Dwell in Me

Seeking God in the Every Day


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Looking Anew at the Psalms

I always used to wonder about the Psalms. I mean, there are some really pretty poems in that book, right? Who doesn’t love Psalm 23, for example? And I’ve always liked the ones that clearly prophesied things about Jesus, like in Psalm 22:

“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;
my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.
For dogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and my  feet–
I can count all my bones–
they stare and gloat over me;
they divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.” (v. 14-18)

But outside of the clear references to Jesus and the sweeter, most oft-quoted poetry, I never really cared for the Psalms.

And I sort of felt like they were poems old people liked. I mean, they don’t even rhyme in English. And I’m sure the rhthym is all off too. Not like Shakespeare. Or even Dickinson–with her half rhymes and rhythmic verses. Or e. e. cummings, whose creativity in poetry just makes you think. “anyone lived in a pretty how town/ (with up so floating many bells down).” Love that.

The rest of the Bible is a little easier for me. More concrete. You know when God is telling you to do something or live a certain way. There are stories and you can analyze them and think about their application in your own life. You can read and puzzle over Revelation and Daniel, wondering what everything really looked like to John and Daniel in these visions they’ve recorded. Trying to see what they see. But the Psalms require something different.

I’m not sure what that is. Empathy? Personal suffering? Doubts? A vision of a God who is Love? And maybe all of those things and more.

Infertility has been pain, my suffering. It has made me question God and caused me to examine him to see who he really is. It has brought me to my knees and  brought me to his throne. And it has taken me to the Psalms.

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” Psalm 1:1-3

 

“Ask of me and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.” Psalm 2:8

 

“But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy hill.” Psalm 3:3-4

 

“Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!” Psalm 4:1

 

“But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread you rprotection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you.” Psalm 5:11

And there are 150 Psalms recorded in the Bible. Praise God for this source of wisdom and empathy. For this instruction in speaking to God and relating to and understanding who he is. For this emotional connection to him and to his word that we have in the Psalms like nowhere else. Praise God for opening my eyes to the beauty in these poems, to the meat in them, to the way they can speak powerfully in my life. Praise God.

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What Promises Are Mine?

What promises does God have for you?

A few questions in my Bible study this week–on chapters 15 and 16 in Genesis–asked me about the promises God has given me. One question asked, “What questions about His promises to you would you like to ask?”

You know my answer? “What are God’s promises specifically for me? What verses in the Bible are meant specifically for my life?”

I know there are so many promises in the Bible that are corporate–for the whole body of believers–and I know that many of them will apply in the next life. But what–if anything–has God promised specifically for me? Is it even reasonable to expect, hope for, desire, or want a promise specific to my life from God?

Chapter 15 opens with a rather distraught Abram (not yet renamed Abraham). God has promised him a “great reward,” to which the already wealthy Abram basically responds, “What’s the use, when a servant of my household is going to be my heir?” You see, Abram is convinced that he will not have any children. This is despite the fact that God told him in the beginning of chapter 12 that he would give the land to which he guides Abram to Abram’s descendants.

Can we really blame Abram in his doubts? The man is 86, after all, and his wife is still barren. But God has promised. And God, in his great mercy, repeats the promise to Abram several more times and with increasing specificity. He speaks to him here, in chapter 15, saying, “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir” (15:4). “And he [God] brought him [Abram] outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be'” (15:5).

What a promise. And now we see that Abram does believe God, “and He [God] counted it to him [Abram] as righteousness” (15:6).

The commentary for this week’s lesson talks about this, saying:

Romans tells us, ‘He [Abram] did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God’ (4:19-20). Abram recognized that, humanly speaking, what he was believing God for was impossible. It would take a miracle. The Scripture says, ‘He did not weaken in faith,’ but it does not say there was no tension, no battle going on as he struggled to hold on to his faith. He was open and honest with God. He asked Him how He was going to solve this. Then ‘the word of the LORD’ came to Abram in a vision.”

At the end of chapter 15, God adds to Abram’s confidence in the promise that his descendants will inherit the land currently occupied by the Canaanites by making a covenant with Abram. Traditionally a covenant is between two parties, both of whom have responsibilities to uphold in keeping their end of the bargain. But the funny thing about this covenant is that God is both parties. God makes and God keeps the covenant. Abram has no responsibility. The promise will be fulfilled on Abram’s behalf with no strings attached. I find this so freeing. You see, the promises God makes to Abram do not depend at all upon Abram’s behavior.

I think that is true of the promises God makes to any of us. He knows we are sinful people, that we falter, and that we are incapable of guaranteeing anything in our own power. So he doesn’t ask us to do that. God’s promises to us–God’s promises to me, whatever they may be–depend on God alone, not on my behavior, not on my actions, not on the amount of trust I have, or how fervently I believe.

If you know you have a promise from God, but it has not yet been fulfilled and you are waiting and wondering if you misheard or missed out, I want to encourage you that you won’t be the first to have doubts. You won’t be the first to try to help God along or take matters into your own hands, either, as we see Abram does in chapter 16, though doing so would be unwise. And I think it’s okay to ask God to clarify and ask God to bolster your faith. Because you know what faith is? It’s a gift from God.

And if you’re like me, wondering whether there are promises in his word for just you, wondering if you can claim as a promise an heir from your (and your spouse’s) very own body, as God promised Abram, or if that’s just too convenient–join me in asking God. He gives Abram clarification when he asks for it. He comforts Abram when he is in doubt and when he is distressed.

Our God is a great God. A God who loves all the people he has made and wants none to perish. A God who does not play tricks on us or deceive us in any way at any time. And a God with a plan and a path for each one of us. Sometimes the path takes us through difficult and dark and confusing places. And maybe we don’t get to know why. But I know where the path ends up and I’m going to follow it to my ultimate reward, with God’s gracious help.

And I’m going to be asking God to reveal to me the promises he has in mind specifically for me. And I pray that I will be content–even joyful–with whatever he reveals, even if it is not what I might have chosen for myself.


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Anna Proclaimed Christ

I’ve been trying to write today and nothing is working. Does anyone else ever feel this way?

I wanted to come and write about Anna. I believe her calling was something she never would have expected or imagined–especially as a young woman. And I still do want to write about her because I think her story is especially powerful. I also think it’s important to lift up a woman who God used for his glory even though she probably did not get what she initially wanted in life. Even though she likely did not have children. Even though her husband died after only seven years of marriage. I don’t know what Anna wanted out of life. I can’t know that. But it’s not far fetched to think she would have expected to settle down with her husband for life or to have several children.

And I think it is important to be reminded that sometimes God’s plans are going to take us somewhere we never would have picked or somewhere we never thought we’d go. I don’t know if that’s what happened to Anna, but from my perspective, knowing what I know about who I am and how I feel while I’m waiting, it makes sense. 

So I wanted Anna to be part of my series. Part of my series about people who were called but who faced adversity getting to where God wanted them to be. But Anna doesn’t quite fit. And so this Monday is a post that doesn’t quite fit. And I just don’t feel up to rounding out the corners and smoothing it in and pretending it belongs where it doesn’t.

Apologies if that’s confusing for anyone . . .

So Anna: She was one of the first witnesses to proclaim Jesus as savior. She was in the temple when Mary and Joseph brought their 40-day-old baby to be presented, and she knew who he was when she saw him. We don’t know a lot about Anna. The Biblical account of her is only three verses long. It tells us a lot about her character, a little about her heritage, and next to nothing about the man she married or the children she may or may not have had. Anything outside of these verses is conjecture or inference, so take what I write with a grain of salt. Unlike David–whose life story could fill pages without any embellishment to the Biblical account–Anna’s moment in recorded history is just that: a moment.

And there [in the temple] was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was 84 [or, for 84 years, depending on how you translate the Greek]. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour [as Jesus was being presented], she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:36-38).

Apparently, many people take that last part–“to speak of him”–as an indication that she went around Jerusalem proclaiming the good news of the awaited Messiah’s birth. This would make her the first evangelist of the gospel–though more of a prophet of the Messiah than a recounting of what had been done, since Jesus was still an infant at the time.

Anna was very old–either 84 or over 100 depending on how you translate the verse–but apparently in good health. She could see, she could speak clearly, and she was able to move around well enough. And she offers this beautiful picture of a woman who walked closely enough with God as to recognize when she was in his presence. While Jesus was yet an infant, she recognized who he was.

She also offers us a model of devotion in the midst of tragedy.

Anna lost her husband after seven years of marriage–I personally think marriage without children–and she responded by dedicating herself wholly to God. As a young widow, she had every right to remarry. No one would have thought a thing about it if she’d found a new husband. I can imagine many friends and family members eagerly trying to connect her with this or that eligible bachelor.

We don’t know why she didn’t marry again. Did she not find the right man? Was she not sought after? Or did she know this was simply not God’s plan for her life? Either way, we see no sign of bitterness in Anna. No sign of grief. No sign of mourning. After up to 84 years as a widow, she has not only worked through any disappointment, but she has rooted herself in God, depending on him, trusting him, and giving herself completely to him.

I wonder how often she may have mediated on Isaiah 54:4-5:

Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called.”

Either way, God had a plan for her life. And I can’t imagine that her life went as she may have imagined it. But I take comfort–and perhaps she did too–in knowing that God knew it all before hand. He wanted her to be where she was and when she was so she would know him. And he wants the same for me.

And he [God] made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:26-27).

Thanks be to God for loving me enough to put me in my circumstances and to draw me unto himself.

This is {kind of} episode 6 of my “They Were Called” series. If you want to follow along, I am posting on Mondays. For previous episodes, see:

Introduction: Working for My Calling

Episode 1: David Asked, “How Long, O Lord?”

Episode 2: Moses Looked to the Reward

Episode 3: Hannah Took It to the Lord

Episode 4: Noah Chose to Build

Episode 5: Jonah Liked His Way Better


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Hannah Took It to the Lord

Today happens to be the first anniversary of my blog. When I started this blog, I am sure I expected to have a child by now. Instead, we are still waiting for our miracle pregnancy. But while our outward circumstances have not changed, we have grown and matured in our trial. We have felt God’s peace. We have wavered but not fallen. We have waited expectantly and waited reluctantly. And we are learning to trust, to relinquish fear and worry in favor of reliance on God and faith in his goodness.

So it seems fitting that today is the day I said I would write about Hannah’s calling.

One of the things that strikes me about Hannah is that her calling was more than she probably thought or ever realized. God uses her story to give hope to so many others who know the pain of infertility, the pain of longing for an answered prayer. Surely the example she sets is one part of her calling from the Lord. Being a role model, having “fame” in this way, is not something she would have expected or asked for, but her life has been used by God for our good and his glory over and over.

What we see as our calling may be only a small part of what God has truly called us to do. 

But I’m jumping ahead.

Hannah’s husband was a man who loved her. Elkanah had two wives: Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah had children but Hannah did not. Each year, Elkanah would take his family to make sacrifices at the temple. Elkanah gave Hannah a double portion of meat because he loved her, but Peninah mocked Hannah because Hannah was barren. [Mocked? And to think I get so upset at “just adopt” and “just relax” from well-meaning, albeit ignorant, fertile folks.]

We never see Hannah retaliate. But she does grieve. She grieves and she refuses to eat. In an effort to comfort her, Elkanah asks, “Aren’t I worth more to you than ten sons?” Ah, but the pain of infertility is so great. [Thank you, God that DH understands and is struggling with me.] Hannah, though loved, is really alone in her grief.

I wonder what she thinks about. Does she wonder, as I have wondered, why God would give her the desire to be a mother without the children to bear that out? Does she feel a lack of purpose, a lack of meaning without children? Did she dream of motherhood as a girl? Was raising children something she looked forward to?

One year, while they are in Jerusalem to make their sacrifices to the Lord, Hannah goes to the temple and prays. In her prayer, she shows that God is gracious to hear us. He listens to our needs. And we are right and justified to ask him for that which we long for. The Bible says, “And she made a vow, saying, ‘Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor shall ever be used on his head.” (I Samuel 1:11)

Eli, the priest, who watches her as she prays, wrongly assumes she is drunk and confronts her. Upon finding that she is praying, he says, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” (1:17)

Hannah does go in peace: “Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.” (1:18b)

So, Hannah feels called to be a mother. Year after year goes by and she remains childless. Her husband’s other wife (who Melanie has [sweetly] speculated he may have married only because Hannah was barren–I encourage you to read her post) not only has children but regularly mocks Hannah for her barrenness. Her husband loves her but doesn’t understand her pain and, essentially, urges her to just be happy with what she has. Hannah doesn’t give up. She places her hopes before the Lord, seeking his help because he alone can provide what she longs for. After pouring her heart out to God, she leaves with peace. Even while her circumstances are unchanged, her countenance is different.

Oh how I praise the Lord for providing us with peace–however tenuous it may sometimes seem–in the midst of this heartache. I look back at the past year and see that I am different than I was at the beginning of this journey. I am changed for the better–though my circumstances remain largely unchanged.

This isn’t the end of the story for Hannah. She does bear a son. She calls him Samuel. And she fulfills her vow. After Samuel is weaned, she takes him to the temple to be dedicated to the Lord. She leaves him there.

I cannot even imagine! Hannah receives the blessing of a son, but she is with him for only a very short time. She will now see him just once a year when Elkanah brings his family to the temple. Upon leaving Samuel at the temple this first time, Hannah lifts up praises to God for the answered prayer.

Samuel becomes the final judge of Israel. He is a prophet and God speaks to him. He anoints the first two kings of Israel under God’s direction. Hannah’s faithfulness and prayer were key to God’s story for his people Israel.

And God is gracious to Hannah in her faithfulness. She goes on to have three more sons and two daughters (I Samuel 1:21).

Hannah: Called to be a mother. And called to set an example for us in prayer and praise, in being genuine before the Lord. She waited years to be able to fulfill her calling.  Without that wait, the pain, and heartache, would Samuel have been dedicated to the Lord? Would we know that we can pour out our hearts in agony and grief to God while asking for specific requests? God had a plan and a purpose in giving Hannah her deep-seated desire to be a mother. And I trust he has a plan and a purpose for each of us in the midst of our difficulties, our trials, our insecurities.

So we keep turning to him.

This is episode 3 of my “They Were Called” series. To see episode 2, about Moses and the calling he didn’t want, click here. To see episode 1, about David and his calling, click here. For the introduction to the series, click here. Join me next Monday for episode 4.


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Thoughts on Mark 15:31-32

I am reading through the Bible this year and seeing things through the eyes of a woman dealing with infertility. And in that way, the scriptures are made so fresh and new. Occasionally, a thought strikes me and I’ll make a note of it. This one seemed worth sharing.

The verses (while Jesus is on the cross):

“The leading priests and teachers of religious law also mocked Jesus. ‘He saved others,’ they scoffed, ‘but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this King of Israel, come down from the cross so we can see it and believe him!’ Even the men who were crucified with Jesus ridiculed him.” Mark 15:31-32

The people taunted and mocked Jesus on the cross. And they entreated him to come down from the cross to prove his power to them so they would believe. They were telling him what miracle to perform.

How often have I asked God to perform a specific miracle through which we could give him great glory? If we become pregnant before the medicines have possibly had time to work–or if we become pregnant before this or that treatment–what great glory we can give the name of the Lord! And I do believe it would glorify his name if we could tell of a miracle pregnancy, a miracle baby.

But what if Jesus had come down? Perhaps the mockers witnessing that act would have been muted. Perhaps they would have looked upon Jesus and known that he was beloved by God after all, that he did possess some extraordinary power. But if Jesus had come down from that cross, the penalty for our sins would not have been paid. We would not have been saved.

If he had come down from that cross, Jesus may have obtained glory for himself, but it would have been at the expense of God’s great plan for his children.

As a believer, I have to look at this story and be thankful that God does not seek to glorify himself by doing only what people think would give him glory. Instead, he knows the full story and he knows the best way to glory.

So I hope to glorify God in whatever comes through our infertility and through my life. What I think would glorify his name may not be what he knows will be for the greatest glory. But I should not lose heart. And I must continue to trust him. Because Jesus doesn’t come off the cross when the mockers tell him to. Instead, he lays down his life and the curtain separating man from God is torn in two. And what glory when Christ walks from the grave on the third day, showing us that he has conquered death and freed his children from the bondage of sin! Praise God.


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He Satisfies the Longing Soul

I’ve been in a good place lately. We’re still infertile (as far as we know), but I’m either really in denial or beginning to come to terms with things. I guess we’ll find out which when a. I have my next breakdown, b. we start fertility treatments full force in the new year, or c. I find myself peeing on a stick if my period is late. (NOTE: both a. and c. would indicate denial; b. could really go either way.)

At any rate, I figure I should be thankful for the peace I have and not squander it. I’m glad I’ve been able to spend many of the past few days thinking about and doing things that are not related to infertility. I know some of what I say (especially “if we have kids,” instead of when) and some of what I do (like mentally preparing myself for dealing with baby stuff) is done through a filter of infertility, but it hasn’t been as all-consuming or tragic as it was a few months ago.

I also feel like going through infertility and the questions and pain it raises has helped me dig deeper in my faith. I’ve been communicating with God on a deeper level, in large part because I’ve been able to be honest with him and I’ve had something deep and meaningful to be honest about. 

A few days ago, I came across Psalm 107: 8-9:

Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
For he satisfies the longing soul,
and the hungry soul he fills with good things.

My soul has been longing. For children. But I think that longing has been misplaced. I should be longing for God and trusting him that what we are going through is for our good and for his glory. That what he wills is better than what I will. And that his ways are not my ways.

At my Bible study the other day a woman talked about how we need to lay our wills on God’s altar with cheerfulness and thanksgiving; we should gladly take on the will of God, believing it to be better for us than our own desires.

Profound.

I have been struggling to do this, but I am trying. And I think it’s in the trying to obey–even when I fail–that I am blessed with peace.

Thanks be to God, the God who satisfies the longing soul.