Pointing One Another Back to Jesus

     “What to do when you can’t find God.” This is the name of a podcast listed on an email I received from Emily P. Freeman. The topic is the loss of the felt presence of God. Those times we wander through the wilderness, or the valley of the shadow is the way she describes it.

     One suggestion is to do what Mary and Joseph did when they were returning from Passover and could not find their son, Jesus. They looked for him among community, those who knew what he looked like. [Luke 2:41-44] When we feel disconnected others who know Him can encourage us and remind us of all the aspects of a connected life. Freeman states: “Make sure you are in proximity to those who know what Jesus looks like.”

     Connection to the Christian community happens in a multitude of ways. Our first thought is church, and that has always been vital to me. As soon as my heart opened to Christ, I searched for a place to learn the Bible and fellowship with other believers. I found it at Warehouse Christian Ministries in Sacramento, California. My faith grew within this church community and there I learned to serve. When God called my husband into the pastorship, and we moved to Westwood, my heart broke at the thought of leaving so many brothers and sisters who had become such good friends. But God gave me a new family.

     Church isn’t something we go to on Sunday morning it is a place where we belong. It is important to be with brothers and sisters in Christ that accept us as we are just as Christ does and who allow the Holy Spirit to do His work.

     Although we like to think we will never feel a disconnect with Jesus, it is always possible. And when we are in close relationship with other likeminded Christians, we can honestly approach them for the help we need. They will not tell us our feelings betray us and that we are connected no matter how we feel. They will work with us. They will help us.

     And that is one reason why community is so important. When one struggles or strays, others can point the way.

     When I heard the statement, “What to do when you can’t find God” my thoughts went to Jesus. He was in the wilderness very early in His ministry. During that time Satan came to Him to drive a wedge between Him and His Father, but Jesus was not stumbled because He practiced the Word of God. [Luke 4:1-12] This tells me that during wilderness experiences we can find trail markers in the Bible. We can remember what we have learned, search for guidance by continuing to be in God’s Word daily, by listening intently to Sunday sermons and other teachings, and by having conversations with others who dig deep.

     I have taken part in women’s Bible study for decades. Sometimes I am a participant, sometimes a leader. Discussing the lessons with other women, listening to their point of view and application of the verses to their unique situations has greatly expanded my ability to practice God’s Word. I know that the best for me, may not be the best for them. Their needs may not be my needs. Nor are their struggles necessarily mine. But we become better together. We can offer each other a different point of view, a new way to apply the Word that we would never have come up with on our own.

     Also, I thought of Jesus’s heartfelt prayer to God in the Garden of Gethsemane as He struggled with a sorrowful soul and asked if the cup might be removed from him before the hour of his arrest. [Mark 14:32-36] We too, can pour an uncensored heart out to God in prayer. If God is all knowing, we cannot hide our feelings of isolation from Him. There are so many attitudes of the heart we are not supposed to have… jealousy, envy, self-pity to name a few. So, when they creep in, we try to snuff them out. Yet, they are part of who we are, and it is God’s job to hone us chipping away all that should not be so we can become who he created us to be. Pouring out our heart to God is a good “first step” when addressing feelings.

     These are only three suggestions of what to do when God seems far away and you long for that closeness you once had. In community there will be others because of the variety of people and experiences. As these suggestions come, we can sift through them looking for the one that is right for us, right for our circumstances, and therefore can be acted on to point us back to Jesus.

Let’s Talk:

1-If you have ever felt separated from God what caused the separation? How did you find your way back?

2-What’s the best way to build a strong Christian community?

References:

–emilypfreeman.com>podcast>176

©2022 Susan Cort Johnson *All Rights Reserved

God Gives Us Understanding

     There is nothing in our life that is, or should be, separated from God. Yet sometimes I assume I have dug up, chased down, gathered, sorted, made sense, and painstakingly grasped, information about something I needed or desired to learn.     It is easier to go it “alone” these days. We have the Internet. We have YouTube. Literally, teachers and lessons at our fingertips. I was intrigued by Aidan Bryant, a self-taught 17-year-old aerialist who placed second in America’s Got Talent this season. He mastered his craft by hanging bedsheets in a tree and practicing what he watched on YouTube videos. Impressive, don’t you think?

     Then during my morning devotions, as I read through chapters in the book of Isaiah, these words capture my attention: “it is God who gives us understanding.” God gave Aidan his video lessons and the understanding he needed to hone his skills.

     In Isaiah 28:23-29 we are told the farmer knows when to plow and when to sow; how to cultivate the soil and properly plant each seed in the proper place; what to do after harvest so what is grown can be used. Isaiah explains that black cumin must be beaten with a light stick, not threshed with a heavy sledge. Cumin is beaten lightly with a flail and a threshing wheel is never rolled over it. Grain for bread is easily crushed so the farmer doesn’t keep pounding it. Instead, he threshes it under the wheels of a cart, careful not to pulverize it.

     I pause to consider this information and ask you to contemplate it as well.

Whenever we enter a situation without the proper instruction the results are at risk of ruin. While ruin may be a bit dramatic, we can at least agree it will not be the very best.

The past few summers I have put a lot of work into finishing two wooden Adirondack chairs I purchased several years ago for my yard. I stained them when they were new, but the summer sun, and rain during thunder and lightening storms, soon wore the finish. So, I decided to paint them and put a lacquer over the paint to protect it. Well, the paint started peeling. A friend explained that for the paint to stick I must use a primer. So next summer I will strip the chairs and repaint with a coat of primer first. I think about how the farmer knows the steps for properly preparing the soil as well as the proper way to plant each seed.

     This lesson easily transfers to our relationships with the people God places in our path. He gives us instructions on how to interact in a multitude of situations. Just this morning, as I read chapter 3 of Colossians, I noted these instructions: “Make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. [Col 3:13 NLT]

     Lately, the Lord has been teaching me about “making allowance for other’s faults,” or considering their ingrained coping mechanisms, areas of struggle, and worldly patterns that have not yet been transformed. Therefore, I am not surprised the Lord would offer an element of understanding on this issue as I read Scripture.

     God also tells us not all people can be approached in the same way. Some brothers and sisters in Christ may be weak in their faith, or timid, or fearful. Therefore, we consider their emotional state just as the farmer considers the crop during harvest. Like some crops, people we interact with may require a light touch.

     So, when I face the unknown, my first step should not be Google. My go-to in everything must be God alone. I must approach Him with trust that He will point me to any books, videos, or classes I may need for further instruction… even if I should decide to string bedsheets in the trees to become an aerialist.

Contemplate Your Ways:

1- What is your “go to” when you are trying to learn something new?

     2-In what areas of learning do you need increased understanding? How might you seek the Lord for understanding?

When Startled, I Become Scattered

Startled, the wild turkeys that were gathered in a field below the abandoned
railroad tracks I was walking began to run. They raced up the steep
embankment with their necks stretched high, leaning forward as if to
propel themselves along at an ever-increasing rate of speed, in search
of tranquility. But where? They began to scatter down the tracks. No one
to shadow until a turkey made what seemed like a brilliant move…
cutting to the right and down the opposite embankment. Soon others
followed. One-by-one they cut to the right racing onward, away
from danger, destruction, impending doom.

I do not know what prompted them to scatter. I could see nothing in
the field below the tracks. I did not hear anything. Yet they were
startled.

Life sometimes startles us. At these times our actions can resemble
the flock of wild turkeys. We can’t stop thinking, talking, pacing,
fixating on a problem, an issue, the things that don’t fit our plan.

The wild turkeys have caused me to stop and look at my writing
life. Writing is who I am, it is what I do. And currently I am working
on a book, a time-consuming endeavor with a sharp learning
curve, but because it is a writing project, I can comprehend the
process. Yet while I was writing articles for magazines and
newspapers something called “platform” came about. Now
publishers not only look for a good book idea and good writing,
but they also want writers to have a platform. A presence on the
Internet with a Website as well as thousands of followers on
social media.

This twist caught me by surprise when I learned of it. And like
the wild turkeys, I have been running scattered in pursuit of a
platform ever since. This Website was the first successful step
in platform building. Although I haven’t quite solidified a
date for the blog posts, I write them… but of course I love
writing.

Another important aspect of platform building is obtaining
email subscribers, but this has been difficult. It seemed easy
to do at first glance, but subscribers remain aloof. I get it.
I too am hesitant to subscribe to Websites other writers
create for these subscriptions generate too many emails. So
not quite sure how to gain followers, I have been working
scattered. Gathering information here and there and trying
the tips and advice in an unplanned manner. I am racing
down the tracks without clear direction.

Therefore, like the wild turkeys I am getting off the “race”
track. I will work slower, more methodical and take the time
I need to figure out the various aspects of platform building.
But that will not be my main pursuit. Writing is my main
pursuit, and I will continue to develop the Website as a
ministry. Write extra copy worth downloading, reading, perhaps
keeping in a binder as a quick reference.

It is so easy to become scattered. Racing around without
much direction to accomplish something. Striving like those
turkeys to complete the distance. I routinely turn to God’s
Word when trouble looms, indecision lurks, behavioral
issues occur. Yet so often I will race off when something
seems pressing, a must do right now. Startled by the
circumstances, I begin to race around gathering information
here and there to complete the task at hand. I become scattered
and forget to look to the Lord.

Contemplate Your Ways:
1-Have you been startled lately by a daunting task? Maybe
something new you have had to learn at work, a school
assignment, or a requirement for a promotion. What steps
can you take to keep from darting off in every direction,
scattered?