Bella and the Barbed Wire
“They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy.” (Jonah 2:8 KJV)
There were no signs she’d dug under it and no reason to think she could’ve jumped over it uphill. But at the sound of my voice, Bella turned and belly-crawled right back underneath the fence into the pasture like nothing ever happened — never touching the bottom strand.
Bella acted like she owned the pasture and was more like a good dog than a goat. She was always glad to see me, came when I called and followed me all around the pasture. She even headbutted the other goats if they came close.
What she didn’t realize was her escapes set a bad example for the others. It wasn’t long until they, too, crawled outside to graze. They picked right beside the fence and went back under when they saw me coming. They didn’t realize the boundaries were there for their protection as well as confinement. I wanted them to stay in but also wanted to keep predators out. The spacing of the barbed wire and electric fence was probably adequate to keep predators out.
Two things I learned from goats. One was I didn’t want any more, and the other was how much goats and humans have in common. We’re both stubborn, strong-willed and determined to do whatever we set our minds to regardless of the danger or consequences.
Christ didn’t put boundaries in his word to be mean. He always knows what lies beyond the fence. On the outside of his boundaries, we’re subject to the enemy’s attacks. Inside, we can dwell in peace and safety while the Lord keeps the enemy at bay. When we walk with him, he won’t let anything harmful come through the fence. When we violate his boundaries, we may suffer consequences that last a lifetime.
Jonah learned this concept, but not until he was caught in a storm, thrown overboard from a ship and then swallowed by a whale where he stayed for three days and nights. It took all of that before he ever repented. When the Lord released him from the whale’s belly, he didn’t remove his command. Jonah still went to Nineveh and preached possibly the most remarkable revival meeting in history. The problem was, his heart had become bitter and vindictive, blaming Nineveh for his suffering. He thought because he’d suffered, they should also. Through a couple more hard lessons, God taught Jonah the extent of his mercy — there’s no limit if we repent.
Jonah never enjoyed the fruits of his labor. He preached one sermon, and over 120,000 people repented. His bitterness caused him to forfeit the fellowship and admiration of those people who undoubtedly appreciated his obedience. How pitiful to accomplish that great work and never enjoy how God used him to bring Nineveh to repentance.
Are we willing to stray outside of God’s protective boundaries? Are we prepared to sacrifice the blessings of obedience to pick outside the fence? We’d see things much differently if our family had lived in Nineveh. Are we willing to obey God to see our families repent in the future? God won’t send Jonah to them, but he may send you. Have a blessed day in the Lord!
Nehemiah 8:8-10 8They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read. 9Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is sacred to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. 10Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
Once the people dealt with the sin in their lives, they asked Ezra to read from the Book of the Law. When he opened the book they all stood. Ezra began by praising God. All the people lifted their hands and joined in agreement that God was great, and then they bowed and worshipped. You’ll find this natural order of things throughout Scripture. We come into His presence with thanksgiving and praise. Then we are drawn to worship in adoration, because we are undeserving of all His goodness.
Then Ezra began to read as the Levites spread throughout the congregation to help explain the words that were read. Ezra may have been reading in Hebrew as the Levites translated into Aramaic. Conviction of sin settled on the crowd as the Word was read, and they wept. The Word exposed the sin in their hearts and actions, and they were repentant of their past response to all of God’s goodness in their lives.
They could see how gracious it was of God to allow the nation to be restored. But this was a time to rejoice. The walls were completed. The city was safe, and God had shown that His gracious hand was upon them. They had already dealt with sin in their midst. They had made restitution for their sins. Now it was time to celebrate. They were tired from a long stretch of hard labor. The Levites told them not to wallow in the past and the sins that they had already repented of. Now it was time to celebrate the goodness of God! When God really deals with us, and we come clean about our real condition, deal with the places we are not right with Him, then we need to move from grief to joy. The joy of the Lord is our strength to live in new life. Forgetting what is behind, we press forward in joy for all that God has done and is doing. Rejoice in His forgiveness. To wallow in past sins makes you ineffective in your new life. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. Rejoice in the Lord always!
Consider: If in any area of your life that you are not right with God, repent, make the necessary changes, and then move from sorrow to joy because you are now right with God. The world needs to see the joy and peace that we have when we understand that we are right with God.
Surviving the Storms
SEPTEMBER 7, 2021
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)
Ten years ago, the first waves of struggle hit my family.
The economy crashed and along with it so did our lives. My husband was laid off from his job; our bank accounts circled the drain and we were forced to make difficult financial decisions. Ultimately, we lost our home — and along with it our sense of security — and had to move to a house that held none of our memories but much hardship.
We prayed for patience to weather the storm. We did our best to “make do” in the waiting. And we kept our eyes on the horizon for calmer waters. But the calm never came. Instead, the waves continued to build, and one storm seemed to lead to another. From ongoing financial hardships to relationship trials, ongoing health issues and beyond, our lives felt completely shipwrecked.
For years I prayed God would change something, anything, in our circumstances.
I begged, “Lord, please give us a break.”
I bartered, “If You do this … I promise I’ll do that …”
And I grumbled — a lot: “Lord, it’s too much. This just isn’t fair!”
Have you ever felt as though you were stuck in life? Or worse … sinking? You’ve tried your best to keep moving forward, to keep your head above water, but the waves of struggle are relentless. Gone is the energy to put on a “good face” and pretend everything is OK — because everything is definitely not OK. Surviving the day while dreading the next is the endless cycle of your reality.
I know that kind of living.
Yet still the waves came, and I couldn’t help but feel as though my prayers had been filed under “forgotten.” So I stopped praying about it for a long time … until recently.
While reading in the book of Philippians, I was reminded of the Apostle Paul. Now Paul was a man who knew a thing or two about difficult circumstances and setbacks. In his travels to advance the gospel, he navigated a number of hardships — poverty, beatings, literal shipwrecks and hunger. In fact, at the time he wrote Philippians, he was a prisoner of Rome. Paul had every reason to barter, beg and grumble about his circumstances. But he didn’t — not a word. Instead, his letter to the church at Philippi was one written in hope, full of thanks and overflowing with joy.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
This verse in particular struck a chord of conviction deep within my soul. Paul was reminding his fellow believers to pray “with thanksgiving” in “every situation” (v. 6, emphasis added). I had long forgotten the “thankful” piece.
Paul was assuring his fellow believers the peace of God would triumph over any circumstance. But I had only desired God to change my circumstance.
Paul radiated joy while in chains, but I marinated in my misery.
My heart had been so focused on the storm that I had lost sight of God’s faithful presence in the midst. I knew I needed to admit where I’d turned from God and resume praying. So I did. But this time around, my prayers are sounding a little different. This time, I’m asking God to cultivate within me a heart of thanks for His daily provisions. I’m seeking His peace to guard against anxious thoughts. And I’m learning to choose joy when clouds of despair loom and my trust falters.
Friends, if you find yourself sinking amid a trying season, and your trust is wavering — take heart! Not only is the Lord sovereign over every circumstance, but He’s with us in every circumstance. Our prayers have not been forgotten. Our loving Father has heard every word. He knows our struggles; He desires to lift us up and He is waiting to calm the storms within our hearts. We need only turn to Him and ask. I pray we all would be encouraged to do just that today.