Thursday, June 8, 2017

When God Doesn't Give You the Desires of Your Heart


“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
Psalm 37:4

Your heart aches, your arms empty. The quiet seeps in, your loneliness your companion. Your body aches, any healing seems impossible. Your child suffers, your heart breaks. Your mind questions, this loved one doesn’t believe. Your soul downcast, stuck in cyclical sin. Your heart heavy, the suffering doesn’t end.

Perhaps, like me, you are in a season where there is a strong unmet desire of your heart. This desire is good, for a blessing from God or for healing or for companionship or for children or for relief from pain or for a loved one’s salvation. And yet, God has not chosen to bestow upon you that which you so earnestly desire.

A Brief Commentary

Before moving on, let’s briefly explore what it means to “delight in the Lord.” Here in Psalm 37, the word “delight” literally means to “enjoy, be fond of, take pleasure and enjoyment in.” To say we delight in God ought to mean that we enjoy him, which brings to mind the Westminster’s Shorter Catechism answer to the question, what is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy him forever. But we don’t enjoy him in a pluralistic sense, as in, we enjoy God along with our spouse, our children, coffee, ice cream, being outside (if I’m making a list). We enjoy God fully, ultimately, as the one who fully completes us and alone brings ultimate meaning to our lives. We enjoy him even when we do not have a spouse, or children, or coffee or ice cream or the ability to be outside, because he is the beginning and end of our joy. He is fully our joy.

So then, what of our desires? Calvin, in his commentary on Psalms, helps explain: “it can never be well with us except in so far as God is gracious to us, so that the joy we derive from his paternal favour towards us may surpass all the pleasures of this world… if we stay our minds wholly upon God, instead of allowing our imaginations like others to roam after idle and frivolous fancies, all other things will be bestowed upon us in due season.”

Keeping this in mind, let me encourage you with a few thoughts for your weary heart.

Take Your Loss to Him

Though it may not feel like it, God knows the deep desires of your heart, for he knows everything.

“O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar” [Ps 139:1-2].

This desire is not unknown to the God of the universe, to the God of your life. He knows you so intimately that even “before a word is on my tongue…you know it altogether” [Ps 139:4]. You may not even voice your desires, and yet he knows them.

Though he knows them, there is much good for us to still take these unmet desires to God, in prayer. To open our hands, which clutch so tightly that which we so deeply desire, to gently open and offer it to God. To say, from deep in our spirits, “God, this is my desire. This is my loss. I do not understand, but I give it to you.”

God is not surprised; in fact, you and I cannot find a better friend in grief than Jesus. He indeed is “acquainted with grief” and has “carried our sorrows” as part of his experience as a man on this broken earth so many years ago [Isa 53:3,4]. He is not only qualified to hold your desires because he is the very God who created you and knows you intimately, but also because he is the very God who lived on this earth and died real death for you.

Acknowledge God’s Sovereignty

“I work all things to the counsel of my will” [Eph 1:11].

Firm belief in the sovereignty of God is the sweetest comfort when we are feeling the weight of unmet desires. We can know and trust that the God who created the world ordains it: “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things” [Isa 45:7]. Likewise, we can rest knowing that the God who created our very lives also establishes them, “the heart of a man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” [Prov 16:9].

You take steps, you walk forward, knowing each step you take is from God, both the joyful leaping lunges forward and the painful slow shuffling. Does this comfort you? It is a relief to know that ultimately, God is choosing to not give this desire now, for some reason you may not understand. But it’s not because he does not know you or hear you. His reasons are often beyond our understanding, but because he is a good, loving father, we can rest in his care for us.

Recently, my 18-month old found an old apple core covered with ants on the ground. She, in true toddler form, reached down, picked it up, and gleefully shouted over her discovery. So when I quickly reached down and plucked it from her grasp, and her glee turned to a despondent glum, all I could say was, “I know you thought that would be good. I know it looked good to you. But it is not good for you now.”

Your desire may be good, your heart may be for God’s glory, your steps may be obedient. But for some reason, only known by your good and loving father, he has not given it to you for now.

Rest in His Peace

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock” [Isa 26:3-4].

So we can take our unmet desire to God, holding it with open hands because we know and trust that God is sovereign over every aspect of our lives. What now?

Dear friend, rest. Take deep rest for your heart in the only one who can give you complete rest. In trust, there is rest. In trust, there is peace. In those moments of pain, seek to fully delight in God, because when your other desires are yet unmet, your heart will be full from his joy. It is possible, and God desires for us, to live with unmet desires but be fully satisfied in him.

When your heart is weary with unmet desire, turn your mind to your God, who knows you and hears you, who ordains your life, who alone can fully satisfy your heart. And in this active turning of your mind, rest in his perfect peace.

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“But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.” [Ps 73:28] 
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Thursday, May 4, 2017

A Day in the Life

For those of you who have wondered - here's a glimpse into our daily life. This is a typical Monday:

5:45 am - we wake up, hopefully before the kids, but not always, to spend some time in the Word, always with a cup of coffee for me. I try to take a walk each morning for exercise and sanity.

Stella, with her "coffee" (milk) and "Bible" 

7:00 am - Ben heads off to teach his Hebrew 2 class. The girls and I get dressed, have breakfast, try to get rolling for the day!


8:15 am - Ben heads to his office to get in two hours of isiZulu study. I sometimes try to do some preschool type work with the girls, or a craft, or we play outside. There might be some baking happening if I'm not ahead of the game.

as soon as they hear me puttering in the kitchen, out come the stools...

10:00am - Ten students arrive at our house for our Khutezanani group (discipleship group), where we share tea and treats, and catch up on life. I primarily try to keep the kids quiet while a student shares a devotional, and Ben shares a bit about another country, and everyone prays, often "in one voice" (which means aloud, at the same time).

11:15am - Our sweet coworker Susan tries to take the girls for a couple of hours on Mondays, so that I can get some study time in. I usually clean up from our group, grab a quick lunch, and make a lesson plan our language helper for the week. Working without the girls around is wonderful and peaceful.

When Susan isn't available, I have some great assistants. 

1:00pm - The girls return, usually very happy, and we have a mad rush of getting everyone into their beds/quiet spaces as Mama Tshazi, our language helper, also arrives at this time. We make coffee, spend the first 30-40 minutes speaking only in isiZulu, and then move on to grammar/vocab/reading for the rest of our two-hour session. Sometimes the kids wake early, or don't stay put as they should, but in general, we are thankful for this time to work together.


3:00pm - We take Mama Tshazi home (she lives just up the road), and Ben goes to our study to get some class prep in before breaking for the day. I will let the girls watch a show, or Facetime with Grandma, or we will go outside. I have to try harder to keep my attitude positive and my sanity in tact at this time of day.

how Grandma reads to you when you live overseas

4:30pm - Ben is usually done working around this time, which is great as I'm usually trying to prep dinner with a certain 18-month old clinging to my leg and crying.

it's all about trying to keep everyone happy now...

5:30pm - We eat dinner together as a family, and share about our day. We light the candles the girls dipped in four colors a few months back, and sometimes sing the Doxology for our prayer. We love to ask the girls about their favorite part of the day.

6:15pm - Lately, since autumn is here and it's much drier in the evenings (back in the "spring" we had quite a few storms in the evenings) we are enjoying family walks in the dark (the sun sets around 5:30pm now). The girls enjoy running around one more time, and Ben and I get a chance to connect.


7:00pm - We have that end of the day push to read a Bible story and sing a few songs, and get all the kids into their beds. Usually cuddling is involved, even though I'm about checked out at that point. Ben and I collapse on the couch. We will usually try to catch up on emails or other work things, but then spend some time winding down by watching a favorite show (if the internet is having a good day) or playing a game or reading.

9:15pm - Most nights, we are in bed early, reading or talking, and fall asleep quickly. Thankfully that hasn't been a problem here!

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Not all of our days are this busy, but there's a notable increase in our pace of life here for me. Two mornings a week Ben is at chapel, and some afternoons there may be a staff meeting. Mama Tshazi comes on Mondays and Thursdays. On Tuesday nights, Ben and I rotate attending a three-hour Zulu 2 level class. Regularly, coworkers or teammates or students pop over to chat (this is a "pop in" culture). Every other Friday, we have the sweet opportunity to go to a local children's home to lead a little Bible class.


Thanks for hanging with us, and for your continued support and prayers! 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Enjoy Every Moment


[Some of this was written last year, and some was finished recently. The Lord has been teaching me this lesson for awhile!] 

Enjoy every minute.

Three little words. Words that elicit a rushing force of guilt like no others for this mama. In that early morning hour, hour after hour, when my arm is falling asleep because I’ve been laying on that side nursing my babe yet again and my eyes are drooping and the clock indicates only a few more precious hours of opportune sleep exist before the upcoming day.
In that normal morning hour when I rise to sounds of three little people who need me more than anyone has ever needed me before, and I feel like I have very little of worth to give.
In that breakfast time when my toddler refuses one more bite of her favorite oatmeal as a test of will and I must be consistent so she knows she can learn that love is not about just giving her what she wants, and so we sit and wait, for one of us to give in.
In that mid-morning hour when I think my baby needs a nap but she cries because she thinks not and I wonder how my motherly intuition can fail me so many times. I think maybe I never had that motherly intuition after all.
During that late morning walk when we have just had the most fun at the park and my toddler helps to push the stroller and runs gleefully in front of me, so free and independent and stumbles only like a human who has walked just a year does. I watch her independence falter, her glee fall to pieces, and her tears stream as she runs to me with her little button nose scraped and we are both broken.  
In that glorious naptime hour that is so anticipated and needed when both babies are meant to be sleeping but neither one is and I feel panic rising and my breath is short and I need space, time, quiet, peace and it doesn’t happen.
In that famous witching hour when I want to greet my husband into our peaceful home with smiles and kisses and something besides yoga pants but the kids are grumpy and I am grumpy and we all just need him as soon as he walks through the door. And we get a pizza for dinner.
It’s the hardest in that hour when I put my babies to bed for the night with stories and songs and lots of cuddling and tucking in. I failed this day, again, like I do every day. I failed to enjoy every minute. I will look back on this day in two years, ten years, thirty years and regret that I failed deeply at this and I cannot do anything now to fix it. This thought eats me alive and makes it hard for me to sleep those few hours and clouds my days with these three sweet gifts from God.
So I stopped trying.
And instead, I began to focus on truth, found in God’s Word. Nowhere, fortunately, does God command us to “enjoy every moment.” Rather, he commands us to be faithful. In 1 Samuel 24, as the prophet Samuel gives his farewell address to Israel, he recounts all that God had done for Israel since their slavery in Egypt, and instructs them to serve the Lord: “only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you” [24]. What has the Lord done for you? Called you to himself? Forgiven your sin? Given Christ to you as your righteousness? Consider these things.
What does faithfulness look like, for you, in your season?
This current season may be one where the Lord is working hard on your sanctification – praise him for that! For “he disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” [Heb. 12:10-11].
For me, faithfulness looks like this: embracing this season with little ones, full of hard and long days, thanking God for these children and the great responsibility of loving them; hourly checking my attitude, that it is not resentful or self-serving, but asking God to help me in my constant small sacrifices, to do so cheerfully; to with my words and actions point my children back to God, modeling for them what it means to “love God and enjoy him forever”; daily leaning into Christ’s sacrifice for me, accepting that God’s forgiveness covers all my sin, resting in his perfect love; seeking to honor God in all the dish-washing, diaper-changing, peace-making. It does not look like: enjoying all those hard moments, and dwelling in a place of guilt when I don’t. God would have us find our full enjoyment in him, not in our circumstances.  But through our enjoyment of him, we can, with gratitude, live faithfully, whatever our circumstances.
For very good reason, this verse has been a favorite lately:
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” [Lam. 3:22-23]
Even when we fail to be faithful, he never does.
Praise God!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

What It's Like to Raise My Young Kids Overseas



I have three kids, all 4 and under. And six months ago, we moved across the globe.
To be honest, some of the thoughts I’ve had are:
Am I crazy?
Am I irresponsible?
Definitely not, I’m so equipped to not only raise my own kids but also to write a fantastic blog post about how I do it so well!
I’m sure there are many others who’ve been overseas longer, who have golden nuggets of wisdom on parenting overseas.
But all this aside, here are some reflections from a fresh-on-the-field, young mama of three on what it’s like to raise my little ones overseas.

They have losses too.


Before we left, many people told us how wonderful it was that we were moving overseas when our kids were so little. And truly, they are right.


Friday, March 10, 2017

Planted

It may be that you are planted where you get only a little [sunshine], you are put there by the loving Farmer, because only in that situation will you bring forth fruit to perfection. Remember this, had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there. You are placed by God in the most suitable circumstances, and if you had to choose your lot, you would soon cry, “Lord, choose my inheritance for me, for by my self-will I am pierced through with many sorrows.” Be content with such things as you have, since the Lord has ordered all things for your good. Take up your own daily cross; it is the burden best suited for your shoulder, and will prove most effective to make you perfect in every good word and work to the glory of God. 
Charles H. Spurgeon


Believer, do you find comfort in this truth? 

The reality that God sovereignly ordains our days can be both a source of great turmoil and one of great comfort. If you are in turmoil over the place in which God has placed you, ask yourself why. Is it because you wish your life had gone a different way? Or because some situation did not turn out as you had expected, hoped, dreamed? Or because you find this current daily grind so monotonous, dreary, difficult? The truth is that God cares most of all about your process of sanctification, that way in which he is making you more and more like himself. Yes, he cares about your comfort, about your dreams and your desires. But mostly, he cares that you are transformed into the image of Christ and he will lovingly orchestrate your life in order to bring about this Christlikeness in you. 

The sovereignty of God is the safe place for the believer. What a comfort, to know that God has planted me here, in this very place, with these very people, for his good purposes! Does this change your perspective? He knows your sorrows, your difficulties, and begs you to come to him for comfort. He knows your dreams and longings, and desires to give these to you, according to his good will. He knows the depths of your heart and he loves you the same. Praise him!

Be encouraged today, that God has given you the daily cross best suited for you, handcrafted for you, his beloved, for your good. Your lot in life, in this season and the next, is given you in God’s great mercy for your further growth and his ultimate glory. 

And remember that he who has planted you in this place will properly water you, give you sunshine, and tenderly care for your growth. God does not toss his children to fight for their lives in the weeds alone and in our own strength, but promises to never leave nor forsake us, to make perfect his strength in our weakness, to provide us with all that we need. Grace upon grace, how wonderful it is to be a child of the living God!

Friday, February 24, 2017

What the Psalms Have Taught Me about Safety



In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.
Psalms 4:8

In the summer of 2008, I spent two months in Pakistan. My time was focused on the discipleship of Christian women, through training teachers at a local Christian girls’ school in English and leading Bible studies among nurses at a local hospital, primarily. When I first arrived on a muggy Sunday morning and was retrieved by the airport by a Pakistani driver via a sign that read “Bethany Simpson,” I watched in fascination out the window from the back seat of the car for the 2+ hour drive at the new world in which I found myself. A few hours after arriving at my new home, after a short nap and changing into a shalwar kameez, I accompanied my hosts to a local wedding reception. Upon arrival, we saw a group of men celebrating by shooting guns straight up into the air, and my hosts explained that this was a cultural celebratory tradition, regretfully sharing about the unfortunate deaths that occur from falling bullets.

I lay in bed that night, and listened to gunshots in the distance, and fear seized my heart. I could die here in this place, of all things, from celebratory falling bullets. Oh God, I prayed, I’m so afraid of falling bullets, of all things, in this place. I drifted into a fitful sleep, and awoke to the call to prayer at dawn, realizing God’s protection of me and his sovereignty over my life. In that first week, and the weeks following, the Lord worked in my heart to show me anew of his sovereignty over the events of my life. On June 21, 2008, I wrote in my journal, “I think fear hit its peak for me last week when I realized that it is possible that I won’t see Ben or my family again…this is a very real consideration, but not one to dwell upon. And then I felt a quiet confidence…that I will indeed see them again. If nothing else, most surely in your presence. But I pray that I will be able to return home." And a couple of months later, by God’s grace and according to his perfect will, I did.


//

One of the most frequent questions we got about our plans to move to South Africa was regarding our safety, asked out of a place of love and concern for the wellbeing of our family. We typically answered it something like this: Yes, there are real dangers in South Africa. There is a high crime rate. There is HIV. There are many deaths each year from car accidents. But there are dangers in the United States too; different dangers, no doubt, but danger the same. Ultimately, we entrust our lives and the lives our daughters to the Lord, and believe that He is sovereign over our lives.
So, while many of you have likely heard that response, I wanted to take a few minutes to unpack that a bit further here, and share what the Psalms in particular have taught me about safety. Understanding God’s sovereignty over our lives and deaths is applicable not only to missionaries, but after all, to anyone who belongs to Christ.

To begin, we first must recognize that God as our Creator has both given us life and determined the length of our days:
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb… my frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” (Psalm 139:14a, 15-16)
In his sovereignty, God has both given us this life and determined the number of days we would live on earth. He already knows the day of your death; it will not come as a surprise to him. If your life is rooted in the salvation of God through Christ, you have the great blessing of knowing that you are secure in Christ in both your life and your death! We are able to trust him with both. It is not for me to worry over my safety, or the safety of my husband, or my children, because his love for them is far superior to mine and he sovereignly cares for them.

Secondly, we can entrust our safety to God because he has promised to be our protector. Psalm 91 says:
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday” (v. 1-6).
Here we can understand several key points. God is the only one who can deliver us; all other illusions of safety are simply that, illusions. He has promised to be our shield, our refuge, our fortress; truly, only he can protect us against the many dangers of this world. One of my favorite passages is found in Psalm 3: “But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head… I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me” (v. 3, 5). I literally cannot find peace from the danger of this world in any other secure place than in the Lord – who sustains me, day in and day out.
Not only can we learn about God’s promised protection, we can also see how the psalmist demonstrates the active placing of his life under the care of the Lord. He “dwells in the shelter of the Most High” and says to the Lord, “my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust” (v. 1,2). This psalm continues on, “you will not fear…because you have made the Lord your dwelling place” (v. 5, 9). There is action on the part of the psalmist, a cognitive step of choosing to put his trust for his life into God’s hands; of rejecting fear, because he is dwelling in the Lord. We can trust God with our safety, in the night, by day, in the darkness, in the noonday sun. At all times, through all our days, he is trustworthy.

Finally, we see that only in Christ is true safety found:
“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation” (v. 14-16).
Here the psalmist is expressing God’s words of salvation, which we now understand has been revealed in Christ, who is our ultimate deliverer and in whomGod will protect him who “knows my name,” here on earth, and in ultimate eternity. For those of us who have trusted in Christ for our salvation, our eternity is secure, and this is our ultimate safety. All kinds of dangers may fly around us, may threaten our earthly lives, but because of Christ’s redemptive work on the cross, we are forever secure in him. What glory! What peace!

And so, we can confidently and wisely entrust the safety of our family in South Africa to our loving Father. This does not mean that we will be unwise in the daily things; we will still buckle our children into car seats, we will still avoid going out at night, and we will still take extra precautions in a country with a high HIV rate. But this does mean that though we seek to be wise in these daily things, we realize they do not promise safety, but God promises his love to us and his best for us.

It is also important to understand that by entrusting the Lord with our safety, we are not guaranteed long lives; in fact, in his sovereignty, he may see fit to end my earthly life sooner. This is not a failure on his part to “keep me safe,” but rather a part of his good plan, according to his ultimate purpose, one we may not understand on this side of eternity.

But whether our years are twenty or ninety, there is wisdom in acknowledging the shortness of our lives:
“O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreaths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!” (Psalm 39:4-5)

In obedience to God, we can truly rest in his sovereignty over all the days of life and the day of our death. And then, we are able to pray in earnest with the psalmist, “so teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” and “let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!” (Psalm 90).

Yes, Lord, establish the work of our hands!


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for a beautiful musical rendition of Psalm 4, listen here, by the Psalms Project

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