The simple three letter word – NEW – brings excitement. But new is only new because we have experienced old, it’s the old that prepares us.
As the year comes to a close, I wait in prayer for God’s direction for the coming year. That direction comes from a single word or phrase that He speaks to my heart. Usually anticipation is stirred, yet never is it fully understood till that year is coming to completion. I have found each year builds upon the next.
Examples are found all around us. Every mother, human, bird or animal, prepares for the little one growing within. As she steps into a new season of life, first her body and then environment is readied for that new life. Every skyscraper begins with a plan and slowly rises to its glory as every acquisition and placement is meticulously overseen. And every career is achieved only by understanding and applying subject levels, one at a time.
Each of these examples requires determination, hard work, stuggles and painful failures. However the hoped for outcome drives and encourages the embracing of joy-filled anticipation. We chose not to dwell on the past but to accept that past as preparation; a prerequisite for what is ahead. We look forward to the NEW that stands before us.
So today, as you look back at the past year don’t slam the door with a “good riddance” declaration; instead embrace it as preparation for the NEW that is ahead. Be thankful for your past year of struggle or abundance for it has been your preparation for the NEW – the NEW that a loving God has planned for you. Trust Him that He is preparing you for His plans and purposes. Where ever that may take you, trust that He will make a way.
Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18–19, NIV)
I sit on the shelf patiently expecting and waiting my turn to become whatever the potter desires. The day finally arrives. He lifts me from the shelf and begins the creative process. Expectantly, I sit in the Master’s hands; He warms me as He gently kneads what has always been hard and unbending. My thoughts race. I dream of all that could be, now that He has chosen me. I imagine me as His vessel. What might I become?
The gentleness of His molding suddenly changes in intensity. He pours water over me, squeezing and pushing me into shapes I never expected. He adds more and more water as continual pressure increases, making it nearly impossible to breathe. Wait, this is not what I expected.
I am picked up in His warm hands once more, but this time I am unexpectedly slammed down onto a fast-moving object and my life spins-out-of-control while more water sloshes over and around me. All ability to think or understand what is happening to me vanishes. I only hold on and hope to survive this process.
Time seems to stop as this spinning continues. Without warning, the Masters’ hands reach down amid my whirling confusion; they encircle me, direct and move me where He desires. Something glorious is taking place; the spinning appears to be changing me. The old lump of clay that I was, is now transforming. My lost joy erupts with newfound anticipation of old dreams, dreams of becoming a vessel usable to the Master. The spinning and movement under His hands is exciting. This is it, what I have always waited for. I am becoming His beautiful creation.
The spinning slows and I am sure that I am complete, that I have made it. All that I have endured is over. It’s now time to “kick-back” and “be who He created me to be.” I am lovingly lifted off that uncomfortable spinning wheel and carried with great fan-fare across the vast room and placed at the back of a dark shelf. As day after day passes my excitement wanes. Ok, now what?
The Master seems to have forgotten me; waiting, waiting, and waiting as my once moist, pliable form becomes dry, hard, and crusty. Confusion settles over me as this new process continues. Then one morning He reaches in and pulls me down from the dark shelf, he turns me over inspecting closely every area. My Master has seen me again. He has not forgotten me. He sits with me and lovingly picks up small detail tools and carefully scrapes off the dried pieces that are “just not right” for His plans. It is uncomfortable, but I know these adjustments are coming directly from His hand and must be part of His ultimate process.
I feel the temperature change as the Master walks me across the room again, this time is different, this time the shelf is a rack and the dark quiet place is full of heat that grows stronger with every minute: I am sure I will not make it out of this one the same. I can’t do this anymore; this process is too difficult.
Days pass as I am again left alone, forgotten and struggling with questions, confusion and anxiety; crying out for this to end. Slowly, the heat subsides and fresh air swirls around me. I can breathe again. I notice a change in me, who I am, has solidified. A few more days pass as I rest in this newfound transformation, wondering—Now am I who I was created to be?
The Master again picks me up, dusts off what the heat drew out, turns me over and over in His hands as He admires what the heat has accomplished. We walk over to a new table and this one looks so beautiful; brushes and pots of exquisite shades of color cover it. He places me amongst them and chooses specific colors just for me, each brushstroke a gift. I receive each stroke with elation and expectation. This is His original plan, and I am overjoyed. This is it! I am ready. What does He want me to hold? My dreams of becoming His vessel for His glorious use have now arrived.
I sit and savor the experience of receiving all of His gifts and glory and observe what a beautiful vessel I have become. Yet, the Master returns and lifts me off the table again. I expect Him to place me on a beautiful shelf to be viewed, but I suddenly see Him taking me to a glowing hole. It is growing hotter as He places me on a board and slides me further into the hole. The fire’s heat intensifies and is worse than before. What is happening? I thought this process was complete! I am beautiful and have all of His gifts. Why am I here? What did I do?
As the heat becomes unbearable, something unexpected happens. Instead of fighting the process, something rises inside of me. The previous heat in my life unknowingly accomplished the strength to yield to this extra heat I face today. That faith in the Masters’ plan reached up from inside, accepted and fought forward, embracing whatever was to come from this process. This time, as the heat cools and the board slides into retrieve me, I no longer look at anything but the face of the Master as He smiles at what He removes from the fire. “Your will Lord, not mine. Use this vessel to pour out your love and glory to those around me.Fill me up and pour me out,” escapes from my heart to His.
This analogy of clay in the potter’s hands is much like our lives. We are continually in the process of pressure and heat, changing from who we are to who He wants us to become. The process may seem complete, yet until we hear “well done, good and faithful servant,” that process will continue to be a fight forward, a yielding and a transformation. Ultimately, we can only become a vessel for honorable use, when we can say, “Your will, Lord, not mine. Use this vessel to pour out your love and glory to those around me. Fill me up only to pour me out again.”
(Excerpt from my new book – Hidden by the Brook. Pre-orders now available @ jksanchez.com)
… The famine had been great in Egypt and even harder on those far out into the desert areas. The small group of dirty, tired and hungry men stood before the only man that could help provide food for them and their families. They had made the long journey, hoping for help to survive; now bowing with respect before this unknown man.
He was unrecognizable to them, but Joseph knew who bowed before him: the very brothers who had betrayed him and sold him into slavery twenty-two years ago. The emotions stirred within him – how was he to respond? With wisdom, he questioned them, finding out that his father and youngest brother were still alive and well. He tested them, detained them and gave them a way to prove themselves men of changed integrity. And then provided the much-needed grain at no cost.
His heart was overwhelmed with forgiveness as he overheard their discussions of regret and anguish over what they had done to their brother, still not aware of who it was that stood before them.
Joseph sent them home, and for several months, one brother remained in custody waiting for his brothers to return with their youngest brother for the exchange. As Joseph awaited their return, God continued a work of forgiveness in his heart.
The return with Benjamin, his youngest brother, brought great joy to Joseph, but he devised one more test. However, the emotional response and petition of mercy from his brothers gave way to a flood of forgiveness within him, and he revealed who he was. A heavy silence settled over the room as great fear and anguish swirled in each brothers’ thoughts. But Joseph had already broken off the chains of betrayal that had haunted him for years and had chosen to forgive them.
He compassionately announced, “Do not be distressed because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:5). The forgiveness and restoration between Joseph and his family allowed for years of abundant provision.
The planned purpose of the hand of God’s preparation on a broken, prideful, betrayed young man prevailed. A young man who had submitted himself before God and in faith trusted as he waited for God’s answer. The very survival of multitudes of people, including the Hebrew nation, was accomplished through a life hidden in obscurity – a man hidden in order to preserve life.
As our life stretches before us, we are oblivious of what it will hold. The wonderful surprises send us to the heights of joy, while the devastating losses find us lower than we ever think we can recover from – yet there is God, always there in the midst. We walk in joy and tears – a seemingly diametrically-opposed paradigm – yet in that space between, we find, grow and learn how to live a life of abundance.
The keys to this life of abundance are found in the process. They are found in the dark hidden places. The places where tears flow, where anger and frustration rage, where the despair of hopelessness overtakes us. But it is right there where we find the refuge, our only place to run – into the arms of Jesus. In the process we find His love and forgiveness. That key – the love and forgiveness of Jesus – will release us from prison. It will allow us to walk into a new life – a promised eternal life. The process still must have its way within us, but now we can say, “Yes, Lord.” Submitting under His loving hand will allow us to find another crucial key: forgiveness. This time forgiveness of others.
Joseph had no idea what God’s plan for his life was on that day he found himself at the bottom of a dusty well. Betrayal after betrayal and pain, hurt and prison didn’t deter his knowledge of who he served. His God’s steadfast love was the refuge that lifted and molded him into the man that would be the best one for God’s assignment. You stand in the same place: God’s plan and assignment for your life is before you, – your choice is to trust Him in the process.
Joseph was able to declare, “God sent me to preserve life.” That is an eternal mandate for each of us as we serve our Lord and Savior – Jesus Christ. Getting to our ultimate, completed assignment takes a lifetime of choices.
Those choices are to walk in a life full of continual love, forgiveness, compassion, kindness, humility and patience, along with many other attributes that He will knead into your heart, soul and mind. This kneading will always take place when you are quiet, separated, isolated – hidden in places where He can meet with you undistracted.
During these times He will transform you into the individual that He desires to use – leading you to His assignment, the very one that only you can perform.
Col. 3:12-14 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.And above all these put-on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (ESV)
The old, rusted-out truck rattled to a stop on the back of a flatbed truck. To me, it was ready for the junk yard “crusher”, but to my friend it was a beauty waiting to be revealed. What it would require, would take an unfathomable amount of time and labor. Every screw, bolt and wire, and every scrap of metal would be removed from the interior and exterior. The stripping, scrapping and sanding of every rusty spot would consume months. Pieces unable to be fixed would need to be found – and the finding of those old original parts, would be a job in itself. Bumpers, headlights, seats and even armrests must be exactly right to complete this restoration. At its completion, it couldn’t just look great, it must also be able to function as it should; thus, requiring complete reconstruction of everything under the anticipated, shiny hood. It must be useable – its original purpose must be restored. The end result for the restorer: a stunning transformation from rust-bucket to useable glory.
The word restoration stirs in us an immediate response – one of hope. When we hear it, we anticipate renewal in all areas of our lives; relationships, finances and health are just a few. We expect a quick change, a change that we hope will miraculously transform us, others and our circumstances.
So, when God spoke to my heart and my church, that 2020 would be a year of restoration; I was excited, anticipating all that God would do. Then March came with a deadly virus and a “lockdown.” But now, as 2020 nears its end, I look back and realize that God has been faithful in His promise of restoration.
Restoration is a process – a hard, grueling process. What is true for the restoration of a truck is even more valid for you and me. Each of us have walked through this year differently. The pain and hardships have been very real and daunting. Yet, I have felt the close presence of the Lord through every step. He was there with me; teaching, whispering, encouraging and sometimes carrying me. His transformation in our lives is found in the middle of the stripping, scrapping and sanding – the very process of restoration – the process that this year has accomplished in each of us. We have all gone through that same process, this year.
We have had to be stripped of all that wasn’t important, scrapped of our own opinions and attitudes, and pridefully sanded into a humble, lover-of-His-presence. He is continuing to replace every lost and worn out part, and is carefully re-wiring us to the purposes we were created for. We are changing from an unusable rust-bucket to a son and daughter of the King, ready to carry out His purpose and plan for our lives and those around us. We are becoming His useable glory.
This year of restoration is nearing completion. The restorer desires to reveal and release His beauty, completely restored and ready to be used. Are you ready? Let’s accept this assignment to carry all that He has restored in our lives into a new year, as we are becoming exactly who the restorer designed us to be.
Ps. 23:1-3 The Lord is my best friend and my shepherd. I always have more than enough. He offers a resting place for me in his luxurious love. His tracks take me to an oasis of peace, the quiet brook of bliss. That’s where he restores and revives my life. He opens before me pathways to God’s pleasure and leads me along in his footsteps of righteousness so that I can bring honor to his name. (TPT)
As we sit at the feet of Jesus with our heavy hearts, fears and pain we will find our only true life-line – Jesus.
I Peter 5:7Don’t worry or surrender to your fear. For you have believed in God, now trust and believe in me also. (TPT)
John 14:1 Let him have all your worries and cares, for He is always thinking about you and watching everything that concerns you. (TLB)
These two scriptures have been a training ground for my life. They have encouraged me, have taught me to lean on Jesus, grounded me in trusting God in the midst of chaos, and have been my life-line.
The training process always begins with the small-stuff; learning to walk as you lay your worries, cares and fears at the feet of Jesus; not too hard, right? Then when the medium-sized worries begin to filter into your life you learn to strengthen your resolve and move forward. You’ve got this – this isn’t so bad? These scriptures may now have become a simple platitude.
Well, the training is not complete; the large-ones, the overwhelming worries, cares and fears step into your life. Now, you have to chew on these scriptures, pray them out-loud and spend considerable time at the feet of Jesus; leaving them there over and over again. It’s during these times you will learn a powerful truth, one of fighting forward!
Once you think you have conquered the understanding of these two scriptures, you have a solid foundation. But, there are still Goliath-sized worries ahead. Right now, living in the midst of an unseen virus, you watch in horror as a tsunami of crushing waves strike day after day. Your life has been turned up-side-down and that foundation might find a few cracks from the shaking.
Today in the midst of a pandemic where debilitating fear, pain and anxiety saturate your environment; your resolve begins to dissolve and your armor and strength to fight-forward is slipping. Here, enters the need for your life-line! Here, you have nothing left within yourself but your faith! From here you are able to find your place to fight-forward, only as you continually spend time in Gods presence.
Our sustaining refuge is found at the feet of Jesus. As we wait in His presence, sit at His feet, worship and read His Word, we will find our peace, our faith and our resolve to stand up. It is in this place that we will, again, be able to pick up our armor and willingly move to the front-lines to fight-forward.
There will be days where we will be weak and shaky, where our faith will waver but as we learn where our help comes from, as we learn to live by these scriptures, they will become an encouragement and a grounding of our faith. As we sit at the feet of Jesus with our heavy hearts, fears and pain we will find our only true life-line – Jesus. He is waiting there for you, join me at His feet where you will find the courage and peace to get up and fight-forward.
The fingers of sunrise desperately try to penetrate, but darkness prevails as the landscape is covered with a shroud of fog. Its thickness is palpable to your senses: your eyes unable to focus or find clarity to see the huge tree that lays only feet away, your ears silently unable to absorb any vibration of sound while your body experiences the physical pressure of this weather phenomenon. The feeling of total aloneness settles heavily over all that it encompasses.
Eventually, its end begins to materialize, the sun reaches through and with one sudden rip the curtain is pulled apart, the sun wins as its warmth permeates and lifts off every heavy shred. Where lack of focus and clarity were, suddenly sight is restored; where silence and pressure seemed to reign, the reverberation of life begins to erupt.
Fog is much like the extremely difficult times in life, times when we have no choice but to walk “this” out alone. Those life-altering times, in every form, are overwhelming. Those times when the world seems to shut down and nothing else matters; the unexpected diagnosis of cancer or terminal disease, the death of a loved one, a divorce, a betrayal, a job loss – you know – those ones that take your breath away!
When you find yourself overwhelmed with the fog of life, know that you are not alone, you have a Father God who promises to never leave you or forsake you. In the midst of that darkness He has sent His SON to bring light into every situation. He will bring strength when you have none, hope to your hopelessness and faith in the midst of your doubt. He will faithfully stand beside you in the midst of suffering, covering you with love, washing away the fear that threatens to engulf you.
We have a God who never stops working even when we don’t see it or feel it. He is always there, He is your champion in the dark times, He is your healer, He is your refuge; your hope is found as you look up, stand on His promises and fight forward. Our God always shines through and pulls back the Fog.
John 1:4-5 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (ESV)
Daniel 2:22 he reveals deep and hidden things, he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwell with him. (ESV)
Psalm 28: 7 The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him. (ESV)
Psalm 42: 5 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. (ESV)
II Corinthians 5: 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. (ESV)
One day last summer I found myself singing an old song by Helen Reddy, “I am woman.” I triumphantly pushed forward to finish unloading the second truckload of planting soil into the raised bed. I had just completed the bed using 3000 pounds of landscape blocks the day before – all by myself – a single-handed feat to begin with. As that last wheelbarrow was emptied I was overwhelmed with the goodness and presence of God. The reality of His healing stunned me. As tears ran down my face I surveyed what had been created by a woman living under a diagnosis of debilitating strength, yet here it was. My God had been continually pouring His faithfulness and healing over me as I fought forward every day during the past 3 1/2 years.
I was diagnosed with an inflammatory disease that affected my heart and all of my joints 3 years ago. Over those three years using a small hand shovel to plant flowers in a pot was a huge challenge, filled with severe pain. Side effects of chemo meds as well as assorted other trial medications kept stealing my life from me throughout this process. My faith that God was in control never wavered but there were days that I wondered if my life was done and I had done all that God had called me too. But one day my Rheumatologist suggested another trial medication, one that was a weekly injection in my stomach, I went home and had a real “on my face” discussion with Jesus – if He had more for me to do – then I was going to stand on the promise that HE IS MY HEALER not another awful medication. I had a perspective adjustment that day and chose to FIGHT FORWARD – I knew that He had this, no matter what the symptoms looked like.
I began standing on scriptures that I had known for decades:
Be still and know that I am God – Psalm 46:10
The Joy of the Lord is my strength – Nehemiah 8:10
In the shadow of your wings I will take refuge – Psalm 36:7
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness –
II Corinthians 12:9
So, as I stood there, that afternoon holding a shovel in my hand, the reality of how much God had done in my body overwhelmed me. I had continued to FIGHT FORWARD and trust that HE IS MY HEALER all the while He was quietly restoring my cells, strengthening my muscles, and shrinking inflammation in my joints – bringing freedom where the enemy had been stealing.
Those years were extremely difficult but I have learned to walk in a depth of faith that I wouldn’t trade for anything. If He had not chosen to bring me to the place I stand in today – I would still FIGHT FORWARD and still stand on the truth that HE IS MY HEALER.
No matter what I face – His presence, His love, His grace goes before me.
If you find yourself struggling through life’s overwhelming circumstances, don’t give up, stand strong, and FIGHT FORWARD! Take one day at a time, always believing that He goes before you and know that He is your God, your refuge, your strength and your joy.
This morning my two dachshunds joined me on the couch for my quiet time, one so content to snuggle, stretched out alongside me (from hip to knee). The other one, well, her need was a different story. This little one didn’t want to just lean into me and know that I was there, she required my hand to touch and caress her continually – she needed my attention. Different personalities and different needs at different times but both greatly loved.
We are much the same. We have a loving Heavenly Father that is happy to enjoy time with us either way. The continual presence of Holy Spirit in our lives allows us to snuggle in, stretch out and know that He is there; no need to question or fear. But then, there are times when life has turned upside down, and we are in need! Those times we need to know He is close, He cares and we have His attention. That is when He simply reaches out and touches you, His presence, His continual caress are poured out without question.
So, don’t worry where you are, just lean into Him and He will know your need. Be thankful for a loving God that loves you during all phases of your life journey – the contented and struggling – for He has you carved right into His hands.
Isaiah 49:16 Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands, your walls are continually before me. (ESV)
As children, we have heard the story of Daniel in the lions’ den; how he was thrown into a pit of hungry lions because He chose to worship God and not man. When morning arrived, He was still alive because God had protected him and shut the lions’ mouths.
But while reading the whole story you will find a few more details that we need to consider. God had a plan for Daniels life, it was seen by those around him and deception began. Manipulation ensued, the challenge and betrayal were placed and many others bought into it, leading to the pit. The lions began to snap at his heels in human form long before he was tossed into that pit.
That story still speaks into our lives today; our choice to live a life that is pleasing to God is continually challenged. Each choice you make will find lions’ snapping at your heels; lions’ you least expect. Once your course is set, the enemy will use others to distract and manipulate you. When that doesn’t work, along comes betrayal and whisperings that will drag others along for the ride. Ultimately the pit arrives, if you stand your ground.
Warfare does and will come but remember that just as God had a plan for Daniel, He has a plan for you. There is a plan and a dream buried deep inside of you that the enemy wants to disrupt and destroy; make the hard choices and don’t forget that your God is a God that shuts the mouths of lions’!
If you find yourself headed to the lions’ den, feel their hot breath and hear the snapping of teeth all around you – look up, focus on the face of Jesus and His plan for your life and trust that in the morning you will step out of the pit alive.
Daniel 6:22 My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no harm.”
It began as darkness slipped in, tiny almost unseen flakes of snow falling over the lush green landscape. What change could these single frozen droplets make? But what a surprise waited as the sunrise glistened over what had changed overnight into a breath-taking blanket of white. Those single flakes had given their all, combining to create the beauty before my eyes.
We walk through life waiting for our God planned “big” purpose, our life-assignment to emerge. While all along God has been quietly directing our life with each YES we have intentionally declared to His whispered request. Each time you have loved another, each time you have shared encouragement, each time you have preferred another over yourself, each time you have given; all of these have been like the snowflakes, accumulating into His plan and purpose for transformation.
Don’t wait for the “big” purpose because it won’t begin big. It will begin one flake at a time, with every choice you make to give all that you can, as you say YES to His voice. As you give honor to Jesus every day, your purpose will emerge and you will look back at a life that will have changed the very landscape that you stand in.
Mark 14:8b She has done all that she could to honor me. (TPT)