My husband and I have a bee hive in our backyard, and I have planted many nectar-producing flowers for the bees. We also grow vegetable and berry gardens. Since we welcomed bees into our gardens; the flowers, berries, and herbs have flourished noticeably more. I’m sure the salvia flower stalks and peppermint blossoms bloom longer than they used to before so many bees were relishing closeness with them. The flowers seem to respond and love the bees as much as the bees delight in the flowers and the nectar they produce. Of course we, also, enjoy seeing the well-being of our gardens and eating the honey that results!
Similarly, I believe our relational God longs to commune with us, to create well-being within us, and to influence the course of the future together with us, as we pray.
Our view of God and his providence affects how we pray. If the future is open to God, our prayers and petitions to him can also be open and answered by him in more possible and creative ways than we can begin to imagine. In The Uncontrolling Love of God, Thomas Jay Oord asserts that God has given creatures genuine free will to make choices and to respond to him in ways that affect the future. For that reason, though the future is not pre-determined and known conclusively by God, “the future is full of possibilities, and, being omniscient, God knows them all.” We can live and pray in hope and expectancy. The believer’s life of prayer can be a life of adventure.
This prayer relationship with God reminds me of the relationship I observe in my garden between the flowers and the bees. Deep calls to deep as God calls us to intimate prayer and contemplation with him. As we respond and allow him access, he searches our inner being and comes to know us more and more thoroughly. I believe that to be known by God is to be transformed.
If God is Spirit and omnipresent in every moment of time—all the time everywhere—we can and should pray in the spirit everywhere and all the time.
Because “God lovingly invites creatures and creation to cooperate to enact a future in which well-being is established in surprising and positive ways,” we can and should cooperate with him in faith: praying, trusting, and working toward goodness and his will and kingdom to come. We can be looking for shalom to blossom and grow.
If God’s essence is uncontrolling love, we can and should pray uncontrolling, loving prayers. According to scripture, God actually shares his nature with us. If this nature is essentially kenotic, “self-giving, others-empowering love,” we can pray self-giving, others-empowering prayers.
God is far beyond the comfortable boundaries we have set for him in the past. It’s overwhelming and unsettling at first to consider this, but God is so much bigger than we have believed. How can he also be personal, hearing our prayers, far bigger and far closer than we have imagined? God’s essential being is love and he relates to each of us intimately.
Our open and relational God is calling us to:
As we watch and pray that God will call forth cooperation from—and give shalom to—his people and all of creation, the prayers of a righteous person avail much! We are co-creators of the future with him! He delights in this.
It is much like the bees that seem to draw out more blooms and fruit from my garden. Through prayer we can work with God to see his kingdom grow. Each one who truly cooperates in prayer and action with the Spirit of God increases his kingdom, his will, his working for good and overcoming evil in this world.
“We know the whole creation has been groaning,” kind of like a garden longing to open its petals to sunshine and bees. Perhaps the world is waiting for us to respond to our almighty and ever-present God in open, obedient, watching-for-possibilities prayer. Perhaps the more people respond positively to him, the more grace is available, like a well-pollinated garden. We have been too passive-aggressive, lazily saying “But God is in control,” on one hand, while on the other hand complaining and becoming angry at the way the world is going. God calls us to be active in faith and prayer and love toward him and toward his needy world. I don’t think it’s irreverent to say he hovers over us like a buzzing bee seeking access to our hearts, waiting for them to open their closed petals to him, to give of the nectar of our lives to increase goodness and to sweeten the future.
If it were true that God sees one set future, determined since before time began, we would have a big God. But the open view of God describes a far bigger God! He sees every possibility. He sees how our ongoing, potential actions and choices in every instance may cause repercussions that affect those around us.
When I visited author Marilyn Wentz on her farm, I saw these sheep in a pen. The scene struck me as humorous, as if the one sheep in the foreground was holding a meeting of the flock. She seemed to have their attention. And a discussion seemed to ensue. Many of Marilyn’s (and her mother Millie’s) sheep have names. In All We Like Sheep the two shepherds tell stories of lambs and ewes named Carla, Charlene, Foxy Lady, Scotch, Squirt, Pumpkin, Spring, Teddy Bear, Gomer, Pibb, and Blue.
A blizzard during Easter week (which we had here in Colorado) is a new experience for me. Pure white snow covered the ground when I wanted spring color to dot the landscape. But during this holy week, the pervasive, gleaming whiteness began taking on significance and speaking to my heart. The words of a familiar, Irish poem came to my mind:
As the storm passed and sun shone, the gleaming snow cover became for me a constant reminder of the body of Jesus—his very life—layed down, poured out, for us. As the ground, the trees, even the houses received the crystalline snow driven by the wind, so by faith we can receive Christ’s pure sacrifice, applied to our hearts by the grace of God. This complete, loving, redeeming sacrifice then covers our sins, bringing forgiveness, reconciliation, and the hope of eternal life.
The effects of this “eternal snow” go even farther, however. Today the snow on our yard, trees, and garden has melted and watered the greening grass and the perennials that are waking up for spring. Similarly, the gracious provision of Jesus not only covers us, but seeps into our beings, giving newness of life to our hearts and minds, nourishing our souls, imparting the very character of the One who poured out his life for us.
Now I’m viewing this snow during Easter week as a gift from God. Sometimes visual images and metaphors reach into our hearts more effectively than words of reason. Sometimes they help the words of truth get from our minds to our hearts. How thankful I am for these true words:
“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (I John 4:10)
“I lay down my life…” (John 10:14)
A quote from Scripture:
“They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him.” (Matthew 27:29)
We are told that creation itself moans because of the curse put upon us. Everything bears the mark of humankind’s sin. I don’t know how to understand it—but I believe plants, animals, and all of creation respond in some way to the God who made them.
If a thorn bush could think, I wonder how it might have mourned to know that its branches were used to hurt the very One who had made it. If a bush could have shed tears rather than causing blood to be shed, and a bush could choose, I wonder whether the bush would have chosen tears.
God said to Abraham, “Rise, and walk the land.” (Genesis 13:17)
What better way to become acquainted with the rocks, the dust, the fauna, the flora, the smells, the tastes, the changing colors than to stand in it, walk on it, be sheltered at night by it, rest your body upon it? To let your eyes gaze upon the painted vistas then search for trail signs and footholds to cross a river? To breathe the air upon chilly mountains, over silent deserts, and in redolent valleys?
John and Judy Pex did all this as middle-aged hikers who live in Israel—one as a descendant of Abraham and both as believers in the God of Abraham and his promised seed, Jesus the Messiah.
They walked where Jesus walked and “came away to a quiet place” as he did. They met various people groups who inhabit the land and for whose salvation Jesus gave his life. Judy kept a record of their trek over the 600-mile Israel Trail—what they saw, the people they met, and the insights they received. Then Cladach helped them share this experience with people around the earth through the book, Walk the Land : A Journey on Foot through Israel.
In a sense, a travel memoir is a gift to those who would love to go but probably never will. I enjoyed editing and designing this book and experiencing the varied land and people groups along the Israel Trail, vicariously. Here are a few of my favorite photos from Walk the Land by Judith Galblum Pex.
Are you experiencing joy, even when your path may lead through trials, disappointments, and losses? This kind of joy is infectious. With this joy you can “brighten the corner where you are.”
As a young teen in my father’s church I remember one old lady who stood in every testimony service to give an account of all her woes. Then in a mournful voice she would conclude, “But the joy of the Lord is my strength.”
Although my generation never thought we’d get old, the thought must have crossed my mind: “Is that what I have to look forward to, when I’m a ‘mature saint’?”
Since then I’ve met truly joyful elderly Christians who inspire me to focus on the gifts of each moment and on our abounding hopes for the future. Likewise, I’ve met Christians of all ages with disabilities who focus on their abilities and using with abandon the gifts they have (I had a wheelchair-bound friend who both painted and played basketball). I’ve met young mothers and fathers who have lost babies, or who face the fatality of serious cancers, but focus on unseen hopes, on loving and enjoying loved ones while they have life.
I’ve also witnessed this kind of God-created joy in nature. As children, my sister and I had a little dog named Buster who joyously followed our escapades in the neighborhood and in the vacant lot near the parsonage. Whether we were running, skipping, skating, riding bikes, walking on stilts … Buster was there. But trouble lurked in stickery patches where goatheads pierced his little paws. He never cried or stopped. Just kept running on three legs. More than once I saw him holding up a second paw and running on two legs! We hurried to his rescue and removed the thorn(s). But I do believe that, if he had stickers in three paws, he would have tried his best to hop along on one leg. It wouldn’t have surprised me—much—knowing Buster.
Nature—including our pets—can speak to us about the Creator’s ways and His provisions. We are drawn to nature photos for their calming, inspiring effect. These—and other types of photos—can add zing to blog posts and books. For instance, visual treasures—both of nature and other subjects—reside within many Cladach books.
In the next few weeks I’ll dig for these treasures and share my favorites here.
Today I present two black-and-white photos from Walking In Trust : Lessons Learned with my Blind Dog by Gayle M. Irwin (above and below). These photos show the joy of a dog named Sage as she experienced life and navigated her environment. Blindness didn’t stop her—or her people—from adventures (that you can read about in the book).
Who would think—from these photos—that Sage the Springer Spaniel was totally blind?
Sage inspires us to live fully, this moment, in the joy of the Lord.
GREELEY, COLO.—Colorado Book Award 2014 finalist Marilyn Bay Wentz, Strasburg, Colo., has teamed up with her mother, Mildred Nelson Bay, Eaton, Colo., to write a series of sheep stories and the lessons both women have learned from their collective seven decades of raising lambs commercially. All We Like Sheep: Lessons from the Sheepfold was released Sept. 15 by Cladach Publishing.
Wentz, a journalist whose first book, Prairie Grace (historical fiction set in 1864 Colorado Territory) was an award finalist, credits her mother as her mentor in both writing and sheep herding. Wentz says, “It was an amazing experience to write this book with my mother, considering her depth of knowledge, her love of both sheep and the Bible, and her gentle humor.”
All We Like Sheep, a mix of creative memoir and Bible-centered devotional, was conceived from the heart and experience of this mother-daughter duo. “People see flocks of sheep grazing in the mountains or on the plains but understand little about the joys and trials of herding sheep,” says Bay. “Stories in All We Like Sheep: Lessons from the Sheepfold help the reader understand sleepless nights of lambing, attacks on the ewes by rogue dogs and coyotes, the bond experienced when the lambs respond to the shepherd’s voice, or how sheep protect themselves and ewes always recognize their own lambs.”
According to Catherine Lawton, Cladach editor and publisher of the book, All We Like Sheep: Lessons from the Sheepfold closes the experiential gap between those who farm sheep, those who enjoy seeing pastoral scenes of sheep, and those who would like to better understand why the Bible so often mentions sheep (over 500 times).
Lawton adds, “These women are talented storytellers. Christian readers, especially, will appreciate the spiritual and biblical insights that Wentz and Bay have gleaned from their sheep-herding experiences. Each story/chapter closes with questions ‘to ponder’ and a short prayer. Photos from the sheep farm are sprinkled throughout the book.”
Chapter titles include: “Ice Baby,” “A Lamb Called ‘Her’,” “The Little Ewe Who Thought She Could,” “Keep Out the Thief,” “It’s All About the Smell,” “Eternity in Our Hearts.”
Marilyn Bay Wentz grew up on the property her parents still farm northeast of Eaton but has lived in rural Strasburg for nearly two decades. She has written hundreds of news releases and articles for agricultural organizations and other clients. Mildred Nelson Bay and husband, Marvin, have farmed since 1970. She has been active in her local church, AWANA and Gideons, International, and has written articles for regional publications.
All We Like Sheep, Lessons from the Sheepfold, is available in softcover and Kindle from Amazon as well as in softcover at specialty shops. More information about Marilyn Bay Wentz and her books can be found at http://www.MarilynBayWentz.com and http://www.cladach.com/all-we-like-sheep/.
I hear someone saying, “Lambs are cute and woolly, and all that. But aren’t sheep ‘dumb’ and helpless creatures? I’m not sure I want to be like a sheep.”
In answer, I’ll offer a few snippets of Bible verses:
“I am the Good Shepherd.”
“My sheep hear my voice.”
“Like sheep without a shepherd”
“Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing.”
“The Lord is my shepherd.”
“He leads me beside still waters.”
“He makes me lie down in green pastures.”
“His rod and staff comfort me.”
“We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.”
“We all, like sheep, have gone astray.”
“I lay down my life for the sheep.”
“Oh. Well. When He puts it that way … I’ll follow Him like a sheep if that’s what it takes to hear His voice, know His goodness, enjoy those green pastures and still waters, live the life He made possible by laying down His own. … But, what does that mean in real life? for me? How does this sheep thing work?”
I’m glad you asked. God the Father gave us this picture of His sheep in His pastures. He even sent His Son to be the Lamb that takes away the sins of the world. But He knew it would be hard for us to fathom such love and all the nuances of such a lamb-like life of trust. So He provided human under-shepherds. And He provided some earthy, mucking-in-the-barn and traipsing-in-the-pastures, shepherds of flocks. These people know sheep. They can tell us a lot about those creatures that God says we are like.
“I’ll bet those shepherds could tell some stories! From what the Bible says, sheep can get into a lot of trouble.”
In fact, I have two friends who are shepherds of sheep. Their names are Marilyn and Millie, two women who have raised thousands of lambs and tended flocks on their farms in Colorado. They have given names to many of their lambs and gotten to know their individual sheep quirks and personalities. They’ve nursed sick sheep, bottle-fed orphan lambs, called flocks in from the pasture, protected them from marauding dogs and hungry coyotes. They’ve laughed at sheep antics and cried over their losses and vulnerabilities.
“I’d like to meet those shepherdesses and visit the sheep farm, but I don’t suppose I ever will.”
But you can! Vicariously. Just read Marilyn and Millie’s book of sheep stories. They’ll even help you better understand how to follow the Good Shepherd “like a sheep of His pasture.”
“Great! Where can I get their book?”
And you can find out more here:
Remember, keep listening for the Shepherd’s voice. You can trust Him implicitly!