You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.
As you travel to Cades Cove on Little River Road you drive uphill through the mountains. Then, just before you get to the cove, you begin a downhill descent. At the entrance to the cove this beautiful valley opens out before you. You are surrounded by mountains, hemmed in by beauty. I imagine what it must have been like to live in the John Oliver cabin, nestled up next to the mountain with the valley before you and the mountains in the distance. I never tire of going to the cove. I can’t really explain the feeling of peace that comes over me, especially when I am there in the early morning.
I believe that when we come to worship our God and open our hearts to him we can have that same unexplainable feeling of being hemmed in. In God’s presence we can safely lay bare our hearts for he knows everything about us, yet still loves us. Like the psalmist it is too much for us to understand or explain the freedom and peace that comes from being hemmed in.
We open our hearts to you. Show us the path that you would have us walk and hem us in with your love.
And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.
On the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, while the multitude of his disciples were singing praises, Jesus wept. The Greek word translated wept is to sob and wail. So these weren’t just silent tears streaming down his eyes. He knew the way before him, the people’s rejection, and he wept.
There are times of deep lament in our lives, times when we look at what lies before us and see only fog. They clear blue skies are gone. Our lives seem bare and lonely and peace is only a distant memory. Like Jesus we will have to weep but our lament won’t last forever. Because of Jesus's love and sacrifice his peace will no longer be hidden from our eyes.
Open our eyes to see you so that we can know your peace. Show us your beauty, even in the fog of our lament.
The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.
Sometimes our lives seem to be filled with just storm after storm after storm. It was like that on our trip to the Great Lakes. I had envisioned beautiful sunrises and sunsets and clear blue skies, but most of the days were just filled with clouds. I had to move beyond being disappointed to being open to seeing the beauty that was present, to see the flowers and the stormy skies at the same time. This isn’t an easy thing to do on something as unimportant as a vacation but even harder when you face storm after storm in your own life. King David faced many storms in his life and the Psalms he wrote describe how he endured them. He found his strength in the Lord and ultimately a peace that comes after the storm, a peace that only God can give.
Lord of the Storm
Help us look beyond the hardness and fear of storms to see your promises of beauty and peace.
For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,
I love early morning walks. In the quietness of the early morning I find it easier to be silent and just listen. It is in listening and trusting that I find strength. God often speaks to us in quietness, in a “still, small voice.” Maybe one of the quietest times he spoke was on the night Jesus was born. Sure there was a glorious angel chorus but it was heard by only a few shepherds outside a small village. There was no fanfare as their would have been for earthly kings or wealthy people of power. Only these shepherds and Mary and Joseph knew that Jesus has slipped silently into this world. The words of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” by Philip Brooks remind us that Jesus still comes silently into the hears of those who quietly and humbly accept him.
How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven.
No ear my hear his coming but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.
Willingly and quietly open your heart to Jesus today and you will find the blessings of heaven.
Make us willing to return to you, to open our hearts, and find strength in quietly trusting you.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
Becoming a photographer has turned me into a day hiker. I now have a backpack that allows me to carry my camera gear as well as what I need to be safe on a hike. While it is not that much heavier than a regular day backpack, it is still a relief when I set it down by a stream to photograph and take it off my back. However, after I have finished then I must pick it up again and put it back on my back. I was thinking that we do this to ourselves with the burdens we carry that can’t be physically seen. We lay them down only to pick them up again. We never seem to quite lay them down where they need to be, at the feet of Jesus.
Today in my devotional reading (December 18) from Timothy Keller’s book “God's Wisdom for Navigating Life: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Book of Proverbs”, I found these words that suggest one reason we seem to pick our burdens up again:
Only when you see Jesus dying on the cross for your sins can you lay down the ultimate burden, of trying to prove and justify yourself, of trying to earn your self-worth and salvation. The gospel of the cross is the only true wisdom that will give you this rest. “Lay your deadly doing down—down at Jesus’ feet. Stand in him, in him alone, gloriously complete.”
Prayer: (for the devotion for December 18, from Timothy Keller’s Book)
I am weary, and I blame how hard I’m working, but it is more of an inward, spiritual condition. I am working to prove myself, to win approval, to make a name for myself. I am ready to lay down that burden and receive the deep rest that comes from the gospel. Help me to do that.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
One place that I can find peace at least for the moment is the mountains, especially on early mornings when the crowds haven’t made it yet. But I can’t stay in the mountains forever and I need a peace that is more than just a fleeting moment. Paul wrote to his dear friends in Philippi who were facing hard times and gave them a way to find peace in what seems an unusual way. He told them to rejoice always, to develop an attitude of rejoicing, which I think is more than just happiness that results from good circumstances. Rejoice for all the Lord had done for them and then with thanksgiving tell God what they needed. As a result the peace of God which transcends all understanding would guard their hearts and minds. These words teach us also the way to find peace.
Develop in us an attitude of rejoicing in you. Teach us to lay aside our anxieties and replace them with thanksgiving knowing that you will hear our requests and give us peace that surpasses time and place.
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Storms fill most everyone with just a little bit of fear. Sometimes you can see the storm coming or sometimes they come out of a blue sky. While the storm in this story brought fear to experienced sailors, the greatest fear came after Jesus calmed the storm. It was the storm that brought them face to face with the idea that Jesus was no ordinary teacher. Now they must decide who Jesus was and if they were going to follow him. We also must decide who Jesus is. Will we accept him as a good teacher or the Powerful Son of God? Will we awaken him, call on him, and let him calm the storms in our lives?
Jesus, Controller of Storms
We bow in amazement at your power and accept you as Lord. Strengthen our little faith. Calm the storms in our life and bring us the peace that comes from trusting you.
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.
An important part of our recent road trip north was time spent in the Chicago Botanical Garden. Here I experienced the beauty of a garden in a new way. Every plant, every walkway, every statue, and every bench is in its place for a purpose. It is easy to find silent places in a garden, especially a large garden early in the morning, to just sit and wait on God.
While I don’t have a garden as beautiful as the Chicago Garden to go to every day, I do need to learn to sit in silence and wait on God. I think I do hear him in a special way when I can sit in a garden, for it was in a garden where God first put man. It is in the silence of his presence that I find hope and strength to move through the noisy world. Take time today to sit in silence and view God's world if only through a window. Open your heart to him and find hope.
Creator of Gardens
Thank you for the beauty and lessons I find in gardens. Teach me to wait in silence each day for you. My whole being rests in only you, my refuge from the noisy world.
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
The sun sets over the calm, still waters of the lake. It is peaceful here now, but I have seen the lake with choppy waters and a dark threatening sky during a passing thunderstorm. The only true place to find peace in our troubled world is in Jesus Christ. This weekend I came across a beautiful song about peace. I will put the first verse here and here is a link to the song on YouTube sung by Claire Crosby and her dad Dave Crosby and written by McKenna Hixson.
There is peace in Christ;
When we learn of him;
Feel the love he felt for us
When he bore our sins;
Listen to his words;
Let them come alive if we know him as he is
There is peace in Christ
He gives us hope when hope is gone
He gives us strength when we can't go on
He gives us shelter in the storms of life
When there's no peace in earth
There is peace in Christ
God of Peace,
Thank you for the peace that only you can give.
The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.
I left the camper with only my camera and started up the path to the lake. The sun was up but just barely and since it rained during the night a light mist lay over the lake. It was so quiet and still.
It is hard to find quiet in our noisy world. We must make a conscious effort to shut out the noise of the world and listen for the voice of the Good Shepherd. He knows our name, knows us better than we do ourselves, and he is calling us. We will only hear his call when we are quiet and listen. He will go ahead of us for he knows the best way to go.
Quiet my soul and open my ears to hear you calling. Thank you for calling me by name. I want to always follow where you lead. Forgive me when I go my own way and pull me back to your fold.
You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.
There is something about seeing a beautiful sunset that just makes it easier to rest. We have seen the beauty of God’s world and sleep just seems to come much easier. Not every day has just the right amount of clouds in just the right places for that beautiful sunset. Even on days when the clouds cover the sun, if we put or trust in God we find a security that gives us peace and rest in even the most difficult circumstances.
Teach us to trust in you even when our circumstances seem to be filled with darkness. Show us your beauty and give our weary souls the rest that only your peace can give.
For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,
It was late afternoon, the busy dock was closed, and the lake was calm, quiet, and still when I took this picture on our walk around the lake. There was such a sense of rest and peace. But there was no sense of rest or peace when the prophet Isaiah spoke these words to a rebellious people.
Rest is something that can be very hard to find. We want to do a good job and work hard to seek perfection. So many times I hear people call themselves perfectionists and there was a time when I would have called myself the same thing. But I have learned that perfectionism is a burden that I no longer want to carry. When we seek perfection we are seeking to save ourselves by the quality of our work instead of trusting God to save us. We need these words of the Lord spoken through the prophet Isaiah today. We need to return to God when our work becomes our way to salvation and then in quietness and trust we will find true salvation and rest.
"Father, help me to use the gospel on myself to weaken the perfectionism that makes my work a burden. Give me the deep rest of soul that comes to the degree I remember I am saved by faith in Jesus, not by the quality of my work. Amen."
Taken from Timothy Keller’s Book, God's Wisdom for Navigating Life
The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
About This Image:
Waterfalls can be loud and exciting or quiet and calming. I love to walk by quiet streams like this one on Roaring Fork in the Great Smoky Mountains. This verse has been one of my favorite verses for a long time. I love the imagery of God singing over me, like a mother sings over her newborn. But when I went to read this verse again today another phrase spoke to me - "he will quiet you by his love:" I thought how else can we find quiet except when we are sure we are loved. When we need to be quieted, like when we are stressed, isn't it when we are focusing on something other than God's love for us - trying to make our own way instead of trusting him.
For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.
About This Image:
I had seen this tree many times on trips to Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains, but not until this day in the fog did I see its beauty. It is in a field where the horses graze at the beginning of the loop road and I usually rush by to get to more scenic views. This morning the loop road was closed to all but walkers and bicyclists. The fog covered all the business of the field that I usually see and because we were walking, there was no rushing. It was so quiet and still. It is not easy to be still and wait, especially in silence, in our busy world. To wait in silence requires trust in a God who is stronger than you, who loves you with a steadfast love. Silence, an inner stillness, peace, only come when we put our focus on God. It can't be achieved any other way.
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