Knowing the thunder

I strained to hear it again. Nothing. Unmoving, I held my hair dryer in mid air as if my frozen stance would silence the world around me, just in case there was another rumble. Still, nothing. A glance at my phone’s weather app was clear. Sunshine. No rain.

So, why the thunder?

Trusting my ears than more than the weather service, I peeked through the blinds at the early morning sky. Its crystal depths should have left no room for doubt. Except for the fact that I heard thunder.

The umbrella I snagged on my way out the door would prepare me for the storm I had no doubt was coming. Another rumble only confirmed my suspicions. What did the weather service know?

Yes. Thunder. I knew the sound.

Feeling so much more prepared than the rest of the world and carrying my umbrella like a scroll of wisdom, I smiled and waved at our neighbor standing at the curb. Our neighbor with his trashcan. The trashcan he rolled across the pavement.

The trashcan that sounded like thunder.

It wasn’t the first time I had mistaken something for the sound of thunder.

thunder from zion _ Amos 1.2

I’ve never literally heard the voice of God, though I have discerned Him speaking to me. Sometimes His words have been undeniable. Those times when out of the blue He has urged me to speak to someone or to step out of my comfort zone in doing some particular thing. Those are the times I feel the rumble of His thunder pierce my soul.

I know that thunder.

Then, there are those times when I actively seek His words. There are those occasions when I desperately search for His guidance. I strain to hear His direction. And I hear so many noises. Confusing noises that can sound a lot like thunder.

Why all the confusing noise? Why the false thunder?

It’s not that I don’t know the thunder of God’s voice when I hear it.

Photo courtesy of Biegun Wschodni
Photo courtesy of Biegun Wschodni

It’s that I allow too many other noises into my life. Noises that distract me. Noises that disguise themselves and draw my attention away from the true thunder.

Those noises aren’t always inherently bad things. There’s the sound of the contemporary Christian music that’s always playing in my car. There are the words my mind hears when I read devotions or several Christian blogs I follow. They are good words. Encouraging words. Words divinely given to godly men and women to write for the benefit of others.

But they are the words of man.

Sometimes I let man’s words crowd out God’s words.

Those personal words He has specifically for me. Sometimes I just let the noise of the world drown out the thunder. I’ve found myself doing that for a few weeks now.

There’s nothing wrong with the music I’ve listened to… except for the fact that I’ve let it take the place of times when I should have been listening for the roar of the Lion from Jerusalem. There’s certainly nothing wrong with reading Christian devotions and blog posts. God has often spoken to me through them.

But they are no substitute for His Word. His Word that is both a personal love letter to me and a weapon in spiritual warfare.

Even good words can be a distraction from the thing I really need. Sometimes they can be noise.

Enough of the noise.

Enough of the things I’ve let hinder my passion for God.

Enough of the words I’ve allowed to become substitutes for His.

It’s time for some alone time with Him. Time to put aside the e-devotionals and get out of my inbox for a while. Fellow bloggers, please take no offense. Your words are God-given and have been like a balm to my soul. But there are times when we are called to get away with God. With nothing else and no one else.

That’s where I find myself now.

Even good words can clutter my soul when I allow them to replace God’s words. Even good words can distract from the Word God wants to speak to me through His thunder.

I’ve known the thunder. Enough of the noise. Give me more thunder.

Whenever this happens, my heart stops — I’m stunned, I can’t catch my breath. Listen to it! Listen to His thunder, the rolling, rumbling thunder of His voice. He lets loose His lightnings from horizon to horizon, lighting up the earth from pole to pole. In their wake, the thunder echoes His voice, powerful and majestic. He lets out all the stops, He holds nothing back. No one can mistake that voice — His word thundering so wondrously, His mighty acts staggering our understanding. (Job 37:1-5, MSG)

More than just a rag

More times than not, I find it in the box of cleaning rags. But, it’s not a rag, it’s my towel. My favorite towel.

Yes, you could probably read a newspaper through its frayed fibers. And, sure, its edges are unraveling. But it’s the one I want when I dry my hair because it’s perfectly suited for what I need. I don’t want to balance a three-pound bath towel on my head while I put on makeup.

My dear husband does the bulk of our laundry. He puts  away the socks, the t-shirts and other assorted items that are washed with the towels. The cleaning rags he puts in a box on the shelf above the washer. The remaining towels are simply left in the laundry basket on top of the dryer. After all, it’s just as easy to grab them from there as it is to fold them and put them on a shelf.

So, I rifle through the basket in search of my ever-shrinking towel, and after a couple of minutes of fruitless digging it occurs to me. Check the rag box. There it is; my towel that’s not a rag.

This morning when I grabbed it from the rag box once again, I considered how different people see things differently, and value things differently. My towel has great value to me. It took hundreds of washings and dryings to reduce it to a manageable size. I see it as irreplaceable. My husband sees it as a rag.

It made quite an impression on me this morning, my rag of great value. I had just finished my quiet time when I grabbed it and headed for the shower. An internal battle brewed during my quiet time, as it has for weeks. I’m battling something I believe God is calling me to do, and my doubts as to whether or not I can do it. You see, I’m told I need a platform. I don’t have a platform.

I’m working on a book proposal. I’m learning to write a book proposal. I’m researching every facet, what it should contain and how it should be written. Some resources recommend a few optional sections, but most contain a half-dozen or so in common.

There’s the Overview. There’s the Market. There’s the Chapter Outline. Sample Chapters. The Author Bio. Then, there’s the Platform.

Oh, the Platform.

Here’s what my research has taught me about a Platform. It’s how many people I know, and who I know, and who will potentially buy the book I’m proposing. It’s a compilation of all the things I’ve done. My unique blog visitors. My website page views. My Facebook followers. How many articles I’ve written for major publications.

Well, guess what? I don’t know that many people, and I don’t know who will buy my proposed book. My unique blog visitors are few. The same goes for my website page views. Facebook followers: minimal. Articles I’ve written for major publications? Really?

I have no platform. I need a platform, and I need one now. The realization sent me into full-blown Platform building mode. That lasted less than a week before I realized it simply wasn’t going to happen. Besides, during that time I hadn’t written a single thing for God.

It had all been about me. And my Platform. God gave me that full-blown realization when He led me to a particular Bible verse, for the second time in a matter of days.

forsaken first love Revelation 2.19 NIV

The love I had at first. My love for writing the words God gives me to write. My love for God Himself. I had put it all aside to set myself up on a platform, because I saw myself as insufficient. I saw myself as a rag.

This morning God showed me the value in rags.

God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world — what is viewed as nothing — to bring to nothing what is viewed as something. (1 Corinthians 1:28, HCSB)

I’m not a three-pound, fluffed up, designer bath towel. That’s not what He requires for the job He’s given me. He requires one who’s been through the wringer a couple hundred times. He requires one who’s been tumbled upside-down in scorching heat, only to be left bone dry. He requires one with some transparency. And He finds those qualities irreplaceable.

All He requires of me is to do the thing He has called me to do, and it’s not Platform building. He’ll do that. He’s the Carpenter.

What did you expect?

kudzu bloomWith her carefully chosen flowers spread in colorful waves across the counter, she handed me her payment and declared, “I’ll kill every single one of these.” My question of “why?” must have conveyed itself through my bewildered expression, because I didn’t even have to ask before she offered her reasoning for the odd statement. “Because I’ve killed every plant I’ve ever tried to grow. I even killed Kudzu once.”

This early spring afternoon, as I breathed in the promises held in a fresh season, I was reminded that it simply isn’t our nature to be hopeful.

Those of you not blessed to reside in the southeastern US may not be acquainted with kudzu. Those of us who know it understand its capacity for growth in horror-story proportions. It swallows houses in only a couple of growing seasons. Its resilience provides super-plant powers. Enduring the most threatening heat and drought conditions of our blistering summer, this master at survival thrives on neglect, making it almost impossible to kill.

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Almost.

“It was a high school science experiment,” she continued. “We had to propagate and grow a plant. Someone suggested kudzu because you can’t kill it. But I did.” Ever since, she’s been convinced there isn’t a plant on the planet she can grow.

I asked why she kept putting herself through such frustration and expense year after year. “I guess it’s the challenge of trying to find the one plant I can’t kill,” she remarked as she meandered to her car, assuring me that every plant she took with her was destined for death.

It’s sad to see people with such low gardening expectations. That’s one of the reasons I love to watch children learn about planting seeds and growing plants. We tell them what’s going to happen to that little six-pack of petunias as they dig the hole and bury the root ball, and their faces beam; their little eyes sparkle with anticipation. They believe that what we tell them is actually going to happen, and they can’t wait. That’s what gardening is about.

Expectation.

Anticipation.

The hope of something beautiful.

Seasoned gardeners buy plants and do everything they know to be right for their particular variety. They plant them in the right kind of soil. They locate them in the proper amount of sunlight or shade. They place them where they will have proper moisture. Then, they wait. They expect the plant to grow and thrive. Because that’s what the plant is supposed to do.

Why should they expect otherwise?

Life’s failures plant seeds of doubt.

My less-than-optimistic gardening friend didn’t realize the death of her kudzu was probably caused by one simple thing. Too much water. Not understanding the minimal amount of moisture this drought-resistant plant requires, she probably watered it like she would have a typical houseplant. One mistake. One failure at the very beginning of her gardening experience convinced her for the rest of her life she didn’t have what it took to be a gardener. She doubted her abilities until she believed a lie about herself.

Lifes failures plant seeds of doubt - be a weed puller - janetbenson

Let me point out something about this young woman. She doesn’t lack self-confidence. She plunges headlong into life with determination. Don’t mistake her gardening insecurities for a lack of belief in herself. She believes she can accomplish almost anything through hard work and persistence. But gardening is her area of weakness. The only thing she believes about her gardening skills is that she has none.

Don’t we all have those areas? Isn’t there at least one corner of each of our lives where we doubt? That one facet of our beings where we simply don’t expect much.

God showed me the doubt hiding in a corner of my life one Sunday morning. I had agreed to substitute for the teacher in our Sunday School class. I had never taught Sunday School. Never taught any sort of class at all. But I had agreed to teach on this particular Sunday and I was a bundle of nerves.

As I got ready for church, I became ill. It came suddenly and fiercely and there wasn’t time for me to find someone else to teach the class. I couldn’t make sense of this. I knew God led me to agree to teach on this particular morning. Not a doubt in my mind about that. Why would He let this happen?

I prayed a prayer of desperation. “If You want me to teach, take this sickness away.” Just one sentence. In less than sixty seconds the illness was completely gone. Instant health. It was the most amazing thing I had ever experienced. I couldn’t believe it!

That was the sad part… I couldn’t believe it.

What had I expected? I clearly discerned God’s voice asking me that very thing. I had asked Him to take the sickness, hadn’t I? Why was I so surprised when He did it? And let me tell you, I wasn’t just surprised\. I was astounded. Dumbfounded. Astonished.

How many times in the New Testament is Jesus recorded having said to someone, “O ye of little faith…”? He said it to those worried about getting more stuff. To those worried about not having enough food. He said it to those worried the storm would kill them. Worry seems to be the common thread.

I’d been worried because I couldn’t stop my sickness. Worried because I didn’t have time to find a replacement. Lesson learned, right? From this point on I would pray only with expectancy. Right?

So it would seem.

Lesson number two.  My grandson had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. His medication wasn’t helping and his behavior at school was becoming a serious problem. His mother, my daughter, was at the end of her rope.

My daughter learned of a child psychologist who was highly recommended in the area of ADD. She had called for an appointment for my grandson, and was told that it would be more than a month before the doctor could see him. Her only choice was to take the appointment and wait, with the promise that her son would be placed on a waiting list in the event of a cancellation. Several were ahead of him on the list and cancellations were rare, she was told, because the doctor was in such demand.

More behavior and class work problems arose each passing day. My daughter was losing hope. Out of desperation for advice, she would often call me in tears. One particular night when she called, a message on praying expectantly was fresh on my mind. I did a lot of praying for my grandson and my daughter that night. The next morning I awoke with a resolve truly to pray expectantly about this situation. I laid it out before God and asked Him, if it was His will, to do something about it that very day. I thanked Him for answering my prayer, and I left it with Him.

For the first time in weeks I went to work not worried about the situation.

My daughter called that afternoon. “Mom, you’re not going to believe this!” The child psychologist had called that morning. There was an opening for my grandson that very afternoon. My daughter was on her way to pick him up from school and take him to the appointment.

Talking a hundred miles an hour, she went on to tell me that all five people who had been ahead of my grandson on the waiting list had been unable to accept the open time slot. “What are the odds?”

“Let me tell you something that you won’t believe,” I said. I went on to tell her about my expectant prayer of that morning. “Wow! I guess God really does answer prayers,” was all she could say.

She called me later to fill me in on the details. At the end of the consultation the doctor told my daughter it was crucial she bring my grandson back for a follow-up visit in exactly one month. The change in his medication must be monitored carefully, and the time frame was critical.

Knowing how difficult it had been to schedule the initial appointment, she went to the receptionist’s desk prepared for disappointment. It would be an impossibility to get an appointment in exactly one month.

She explained the situation to the receptionist who flipped her appointment book open to the date the doctor required, exactly one month later. Looking up from her book, the receptionist said, “Your son already has an appointment that day.” It was the appointment that was made the day my daughter first called. Again… what are the odds?

But wait. There’s more.

The appointment that all five people on the waiting list were unable to take advantage of… it wasn’t a cancellation at all. It was an opening that had never been scheduled. For anyone. For some reason, the receptionist explained to my daughter, she had simply failed to fill it in. Still shocked over her mistake, the receptionist told my daughter she had never done that before. But what did she expect? I had never prayed a prayer like that before.

I wish I could say that every prayer I pray now is prayed with complete expectancy. At least I can say it doesn’t happen as often these days.

I’ve stopped thinking that if I pray enough prayers, maybe there will be that one that God will answer… like my friend trying time after time to stumble across that one plant she might not kill. I’m so grateful that God didn’t give up on me while I learned to pray expectantly. I’m so thankful to Him for showing me my areas of doubt, and for showing me that His ability to answer my prayers have nothing to do with my capabilities.

And I will be eternally grateful to Him for giving me the faith to believe that His Word is true; that the things He tells me will actually come to pass. Because, like gardening… isn’t that what faith is all about?

Lavender bloom a 06 05 07Expectation.

Anticipation.

The hope of something beautiful.

“I waited patiently and expectantly for the Lord; and He inclined to me and heard my cry.”  (Psalm 40:1 AMP)

 

“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”  (James 1:6-8, NIV)

Psalm 40.1 expectant prayer

This post is a modified excerpt from the book Break Up Your Unplowed Ground: Unearthing God’s Desires for Your Life.