Little by Little

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How is your patience doing? Some of us seem to have more than others but I am not sure that many of us are consistently excelling in this virtue in the current age. Everything about our culture nudges us to want answers, solutions, provisions, and more in short order. At the same time, it seems we are spending more time waiting and having patience tested than ever before.

We are the generation who are accustomed to “fast food” and microwaves to heat up whatever we have to eat at home. Nevertheless, “fast food” doesn’t seem to be as fast as it once was. No one can explain it except that many would say it deals with a shortage of enough workers that seems to add issues for every company, business, or service provider we know since the pandemic began in 2020. The shortages are most frustrating when we cannot find a medical person taking new patients when our favorite has retired and when we do have the good fortune to have a good physician our wait times can be longer.

In this day of instant communication from every and any source we can name, we want answers now but when they do come, they are often piecemeal. We have a battery of tests and some results come in while others do not, and we wait not just once but twice or more while frustration and anxiety build.

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But the challenge of needing to wait for something we need or want isn’t new. It is told in story after story in the Bible (long before wi-fi, the internet, streaming services, and jets streaking across the sky). Barren women like Sarah, Rachel, and Hannah waited dealing with infertility. Daniel’s prayers were not answered at one point for 21 days despite his fervency. The children of Israel waited for a homeland for century upon century despite God’s promises.

You may be in a season of waiting and whether it has been long or short it not only tests our patience but also our trust in God and his timing and provision for us.

It brings to mind a passage of scripture in Isaiah:

“For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little.”

Isaiah 28:10 (NIV)

What is God trying to get us to see in this verse by the prophet, Isaiah?

One possible answer is this: We tend to believe the Lord will give us A BIG ANSWER QUICKLY AND ALL AT ONE TIME. However, the pattern repeatedly described in the scriptures suggests we receive “line upon line, precept upon precept,” or in other words, many small answers over a period of time.

Those of us just moving into spring are very eager for summer and the unbeatable taste of tomatoes and other things picked fresh from the vine after months of winter.

Waiting once again for something we are eager to enjoy like students looking forward to the end of the school year and months of a summer vacation without studies to tie them down.

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If you stop by here often or follow me regularly, you know that my life has been in a period of waiting following my accident two days after Christmas that I wrote about here (

The accident left me with a number of issues that needed healing. The oral surgery just two days after the fall meant wearing a splint on my upper front teeth and greatly adjusting my diet to accommodate the splint and ask God to do what only He could do to save my teeth. Appointments came and went with various dental and medical folks with no definite answers to tell me whether my teeth would be saved or not. God had done much at the time of the accident, but this was a “little by little” time for me, teaching me again I needed to trust in the Lord and the prayers of many.

Many of you whom I have never met have prayed for me and asked about progress and so today I want to share where “little by little” has brought me as of now.

The swelling, bruising, and inflammation in my hands and wrists from the fall have been resolved and the later development of vertigo from the misalignment of my jaw and head have largely improved while still receiving some treatment for that.

This week I spent two hours in a dental chair working on the big issues that oral surgery was trying to address. The result was an extensive hour of cleaning and a decision that the teeth appeared to be stable despite two teeth still being sensitive to pressure that are adjacent to the teeth shoved into the bone sockets and brought down by the oral surgeon. So, the splint was removed. That removal of the wire splint required grinding the bonding material that held it in place to loosen the wire and then more grinding to polish off the residue.

The dentist said that given where things were four months ago immediately after the accident that the stability of the teeth and where things are now is miraculous. How much thanks I give to God for the things only He could do despite good medical and dental skills and care!

But “little by little” does not have me with the final answer. Time will tell if the sensitive teeth will be fully healed, and the dentist wants me to keep an eye on that and whether or not they darken which would mean nerves in the teeth are dying. So, I wait and trust God to do only what He can do since man has done all he can. If nothing changes, I see the dentist in six months.

I would be dishonest if I didn’t say I wish it were all finished instead and that I am no longer tempted with concern about what may yet come, but like most earthlings there are things here for me to learn and once again I am in a season where God is the one who is the provider and source, the one that life has taught me is trustworthy (even when I don’t get the answer I wish in the time I hope). He is good and faithful.

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Tools for Engagement

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If we are fully awake and aware that we are all swimming in a soup of cynicism coming at us from all directions, we need to consider how much it has infected us and not simply look at how much we see in other people, media, organizations, and businesses. Exposure to any and all media shows stunning examples sound bite by sound bite, but we need to start with us first before picking up stones to throw at others.

Seeing it is step number one but what comes next? We can’t truly address the issue by trying to use optimism as our solution. Then we swing to the opposite pole and deal with more denial than we ought. Practicing telling ourselves the truth can be helpful but being clear about what the truth is may not be easy. At present there is a strong push toward looking at “my truth” versus “your truth” since we have largely abandoned absolute truth as archaic and out of fashion.

Paul Miller in A Praying Life outlines five steps as tools for engagement to move from cynicism and they provide principles to course correct how we may have been functioning.

First, he suggests we should “be warm but wary.” That immediately brings to mind a scripture from Matthew:

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

Matthew 10:16 (NIV)

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Matthew’s words speak clearly many times. We are not to participate in treachery, cunning, and cruelty. In other words, we could be tempted to respond in kind to cynicism and stir the pot of negative divisive attitudes and a belief we are right with “our truth” versus the opinion or “their truth.”

Far better to respond with warmth to another person and yet be wary when cynicism is crackling in the atmosphere when we are engaged with them.

“Instead of naive optimism, Jesus calls us to be wary, yet confident in our heavenly Father. We are to combine a robust trust in the Good Shepherd with a vigilance about the presence of evil in our own hearts and in the hearts of others.”

Paul Miller

Second, if we are infected to any degree of cynicism and seeking to combat its messages that deaden hope we must “learn to hope again.” The last few years have eroded hope on most levels of our lives to some degree. Some have decided it is futile to hope again or even to pray again and decided passively or actively to believe this is the way it is now and will be so. We wave the white flag of surrender to Satan and his schemes and whatever spiritual mooring we have sits passively on the bench instead of being on the field in action against the enemy. We have lost hope that we can be in the field and Jesus is all about hope.

“Many of us believe in the Christian hope of ultimate redemption, but we breathe the cynical spirit of our age and miss the heart of God.”

Paul Miller

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The third tool we need is to “cultivate a childlike spirit.” When we are children, we revel in so many things. We dream about all sorts of things, some magical and some not. We believe much is possible and we trust those who care for us unless evidence has taught us otherwise. We ask for all sorts of things and are more vocal about things that hurt or frighten us. We don’t expect to have it all together despite moments when we might pretend we do.

If we become like children as Christ admonished us to do, we cry out for help without hesitation and in that moment, we put cynicism to flight. Consider how the brilliance of C.S. Lewis never failed to be filled with childlike wonder when he wrote The Chronicles of Narnia. Certainly, he must have had a childlike spirit.

What about us?

The fourth tool on Paul Miller’s list is “cultivating a thankful spirit.” With so many things going awry in our personal lives and the world (near and far) around us, it can be easy to skip that or fall prey to naive optimism that really isn’t what Miller is talking about at all.

“Thankfulness isn’t a matter of forcing yourself to see the happy side of life. That would be like returning to naive optimism. Thanking God restores the natural order of our dependence on God. It enables us to see life as it is.”

Paul Miller

If we pause to reflect on these principles Paul Miller is writing about, it may bring to mind King David, the Apostle Paul, and a long list of others like Corrie Ten Boom who survived the horrors of the holocaust with seeing reality while having a grateful heart.

“Cynicism looks reality in the face, calls it phony, and prides itself on its insight as it pulls back. Thanksgiving looks reality in the face and rejoices at God’s care. It replaces a bitter spirit with a generous one.”

Paul Miller

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Last, but not least, is “cultivating repentance.” Pride and cynicism are in the same family and opposed to a humble spirit. If we believe we know reality and there is nothing else to know about ourselves and have deadened our hearts to the hope and reality of a grateful heart toward God, we will only be more mired down in cynicism than ever.

“Cynics imagine they are disinterested observers on a quest for authenticity. They assume they are humble because they offer nothing. In fact, they feel deeply superior because they think they see through everything.”

Paul Miller

If we consider the wise counsel of Paul Miller’s words, we are more likely to be freed from the infection of cynicism running rampant in this age and remember the narrow path Jesus spoke of is the one that brings us peace, renews our joy, helps grow humility, and restores our hope as nothing and no one else can.

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Have You Been Infected?

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When the pandemic began in 2020 our preoccupation was trying to avoid being infected with it. Millions upon millions around the globe stopped life as they knew it to try to stave off the relentless virus. We no longer did most things that were common to us or that we loved and for many of us, that was still not enough, and we became ill anyway. Later we discovered the discoveries to prevent the virus from overtaking us were not what we hoped or thought and sometimes brought problems of their own for us to face.

Three years later we are still trying to sort out what happened and why, looking at research, beginning to discover our road back to “normal” has not exactly worked as we hoped it might. We are changed from how we were before the pandemic and have had another unseen enemy infecting more than a few of us. And this one can be no less deadly.

Our optimism for the future and life getting better has been eroded by the cynicism of the culture we live in to one degree or another.

What is cynicism anyway?

A quick check of an online dictionary defines it this way: “an inclination to believe that people are motivated purely by self-interest; skepticism: an inclination to question whether something will happen or whether it is worthwhile; pessimism.”

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Cynicism has slipped in little by little so we have difficulty trusting people, institutions, companies, organizations, governments, and most things we believed we could count on to one degree or another. The result of even a tiny bit of infection from it has had significant results.

“Cynicism is so pervasive that, at times, it feels like a presence. Behind the spirit of the age lies an unseen, personal evil presence, a spirit. If Satan can’t stop you from praying, then he will try to rob the fruit of praying by dulling your soul. Satan cannot create, but he can corrupt.”

Paul Miller

But we missed that the problem started before the pandemic. It started when we were slowly being seduced into the belief that certain things were absolutely trustworthy, that humanity had developed paths, programs, solutions, and concepts that were ones we could “take to the bank” and trust. Little frogs in a kettle analogy fits as we slowly believed in humanity as the source of what we needed and could rely on. That wasn’t so bad, was it? But it began to lead us away from absolute truth and the awareness of humanity’s frailty and susceptibility to temptations of all kinds that have been with us since Eden.

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Did we forget that too much of even a good thing may not be good for us?

“Cynicism begins, oddly enough, with too much of the wrong kind of faith, with naive optimism or foolish confidence…

In the nineteenth century that optimism shifted its foundation from the goodness of God to the goodness of humanity. Faith became an end in itself. President Roosevelt rallied the nation during the Depression by calling people to have faith in faith. In the Sound of Music Julie Andrews sang about having confidence in confidence itself.”

Paul Miller

When this kind of faith, confidence, and optimism is shattered, what we discover is weariness, the erosion of the trust we had, and cynicism. We can start to believe that everyone has an angle and ultimately Satan can numb us so that our souls can be tempted to no longer look to the only source of hope there has ever been. When everything swirling around us is out of control, we can even stop praying. And this is the deadly snare, the trap, Satan had in mind all along.

From the beginning of time, Satan has wanted us to stop believing in God and start believing in other things. Old Testament stories speak of idols, and we forgot they come in all sizes and shapes and lure us into believing in what we create or make (golden calves). Humanity was making so much progress (or so we thought) that even though we weren’t perfect, we began to believe in ourselves more than we realized.

Cynicism is not unlike a virus that is contaminating everything and if we do not see it, we will be neutralized. We don’t need to participate in evil. We just need to be anesthetized to its presence and our blindness to its insidious pervasiveness.

It’s time to wake up, shake our lethargy and not be looking in all the wrong places and wrong behaviors or decisions to regain our footing.

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“We can’t remain neutral with evil. We either give up and distance ourselves, or we learn to walk with the Shepherd. There is no middle ground.”

Paul Miller

The Shepherd Paul Miller speaks about is waiting for us to wake up and turn around and find Him there waiting to show us the path to truth and redeem the foundation of our faith that is the only thing that can stand in the face of cynicism and evil. That begins with praying, not passively. The psalmist gives us the example and so did Jesus when He walked the earth.

The psalmist was not cynical.

“A praying life is the opposite. It engages evil. It doesn’t take no for an answer. The psalmist is in God’s face, hoping, dreaming, asking. Prayer is feisty. Cynicism, on the other hand, merely critiques.”

Paul Miller

Which will you and I choose?

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The Other Side

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Few things are as frustrating to us as the feeling of helplessness. We tend to seek to avoid it at all costs. It comes clustered with other feelings like out of control, fear, and a sense of inadequacy. You may have noticed that it seems like it is hard-wired into most of us despite the reality of experiencing it nearly from the time we are born. It gives us a sense of being confined and might be what nudges a child to try whatever escape imaginable from the crib or various “baby gates” set up to protect from hazards of various kinds.

We have the sense of helplessness when we feel confined even if it is for our own benefit as a protection. Being strapped down for a medical test or procedure can send some of us (maybe most) into a panic. Watching helplessly as a deer decides to cross the road in front of us when we are traveling at 60 mph and have no way to avoid hitting it or watching a child carelessly dash across the street without looking to see if it’s safe brings a sense of desperation to stop what is likely to happen.

It might be hard to determine whether a sense of helplessness for us or someone we love is the hardest. Neither is a choice we want to face. But such times come to all of us anyway at some point in our lives.

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My recent experience with falling flat on my face on a patch of black ice is my most recent example. I was helpless to stop what was happening and my dear husband felt helpless as he saw it happening and was too far from me to help or intervene.

But all these examples are real events happening all around us and to us and those we love. These are not examples of learned helplessness where someone over time falls prey to the deceptive thinking that seeming helpless means they can avoid responsibility to do something that he or she is fully capable of doing. That’s a very different thing and nothing good can happen from practicing that even though initially you may believe you gain something good from it (truly a snare to trap you in the habit).

But is there anything about helplessness in real situations that gives something we miss and need to recognize?

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“God wants us to come to him empty-handed, weary, and heavy-laden. Instinctively, we want to get rid of our helplessness before we come to God.”

Paul Miller

We don’t always wait to go to God when we feel helpless but to deny that we might do so more often than we want to admit is also true. I smile when I recall how often our daughter would call my mother (her grandmother) in distress about something she lost. The response she would get is “Have you asked the Lord where it is?” She would then follow up with assuring she would pray she found it. And it was amazing how often a prayer we might not think of produced the lost item. Maybe we tend to think that something is too small to ask for prayer and we should be able to figure it out ourselves.

“The gospel, God’s free gift of grace in Jesus, only works when we realize we don’t have it all together. The same is true for prayer. The very thing we are allergic to – our helplessness – is what makes prayer work. It works because we are helpless. We can’t do life on our own.”

Paul Miller

One of the things we hopefully gain as we get older and develop more maturity is the recognition of the truth Paul Miller writes. We recognize that even after we make a commitment to the Lord, study the Bible, and grow in many ways that we are still prone to mess up and come to recognize we need grace every moment of every day. (We also become less critical of the flaws of the disciples we read were the closest companions of Jesus when He walked the earth.)

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God doesn’t expect us to have it all together, to not be helpless. He knows us better than we know ourselves. He is acquainted with our frailty and temptations, our fears and foibles. And He loves us anyway. His decision to send Jesus to show us and demonstrate his dependence on God, the Father, gave us a perfect example. Certainly, none of us can have the knowledge of Christ who nonetheless depended on God at every step. And little wonder when He hung on the cross that He felt the anguish of helplessness over the choice to save us rather than himself.

In A Praying Life by Paul Miller, he quotes a powerful passage from A Letter from Jesus Christ by John of Landsburg, a sixteenth century Catholic monk:

“I know those moods when you sit there utterly alone, pining, eaten up with unhappiness, in a pure state of grief. You don’t move towards me but desperately imagine that everything you have ever done has been utterly lost and forgotten. This near-despair and self-pity are actually a form of pride. What you think was a state of absolute security from which you’ve fallen was really trusting too much in your own strength and ability… What really ails you is that things simply haven’t happened as you expected and wanted.

In fact I don’t want you to rely on your own strength and abilities and plans, but to distrust them and distrust yourself, and trust me and no one and nothing else. As long as you rely totally on yourself; you are bound to come to grief. You will have a more important lesson to learn: your own strength will no more help you stand upright than propping yourself on a broken reed. You must not despair of me. You may hope and trust in me absolutely. My mercy if infinite.”

This is the other side of helplessness that we can miss, and all God offers us if we acknowledge what He already knows – we can’t do life and all it fails to deliver that we may want or need – without Him.

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The Whisperers

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God gives some a special gift.

This gift allows the one possessing it to tame or train an animal using non-threatening body language and gentle words rather than reliance on physical contact.

Those who possess this gift are known as “whisperers”. Within them lays an intuition and heart that understands at an unusual level.

In 1998, a movie was released that depicts this perfectly. The movie was The Horse Whisperer. In it, a young adolescent girl and her horse are seriously injured in an accident. Both the girl and the horse have been deeply traumatized by their own injuries as well as by the death of the girl’s friend who had been also riding alongside them.

The girl’s physical injuries are significant, but the internal damage to her heart and spirit are even more severe. Her beloved horse has such grave injuries; the veterinarian believes the horse needs to be “put down”. Not only is the horse physically wounded, but also he is like his rider, wounded within his heart and personality.

It becomes clear to the mother of the girl that her healing is tied to that of the horse. This leads her to search for a horse whisperer that can bring healing to both the horse and her daughter.

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As the movie unfolds, the gifting of the horse whisperer is tested and fascinating to behold. Little by little he intuitively uses his gifts to begin to bring the horse to a greater level of wholeness, but the girl’s heart takes longer to heal. The trauma shared by the girl and the horse creates a fear that overwhelms each of them in their relationship with each other.

I never fail to be touched by the story as it unfolds on the screen.

When I was still working, I met with a woman whose life had been shattered by a car accident. One of the tools we used to help her face the accident was this movie, shown in very little segments. Not only had her body been traumatized, but also her heart and her spirit.

Many of us may have seen the movie or heard of other whisperers with various animals.

The truth is that many of us, humans, have been wounded and traumatized. What about us? Are we in need of such a whisperer as well to gently tend to our hearts and spirits?

I think so.

Jesus gives us a model of what that might look like. He saw the wound. He heard the words, but He heard beyond what He saw and heard. He looked deeply into the heart and spirit of the person and saw what others missed.

Did Jesus have discernment beyond any we have ever seen? Of course He did, but there was something else perhaps.

Jesus had a God-listening heart!

He was in communion with His Father at a level few of us can imagine. The Father who made each person and knew each one at a depth no one else could know surely spoke to His heart and revealed all to Him.

Because of that, His words were never trite, superficial, filled with religious prattle, or inconsequential.

The ordinary men He called to be His disciples appeared pale by comparison, especially at the outset. But over time after Jesus’s death, resurrection, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, we begin to see a change in them. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit begins to train them to see beyond what is clearly in front of them, to have faith for what they could not believe on their own.

Maybe they were developing God-listening hearts. I think the Lord was fine-tuning their listening so they could be more like Him. Perhaps that was central to what His Kingdom was and is to look like while we occupy waiting for Him.

In this world of self-centeredness, frenetic activity, and quick fix solutions, what could serve as a more phenomenal witness of Christ within us than to be one with a God-listening heart?

I think a God-listening heart hears differently because it hears not only what is spoken by the person or seen in the person, but also what is left unsaid or only touched upon.

To respond to that which the God-listening heart reveals is perhaps the greatest love gift any of us can receive. And such love transforms and heals, comforts and grants courage in the face of trials.

Do I have a God-listening heart?

Do you?

Jesus is not physically here, but He is inside of us. I think He is calling us to have such a heart as His. Such a heart hears the checkout clerk at the grocery store differently, hears the seemingly casual conversation with the neighbor more astutely, and hears the heart of a friend when few words were spoken.

Are you a whisperer?

Let Jesus develop a God-listening heart within you and watch how He loves through you!

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