Faith And The Pursuit of God

Recently I read The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer. Some devotional type books seem to have nothing new to say, but this one is different. It explores the ancient truths about God and our relationship to Him, but it presents them personally and with such clarity that I could recognize echoes of my own life and experience on every page. I could hardly stop copying out favorite sections.

I love how A.W. Tozer reminds me of the implications of God’s presence in His world and the truth of God as the source of all life. It is God that pursues us before we can pursue Him. We can not go anywhere that God does not exist, yet we need to allow Him to strip away our selfishness and sin before His presence can truly dwell in us and us in Him. And there we find the life that is beyond our deepest anticipations.

If you can get a hold of this book, read it. Here’s one of my favorite quotes from it:

A Farm Girl’s Bad Dream With a Happy Ending

For a number of years I’ve been a farm girl, in station if not always in heart. Most of the time I love the life. I used to milk the cow out in the dewy pasture in the morning. I love new chicks and blooming flowers and abundant harvests. The opportunities for family time and working together are precious.

But sometimes I have resented the way it ties us down (if you have animals that need to be looked after, you can’t just run off on them all the time!) and I haven’t always enjoyed the work. Usually I would rather cook a meal with all the fresh farm products than hoe weeds in the garden. And I’ve had some injuries over the past five years that made it harder to pitch in with all my heart—who feels like working when their knee or foot hurts?

This spring I determined, as I have at times before, that this season I would put everything I had into family and farm life. I would learn to love it. How could I expect to be content anywhere else if I wasn’t willing to delight in my current place?

The adjustment of going from teaching to farm life was hard at first—more so emotionally than physically. It was hard enough that I realized I couldn’t do anything in my own strength. I would need God. I couldn’t just decide to do this and make it happen. I needed to be willing to let God dictate my days and sustain me with His strength.

Because what do I have that I have not been given?

Nothing.

Only through God’s love and grace am I able to walk in the light and serve where He has called me. And I don’t need to worry about what others think or try to prove anything to anyone, not even to my family. I only need to seek His glory in every little choice I make.

As the Lord has been working on my heart, I’ve found myself loving my life as I rarely have before, taking joy in doing what was needed, even if it was something I used to dislike. Sometimes I even wanted to go and hoe in the garden first thing in the morning instead of washing dishes.

Do I now want to be a farmer all my life? Well, I’ll let God decide that. I know that this is where He has me; thus this is the highest calling for me now. I can also trust Him to orchestrate my future. So I will follow God, step by step, and delight in His will.

Of course that decision gets tested from time to time, like Friday two weeks ago. The morning had been beautiful. It was only the second time this season that we picked vegetables for market. I picked snow peas in the dew, and later had fun working in the packing shed with my brothers to bunch radishes.

There was a youth event planned for supper and the evening, so we wanted to be sure to get all the market preparation done before leaving for that, and the boys would need to do chores before supper instead of after supper. Would we make it?

I had committed the evening to God, and the day seemed to be going well. But by late afternoon, I was starting to get a little concerned. The boys were still working in the woods instead of getting at the chores, Selema was still planting something in the garden, and Judith had driven to Berwick to run an errand for Dad. I had gathered and cleaned the eggs so they would be ready for market, but there were still some other little details to take care of. And I really wanted to make supper for my family before we left for the evening.

Judith came home around 5:15. Soon after that, I was rushing to the bathroom to take a shower. My sisters were in the kitchen when I passed through.

“The boys aren’t even doing the chores yet,” one of them said.

“Really?” I stopped in my tracks. “Do they know what time it is?”

“Yes,” Judith said.

I started saying something, feeling that somebody needed to do something to make things happen a little faster. Those chores. They were always holding us back. But Selema said, “You just go take a shower.”

Oh. Yes. Of course. All I can do is my part. Hadn’t I decided to leave it all in God’s hands? I would give my brothers the honor of getting things done without being hounded by a concerned sister.

After my shower, things didn’t look much brighter, though someone did say around 5:30 that the boys had begun their chores. It felt like a bad dream, when you desperately need to get ready to go somewhere and more and more things come up and you run around trying to get everything done and the clock ticks faster and faster and eventually you realize you’ll never make it so you wake yourself up in despair….

Yet, it’s not up to me to make things happen, I reminded myself. And so what if we were a little late? I resolutely kept on with making supper.

And each time I looked at the clock, I was amazed at how little time had actually gone by. Maybe we would get there after all.

Mom eventually took over Selema’s planting so she could shower. Judith and I got supper on the table. Caleb came inside a little before 6:00. I was amazed. Already? Who knew they could do the chores so fast? And he said Jesse would be coming soon too! I never cease to be amazed at my efficient and enterprising brothers.

I loaded camp chairs into the back of the car. And there went Jesse, heading for the house to take a shower. I looked at the time on my phone: 6:00.

Before long the five of us youth were on the road. We were hardly even late to the event.

And even if we had been, it would not have mattered like it always does in my bad dreams.

That evening, our youth group was all together again for the first time in months. Raynold and Lena served us a delicious supper outdoors. We played volleyball for a while. Then as dusk fell, we gathered around the fire again to sing praise and prayer to the God whose beauty is a reality beyond description.

There is a difference between dreams and reality. In a dream, I can wake up when it seems like too much to handle. In real life, I need to stick it out. The latter might be harder, but it’s far more fulfilling. God has grace enough to get me all the way through a bad dream—whether large or small—and right out on the other side into the sweet light of His joy.

Instead of waking up and finding all the difficulties gone, I can wake up to the presence of God in my circumstances, and He leads me through to a happy ending.

Photo Credit: Raynold Penner

P.S. This week I would have had the opportunity to go to Ontario for a month or so to help a dear family who really needs a maid. I was very excited about the idea—I haven’t been to Ontario for almost two years, and I’ve sometimes wished for the chance to help a family with young children.

But we discussed it as a family, and concluded that at this time, it would be wiser for me to stay here.

Considering leaving and then deciding to stay was somehow grounding. I had evaluated both ideas—staying here or leaving—and realized that each option would be brimful of amazing experiences. The question was which one was God’s will.

God provided direction through my parents, and the joy in my heart confirmed the decision. In His will, my life is established, and it has a definite purpose. There is no place I would rather be. I look around at my family, think of my church brethren, watch the mist on the North Mountain, and know that I am in the place where I belong.

1 Peter 5:10: “But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.”

The Lord’s Controversy With His People

A few years ago, I read through all the prophets on the order they appear in the Bible, over the course of some months. I had thought the prophets were mostly pronouncements of judgement and doom with a few prophecies of Jesus’ coming mixed in.

But my perspective changed as I saw the heart of God for His people in the prophetic books. Everywhere, He is seeking His lost ones. The judgements were intended to draw them back to His heart, not to drive them away. And there were always the promises of restoration, when Israeal would be returned to their homeland from the land of their captivity.

I was so blessed by these threads of mercy that I eventually compiled some of the verses into a collection, tweaked some phrasing, and added some of my own words to connect them.

I just told a friend last night that I don’t usually write long poems. But is this a poem? I can’t decide. I can only pray that the words will bless you.

I. Cry of the Creator

O mountains, hear my controversy,

and you mighty foundations of the earth,

listen as I plead with the one I love:

Though I have bound together and built the sinews of

strength in your arms,

Yet you imagine mischief against me,

strengthening resolve for sin.

Though I have redeemed you out of the land of servants

you have made your hearts as an adamant stone,

hardened against my words.

You are an empty vine,

bringing forth shrivelled fruit for yourself alone,

and your good deeds are as morning clouds

that melt in the heat of day.

Therefore I have given you cleanness of teeth,

the gift of famine to show you your sin;

I have withheld the rain from your fields,

and given you pestilence.

I said, “Surely you will fear Me,

surely you will receive my instruction,

that you may live and be spared from destruction”—

but you do not listen.

Now turn to Me, my beloved,

turn to me with all your heart and with weeping;

rend your heart, and not your garments.

For I am slow to anger,

gracious and merciful, of great kindness,

and willing to repent of the evil I have done to you.

Sow to yourself in righteousness,

and you will reap in mercy;

break up your fallow ground,

the long-neglected soil of your soul—

for it is time for you to seek Me,

to seek me until I come and rain righteousness upon you.

O, my beloved, what shall I do with you?

What have I done to you?

How have I wearied you?

How have I driven you out of my arms?

Return to me, and I will return to you.

Return, my beloved,

return.

II. Faint Answer

Come, and let us return to the Lord:

For He has torn, and He will heal us;

He has struck us, and He alone will bind us up;

He will turn again and have compassion on us.

Though we have fallen, we shall arise;

Though we have sat long in darkness,

The Lord shall be a Light unto us.

III. Assurance of Mercy

The Lord your God has come into your midst,

And He is mighty. He will save,

He will rejoice over you with heaven’s joy,

He will nestle you down in His love,

And joy over you with singing.

And the Lord your God will save you

In that day of repentance and mercy;

He will lead you forth as the flock of His people,

For you shall be as gems in His crown,

Lifted up and honored in the fruitful land.

For how great is His goodness,

And how great is His beauty!

IV. His Promise

“And you shall be mine,” says the Lord of hosts,

In that day when I make up my jewels.

I will spare you,

And to you that fear My name

Shall the Sun of Righteousness arise

With healing in His wings.”

V. Coda

Then they that feared the Lord

and hoped in His Word

Spoke often to one another.

And the Lord turned His ear toward them;

A book of remembrance was written before Him

For them that feared the Lord

And that thought on His name.

And we will walk in the name of the Lord

forever and ever.

Discombobulated: Portraits of a Lockdown

On Tuesday afternoon we teachers said good bye to our students as usual, and later we said, “See you tomorrow!” to each other. But we didn’t see each other the next day. Nova Scotia has entered a lockdown—two weeks, they say. So school as we knew it has ended for a time. I’m so thankful for how far we’ve been able to come this school term. Hopefully we can even come back to school again for a few days at the end of the term.

On Thursday the teachers all went to school to prepare their students’ books to be picked up and the work continued at home. Here are a few snapshots of that unusual morning.

Scenes:

  • rows of book stacks marked with yellow sticky notes
  • empty desks
  • crayons put back in boxes from the baskets they were in when they were being used
  • open file drawers
  • a bewildered teacher wearing a look of deep thought
  • rows of orange chairs awaiting the morning devotions that never came
  • books and papers strewn across my desk
  • parents arriving to pick up their children’s books for homeschooling
  • yellow, blue, and white paint collected for finishing an art project at home
  • scribbled questions for a Bible story I couldn’t read
  • left-behind socks arranged for parents to look through

Echoes:

  • teachers humming as they bustle about
  • binders clicking open and shut
  • clock ticking
  • footsteps on the stairs
  • jokes and questions thrown back and forth
  • copier clanking busily
  • drawers slamming
  • desk chair creaking
  • teacher discussion on yearbook and class photos
  • papers rustling
  • pens clicking
  • cellphone ringing

Feelings:

  • a dear co-teacher’s hug
  • a comfy desk chair I won’t use for a while
  • conversations with the moms of my students
  • heart-tugs while handing over books
  • lost looks at the irrelevant schedule in my planner
  • excitement that I still get to teach in private because it’s considered essential care for my student
  • afloat in a sea of papers: how to organize thoughts and methods and needs among them all?

The days since have settled into a new routine, and life goes on with its challenges and riches, loaded with the goodness of the Father.

According to my loose schedule, this should have been an inspirational post. So I’ll leave you with a thought that a close friend shared with me recently: “Praise God for the things He is doing in your life.” What inspired me about this was the reminder that God is at work right now, not just in some hazy future. I can praise Him for what He has done so far—as Samuel said in the Bible, “Hitherto has the Lord helped us.” Joy comes as we acknowledge and embrace the work God is doing for us, in us, and through us—today.

Summer Is Coming

The last few weeks have seen the dawn of spring. The snow melted, the sun shone, and birds twittered in budding treetops. After the cold and darkness of winter, who can resist the light of spring? It’s like the Son of God shining into a life, bringing transformation and then growth. The ice of sin melts under the strong light, and birds of praise start singing. Summer looks tantalizingly close.

Then last week, winter came slinking in again. The temperature fell, a raw wind blew, and the clouds scattered snowflakes. Where is the hope of spring now? What do we do when reality hits, when summer seems as distant as the snow-veiled sun?

We look for the signs of spring through the storm. Despite the wind, the air is alive with hope. The sunshine has new strength. No amount of snowflakes can alter the fact that the earth is now in more of a position to embrace the sunshine than it was during the winter. And the birds keep singing.

On Friday, just when I was convinced I was done wearing winter clothes for the season, I woke to a world of snow. That morning it was hard to find traces of spring. The air was cold. Clouds hung low, hiding the eager sun. Even the crows seemed to have gone silent.

But by noon, the sun had conquered the clouds. By two-thirty, the downspouts were singing their drippy music and in places where the snow had been partly cleared away, the ground was thawing.

Everything kept on thawing; the sun kept shining, stronger and stronger.

The last few days, it feels as if summer is almost upon us. The children at school go barefoot and slip in the mud during a game of Get the Sticks, and I’m sweating when I come inside even though I haven’t been wearing a coat. The piles of snow in the corners of the schoolyard are mere gray shadows of their former mountain appearance. The leeks my brothers planted in flats have sprouted.

They say that cool weather is soon creeping back for a few days. There will be clouds that block our view of the sun. There may even be snow.

But I will breathe the transformed air, sing with the birds, and turn toward the sun.

Summer is coming.

The Author and Finisher

One Sunday afternoon my siblings and I played a story game with some friends. Everyone wrote a sentence on a sheet of paper, folded it over, and passed it to the person next to them. Each person read only the previous sentence before adding one of their own to continue the story.

As the game progressed, there was no way of knowing what had been written that was now under numerous folds of paper. Sometimes we could add a next sentence right away, but more often we shook our heads or laughed. How to coherently take on someone else’s thought when we had no idea what the beginning was?

And even harder—how to write a satisfying ending? We took our best guesses and engaged our creativity.

When it came time to read the completed stories, everyone took a sheet and unrolled it to read to the rest. The varied handwriting and pen colors told the tale of a multi-authored story. Hearty laughter erupted at the odd—and mostly inadvertent—twists produced by the passing on of words and imagination from one person to another. Characters switched names halfway through, a windy hilltop became an ocean, a frog was banished to an insane asylum.

Amid the fun, I thought of a song I had listened to not long before: “If all things start and end with Him/ then we can believe / His word comes true.”

I have heard countless times that God is the Author and the Finisher of our faith. But suddenly I understood its significance more than ever before. He does not merely begin the story, then pass it off to us to do as we please with. Nor does He make us write the beginning and start stumbling about for a while before He steps in to complete the story with a nice stock ending.

Nothing of the sort will do for the beautiful stories God wants to write for our lives. He begins our stories with His own hand, a new beginning every time. He labors over the writing as only love can do. He walks us through the painful process of editing and shifting about of sentences. It is the same handwriting all through, sure and stately.

Granted, the story will most likely unfold with surprising plot twists. But it is God Himself who gives meaning to all the scenes. And it is God Himself who weaves the most profound and beautiful ending possible, opening out into the glory of His everlasting Kingdom.