Resting Between His Shoulders

It’s 6 a.m., and I have settled into a chair near the wide open back door where I can feel the coastal breezes waft in, and hear the first bird songs of the morning. As usual, I have my creamy tea in hand. After greeting the Lord with “Good morning,” I ask, “What do you want us to do today, Lord?” The answer comes, 

“Rest in my love.”

Tears of relief and joy well up. Relief, because I realize I am a little on the weary side this morning. I don’t know how much I need to rest with Him until I hear the words. Joy, because this is the God who saved me and with whom I share life. 

I lean back, and the words of Moses bubble up to the surface of my mind: “The one the Lord loves rests between His shoulders.” This is part of the blessing/destiny Moses spoke over the tribe of Benjamin — the youngest of Israel’s sons, the baby of the family, who forever in my mind and theology represents the child of God. The greater blessing says, “The beloved of the Lord rests secure in Him, for He shields him all day long. And the one the Lord loves rests between His shoulders.” (Deuteronomy 33:12)

I know these words by heart, having claimed them as my own heritage, in faith. And in response to this faith — that the Lord loves it when we lean against Him in childlike faith and presumption of His tender love for us — the Lord has invited me to rest anew in His love. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this invitation. 

How did I come to faith in this way of being with the Lord? These words, among many others in Scripture, which the Holy Spirit has woven together in my heart over years of seeking to know this God. It is like a garment I wear now, made seamless by Jesus’ invitation, “Come to me, all who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest…” together with His admonition, “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom like a little child will never enter it.” 

The kingdom of God is many marvelous things, and I’m sure I’ve only discovered a fraction of them. But I am quite sure that chief among them is resting between God’s shoulders, enjoying His love, in the un-self-conscious faith of a child who is convinced Daddy loves her.


The topic of being childlike with God, and being established in His love, is a major theme of Tonia’s book, “They Will All Know Me,”
available on Amazon.com and in the Shammah Book Store.

God Keeps Us

Bible-on-deskI once had a dear friend who loved “to keep Christmas.” As the season drew near she would begin preparing for it, cleaning house, rearranging things to make room for a display of her huge nativity collection, shopping for gifts, writing cards, setting her December schedule around activities with friends and at church. By the time December came, Patrice had everything in place, wrapped and done, so she could then tend to keeping Christmas in her favorite way: in private daily devotions to Jesus, special Scriptures and Advent calendar readings; in public church activities with family and friends. She did all this to rebuild in her heart anew each year the childlike sense of anticipation and wonder over Emmanuel, God with us. Patrice loved Jesus with all her heart, and “keeping Christmas” was one of her favorite ways of showing it. Before I knew her I’d never heard the word “keep” used this way, as a reference to how one carefully observes a thing of great importance, preparing for it, attending to it in every detail, giving it priority. To “keep Christmas” meant all that to her, and came to mean that to me. She might remark of someone, “They like Christmas, but they don’t really keep Christmas, you know.”

Against this backdrop, as I studied God’s covenant ways with his people, I noticed something: God uses the word keep in precisely the same way. The began to come on when I read 1 Samuel 2:9, where Hannah says of the Lord:

He keeps the feet of His godly ones… (NAS)

When I first read this I Immediately thought of Patrice and her devotion to observe Christmas. Could “keeps” have the same meaning here? I just had to know, so I looked it up in my trusty Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible.

A Word Study: Shamar

The word “keeps” is the Hebrew word shamar, which means to hedge around something in order to keep, guard, preserve, tend to or be attentive to (i.e. “keep a promise”). Hebrew scholar Spiros Zodhiates says this is an important Hebrew verb appearing 470 times in the Old Testament, the first of which is Genesis 2:15, where it refers to the tending or exercising of great care over the garden in Eden. Zodhiates comments, “In a religious vein, shamar expresses the careful attention which was paid to the obligations of a covenant, to laws or to statutes. Abraham gave orders to his children to ‘keep’ the way of the Lord in Genesis 18:29.”*

When Hannah said, “He keeps the feet of His godly ones,” she was praising Him for watching over the path of His beloved children, ever at work to steer our footsteps into His best will, for our joy and for His glory. I believe the Spirit of the Lord is continually stirring in our hearts to know and do what the Lord wants (which Paul actually says in Philippians 2:13). However, the Lord does this so gently — without a hint of manipulation or encroaching on our freedom — that such guidance can go unnoticed by the inattentive child of God.

The Spirit is always trying to lead you. As one of God’s beloveds, He keeps you, watching personally over every contemplation of your heart and mind, hoping you will be attentive to His presence and guidance. He is ready to help you to what is right, good, and wise in all matters large and small.

“But,” you might say, “I haven’t been keeping devotion to God lately, and Hannah said that He keeps the feet of His ‘godly ones.’ I’m sure I don’t qualify as one of those right now.”

The fact is, you are one of His godly ones if you are in Christ! The Hebrew word underlying this phrase refers to those who are in covenant with God. So while yes, you should absolutely live in an upright and devoted manner with the Lord, your failure to do so doesn’t cause Him to shut down on His faithful devotion to guide you. After all, that would defeat His purpose — He always wants to guide you right back into His ways. Never forget that God’s faithfulness is based upon His character, not yours.

Jesus said to His disciples:

“Abide in my love. If you keep my commands, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love.” (John 15:9-10 NASB)

Here is truth: God is always keeping the feet of His beloved children, watching over them.

Here is truth: God has given us free will to walk where we wish and choose whatever we want.

Here is truth: The one who believes in God’s guidance will be attentive to the Spirit within, and find that guidance always at hand. Keeping God’s ways and commands will keep us in His love. Abundant life is not guaranteed to all who wear the name “Christian”; It is the reward of the yielded, obedient child, who abides in the love of God.

This is the reciprocal covenant life we are offered through Jesus Christ: God tends to our lives with all diligence; we tend to His life with all diligence. This is where life abounds. Shamar is another word among many that has great meaning in the context of covenant relationship — which is exactly what we have with the Lord, through Jesus Christ. (Explained in detail in my new book, They Will All Know Me.) I think I shall add shamar to my Covenant Glossary.

On His side of the equation, God keeps our covenant relationship with all devotion. Let us “keep faith” with Him the same way Patrice kept Christmas.

*Lexical Aids to the Old Testament, Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible, New American Standard Bible, Editor Spiros Zodhiates, Th.D.

Why I’m Excited About The New Book

I know what you’re thinking: “Of course she’s excited about the new book — she wrote it!”

True. But the response we are getting to this book is greater than any other book we have published so far. In fact, I was thrilled when the team who helped me edit the book ordered it by the case-full when it was published, because they wanted to give a copy to everyone they love or mentor. And though they had all each read it, they couldn’t wait to read it again!

I hear people testifying already of how it is plugging into their hunger for something more with God that has eluded them so far. People are finding hope in They Will All Know Me that they can know God and that knowing Him will nourish them in all the ways they have been left hungry.

I don’t say these things to brag on me, I say them to rejoice in the partnership of expression that I believe began in His heart and flowed over into mine, for your sake… because Jesus doesn’t just love you, He LOVES you! He wants to share life with you…. NOW! I believe He wanted this book written to give hope to hungry hearts who have been left malnourished by the current widespread model of church and Christianity, which typically teaches ABOUT God more than how to really KNOW God.

TWAKM Cover FrontEternal life is what Jesus suffered for us to receive, and in John 17:2-3 He defined eternal life as knowing the Father and Jesus Christ. This book is all about the full message of this new life, about not settling for anything less than knowing God in personal experience, and sharing my stories of how I learned to know God so far and how that has changed my heart and life… which it has, like nothing else could

There are oodles of great books out there, and this is just one. But God has a target for every book He stirs one of His children to write, and we pray daily for this one to find HIS target. I often feel the Lord’s love for His people, and I felt it daily in waves as we wrote this book together. I praise the Lord for His unfailing love and His passion to find every possible way to get the word out!

 

Taking Care of Business

Covenant relationship looks like this: if I give of myself to take care of my covenant partner, tending to what is important to them; and they give themselves tending to what is important and needful to me, we are both satisfied! We love well. We have mutual joy. There will be no no lack, no sorrow, no striving. We both have rest in the heart of the other and in all that concerns us. All expressions of rest — such as safety, provision, nurture, love — are met in this kind of relationship.

I’ve learned this more than once in my walk with God, but especially when we were needing to move to the Texas coast in 2013 to be near my parents to help care for them. We needed to find a new home, and I wanted to go out and spend all effort and time finding it NOW. Yet life kept happening, and getting in the way! People kept needing things that stopped us from going at our search full speed ahead. I stewed and fretted some, with the Lord occasionally reassuring me that he had already secured a home for us.

I believed, yet still, in all honesty, it was hard to focus my attention on anything but finding that new home, until one day the Spirit dropped these words into my spirit: “Be about my business, and I will be about yours.” The Lord has a way of saying the one thing that changes everything. He had things we needed to do for him, things with and for people. I wish I had a dollar for every time the Lord has revealed that it isn’t people I am pushing against, it is Him!

The Lord reminded me that I could REST concerning our great need, because He was at work securing it all for us. Meanwhile, He needed me to be about His business in a wholehearted way, tending to the people he wanted to love on through us.

I realized what a perfect relationship this is, this reciprocal covenant love and care. It nips selfishness and self-centeredness in the bud. Joy seldom fails to come when you give of yourself to someone else. One may find some pleasure in giving themselves what they need, but nothing like the pure joy of giving oneself for others.

So, as we waited for our whole lives to be moved and rearranged, tending to my Father’s business produced in me joy, and rest, and hope, and fruitfulness. It was a good season, and my heart relaxed into being fully present for the people in our lives. The Lord was served, the people on His heart were served, and He did indeed secure for us the most delightful, perfect home here on the coast. It all came together in just the right time, and I hate to think of what we might have “settled for” in our own impatience and striving! I am so glad we did not, that he gave us the grace to rest both in what He promised and asked of us in those days.

So be about the Good Lord’s business, and He will always be about yours. That is covenant faithfulness, covenant care, covenant love. That is taking care of business, God’s way.

Knowing Is Everything

You know you’re in a “season” when weeks go by and the Spirit keeps you focused on the same thing, no matter what you are reading. The work of this season of my life in Christ is to keep speaking to my audience about the importance of knowing God. I do not really know who my audience is these days… But I must be faithful to the source of my joy and keep talking of what we share that is the source of that joy… Knowing Him.

On my side of the equation, it is a terribly flawed relationship. I am far less consistent in my devotion to my Lord and Friend than he deserves. Yet this I know of Him: the right response to every failure of mine is to keep running back to Him, because His gracious self always forgives. He who told us to forgive 7 times 70 (I.e., 490, also known as “too many to count”) does so himself, because there is no hypocrisy in him, not a hint.

So I awaken every day to my ever present Friend and the offer to know Him, and the New Covenant promise to know Him. To live worthy of that great honor is also, I have learned, the means by which every thing promised by Him is realized — the peace, the wisdom, the soul’s rest, the security and safety. These were never designed to be available apart from knowing God, not in any substantial and enduring way.

I saw something new in the Scripture last night about knowing God — that our so-called natural desires, the will to do right or wrong, to crave what is good or what is evil, is either supported or abandoned by the Lord, in response to our actual choices. It is in Romans 1:28, and reading it in the CJB (Complete Jewish Bible) translation made it abundantly clear: “…since they have not considered God worth knowing, God has given them up to worthless ways of thinking; so that they do improper things.”

The immediate context is those who choose to engage in what God considers sexual perversion, but it is surely a general principle as well, an insight into how God works in response to our choices. I have seen ample evidence in the Bible that God essentially gives us what we really want. In fact, My students will verify that I am fond of saying God doesn’t need to come up with a punishment for our sin, he just lets us have what we really want and that choice will eventually punish us by its natural consequences.

So that concept is well established in my mind, but I have never before seen the very inclination towards good or evil connected so clearly to our value or lack of value for knowing God. It is tempting to think we are pretty much on our own when it comes to the inward struggle of choosing right or wrong, but this is not true. Philippians 2:13 negates this idea when it says, “…for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (NASB).

This I know of God also: he is not quick to give us over to our bad choices. He is long suffering. He is seen repeatedly in Scripture giving his people an incredible number of chances to choose what is right before “giving them over.” Yet, if we stubbornly adhere to a lifestyle of “not considering God worth knowing,” the day will come when God will cease his efforts to turn you towards his heart and totally let you have a life without Him. And there is a terrifying list of possibilities in the verses immediately following Romans 1:28…. All shades of evil character. You don’t want to become that person!

The wonderfully positive side of this truth is that when God sees any movement in your heart and mind towards the desire to know him, his Spirit steps right up and says, “Here, let me help you!”

Hoping in the Goodness of God

I still remember vividly the shock I felt the first time I read these words:

“As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No-one is good– except God alone.” Mark 10:17-18, NIV.

How could Jesus say this, when Scriptures’ unanimous testimony elsewhere is that he never sinned against man or God in his earthbound, human life? I was stunned, and determined to understand what made him utter these words. Here is what I have learned:

The first layer of truth is that he carried the most humble attitude about himself, even knowing he was the Son of God, called to be the Savior of the world.

But the next layer of truth is that goodness — through and through, steadfast, unchanging goodness — is found in no human being. And this presents a great problem for us earth-dwellers, who were made by our creator to crave and rejoice in goodness.

The failure to find goodness in our face-to-face relationships with others provokes two different responses, one being that when people fail us, crushing our faith in them, we easily default to losing hope in God as well. When John the Apostle wrote, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us,” he was acknowledging the connection that invariably exists between our faith in God and our faith in people, to love us well.

Because the Holy Spirit called Ron and I to bring knowledge of Covenant to the Body, he has revealed to us the profound need of the human heart — if it is to thrive — to put faith in others and have that faith renewed by faithfulness. The otherwise is that our faith is broken, and a wound is inflicted.

Because we live among a people — like us — who are flawed and not unfailingly good, wounds come with some regularity; little ones, big one, devastating ones. For many this too easily translates into a deep, if unspoken, belief (or fear) that God himself is not really good, because he doesn’t make people be good to me.

If I’ve learned anything about God, it’s that he doesn’t make anyone do anything. He draws, he teaches, he encourages us like any parent training up a child; but people will do what they want in the freedom God has given them.

The second reaction to being wounded by the ungoodness of others is just the opposite, and is only learned through walking with God for a season in full trust. It looks like this, and I can only express it very personally: when people fail me, my hope in God’s goodness is what comforts me. When I stop gazing at the hurt and turn to Him, I find rest in His unfailing love; the places left empty by others are filled up in me.

It was meant to be so for all who lean on Jesus. Indeed, this is the basis for his promise, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Yes, God satisfies my appetite to be loved well when others do not. Unfailingly good, God is.  (As we say in Yoda-speak).

You’ve got it upside down and backwards!

My mother loved this phrase. Increasingly I think of it when I observe how people generally handle the whole God-thing.

People often feel as if everything about life with God is up to them, and that being a believer is hard work. If they don’t do everything just right, God won’t bless; if they don’t believe enough, he won’t be real; if they work hard to follow the rules of being a Christian (church attendance, giving, praying, Bible study) then God might answer a prayer, might smile on them, might even love them.

This reminds me of a variety act I saw as a girl on the Ed Sullivan Show, the guy who would spin plates on top of several different poles, with much frantic effort. Each time one would begin to lose its spin and threaten to fall, he’d run back to it and give it a huge twist, get it going, then run to another one, etc, etc. It all worked only if HE kept it going.

I see people trying to handle God and being a Christian like this. They have to work up the faith to believe in God and then keep propping up that faith and reconvincing themselves that he is real. It’s all up to them, to keep working up thankfulness. The God I know doesn’t need propping up, doesn’t need any help. All he asks is that we come to him like the helpless children we are, and let him show his good stuff.

God never asks us to work hard, he asks us to bring our weary souls to come rest with him. He doesn’t want us to conjure him up in our minds and convince ourselves he is real, he wants to REVEAL himself to us. Altogether he offers to hold us up, not the other way around!

Worship IS hard work when there’s no genuine adoration in your heart. Thanksgiving seems fake when you aren’t aware of something to be thankful for. You can’t adore what you do not know. Prayer IS a chore when you’re talking to empty space. God never meant it to be like this, for you to talk yourself into it, and make it all up. He meant for sincere worship and thanksgiving to arise as a spontaneous joy from a heart that encountered the joy-giver.

Yes, it begins with believing someone is really there — but when you come, come to rest, come in your weakness, come in your neediness. Cease striving and come rest in all of your humanness before this mighty lover of your soul, and simply say,  “I want to know you, and I don’t know how. Please reveal yourself to me. Give me eyes to see you and ears to hear you.” And when he does, everything else will become a natural RESPONSE to this wonderful, invisible, everpresent Creator God.

Please, please, don’t do Christianity upside down and backwards!

God’s Culture of Honor

Anyone who reads the whole Bible notices attributes of God and his culture that, by their repetition, stand out in the mind and get stuck in the heart. One of the most noticeable attributes is HONOR. God loves honor. He models honor, he teaches his children to honor, and he asks for honor. He promises to honor those who honor him (1 Samuel 2:30).

The one remaining culture of honor in the U.S. today is the military. Watching our son serve in the U.S. Army over 20+ years, we learned alot about how honoring behavior is demanded of those who serve and built into their culture, with the hope that the command will lead to character. In some, honor becomes the fabric of the soul, willingly embraced, and given freely; in others, honor is only extended only as an outward show. What some may not understand is that honor is not only right, it is rewarding. It gives us something back, it continues to build strength in us as we give it.

In David’s great song of repentance and returning to God, he wrote these words:

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” Psalms 51:10-12, NIV.

I mention this here because the phrase “willing” in the original Hebrew marries the idea of honor to freedom. It speaks of a spirit that is not merely willing to serve, but honored to do so. David is asking God to restore in him a honoring spirit that freely serves God. David had come to his moral failure through ceasing to honor God, or the laws of the kingdom, or the men who soldiered under him.

And why does he say, “to sustain me?” Before his season of failure, David had walked in honor for years, experiencing firsthand the rewards of having a heart that honored God and others. In some mysterious way, honor sustained David — in life, in strength, in relationships, in joy. Frankly, this is something better experienced than explained.

Honor freely given is the very fabric of God’s heart, and the person who would understand his God could make no better beginning than embracing this truth.

How has honor impacted your life and character?

Giving to God Is a Celebration of His Goodness

Most of us see tithing as a sacrifice given over to God, never to be seen again. While the first part is true (and needs to be fully true in our hearts), we need to understand more about God’s purposes in the offerings we bring. These purposes are revealed in God’s instructions through Moses in Deuteronomy 14:

“Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the Lord your God always.”

“But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the Lord your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the Lord will choose to put his Name is so far away), then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the Lord your God will choose. Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice.”

God meant for the tithe to not just be set aside and delivered over, but rather brought and SHARED between God and the giver. As we say often in our teaching, it’s not about the rules, its about the RELATIONSHIP.

Notice that if one was SO blessed by God that he couldn’t reasonably carry it all the way to Jerusalem, he was to sell his tithe of produce or animals, then go to Jerusalem, spend it on whatever his heart desired. Do you see the freedom and celebration in this?  God doesn’t want to just take a portion away from you as a discipline and a reminder of his blessing, he wants to share the joy of your prosperity together!

God’s generosity overlooks no one. In the next verse he says, “And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own.” (v. 27) As you brought the portion to share and enjoy with God, he asked that you remember the Levites — those whom He had assigned to serve Him full time, who had no land, crops or herds of their own with which to sustain themselves.

We see another reason why God wants to abundantly bless you — so that together you and He could share in the joy of taking care of the needy: “At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.”

His way was that every third year, the worshipper was to take the tithed produce for his celebratory meal with the Lord to a special storehouse for the Levites, the poor, and the alien, so they would have plenty. As I see it, God said to his worshipper, “Let’s you and I fast part of our feast together every third year, and give it to the needy.”

Our daughter observes a season of Lenten fasting with her Anglican community, in which weekdays are given for keeping certain fasts, but Sundays are granted as feast days – a window of grace, a joyful reprieve from the restrictions of the week. It both heightens the pleasures of the things not had during the week, and gives encouragement for keeping fasts in the week to come. There is nothing like self-denial  to renew the joy of the good things given by God. Another part of the Anglican tradition during the Lenten season is giving to the needy.

It seems to me they have gotten it right as to the heart of God in this matter: it’s not just about self-denial (and the selfish self-righteousness that can arise from obeying “the rules”), it is about relating rightly, to God and to the community, in our blessedness.

In the end we have the promise that God will “bless you in all the work of your hands.” What a God. What character, what values. What a relationship.

The seven-year cycle was: two years in a row, we bring the tithe of our produce and the firstborn of our livestock to God, to enjoy it with Him in a feast. The third year we give the produce away. In years four and five, we feast with God again. The sixth year, we give much of it away. The 7th year is a Sabbath year in which debts are forgiven, and all  those who have become enslaved are set free to have a new start. I think of what our world could be today with such an economy in place.

In a few days we will celebrate the most extravagant gift of all: the gift of Jesus, for a life shared with God, of freedom from death and bondage to sin. Some of you have fasted in some way, to symbolically walk alongside your Savior to that place of giving all. When the fast is over, may you go to the Lord and your community and celebrate with all your heart, and bring the poor in spirit with you.

Freedom

God is into freedom, especially where his children are concerned. I have often experienced Him more easily through spontaneous encounters — on a walk, in the shower, musing over my morning cup of sweet black tea — than in times of disciplined prayer. In the beginning, it felt so — illegal. Could I really trust the sense of hearing his voice or feeling his affectionate closeness when I had done nothing special? The idea dawned slowly upon me…how preposterous to think that God never speaks unless spoken to first, or hides himself from his children unless they approach him in a ritual!

“It is for freedom that Christ has set you free…” as it says in Galatians 5:1. I’ve learned that the Lord particularly enjoys sharing my pleasure in bubble baths, long walks to enjoy his creation, doing creative food things in the kitchen, listening to music that makes my heart joy or my spirit mellow. While not taking away one tittle of how important discipline is in prayer, I rejoice in the freedom of knowing God easily in the mundane moments of life. As one of my beloved teachers has so wisely said, we need to stop making a distinction between the sacred and the secular, because God never does.

Discipline is good, but freedom is better, if that freedom is a celebration of a living relationship between two people who live for one another.