The Sunday morning worship team’s rendition of “What a friend we have in Jesus” was all it took for the tears to start falling. I just couldn’t help but remember the days when I stood next to my Mamaw, singing that same song in a little white wooden country church. As we held hands, and I looked up at her, my heart was full of Jesus and I was happy.
A tap on my shoulder brought me back to my balcony seat in our large red brick church building where I now stand, feeling all alone, despite the capacity crowd.
I don’t know if a “walk in the wilderness” is ever something you really expect, but ours was most certainly a summer surprise. We were grateful for God’s providential provision, yet caught off guard by how easily our regular routines could be uprooted when I returned to an all-consuming work schedule. My freedom to be flexible for our family was temporarily placed on hold, and it was harder on all of us than we ever imagined.
I quickly confess that I began to stray away from God like the sheep we are described in the Bible to be. I was headed for greener pastures… one bite at a time…both eyes open. There didn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to eat right, exercise or get a good night’s sleep; and that added to the rising level of stress I brought back into our home. But we knew it was a necessary season of sacrifice, so we all moved through the motions.
In two shorts months, the morning quiet time I covet with God went from an hour to 20 minutes to five minutes to none at all. Our family prayer time became a quick drop of the knees to recite The Lord’s Prayer, and pop back up in order to get on with the days demands. Even as it was happening, I knew better, and I knew what the end result would be. It was like grasping the hand of someone trying to save me as I was falling away all on my own.
As the tears fill my eyes, I fasten my gaze on the trees outside the big sanctuary windows so no one can see me. I know I can regain my composure quickly, but at the moment, I just feel empty.
I turn to respond to the tap on my shoulder, and there stands our pastor’s wife, like an angel of light, letting me know that God has sent her to the balcony, that He is near…that He sees me…that He knows what has happened…that He is still my refuge and strength. And, although I have felt alone out in the dry dusty desert where I chose to walk, the rains are on their way, and I will once again be able to stand before Him and soak up His living water.
“Oh what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.”
It was only a few weeks later when I was blessed to be able to attend a women’s retreat where we were encouraged to stop for a time in order to immerse ourselves in God’s goodness. I have to admit, I still walked through most of the weekend telling myself, “Been here, done this, made the necklace.” Despite my desire to feel God’s presence and hear His word, I was much more in the mood to hang out with my roommate, walk in the woods and soak up what remained of the autumn sunshine. The “mountain-top” experience I have come to know and love at these retreats just wasn’t happening for me. So, I turned my attention to some of the other women. First timers were finding they could leave this retreat with stronger convictions to stand confidently at their crossroads. Tears were flowing as some women realized they had just come through a season of testing but had stood firm and would return home with even more determination. Women, who knew no one when they arrived, were exchanging email addresses and cell phone numbers with their new friends.
I sat in the front row wishing I knew exactly why I was here. It was almost over, and like a much-needed vacation, it had gone way too fast. Then a young woman stepped forward with these words:
My soul is a dry parched land
and my mind is a shattered piece of glass
I cough out the dust
and kick the broken shards to the sky
Oh Lord, Gather me up
Oh Lord, fill my spirit
Oh Lord, Gather me up
Oh Lord, Quench my thirsty soul
My feet won’t move toward you
and my hands are fists swinging wide
I scream out your name in pain
and cry out for healing rains
Oh Lord, Gather me up
Oh Lord, quench my thirsty soul
Oh Lord, Gather me up!
She was like another angel of light delivering the message again. He is near… He sees us…He knows what has happened…and He is still our refuge and strength. Although we often feel alone, out in the dry dusty desert where we choose to walk, the rains are on their way, and we will once again be able to stand before Him and soak up His living water.
What a friend we have in Jesus, All our sins and grief to bear! What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer! Oh, what peace we often forfeit, Oh, what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry Everything to God in prayer!
Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged—Take it to the Lord in prayer. Can we find a friend so faithful, Who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness; Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Are we weak and heavy-laden, cumbered with a load of care? Precious Savior, still our refuge— Take it to the Lord in prayer. Do thy friends despise, forsake thee? Take it to the Lord in prayer! In His arms He’ll take and shield thee, Thou wilt find a solace there.
Blessed Savior, Thou hast promised, Thou wilt all our burdens bear; May we ever, Lord, be bringing All to Thee in earnest prayer. Soon in glory bright, unclouded, There will be no need for prayer— Rapture, praise, and endless worship Will be our sweet portion there.
No matter where you are, no matter how worn out, weary and spent you must feel, God is faithful to deliver you. We are the ones who get out on a limb, stand at the edge of a cliff and allow ourselves to empty out into the lives of others and the demands of our days.
But Jesus is always there waiting for our return.
It seems the more I write about Him, the more I return to thoughts of my childhood. I wonder if it has anything to do with the way God wants us to come to Him.
I pass on to you the words our pastor’s wife left me with that Sunday morning.
“Stand in the rain, sister, stand in the rain!”
(Gather Me Up/2011-Melissa Duckworth)
(What a Friend We Have in Jesus/1855-Joseph M. Scriven)
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