Make Informed Decisions about Your Path

We are at a crossroad in Psalm 107. In verse 33, the writing changes from a song to descriptions of God’s blessings and His judgment, a glimpse at two different paths.

During our stay on the farm, I came back from the barn alone one day and recognized something I hadn’t noticed before. I had walked through this intersection at least eight times each day. Each time, I had made an unconscious decision about where I was headed based on what I was doing in that particular moment. Many times on our spiritual journey,  we pass through crossroads without giving them the time and energy they truly deserve and require.

In Jeremiah 6:16, Jeremiah recorded God’s words explaining how to address crossroads in an intentional manner, so we can seriously think about what we are doing and where we are headed.

There are five (5) action verbs in that part of the verse: Stand. Look. Ask. Take. Find. When we continue trudging along a familiar path without standing still and looking around, we end up repeating all the same things we have done before – good, bad, or ugly. Do this enough times and we develop a habit. When we don’t ask for His guidance, we often miss what He prepares for us – rest and peace. Only God knows where these crossroads end up and that is why we have to ask for His direction. When He answers our question, then we can make an informed decision about which path to take.

Psalm 107 describes two different kinds of path and only one leads to peace and rest for our souls. The psalm ends with a warning: Let whoever is wise pay attention to these things and consider the LORD’s acts of faithful love.

He Always Comes to Our Rescue

Have you seen this in your lifetime? Things were going exceptionally well. Everything you were successful in all that you were doing. You had all the skills needed to meet all your goals. Then, something happened and things began to fall apart and nothing you tried worked the way it should. Your own skills and abilities were ineffective, “swallowed up.” Everything seemed bent on unraveling you.

The psalmist (Psalm 107) says that these times come because God speaks. His goal is not to destroy us. His goal is to teach us quickly acknowledge our need and to call for help. Even in those storms, He is right there with us. He hears our cries.

He comes to help. He calms the storm and brings us safely into the harbor He has already prepared for us. Sometimes He intervenes in the situation itself on our behalf. Sometimes He simply calms the storm in our heart, mind, and body and we sense His presence close as we walk through the experience. Either way, He alone is the one who can and does bring peace. And along the way, He teaches us to hang onto His hand and trust His heart for us.

How should we respond when He works on our behalf? He asked that we express our gratitude to Him and tell others what He has done. There are many other people in circumstance where they don’t know what to do next. They need to hear how God works in those situations as well!

Your testimony becomes evidence of God’s grace, goodness, and mercy that others need to hear! Never once does He leave us all alone.

Lessons from a Horse (Psalm 107:17-22)

Last week, she came home with a tumbleweed wrapped up in her tail. Her pace was slow. It was easy to see this prickly ball she could not escape annoyed her. When I met her at the barn, she went straight to the water trough and I made a plan.

I’ve seen her powerful kick, so I moved beside her, spoke softly and rubbed her side. She turned to see what I was doing. I slowly reached around and grabbed the tangled tail and began to extract the tumbleweed. I quietly assured her as I slowly worked to remove it. When it was out, I gave her a pat to let her know all was fine and she moved away. I hope she was grateful she no longer had a pesky ball away nipping at her heels.

Yesterday, she and her companion stayed in the field all day. They both seemed alerted to something and a bit anxious, but nothing looked different to my eyes. Once in a while she would circle her friend but her companion never moved forward and they never came up for water as they usually do.

So Rusty and I went out to see what might be the problem. When we approached them, she turned and looked at me. I immediately saw the problem. A 4-inch section of curly cactus was stuck in her lip. It curled toward her nostril and was covered with long spines. She let me touch her forehead and pet her while we made a plan. I took off my stocking cap and folded it onto itself, but I felt the thorns through the cap when I tried to grab it and she became anxious. I let go and calmed her again. I folded it again and gave it to Rusty. He moved forward and extracted it while I calmed her. All but two spines came out and she looked relieved. Her skittish companion came close to look and allowed me to rub her and speak to her too.

I turned to go to the barn and my curious and wreckless friend walked right at my shoulder. She ate a full meal – freedom does that to us. When we have made foolish decisions or tried to fill our needs with things that ended up becoming our prisons, our souls become famished. It is only in the presence of The One who rescues us, leads us out and provides nourishment for our souls that our deepest desires are fulfilled our desires and our brokenness and pain healed. He doesn’t mind if we eat until we are fully satisfied at His “Table of Plenty.”

We prayed the final two spines would come out on their own and they did. She ate breakfast and is back out in the field today.

I have been thinking about Psalm 107:17-22 and wondering how to share the beauty of God’s way of caring for us. As I thought about yesterday’s adventure with her, I was reminded that I am often the one who has been (and often continue to be) a bit too curious, a bit too eager to meet my needs without taking a better look at what I’m getting into. When things go wrong, He provides. God sent His Son for sins I cannot go back and change, for sins I will make in the future, for sins that have created pain and locked closed parts of my heart and made me a prisoner. And, His Son heals me. This is not just a Christmas thing. It is something I need to remember every day. My Heavenly Father sends help every time I cry out to Him and when allow Him to see me in all my brokenness, pain, and shame and when I let Him to make things right between us so that I am able to follow Him better. He guides me back to the place He has prepared for me. He is ever so gentle and kind. My task? Stay right beside Him. He knows best.

Dear Heavenly Father, I’m so grateful for a living lesson from a horse that demonstrates how You love me. Let me love others the same way.

He Does What We Can’t Do Ourselves

Sometimes our distress and trouble is simply part of life. We wander in the wilderness because we don’t know any better. But there are times when our own decisions create distress, sorrow and misery. Psalms 107: 10-16 describes how this happens and the potential results.

Sometimes we find ourselves in dark, hidden, destructive places full of misery and calamity. We become depressed, gloomy, and lack strength and/or will to get out. We are stuck, bound, and tied up – mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and sometimes physically (especially if we have attempted to remedy the loneliness and relationships with substances). We can’t escape. In fact, the more we try to escape, the deeper and deeper we sink.

How did we get there? Verse 11 explains that we are imprisoned because we scorned God’s word. He spoke and we turned our heads and put our hands over our ears. We went our own way. He continued talking to us, calling us, but we intentionally ignored and defied Him.

The All-Knowing God knows our rebellion leads to even more hardship and problems. He won’t overstep our free will, so He continually watches and calls as we move into places where no one else is able to protect or help us. These end-of-our-rope or “the bottom” places are accompanied with humiliation and shame. But God never humiliates us. His desire is simply that we become humble and honest enough to recognize our state and call to Him.

When we call with an honest, humble heart, He comes to where we are, bursts through our prison doors and rips our restraints out of the walls, bolts and all. Our job is to listen and follow His directions as He moves on our behalf. This is His gift of grace to us. He then leads us from the darkness to freedom. All He asks is that we accept His loving compassion, listen to His voice and follow Him out.

Heavenly Father, Almighty God, thank You for coming to save us when we are unable to save ourselves. Thank You for coming to the places where darkness and chains hold us. Give us eyes to see where decisions will take us and give us ears to hear Your voice and Your word to us.

He Rescues Us from Trouble

No one is exempt from experiencing times when we wander mentally or emotionally. When we stray, it’s easy to end up in places where we expected safety and comfort and find none. Sometimes we’re unaware of the small compromises we make. Sometimes we’re gently coaxed or intentionally deceived into moving a dangerous direction. Other times, we go knowingly.

What we find in the desolate places only temporarily drives away the loneliness, the fear and the terror. Those things might patch, but they don’t heal a broken heart. What started out as pleasurable or tolerable, now stings. And there comes a point when we realize we’re in a place where nothing satisfies, a desolate place where we feel utterly alone and isolated. We begin searching for a place of peace, a place where we don’t have to constantly search for safety and love.

Our strength fails because our souls are not fed and the driving desire to truly love and be loved is never quenched. If we wander deeper and deeper into the unforgiving wastelands, we will surely die a slow, hard death.

In these tight spots of grief, need, distress, anguish, or guilt, there is hope. In Psalm 107:6. In their trouble, they cried to the Lord and He rescued them from their distress. Sometimes our cries are audible and sometimes they aren’t. God hears both kinds when our heart is in the “yada” posture.  The childlike posture of open hands and extended arms reflects a desire to be in God’s presence, a cry to be picked up, a surrender.

Here’s His promise: He always hears this cry. He delivers, rescues, saves. He grabs us and pulls us out. He wraps His arms around us. He tells us He loves us and He’s got a better plan for us. He wipes us off and puts our feet in a different place. He invites us to a heart-to-heart conversation he has been longing to have with us, where He brings peace to our hearts and minds.

Dear Heavenly Father, I am so sorry that I have wandered and that You see me in this forsaken place. I can’t get out of this on my own. Please rescue me. Please heal me. Please show me what I need to do. Thank You for hearing my heart’s cry and picking me up and putting me in a better place. Father, help me quickly recognize the things that lead me into the desolate places where I don’t feel Your peace or Your joy and remind me to simply surrender to You. Your way is always better! I want Your way.

God Seeks and Gathers, Always

In Psalm 107:3, the writer shares with a very basic reason why we should praise God.

and has gathered them from the lands — from the east and the west, from the north and the south. (Psalm 107:3, CSB)

God’s lovingkindness is active. His grace, mercy and compassion causes Him to move. He seeks out and gathers those who need Him from every corner of our world and in every condition where we find ourselves.

East and west are opposite directions on our globe. We are constantly living in day or night and within 24 hours, we experience both. East and west never end and they never meet. Day and night, light, darkness,  awake or asleep, working or resting, doesn’t hinder God’s grace. He never says to us, “Okay, you’ve had enough,” then refuses to extend more. God’s grace compels Him to continually seek, gather, redeem, and restore.

North and south are different. They are directions with limits ending at our globe’s poles. In physical terms, both can be bitterly cold, isolating and deadly. In the original language, often the world translated into “south” here is translated as “seas”. The sea, too, can feel cold, lonely, and life-threatening. 

North and south have secondary meanings. Our hearts and minds and souls can travel in these north-south directions. North is often associated with dark, hidden, quiet, still places. South, especially seas are associated with loud, roaring, stormy places. Neither condition  – hidden, quiet, alone in the dark or open, exposed, troubled in the midst of a storm – neither condition hinders God’s grace. He is active in these places and every point between them, continually seeking, gathering redeeming, and assembling. 

His grace, His lovingkindness never changes. It never gives up. It never runs out. The Lord God Almighty continues to seek out broken pieces in our lives, gather them up, buy them back, and put the best parts back together.

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for not giving up on me. When I ask for Your help, You always show me what You want me to do. Sometimes it’s to wait and sometimes it’s to move. Sometimes when I haven’t moved, You give me space and time to experience the breaking parts of my life. Your goal is not my ruin. You know I need to recognize You want to redeem every part of my heart and mind. Help me to bring my broken parts to You so that You don’t have to chase me to the ends of the earth to help me. Thank You for not giving up on me.

Give Thanks. No Words Needed.

Heartfelt thanksgiving is first expressed in our posture. The Hebrew word for “give thanks” in Psalm 107:1 and verses 8, 14, 21, and 31 describes hands completely extended and hands open. Think about what happens naturally with your arms and body when you see a dearly loved family member or friend after a long separation. Or consider the posture small children take when they want to be in their parent’s arms. The feeling is expressed fully by the body posture.

יָדָה yâdâh, yaw-daw’; a primitive root; literally, to use (i.e. hold out) the hand; physically, to throw (a stone, an arrow) at or away; especially to revere or worship (with extended hands). [from the Blue Letter Bible]

God wants to hear our voice and our words, but more important to Him is the thanksgiving that comes straight from our hearts. The heart of worship, the heart of His child fully yielded and vulnerably open needs no words.

Heavenly Father,  Thank You for understanding when my gratitude has no words. Thank You for doing for me what I could not and cannot do for myself. Create in me a heart fully yielded and vulnerable to You.

Do you recognize the work already done?

Psalm 107:1, 2 – Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His faithful love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the LORD proclaim that He has redeemed them from the power of the foe.

Verses 1 and 2 of Psalm 107 indicate the psalm was written to a specific group of people – the redeemed. “Redeemed” is a word that disappeared from our vocabularies when World War II Ration Books and Green Stamps vanished. Keepers of ration books and collectors of Green Stamps knew their value. These little pieces of paper could be traded, redeemed for needed things (like food or gas) or desired things that were simply beyond the budget (like small kitchen appliances, cooking gadgets, Christmas trees, or kids’ toys). Ration cards or stamps allow you to have something you could not get any other legal way.

Before God redeemed us, we had no choice but continue down the path everyone starts on. This path was chosen in the Garden when humanity doubted the faithful love and goodness of God. As children of humanity, we cannot get off this path. The enemy of our soul hurries us past the free gift of grace by distracting or entrapping us with new, shiny, sparkly things. Some of us fare better than others, others of us experience the slow devastation of the enemy’s work. Either way, the path is filled with heartache, sorrow, chaos, and the final destination is destruction.

But God redeemed us. His gift of grace opens an opportunity for us to make a different choice. His path brings joy we can’t explain with words and peace that is beyond what we can understand. And, all along the way, He teaches us more and more about Him and asks us to draw closer to Him. The transformed life doesn’t necessarily happen overnight (although it can), but He is patient and kind with us. He never forces us to decide. He simply asks us to stop and look at the differences between His path and the other, then listen to the difference His voice and words make, and take one step toward Him.

This command to give thanks is our response to the sigh and whisper of God’s heart, “Oh, if those I have redeemed would recognize what I have done for them and thank Me, things would be so much better for them. I have already poured my grace and lovingkindness out on all of them. I have some much more goodness to lavish on them. If only . . .” (Psalm 107: 8, 15, 21, 31)

Heavenly Father, Thank you for redeeming me. Thank you for giving something that I couldn’t give so that I could have a personal relationship with You. You made my life so much better than it was, so much better than it would be without you! Thank you for showing me a better way! Your faithful love endures forever! Thank you!

Thank You for Your Grace, Your Wonders to Humanity

Much is written in the Bible about giving thanks to God. There are at least 20 verses in Psalms alone addressing the topic. Five of them are in chapter 107. The first section of this psalm (107:1-32) reads like a song with a single verse acting as a refrain. Verses 8, 15, 21, and 31 are all exactly the same: Let them give thanks to Adonai (the LORD) for His grace, for His wonders bestowed on humanity! (CJB)

The world is full of physical wonder reflecting our Creator. In Romans 1:20, the apostle Paul wrote that the universe is filled with His invisible qualities – both His eternal power and His divine nature. We can see these things and patterns, but they are beyond our capability to understand and beyond our power to create. Paul continued in verse 21 with “those who know who God become futile in their thinking and undiscerning in their hearts when they don’t glorify God and thank Him.”

Thanking God is an important part of our relationship with Him and vital for our own healthy minds and hearts. Not doing so leaves Him out of my thoughts and dims my heart to see reality.

In Psalm 107, the psalmist focuses on something more personal – God’s wonders bestowed on humanity, starting with His grace.  God’s grace is a gift the Eternal One freely offers us, a gift beyond our capability to understand and beyond our power to create. Various translations express grace in different ways –  faithful love, unfailing love, goodness, great love, lovingkindness, steadfast love, loyal love, kindness, mercy.

Grace is an invitation to a heart connection with the Giver. It is a gift I can reject. It is a gift I can accept and quickly move past, looking for more good gifts offered. But when I hear the sigh of the Father’s heart in these 4 verses, I hear the opportunity to humbly accept His gift, turn my eyes to His face, and thank Him with outstretched arms for the wonder of His grace and that He bestowed it on me, a tiny little part of all humanity.

Heavenly Father, I don’t deserve Your grace, Your love for me, Your goodness to me, Your kindness. Yet you extend it anyway. Give me a thankful heart that doesn’t take Your love for granted and doesn’t take the credit for Your work and keep it for myself or give it to another.