times chaotic and confusing. Sometimes it flows over great depths, other times dances over the rocks in shallow areas. But regardless of the movements, the river keeps flowing until it achieves its goal – to get to the sea where it can become one with something much greater than itself.
What is your river like right now? Wherever you are, know two things.
One, it will change sooner or later. You never know what’s around the next bend. That may not seem like a good thing when you’re flowing gently and light is dancing along your surface, but it’s an awesome promise when strong currents are hurtling you along, drenching you as you crash into and over all kinds of obstacles.
Two, know that God is there with you every inch of the way.
And because He is, you can have peace no matter where you are, as long as you keep your eyes on Him.
Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring. Proverbs 27:1
And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matthew 28:20b
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:11-13
She sat back in the recliner thoroughly enjoying the chance to relax in the silence of her daughter’s almost empty house.
She thought about her life the past month – the devastation to her whole town by the strong almost category 5 hurricane, the maze of insurance claims she and her husband were having to navigate, the abundance of contractors wanting them to sign away their benefits, the multitude of needs being posted each day by desperate people, the crowds and long lines at the few stores that had managed to reopen, the mountains of debris along every street, the power lines still laying on the ground in areas where linemen have not yet had a chance to work, the horrendous traffic as residents and volunteers and contractors try to get from place to another, and her growing need to be in more than one place at a time. She wanted to be at home helping her husband deal with all the decisions that had to be made and working towards restoring their home. But just as much she wanted to be here with her daughter with her new baby while her son-in-law was working out of town.
As she thought, her eyes wandered around the room, taking in the drawn shades providing privacy, the assortment of baby furniture, the black and tan dog energetically chewing on a rawhide bone, the small porcelain unicorn sitting on the ceiling fan, the beautiful new teal area rug, the…
WAIT! Was that what she thought it was?
She looked back at the ceiling fan.
Sure enough, there was a small unicorn sitting right up there just above the revolving blades.
She stared up at it. What was it doing up there? Who would have put it up there? It’s so out of place it was hard to believe that it was actually there. It should be on a shelf, or on a dresser, or even on a window sill. Certainly NOT on a ceiling fan!
And then she thought how much that little unicorn was like answered prayers. We think we know where the answers should be, but many times we will find them in completely startling and unexpected places, often surprising us with God’s sense of humor.
She chuckled to herself as she thought about how amazing her God continued to be. No matter what struggles and decisions she was facing, no matter how bad things looked around her, He always managed to find a way to make her smile. And frequently in the most unlikely places – just like that unicorn on the ceiling fan!
She opened the front door and stepped outside. The bright sun caused her to squint as she closed the door behind her. It was hot – too hot to be outside. Good thing she was heading to her car instead of starting her dreaded daily walk around the neighborhood. She had only taken a step or two when something small caught her eye. A box turtle? What was a box turtle doing on her front patio? And this one appeared to be a baby! She stopped to watch it as she contemplated whether she needed to rescue it or not. Where would be a good place to relocate it? As she watched, it began to move quickly towards a nearby bush.
I’m like this turtle, she thought. Sometimes my life is as uncomfortable as this hot, rough sidewalk, and all I want to do is cross over it to get to somewhere more comfortable.
Yep, she thought. Always something to block me from what I want. And it’s usually just as daunting as these rocks appear to this turtle.
She thought of the mountains in her life. If she wanted a better marriage, if she wanted a healthier weight, if she wanted a cleaner house, if she wanted a closer relationship with her God, she would have to climb mountains to get to them. Mountains as high and hard and difficult as what the turtle was facing. Did she have the same determination as the turtle to start climbing?
Isn’t that the truth, she thought. Mountains are always so deceiving. They start off easy, but soon, too soon, they have a way of throwing you off balance. Mountains are never that easy.
She thought of rock climbers. They never got off balance. Did they? Why not? So what made this turtle get off balance? It was the weight of what it carried on its back. That’s it! It’s the weight of my baggage that makes climbing mountains so hard, she thought excitedly. If I got rid of the baggage – stuff I drag with me from my past, stuff I refuse to let go of because I think I need it – I wouldn’t be losing my balance all the time. And whatever I left behind, God could replace. Right? But… she thought about the turtle shell. The turtle couldn’t just leave its shell behind, could it? The shell was too much a part of it. Just like there were some things she was incapable of leaving behind herself. She watched closely to see how the turtle was going to handle this problem, sensing it would also be an answer for her.
Ahh, she thought. The turtle, although it couldn’t take off its shell, did have something with which to counter the balance problem. Its neck! It stuck out its neck! It let itself be vulnerable in order to try to save itself. Isn’t that what Jesus wants us to do – become vulnerable? To open our hearts to Him? To stick out necks, so to speak, in faith, towards others? To love others even when they don’t love us back? To give to those who ask even if it hurts? But, she wondered, was it going to work?
Relief and amazement flooded through her. The turtle was OK. It didn’t fall. It was safe. Or was it? Why wasn’t it moving? Did it change its mind? That’s what she usually did when the way got hard. Insecurities, questions, doubts, and fears all seemed to stop her from getting to the top each time. And each time she was stopped, she returned to the bottom where it was easier. Would the turtle do the same?
Nope, the turtle didn’t give up. It knew what it had seen and it wanted it more than it wanted the ease of the sidewalk. That’s what I need to do, she thought. God gives me visions of what’s up there. I need to trust Him and just keep climbing no matter how hard it gets.
She was surprised at the envy she felt as the turtle entered the shade. There was shade available in her own life. Promises God had given her. All she had to do was climb the mountain to get there. So why was she envious of a turtle? Maybe because that turtle was more committed than she was? Maybe because that turtle had more faith than she did? Or maybe because the turtle wanted it more than she did? She knew this turtle had given her a lot to think about.
Goodbye, little turtle, she thought as she walked away. Thank you for teaching me something I needed to learn today. Maybe someday I’ll make it to the top of one of my mountains just like you did.
Bella looked around fearfully as she fled home. Her mind was racing as fast as her legs. If Pastor Toby was an alien… wait. Forget the if. Pastor Toby IS an alien, she corrected herself. So does that mean there are other aliens here too? And what about Pastor Toby’s enemy?
As she ran, she looked at the other people on the sidewalks.
She saw a couple walking past, holding each other’s hands and talking quietly together.
They’re aliens. They’re talking about you. The thought almost made her stop. Why would they be talking about her? Probably because she escaped from Andy. He must have contacted his leader, and now everyone is going to be looking for her. She began to run faster.
She passed a man reading a newspaper at a bus stop.
He’s an alien too. He’s just pretending to read that paper. He’s actually watching you. She couldn’t resist turning her head to see if he really was watching her. Nope, he hadn’t moved. He hadn’t even shifted his head. Where were these thoughts coming from?
She ran by a man who was looking at his watch. Was his watch really a communicator. Was he reporting on her location?
She saw a lady pushing a stroller. Were there baby aliens too?
She looked at a girl walking a small dog and whistling. Whoa! Bella had a new thought. Was the DOG an alien? What if aliens not only took on human form, but also the forms of animals? Maybe even insects?
Was she surrounded by aliens? She felt eyes watching her from every direction.
Bella tucked her head down and hurried faster. She had to get off the street. She had to get to the safety of her apartment where there was no one but her. She couldn’t trust anyone or anything anymore.
Finally she made it to her apartment, closed and locked the door, ran to her bed, climbed in, and pulled the covers over her head. If she lay real still, maybe they wouldn’t find her. Trembling and breathing hard, she tried to listen for any sounds of pursuit. Now that she knew they existed, were they going to come for her? Surely they wouldn’t just let her go free. What if she revealed their secret? What if she talked to a newspaper or TV reporter? Then a depressing thought slowly filled her mind. They didn’t need to pursue her. She was not a threat. Who would believe her? If she tried to tell anyone of their existence, they would just think she was crazy. She would probably end up in a mental institution. At the very least she would be laughed at and ridiculed.
Bella lay in her bed, no longer fearing an invasion, but too distraught to get up. How could she go back to everyday life? It was like she had been going through life with her eyes closed, and now they were opened to a whole other reality. No matter where she went – work, shopping, the gym – she would be wondering how many of the people around her were aliens.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw something move. Which was strange because everything around her was moving. The water. The seaweed. The small broken shells. So why did this movement catch her attention?
Standing in the ankle deep water, she looked up from her search and saw a large dead fish moving towards her. So, that’s why, she thought. It was moving in a different direction than everything else. Instead of moving towards the beach, this fish was moving parallel to the beach. But how was that possible? The rotting tissue covering the fish made it very obvious that it was dead. Then she saw the small crab pulling it through the water.
Wow, she thought in amazement. That fish must be ten times the size of that crab! And even though moving things through water is easier than on land, moving something that big is still a feat.
Then the crab saw her.
It let go of the fish and made a bee line towards her. She didn’t know crabs could move that fast! She wasn’t normally scared of crabs, and usually just ignored the ones on the beach. But this one seemed intent on reaching her. The thought of it grabbing her on to her toes was enough to send her flying out of the water and well past the breaking waves.
Once she was safe, she turned around to watch it as it watched her. Satisfied that she was no longer a threat, the crab left. And when she was satisfied the crab was gone, she returned to the water and her search.
But she couldn’t stop thinking about what had just happened.
Why had she run from that crab? She was much bigger than it was. She was much stronger than it was. She was much smarter than it was. Yet, she had had no other thought in her mind at that time than to get away from it.
And from the crab’s perspective, it hadn’t cared how big, strong, or smart she was. It didn’t want her there and took action to make her leave.
That’s kinda backwards, she thought. The crab should have been intimidated by her size and changed directions to avoid her. Or, at least if it was dumb enough to chase her, she should have just used her net to catch the crab before it got to her. Either way, she should not have been moved.
Just like the giants in my life, she thought. Problems come towards me and I run away. But I have Jesus inside me. He’s much bigger than any problem. He’s much stronger than any problem. He’s much smarter than any problem. I don’t need to run. Maybe I just need to remember to use the net of His Word to catch any problems that try to scare me.
As she prepared to leave the beach, she had a completely different thought. What if she was the crab?
Even though that crab should have been intimidated by her size, it wasn’t. It knew what it was and was ready to use all it had to defend what was his. If she knew who she was and was ready to use everything Jesus provides, could she be as brave as that crab? Could she go on the offensive towards threats in her life?
Not yet, she realized as she looked honestly at herself. But one day, as God continues His work in me, I will!
Wait! Did she really see what she thought she saw? She had to find out, so she turned around and backtracked down the sidewalk until she got to the spot. She looked down and thought, “No way!”
She was looking at a sidewalk after a flock of geese had spent some time there. Their… droppings… were everywhere. But in this spot, they were not spread out, but rather gathered in a unique formation. Was it a natural formation? Or did someone give it a little… direction?
Either way, it totally caught her by surprise and got her to thinking. Most smiles are supposed to be sweet and happy and life giving. This smile looked happy alright, but sweet and life giving?
Nope. Definitely not.
Just like the smiles on some people, she thought. Bright and cheerful on the outside, but deep inside they were full of nasty crap. Like the Pharisees Jesus had addressed way back when He walked the earth.
Having looked long enough, she continued on her walk, knowing that, even if she couldn’t trust some people’s smiles, she could always trust God’s smiles.
Matt 23:27-28 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
Proverbs 26:24Enemies disguise themselves with their lips, but in their hearts they harbor deceit.
Proverbs 26:23-25 Smooth words may hide a wicked heart, just as a pretty glaze covers a clay pot.
She looked at the lounges. They were the usual blue lounges found at most pool sides. All were pointed towards the water. All were well used. All were empty. So?
She took another look. Although the chairs were all pointing in the same direction, they were not lined up in a perfect row, and the backs were all set at different angles. She frowned in concentration.
“What are they telling you?”
Hmmm… she thought. What would these chairs be telling me if I could hear them? That they were there to serve people? That they were enjoying the sun just as she was? That they were in the place they were supposed to be? That they were lined up casually and set at different angles?
She thought about how the angles would affect her line of vision. If she sat in the chair with the back straight up, her eyes would look out over the pool. She would see the sparkling blue water and all the people who were in it. If she sat in the chair with the back all the way down, she would be able to see the brilliant white clouds as they slowly passed by and birds as they flew overhead. But she would no longer be able to see the water or the people. The other chairs, with backs set at different angles, would allow her to see varying amounts of both water and sky.
The chairs are like our faith, she mused. Sitting in one with the back straight up doesn’t take much faith. Our muscles could hold us upright comfortably even if the back of the chair should give way. But lying back, no longer using our own strength but trusting the chair to hold us up requires more faith.
And the amount of faith we practice affects what we focus on. With little faith, like sitting upright in a lounge chair, our view is limited on what we see around us. Our focus is on the physical world and all its troubles along with its beauty with little ability to see into the spiritual realm. The more faith we practice, like the further back we recline, the more of the spiritual world we’ll be able to see. We can still see the physical world, but our focus becomes increasingly centered on God and His kingdom. We are better able to see things as God does. And lying fully back? That probably only happens when in the midst of fully worshipping God… or when we die, she thought wryly.
“So, what does your chair look like?”
She thought about that. She knew what she would have liked to have answered. But the truth was – her chair was constantly changing angles. And then, she knew. That was the whole point of this lesson. Her chair was not going to stay in one position, or even progress steadily to a flat position. And that was OK. The important thing was to ask herself, especially in times of stress, “What does your chair look like?”
Because her chair may need a little adjusting from time to time to get the best view.
Clouds are amazing! So many tiny droplets of water moving across the sky powered by the wind! Clouds continually change shape and will eventually disappear as the droplets fall back to earth. But before they do, the people who watch them are filled with fascination and wonder.
Just like life.
So many moments moving across time powered by the breath of God! Our lives continually change shape and eventually disappear as we return to the dust from which we were made. But while we are here, if we take the time to really look, our lives are just as fascinating.
What is life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. James 4:14
“Do you hear them?” she asked her friend as they were taking a walk through their new neighborhood.
“Hear what?” he asked, looking around.
“Hear those houses.”
Now he looked at her. “Um… you can hear houses?” He frowned at her, concerned that she had finally lost it. “I know you’re a bit sleep deprived, but…”
She laughed. “No, I’m not going crazy. I don’t actually hear them talking like I hear you. But I do hear a message.”
Instead of answering, she asked him a question. “What if they could talk, what would they be saying to you?”
He looked at them a few minutes, cocked his head, frowned and said, “I give up. I can’t hear anything.”
“OK, then, what do you think of when you look at them?”
He studied them a bit longer. “I think of the potential each one has. And how they all seem to have the same basic construction plan but small changes makes them each unique.”
“You don’t think a finished one is better than an unfinished one? The finished ones are much prettier to look at.”
“No, they’re just in different stages of construction. One house is not better than another just because it’s further along. They are all interesting in whatever stage they’re in. And one day they will all provide strong, well built homes for the people who will move into them.”
“Exactly.” She sighed. “It’s just like us. Like people. We are all in different stages of development. Some look more finished than others. Some are nicer to look at, or listen to. But all of us are being built by the Master and are perfect in whatever stage we’re in. If only we weren’t so quick to judge others by what we see instead of by what God sees.”
“Is that the message you’re hearing?”
“Yes. We – people – are new homes being built. We are all made from a basic plan yet the Master has made each of us unique. We are all as we should be at whatever stage we’re in and we should stand content in the progress our Father is making as He molds and builds us. And most of all, we should allow other people to be at different stages than we are in. We should be delighting in their progress instead of comparing and judging them.”
She turned and looked at her friend. “I have to admit, I’m as guilty as anyone else. But that’s going to change. With God’s help, that’s going to change.”
He smiled at her, took her hand, and together, they continued on their walk.
The pool was filling up. Maybe she should leave now, before it got too crowded. But not really wanting to leave the cool water, she decided to watch the people around her instead. Everyone was enjoying the water in different ways.
“Marco.” The voice caught her attention and she looked to her left and saw a young girl standing in water up to her chin, eyes closed, calling out, “Marco” every few seconds. Each time she called, several other children moving around her called back, “Polo.” As she heard their responses, she would turn in their direction and, without opening her eyes, reach out to try to tag one of them. But she never moved from where she was. It reminded her of something she had read in Proverbs. “The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out.” That’s so much like us, she thought. There is wisdom all around us, and if we call out, we can hear it. But we won’t ever find it if we just stay put in one place and make half-hearted attempts to touch it.
Laughter caught her attention. She turned to look and saw some mothers and daughters playing keep away. They were laughing as they tossed a water ball back and forth, no one having very good aim, and teams changing places in the middle frequently.
“Keep away,” she muttered. “I hate that game. Either the players on the ends are too good at tossing the ball high over the middle person’s head, or no one really cares about the game and end up half-heartedly tossing the ball. There’s no good challenge either way.”
So why are they laughing?
She had to think about that for awhile. Maybe the kids are laughing because they’re so little and don’t really know anything about the game. They just enjoy being in the water and throwing a ball around. And maybe the moms are laughing because their daughters are laughing. Is that how God sees us? He takes delight in watching us enjoy His creation?
She watched another group play a game she wasn’t familiar with. Evidently, one person is a shark and calls out “Swim”, then tries to catch the other people (minnows) as they swim from one side of the pool to the other. Most of the time, the minnows would just start swimming as fast as they could hoping to out swim the shark but the shark was able to catch whichever minnow it was after. However there was one minnow who stood out. She would watch the shark intently , wait for the shark to go after a minnow, then move quietly in a different direction, staying as far away from the shark as she could. If the shark happened to see her, she would sink into the water, causing the shark to have more difficulty seeing her. Underwater, she could swim faster and when she emerged, she’d be ten feet away. Time and time again she got away from the shark using this strategy.
Now, that’s a whole like us and temptation, she thought. Most of the time when temptation arises, we either fall easy prey to it, or we try to use out own power to avoid it. It might work now and then, but eventually that shark is going to get us. We should be more like that wise girl. Stay as far away as we can, and, when that doesn’t work, dive deep into Jesus, allowing Him to cover us as we make our escape.
A loud cry from the other side of the pool brought her attention to a man holding a very little girl, trying to talk her into letting him toss her up and catching her. She cried each time he mentioned it. The mom called from the side to quit talking about it and just do it. So he did and the little girl laughed. He repeated it several times, delighting in her laughter. Then he tried to talk her into going underwater with him so he could toss her higher. She refused and began crying again.
So much like us and God, she thought. It’s probably why He won’t tell us all His plans for us. We’d be as terrified as that little girl and refuse every invitation He gives us. Yet, He knows how much we would enjoy it once we got past the fear.
She was intrigued watching a young girl chatting with her friend, totally ignoring a younger girl who kept hitting her with a water ball. How could she do that? She knew if anyone kept hitting her with something, she’d get irritated and angry. But then she thought, isn’t that what Satan does? Constantly hitting us with something to mess with our peace and cause us to get irritated and angry? “God,” she prayed silently, “help me be able to ignore the arrows Satan throws at me as well as this little girl is ignoring the ball being slammed on her.”
There was a man floating in the midst of all this, eyes closed, ignoring everything around him as he relaxed.
Now that’s the right idea, she thought. To be able to rest on Jesus and ignore all the problems around us would be amazing!
She was dismayed to see another group of people enter the pool. OK, now it was just getting too crowded. Regretfully she climbed out of the pool and prepared to go home. As she did, she had one final thought: “This is like how one day I will climb out of the swimming pool of life and head to my heavenly home!” She smiled. “Only I’ll do so with way more excitement than I feel right now!”