“Come Holy Spirit, fill me with Your fire so that I can be more like You; help me, I trust You. Father, open my eyes so that I may see You clearly. Open my ears so that I may hear You soundly. Open my mind so that I may understand You more. Open my heart so that I may love You fully. Open my hands so that I may give generously and receive humbly, in Jesus‘ name, Amen.“
Today‘s reading: Acts 11:19-14:7
And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. Recognizing Peter‘s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate. Acts 12:13-14
So, you know how yesterday I was talking about my personality and how when I get my sights set on something I just bulldoze through things to make sure that I get accomplished what I have set in my sights to accomplish? Yeah, I no more than finished writing about that, and then I did it! It was a good thing, but still, it‘s just who I am. Yesterday I was Rhoda, my Lord knocked on the door of my heart with an idea for a new photography branch for my ministry and I was so excited about it that I forgot to open the door and let Him in!!!
I have always loved photography, especially landscapes. I took photography in 4H when I was younger and that was pretty much the extent of my experience until my husband and I moved to the Chicago-land area so that he could go back to school. We just aren‘t city people. Both of us were raised in the country, we love large fields blowing in the breeze and quiet dirt roads. When we moved to the big city I missed the wild-life and the flowers, but mostly I missed the large trees. All my life I‘ve loved God‘s creation, but during that time in my life when I was so surrounded with cement, metal and glass I really found out just how much I love nature. And that‘s when I picked up my camera and started taking pictures of God. I had to search for Him in that place, not that the people I worked with weren‘t great, because they were, but because the natural creation that was made with God‘s hands alone was so scarce. I longed for the openness of home and was amazed at how, through the lens of a camera, I could catch glimpses of home through nature. I photographed flowers, the few I could find, mulch, shapes in the cement, wooden table tops, but mostly I photographed the sky!
The sky was the one thing that even in such a foreign place; it was the same there as it was at home. The clouds were puffy and white just like at home. Or it would be dark and looming just like at home before a rain storm. The wind blew them the same and the sun streamed through them down onto me the same as at home too. I found so much comfort and solace in staring at the sky during that time. That was a very dark time in my life; I was putting my husband through school by working as a daycare teacher. At the same time we discovered that I had a thyroid problem and figuring out what dosage my medication should be was proving extraordinarily difficult. I was absolutely exhausted ALL the time, so much so that I could barely walk up the three flights of stairs to our apartment at the end of the night. I‘d get to the top and I could barely breathe and could see stars. Because my husband was working and going to school I really never got to see him, so our relationship became more of a living arrangement than a marriage. We didn‘t live through that situation, we survived it. And we brought a lot of scars home with us when his schooling was over too.
Through that dark time there were two things that brought me great joy, photographing nature and music. At the time I was working in a church daycare and one day several men (a rarity in a day care) came downstairs to the classrooms where I worked. They went into one of the empty classrooms and came out with an old battered piano. Curious beyond measure I asked them what on earth they were doing and they replied “Pastor asked us to carry it out to the dumpster.“ I almost cried at the thought of an almost perfectly good piano getting thrown in the trash! I had always wanted a piano of my own and here was one they were going the throw away! I asked them to give me ten minutes, and they happily agreed. Go figure, it was a piano after all; they weren‘t looking forward to carrying it up the stairs to remove it from the building! I literally raced up to the pastor‘s office to throw myself at his mercy and ask him to allow the neglected piano to stay in my room. I knew I didn‘t have space in our apartment for a piano, but I had PLENTY of space in my giant classroom, which was almost the same size as my apartment! Plus with the addition of a piano I would be able to play songs for my kids to sing along to! How cool would that be??? (I was overestimating my abilities as a piano player at the time, but I was excited and really didn‘t care that much about the kids at the moment, God was doing this for me!) Although the pastor was a little disappointed that he wasn‘t getting rid of this old piano today, he was happy to see my enthusiasm about it and simply couldn‘t refuse my passionate request. I practically skipped back down the stairs to tell the men that they got to deliver it to my classroom instead of having to carry it up the stairs and outside. I think they were about as excited as I was! In the days to come I spent an hour every day playing that piano after work. I was finding music online and printing it off at home, then bringing it to work and practicing on the piano after the kids left at night. During that one quiet hour of my day, I didn‘t pray with my mouth or even in my head, but I‘m pretty sure I was praying with my fingers. The music penetrated my soul; it calmed me and soothed away the stress. I was by no means a good pianist, but it wasn‘t the success of my fingers that brought me peace, it was being alone with God. It was taking the time for myself, in that period when I was living everyone else. Photography and Piano were the only things that I did for me. They were what brought me joy and peace, and when I didn‘t do them, I was agitated and frustrated.
Since then it‘s always bothered me that I haven‘t done much with the pictures I took during that time. For the most part they‘re just hanging out on my computer. There are three that have successfully made it from my computer into my life. One I turned into a postcard for friends going through a rough time, it has Jeremiah 29:11 on it. Another I turned into a poster that has the “worry section“ from Matthew, it hangs above our bed as a constant reminder to me that if God clothes the lilies of the valley with more splendor than Solomon then how much more will He provide clothes for me? And He has! The third photo is the photo that was at the end of yesterday‘s blog, For nothing is impossible with God. When God first gave me the itch to write and planted that dream in my heart of becoming a missionary mom He had me pull that photo off my computer and onto the wall right in front of me while I sit at my desk and work. Constantly reminding me to resist the doubt that the Enemy throws into my life to try and convince me that something isn‘t possible for me or our ministry. A while back we got some new-to-us furniture and rearranged our library where I was working, in the move that picture got taken down and lost. And ya know, I‘ve felt the difference! During that time I struggled to fight the Enemy‘s attacks against me, I lost a lot of hope that our ministry would ever take off. I was forgetting to remember that NOTHING is impossible with God!
In today‘s reading, Herod had just killed one of the apostles and taken Peter captive in order to kill him as well. Peter was in what most of us would consider a fairly impossible situation. But not for God! God had Peter‘s brothers and sisters in Christ praying earnestly for him. And I have to point out that Jesus Himself had also let Peter in on a secret, that he would live to a ripe old age where others would have to dress him and take him places he didn‘t want to go, remember John 21:15-19. So we, as the readers know that Peter‘s gonna get out of this no-win situation, but HOW is the real question. I love how Acts 12:5 starts to tell us about the situation that Peter was in: So Peter was kept in prison, BUT earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church. I just love those “buts“ in scripture! You know, where there‘s this really hopeless situation and then it gets followed with a BUT GOD. There was Peter, not just in a prison cell alone in the middle of the night, but he was guarded by FOUR squads of soldiers, he was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. Now, that‘s what I call an impossible situation! There was honestly no human way to escape. Peter could never have done it alone, and even if his friends had attempted a prison break, they most likely wouldn‘t have been successful.
His friends knew the real way to get him saved from this life and death circumstance, prayer! Appeal to the only force that has the power to help us out of impossible situations. Just like Mary we may be looking at the things God has told us and at our situations and thinking “How can this be since I am a virgin?“ And that‘s when God answers us “Ahhh, but my Beloved, NOTHING is impossible for Me! Trust Me, I can handle this.“ Which leaves us with only one response “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to YOUR WORD.“ (Luke 1:34-38)
When we surrender our impossible situations over to the Lord, He makes them possible! Peter‘s friends prayed, and while the scripture isn‘t specific about the fact that God heard their prayers, it‘s evident in the manner in which the information is shared with us. The simple evidence that their prayers are mentioned tells us that God heard them. God hears our prayers, all of them, all of the time. God hears them, and He sends the help that we need. Keeping in mind that it might not take the form that we want or expect, but He always answers our prayers with what we need. And what Peter needed was a miracle! God sent the help that he needed to get out of that impossible situation in the form of an angel.
One of my favorite verses in this story is verse seven: And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.“ And the chains fell off his hands. There was no toil involved, no searching for the keys, or “be quiet, don‘t wake the guards“, just a smack to the side to wake him up and then an abrupt “Get up! Quick!“ and the chains that bound him to this impossible situation just fell off! They just fell off!!! My friends, prayer does that, it makes the chains binding us to our own impossible situations simply fall off, in Jesus‘ name! Hallelujah! What is impossible for man is possible for God! No, it‘s not just possible for God, it‘s EASY for God, because, well, He is GOD.