Monday, December 19, 2016

How Far We've Come

"For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God..."
Romans 8:14
(KJV)


It is at this time of year that most of us become most reflective.
Knowing the year is soon coming to a close and realizing that if God spares time and life,
we will soon embark upon a brand, new one somehow has a way of causing us to stop and consider.
To take inventory and check our spiritual pulse.
To pause, even in the midst of the busyness of the season, and contemplate where we are.
To analyze what we perceive God is teaching us.

In one sense, looking back can be detrimental.
It was in this light that I wrote this post.

This type of looking back is not healthy.
In fact, Jesus warned against its dangers in Luke 9:62.
"And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."

He gave another somber admonition in Luke 17:32.
Just three short words, but, oh, so full of meaning!
"Remember Lot's wife."

I believe the type of looking back Jesus was speaking about in these two passages of Scripture is the type of looking back that includes a longing to go backwards to a place we are no longer supposed to be...a yearning for an escape from what is to what was,
even though "what was" is no longer God's perfect will for us.

A good example of this type of unhealthy looking back can be found in Exodus 14:11,12.
Remember the children of Israel?
They suffered untold anguish, due to the severe bondage and oppression that resulted from being the slaves of Pharaoh.
Their lives were hard and void of joy.
God raised up a deliverer for them in the person of Moses,
who led them forth from the land of Egypt, away from its misery and enslavement.
When they came to the Red Sea and realized that, humanly, it was impassable,
they began to murmur against God and Moses,
and they actually longed to go back.
Back to what was familiar, never mind how horrible their lives were in that place.
Instead of them focusing on the power of God that had just been demonstrated to them through the mighty deliverance He wrought in setting them free, they chose to fixate upon the new impossibility in front of them.
I have often thought of this situation and judged them for being so disbelieving and fearful.
I have tried to imagine how much faith I would have had, if I had been standing in their shoes.
But, over time, I have come to realize that I am very much like the Israelites.
I too often find myself in the face of a new impossible, impassable situation, 
and I so quickly forget how powerful my God is and how much He has already delivered me from and brought me out of, and my faith just crumbles and morphs into fear.

The type of looking back and wishing to still be in a place God no longer wants us to be is counter-productive to spiritual progress.
If God called us forward from a previous spot, He did so for a reason,

The Apostle Paul knew that in order to progress and press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, he must let go of the past and not allow himself to longingly look back.
"Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
Philippians 3:13,14

But, on the flip side of this, there is a type of looking back that is very edifying.
What I am talking about is looking back to see how far we've come...or rather, how far God has brought us.
This is the kind of looking back I like to do at this time of year.
I am thinking you probably do, too.

We didn't make this progress on our own.
There was an unseen hand parting the waters and orchestrating the details and removing the obstacles.
There was a God Who turned the tide and made the crooked paths straight, exalted the valleys, made the mountains and hills low enough for us to be able to walk over, and smoothed out the rough places.

"Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:
And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it."
Isaiah 40:4,5

Looking back for the sole purpose of tracing God's hand is a good idea and a very important part of our Christian journey.
It is beneficial, even necessary.

We need to see where God has brought us from, not to yearn and grieve for what was,
but to draw encouragement from seeing how far we've come,
to spotlight God's awesomeness and power and ability to save to the uttermost,
and to give us courage and assurance in our current battles.
The God that brought us from where we used to be is the same God we still serve today.
He is the same God Who will continue to lead us forward, shattering every stumblingblock placed by satan in our path.

To be able to look back and see and understand what He has done is so strengthening to our faith.

Today, I am "looking back" (in the healthy way!) to when I wrote this post.
I was trying to open my mind and heart to the impending changes I discerned would soon be coming to the lives of my little family and me.

Even though we sensed that change was coming, we had no idea what a whirlwind year 2016 would be for us.
Whew!
There have been highs and lows to the extremes.
Hurts, disappointments, hardships, and close calls with death...literally.
We have fought some of the most intense spiritual warfare I have ever personally encountered.
We have cried together, and we have laughed from the depths of our souls together.
We have reached new levels of intercessory prayer.
Speaking of new levels, God has unpeeled levels of trusting Him that we never even knew existed.
We have seen God's hand at work in ways that we hadn't even thought of.
We have lived and proved that God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or even think and that His omnipotent power trumps any and everything satan can do.
That His will will prevail in our lives, in spite of every weapon satan forms against us to try to thwart it.  (Isaiah 54:17)

At the beginning of this year, I SO wanted our one word to be "new".
Our situation felt like such a deep rut...one that we couldn't imagine how God could pull us out of.
In spite of my longing for our one word to be new, in this post, I talked about how God showed Kevin and Zach that our one word would actually be "trust",
and I shared a reminder of the acronym God gave Zach for the word TRUST.
Looking back over this very eventful year, do you know what I find most ironic?
As we launched, putting our trust in God, He allowed that trust to propel us to the very thing I was hoping our "one word" would be,
and, on this journey, He has made so many things new in our lives!

On a chilly late evening last October, I sat on our front porch (the one shown right here) in the very rocking chair shown here, with my yarn and crochet hook in hand, and, in between stitches,
I stared at the sky across the road from us as the evening sun was going down.
My heart was troubled.
I knew, with a certain assurance, that what had started out over a year before as a real subtle stirring,
was growing and turning into a definitive leading from deep within our hearts.
Change was in the air.
Not only was autumn changing the atmosphere, but something was about to transpire in our lives
that would alter our future in a very big way.

As I intermittently crocheted and stared at the evening sky,
I wept, and I fervently, earnestly prayed.
I will never forget the exact words that sprang from my lips, as I turned my face Heavenward.
"God, I want You to do something in this situation that will cause all three of us to turn to one another
and say, Wow, just look what GOD did!"
I was asking my Father in Heaven for a "WOW" miracle.
One that would make us stop, give pause, and come to the conclusion that only God could have made happen what just happened.

I asked for something big.
I wanted HIM to get the credit in a big way.

Here it is about a year and two months since I prayed that way,
and His answers have come.
The changes He has brought about have been nothing short of a WOW miracle.
The word, "Wow!", has escaped our lips more times than I can recall.
The three of us have often turned to each other and uttered the words,
"Only GOD could have done this!"
To God be all glory forever and ever!

This has been a process.
There have been moments when we honestly did not know what God was doing...
when we had done our part in complying with all that He asked,
but it seemed to be for no explainable or apparent reason.
I was walking through such a moment when I wrote this post.

So many times, over the course of this year, Abraham has come to mind.
"By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went."
Hebrews 11:8

We don't always know why God is asking us to do things.
We don't always even know where we are going.
He doesn't always show us the end from the beginning.

 I will never forget the day I turned to Kevin and Zach and told them I had no idea why 
I was working so hard to pack up our things.
I had no physical evidence that we were even going to move,
but there was this inward stirring, even an urgency, to minimize, downsize, sort, go out in search of moving boxes, and pack our belongings.
To prepare.
To work towards being ready.

Later, after our home sold, and we didn't have a long time span between the sale and our closing,
I was so glad we had started when we did.
I could look back and see that God had a Divine purpose in every single gentle urge He had so impressed upon us.
The things He had asked us to do that made absolutely no sense, at the time,
were then completely sensible, and we could finally see why God had asked certain things of us.

One thing I've learned this year is this...
if God impresses us to do something, 
no matter how absurd it seems, at the moment,
it is in our best interest to comply with what He is asking of us.
This Christian life is a total walk of faith.
It doesn't matter if the assignment makes sense.
Our duty is to be obedient.
As we walk forward in trust, He will open up the way.
Sometimes, our feet have to dip in the brim of the water before God will make the waters stand up in a heap, forming a wall on both sides for us.

"And as they that bare the ark were come unto Jordan, and the feet of the priests that bare the ark were dipped in the brim of the water, (for Jordan overfloweth all his banks all the time of harvest,)
That the waters which came down from above stood and rose up upon an heap very far from the city Adam, that is beside Zaretan: and those that came down toward the sea of the plain, even the salt sea, failed, and were cut off: and the people passed over right against Jericho."
Joshua 3:15,16

I find it interesting that the waters did not part first.
It took an amazing act of faith for the priests to dip their feet in the water,
even when there were no visible signs of the water opening up for them to pass over,
and once they did, God made a way for them to cross.

In this year season that is requiring so much trust for my dear family and me,
we have had to take many such steps.
Steps when we could not see even one step in front of us.
Steps when we weren't certain there was a firm place to drop our foot.
Steps when we felt like we were flailing...out here in the depths to which we have launched, where our feet no longer can even touch bottom.
Steps when there was no evidence of the waters parting to allow us to cross over.
Steps when the mountain seemed way too hard to climb.
One labored, faith-filled step at a time.
And, the journey continues, as God unveils more and more layers of what it actually means to trust Him and to make Him our all-in-all.

Looking back, I am amazed at how far we've come He's brought us.
Looking back reminds me that it is even better farther on.
It helps me to see that God is faithful...that He always has a plan, 
even though we often don't see that until way after the fact.
That He doesn't waste one experience or circumstance of our lives.
That each time He requires an act of obedience, it is safe to take that action,
even when it makes no sense to us at all,
even when it scares us out of our wits,
even when everyone around us thinks we have lost our minds.

When God called Abraham to leave everything familiar to him, it made no human sense.
When, right on the heels of giving him amazing dreams, God allowed Joseph to be thrown into a pit, then sold into slavery, He seemed to be defying His own promises.
When Jesus cried, "It is finished" from the cross and gave up the ghost,
it seemed that all hope of our redemption was lost forever, and satan had won.

Looking back, you and I can trace God's hand in all three of the above situations,
and we can see that, even though nothing good could be seen while these scenes were being played out, eternal good was being processed and brought about, under the surface and behind the scenes.
Looking back, God enlarged Abraham's coast far beyond the scope of the place from which He called him.
Looking back, He used the 22 years from the time of 17 year-old Joseph's dreams to the moment he stood over his cowering, repentant brothers at the age of 39, to temper and refine Joseph so that he could entrust him with great power and use him to save "many people alive".  (Genesis 50:20)
And, looking back, three days after our dear Lord suffered death by the most violent, anguished, agonizing means possible, God raised Him from the dead, and He came out of that tomb, alive forevermore, having bought eternal redemption for all of us!

Things look different on the mountain from the shepherd's point of view.
As you and I look back over the year 2016, I hope you can pause and listen to the words of this,
one of my family's and my favorite songs...our testimony.



If video doesn't load, click here.

28 comments:

  1. Altho I haven't the time to read all of your post, I did read about half..and it is so very good. ...gave me cause to reflect that I've also looked back and shouldn't have..I took the time to ask for forgiveness and prayed for HIS strength....thanks so much

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    1. Bless your dear heart, BJ. Thank you ever so much...you will never know how much your encouragement means to me, dear friend. God bless you and give the desires of your heart!

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  2. I have to admit that I've been looking back recently. I'm so tired of being sick. I keep thinking back to even two years ago when I went and did whatever I wanted without thinking of physical limitations. I keep thinking that God is teaching me, preparing me for something but I'm just getting so tired. I'm going to reread your post again. I need to absorb the encouraging words.
    Blessings,
    Betsy

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    1. Oh, Betsy! My heart goes out to you so much! I do trust Jesus to restore your health and allow you to feel well enough to do the things you enjoy so much again. Surely He is able! Keep looking to Him, dear friend. I know you are tired of being sick, bless your heart. Sending you love and hugs, sweet friend.

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  3. Oh the words to that song...beautifully true and encouraging. I am with Betsy, struggling with health issues, my strength leaving me faster then I want it to. God continues to teach me through the limitations. Merry Christmas Cheryl...

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    1. Oh, that song! I remember one night when Kevin and Zach and I were going through an awful hard trial, and we heard this song while waiting at a red light on a bridge...I could take you right to that spot, and we all three broke down and cried like babies right there in that car. The author of the song will just never know what it has meant to me. I am so thankful you enjoyed it, too. I am SO sorry you, too, are struggling with health issues. May God have mercy and heal you and give you daily strength. Sending you love and hugs, my friend. Merry Christmas to you, too!

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  4. Great insights here. I think it's true that looking back can be both good and bad, but it is encouraging to look back over the year and see how far God has brought us. Thanks for sharing part of your story of growing in trust.

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    1. And, thank you so much for visiting and reading, Lesley! God bless you and yours with a wonderful Merry Christmas! :)

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  5. Hi, Cheryl!
    I appreciate your deep thoughts of your journey of faith, or should I say Trust. Such a blessing to travel through this trying time with a family that believes and encourages so that you can all hold each other up when the testing comes! I like the way you pray--that when the answer comes, everyone will know that It's the Lord in this! He's God all by Himself, right Cheryl? I send love and hugs as we leave one year and welcome a new one!

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    1. Dear Mary! Your words! They just blessed me so much! Dear friend, it truly IS a precious blessing to have a dear family to walk this journey with, and we surely do hold each other up. The testing has been severe, I'll be honest. I LOVE what you said about "He's God all by Himself". Oh, I needed that today! YES, He is God all by Himself..what a blessed consolation it is to know this truth! Thank you for reminding me, sweet friend. I send love and hugs back to you and look forward to walking this Christian/blogging journey with you in the new year. Here's looking ahead with much faith in the One Who brought us through so much this year!

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  6. Thanks for this encouraging post, Cheryl, and for sharing how the Lord has moved for you. Praying the Lord gives you many blessings more in the year ahead.

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    1. Yes, dear friend, I am looking to Him for just that! Thank you so much for your sweet visit and encouragement to me. You are a blessing. Merry Christmas to you and your family!

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  7. When I look back on my life, and there have been many bad things to look back on, I realise that God was there all the time, protecting me and my family.

    Best wishes for Christmas to you and your family, Cheryl.

    God bless.

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    1. Oh, how true, my friend! He is ever faithful. If only we were half as faithful to Him as He is to us! I fail Him so many times, but He never stops loving and bestowing necessary grace and mercy. So thankful His mercies are new every morning. God bless you and your family this Christmas, too, Victor!

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  8. I have been reading in Genesis, and just read the story of Lot's wife who looked back. I think the error in looking back, as you mentioned, is when we look back longingly at situations that the Lord has taken us out of, into something better for us. Oh how I praise the Lord with you throughout this year as He has led you into such a place of rest, after a year of uncertainty. He knows best, and we can look to the days that lie ahead without fear. He is with us, and He has our best interests at hand! Praying for you and your family dear friend, may the Lord bless you abundantly this season! I hope to email you later this evening :)

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    1. I am SO grateful for your prayers for us, sweet friend, and it is always such a dear blessing to see that you have stopped by here. Sending you much love and many blessings this beautiful Christmas season. :)

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  9. Wow, Cheryl. How much I love this post. Thank you for sharing all that. I look forward to hearing more about your story in 2017. Merry Christmas to y'all. *hug*

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    1. Thank you so much, Brenda! It has been quite a ride!! Excited to see how God leads us in 2017! Thank you for your sweet visit, and Merry Christmas and hugs to you, too!

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  10. I'm with you, sister. Longing for what is behind and not of our Father brings separation from Him. The other kind of looking back is wise. It reaffirms the sovereign hand of our Father and allows us to share with others. That's the whole point. When we "walk through the valley of the shadow of death" He is not only with us, He guides and delivers us, not because He doesn't have the power to take us around the valley, or flatten the world around it for that matter, but so that we and the lost world see the power and love of our Father.

    That's worth remembering. Thanks for the reminder, it's the perfect time of the year for it.

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    1. And, thank you for the wonderful perspective you shared here. You are so right. I appreciate your encouragement, brother. God bless you and yours with a wonderful Christmas!

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  11. God does turn us around at times, and when we yield and co-operate we realize He knew best. I love those old hymns. Thank you for sharing with us here at Tell me a Story.

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    1. Yes, isn't that true. We often don't see that He knows best until way after the fact. He is so faithful!

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  12. Cheryl, I love how you compared unfruitful looking back to fruitful! I enjoyed reading as you looked back to God's faithfulness to your own family over this past year. Great encouragement to us all to remember all that God has done for us and will continue to do for us.

    May God continue to bless you with "wow moments" as you continue to bring glory to Him!

    May the God of peace bless you exceedingly in 2017 sweet friend.

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    1. Thank you so much, sweet friend. I so appreciate your sweet visits, comments, and encouragement. Sending you much love today!

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  13. That song is beautiful! "The Shepherd draws you closer..." That is the best place to be, no matter what the circumstances around us may be like.
    Thank you for sharing your testimony of the faithfulness and power of our God in your lives.
    I especially like this statement: "even though nothing good could be seen while these scenes were being played out, eternal good was being processed and brought about, under the surface and behind the scenes."
    This is something I need to remember in my present circumstances. Thank you.
    You might be interested in reading my post "Uphill Struggle" which actually came from a dream God gave me that seemed to parallel what I was going through at the time. I'm not so sure that it's all over, either, though He has given me much more light as time has passed; there are still so many unknowns.
    God's continued blessings be upon you and your family in this coming New Year.

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    1. You are so right, Ruth...there is no better place to be than to find ourselves close to the heart of God. Your encouraging words were so comforting to me today, and I can't thank you enough for your sweet visit. I am so looking forward to reading your post, "Uphill Struggle". I am hoping I can find you...for some reason when I tried to click on your name, it wouldn't work. Will keep trying, and thank you ever so much for your visit. God bless you abundantly!

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    2. Thank you for pressing on until you succeeded in getting to my blog. I thought I had left the actual url for the post, but I guess not. Senior moment, lol. :) Sorry to make you work harder!
      Anyway, here it is in case you (or your readers) want to visit again:
      https://plantedbylivingwater.wordpress.com/2016/09/09/uphill-struggle/
      I also took the liberty to post the url from your post, "How Far We've Come" in my reply comment to you on my "Uphill Struggle" post so people can find your encouraging story from my post.

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    3. Thank you so much, Ruth! I so enjoyed your post, and I hope many others will read it and be blessed! Thank you so much for sharing my link on your blog...I appreciate it so much! God bless you, my friend. :)

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