It is no coincidence, my times of drawing close to the Lord. The years that my heart has flourished, have been the times when I am still in the early morning quiet. Just me and my Bible.
For whatever reason, I went through a long stretch of time when it was me, my Bible, and a stack of devotionals. They were meaty; chock full of truth. But I recently told my husband that I was beginning to hear the voices of the authors before that of the Lord.
I still read these authors, and God has seen fit to use them in stunning ways to encourage and challenge and grow me. These faithful Christians have written words full of godly wisdom and understanding. I have simply switched some things around, and now read those books before going to sleep each night. The mornings now, are just me and my Bible. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 ESV)
This morning’s reading landed me squarely in Exodus, with mighty Pharaoh, ruler of all of Egypt, holding out a stiff arm to the Author of the entire universe. His brazen stubbornness and hostile disobedience put him in direct opposition to God, who used the entire situation for the good of his children. His whiny, petulant, often disagreeable children, who had already witnessed, wide-eyed (I imagine) the power of God himself on display during those terrifying plagues. Why could they not just trust God to make a way through the rushing waters of the Red Sea?
Moses’ response to their complaints?
Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent. (Exodus 14:13-14 ESV)
The Bible is living and active and piercing and discerning. I only have to read the Exodus account to be convicted of my own complaining, which, when pared down, only reveals my lack of trust in God’s promises. Honestly, I know myself well enough to realize that standing on the brink of the Red Sea, full of sharks and cold water, mighty warriors aiming spears at my back, would have terrified me. My trust might have crumbled.
I grew up on Old Mill Road, in a lovely, aging white New England farmhouse, steady upon a spectacular piece of land. Our apartment was the upstairs right, and my playground was the great outdoors.
My brother and I pedaled fast on our Big Wheels in that expansive driveway. We built forts in the woods, complete with rope swings and stone walls. Across the street from the farmhouse was a pond, where we spent hours in a tiny tin rowboat, snugly adorned in faded life-preservers, fishing and catching painted turtles. We netted frogs, which we kept for a few solemn hours as our very own pets, and under gentle hands, lulled those little creatures to sleep upon their backs, white throats glistening in the summer sun.
We ate our fill of raspberries, blackberries, and concord grapes, the juice dripping on our t-shirts. During the warm afternoons, we swung lazily on the backyard swings, bellies full, toes spinning in the dirt beneath the crabapple tree, which was pecked full of holes from the pair of Downy woodpeckers. Our sand box held mounds of sand, just right for creating castles and roads for my brother’s dump trucks.
Sometimes we chased through the field, playing hide-and-seek, while our landlord’s wife, Mary, hung her damp laundry on the line, clothespins dangling from her lips, eyes crinkling friendly at our freedom to romp and enjoy the outdoors. I practiced cartwheels and roundoffs in the soft bed of grass in our front yard, before retrieving my hula hoop and jump rope from the garage.
We had so much to play, endless possibilities to explore. In fact, there were only three things we were not allowed to do: go near the dam at the far end of the pond, step into the far woods beyond the field, and play on the young tree in the side yard.
There was no way that I would go near the dam: the roaring noise was so loud, and the bank so steep that I was afraid of slipping and crashing upon the rocks below.
I was also petrified to go into the woods beyond our field: our landlord had told us there was a bog, where two cows had once been swallowed whole. It was no hardship to give those woods wide berth.
But the tree in the side yard? It beckoned to me, small and pretty: the perfect height from which to swing. I imagined practicing some acrobatic moves that my first-grade friends and I enjoyed during recess on the jungle gym bars at school.
This no touching the side yard tree made no sense. I knew exactly what was best for me, and I went for it. One day I jumped and grabbed hold of its tender branch, which immediately snapped with a sudden and loud crack.
Our landlord soon discovered his beloved tree, now broken. The slender limb now dangled quite pitifully.
My parents confronted me and my brother. I confessed, and then, to my horror, was made to march downstairs, pronto, to our landlord’s apartment, to own up to what I had done and apologize. I was deeply ashamed and embarrassed, and will never forget Landlord’s words: Kristin, I am so disappointed in you. You knew the rule and chose to disobey. He forgave me, but it stung.
After that, I understood quite well, the Genesis account of Adam and Eve, as taught repeatedly in my Sunday School classes. I was a little descendant of Eve, who dwelt in a magnificent playground called the Garden of Eden. She thought she knew what she needed most: the fruit from that luscious yet forbidden tree, right there in the side yard.
There are some sleepy mornings, when it is so cold, I long to stay in my warm bed. But when I will myself to get up and open Scripture, asking God to speak through the words of his Bible, I am rewarded throughout the day, as the Holy Spirit brings those verses to mind over and over. Sometimes the verses convict and correct, other times they comfort and encourage. I might think I know what I need each day, but I actually don’t. God does.
Recently, I have been a little bit discouraged by the number of people falling away from the narrow gate in favor of the wide path (Matthew 7:13). When traced back to the origin, it seems likely that there is a stepping away from God’s Word in favor of what makes sense to them: their own personal feelings. It has scared me, as I have swung from the proverbial forbidden branch more than once, landing with a prompt thud. When those moments happened, I was painfully jolted out of my stupor, suddenly quite aware of my lack of discipline in the serious intake of God’s Word.
There are no shortcuts. More Bible equals more discernment. You will know what is phony only after you have filled yourself up with truth. Hard days will ensue, sooner or later. Fear not. Stand firm. The salvation of the Lord is coming. He will fight for us, his children, as we stand trusting and still.