A Baby is the Door

 

 

 Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.
~Isaiah 7:14

 

I keep coming back to Tai’s post about the Highways to Zion.  Something about a real city, a physical image of the kingdom community, goes so far to help me understand what it is like to know and to come close to Jesus as a real person, a real God, a real King.  That is what I thought when I saw this Christmas card.  The baby King was born away from the people He loved, out in a little stable, or a lonely shepherd cave, but this manger cradle is tucked into a doorway.  It made me think of the city of Zion, and Jesus’ own words, that He is the door.  He didn’t just grow up to be the door.  He wasn’t even born to be the door.  He has always been “God with us,” the example we have of what our Father and His Father is really like.  And this is how He first comes to us; later, it will still be meek and riding on a donkey, washing feet, and with death for a coronation, but at the moment this new and glorious morn breaks over a weary world; a world that lies in sin and error pining, mourning in lonely exile; at that first moment, the reigning King comes as a person probably not even ten pounds, and not even able to lift His own head.

How can Jesus love us so much that He wanted to be so helpless in such a broken world?

I think of how often I can get caught up in everything that needs to be done, and everything I can try to do to make myself better; how I often worry about waking up at the right time, whether or not I know my Bible as well as I should, and always trying to know the right things to say at the right time.  We so often weigh our closeness to God with how much we can carry.  Then, we come to this little door: the way, the only way, to come to the Father.

It is such a sweet thing to hold a baby, to memorize the features of a sleeping face, or watch brand new fingers take hold of your own.  One precious blessing is that you cannot be overburdened with luggage and hold a baby at the same time.  As we come to this perfect door, we must put down everything else.  Sometimes, it is as though everything else just melts away in His presence.  Other times, it is a fight against our nature, and the belief that we now have to find a way to balance all of the cares of our lives and our Christian obligations, and still find a way to carry a baby too without hurting Him.

It is quite impossible, and it is meant to be.  The first and hardest habit to break is trying to protect ourselves.  Can you trust that the Lord will hold back the anxiety and the fear, and protect you from every enemy thought while you spend time with Him?  We shouldn’t have to be looking over one shoulder when we are in His presence; we aren’t meant to.  It is the place of absolute trust.  Trust He showed us by example when made Himself vulnerable to every mother’s worst fears, even before He was born.  He showed us how to become little children in trusting His safety to His Father, even during the time of such violent kings on earth.

Christmas does not need to come with any expectations.  The anticipation of beauty breaks our hearts when we have rested that success on ourselves.  Those expectations are meant to be trust given to Him; fears He will erase when we come face to face with His innocence: a purity that has outlasted the darkness of one thousand generations.  I pray that He will again be the light of your holiday this year.

Merry Christmas.

by Stephanie H.

If you are struggling to find the joy and peace of Christmas this year, please message us on Facebook, or leave a comment below.  We would love to talk and pray with you.

Battle Prayers: Thy Tents Shall Be Our Home

 

I struggle constantly to share prayer needs with others.  I often have no trouble talking to God about various things on my mind, but I have also struggled personally to pray for my own prayer needs, and to pray without ceasing over the daily actions and routine of my life.  The biggest reason for this is that I have a hard time counting many things as needs.  It can be easy to pray wishful prayers about what I would like to see happen, but over which I have no control.  Yet there are plenty of other times that prayer just seems… impractical.  Barring an unforeseen disaster, why would I need to pray for strength to get a jar of peanut butter off of the shelf when I could just do it?  Surely praying without ceasing does not require me to be imagining that I break my arm doing the most simple tasks!  That kind of imagination also wouldn’t be very good to apply to corporate prayers, knowing now many others have serious and present needs.  It is often so much easier to see Jesus as Friend than as Lord.  These blocks have added a layer of awkwardness to my prayers for years.

I still can’t tell what sparked the process, but the Lord put me on a train of thought recently that has overwhelmed my prayer life.  It didn’t come all at once like some of God’s lessons.  It was half of a thought that sat for some time before it blossomed.  The beginning that I can remember was wondering, “What am I missing when I keep my prayers to myself?”  I know that there is power in prayer, so why do I so often isolate myself from the prayer of others, when prayer brings us into such sweet communion with our brothers and sisters, even over the small things?  That’s not to say we make the focus of prayer meetings be the strength to open pickle jars.  On the contrary.  How often do we pray for normal rather than for extraordinary?

Our entire life as disciples of Jesus is a spiritual war, and prayer is the most vital battlefield.  Yet so often we can make the focus of our prayers the desire to stay safe and to stay normal.  It is easy to see how so many of my prayers have been defensive: focusing on keeping my head down, my shield up, and hoping that my prayers add extra strength to my rock, fortress, and high tower that God promises to be in Psalm 18.

But we really have no reason to pray defensive prayers of safety from inside God’s mighty fortress.  Read Psalm 18 in its entirety, and try to imagine our hopes and thoughts being able to add any sort of power to the unyielding storm of our Heavenly Father when His children are in trouble.  It isn’t our job to keep Heaven from crumbling, or from protecting God from His enemies, and the enemies and dangers we face are so numerous, that we would be crushed just by being aware of all that God protects us from without our knowledge!  In a manner of thinking, none of our prayers are defensive, because God’s kingdom will never fall.

Battle metaphors speak to me, so I love coming back again and again to Caesarea Philippi.  Jesus takes His disciples to this pagan city, the location of a cave called “The Gates of Hades” where demons were actively and grotesquely worshiped, to give them a clear and lasting image of their role as His disciples.

I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.
~Matthew 16:18

Gates don’t make a habit of going out and attacking other castles.  Gates are made strong to protect their cities.  Gates can stand strong and overpower attacking forces, but those forces have to come to them first.  We are the advancing forces, not the gates.  At the same time that our treasures are stored up safely beyond the gates of Heaven, we are on the march.  When we are spiritually attacked, it is because the Lord is pressing us forward into enemy territory, and they are rightly terrified of losing.  The battle belongs to the Lord (Proverbs 21:31), and no weapon that is formed against His armies will prosper (Isaiah 54:17).

When we neglect to pray over situations we can handle ourselves-on a physical level-we are skipping over our battle training.  We are disconnecting ourselves from our fellow soldiers who will need us in the fight.  We may feel safer and more comfortable, but we won’t be useful in rescuing anyone or spurring each other on to greater effectiveness on the battlefield.

No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.
~2 Timothy 2:4

Our battle prayers do not have to be complicated to be offensive instead of defensive.  “Lord, I want to be chosen for the front lines of the battle.  Let this situation equip me for the fight.  Keep my focus on you so that I can reclaim lives for you.  I don’t know how getting a jar of peanut butter off of a shelf will be a strike against the enemy, but if it can be, make it count!  Keep my armor and my resolve strong when your enemies lash out in self-defense.”

That is not to say that we can never pray for our own protection.  Our hearts and our treasures are safe in the stronghold of Zion, but we must go out against the gates of Hell, where we will be attacked.  There is a hymn that has become a favorite of mine that paints a very good picture:

Lead on, O King eternal,
The day of march has come;
Henceforth in fields of conquest
Thy tents shall be our home:

A tent is not nearly as defensible as a castle, but it is where we find the fight.  Remember that the church is built on the very rock that was named “The Gates of Hades”, so we are in full range of the attack.  Our souls are safe with our Father, but our bodies, minds, and hearts will be wounded and broken on the battlefield.  Choosing to fight for our King will mean choosing to live in dangerous places.  It is not wrong to pray for healing and for protection here, but we cannot withdraw from the fight in order to keep ourselves safe.

Training will be hard.  The fight will be long.  The more we pray, the more we will be attacked, and the less normal life will be, because God will put us into more significant battles as we press on.  Never pass up the opportunity to become a stronger, more fierce, more devoted soldier.  As you leave normal comfort behind, the Lord will be your source of joy and peace.

Dear Sister, press on and let the enemy know your Sword, let the captive know your love, and know Who has rescued you and given you both.  Never hold back, never look back, and pray because lives depend on it.

You have been chosen for this fight.  Take your stand, choose this day whom you will serve, and do not be afraid, for the Lord your God will be with your wherever you go.

 

by Stephanie H.

Count the Towers

 

by Stephanie H.
“Walk about Zion, and go around her; 
Count her towers; 
Consider her ramparts; 
Go through her palaces; 
That you may tell it to the next generation.  
For such is God, 
Our God forever and ever; 

He will guide us until death.”  ~Psalm 48:12-14

 

I really loved what Tai had to say in her post about Psalm 84 and the highways to Zion.  It was on my mind when I read the above passage.  We have such a great blessing in the history that has gone before us.

Sometimes it can be easy to look back on the heroes of the Bible and think they had it easy, but can you imagine what it was like for Abram to hear from a God no one knew, and simply obey the call to leave everything he did know?  Perhaps, even Abram fell back on the story of Noah.  Noah’s son, Shem, was still alive when Abram left Ur, after all.  It wasn’t a story; even if it was nearly a thousand years later, it was recent history to Abram.  What about Noah?  What did he have to fall back on when God told him to build an ark in order to survive a weather phenomenon that had never happened before?  Well, Noah’s father was born before Adam died.  Even the first people to put faith in God with radical results were not operating on blind faith.  They faced great opposition, but they could see that putting their trust in God was trusting in a stronghold that has never yet been taken by the enemy.

We are very small people.  God’s work will never be undone, but sometimes it is the easiest thing in the world for the enemy to convince us that we are not allowed into the stronghold of Zion.  We have trusted the Lord this far, but we get to thinking that maybe next time our luck will run out, or that we will fail Him, and He will be right in leaving us in a situation for which we blame ourselves.

In times like these, I have found that my greatest comfort and encouragement comes from going about Zion, and counting her towers.  Often, that means going into Scripture and reading of all of the faithful who have gone before me with the Lord.  Hebrews eleven is wonderful on this point.  Who was Abraham?  Just a man who trusted enough to leave his home when God called.  Who was Moses?  Just a man who trusted enough to return to the nation that had wanted him dead, in order to bring over a million people out of slavery and into a desert with no food and hardly any water, all because God told him to do it.  Who was Rahab?  Just a woman who had heard of what the Lord God had done, and trusted the safety of her family to Him.  None of these people are very shining examples of natural trust or skill.  Don’t be afraid if you’re not either.  Consider the ramparts.  A castle is meant to hold the weak inside it.

One of the other ways in which I love to walk about Zion is to recount the ways God has worked in my life, particularly within the past year.  There have been circumstances that would have made me feel like a colossal failure if I had not already seen my brothers and sisters go through the same things, and seen what God had done for them through those situations.  Recently, I received a strong reminder that I am not at all naturally good at the job God has called me to do.  I grew up believing that the best way to be a better person is through militant perfectionism that never shows any weakness.  It has been something that the Lord has been lovingly addressing in my life, but I realized recently what an influence that mindset can still have on the way that I act.  It was a cause of distress, but I have seen the Lord soften my heart so much before now.
“I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in [me] will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” ~Philippians 1:6

 Our strongest faith comes when we believe that God is more real than our fears and circumstances, and that Zion is a stronghold that is greater than the weapons of the enemy.

We are just one small piece of the history of God’s faithfulness.  We rely heavily on those who have gone before us, but there are also those who will see what God has done in our lives and find strength to trust in Him because of it.  Count the towers to strengthen your faith, and to tell it to the next generation.  Faith takes us out on limbs when God calls us to live in deserts with no water, and to receive our daily bread from ravens.

Sound crazy?  Excellent.  That is when others will see that it is the Lord who can be trusted, and not our own worldly wisdom.  It is in the against-all-odds circumstances that He shows Himself so that we may shout “Such is God!  Our God forever and ever!  Who is like our God?  Just wait and see what He will do!”  And such is God.  Our God forever and ever.  And He will guide us even until death.  Keep counting the towers.  Keep considering the ramparts.  Keep going through Zion’s palaces, until you finally enter the throne room in person.

Highways to Zion

Old stone castle with towers and bridge at dawn

“Blessed are those whose strength is in You,

in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

As they go through the Valley of Baca [lit. “Weeping”]

they make it a place of springs;

the early rain also covers it with pools.

They go from strength to strength;

each one appears before God in Zion.”

(Psalm 84:5-7 ESV)

God pointed this passage out to me not too long ago, and showed me some neat things about it, that I wanted to share with you. These are very encouraging promises, showing us what blessings and assurance we can find as we diligently frequent His throne room.

“Blessed are those whose strength is in You, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.”

As I meditated on this verse, I had to push aside my unappealing mental pictures of noisy cars and Mac trucks zooming down a 6-lane highway, and ask God to help me to take a step back, to be able to see what He was really getting at by using the word “highway” as an illustration of what our hearts should be like. I knew it was intentional, and I knew it was important enough for God to have put it in there for us to read, so I didn’t want to just read through it and say, “Oh, that sounds like a nice verse,” one more time…maybe highlighting it, but not having the true meaning birthed in my heart. So, I fought against the urge to just move on to the next verses, and as I waited on the Lord…this is what he showed me:

Back in Biblical times, before cars and trucks and pavement, a highway would have simply been a path that was well-placed, and well-used. It wouldn’t have been a noisy, obnoxious slab of pavement, but a road that was well-worn, and frequented by many on their way to the city — in this case, the city of Zion, which is often used as a Biblical representation of the city of the Lord – the Great King! So, this verse could be paraphrased to say, “Blessed are those in whose heart are the well-traveled roads to meet with their King.” This is how our hearts should be. There are many “roads” that our hearts can have…and many “ruts” we can easily get into on those roads — the road to waste time on the computer, the road to get angry, the road to go to work, the road to watch a movie when we’re bored, the road to go shopping…there are just SO many “roads”!! I’m sure you can think of a few roads that your own heart travels on daily. And, while there are plenty of downright worthless and sinful roads, there are also roads that are important and which have to be traveled each day. But what this verse is encouraging us to examine is whether the most frequented, well-traveled roads in our lives are those leading to fellowship with the King — because we just have to be with Him all the time, and we can’t think of being apart from Him for very long; because…well…because we LOVE Him!

This verse is the building block for the rest of this passage, so it is important to really understand what it means, and to let it sink in; the rest of the promises in the passage are dependent on us finding our strength in Christ – continually going to spend time with Him, so that He can actually live through us, and fill us with His power, so that we can live in a way that pleases Him, and find our joy, our strength, our hope, our purpose — our ALL, IN Him, and WITH Him. When this is our reality, we don’t go down every other road looking for something to fill our needs, but we instead go  straight to visit the King because we know that it is only with Him that we receive the help we seek. People will look at our lives and easily see that we don’t have any strength of our own, but that when we go to spend time with Jesus, we receive the power we need to overcome in every situation that presents itself…and that is one reason we frequent the courts of the Lord so very often — ‘cuz there are an awful lot of circumstances that arise each and every day that we simply don’t have the wisdom, or courage, or energy, or desire to face. It’s just not in us. But we now know that all we must do when these things arise is set off to visit the King. One more trip down the highway. One more trip to make the way smoother, more clear, and more emblazoned on our hearts.

“As they go through the Valley of Baca [lit. ‘Weeping’] they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools.”

The “they” in this verse is referring to those who frequently visit the King (see – I told you it was important! 😉 ). As you can see, I added in the translation of “Baca”, so that what I share further on would make more sense. “Baca” literally means “weeping”. What God showed me about the meaning of these verses is that, as those who love the Lord (finding their strength in abiding in Him) go through difficulties and trials (the “Valley of Weeping”), the difficulties WILL be turned into a blessing before them, AND a blessing also for those who follow after them, as they see the victories obtained by those who went before; as they see that rejoicing, victory, and blessing IS possible to take hold of in spite of trials. God will never leave us just wandering in the desert or in our trials, but will rain down refreshment upon us, if we seek His face as we go through these difficult places. I know of many who have gone through unthinkably heartbreaking things – things that would cause those who doubt God to turn their backs on Him…even on the world itself, and to become very hard and bitter – and yet, have clung to the Lord as they walked through the Valley of Weeping, and found that “joy comes with the morning”! Whenever I go through something heartbreakingly difficult myself, I have to remember that there are many who have gone before me who have had to deal with even MORE heartbreaking things, AND who have come through them with faith in Jesus and rejoicing and joy, instead of depression, bitterness, and despair. They are always an example to me, and an encouragement to not despair when hard things come, but to press into the presence of God and receive the help and strength that He so willingly offers to any who would come. And God will use US as that encouragement and refreshment for others who see us go through difficult and even terrifying things, and come forth with joy in the Lord, and unshaken faith in His promises! The difficult way that we must all pass through will be made a little easier for those who follow after us, as we hold fast to the Lord and continually dwell in the sanctuary of His presence; there will be springs of refreshment and hope bubbling up around them as they, too, pass that way. Be encouraged – it is not just for your own refuge that you hold onto Christ as the harsh winds blow, but also for those around you – that the power and redemption of Christ Jesus would be glorified, and seen to be a safe refuge for any that would take hold of Him.

“They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion.”

Again, the “they” in this verse refers to those who love spending time with Jesus. Yes, I had to bring it up again. Because it is an important factor, but if you take hold of it, these promises will be yours to hold onto, knowing that God always keeps His promises. And this promise is, indeed, a comforting one. Instead of our difficulties overcoming us, and causing us to become weak and timid, as we cling fast the the Lord in the midst of difficulties, God will cause us to become stronger with each testing, and more purified and effective in service to Him. He will not only simply get us through trials ‘by the skin of our teeth’, so to speak, but will cause us to come forth full of strength and rejoicing in Him, as we trust in our God. And God will not stop after just one trial, but as we steadfastly hold onto Him, HE will steadfastly be holding onto us…and He will see us through to the end, and “keep you from stumbling and….present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy” (Jude 1:24)!

Hallelujah!