To a Desert Place

On an early morning a few days before my birthday, I woke up feeling like my heart and body had remembered that there was a reason for my melancholy, like they were hurting all over, not physically, but emotionally. Does that happen to you, too? Even before your mind has processed what is wrong, your heart and body experience it already. There had been a reason for the heaviness of my heart, but on that Thursday morning, I was compelled to make a decision even before I opened my eyes. I accompanied my decision with a prayer of release against my pillow.

My watercolor painting of a deserted beach at sunset on 9" x 12" 140lb, cotton wc paper. (Reference photo from total-embodiment.tumblr.com

My watercolor painting of a deserted beach at sunset on 9″ x 12″ 140lb, cotton wc paper. (Reference photo from total-embodiment.tumblr.com

Sometimes it happens that the thing that is so close to our heart must be released, when we perceive in our spirit that it may not be God’s will. Or He’s silent about it. Or He’s not into it with us. Yes, even those things which we have carefully planned and crafted and dedicated to His name that we thought He would approve and support. I had been praying fervently for God to bless something I had dedicated to Him, something that I knew would make me happy and bring my life fulfilment. And Him glory and service. But a few months into the project, He was silent and He wasn’t lifting a finger to prosper it.

When I finally released it and told Him I was going to give it up and wait for His word, I felt like a weight had been lifted off my heart.

Sometimes we craft ways to usher in happiness to our lives, but when we can’t get God on board, we may feel that He’s withholding it from us. Thankfully, that wasn’t what I felt in this case. I was relieved to give up something that had kept Him silent and was humble to wait what He had to say about it. Or what He had in store for me. Maybe He had better, greater, more wonderful things in mind for me.

That is faith and great expectations in Him :) .

Later that day, though I was sad because my plan didn’t pan out, I was closely leaning in and listening to that still, small voice. And it came without delay. At first, it was an invitation, a whisper to my soul to come with Him into a desert place and rest awhile. 

I was more than happy to oblige. I needed it. I needed to stop the analyzing, designing, planning for my happiness. The Lord Jesus just wanted me to rest awhile with Him. He wanted me to get away from all my strivings, the noise of my heart and mind and the world around me. Even if that world is so small.

Sometimes we believe that our beautiful dreams and best-laid plans are the best for us, especially when we offer them to God as our way of honoring and serving Him. But in this case, the Lord made me understand that I need not go to such length, or exchange Him for my dreams. He is enough.

To obey is better than sacrifice [and all our other attempts at offering], and to hearken than plunging into our projects that look pretty and bring us snippets of happiness.

Most of the time we don’t understand. But faith is to follow our Good Shepherd wherever he leads and to believe that the adventure He has planned for us is more wonderful, more exhilarating, beyond anything we ever dreamed or imagined or crafted. His plan is always perfect, unlike ours which often has loopholes.

So when He bids us into the desert place, we go. It is where He shows His wonders: leading us with the cloud of His constant presence by day and a burning light by night; parting the seemingly impossible obstacles so we could walk through them; raining on us fine showers of blessings that we often take for granted, which we can only appreciate if we go out and gather them and wonder. It is where He opens our eyes – when it seems to us there is only defeat – to see that we have limitless resource in Him. And we shall never want.

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,
“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
    in quietness and in trust shall be your strength…” (Is. 30:15) 

The desert place, not necessarily an endless expanse of golden sands, is a quiet place where we can find our God and Father. A deserted place where there is no wifi, no access to social media, away from the noise and distractions of the world, its envy, covetousness, comparisons, competitions. But only Him, bidding us to find that stairs that is unrolled from heaven to earth.

He bids us to come. Closer to Him. And rest at His feet as Mary of Bethany has done. To know that one needful thing and choose that good part, which shall not be taken away from us (see Luke 10:42). 

The Lord wants to unentangle us from the cares of the world, even if those cares are not of the magnitude of worldly pursuits. Even if those cares are pleasant dreams and godly goals. Still, He wants that He is first and foremost in our lives. That He is the One who will give those dreams and plans and projects. That He will be the One to plan our happiness. Didn’t He admonish Martha of all her fussing?

And Jesus answered and said unto her, “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful… ” (Luke 10:41-42)

One thing is needful. Yet we often miss it. One thing is needful, yet we often ignore it. One thing is needful, yet we often choose what we want. One thing is needful, yet we often trade that with fleeting happiness. One thing is needful, yet we are sometimes blind, deaf, and numb to it.

One thing is needful and it is where our Savior God bids us to.

Where is your desert place? Where is your wilderness where you can hear God’s still, small voice more clearly?

I can’t go out of our house. I can only go as far as our patio which connects to our garden. But it suffices. As I write this, I sit here in our patio surrounded with quiet, with only the twittering birds somewhere among the thick foliage of the trees. And I like that. Earlier, a strong breeze swept off the fallen leaves from the trellis roof above me. They fell on the grass below like a shower of confetti. I looked up from my laptop to witness and feel the breeze swirl all around me. For a moment I thought the Lord was making His presence felt in a subtle yet un-ignorable display.

Here in our patio where trees on every side afford me seclusion – narra tree on the north, mango tree on the south, and santol tree on the west – I find my desert place where I can rest awhile with my Lord Jesus.

It was around my birthday (October 2) when I received the replacement of the thing that I had to give up. And it was glorious in my eyes! (More on that next time :) ).

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Delight in Approaching God

Most of the first half of my life, I only approached God when I needed anything, or I thought it was the right thing to do. There were nights when I was too exhausted to finish a replay prayer (replay means it’s the same prayer every night of my life). That’s because I delighted in all the things I did all day and not looked forward to spending time with God. I treated God as the Source and Giver of all that I needed and wanted (mostly wanted), and so, I approached Him to ask, ask, and ask. Of course I knew how to say “thank you” for every blessing. But did I really have that desire in me to pursue Him and know Him well – His ways, His will, His joy (yes, the things that bring Him pleasure)? Did I reserve a special time in my jampacked schedule, while I was busy advancing my career, to seek His presence and tarry with Him with my undivided attention?

The answer to all that is “No”. I wonder now – we call God our Father but often times, we don’t act as children. Kids love to play with their Dads. They shriek in delight when he tickles them or carouses with them; they climb up to his knees and listen to his stories; they follow him around, hero-worshipping him. I know because that’s what I see with our 6-year old boy. Indeed, kids do better.

I only learned to really know God and pursue Him with a purpose and longing when I received the Lord Jesus Christ in my life and embarked on an intimate relationship with Him. When I made it my life’s purpose and joy to know the God who created me, loved and saved me, and who delights to bless me – that’s when I learned that God doesn’t only bless but also longs for His children’s love and adoration. When the Holy Spirit began to dwell in my heart, that’s when I became sensitive to the voice and whisperings of God in my heart and soul. I began to live like He was in everything I did, and indeed He is, if we really consider it. He’s everywhere. Even with our crammed minds and days colored with confusion and weariness, if our souls are attuned to Him, we will hear Him calling.

Yet they seek Me daily,
And delight to know My ways,
As a nation that did righteousness,
And did not forsake the ordinance of their God.
They ask of Me the ordinances of justice;
They take delight in approaching God. (Is. 58:2)

When we start the day with the intention of spending time with Him and end it the same way, we will know that He is faithful to be ever present. And when He sees that our shoulders begin to stoop, our brows knit, and we look like we are drained of all energy, peace, and joy – He comes to the rescue.

This is one of the important lessons I’ve learned recently: The Lord calls us to His presence in many different ways. It could be a deep longing in our souls that we can’t really put our fingers on. A restlessness that no tangible thing on earth can quieten. A sadness or sorrow that can’t be reached by words or actions by another human being. Yes, I’ve learned that through these the Lord calls us to enter into His presence. And enter into His presence with an offering of praise. I know no other, shorter way to His heart than heartfelt songs of praise.

So, keep still before Him, open your mouths and sing. Sing loud, sing low – He hears them all! There are times when I sing and I just want to speak out what’s gripping me, and the singing and the wanting to speak vie for time. But this is what the Holy Spirit has whispered in my heart: Sing and let the lyrics speak; sing with hearts trembling because it’s bursting with love and worship for the living God – because your singing has touched the throne of grace and God is listening. And He’s delighted. It is when praise, words, and tears exquisitely meld together that we.are.in.true.worship.

Delight in approaching God. Not because we want things, but because we want. We want Him, His very essence.

(Photo courtesy of Perla Frisberg).

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Let Jesus’ Love Flow

Meditating on Psalm 141.

Lord, I cry out to You;
Make haste to me!
Give ear to my voice when I cry out to You.
2 Let my prayer be set before You as incense,
The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice. (vv. 1-2)

David is imploring the Lord to receive his prayers as the sweet-smelling fragrance of a pleasing sacrifice wafting to the King’s throne. Then he goes on to ask the Lord to preserve him from all wicked works. For David knows that the prayers of the righteous are heard and received by God. In another psalm, he says, “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their cry” (Ps. 34:15).

We pray for a myriad of reasons and in many different ways and situations. Sometimes, we pray in heaviness of heart, not only because of our troubles bearing down on us, but because God seems far. He seems to us as if He’s indifferent to our difficulties and sufferings. We wrestle with Him for His attention, favor, and blessings. And in the midst of the struggle, we may feel defeated and retreat with a heavy heart, feeling disappointed and sad. Often, we may not know it, but the Holy Spirit will come and shed light on what is really happening in our hearts. Last night, I had one of those “visitations”.

As I lay in bed, a still small voice whispered to my ear that I must know and believe, and receive the goodness of the Lord Jesus Christ. Period. That His love for me will never change no matter the circumstances. That He loves me completely and eternally no matter how I think and feel otherwise. Wow, that’s a breath of fresh inspiration! I thought to myself as I closed my eyes and prayed (I didn’t want to close the door that the Holy Spirit opened).

You are good to me, my Lord Jesus!
Your love for me will never die;
You love me completely now ’til eternity.
You just love me and want to do me good!
No more doubts about that!
So, I will always run to You,
Whatever time of day or night.
You are always waiting for me with wide-open arms;
You are always delighted to receive me with your ready embrace.
I will run to You, no matter what lies the enemy whispers to me.

Sometimes, the best prayer we can offer as a sweet-smelling sacrifice that God can savor is our full acceptance of His love and goodness in our lives, not regarding the troubles we are in. The apostle Paul beseeches us, “I desire therefore that the men [and women] pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting” (1 Tim. 2:8, annotation mine). Lift up holy hands without wrath and doubting and let the pure love of Jesus flow to us and bathe us in its fullness. That is the best favor we can give ourselves today!

But my eyes are upon You, O GOD the Lord;
In You I take refuge;
Do not leave my soul destitute. (v. 8)

(Photo courtesy of my friend Des Rivero-Lamb).

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In the Potter’s Hands

Meditating on Psalm 138.

I will praise You with my whole heart;
Before the gods I will sing praises to You.
2 I will worship toward Your holy temple,
And praise Your name
For Your lovingkindness and Your truth;
For You have magnified Your word above all Your name.
3 In the day when I cried out, You answered me,
And made me bold with strength in my soul. (vv. 1-3)

Just when I felt I was writing about the things of God mechanically, the Holy Spirit spoke in my heart: Don’t just write words, write for other people’s edification, your own growth, and all for my glory. Don’t just write with your heart of your everyday life, write about My truth with renewed zeal. This is how you can appreciate the gift I gave to you. How you use and whet it really matter to Me. 

I am amazed once again at how the Lord speaks to us when we least expect it. When we feel like there’s something paining us or weighing down on us but we just can’t put our finger on it. He then speaks. He shines His light upon us and guides us. Sometimes, we cannot know it as it comes. But later on, it settles in our souls perfectly. That’s when we know it was His voice speaking to us.

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me…

The Lord will perfect that which concerns me;
Your mercy, O Lord, endures forever;
Do not forsake the works of Your hands. (vv. 7, 8)

We should not be troubled then when we feel like we don’t know how to proceed, or when we are not sure if we are even doing things right. He will speak; He will guide. How awesome is His faithfulness!

One night last week as I waited for sleep to come, the Holy Spirit spoke in my heart. It was regarding my daughter Hannah. The Lord reminded me to talk to her about her spiritual growth or lack of it. He let me know that she has not been communing with Him as she ought. As I fully succumbed to sleep, I purposed to talk to her the next morning.

After my morning devotion, I called for her. I talked to her heart-to-heart as usual. I told her about the Lord’s reminder. I also told her the truth that God longs for the love of His children just as much as we long and hunger for Him. We hunger for His love, healing, and His answers to our earnest prayers, but He also longs for us to spend time in His presence. I told Hannah about the Lord’s words on the cross. I thirst. He doesn’t thirst for water. He thirsts for our faithful love.

With intensity in my words and tears welling in my eyes, I reminded her that the Lord knows us by name and He calls us by them. I then proceeded to tell the story of Mary Magdalene, how that the Lord called her name when she was fussing about the body of her Lord being taken away. He simply said, “Mary.” When He wants to call our attention or stop us from doing the things we ought not, He calls out —“Hannah.”

Hannah was intently listening the whole time. We felt the love and presence of the Lord. “The Lord will perfect that which concerns [us].” He will not forsake the work of His hands. Are you a mother needing counselling on how to handle problems in the home? A harried wife and mother perhaps who feels she falls short of the Lord’s expectations of her? Rest in the Lord, dear one. We are surely handled by the deft hands of the Potter. He is the One who expertly moves and molds us as we yield ourselves to Him.

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Ears to Hear

How can we expect to hear the voice of God if our hearts are not right with Him? If we have been continuously disobeying Him in many areas of our lives? And yet, I found out that even “straying” Christians, or those who are openly lukewarm, can still believe that the Lord is speaking to them of His will? It’s true that the Lord, out of His great mercy, will speak to an errant child of His to bring him or her back to the fold. But to speak to a disobedient child that whatever path he or she has chosen is the Lord’s will? To believe that could be dangerous. For if the Holy Spirit has been grieved by our sins and left, who could be speaking to us, whispering to us? The devil could easily do that! When the Holy Spirit leaves, the devil gladly takes over. And he will heap his lies mercilessly to his unsuspecting victim.

It is the Holy Spirit who guides us in every decision we make. He leads us to the path we should take.

However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. (John 16:13, emphasis added)

I was given the opportunity to counsel a fellow Christian who had not truly discerned the voice speaking to her. She believed that the “whisperings” came from the Lord, and so, she threw herself headlong into a relationship and did things she ought not. The ending? She committed a grave sin and was brought to that place of great despair. How can we expect a blessing from the Lord if we have been persistently disobeying Him? How can we expect the Holy Spirit to guide and light our path if we dishonor Him and not follow the way of holiness?

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths. (Prov. 3:5-6, emphasis added)

Many times in the gospels, the Lord Jesus Christ cried out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” May our hearts be right with God  and our ears be ever receptive to His voice.

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Journey with Jesus,