Posted in Christian Living, Faith

To Think Like Hagar

Hagar by Edmonia Lewis
Hagar by Edmonia Lewis

I have read the story of Hagar and Sarai many times, and I always come away with a new lesson.  This week, I was struck by Hagar’s response to her encounter with God:

Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the LORD, who had spoken to her.  She said, “You are the God who sees me” (Genesis 16:13).

You know the story:  Abram has been promised by God that he will be the father to descendants that outnumber the stars in the sky, but even though Abram believes God, his wife Sarai gets impatient.  She talks Abram into lying with his servant Hagar, who gives Abram a son.  Jealousy ensues.  Hagar, a lowly servant who has now managed to out-do her mistress can’t help but get a little cocky about it.  Even though Sarai talked her husband into sleeping with Hagar in the first place, when the pregnancy comes, Sarai makes Abram send Hagar away.

Even though she gets to come back, Hagar and her son, Ishmael, are eventually banished again.  God promises Abram that Ishmael will also be the father of a nation, but He tells Hagar that Ishmael will always be set apart and in contention with his brothers.  Still, Hagar finds a reason to praise.

You are the God who sees me, she says.

It’s hard to know the mind of a servant woman more than three centuries ago in a culture and world far removed from our capitalistic, electronic reality.  But we can at least know that she would have had no thoughts of ever being any more than a mere servant.  In other words, to be seen by God was to be validated as a person and not as a mere thing owned by others.

Having read these words this morning, I was struck by the beauty of the Cross.  For, when Christ died for us, did He not see us?  What a wonderful gift it is to realize that we can go forward each day knowing that God sees us because of Christ’s love for us.

Thinking like Hagar means knowing the enormous gift it is to be seen by God.  Never take it for granted.  If you hold this truth to your heart each day, how much easier it will be to walk in the steps of Christ, loving others as we ourselves want to be loved.  We, too, have the ability to see. 

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Posted in Christian Living, Christianity

Seeing Past the Speck: Practical Steps to Shine His Light

Various hands being held

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”  Matthew 7:3

Jesus asks this question of us for such a valid reason.  How easy is it for us, after all, to see what is “wrong” in others and not realize that we, too have faults.  Isn’t it also often the case that the things that bother us most about ourselves, especially those things we haven’t fully acknowledged to ourselves that we possess, are the very things we think we see so clearly in somebody else?

If we manage with the help of the Holy Spirit to become master observers of our own actions and thoughts, then we take a step closer to doing the very thing Christ asks us to do:  we look at others to see their true needs without judging them.  In other words, we see right past any “specks” to reach out in what Paul would call “brotherly love.”

One of the easiest ways to start looking out for others without judging them is to pray for them.  When you start bringing other people’s challenges before God, like illnesses, job issues, stresses, loss, etc., you realize how much we humans have in common.  You come closer to walking a mile in the other person’s shoes, which means seeing the world through the other person’s eyes, the ultimate step toward achieving the Golden Rule:  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you or Treat others as you would treat yourself. 

As with any Christian action we want to take, our prayers must begin and end with love.  We cannot make a request of God that is actually a judgment we have wrapped up in “concern” to make it look better.  God sees through our words to the true motives deep in our hearts, after all.  By concentrating on the will of God to be done in any situation, we can become more peaceful about any situation because we have handed it over to Him.

Part of our prayers for others should include asking for guidance on what our actions should be in the situation.  What should we be doing to help, if anything, beyond our prayers?  Should we make some food to take to the person, send the person a card, offer to go with the person to a doctor’s visit, simply be sure to acknowledge the person and his/her pain when we see them, etc?  If we ask God for guidance on a regular basis, He will provide it to us.  And we will be more open to that guidance because we are in ongoing, open communication with Him.

Looking past the speck of those around us to try to see people as God sees them can be as simple as smiling at the people you pass in the hall at school, leaning down to help somebody pick up something they have dropped, holding open a door as you go in or out of a shop.  If you see things in others that make you recoil, before reacting in judgment, take a moment to think about where you would be if God had looked at the REAL you without mercy and grace:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)

Only because Christ loved us enough to die for us are we saved from our sin and able to approach the Almighty God in prayer.  That gift of grace alone should make us gracious to others on a daily basis.

But, living in a fallen world where the devil takes stabs at us every chance he gets, being gracious takes dedication, devotion, the Holy Spirit, practice, and God.  The most practical way to shine the light of Jesus may just be to realize that, though we stumble, it is the fact that we keep rising again, ready to start anew in our commitment, that makes us children of the Light that is Jesus.

My practical step to shine His light this week: I won’t be looking for specks.  I’m going to see the part of me I want God to love in the faces of the people I encounter this week.  And I’m going to treat them just like I want that inner, most vulnerable part of me to be treated.  And I’m going to need God’s help to do that all the way.  He will provide.

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity

The Water That Smooths Our Rough Edges

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A waterfall is a beautiful thing to experience, in part because it can appeal to all of your senses. You hear the roar of the water rushing over stones long before you can actually see the falls if you are hiking to one. You smell the clean, crisp scent of water that is always in motion, constantly renewed. You feel the spray of that moving water as you near the falls, the gentle mist like a caress. Finally, you see the water tumbling, foaming, cascading into an otherwise still pool. Depending on the situation and your fortitude, you might even decide to risk a taste of the pool’s “pristine” waters, imagining the clean snow from above you that has melted, cut through mountainside, and tumbled to the falls, its taste still cold to the touch.

It is one of the wonders of nature that stone, such a hard, ungiving surface, can be so easily defeated by the persistence of running water. Even a steady, slow drip can manipulate the hardest granite over time. If you have ever seen the Grand Canyon, which was formed in large part by the rush of water, you can truly appreciate this molding facility of something we humans need a bucket or glass to get a handle on. Have you, after all, tried to hold a handful of water?

Christ told us that in His kingdom, the weak are strong and the least greatest. Water, essential to life, is a wonderful example of this principle. At first glance, it may seem a very weak substance. There’s a reason young children look for puddles to land in, sending sprays all around them and making the puddle disappear. But, when you take water into account in its full force, as in a flood, it can be the most destructive force imaginable. Still further, it only takes a tiny drop at a time to form and cut away entire caves and canyons, given enough time.

It’s appropriate that Christ chose water as His medium for baptism. Not only does water literally wash us clean, we can see in its effects on stone that it also forms us. The forming is not always a violent one. More often than not, it is like the falls, water sweeping over stone through time until the rough edges are smoothed.

For those of us who walk with Christ daily in the baptism in water that continues through the Holy Spirit, we too are smoothed over time of our rough edges. As long as we do our work to allow the Holy Spirit to wash over us through our lives, as the water flows over the stones of a falls, our own rough edges will be hewn to a shiny mutuality that will help us appeal to others concerning the value of a life in Christ. Like a beautiful falls that appeals to all the senses, we can be the peaceful, restorative place for those who have not yet found Him.

The Bible is full of verses that flow like water and smooth away the parts of us that stand in the way of our full relationship with God. Pray to see His word in truth and according to His will, and you will find that your Bible study will reward you in ways you hadn’t even realized. The mist of God’s love is waiting in the pages of His word. Now is as good a time as any to begin your walk with God, to continue it, or to begin again.

I’ll meet you by the water.