Last year, I posted this under my Faith Living tab. I am currently in the middle of a CFIDS flare and need a ton of extra sleep and rest. Since I haven’t been able to spend much time on my computer, I thought I’d share this again.
The Gift of Emptiness
“[Then said Jeremiah] O Lord, my Strength and my Stronghold, and my Refuge in the day of affliction, to You shall the nations come from the ends of the earth and shall say, Surely our fathers have inherited nothing but lies, emptiness, and futility, worthless things in which there is no profit!” (Jeremiah 16:19, AMP)
I’ve been pondering this phrase I read the other day: the gift of emptiness. What contradictory terms! How could emptiness be a gift?
We have all received gifts from family and friends for various occasions. Every so often someone will give us something special ‘just because’. Those are my favorite gifts – a card for no reason at all, a special book from a friend who knows my taste in reading, a hug, a fistful of flowers my husband picked from the side of the road just for me…. all of these make me feel special and loved.
Recently my daughter gave me a purse she hadn’t used in a while. It is the perfect size and color for me (bright pink!) and I love the feel of the soft patent leather. There was no special reason for this gift; she simply thought I might enjoy using it, and oh, I definitely do!
On top of my desk is a sweet teddy bear wearing a dress and pinafore, with a bow and headband around her head. A close friend gave me this gift because she saw it and thought of me.
I was away for a week and before I drove straight home I stopped at the car wash to surprise my husband with the gift of a brightly clean truck. A couple of days later, as a surprise gift to me, he completely cleaned out the inside of the truck. How’s that for mutual gifting?
As special as touchable gifts are, there are some intangible ones that are special too. Last month my son renewed his commitment to the Lord and was baptized. As the tears streamed down my face, I thanked God that He had allowed me to witness this extraordinary event in my son’s life.
We all struggle with sleep at times. Insomnia has dogged me for many years but these days I seem to need more sleep than normal because of health problems. Still, there are nights when I wake up with too many thoughts swirling through my mind to be able to get right back to sleep. This is when I pray for God to help me empty my mind of all thoughts but those of Him so that I can get right back to sleep. To me, this is a good kind of emptiness.
Emptiness is defined as an unfilled space; a total lack of ideas, meaning, or substance; a desolate sense of loss. On the other hand, a gift is “something bestowed or acquired without any particular effort by the recipient or without its being earned.” How can two such different words occupy the same sentence or thought?
Ecclesiastes 5:7 says “For in many dreams and in many words there is emptiness. Rather, fear God.” The fear of God is not that cowering kind of dread but rather a total awe, wonder and reverence for a perfect, holy, righteous and just Creator. When we truly “fear God,” we bow to His awesome power, complete knowledge, overwhelming faithfulness, and unfailing love and mercy for us.
God is our strength when we feel weak, our fortress when people try to overpower us, and our refuge when we need to pull back from the pressures of life. In fact, God is our ultimate security and protection. There is nothing He is not able and willing to help us with. No matter how far we may stray from Him, He is always ready to take us back with open arms because His love for us is immeasurable. All of these are intangible gifts from God — gifts we experience from Him but cannot touch or feel with our hands. We know these gifts are from Him because:
“…by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8, ESV).
Pastor David Strem, in his sermon “Easter: Emptiness that Fulfills,” shares this:
“The empty tomb is about the power of God to overcome death…[and] is God’s promise that physical death is not the end. It displays His power over death and satisfies our hope for eternal life. The world is full of empty promises, but God is different. Instead of promises full of emptiness, God gives us emptiness that is full of promise. Emptiness because He poured Himself out for us.”
Beloved, God’s ultimate gift to us is the reality of that empty tomb where Jesus had been placed after He died for our sins. God bestows many gifts on us because He loves us so much, but His “gift of emptiness” tops everything else. If Jesus had not conquered death, leaving us that empty tomb, we would not have the reassurance of His coming back for us. It is this reassurance that comforts and upholds me during my worst days because I know without a shadow of doubt that God has my back. His gift of emptiness keeps me from losing heart. How about you?
“But very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes. The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.” Then they remembered that he had said this.” (Luke 24:1-8, NLT)
“The education of our faith is incomplete if we have not learned that there is a providence of loss, a ministry of failing and of fading things, a gift of emptiness.” (F.B. Meyer)
Corrie ten Boom and her family helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust by making their home a refuge (a hiding place) for Jews and members of the Dutch underground. Her family was arrested in 1944 due to an informant and her Corrie’s father died 10 days later while in prison. One of Corrie’s sisters, a brother and a nephew were released but Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsie were sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp. Of her family members who were imprisoned, Corrie was the only survivor.
“Dear Jesus…how foolish of me to have called for human help when You are here.”
“There are no ‘if’s’ in God’s world. And no places that are safer than other places. The center of His will is our only safety – let us pray that we may always know it!”
“In darkness God’s truth shines most clear.”
“Today I know that such memories are the key not to the past, but to the future. I know that the experiences of our lives, when we let God use them, become the mysterious and perfect preparation for the work He will give us to do.”
“How often it is a small, almost unconscious event that makes a turning point.”
“Even as the angry vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him….Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me your forgiveness….And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives along with the command, the love itself.”
How I long and pray for this kind of faith!
The other day I posted about how God helped me through a tough writing assignment. Today I’d like to share one of the prayer devotionals I wrote for that assignment. Not surprisingly, it was about God’s faithfulness.
When I want to thank God for His faithfulness . . .
Even when we are too weak to have any faith left, [Christ] remains faithful to us and will help us, for he cannot disown us who are part of himself, and he will always carry out his promises to us. —2 Timothy 2:13
I face your Temple as I worship, giving thanks to you for all your lovingkindness and your faithfulness, for your promises are backed by all the honor of your name. —Psalm 138:2
All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies. —Psalm 25:10
Your love, O LORD, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. —Psalm 36:5
. . . I will pray.
Most Trustworthy Father,
I used to think I could depend on others to help me through the tough times, but lately You’ve shown me that the only one I can trust in is You. Any time I’m feeling lonely, frustrated, discouraged, weak, or tired, I can count on You for comfort and encouragement.
More than anyone else, You know and understand my struggles, and You’re always here to encourage me. I look to You now, Lord, for what only You can give me during this time of trial.
Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed that all I can do is close my eyes and whisper Your name. I imagine Your arms surrounding me like a warm blanket, soothing me, keeping me safe. No one else is here—but You. You’re always here, loving me through all the days of my life.
And, Lord, I commit my family and friends to Your faithful care as well. I know they love me, but they’re only human. They fail me at times, just as I fail them. You are the only constant in our world. You are everlastingly faithful.
God’s investment in us is so great He could not possibly abandon us. —Erwin W. Lutzer
The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it. —1 Thessalonians 5:24
I’ve been talking and blogging a lot lately about leaning on the Lord with faith and trust. Today I’d like to focus on how faith plays such a huge part in trusting and believing in the Lord’s timing.
By the way, “faith” (a noun) and “believe” (a verb) are both translated from the same Greek word. If you claim to have faith in God, then believing in Him is to put that faith into action. In other words, our faith leads to believing that what God says is true and more important than what we see or feel with our frail and easily persuaded human minds.
Are you still with me? If so, I’d like to share one of the times God reinforced a believing faith in my life.
I don’t know about you but just when I feel comfortable with the way my life is going, that’s when I know God will start to shake things up a bit. I like to say He is moving me from one comfort zone to the next!
One of the examples of this in my own life happened about seven years ago. After several years of writing, my well of imagination seemed to have run dry. I had unexpectedly lost my desire to write.
Those who know me best suggested that I was probably experiencing writer’s block, but God simply had other plans for me. In the midst of my quiet times with Him, I felt Him telling me to stop everything writing-related for a time and focus on Him as I rested my exhausted body and mind.
As difficult as it was to understand this, I knew God was asking me to put into action what I believe to be true: God is more than worthy of my faith and trust.
My writing hiatus came to an abrupt end about a year later when a writing assignment dropped into my inbox that I knew had to be from the Lord. I had sent my resume to a publisher the previous year and then forgotten about it. Now this same publisher offered me an assignment that was tailor-made for my style of writing.
But there was a problem: not only was the deadline a mere three weeks away, but I needed to research and write while battling severe daily migraines.
The migraine issue was not a new thing, but I just cannot think clearly when in the midst of one of these nausea creating, light and sound bothering, hair hurting migraines hits me. And it was happening on a daily basis.
Nevertheless, I struggled through this assignment day after day, sometimes praying through my tears. And—day after day—God provided me with the ideas I needed plus the necessary strength to get this enormous amount of writing done in such a short period of time.
The finished book was a compilation of prayers written by me and several other authors. By the grace of God and by believing that He would faithfully help me complete this assignment on time, I met my deadline of composing 31 prayer devotionals.
You read that right: 31 devotionals in 3 weeks!
In great pain I toiled through the writing of every single one of those devotionals but God was faithful in giving me exactly the strength I needed exactly when I needed it most.
Beloved, are you facing something in your life that seems too much for you to handle? Maybe—like I did—you think there is nothing you can contribute because of your circumstances or illness or limited energy.
If you take away anything from what I went through, it should be this: when God wants us to do something for Him, He does not expect us to do it on our own. He just wants us to have faith and believe that He will walk with us through it.
He is the Great Enabler and will always grant us exactly the amount of strength and stamina we need to finish whatever He calls us to do!
Hebrews Chapter 11
Faith in Action
“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.
“By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.
“By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.
“By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
“By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.
“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.
“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
“By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.
“By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.
“By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.
“By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones.
“By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict.
“By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.
“By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.
“By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.
“By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.
“And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.
“These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”
Years ago Hebrews 11:1 was given to me at Royal Family KIDS Camp, a camp for abused and abandoned children. I first served as a counselor there in 1996. God called me to this ministry even though I felt totally unprepared for the task. I tried to ignore God’s call on my heart but He kept showing me that HE wanted me to go there, until one night at a prayer meeting I heard Him say to my anguished heart, “I want you to do this for Me.”
How could I ignore that?
My week at camp was a mixture of faith and fear, trust and anxiety, exhilaration and fatigue. I remember that my days were filled with prayers of “Please, Lord…” as I faced a new challenge, and “Thank You, Lord!” as He helped me through the task.
I didn’t know it at the time but the camp administration team was watching all of us counselors as we interacted with each of the children in our charge. They met each night to search the Scriptures and find just the right verse to describe each of us. I can’t tell you how surprised I was to hear that they thought Hebrews 11:1 was mine.
Faith. It’s such a small word but so full of blessed meaning. So much happened that week that made me feel like I was barely keeping my head above water, when in fact God was holding me up and enabling me to accomplish the work He had for me there.
Beloved, I don’t know where you are in your faith walk right now. But I do know this: allow God to lead you without reservation and believe without a shadow of doubt that He knows best. He loves all of us too much to want any less for us!