Richard Foster, in his book “Celebration of Discipline”, writes this:

“Superficiality is the curse of our age. The doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem. The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.

Foster, Richard, “Celebration of Discipline,” p. 1.

Two weeks ago we started a new sermon series entitled, “Going Deep!” (You can check it out at Maple City Chapel. Listen to the current sermons, join the FaceBook page, follow along in the devotional!) The emphasis is spiritual and emotional health through the practice of silence, solitude, scripture, listening. Essentially, practices that grow our faith deep so we can extend our reach wide.

At the same time, I am mentoring a young woman who desires to deepen her faith. We are visiting some of the same practices for the development and strengthening of her faith.

Reflecting on the messages I am hearing, it is God’s unconditional, unwavering love for humanity at the core of it all. I sit in silence to sharpen my listening skills. I read scripture to understand the power of God. I meditate on what I read so that the words of truth might dwell deep in my heart. One scripture from the message on Sunday particularly stood out to me. It reminds me that I am attached to the vine which is Jesus. As long as I stay attached, I grow and produce fruit. I am healthy because God prunes me and cuts away anything that hinders healthy growth. It is about me being attached to Jesus. And then Jesus says this:

9“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. 10When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! 12This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. 13There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command. 15I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. 16You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. 17This is my command: Love each other.

John 15:9-17

It might seem Jesus is saying that obedience to his commands proves we love God. I’ve tried that. I obeyed the letter of the law in what I understood scripture to say. It did not produce joy and certainly not overflowing joy. It was death to me.

Rather, Jesus says that love comes from the Father to Jesus to us. It is because we are deeply loved and attached to the vine that we can love others which is obeying Jesus commands. Our attachment to Jesus results in obedience of his commands and it keeps us in his love.

If life is tough right now and there isn’t much love flowing out of your vessel, I encourage you to check your attachments. Are you deeply attached to the vine or to something or someone else? Do you experience joy overflowing? Or is it even a little trickle? Check your attachments. It might mean you need to unplug and reattach to the Source of love and life!

When Dave and I were first married, we volunteered helping with the youth group in our church. One Wednesday evening, we were late for Bible study. Dave attempted to make up for our tardiness by practicing his Indy 500 driving skills. At my best, that would not have amused me. This particular evening, I was very pregnant with our second child. To say that I arrived at Bible study in less than cheerful spirits is an understatement.

We quietly joined the group; they had already started singing. I could hardly believe what I encountered. EVERY SINGLE SONG TALKED ABOUT JOY AND HAPPINESS.

We sang “I have the joy, joy, joy down in my heart!” And “If you’re happy and you know it!” and “Put on the garment of praise” and every other song we knew that mentioned cheerfulness. I grudgingly joined in the singing and… you guessed it. By the end, my joy had returned.

Sometimes moving from the glumps to cheer is as simple as singing a few songs. Like Isaiah the prophet said:

3To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.

Isaiah 61:3

May your week end with a burst of joy and praise, full of hope! May your weekend by filled with God moments, not only at your worship service, but in every way!

6Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. 7You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” 8And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.

2 Corinthians 9:6-8

One hurdle for me to overcome in my journey to cheerfulness is myself. Too often I am slow to share because I fear I will give away something I need. I am not just speaking of money or material possessions. I refer to joy, acceptance of others, goodwill toward those different than me, cheerfulness when it isn’t returned.

As I read the scripture for today, I was struck with how true these principles are in more than just giving of resources, like money. If I am stingy with my goodwill, I likely won’t get much in return. And when I am free to give generously — whatever that may be — God generously provides all I need.

And in this, you can test him! He says, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!” (Malachi 3:10)

This week I chose to focus on our faces and the impact a cheerful look or a scornful look can impart. My daughter, Emily, has two daughters. When Emily was less than a year old she learned to scowl. We thought it was hilarious and often asked her to do it for others. Now Emily has a scowler of her own. Harper, her youngest, scowls at her and Emily returns the look until Harper breaks into peals of laughter. Harper has a great scowl.

Harper is also learning to talk. Her vocabulary is rather limited but she knows how to tell you exactly how she feels. Today I helped Emily with a doctor’s visit. With COVID restrictions, she can only take the patient into see the doctor. I offered to meet her at the appointment to sit with her Finley, her oldest. When they finished with the appointment, I decided to take Finley with me to the farmer’s market while Harper returned home with Emily. That was most displeasing to Harper and she did her best to convey her displeasure with crying and rolling her tongue while she cried. It most effectively conveys her displeasure with whatever is happening at the moment.

You and I are not really any different. We have our ways of conveying displeasure without using a single word. And we have ways of conveying pleasure without words.

25Worry weighs a person down; an encouraging word cheers a person up.

Proverbs 12:25

30A cheerful look brings joy to the heart; good news makes for good health.

Proverbs 15:30

As you begin your day, or perhaps you are ending the day, consider what your face and words convey. Do you bring joy to the heart of others? It only takes a cheerful look or an encouraging word to change someone’s day!

Happy Hump Day!!

Dormitories are the environments where the best and the worst are likely to be seen. I went to Bible school immediately after high school. I tried to avoid morning classes if at all possible, but someone had to take them. There are two classmates that stand out to me all these years later.

Sharon was perpetually late to class. She wore shoes with wooden heels. She ran down the tiled hallway in an effort to make up for her tardiness. No one slept past her class time.

Leah woke up cheerful and full of song. She started singing when she left her room to go to the bathroom to shower and continued until she was leaving the dorm for her class. No one slept past her class time.

20Singing cheerful songs to a person with a heavy heart is like taking someone’s coat in cold weather or pouring vinegar in a wound.

Proverbes 25:20

14A loud and cheerful greeting early in the morning will be taken as a curse!

Proverbs 27:14

Knowing when to smile, extend a cheerful greeting or be exuberant is a learned skill. Too much of something is….too much!

Slow down today and take the temperature of the people around you. Someone might be dying for a smile; someone else might need a quiet presence but no words. Be the holy presence someone needs!

There was a woman who loved auctions and estate sales. One day she found herself wandering among the furniture at an auction when she looked to the side and saw another woman wandering the items as well. She looked away and thought to herself, “My! She was really grumpy!” Turning back to see if she knew the grumpy woman, she realized she was seeing her own reflection in a dresser mirror!

Our faces say so much! If you are like me, you want your face to send a positive message, but let’s “face” it, they don’t always. Sometimes it takes a little effort!

A few years back, I taught Bible courses at a local Christian school. During one particularly difficult season going to school was a struggle. One morning before I left home, I read this verse:

When they were discouraged, I smiled at them. My look of approval was precious to them.

Job 29:24

I sensed the Lord telling me that I was making it too difficult — just smile at the students today. It will be all right. So, armed with my smile, I left for school. It was amazing. Not only did I feel better smiling at the kids, but their response was to smile back and we both benefited.

Consider your face. Are you smiling? Are you scowling? Are you sad or frightened? Give a smile a try today. Perhaps it is your look of approval that will be just what someone needs and it will lift your spirit too!

It is a guarantee that our bodies will experience weakness and exhaustion. It is the signal our bodies give that we need to slow down and rest. Sleep is one of the five elements needed to survive.

Our spirits also become weak, tired and exhausted. I remember one time meeting with my pastor to discuss some mentoring situations I had undertaken. He sensed that my spirit was getting weary and he took the time to pray with me, encouraging me to rest. I needed to hear that.

Perhaps these words from Isaiah are what you need to hear today. As you read them, let the truth of God’s care for you wash over your tired, exhausted spirit!

30Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. 31But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:30-31

Another translation says “those who wait on the Lord…” I love this picture. Eagles don’t do a lot of flapping — you know, that useless activity we often get caught in that doesn’t get us very far! They soar on wind currents invisible to the human eye. They make flight look effortless. And that is the promise we are given — wait on the Lord, trust in him and you will experience strength beyond your wildest expectations.

Enjoy a wild, carefree weekend as you wait on Him!

Encountering the stars, I learn of God’s power and strength which helps me to know that His understanding is deeper than I can comprehend. He surely sees my troubles! He knows what I experience!

But what is He doing about it? What response does He have?

28Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding. 29He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.

Isaiah 40:28-29

3He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds. 4He counts the stars and calls them all by name. 5How great is our Lord! His power is absolute! His understanding is beyond comprehension! 6The Lord supports the humble, but he brings the wicked down into the dust.

Psalm 147:3-6

These scriptures comfort me and give me hope. I stumble along the way. I skin my knee; I bruise my hands; I grow weary; my strength fails; my heart breaks. He is close to me at those times. He takes care of my wounds, he strengthens me and lifts me up. He walks beside me to support me on the way.

When I am with my grandchildren, there are times I want to help them do something. I am only successful when they allow me to help — when they humble themselves and submit to the process of receiving assistance. It doesn’t always happen. Therefore, I can’t always help.

It is the same between me and Father. He wants to help. He wants to come alongside me and support me. Sometimes I am too proud and stubborn to allow him. Sometimes I depend on what I know and can see with my eyes.

There are times I need to read this admonition from David in Psalm 32:

8The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you. 9Do not be like a senseless horse or mule that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.

Psalm 32:8-9

There are many situations that make trust difficult. Consider your life today. What keeps you from humbling receiving the strength and help God provides? He really does understand and comprehend everything about you. He wants to help.

Monday evening I went outside to look at the stars. I chose the front yard because there are fewer lights there than in the back. Opening the door, I snapped off the porch light and was immediately surrounded by deep darkness. So dark, in fact, that I couldn’t see the sidewalk. I did not let that detour me, as I gingerly stepped onto the porch. Sliding my foot forward toward the edge of the stoep, I carefully stepped to the sidewalk. Using the Lazy Susan’s that fell into the path as a guide, I made my way to the concrete area in front of the garage.

I looked up to see the stars and noticed a few peeking through the opening in the trees. Pulling my bathrobe closely around me and the collar behind my head, I lay down to get a better look. There they were — stars too numerous to count. The longer I lay in the dark, the more accustomed my eyes became, the more stars I could see. The Lord spoke this message to my heart.

“I know you want to see me, but manmade lights hinder you. When you turn off those lights, the darkness is so dark that you immediately reach for the switch to turn them back on. The darkness frightens you. But embracing the darkness allows your eyes to adjust from the manufactured to the supernatural; from manmade to heavenmade. The longer you sit without the artificial light, the more you will see the lights I have made, the more you will experience My presence.”

As I sat in the dark, gazing at the stars, I allowed God’s presence to envelope me. He spoke truth to my heart. He comforted me. He encouraged me.

As Jesus neared the time of his death, he spoke so many comforting words to his disciples. John recorded his final words in chapters 14-17 of his gospel. He begins with these words:

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.” 

John 14:1

The Greek word translated heart means the inner person. As I meditated on this verse, I read it like this: “Bev, don’t let your inner person be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in Jesus.”

Pause for a minute and consider your inner person. Is he/she troubled? Does the darkness seem so deep right now? Are you trying to illuminate the way with the light the world offers? Step away from the chaos of that light. Sit with the darkness and allow your eyes to adjust, to be awakened to the Presence of God. I believe you will see his light all around you. Depending on the world’s light for comfort will disappoint as it conceals and blinds to the true light of the Lord. Pray with the psalmist as he says, “Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths…” (Psalm 119:18)

What did you learn by noticing the stars? Were you able to calculate how many there are, even counting them? Naming them? Yeah — me neither. But the immensity of the galaxies is certainly amazing, isn’t it?

In Isaiah 40, God invites the reader to consider the stars. Then he asks two questions:

27O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?

O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?

Isaiah 40:27

Do you ever feel that way? Either God isn’t seeing your troubles or he chooses to ignore them? Does he not care? Maybe life on earth is just too human for him to understand.

But wait! Let’s read on…

28Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding.

Isaiah 40:28

The psalmist says the same thing…

5How great is our Lord! His power is absolute! His understanding is beyond comprehension!

Psalm 147:5

Not only can I not count the stars or call them by name, I cannot fathom the depth of God’s understanding for ME! He knows when I am troubled and when I rejoice, he sees my thoughts when they are still a long way off, he totally gets me!

He not only sees my trouble, whatever that may be, but he cares that my heart is melting within me.

7I will be glad and rejoice in your unfailing love, for you have seen my troubles, and you care about the anguish of my soul.

Psalm 31:7

I don’t know what anguish you might be experiencing or if you are in a place of perfect peace right now. If trouble is your companion, know that you have a Father who sees it, understands it and is concerned about the anguish in your soul. If peace is your companion, ask God to open your eyes to those around you who are struggling and then tell them that God understands the trouble and is concerned about their soul.

Take a look at the stars again tonight. If he can count them all and even names them, he can take care of your trouble. Let that truth wash over you, filling every corner of your heart!