Monday, March 24, 2014

Thy Servant Is Listening

Although I was tired to the bone, I felt strangely drawn to a Kindle book I’d downloaded that day. So, instead of going to bed, as my tired body wanted to do, I curled up on the sofa, with my Kindle in hand, and began to read J.C. Ryle’s book, A Call to Prayer.

I was immediately captivated (and convicted!) by his words, which he’d written in the 1800's, so much so that I read past midnight and then past 1 a.m.

I realized (1) that the book was no ordinary one, (2) that God intended me to have it, (3) that He was speaking to me through the words He had inspired His servant, J.C. Ryle, to write many years before I was born, (4) that He was making me aware of my sin of prayerlessness, (5) and that He wanted me to confess that sin and turn from it immediately and permanently.

            I confessed that sin (and others!) and then asked God to help me to put Him first in my life, to continue to speak to me, and to help me obey Him.

            I slept soundly that night and then awoke the following morning feeling rested and ready to seek God and to do His will.

            Rather than just offer a quick prayer before I began to read from the Bible, I spent several minutes just talking with my Father and asking Him to speak to me through His Word and by His Spirit. He did!  

The passage that was “next up” on my daily Bible reading plan was 1 Samuel 3, a very familiar story about the young boy Samuel who received a word from the Lord, though such words were rare in those days, due to the fact that no one really wanted to hear what God had to say about anything.

During the night, Samuel heard a voice calling his name. Naturally, he assumed that Eli, the priest with whom he lived, was the one calling him. So, he ran to Eli’s bedside and said, “Here I am, for you called me” (v.5).

Since Eli had not been the one calling the boy, he instructed Samuel to go back to bed. But once again, Samuel heard someone calling his name and hurried to Eli’s bedside, where he learned that it was not Eli who was calling him.

When someone called Samuel a third time, he made another trip to Eli’s bedside. This time, Eli discerned that it was the Lord calling Samuel.

As before, Eli told Samuel to go back to bed, but he also said that if the Lord called Samuel again, Samuel should say, “Speak, LORD, for Thy servant is listening” (v.9).

The Lord did call to Samuel again. And when Samuel said, “Speak, for Thy servant is listening,” the Lord told Samuel what He wanted him to know and to do.

As soon as I’d finished reading those words, I knew that the same Lord who’d spoken to Samuel centuries ago was the One who’d been speaking to me the night before through the words of J.C. Ryle. I knew that the same Lord was the One speaking to me through His Word that morning. I knew that He intended me to obey Him, just as Samuel had.

After an extended prayer time, I felt compelled to go to the computer to write these words rather than do the other tasks that were “calling my name.” The Lord had spoken to me, I listened to Him, and I obeyed. May that continue to be true of me—and of you, Dear Reader.

© 2014 by Johnnie Ann Burgess Gaskill

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Watch for Spring!

Note: Although I wrote this article in 2003, I still search for signs of Spring, as I'm doing this year (2014, when I took the photos included in this post) and the same truths expressed here still apply.

I love being outside in this Spring-like weather. The sun is warm; the wind is gentle. The daffodils are swaying gracefully, their movements choreographed by invisible currents. The crabapple tree is in full bloom, looking (from a distance) like it’s adorned with cotton balls. The skinny branches on the almond tree, which just a few weeks ago looked like small sticks, are hardly visible now that their buds have opened, revealing the beauty within each tiny one.

As I stroll along, the sight and smell of freshly-cut grass make me smile. Even the dog trots happily alongside me, looking as if she’s smiling, too. We stop frequently so that I can photograph the surprises I’m finding everywhere--for example, the buds on the Japanese Magnolia (aka "Tulip Tree").

As I walk along enjoying the warmth, I think about the bitter cold we’ve experienced this winter. Some days were just “too raw” to venture out at all. Freezing temperatures. Bone-chilling, wet winds. Clouds so dark and heavy that mid-day seemed like late afternoon.

 But now that the weather is nice, I look longingly out the windows every day, waiting eagerly for my time outside. A writer friend adds to that longing when she says, “Go outside to write! Don’t you dare stay inside on a day like today.”

Perhaps my delight in this beautiful season helps me recognize the truth in these words of David L. Weatherford. “We enjoy warmth because we have been cold. We appreciate light because we have been in darkness. By the same token, we can experience joy because we have known sorrow.”

Thankfully, there is a cycle to ALL of life, not in the seasons alone. When we’re experiencing a “long, dark night of the soul,” we know that light will come into our lives again. And when it does, oh, how we welcome it. When we’re feeling fearful, we know that calm will come.  And when it does, oh, how we welcome it.

          While thinking about such cycles, I reflect on these words of Abraham Lincoln. “In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all, and it often comes with bitter agony. Perfect relief is not possible, except with time. You cannot now believe that you will ever feel better. But this is not true. You are sure to be happy again. Knowing this, truly believing it, will make you less miserable now. I have had enough experience to make this statement.”

          It comforts me to know that great persons, including Biblical writers, experienced cycles in their faith, just as you and I do. For example, one of the psalmists wrote, “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel…” (Psalm 73:21-24a, New International Version).

          No matter what cycle we’re in, God loves us and is with us! And even though we may feel we’ve been in the harsh grip of Winter for a long time, we can know that it won’t last forever. We will experience a Springtime! Wait for it! Watch for it!
Bud on our Crabapple tree.

© 2003 by Johnnie Ann Gaskill.