Remembering is Believing

You know the old saying, “seeing is believing.” If something is so crazy or unbelievable, you might hear, “You just have to see it to believe it!” We’ve all probably used a similar expression both in jest or in full seriousness.

The disciple Thomas used this language in John 20:25. Jesus had appeared to the other disciples after His resurrection and shown them His hands and His side (verses 19-23), but Thomas had not been present. When they told him about it, Thomas said, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” Unless I see, I will not believe.

A friend, strong in his faith, recently was going through a time of legitimate suffering. He’s never wavered in his faith, but in the midst of his hurt, he said something along the lines of, “At some point, you just need to see God is there. It doesn’t feel like enough to just know it.” He knew all the right things, but understandably wanted to really see God’s active, visible power in the situation and experience anew His presence in it. He was articulating what we all can probably identify with and have perhaps felt in moments of acute pain.

As my husband and I listened to our friend, I could see the words “seeing is believing” in my head, words I have written along the page of my Bible in Exodus. The word “remember” came to my mind as a possible antidote to our friend’s questions.

In the Book of Exodus, which describes the Israelites “exodus” out of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites had no trouble believing God when they saw active, present evidence of Him, such as when the Red Sea parted or when the manna first fell to the ground. But even in the midst of such stunning wonders and awesome acts, they were tempted to doubt and fear, to lack faith that God would act again to save and deliver them. They were a forgetful people.

In Exodus 14:10-12, the Israelites, who had fled from Egypt after the Lord sent 10 plagues to cause Pharoah to let them go, now stood before the Red Sea being pursued again by Pharaoh. What they saw (“seeing”) caused them to fear (“believing” they would die): “The children of Israel lifted their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians marched after them. So they were very afraid…. Then they said to Moses, ‘…have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? … For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness.’” (emphasis mine)

Rather than remembering that the God who had just delivered them with 10 plagues could now deliver them again, they doubted based on what their physical eyes could see.

“And Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.’” (Exodus 14:13-14) (emphasis mine).

You know the rest of the story: The Red Sea parted, and the Israelites were saved, and “the LORD overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea” (Ex. 14:27). Moses and the children of Israel sang a song of praise to God in Exodus 15. But how long would they remember?

The next scene (Ex. 15:22-27) after their praise to God takes them three days in the wilderness with no water. They began to complain, and God gave water. Then there was no bread (“Oh, that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” Ex. 16:3). And the LORD rained bread from heaven for them.

There were no limits to the miraculous acts the LORD could and would perform on their behalf, with great patience and mercy, and yet, there were continued complaints and lack of faith. For “seeing is believing” and whatever the present moment brought dictated the faith they had.

What if remembering – recalling to mind who God is and what He has done – is a key to ongoing belief? Rather than following the example of the Israelites or Thomas, needing to see to believe, I offered the thought to our friend that perhaps he needed to remember. Maybe he should write down all of the times he had seen God act and known His presence. Maybe he should also write down the promises of God given in Scripture. And then maybe he should cast his eyes upward to see the God who does act for good and in love for his people, even as we live in a sin-sick world experiencing the pain and suffering the Bible acknowledges we will and tells us to expect.

Jesus was gracious to give Thomas that opportunity to see His hands and side eight days later (John 20:26-29), to which Thomas responded, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.

In the wilderness times – and at all times – we can go beyond seeing our present circumstances to remembering, and as we do, we can pray and expect and believe and look up and hope and praise. God is there, and we will see Him even as we remember and look to Him again to answer our cries in the way that He knows is best for His glory and our good. Remembering – recounting His awesome acts and presence with us – is an act of believing.

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty

I’ve been putting this post off because I don’t know if I’ll be able to find the right words. But as I consider letting this milestone go without a reflection, I am reminded of the ten lepers who were cleansed in Luke 17:11-19. Only one of them returned to give thanks. What would I have done? What will I do? Do I remember to stop and give thanks, or run forward to do the next exciting thing God has planned?

My son hit a big milestone this week, ending his time in the little school we were involved with starting back in 2006. As I watched his class of eleven students be “promoted,” I was struck that this core group of students was an answer to those many, many prayers back in the spring of 2006, for a class that would have friends for him, when he was the first and only child registered for his grade and the oldest in the school. The Lord answered abundantly!

I was also reminded as we sat through his promotion of God’s goodness to us. We sang the first “hymn of the month” from August/September 2006, “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.”  “Hast thou not seen, how thy desires e’re have been, granted in what He ordaineth?”

In 2006, when we were looking for a location for the school, we had sought and researched many options. The best option in our minds would be our own church, but we had been told that wouldn’t work for many good reasons. We understood the “no.” We kept looking. We kept praying for God’s will.

As I was reading and praying one morning, I was struck by the verse from Jeremiah 32:17: “Ah, Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You.” (This was actually the first verse I had ever memorized in Kindergarten years before!) As I was reflecting on this verse and praying about a location, I was hit with the realization that if I could really understood God’s power, I would not cease to ask Him for this location (the church we attended). In that moment, I became convinced He could do it, He could provide it, He had the power to do it, and we needed to ask and believe it.

I understood they had told us no twice. I understood there wasn’t space due to other ministries. I understood, but I also knew now God was powerful to overcome these seeming obstacles. I remember boldly telling my friend who was starting the school that we should keep praying for this, and I know he thought I was a little crazy (“I just don’t want you to be disappointed,” he said. I replied, “Oh, I won’t. I’m believing God.”)

Then there’s the time between when you really believe it’s going to happen and the time it takes to happen where there was room for all kinds of doubt and questioning. I remember feeling embarrassed about having been so bold in my pronouncement about it, and going to the church and praying there. I was walking around praying and heard some people, so I went in a bathroom and knelt down close to the floor (not quite on the floor, you see, for it was a bathroom), and I prayed. I looked around the bathroom and studied its walls and everything there, and I asked God to please give us that location. I was so certain that He would that I even prepared what I would say when He did it! (“Praise the Lord! He has done this!”)

Fast forward to late May. School was to start in August. I was in Memphis with the kids visiting family. I was sitting at my mom’s piano looking at her hymnal. I was struck by a hymn I had not remembered, one that was not as familiar to me. It was called, “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.” I loved it as I read it. This is how He should be praised.

A little while later in that evening, the phone rang at my mom’s in Memphis, and it was our friends who we were starting the school with. They were both on the line. “You are never going to believe this! Well, of course, you are going to believe this! We got [the location, our church]!” Wow! It was so incredibly amazing! I immediately said the words I had rehearsed.

As I was talking to my friend, I said, “You know, I was just looking at my mom’s hymnal and noticed this hymn, and it seems so appropriate for this. It’s “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.” And she said with enthusiasm and confusion, “How did you know that?! How did you know that’s the first hymn of the month I’d chosen for the school?!” And I said, “I didn’t know that!” And in that moment again, we felt God’s blessing and personal involvement.

The next morning at my mom’s house, I woke up and was going out to her kitchen to eat breakfast. And I thought, how can you get up and go start the day without taking time to praise God for this! He has done something so amazing, and I need to read my Bible and pray and thank Him. And as I did, I was in Deuteronomy 8:11-18. And I was blown away with what it said, and I include it all here, even though it’s long, and I’ll bold the parts that stood out the most:

Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today, lest—when you have eaten and are full, and have built beautiful houses and dwell in them; and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold are multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied; when your heart is lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage; who led you through that great and terrible wilderness, in which were fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty land where there was no water; who brought water for you out of the flinty rock; who fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do you good in the end—then you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth.’

And you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.

Do you hear the echoes of Jeremiah 32:17, the verse the Lord had given me when I initially began praying more for this, about His “power” and His “outstretched arm”?  The admonition to remember that it is the Lord your God who has done this with His power and outstretched hand, lest we would say in our hearts it was our power and our outstretched hand that had done this. Do you see this connection?! It was oh so clear to me that morning! Praise the Lord. He has done this! He alone has done this by His power and His outstretched hand, and never forget, always remember, even when you come to the place of abundance and it’s all wonderful, remember, don’t forget, His power, His outstretched hand!

This was also significant to me with the references to the events in Exodus, because during these months of planning and preparation for the school, I was reading Exodus with a commentary, and it was something I referred to over and over again during what felt like “pioneering” days!

And so it’s this I remember this week, for all that He has done, more than I could have imagined, more than I can write, more than words can tell, He has done and blessed and given, and I praise Him!

As a side note, two years ago, when God moved me from my role at the school into something new and unexpected working at our church, it was all at once wonderful and sad! I loved what I would be leaving, but I knew I was going where God was leading. On one particularly hard day, I ran into the bathroom at work crying. It was all quite emotional for me, and I just about plopped down on the floor (not quite on the floor, you see, for it was a bathroom). And I realized in that very moment that I was in the exact space I had been in about 5 years prior. And I felt as though I was to look up, to see that that moment brought me to this moment.

When I studied Esther with Beth Moore last year, she wrote about a literary device in Esther called “peripety.” “Peripety is a sudden turn of events that reverses the expected or intended outcome.” It’s a hinge on which the reversal of destiny turns, a sudden change. We may not even know it when it happens, but you look back and see one of the most important events of your life. I sort of see that moment as a “hinge” moment where life swung a new direction that had been planned for well in advance.

So in all these things, tonight I give praise to the Lord, the Almighty, and I know that all of this has been from Him and for His glory, from His hand, from His power, not from mine. I praise Him for how He has shown me His power and might, how nothing is too hard for Him. I am thankful He allows us to find Him when we draw near to Him through His Word and prayer, that He gives us access to His throne of grace through Jesus, how we can draw near with confidence! So many gifts, too wonderful for words! Praise you, Lord! Thank you, Lord! To you alone be glory!

Praise to the Lord,
O let all that is in me adore Him,
All that hath life and breath come now with praises before Him.
Let the Amen sound from his people again,
Gladly for aye we adore Him.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hebrews 13:15 “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.”

I’m a day late. But how can I hope to give praise to the Lord through this blog and skip this holiday of giving thanks? It was a great week having family in town, going to a school praise night on Tuesday, going to a Thanksgiving eve service at church on Wednesday, and celebrating Thanksgiving with extended family yesterday. What a full few days it has been!

How can I measure the fullness of what God has done and for which I should be thankful? For starters, I think of the amazing list in Ephesians 1 & 2 of what is ours through Christ; in Him, I am:

sealed with the Spirit,
given grace,

and I have:

obtained an inheritance,
been brought near by His blood,
been made alive,
been raised up with Christ,
been seated with Christ in the heavenlies, and
been given access by one Spirit to the Father.

My mind can’t totally comprehend, my eyes don’t often clearly see, and my heart too often fails to even acknowledge it. I too often sit “full, but unfulfilled,” a phrase I just picked up from a book called Making All Things New by Henri Nouwen. Nouwen suggests we are full, meaning busy with our lives, yet unfulfilled, as in bored or depressed in the midst of our being busy.

Nouwen urges his reader to seek the things above and His kingdom, and set our hearts on Christ through the spiritual disciplines of solitude and community.

Solitude. Time alone with God in a small room or area of a room or prayer closet where we close out the distractions, begin reading Scripture, pray, and allow ourselves to hear the voice of God’s Spirit. Even just 10 minutes a day — it can be in small doses, but needs to be consistent & regular. It’s something we can dread to start until we begin to see what God does through time spent with Him.

I need to go back to cultivating the discipline of solitude. (Although since “solitude” is about being alone, I guess it’s not really solitude since the Lord is there!) But time with Him to read the Bible and pray and let His Spirit lead and speak.

I find I am forgetful, just as the Israelites of old were. Thus the many reminders throughout Scripture to “remember:” “Remember what great things He has done for you.” I want to remember. I want to meditate on His greatness and power, on who He is, and on who I am because of Him.

And in remembering His great mercy and love, lavishly poured out on me through Christ, I want to give Him thanks and praise Him today and always.