Mandy Baker Johnson

Living without Shadows

Tag: God (page 2 of 8)

Blessed

For years I struggled to sing the worship song Blessed be Your name by Matt Redman. I’ve discovered I’m not alone in this. It takes the words that Job, a man in the Bible, said to his wife when they had just received the horrific news that all of their children had been killed in a freak accident. Job’s famous words were: ‘The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.’

On the terrible Friday afternoon when I lost our tiny twins, I was unable to face what was happening. It was too final. This was our only chance, barring a miracle, of having a baby of our own. I was unable to deal with the deep pain of loss, shattered dreams, and the finality of it. There was an unacknowledged sense of this particular pain never ending. Babies were delightful creatures that other people conceived. But not us.

And so for several years, I was unable to sing Matt Redman’s song without tears. Maybe for others they were just pleasant, biblical lyrics. For me they spoke of heartrending reality. God had given my life-long dream of twins and a few days later had taken it away.

But God is good. He really is. People say time is a great healer. Maybe. I’ve found God to be the best healer. He saw the grief I’d buried and the reality I’d felt unable to face and, when the time was right, He gently brought it to the surface. Together we turned and looked at the pain head-on so that He could bring emotional healing and wholeness.

I don’t know why He hasn’t given us children. I don’t know why He gave and took away. But I do know that He is good and trustworthy and loving and utterly faithful. The Bible says God works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called by Him. I can question and scream and cry but I’ll probably never know why. Certainly not this side of the grave. But I hang on to the fact that God is good. Because He truly is.

Blessed be the name of the Lord. Amen.

I’m dedicating this post to our beautiful twins Two and Three, to my sister Gina, and to all little ones who have slipped away in the womb or been born asleep or whose lives have been far too short.

Believe

More and more, I’m coming to the conclusion that believing God is the most important thing we can do. It’s more than believing on Him – for salvation. Or believing in Him which may not have any impact on your life.

Believing God. Beth Moore, in her book Believing God, has five statements that I’ve found useful to speak aloud regularly. It helps me to think aright about God and myself, and faith rises up in me as I speak them out.

I believe that God is who He says He is.
I believe that God can do everything He says He can do.
I believe I am who God says I am.
I believe I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
I believe His Word is alive and active in me.

Without faith, it’s impossible to please God. Which means that faith pleases Him. Jesus loved it when He found someone with extraordinary faith in Him in the gospels, and He commended those people. I want to be someone who has extraordinary faith in my God.

Jesus said that for everyone who believes in His name, He gives the right to become a child of God. That’s utterly astounding. It means putting our trust in His faithful character and staking everything on Him being who He says He is.

I’m not sure whether I’m really expressing what’s in my heart. But believing God – truly holding fast to Him because He is steadfast love and faithful and righteous – is the greatest honour we can do for Him. And I think the more I believe God, the more I will grow towards extraordinary faith in Him. Because it will impact my life more and more. How could it not?

Breath

We sometimes say that there’s nothing like a breath of fresh air, usually if we’re in a room that is stuffy and hot, or if we’ve been really busy. To have a breath of air can feel so refreshing.

Spiritually-speaking, the Holy Spirit is rather like a breath of fresh air. He brings the presence of God, and that is refreshing. The Bible says that those who wait on the Lord renew their strength. How many times I’ve dragged myself to home group or a prayer meeting, feeling tired and achey and wishing I could spend the evening in the bath. It’s amazing how much better I feel – refreshed, rested, exhilarated – afterwards.

Even spending a few minutes praising God in my kitchen during the day makes such a difference. Sometimes I bounce into the kitchen, excited and looking forward to meeting with my Father. But on other days, it’s an act of the will. I never regret it and often emotion follows as my will urges my soul to focus on God.

The words of this song express it so well:

Let Your breath come from heaven,
Fill our hearts with your life….

Sign

I attended a women’s conference Outrageously Loved on Saturday. I’d gone expectant to meet with God and for Him to meet with me. And wow, I was not disappointed!

At the front of the room was a banqueting table, laden with all kinds of goodies: chocolates, crisps, tortilla chips, strawberries, grapes, a pineapple, marshmallows, Maltesers, etc, etc. The banner across the table read: He brought me to His banqueting table and His banner over me was love.

While praying and preparing for the conference, the ladies organising it were seeking God for what He wanted for the day. He showed them a picture of a banqueting table with crystal glasses and delicate china as well as lots of goodies and treats.

The first thing the organising ladies did was to offer an invitation to us from the Father, to come up and partake of the banqueting table He had prepared: of the delicious nibbles right before us. It was a picture of how the Father was inviting each of us to meet with Him, to come to his spiritual banqueting table to know Him more intimately.

As part of our worship and as an act of faith, we went forward to help ourselves.

I was thrilled and went forward happily. But my breath was taken away when I saw what was there, and was a sign to me that the Father really was in this and He had planned it with me in mind.

Popcorn.

Popcorn is my latest favourite snack.

My Daddy in heaven had seen that, and gave me popcorn on Saturday as a sign of His outrageous love for me.

The Father’s love is so crazy, unlimited, and extravagant that He doesn’t just want me to believe with my mind that He loves me ‘because the Bible tells me so’. Oh no. He wants me to know with every fibre of my being that He is utterly besotted with me!

WHOOP WHOOP WHOOP!!!!

 

 

Afraid….

I was a scared, wimpy sort of child. Almost as far back as I can remember, I was afraid.

In the days when petrol stations closed on bank holidays (yes, I’m that old!), a four-year-old little girl in pig tails was afraid of the ancient church minibus running out of petrol when my dad took the youth group hostelling.

If my infant school teacher was away and my class was overseen by the fearsome Miss Plummer from class five who slapped the legs of naughty children, I was fearful.

During the six week holidays before going up to secondary school, I prayed frantically for the Second Coming to happen so that I wouldn’t have to go to the new school.

As I got older, my fear increased. I tried to keep it hidden; people often think ‘quiet’ is ‘good’, when sometimes ‘quiet’ means ‘afraid’.

I was scared of spiders, not being near a loo in a strange place, of being attacked, of being rejected, meeting new people, dancing in public, etc, etc. I actually had secular counselling in my early twenties for a spider phobia that was getting out of hand.

But then in 2013, God happened 🙂

We had an extraordinary move of the Spirit at church. As a direct result, I underwent prayer counselling and deliverance ministry. One of the many things from which God set me free was fear. One morning, a couple of trusted friends and I prayed for the spirit of fear to leave me, and it did. That evening in a prayer meeting, God gave me joyful laughter which filled up all the empty spaces left by fear (talking belly laughs and snorts, rolling around helplessly on the floor).

Since then, there has been no more fear of spiders. Before, I couldn’t even look at a drawing of a small spider and if I saw one through the television I’d have to close my eyes or – preferably – leave the room. I’d shake and sweat. Since God delivered me from fear, I can touch pictures of spiders and deal with eight-legged visitors around the house myself. No more shaking or sweating.

ToiletI’m learning that God can be trusted with my needs, which means – in part – no longer worrying constantly about whether there is a loo nearby.

I’m free now to raise my arms and dance in worship in church. Who cares if I have no rhythm? God loves exuberant worship spilling out of a thankful heart.

God has accepted me and calls me daughter. I know I go on about that a lot on my blog but it’s because knowing who I am has made such a difference. Being accepted by God takes away the fear of being rejected by people. It’s a process and one I’m still working out with Him.

There’s no God like Him. I’ve got the biggest smile on my face and happy tears in my eyes typing this, because I am loved. God has given me joy in place of fear. How can I not love Him?

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
2 Timothy 1:7

Rahab’s Journal: Beloved

I’m a grandma!

Almost as soon as they got married, Ruth was with child. The baby arrived last night. Oh I’m so happy! And Naomi, you’d think he was her firstborn son, she’s so thrilled. Old age has dropped off her since holding this little one in her arms.

All our friends and neighbours are celebrating with us. The women suggested the baby’s name: Obed. It means servant or worshiper. It’s a good name and sums up Boaz and Ruth’s marriage. They are both lovely, servant-hearted people who worship God. I pray their son will be just like them.

How far we have come as a family….. God rescued me from the ruins of Jericho and sex work. My beloved Salmon had the courage to make me his wife. Not many men would have done that. And we have had a long and satisfying marriage.

Then came our Boaz, who is now husband of Ruth and abba of Obed. I’m so proud to call this kind man of integrity my son.

It’s rare in this culture for a Jew to marry outside of their own people, yet both Salmon and Boaz have done so. I wonder if it is a sort of foreshadowing of what Elizabeth used to tell me, of God’s promised Deliverer one day bringing salvation not just for the Jews but the whole world. I look into the innocent eyes of my beloved grandson and wonder when the Deliverer will come….

Rahab’s Journal: Presence

Boaz burst into the house this morning in such a state! I’ve rarely seen him like this.

He had been working late threshing the grain and decided to sleep in the barn. He frequently does this at harvest-time, it’s such a busy period on a farm. This year has been no different.

‘Boaz, be calm. What has happened?’ I asked him, sitting him down to bread and olives. Whatever had excited him, he needed to eat.

‘Oh ima, you’ll never believe it. I worked late last night as usual. When it got too dark to see, I ate supper and went to sleep. Around midnight I woke up. There was a presence in the barn with me, a woman lying at my feet.’

At this point he stopped, almost overcome with emotion.

‘Go on,’ I said, refilling his cup.

Boaz took a breath.

‘I asked who was there. And her reply…. Oh ima, it was Ruth.’

‘Ruth?’ I smiled to myself. This sounded like one of Naomi’s ideas.

‘She’s so wonderful ima. When I spoke to her in the fields weeks ago, I praised her for coming under the wings of the God of Israel for protection. Her eyes lit up at the time, it must have meant something to her. Last night she asked me to spread my wings over her.’

I gave a little gasp and reached for a linen to wipe my eyes. Ruth must really love and respect my son for her to ask him to marry her. This marriage will be a demonstration of God’s covenant love with His people. She’s taken hold of God’s kind heart not only toward His people but to strangers and outsiders.

‘What did you answer?’ I said.

‘I couldn’t get over how amazing she is, that she would ask me. Ima, I’m so much older. Yet she hasn’t run after a young man. I’ve loved her since I first saw her gleaning in my fields but kept it hidden because I didn’t think for one second I could ever hope for a relationship with her.’

‘Why not?’

‘This is a levirate marriage. Whoever marries Ruth must give her children to carry on her dead husband’s name, and must be someone within the family. Jethro is closer kin to Naomi than I.’

‘Oh.’ Even after all these years, I still come across customs in this culture that are new to me.

Boaz got up. ‘I’ll go and wash and change, and then I’m off to meet with Jethro and the town elders. I promised Ruth I’d get it sorted today.’

I pressed my hands together. Oh what will happen? Please Lord, work this out for Boaz and Ruth.

Rahab’s Journal: Faith

I admire that young Ruth. Naomi told me that Ruth insisted on leaving her own country to come with her mother-in-law. It seems that Ruth, too, has put her faith in the God of Israel. She said that Naomi’s God would be her God, and that she wanted to live and die among Naomi’s kin.

Ruth is doing everything in her power to help Naomi practically too. They don’t seem to have two coins to rub together, but Ruth is a hard worker. Every day has been out to Boaz’s farm, gleaning the grain at the edges of the field left behind by the harvesters. She even asked permission. Boaz has told Ruth not to go to anyone else’s farm- it can be dangerous for a pretty young woman to be out in the fields with the men. Not all are honourable and Boaz was concerned that she might get taken advantage of on another farm. His father brought him up well and I’m proud of his kindness.

The more I hear of Ruth, the more I like her. She is a fine young woman and I’d love to see her get married again. I wonder if that son of mine has noticed her? Lord, open his eyes so he can see what’s in front of him.

Celebrate: Good Plans

I’ve loved looking at Rahab’s life these last few days. She was a ‘woman of the night’ who sold sex to men. Someone it would be easy to look down upon, but God had His sights set on her.

God loved Rahab from the depths of His heart. He had plans for her life: to rescue her out of the brothel and bring her into friendship with Him. Although Rahab couldn’t have known it at the time, she played in integral part in the Jews’ history. Her son Boaz married Ruth, a widow from a despised nation. Ruth was an outsider, but Boaz had been taught by his parents to welcome those who are ‘different’.

And God chose this family line through which to send His Son. What astounding grace to a prostitute! No one seeing Rahab working in Jericho could possibly imagine the wonderful plans God had for her.

How amazing it is to know that God has plans and dreams for us. He has good things for me, and He has good things for you.

I have dreams and hopes for myself. Some of those dreams I’ve had to lay down: the dream of having children. Does that mean God has a second-best plan for me? Or that He doesn’t love me as much as He does someone else to whom He has given children? No way! He is crazy about me. It just means His plans for me are far better than the best dreams I have for myself.

I love that God plants hopes and longings in my heart, and then fulfils those desires. And He always has far better planned for me than anything I can imagine.

Knowing Him is to know true life. It really is. And so I celebrate God today, and the way He fulfils my heart’s desires and that He dreams over me good plans. Whoop! What a God! Yee haaah!!!

Rahab’s Journal: Led

So much has happened in the last couple of years that I’ve had no time for writing.

We moved about eighteen miles south of Jericho to a delightful little town called Bethlehem. The whole family moved here with us: my parents and Elizabeth and Jonathan. Salmon and I have a small house with a courtyard that is fairly close to the well. That makes life easy for me, not so far to carry water. And that’s important, because of the other thing that has kept me busy….

We have a son 🙂

Our little one is called Boaz and he is the joy of my heart.

We weren’t sure whether I could have children. There are certain diseases in my old line of work that can make a woman infertile. It’s what you might call an occupational hazard. So when I wasn’t with child soon after our wedding, I had my doubts. But my dear mum-in-law Elizabeth prayed. She never gave up hope.

I love our little Boaz. When I look into his big brown eyes, my heart just melts with love for him. I wonder what he will grow up to be, what plans the Lord has for him?

I am thankful for how God has led me, all the way from my brothel in Jericho, to a welcoming family, and here to our home in Bethlehem. He brought Salmon and me together and now we have our little Boaz. God has led me out of the oppression of sex work and into a spacious place of blessing. I don’t deserve this, but I’m glad – oh so glad – that He has accepted me. He is healing me and making me whole from the inside out.

My faith is in the one true God, the only God. He has not let me down, and I know He never will. I love Him.

 

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