Keep a Green Tree
"Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps a singing bird will come."
I've always loved this saying. It speaks to me of hope. Faith. Expecting. Believing.
But the part of this lovely saying that I don't like very much is the patience part. And the uncertainty. That little "perhaps." It's painful and agonizing at times. What in the world is God up to?? He could fix this whole mess with a snap of His fingers or merely a thought in His head. Why doesn't He provide??
I'm really tired of waiting.
"Keep a green tree in your heart..."
Well, it's that time of the month. (No, not that time! Come on!) It's monthly budget time here at our house. Every month, when I sit down to look at income vs. expenses, I get stressed out. Depressed, frustrated, worried, irritated, etc. It feels like there's never "enough" money.
Now the truth is, we always pay all our bills and we never go hungry. It's just really, really hard trying to stretch the money all month, especially when your kid has a birthday the same month that everybody needs back-to-school clothes, supplies, fees, etc.
Seth and I looked at the budget together yesterday and wondered if we could pare down our monthly bills by canceling something...but no, the only things that feel "optional" are Isaiah's saxophone payment, supporting our World Vision child, and our tithe to church/God. None of those are we willing to cancel. Seth and I agreed there were no bills we could cut out, and then we both agreed we wish we could make more money. (OK, the wording was more like, "We need to make more money," but looking back, I know we don't actually need more money. It would just be a whole heck of a lot less stressful, worrisome and scary if we made more money).
So looking at the budget gave me a sick feeling in my stomach. A sense of panic. I needed to fix this! I had an Ursula from The Little Mermaid moment: "Well, it's time Ursula took matters into her own tentacles!"
I got on my phone to look for jobs on Craigslist. I was looking for a part-time job that I could do in addition to my preschool job, or I was looking for a full-time job that would pay me more. I was determined. I was willing to do housekeeping, janitorial, caregiving, etc. It turns out most of them require experience. Or the wage was too low. I checked monster.com. I checked school district websites. It turns out that there is nothing that I'm actually qualified for that would increase my current income. Gaaaaaahh!!
Geez, Louise, it was depressing! I must have spent an hour looking at jobs. And I could not solve my income problem. And in anger I asked God, "Why won't You help us out here? We tithe faithfully and we serve You with our lives! When do we get to see the 'reward' for all that??"
I knew I was focusing on the problem and the circumstances, and that dwelling on them would increase my fear and anxiety. A line from a song came to mind:
"If your eyes are on the storm
you'll wonder if I love you still
But if your eyes are on the cross
you'll know I always have
and I always will"
("Just Be Held" by Casting Crowns)
I realized that I'm feeling so impatient for the Lord to provide what I think I need (*ahem! and deserve), that I was trying to take a shortcut and solve it myself. Like Sarai telling Abram to sleep with the servant woman Hagar back in Genesis 16. Sarai thought God was taking too long to keep His promise of blessing Abram with a son, so Sarai thought she needed to help God along with His plan. Laughable! And yet here I was, doing the same thing.
To take my mind off my worries, I opened the book I've been reading, Chasing God by Angie Smith. In the chapter I was on, Angie wrote about God telling Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, the son God had promised him, as a burnt offering to the Lord. (Yes, God did bless Abram with the son He promised, without Sarai's help! Who would have thought??) So now God asked Abraham to sacrifice that son, and Abraham was fully prepared to take Isaac's life, because God told him to. But an angel stopped Abraham just after he took out his knife. Then Abraham saw a ram caught in a thicket, and he sacrificed the ram to the Lord instead of his son Isaac. Then Abraham named the place Jehovah-Jireh, which means "The Lord Will Provide." (Genesis 22)
Now let me tell you something precious and heartbreaking about Angie Smith. She had a daughter named Audrey that lived 2 1/2 hours. At the 20-week ultrasound, Angie and her husband Todd had received a fatal prognosis for Audrey, and they chose to carry her to term and love on her as long as the Lord allowed her to live. Audrey lived 2 1/2 hours after birth.
In Chasing God, Angie wrote of sitting at Audrey's grave on what would have been Audrey's fifth birthday. She remembered Abraham naming the mountain where Isaac was spared "The Lord Will Provide."
"And I can't help but tell you what my human nature said in response: Of course he named it that. He got to keep his son.
God did provide for him. But what about when He doesn't?"
As I read Angie's account in the next few pages, I wept. God had spoken to her, and through her writing, He spoke to me too. May her words affect you down deep in your bones as they did me.
"When I sat beside my daughter's grave, I was angry. I was devastated. I was everything you would imagine I would be as other moms were getting swimsuits ready for another summer and I couldn't do that for her.
There is nothing I can do for her.
And I want her here. Every single day, I just want her here.
So I sat with her on her birthday and I grieved the loss of her deeply.
But I loved Him there, just as I love Him in the rest of it.
And there came to me the sound of a question that I had to answer. It whipped through the wind as the tears fell, and I knew He was asking.
What will you name this place?
I didn't know what to say.
Jehovah-Jireh? The place where He provided? Is it?
There was no thicket. No substitute. No ram.
There was a headstone covered with weeds.
And what, love, will you name this place?
The words didn't come from my emotion, but they fell from my lips because I believe Him.
I will call it the same.
This is the place where the Lord provided.
I didn't know how or what or why or even really humanly understand that He did provide, but He says He did. So in this moment, I will echo His promise while the dirt stains my knees and the trees bloom life in the face of death all around me.
Later I went back and read the account of Isaac again. And I felt an urging to continue reading it over and over. I had a sense that He wanted me to see something I hadn't before, so I lifted my eyes.
Again and again and again. Listening as He guided me, truly believing He was speaking and desiring to know what He would have me learn in that moment.
And that's when I saw it.
I have read that story at least a hundred times, but had never noticed what became a monumental difference in my faith walk.
I can only tell you that when I read the words, I trembled.
Because in retrospect, I can see where I went wrong.
As Abraham and Isaac climb the mountain, Abraham assures his son with the words, "God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering" (v. 8).
That was the promise.
Not a thicket.
Not a ram.
He is a God who cannot break His word and around two thousand years later, God would provide exactly that.
Our perfect, spotless Lamb, who came to swallow our sin and provide our eternal security.
He was the promise, and the promise was kept.
I want you to stare at the words and let Him speak to your weary soul-- you who are sure He has forgotten you and given up on what was guaranteed to you. Because the enemy of your soul wants you to believe that He doesn't care, that He doesn't hear you, and that He is not trustworthy.
It's what was behind the very first question Satan posed in the garden, and it remains in every situation we face today: "Are you sure?"
And the problem I faced in answering was that I was looking in the wrong direction.
My eyes were locked on a thicket instead of a cross.
I was relying on a promise He never made me.
And even when it feels hollow, I force the words because I know there is power in the truth. Satan comes in the most broken moments and he whispers lies and asks me if I'm sure God is for me. Am I sure He is good?
Am I sure He provides?
There is power in truth, and I shout it with my soul-- No. I am not sure about the ram.
But I am certain about the Lamb.
The enemy of my soul will not convince me that my circumstances reflect the way God is providing for me. It is simply not so.
He is Jehovah Jireh, both at an abandoned altar and at the cemetery gate."
Oh, my soul.
I'm so sorry, Lord. I have been looking at the wrong thing. You never promised financial prosperity. You gave me all I will ever need by giving me Jesus. Thank You, Lord. I am humbled. I am grateful. Tears pour down my face because You love me that much. And you do see me. You spoke directly to my questioning heart by providing Angie's words at just the right time. Thank You, thank You, thank You.
Lord, please help me keep a green tree in my heart, because I know that a singing bird will come, on that day when I see You face-to-face. And that is all because of Jesus.
"The Pilgrim of the Cross at the End of His Journey"