A word for a pilgrim’s heart …

“I love the Lord because He hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because He bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath!” Do I hear shouted amens around the world? That’s from Psalm 116:1,2, a psalm with some of my favorite passages because they describe my life. I’d love to quote them all here, but I won’t … I often am brought to tears by the chapter.

Death wrapped its ropes around me…I saw only trouble and sorrow…

Then I called to Him.

How kind the Lord is! How good he is! So merciful …

Let my soul be at rest again, for the Lord has been good to me…

And so I walk in the LORD’s presence as I live here on earth!

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All of that to preface a story that fits well with our series on hope.

Five friends were vacationing in Maine back in October. One of the ladies gave each of us a gift before we ended the week. She had purchased small pewter scallop shells, each imprinted with a single inspirational word. The words were all different; we drew our shells at random.

Yes! A scallop shell. I’d just finished the edit of a book by a pilgrim who walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain (Stuck in the Weeds, by Paul Stutzman), and from his experiences I’d learned that a scallop shell is the symbol of pilgrimage on the Camino. I liked the idea of a daily reminder of who I am in this world, and so I’d been looking for a scallop charm to wear on a chain. This little pewter shell cannot be put on a chain, but it does the job of reminding me, lying on my kitchen windowsill, looking up at me each day with its Word.

Well… well. That’s about all I want to say about the last two weeks since Thanksgiving. Holidays. (When I say “holidays,” does that conjure up stress and emotional turbulence for you?) Called for jury duty. A computer that one day decided to go on strike. Illness. Oh, my. As my mom used to quote, “The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley (go often awry).”

That’s from a poem by Robert Burns, written way back in the 1700s. He was ploughing, and his plough destroyed a mouse’s nest.

Ah! doesn’t that happen to us? Just about the time we have things in life arranged comfortably … then something ploughs through. A plough breaks everything up. Turns everything upside down. The poet’s line concerns the mouse, but it could be describing us: “Oh what a panic is in your little breast!”

Yes, my plans for the whole month of December 2015 have been ploughed through…

So … as you have probably noticed … we are not yet done with our hope meditations!

But back to the scallop shell.

The word carved into it is RELAX.

Now, when I drew that shell, I was delighted it was a scallop shell since I’d been looking for one. And that word on it? Well, okay, the word was nice. But I was pretty relaxed at that time, and I didn’t think much of it. I was just happy to have a scallop shell to remind me I am a pilgrim.

Now, though, RELAX is going to be my Word of the Year.

At the end of two weeks of turmoil came a short little blurb a local businessman asked me to edit. The subject was on choosing a Word of the Year instead of making New Year’s resolutions. One word. A word that requires you to both change your thinking and your behaviors. A word to think about and put into practice every day of 2016. I’ve never been a resolution-maker or keeper…but a word of focus and action? That intrigued me.

And here’s my word on my kitchen windowsill! Looking at me every day. Carved into the symbol of who I am!

Yes, every day, this pilgrim is determined to relax. I think back over all of the hope we’ve discovered this year. All the promises given to us by our Creator, our Father, the one who saved us and saves us every day.

The one who the psalmist spoke of… This God, our God, who makes it possible for our souls to be at rest as we walk in the presence of the Lord every day.

Why would I not RELAX in the journey ahead, knowing who is walking with me and has made all these promises?

The scallop shell will stay on my windowsill for next year.

And the word is now carved on the heart of this pilgrim.

How kind the Lord is! How good He is to me!

And lest you think this is all coincidence…

Yesterday I got an email from a friend in another state. She knew nothing of the scallop shell or the suggestion of a Word of the Year. She knew only that the last two weeks a plough has gone through my life.

Her email included this line: “I will pray for both of us to relax in the Lord…”

Living in the meantime…

Daniel was told to “go your way until the end.” How do we go our way to the end?

These hopes we’ve been pondering — the realities we can be certain of — change our lives. They shape our attitudes, our actions, and our goals.

Here are some Scriptures our Father has given to guide us as we live in the meantime — between the time Christ has brought God’s grace and mercy to earth and the time when He will return as judge and King.

First of all, we remember that we are citizens of another kingdom.

But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior (Philippians 3:20).

For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come (Hebrews 13:14).

Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name (Hebrews 13:15).

We live as citizens of that kingdom:

For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed (Titus 2:11-14).

Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live, looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along…and while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in his sight (2 Peter 3:11, 12, 14).

The end of the world is coming soon. Therefore, be earnest and disciplined in your prayers. Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay. God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another (1 Peter 4:7-10).

And, as long as God gives people time to repent and come back to Him, we carry on with the mission given to us by our King.

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.” (Matthew 28:19-20).

 

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Psalm Prayer:

I am trusting you, O LORD,
saying, “You are my God!”
My future is in your hands.
Rescue me from those who hunt me down relentlessly.
Let your favor shine on your servant.
In your unfailing love, rescue me.
(Psalm 31:14-16)

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© Elaine Starner 2015 Photo credits: Thanks to Claire Pridgeon, Paul Stutzman, Lana Turner, and Mary Jane Smith for sharing photography I’ve used on this site. (Click on each name to see more.)

(8) Daniel: Hope for birth-pain times

Daniel has become a book of great hope for me. Yes, it includes dire warnings and grim prophecies that both confuse and alarm us. Jesus told us the same things.

But as we read the book in its entirety, we cannot miss the hope:

We are very precious to God.
Heaven rules! Forever!
Our prayers do make a difference.
God rescues and saves His people.
Even through the hardest times, God is working His plan for His people.
And He can be trusted to keep His covenant with us.

This is how we face the birth-pain times. We do have to face them. God does not pluck His children out of the world’s turmoil and place them in a bubble where they are not troubled by the agony of the world. It will touch all of our lives in various degrees and intensities. But no matter what is ahead, these hopes are things we can depend on.

As I read Daniel, the “icing on the cake” comes with the very last verse.

Remember, Daniel was quite distressed by the visions he was given of the future. They made him physically ill. We can also become fretful and fearful as we read prophecy of the times before Christ’s return to earth. Even without reading prophecy, all we need to do is look around us at the scary, worrisome condition of the world today.

But the angel messenger’s words to Daniel speak peace to my soul too.

“As for you, go your way until the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days, you will rise again to receive the inheritance set aside for you” (Daniel 12:13).

We know our ultimate destination, brothers and sisters. We know the One who is in control of it all. We know His plan. Our times are in His hands.

Let us continue to go forward, over the bridges of hope He’s laid out for us.

Finish the race.

Rest.

Rise.

And inherit!

 

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Psalm Prayer:

I am trusting you, O LORD,
saying, “You are my God!”
My future is in your hands.
Rescue me from those who hunt me down relentlessly.
Let your favor shine on your servant.
In your unfailing love, rescue me.
(Psalm 31:14-16)

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© Elaine Starner 2015 Photo credits: Thanks to Claire Pridgeon, Paul Stutzman, Lana Turner, and Mary Jane Smith for sharing photography I’ve used on this site. (Click on each name to see more.)

(7) Daniel: Hope for birth-pain times

“You always fulfill your covenant and keep your promises of unfailing love to those who love you and obey your command” (Daniel 8:9).

This lines are from Daniel’s prayer. This is the foundation of all our hope—that God keeps His promises and holds fast to His covenant with us. If this were not true, then every hope we have would be futile. We would have nothing to move forward on… Then, truly, the future would be depressing at best, terrifying at worst.

Remember that hope in Scripture is not simply wishing that something might happen or be true. Hope is the certainty that what is promised will come to pass.

Daniel’s prayer is for his nation. It’s a confession of Israel’s failure to keep their part of the covenant with God and a plea for mercy and forgiveness.

And for us, this is also a part of God’s covenant and promises. When we fail, confession and repentance will be met with God’s mercy and forgiveness.

His unfailing love has made us so many promises — and He is a God who keeps His promises.

Our hope lives on that.

 

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Psalm Prayer:

I am trusting you, O LORD,
saying, “You are my God!”
My future is in your hands.
Rescue me from those who hunt me down relentlessly.
Let your favor shine on your servant.
In your unfailing love, rescue me.
(Psalm 31:14-16)

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© Elaine Starner 2015 Photo credits: Thanks to Claire Pridgeon, Paul Stutzman, Lana Turner, and Mary Jane Smith for sharing photography I’ve used on this site. (Click on each name to see more.)

(6) Daniel: Hope for birth-pain times

Wouldn’t you like to know the rest of the story? I’d like to know more about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—after their walk through the flames.

We do know two things—King Nebuchadnezzar was so impressed with their God and their faith that he promoted them to higher positions in the kingdom (and remember, they were foreigners in the land!) and he also issued a decree that no one in his kingdom could speak a word against their Almighty God.

Impressive. They influenced the entire country with their stand of faith and improved their own earthly fortunes.

But throughout Scriptures, prophecy paints a picture of the people of God suffering greatly … and such positive outcomes will not always be seen on earth. Even after this seeming change of attitude toward the Israelites, there was still opposition. The plotting against Daniel that landed him in the lions’ den came after this incident. Opposition and persecution of God’s people will not end at any time in the history of this earth.

Our natural reaction is to shrink back from the flames. To do whatever we can to avoid being bound and thrown, against our will, into the devouring heat of the furnace.

But Jesus said if we follow Him, we can expect this. Prophecy says terrible suffering and persecution will come to God’s people, because the world will hate us.

Where’s the hope in that?

Remember the fourth man in the furnace?

Jesus left the earth, promising that He would always be with His followers, everywhere, right up to the “end of the age.” No matter what is coming tomorrow, He walks with us.

And then we have the words of the angel messenger who comes to Daniel. Daniel, too, cringes when he catches a glimpse of what will come, as we all probably do. But the angel tells him several times,

“Many will be purified, cleansed, and refined by these trials.” (12:10, see also 11:35)

Even in the fire, God works for the good of His people!

Who of us can say that we do not need more cleansing, more purifying, more refining?

Even when evil brings its worst against God’s Kingdom, the Almighty Sovereign works His purposes in His people.

The letters of the New Testament to a persecuted church (remember? they are being thrown to the lions….) echoes this hope.

Peter’s two letters, especially, are packed with encouragement and hope: Stand strong, because trials and suffering cleanse and purify. God will work through suffering and “restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation” (1 Peter 5:10). Great joy is ahead!

And Peter also reiterates: “the Lord knows how to rescue godly people from their trials.” (2 Peter 2:9)

Much of prophecy is vague and ambiguous. This part is very clear to me: God’s people will suffer. They will be hated and persecuted because of who they are and who they serve.

And yet —

My hope remembers the angel’s words to Daniel.
My hope remembers God’s promise to cleanse and purify and keep us strong.
My hope remember the fourth man in the fire.

 

 

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Psalm Prayer:

I am trusting you, O LORD,
saying, “You are my God!”
My future is in your hands.
Rescue me from those who hunt me down relentlessly.
Let your favor shine on your servant.
In your unfailing love, rescue me.
(Psalm 31:14-16)

*

© Elaine Starner 2015 Photo credits: Thanks to Claire Pridgeon, Paul Stutzman, Lana Turner, and Mary Jane Smith for sharing photography I’ve used on this site. (Click on each name to see more.)