An eagle soaring behind title: The Eagle's Rest

Camp. I love being involved in helping put on summer camp. Still, there are days when exhaustion tries to kick in.

Have you ever volunteered at a summer camp or helped run a VBS? If your answer is yes, then you probably understand.

This past summer, it was on one of those tired mornings that I found a moment to slip away for a bit of quiet by myself before the busyness of the day began.

I made my way down a familiar trail through the quiet woods. A bird chirped overhead and a squirrel chattered.

I stepped out onto the rocky beach that lined the little river. The sky was clear blue with a few white clouds. There was a fresh morning chill in the air that I knew would fade quickly once the sun peeked over the treetops.

Finding a large rock, I pulled out my Bible and notebook. I only had a few minutes, but I was unlikely to find time for personal Bible reading later in the day.

I opened to the Psalms and began to read.

Suddenly I looked up. I blinked and looked again. It was unmistakable. A bald eagle came gliding along the river valley.

I watched its apparently effortless flying as it soared along. Then it shifted course and landed on the tip of a tree along the river.

I sat amazed watching it. In all my years of being at this campsite, including many mornings of slipping down to this very beach, I had never seen a bald eagle there.

After a minute or so, the eagle gracefully returned to the air and glided down the valley and out of sight.

I couldn’t help but smile at having witnessed such an event. Of course, my mind at once went to a very familiar passage: Isaiah 40:30-31.

“Even youths grow tired and weary,

and young men stumble and fall;

but those who hope in the Lord

will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint.” (NIV 2011)

I know there are pastors and others who have gone deep into eagle’s behaviours and what these verses mean. I am not an expert on eagles, so I cannot rightly do the same, but I do know what I observed that morning and how fitting it was for me that day.

The eagle’s soaring looked effortless. It was graceful. It was calm and collected. God can give me strength to be like that, even in the midst of the busyness of camp.

At the same time, the eagle did pause for a moment. Likewise, if I want that strength, there must be moments of pause – moments of reminding myself where my hope is.

Is my hope truly in God? Or am I hoping in something else? Perhaps my hope is in the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions. Perhaps my hope is in my finances. Perhaps my hope is in my health.

Like the bald eagle I saw that morning, I must pause and turn my focus to the Lord. He will renew my strength when my hope is in the right place.

If you are feeling weary and tired today, I encourage you to take a moment to pause and turn to the Lord in prayer, then read through the passage again, but this time start at Isaiah 40:28. (Here’s a link if you need it.)

How wonderful to be reminded that God does not grow weary or tired no matter how tired I get!

Today, may I place my hope securely in the Lord, for He will renew my strength.

Want more Encouraging Christian blog posts? Then you might like S. J. Little’s other posts including:

A freshly cut onion with the title: Onion Layers

 

Examining Onion Layers

I glance at the clock. Time to start making supper. As I close my computer and head toward the kitchen, I decide that stroganoff would make a tasty meal tonight.

At the pantry, I reach for onions. Since this batch of onions was starting to go bad, I’m glad the bag is nearly finished. I make a mental note to put them on the shopping list.Red onions

Pulling out two onions, I glance at them. One is large and decently healthy looking. The other is small and covered in rot.

I place the cutting board on the counter and begin peeling the larger onion. That done, I locate my favourite knife and slice the onion in half.

I frown at what I see inside.

Although the large onion appeared healthy, the center has a rotting section. With a sigh I dissect it, discarding what’s bad.

I eye the smaller onion. If the onion that had appeared considerably healthier on the outside was rotten at the core, what chance did this miserable looking onion have of containing anything good at all?

Maybe I should just throw it out.

I glance at the pile on my cutting board of chopped good onion. It’s not as big as I want it to be for the meal. I could grab another onion from the bag and out-right discard the bad one. However, I wasn’t planning to shop for groceries for a few more days. With the onion bag so low, perhaps it was worth checking to see if the smaller onion had anything worth keeping.

Resigning myself to the unpleasant task, I gingerly reach for the smaller onion. I’ll give it a try.

I slice the onion open.

To my astonishment, the rot on this onion only went two or three layers deep. Once I peeled away the outside, I had a crisp juicy looking onion. Incredibly, the good parts of this onion looked far healthier than the good parts of the larger onion.

Chopped onion in bowlThe good part of the large healthy onion appeared fine and passable, but the good part of the small rotten onion appeared fresh and delicious.

I shake my head in wonderment. I’ve long known that onions go bad more or less in layers. Peel away the bad layers and you’ll likely find good usable onion within. This particular bag of onions, however, had thus far contained several onions that appeared mostly healthy on the outside, but had a bad section at their core. How amazing to find that the one onion that looked the worst was actually the best inside.

As I toss the chopped onions into the frying pan and turn on the heat, I find myself thinking about how people can have layers as well.

The Sunday School Lesson

Perhaps the most well-known verse to go with this thought is 1 Samuel 16:7b – a verse I memorized as a child.

“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7b NIV2011)

When did God say these words? God spoke them through His prophet Samuel when choosing a new king for the nation of Israel. God didn’t choose the strongest or the best looking. He chose David, a young shepherd boy at the time.

Here’s another translation of the verse: “Humans do not see what the Lord sees, for humans see what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7b CSB)

Just like with the onions, I cannot see what is inside those around me, but God can.

If you grew up attending Sunday school, you’ve probably heard this principle many times. I know I have. It’s an important reminder from time to time, yet as I pondered the onion allegory, I wondered if there was something more for me to learn here.

A Further Onion Allegory

Then I recalled another passage of Scripture – a rather convicting one.

In Matthew 23, Jesus was pointing out the errors of the religious leaders of the day. He said:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. … You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matthew 23:25-28 NIV2011)

For now, the lesson for me to consider has to do with my own core. What are my thoughts like and how do I behave when no one is there to see me? Am I rotten in these private unseen parts of my life?

It is so easy to do as the Pharisees did and focus on making the outside of my life look good.

Earlier in the same chapter, Jesus had said: “Everything they do is done for people to see.” (Matthew 23:5a NIV2011)

So how am I doing? Am I seeking God with all my heart or is it all for show? Am I giving Him room to work in the hidden areas of my life to be transforming me into His image? Or do I need to repent of selfishness and greed and hypocrisy and wickedness?

Will I be like the religious leaders who prompted Jesus’ cry at the end of Matthew 23?

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” (Matthew 23:37 NIV2011)

Or do I pray as David did?

“Search me, O God, and know my heart!

Try me and know my thoughts!

And see if there be any grievous way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting!”

(Psalm 139:23-24 ESV)

Paint covered hands and the words: My Hands Have Too Much Paint

I need to wash my hands first

“Are you finished?” I ask a preschooler as I point to the bright picture in front of him.

His hand pauses mid-air, still holding his sponge.

“Um… Yes.” He puts the sponge back in the paint tray and smiles up at me.

“You did a good job on your painting.” I remark. “I like how hard you worked on it.”

His smile brightens as I lift the wet painting and move it to the drying rack.

I glance at his hands. “Looks like you need to wash your hands.”

He looks at his red and green fingertips. “Yeah.”

“Come on over,” I invite, “I’ll help you wash.”

As he moves toward the sink, I glance at the other preschoolers to ensure they are still fully engaged in painting.

Satisfied, I hold his hands to help him climb onto the stool without touching the walls.

I turn on the water and encourage him to wash his hands.

He lets the water run over his hands. The paint is still there.

He looks at me. “It’s not working.”

“Here, I can help you.” I take his hands in mine and start rubbing.

Immediately, his hands look more coloured. Rather than just red and green, his hands now have black and blue as well.

I frown, then look at my own hands.

Sure enough, I’d forgotten that I had accumulated a thick layer of paint on my own hands.

“Uh oh,” I say, “I forgot to wash my hands first. You rub your hands.”

Releasing his hands and moving my own hands underneath, I quickly rub the paint off them.

A glance at my hands tells me they’re paint-free now.

I take his hands once more. “Let’s try again.”

This time, as I rub his hands, the paint easily comes off. It takes a little longer because of the black and blue paint I’d inadvertently added, but soon his hands are paint-free too.

I hand him a paper towel and help him climb down.

“You go play,” I say.

“Ok,” he calls as he hurries off.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done that. So often, when helping my preschoolers paint, I get paint on my own hands. Rather than wash my hands every few seconds, I simply rub the paint until it’s dry so I can continue helping other children.

This wouldn’t be a problem, until I try to help them wash their hands. The water restores the paint on my hands and, suddenly, I’m making their hands worse rather than better.

This reminds me of something Jesus said.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:3-5 NIV

I needed to wash my hands before I could be of any use in helping the child wash his hands.

The same is true when we’re trying to help someone. My heart has to be right with God before I can effectively help anyone else get their heart right with God.

Does God use imperfect people? Absolutely! I’m one of them.

It is not that we must be perfect and have everything figured out. No, but we must have our hearts right with God.Hands with paint on them

As David said, after he’d sinned,

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me… Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will return to You.”   Psalm 51:10,13 ESV

Paul, too, talked about something similar when he said:

“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.”  Galatians 1:6 NIV

With these verses in mind, I must be intentional to seek God first. My relationship with Him must be right in order for me to be effectively able to help those around me.

Oh, that I would keep my hands continually washed clean so that I can be useful for helping others.

Is it my power, or God’s power, that brings the impact? - S. J. Little

Is it my power, or God’s power, that brings the impact?

Ah, camp. I don’t know about you, but I love being at camp. This summer I was again blessed with the opportunity to volunteer at a Christian summer camp. I thoroughly enjoy such times, though, boy, can they be busy!

Each morning, with the knowledge that I’ll be hardpressed to find downtime during the day, I try to get up fifteen minutes early in order to slip out for a brief walk in the woods.

As I slipped out for my early morning walk with Jesus on the first morning, I wandered into the woods. How wonderful to be out of the city and surrounded by God’s creation.

I found a log to sit on while I stopped to read a short Psalm. Glancing at my watch, I knew I had to get moving, so I put my Bible back in my bag, and strolled toward camp singing a song of praise.

Then I heard it. I stood still and listened. Tap, tap, tap. A woodpecker must be nearby.

Slowly I turned in a circle, eyeing the trees. Could I spot the bird?Looking for woodpeckers in the forest - The Woodpecker's Power - S. J. Little

It sounded rather distant, so I started walking toward the sound. Five steps later the sound appeared to be coming from the opposite direction. I turned and walked toward the sound again. This time I only took one step before the sound seemed to switch direction again. I was confused for a moment. Then, looking straight up the nearest tree, I smiled.

There it was. A little woodpecker.

He wasn’t a fancy woodpecker – no red crest or orange wings. He was a small brown and white bird.

He was hard at work, far overhead, pecking away at the tree.

I dared only stay a minute or two, as I couldn’t be late for staff devotions, but what a lovely way to start the day. I spoke a prayer of thanks as I moved away.

Seeing the woodpecker brought to memory an allegory I’ve heard before. I don’t know who first used this allegory, but Corrie ten Boom and Jonathan Goforth are among those who’ve included it in their messages. It is a powerful reminder.

The allegory goes like this: Once there was a woodpecker. He went about hisDid the tree split because of the woodpecker or the lightning? - S. J. Little business of tapping on trees, whether looking for bugs to eat or building himself a home.

One stormy day, as he pecked at a large sturdy tree, a bolt of lightning struck the very tree he was tapping on. The tree split in half.

The little woodpecker blinked. Then lifted his head proudly. “I didn’t know I had such power!”

Of course, I know it was not the woodpecker’s power that split the tree. The power belonged to the lightning. 

The little woodpecker was helpless to take down the tree by himself. Likewise, I am helpless to bring people closer to God in my own power. God’s power must be at work.

Keeping that in mind, I appreciate how this allegory goes a little further. Allow me to explain.

God has instructed me to work with all my heart, on whatever has been placed in front of me, as working for Him. (Colossians 3:23)The woodpecker thought it was his own power that split the tree - S. J. Little

The woodpecker exemplified this in that he was pecking away at that tree. He wasn’t sitting lazily on the branch. He was doing the job he was given to do with all his heart.

It was as he laboured at his job, that the lightning struck.

Do you see it? I am to put my heart into what God has given me to do, but the real impact happens through God’s power.

As Paul said:

“I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” 1 Corinthians 15:10b ESV

Or as the New Living Translation puts it: “For I have worked harder than any of the other apostles; yet it was not I but God who was working through me by His grace.”

Oh, that I would never forget what the woodpecker forgot, that even as I work for the Lord with all my heart, it is God’s power that brings the impact, not mine.

Faulty Fuel Line? How is my connection with God? Read the blog post on SJLittle.ca

How is my connection with God?

I drive an older vehicle. It has been faithful over the years, but no one would mistake it for new.

Recently, when I went to put gas into my car, the pump’s auto shut off activated as though my tank was full, but I knew it wasn’t. To get around this, I held the pump at half-speed. At this reduced speed, I was able to fill my tank.

With my tank full, I went on my way.

When this happened again at the same gas station, I began to suspect something was wrong with their pump. Only recently had I begun using this gas station and I’d never had the problem anywhere else.

Not long after, I again returned to this same gas station to fill up. This time several cars were already there forcing me to circle around to a pump I couldn’t recall using before.

I began filling the tank, again using half-speed. As I did so, I noticed liquid beginning to drip beneath my car.

This alarmed me. I stopped pumping and looked closer. The dripping slowed. The source of the dripping wasn’t visible to me. It was coming from underneath. I decided to try pumping some more. Again the dripping increased. I tried turning the pump at different angles in case I could find an angle that wouldn’t drip. No luck.

I didn’t fill my tank all the way this time, but enough to let me drive for the next while. As I drove away, I glanced back. There was no trail of drips following me. I made mental note of which pump I’d used.

When I got home, I drew a rough sketch of the layout of that particular gas station and marked the pump I’d used. It must have been a leaky pump. I would avoid it in the future.

It crossed my mind that maybe I should report the leaky pump to the staff at the gas station, but they probably already knew about it, right?

As the time drew near for me to get more gas, I considered going to a different gas station. However, I wouldn’t earn as many points at a different one and this one was in a convenient location. I would try one of their other pumps. Surely not all their pumps were faulty.Faulty Fuel Line? How's my connection with God? Read the blog post on SJLittle.ca

Pulling into the gas station, I chose carefully which pump to use – not the leaky one! Even if it meant waiting for someone else to move, I was determined to use a better pump this time.

When my turn came, I went through the motions of pre-paying and selecting the type of gas I wanted. Then I lifted the pump and put it into my car. I didn’t bother trying full-speed. With the gas flowing at half-speed, I watched for any signs of trouble. Almost at once I began to see that same dripping again. I tried twisting it at different angles to no avail.

It occurred to me that maybe the problem wasn’t with the gas station or even this particular pump. Maybe the problem was with my car.

With this new revelation, I only filled my tank about halfway.

What good is a car if I can’t put gas into it? Realizing what was at stake, it was decided to take the car to the mechanics.

Sure enough, while the gas tank itself was unaffected, the hose channelling gas from the pump to the tank was rusted through.

Here I’d been blaming the gas station, but all along it was my car at fault.

Then I stop and ask, are there ways I have unwittingly done this in my own life?

As a Christian, my source, or you could say my fuel, comes from God.

In a related illustration, Jesus said: “Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, neither can you unless you remain in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me.” John 15:4-5 CSB

A branch is reliant on the vine for nutrients and water. In the same way, a car is reliant on the gas station to give it fuel.

If the connection between the vine and the branch is weak or broken, that branch will not receive what it needs to be strong and healthy. Likewise, when the gas pump doesn’t properly pass fuel to the car, that car won’t be able to run.

Just as I at first blamed the gas station for the faulty connection between my car and the gas pump, do I sometimes blame God (the Vine) for not filling me with what I need to produce fruit?

God never runs out of fuel to give me, nor does He have imperfections. If I am not receiving from Him what I need, is it His fault or mine? Perhaps I have a hole in my fueling system that needs looking at?

I’m still trying to figure out exactly what this looks like in my life. I know that being intentional to make time to study the Bible and pray is part of staying connected with God. I also know that taking time to sing praises and to give thanks to Him are important.

With His help, I will get better at connecting to Him so that I can receive the fuel He desires to give me.