Old Testament

Practicing Faithfulness in the Space Between

Practicing Faithfulness in the Space Between // via Leslie Ann Jones

Note: This is the third and final post in a series on seasons of waiting. In the past couple of weeks, we've talked about trusting God when hopes are deferred and Betsy Childs Howard's book Seasons of Waiting. Today's post is about practicing faithfulness in the space between.

When I was in college and felt the burning of God's call on my heart, I envisioned myself doing great things for the kingdom. Living with boldness and fire. Going and giving and serving and teaching and basically being a rockstar for Jesus.

But then real life stepped in. I married an engineer, and if you know any engineers, then you know that they are at their very hearts logical and practical planners. It's what makes them good engineers. It's part of what I love about Dennis. But the very pragmatism that is so much a part of him also means that the life I had envisioned for myself is different from the reality that God had planned for me.

In all honesty, I never imagined living in a small Southern town and serving as a room mom for my children's teachers or as a substitute Sunday school teacher for the senior ladies at church. This life isn't nearly as bold and fire-filled as I had planned, and yet I now know that this is exactly the life that God had planned for me all along.

I spent a lot of years frustrated at just how slowly things were going for my ministry. Even though I knew and believed that children are a blessing, I cried when I found out I was pregnant with our youngest daughter because I thought it meant that it would be at least five more years before I could do something big for God.

As if shaping the hearts and lives of tiny humans is nothing at all.

I know what it means to wait for a dream to be fulfilled. I'm intimately acquainted with the bitterness that wells up when you see someone else living the life that you long for. But the longer I waited, the more I started to wonder if maybe I had gotten things mixed up. Maybe God had placed more than one calling on my life. Now I know that my mistake was in believing that the calling of motherhood was any less important than the calling to teach the Word.

I don't know what sort of waiting season you're stuck in, but I don't doubt that you're waiting for something. You could be waiting for a spouse or longing for a child or wishing for more purpose in your life. I don't know how everything will work out in the end. But I do know this: your waiting season is not pointless. Know that God can, and does, use the unlikeliest of situations to accomplish his good plan.

I've been reminded of this truth several times lately. The story of David and Goliath has been popping up with some frequency, and I, of course, took it to mean that God was trying to tell me something. I can be a bit hardheaded at times, so he brought it up again, and again, and yet again, until I got the message. 

We first meet David in 1 Samuel 16—just one chapter before he slays Goliath. And he's an ordinary boy. A shepherd and musician. The unlikeliest of candidates to become Israel's next king. And yet, in God's eyes, he was exactly the right one for the job. There's just one tiny problem. Israel already has a king. The current king, Saul, has displeased God, and because of that, he will be displaced from his throne. Eventually. But not yet. David has no choice but to wait.

So here's the thing that God keeps pressing on me: While David waited, he kept on doing the work that God had given him to do for that day. He had been chosen as king, but knowing it wasn't yet his time, he continued to be faithful to the tasks in front of him. And the crazy thing is that if he had not kept on doing his work as a shepherd, he wouldn't have been prepared to defeat the giant.

Sounds crazy, right? You really should read the entirety of 1 Samuel 16-17 when you get a chance, but for now, know that while David's older brothers were off doing noble things for Israel, David was back home tending sheep. His father sends him to carry food and supplies to his brothers on the warfront, and when he gets there, he's shocked to find the army of Israel quaking in their boots at the taunts and threats from the Philistine champion, Goliath.

David, handsome teenage shepherd boy that he is, immediately volunteers to fight the giant. When everyone, including Saul, points out exactly crazy that is, David won't listen. Instead, he argues his case. Listen to what he says:

Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God . . . The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.   1 Samuel 17:34-37

First of all, if you've gone head-to-head with a lion and bear and come out on top, I want you on my team. Just saying. But seriously, let's talk for a minute about this, because it's important. David was a shepherd. It was a lowly job. There wasn't much praise and glory to be had there. And yet it was a job that he did faithfully and consistently. 

What would you have done if you were out tending your sheep and a lion wanted one for dinner? Personally, I would have let the lion have as many sheep as it wanted, as long as it left me alone. But David didn't do that. He stood up for those he was charged with protecting. He fought off the fiercest of opponents. And it was that readiness to step in and do what needed to be done—even at great personal risk—that enabled David to stand before Goliath with confidence.

Do you see what's happening here? God was preparing David all along. David couldn't have known that there was a giant in his future. He didn't know what God had in store for him. But the Lord did. He put a task (raising and defending sheep) before David that would prepare him for the work ahead, and it was David's faithful commitment to that task that gave him the skills necessary to strike down Goliath.

Not only that, but David also knew whose he was. He knew that he was the Lord's anointed. He knew that through his training as a shepherd, God had given him all he needed to defeat Goliath. He wasn't being arrogant or cocky when he insisted that he could do it. He was resting confidently in the knowledge that God had called and equipped him for the challenge ahead.

How does all this relate to you and me? Well, I personally find great comfort in the knowledge that God honors faithfulness in his people. David wasn't perfect. He made mistakes in his life. Big ones. But he also made it a habit to be about the business of God, even if that meant tending sheep for a while.

Is it possible that God is using your current circumstances as a training field for something he has planned in the future? Maybe you have big dreams but you're stuck in a place you never wanted to be. If so, you have two choices: you can give in to the bitterness and disappointment that threatens to overwhelm, or you can honor God and practice faithfulness in the space between. I hope you choose the latter.

Until next time, grace and peace.

Morning Meditation: Our God is Able

Our church has been going through the book of Daniel on Sunday mornings. This week, Dr. Cooper preached on Daniel 3, and it's been on my mind ever since. It's one of those stories that those of us who were raised in the church have heard 100 times. You know it. Let me set the scene.

Israel has been sacked by the Babylonians, and the people have been dragged away from their homes and brought to Babylon, where they can be kept under the king's thumb. It's not a good time for the people of Israel. They've lost their homes, their land, and their temple, and the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, seems hell-bent on ripping away their faith as well.

In chapter 3, he has an enormous golden statue constructed and declares that everyone, even the freshly imported Jews, is required to bow before it. Anyone who refused would be put to death. Well. That made things a little difficult for the Jews. Worshiping idols is clearly against The Rules (aka the Ten Commandments) that God gave Moses

So the Jews had a choice. They could either bow down to the statue and live, or they could refuse and die. Enter Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, three Jewish youths who had already caused the king a bit of trouble. They refused to bow down. And for their insolence, the king sentenced them to death by fire. But before he had them tossed into the blazing furnace, he asked them who could possibly save them from their fiery fate.

And their answer. Y'all. It stops me in my tracks. Every. Single. Time. Standing before a king who had just ordered their death, the three boys answered: 

O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up. (Daniel 3:17-18)

Did you catch that? Faced with certain death, their faith in God was unwavering. They declared that He is able to rescue his people from the most dire of situations, but even if he does not, he is still a God who is worth believing in. 

God is able. Period. He is always able to rescue his people from the plights of the world. The hard part to swallow is that sometimes he chooses not to. Or at least, that's what it seems like. The cancer gets worse, despite our fervent prayers for healing. The marriage falls apart, despite our desperate cries for reconciliation. The miscarriages keep coming, despite our pleas to the contrary. 

And those problems, as serious as they are, are nothing compared to what our brothers and sisters are facing in the Middle East. ISIS continues to target believers and execute them for their refusal to stand down. Being a Christian in Syria is a death sentence. Literally. It's almost as if nothing has changed since Daniel's day.

And yet, God is still able. If there's one thing you cling to when you're facing the fire, let it be this: God is who he says he is. He will do what he says he will do. And his word promises deliverance for his people. We must be the kind of people who say, "My God can do anything. He is my deliverer. My very present help in trouble. My stronghold. My shield. My salvation. But even if he chooses not to act in this moment, I will still be faithful. I will still serve him. I will still believe." 

Because here's the thing. Sometimes God allows profound suffering because he has something greater in store. We don't have to look any further than the cross to know this is true. He isn't asking us to do anything He hasn't already done. He himself suffered. He himself died a brutal death, a death that was a necessary prequel to the Resurrection. Without the cross, there is no victory over death. There's no new life. There's no happy ending. There's no hope. 

So you see, God's story is bigger than ours. He knows what he's doing, even when we don't understand it. And he is mighty to save. Always. No matter the circumstances. He is able. How do I know that? Well, as it turns out, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego weren't alone in that fire. There was a fourth man in the furnace with them, and the three boys emerged unscathed.

That fourth man was Jesus. He was in the fire with those boys, and he's in the fire with us today. We may or may not emerge unscathed, but either way, we know that salvation has already come. Death no longer gets the last word because Jesus rose and conquered the grave. It has no hold on us who believe. And that's what gives us the confidence to stand before the world and refuse to bow down.

It's easy to say we believe these things outside the fire. To stand apart from the flames and declare our faith in God, but it's an altogether different thing to hold fast to that faith while the flames are licking at our toes. May we have the strength to stand firm when the flames flicker in the edges of our vision. And through it all, may the God of our salvation be glorified now and forever. Amen.

Until next time, grace and peace.