Mary, Quite Contrary, How Does Your Garden Grow?
A Wry Bit of Advice from Elizabeth Rice Handford
One Mother's Day, a son's girlfriend gave me a pretty potted plant. When my son saw it, he groaned. "Oh, no! I forgot to tell her what Mother does to plants!"
What does Mother do to plants? Well, she forgets to water them until they wilt, and then she drowns them in a gallon of water, which seems to make them curl up and die rather quickly.
Truth is, I've never been a good gardener. I don't like to pull weeds. Once summer Walt had been away on a preaching mission for a couple of weeks, and I was trying to get the weeds in his big garden under control before he discovered my neglect. He found me viciously chopping the weeds around the tomato plants.
"Wait, dear. Let me sharpen that hoe for you. No wonder you're having trouble."
Oh? You mean there's an easier way? I thought you just beat weeds until they gave up!
There is a moral to this tale, honestly, and it comes from the Bible.
"If the ax is dull,
And one does not sharpen the edge,
Then he must use more strength;
But wisdom brings success." Ecclesiastes 10:10
We can approach the tasks of life that God has given to us either with raw strength and determination, or we can take time to hone our skills, learn what we need to know, and do our work with care and precision, and so be successful, in much less time.
Case in point: when I got my very first computer, a Radio Shack Tandy 80, back in the late '80's, I thought I could master it with logic rather than following the User Guide. Bad choice. When I didn't study and master the procedures the programer set out, I doomed myself to days of frustration. Mysterious things happened to my documents and I never knew why. I was chopping weeds with a dull hoe.
Now I have a new Samsung J3 Galaxy cell phone, thanks to the generosity of AT&T. The techniques I used on my last phone simply don't work on it. But the on-line User Guide for this new and "convenient" gadget is some 350 pages long. Again I have to make a choice. Will I attack the weeds with a dull hoe, or sharpen the blade?
Dear, aged Moses asked God's help for a problem like this:
So teach us to number our days,
That we may gain a heart of wisdom. . . .
Let Your work appear to Your servants,
And Your glory to their children.
And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us,
And establish the work of our hands for us;
Yes, establish the work of our hands. Psalm 90:12,16,17
O.K., Moses, I'm listening. I'll sharpen my hoe. . . . Now where is that web address for the Samsung Galaxy J3?
Which Child Does Mother Love Best?
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford
She came to live with us when she was five years old, this beloved adopted child of ours. All her young life she'd been tossed from place to place-some of those places unspeakably evil-and she never knew what she'd done to earn such terrible treatment. So when she came to us, she had a hard time believing that she was deeply loved and deeply valued.
I did what loving mothers do: I rocked her, I cuddled her, I spent hours whispering sweet nothings in her ears, trying to make up for the years of coldness and neglect.
Then one day I heard her tell her new younger sister, "Mother loves me best of all. More than she loves Daddy, more than she loves you and John. She loves me more than anybody else in the whole world."
Fortunately her new big brother and her new little sister had no fears about whether Mother loved them with all her heart. But my heart ached for the child who kept wildly looking for proofs she was loved.
So which child does Mother love best? The answer? The child who's asking. Mother loves each one of her children best of all. The coming of a new child into the home doesn't mean Mother's love gets chopped into smaller pieces so each can have a bit. Oh, no! Her heart just keeps expanding, and her love just grows deeper with the coming of each new treasured child.
But what about the rebellious kid who kicks at every word, who is unloving and feels unloved? Can a mother really love that kind of child?
Absolutely! In fact, he stays especially on her heart as she prays for him and seeks ways to bring him back safely into the family fold.
Do I love each child in exactly the same way? No. One child gives special pleasure in his quick mind, his quirk of character that makes him find humor in odd situations. Another child gives special delight because of her sweet disposition, the joy she finds in every new thing. Another child grabs my heart because she intuitively understands my own frustrations and heartaches, another because of her eternal curiosity. Every child is unique in personality, in emotions, in physical abilities. Every child gives the father and mother in this home deep pleasure with his unique qualities.
And that's exactly the way your Heavenly Father loves you, except He loves you more deeply, more purely, with even greater pleasure and satisfaction in who you are, than any human mother could. When you trusted the Lord Jesus to forgive you for your sins and take you to Heaven, you became a child of God. You are infinitely, eternally loved by Him. He thinks about you all the time. You. Personally. You have a unique relationship with Him which no one else on earth can share. In Psalm 139:16-18 King David said to God,
You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.
How precious are your thoughts about me, O God! They are innumerable!
I can't even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up in the morning, you are still with me!
Astounding, but true. God thinks about you all day long, every day. Sure, He feels the same way about every one of His creatures. But you are unique. He loves you best of all in what you truly are. It gives Him great pleasure to give you all the treasures of Heaven. That's what Jesus said, in Luke 12:32:
"So don't be afraid, little flock.
For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom."
Yes, sweet Debbie. I love you with all my heart. I love you best of all.
Why Didn't You Come Sooner?
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford
One of the first churches Walt pastored was a small, new congregation in a western suburb of Chicago. We met each Sunday in an elementary school building in the neighborhood, and our people were having a wonderful time working together in constructing a building for our permanent church home. They were doing the work themselves, and the building progressed as we collected enough money for each step of the project.
Walt had been in Chicago, and on his way home, a highway detour sent him through a pleasant suburban neighborhood. As he drove down the unfamiliar road, he saw, on the curb in front of a home, a discarded hot water heater, placed there for sanitation workers to pick up on their weekly schedule.
Walt, his heart and mind always on the needs of the building construction, eyed the heater. Hmm. We need a heating element for the baptistry water. Suppose the heating element in that thing still works?
Normally, I think, Walt would have been reluctant to barge into a strange home to ask for anything, but the needs of this church building project evidently overcame his natural reluctance. He rang the doorbell. An elderly gentleman answered it.
Walt blurted out the reason for his call. "Sir, I know this sounds crazy. But I'm a pastor in Glendale Heights, and we're building a new sanctuary, and we need a heating element for the baptistry. Would you consider letting me have that water heater on your curb?"
"Why, please come in," the man answered. "We may have some other things to give you."
Stunned, Walt went in, and spent a delightful time with the man and his wife, as they kept bringing out other things he might need for his new church building. Walt came to realize there was more than simple kindness in what they were doing. He sensed they had a spiritual hunger that only God can meet. So he told them the blessed old story of how God loves the world, and sent Jesus to make it so anyone who wants to can spend eternity in Heaven with Him.
They listened, rapt. The Gospel may be "blessed" and "old" to us who have heard it again and again, but to these dear people it was astonishingly new and overwhelming. Together they bowed their heads asked God for His gift of eternal salvation.
As Walt started to leave, loaded down with all the stuff they'd given him, the woman stopped him. With tears in her eyes she said, "Walt, why didn't you come sooner? We've waited for this all our lives."
God's love may be a familiar and beloved story to you. God grant that you never lose the wonder of what it means. And God grant that we find the words to share His love with those we meet who hunger for it.
Shalom: It Shall Be Well
A Word of Comfort from Elizabeth Rice Handford
What was her name, I wonder? The Bible doesn't tell us; it just says, in Second Kings chapter four, that she was a "great" woman. She lived in Shunem, in the land of Israel under the rule of an ungodly king.
We know that she loved God with all her heart, because she had a heart for His servants. When the Prophet Elisha passed by her home from time to time, she fed him a hearty meal. Then she and her husband built him a small room on the roof of the house and furnished it with a bed, a chair, a table and a candlestick so he could rest there from time to time on his God-directed missions.
We know, too, that the great woman of Shunem had reconciled herself to her life as it was, with its limitations. She longed for a child, but her husband was old, and so she'd given up that hope. When Elisha wanted to repay her for her kindness, she told him she was content among her own people. Then Elisha said to her, knowing her yearning heart, "About this time next year, you will hold a son in your arms."
"Oh, don't lie to me!" she responded. She had yielded to God that longing. But at that time the next year, as Elisha had promised, she held her darling son in her arms. God had heard her heart cry and given her a son.
The child grew, to his parents' delight. But one day he went to see his Daddy out in the field working with the harvesters. "My head hurts, Daddy!"
"Carry him to his mother," he told a reaper.
His mother held him in her lap until noon, and then he died. She carried him up the stairs to the prophet's room and laid him on the bed. She told her husband that she was going to see the prophet, and she'd come right back. She told him nothing about death of their precious child.
"Why go now?" he asked. After all, Mount Carmel, where the prophet lived, was some fifteen dusty miles away. And she'd have an uncomfortable ride on a donkey that whole way.
She answered, "Shalom."
Shalom. It's often used in Scripture, often translated peace, safety, or it shall be well.
It shall be well? How can anything be "well," when the child is dead?
And the mother's response, I truly believe, is why God calls her "a great woman." She could not be sure how this would end. (As it turned out, she did receive her son back to life.)
But while the child lay dead in an upper room, she trusted the God about whom King David had written in Psalm 119:68,
"You are good and do only good."
She knew the God the prophet Moses had written about, in Deuteronomy 33:12,
"Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in Him."
And she knew the surrender to God's will that suffering Job expressed in Job 13:15, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him."
Shalom. It shall be well. There may be some long nights of suffering, some long days of doubt before peace comes. The answer God gives may not be the answer we longed for, because His ways are so much above our understanding. But Shalom. It shall be well. We can rest in His goodness, in His love, His wisdom. Shalom.
In This Place Because It Is God's Will
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford
Day before yesterday our first-born grandson went to be with Jesus after a valiant five-month struggle. He leaves a young wife and two little girls. It's a terrible loss.
When I was young, I read Andrew Murray's book, "Absolute Surrender." I was deeply challenged to lift my open hands, to surrender to God's will, whatever it might be. And God's will in my life right now is somehow to receive this act of His loving grace, no matter how hard it seems.
May these words of Andrew Murray, and the Scriptures that confirm the thought, be a comfort to you as well, whatever you are struggling with right now.
Andrew Murray writes,
First, He brought me here. It is by His will that I am in this strait [difficult] place. In that fact I will rest.
The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD, And He delights in his way. (Psalm 37:24)
Next, He will keep me here in His love, and give me grace to behave as His child.
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. (Philippians 1:27)
Then, He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me the lessons He intends me to learn, and working in me the grace He means to bestow.
My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9 )
Last, in His good time He can bring me out again-how and when He knows.
For the Lamb [Jesus] at the center of the throne will be
their Shepherd. He will lead them to springs of living
water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Then Andrew Murray sums it up:
Let me say I am here
By God's appointment,
In His keeping,
Under His training,
For His time.
Scots missionary to South Africa
Christ Is the Silent Listener to Every Conversation
A Word of Encouragement from Elizabeth Rice Handford
Someone handcrafted a brass door-knocker for the Rice family engraved with the words,
Christ is the unseen guest of this home,
The silent listener to every conversation.
You'd think that, with that kind of reminder facing us every time we walked in the front door from school, the Rice sisters would take it to heart. But we obviously didn't always. It might have been partly because there were six girls in the family (and a father and mother) and only one bathroom. And there was a wide range of age: Grace was sixteen when Joy was born. Different schools, different schedules, different sports, all of us taking piano lessons and only one piano for practice-there were lots of reasons for irritation, especially at supper time, when everyone was tired.
Many of our table conversations, you understand, were exciting and mind challenging. Daddy might bring home a letter he'd received, asking help for a spiritual problem. "Girls, what shall I tell him?" Grace asked if the government had the right to send our dear Japanese friends, U.S. citizens, to an internment camp during the war. I wondered how to answer my civics teacher who baldly stated in class that Jesus was a communist. Mary Lloys asked how Darwin's evolutionary theory fitted in with the Bible. Often we had serious discussions that challenged our minds and hearts.
But not always. Sometimes we didn't discuss. We just slung barbed comments at each other. "I can take that new boyfriend away from you any time I want to." Or, "Stop talking with your mouth full." Or, from anyone to anyone, "It's not my turn to wash the dishes. Why do I always have to wash the dishes?" And if Joy announced, "I'm going to be an opera singer when I grow up," all five sisters might snicker. When we were in that sarcastic, shark-tooth mode, not only did we not care that we hurt each other, we were glad when we saw we had scored a hit!
I find that incredible, now, since my sisters have been my dearest friends and confidants my whole life long. Why, oh why, didn't I value them enough those early years? Why didn't I try to be a peace-maker? Why didn't I encourage Joy in her music? Why didn't I reassure Mary Lloys nobody could take her boyfriend away from her, that she was the best thing that ever happened to him? Why didn't I console Joanna, and comfort Jessie? Why didn't I affirm Grace in her wonderful qualities? I don't remember even trying to bring peace to the table.
But Christ, the unseen guest, sat at our supper table. He heard our hurtful jabs.
And so did my father. One evening Daddy sat quietly while we bickered. Then, when the meal was done, he reached over into the middle of the flower arrangement on the table and pulled out his hand-held dictating machine. Without a word, he punched the rewind button, and then the play button. We sat there mortified, as every hateful word we'd thrown at each other spilled out of the machine.
Something happened to our family that night. It wasn't that we feared another hidden microphone. It wasn't even, primarily, that we realized how displeased our parents had been with our quarreling. I think it was the realization that Christ really was the beloved guest in our home, and that He really had been the unseen listener to every word of our conversations.
King David prayed,
Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD;
keep watch over the door of my lips.
Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil,
to take part in wicked deeds with men who are evildoers"
Things Are Seldom What They Seem
A Wry Observation by Elizabeth Rice Handford
In the light-hearted operetta "HMS Pinafore" (written by the man who wrote "Onward Christian Soldiers) the innocent and sweet Buttercup sings to the bewildered Captain of the HMS Pinafore:
Things are seldom what they seem,
Skim milk masquerades as cream;
Black sheep dwell in every fold;
All that glitters is not gold.
The other day the phone rang. A frantic voice said, "Grandmother, this is your oldest grandson!" Hmmm, I thought, Joey seems to have forgotten he's younger than his cousin Tim, but never mind, the poor boy's in trouble. I recognized his voice immediately. Caller ID? Unknown.
"Oh, Joey, what's wrong?"
"My car wouldn't start this morning for work, and so I called my friend Jim to pick me up." Odd; why didn't his wife just drop him off on her way to work?
His voice choked with sobs. "Grandmother, I didn't know it, but he had drugs in the car-you won't tell anybody, will you?-and the police arrested us, and I have to put up five thousand dollars in bail or stay in jail for 60 days." Whoa! Somebody's trying to take advantage of this young man.
"No, Joey. You only have to put up five hundred for a bond."
"Would you talk to the policeman who's in charge? I'll lose my job if I don't get the five thousand dollars." Yes, I thought, I'd like to talk to the man in charge.
"Ma'am," another voice said authoritatively, "Joey must pay five thousand dollars bail or stay in jail for 60 days." Oops! I was the one who gave them Joey's name.
"Sir, tell me, please, where are you calling from?"
"Why are you asking me questions?" the man growled. "I am the one who asks the questions."
He doesn't even know where Joey lives. I don't like people who prey on old grandmothers who are vulnerable because they love their grandchildren. Wish I could follow this up. But better not. I may not be smart enough to outwit them. "Fine. I'll answer your questions after you first tell me where you are calling from."
The line went dead. Of course. A follow-up call assured me grandson Joey was just fine.
You understand, I'm not always that discerning. Don't even ask me about the young man who left my house on a Friday night with my $200.00 check in his cunning hand. His need seemed so great, so looming, and my heart was so touched. On investigation, I learned he was a fraud and I was able to stop payment on the check.
The truth is, we are bombarded with scams and frauds and hackers in every area of our lives, some with schemes more dangerous than the one to get five thousand dollars from me. So many people of influence subtly attack our minds, our values, our faith. Often we don't even realize they're trying to brainwash us.
The Scriptures tell us to grow "to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting" (Ephesians 4:13-15).
The thought continues in Ephesians 5:15-17: "See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is."
Yes, Buttercup, you're right. Things are seldom what they seem. All that glitters is not gold. And there really are black sheep in the fold.
So I must listen carefully to what I am being told, in the media, on the political platform, by famous people, by educators, or even, sometimes, alas, even from the pulpit. Yes, "the days are evil." But with God's help I can stay alert. I can discern the truth and anchor my heart in it.