While cleaning out files I paused to look through one I had long ago labeled “correspondence.” In it, I’ve saved a copy of just about every Christmas letter we’ve sent out as well as some stationery and postcards yet to be used, and a few notes that were evidently “save-worthy”. I leafed through the letters and smiled (sometimes laughed) to myself as I read them – the scenes replaying in my mind of the years gone by with our girls, from babyhood to the teenage years. I then pulled out a letter-sized envelope addressed to us when we lived in New Mexico, our first pastorate. It was from our dear friend, Gil Stafford, professor at the seminary where John attended. I had the blessed opportunity to work for him for a short while when I was secretary for CBH, the Church of God radio program of which he was speaker. I would go to his office at the seminary once a month, take letters, go over business, then visit with him. He never made me feel like I needed to hurry away and soon became someone I would open my heart to and ask questions of, even pray with. He had so much wisdom and love for God and the Bible, was cheerful and kind every time. I’ve heard that the word “enthusiastic” comes from the Greek words “en theos” which mean “”in God” or “God within.” Gil was definitely enthusiastic.
Over the two years we worked together he became a really good friend. He and his wife Darlene, kind of adopted John and I with our three little girls. One night they had us over for dinner. We enjoyed a delicious meal and then while John and Gil chatted in the front room, Darlene took the girls and I into the den where snuggled down into comfy chairs and on the floor to watch figure skating and eat popcorn. It was such a lovely night. I’ll never forget the last day I went to see him as his secretary. Knowing we were moving away to pastor, he looked me in the eye and quoted the blessing from Numbers 6 by heart, “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.” As I hugged him goodbye on the edge of tears, I silently thanked God for letting me know this special man of God and learn so much from him.
Looking over the two typewritten letters we had received from Gil gave me a little lump in my throat. One was from 1999, when John and I had been pastoring for about 3 years and had written to him sharing some challenges we faced, asking him to pray with us. I re-read his response, “Too often we are prone to measure the success of what we are doing by the world’s economy of things and not by God’s economy….You are not in a position to see how this economy works, but it does. Think of the influence that the rather obscure Deacon Stephen had on the now much better known Paul/Saul. There is no indication that Stephen was even aware of Saul. And yet in God’s economy Stephen played a role in Paul’s life. Thank God for Paul! What a tremendous impact he has had on the world! But, also thank God for the equally important Stephen who was faithful in playing his part…I believe that God called the two of you to Las Cruces and even though you don’t yet see the grand results, the divine economy is working well as you remain faithful to your calling…”
What wonderful words of encouragement! Even though that circumstance is behind me, his encouragement is just as relevant for me today. The truth of it still rings true in my heart. (And…these letters are even more precious to us now that Gil has gone to be with Jesus last year. At his funeral there were MANY who had been touched and blessed by his love of God and life.)
Just like going back to a beloved letter from someone who cared about me helps me all over again, whenever I go back to God’s Word I am fed, encouraged, enlightened, strengthened and helped. I believe that God spoke through the men who penned the words we read in the Bible and that those words were not just for the people of ages past but for me and all who will yet believe in Him and trust Him. Some of the words are so familiar, I only have to look at them and my heart swells with remembering how faithful my God is, how beautiful His promises, how true and holy He is.
I recently had a conversation with a new friend and we talked about God’s Word. She told me what one of her professors said in one of her classes, that we shouldn’t idolize the Bible because Jesus is actually the Word of God. Jesus IS the actual Word of God, the Word of God that became flesh and lived among us. However, I so heartily believe that it’s okay to build my life on the written Word of God because it reveals His heart to me now. Through God’s Holy Spirit, I can see Him when I read it, I learn how to live my life and stay in His will, He reveals His character. I don’t worship the Bible, but I stand on it. I base my life on all it says. I claim the promises it holds and remind God often – “You said, Papa…it’s right here!” and point to the verse, looking up to Him expectantly, sometimes desperately.
Here are just a few favorite, precious verses that come to mind:
- For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16
- The Lord is my light and my salvation— so why should I be afraid? Psalm 27:1
- Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Phil. 4:6-7
- What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? … No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:31-39
- And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. Phil. 1:6
- The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8
- The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14
- For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. Jeremiah 29:11-13
- If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. James 1:5
- We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. Romans 5:3-5
- So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. Matthew 6:31-33
When you’re at a place in your path where you don’t know what to do, dig into God’s Word again. Open the pages as you whisper a prayer, “Holy Spirit, teach me. Help me to understand what I read. Show me something new about You. Remind me of Your promises.” God wrote encouraging words to you that are as close as that Bible laying on the nightstand or snug in the bookshelf. Get them out again and let Him speak love and encouragement to You.