Thursday, October 25, 2012

God's Friend

James Tissot (1836-1902) : Abraham Bowing Before God and the Angels
  Abraham was God’s friend. One day the Lord came and visited him in person.
“The Lord appeared again to Abraham near the oak grove belonging to Mamre. …Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent during the hottest part of the day. He looked up and noticed three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran to meet them and welcomed them, bowing low to the ground.” Genesis 18:1-2

I wonder if God decided to disguise Himself as a human and came to visit one of us as He did Abraham that day along with two of His angels, would we recognize Him as Abraham did?
I believe one way we can always recognize God is to daily abide in Him as Jesus commands us.
“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me… for without Me you can do nothing. “ John 15:4-5
 We abide in Christ by setting aside time for Him each day for worship and studying and meditating on His word, and praying for others.

Abraham said to God,  “My Lord, if now I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant, I beg of you.
 Let a little water be brought, and you may wash your feet and recline and rest yourselves under the tree.
And I will bring a morsel of bread to refresh and sustain your hearts before you go on further—for that is why you have come to your servant.” Genesis 18:3-5 (AMP)
I love that verse…"for that is why you have come to your servant.” (verse 5)

Abraham De Gelder 1685: Abraham prepares God a Feast
Abraham figured God had come to visit him to be refreshed, encouraged, and comforted (according to one version) before going on in His journey.
He actually believed that though he was just a human, he could somehow bring comfort and encouragement to His Creator through providing a meal and hospitality for him! I love this man’s faith!

 Abraham was worshiping God in the natural world but we worship God in the Spirit. What if our worship and our praises somehow brought comfort and encouragement to our holy God who loves us with measureless love and longs to fellowship with us?
Abraham and God were true Friends! God is no respecter of persons. Jesus says we can be His Friends too!
Jesus says to His disciples in John’s Gospel, “You are My friends if you do what I command. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13-14 
Jesus gave His precious life for every one of us.  He wants very much to be our holy Friend even as Abraham was God’s friend. Jesus says in Revelation 3:20:
 “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.”  (Rev. 3:20 NLT)
William Holman Hunt (1853)

If God came to visit me clothed in flesh, would I be as hospitable as Abraham? Would God be blessed, comforted and encouraged by the banquet I prepared for Him? Or would I say, not now God, I am too busy with my projects, with work that must be done! Don’t you see Lord, I have a project deadline and a boss that has no mercy? My kids come first, they have activities you see, there is this meeting I must attend or that thing I must do…the list of excuses is endless and they all seem so reasonable and so important and of course God won’t mind, after all, He is God, He is love, and there is ALWAYS tomorrow, or after the meeting or the project, or the activity, or whatever I am doing that is so much more important than meeting with the Lord.

But then Abraham was not too busy for God. He went out of his way to make God and the angels a feast! He dropped everything on his agenda. In fact, he even seemed to have been waiting for God from the very first verse of the chapter as he sat in the doorway of his tent in the heat of the day. 

Rembrandt: Abraham, God & the Angels
“So Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah and said, 'Quickly get ready three measures of fine meal, knead it, and bake cakes.'
And Abraham ran to the herd and brought a calf tender and good and gave it to the young man [to butcher]; then he [Abraham] hastened to prepare it.
 And he took curds and milk and the calf which he had made ready, and set it before [the men]; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.” Genesis 18:6-8 (AMP)

If we are too busy to wait on God, to have a special time set aside for regular worship and bible study, then we are too busy. We will not get to know Him or grow closer in our relationship with Him.
The truth is, God already has come down and clothed Himself with flesh and blood in the person of every single child of God through His Holy Spirit!
We have the incredible privilege of having the Spirit of the living God, our holy Creator abiding daily in our hearts! 

“Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?  For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”
1 Corinthians 6:19-20

“Don’t grieve God. Don’t break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don’t take such a gift for granted.” Ephesians 4:30 MSG

There is a haunting painting by James Tissot that draws my soul to worship whenever I see it. It portrays an image of Jesus Christ peering from behind a garden lattice, looking longingly at the viewer. He seems to be hoping that we will take the time to fellowship with Him. For He suffered death and hell to redeem us so that me might become His very own garden. He longs to meet us in the secret place of our hearts and draw us ever closer to Himself. It is difficult to see His face, so obscured by the lattice work of the window. Yet if we will focus our attention on Him instead of the many lines and shapes that want to obscure Him, we will see Him looking back at us.
And that is so like our lives; if we will but take the time to sit still and look for Him amidst the clutter of all our activities, we will see Him peering back at us. "Come here," He says. "Come sit a while with Me."
James Tissot: Jesus Peering Through a Lattice Window
 It should be the greatest desire of every child of God to want to bless our God when He comes knocking at our door to visit us, to “share a meal” with us!
“Let all that I am praise the Lord;
  with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.
 Let all that I am praise the Lord;
  may I never forget the good things he does for me.
He forgives all my sins
  and heals all my diseases. 
He redeems me from death
 and crowns me with love and tender mercies.
He fills my life with good things.  My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!” 
Psalm 103:1-5 (NLT)

To bless means to thank, to praise, to call on God, to adore Him, to acknowledge Him.
Abraham was God’s friend. He knew God and God knew him. 
Jesus said, "And this is eternal life: that they might know You, the only true God, and the One whom You sent--Jesus the Messiah." John 17:3 (ISV)

Dear Heavenly Father, please help me to willingly make time for You every day even as Abraham did. I want to know You, and Your Son Jesus Christ; to love You with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, and to be Your friend.  I want to bless Your soul and encourage Your heart with the banquet I prepare for You, just as Abraham did when you stop by for a visit to my tent! In Jesus’ holy name. Amen.

"God's Friend" Copyright 2012 Suzanne Davis Harden All Rights Reserved. Unto The Least of These 

*James Tissot (1836 – 1902) Commented on the Inspiration behind his painting "Jesus Looking Through a Garden Lattice" He said it was inspired by a verse from the Song of Solomon 2:9: "My beloved is like a roe or a young hart: behold, he standeth behind our wall, he looketh forth at the windows, shewing himself through the lattice."
"Jesus Looking Through a Garden Lattice"  (gouache (14 × 18 cm) — James Tissot: 1886 - 1894  Brooklyn Museum, New York City





Thursday, October 11, 2012

YOU WANT A PORTRAIT OF YOUR WHAT?!

 

The bible says “A man’s mind plans his way but the Lord directs his steps.”
One day a couple years ago, I went to the Optician to have my glasses prescription filled.
His assistant wanted to know what sort of work I did so that she could prepare my new glasses accordingly.
“I’m an artist,” I said rather absently. Lately I had not felt much like an artist. I hadn’t been able to work as much as I’d liked and I was feeling discouraged.
Only a few years before I had been healthy and strong. I could work hours on end at my desk or easel without pain or fatigue and I hardly knew what a headache was.
I was working as a freelance illustrator, writing and illustrating my own book projects, attending conferences, and I had even created my own website. I walked 6 miles a day and stayed busy all the time. 

But then in 2006 all that changed when I caught what seemed to be an ordinary virus. Only three days later when it should have gone away, it didn’t.
After two weeks, my legs were cramping when I tried to walk, my arms were going numb, and my hands were so weak I could barely hold a pen or pencil. If I tried to focus on reading or drawing, my eye muscles would go into spasms and I would immediately get a migraine headache. Anything it seemed; noise, bright light, strong smells, the weather could provoke a migraine. I had rarely ever suffered from any headaches before so this was excruciating for me. I had to sit in my house for months in a darkened room with a mask over my eyes and just be quiet and still. So I listened. I listened to God. 

At first I was very upset with Him. I could not understand why God would let this happen to me. Had I not been serving Him faithfully? I loved Him with all my heart. God had given me many gifts and dreams of serving Him along with those gifts. Every day I had prayed that I would glorify Him.
God spoke to my heart. “I’m not punishing you, I love you very much. But I need to teach you the truth. Be still now and patient.”
I saw a vision of God sitting on His beautiful throne. He was majestic! As bright as if clothed with the stars. He said, “I will heal you.”
I sketched the vision with what strength I had in my hands. The lines were very timid and faint though. I wrote His promise and the date. My head hurt like nails were boring through my eyes for the rest of the day but I had to record that vision!

The Lord Jesus drew me very close to Him during that time. He said He broke me for a reason.
I had relied on my strength instead of God’s strength in me to do His work. I valued myself more for what I did than for who I was. I saw myself in terms of my profession, rather than the person inside who God created. I did not love me for myself. Nor did I think anyone else would either. Nor did I think God would. I felt God’s love was performance based, as if He loved me for what I could do for Him.

The parable of the ten talents haunted me. Every time the preacher preached on it I would think, I am not doing enough for God; I might be burying my talents in some way and so I would work all the harder. I was the proverbial workaholic.
Jesus said He wanted my heart more than my works.
He says to those who have done great and mighty works for Him but have not truly known Him or His true will, “…depart from Me you workers of iniquity, for I never knew you…” Matthew 7:23
He told me as I sat a captive audience before Him, “You don’t have to win My love with your good works. You’ve already got it.”

When this happened to me, the last thing I wanted to do was be still.
I had so many unfinished projects I wanted to work on!  But God said no.
“Wait on the Lord, my soul does wait, and in His word do I hope. Be still and know I am God!” I learned to truly wait on God during those long months of stillness.

It took 4 months of physical therapy to get my hands back to where I could properly hold a pen or pencil again. 
My first painting after 4 months of illness
How I praised God when tests came back saying I did not have anything fatal. What Doctors finally did conclude was that I had had the Epstein Barre virus that had triggered an auto-immune disorder in my body called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. It would take several more years before neurologists discovered that this disorder also caused a chemical imbalance in my brain that triggers periodic seasons of chronic migraines.

The Lord kept His word and slowly healed me. After about 6 months I went into a period of remission.
I was not completely restored to my former strength though. God told me I was always going to need to be careful to work within my body’s new parameters so that He would be glorified in me. He wanted me to trust Him now. He wanted me to rely on His strength and not my own. He said that I would complete every work that HE had ordained for me to create for His glory. As always, my husband Mark was an invaluable helper and blessing. His patience was amazing. Periodically I might have setbacks when I have worked beyond my body’s limits, but never would I become as ill as I was during that first six months of waiting on God. God has been faithful to His promise.

That afternoon, when the Optician's clerk asked me what I did, I wanted to say I used to work as an artist. But that would not have been true because I still drew and painted and had in fact started my own greeting card company featuring my artwork.
I was feeling very discouraged though for I had entered another season of headaches, similar to those I’d experienced before my daughter’s wedding, only these were not nearly as severe, due to the Lord’s mercy and faithfulness. 

Still, I was often tired and could not do as much as I wished.  The assistant immediately wanted to see a sample of my work. So I gave her an encouraging card.
She then asked me if I would consider making a portrait of her mule of all things!
I looked up at her incredulously. “Your what?”
“My mule; he’s a beloved member of my family and I would love to have his portrait made.”
A portrait was the last thing I wanted to paint. Especially a mule’ s portrait! Nothing could induce me to paint such a thing. Suddenly the Holy Spirit nudged me. Uh oh. No God…please….
“Ask her how much she’s willing to pay for such a portrait….”
“Absolutely NOT!” I wrestled in my heart with God. I have no intentions of painting a mule. You know I can’t paint a mule. Besides, I have not painted anything but flowers in a month. And folks are weird about things they love, they are never satisfied! No! No! No!”
But the Holy Spirit insisted, “Ask her how much!”

Have you ever wrestled with the Lord? You know that story in the Bible about Jacob and the angel wrestling all night in prayer? Oh, I know how that must have felt!
I know how Moses must have felt in his conversations with God about not wanting to go to Egypt and feeling not qualified. God does not give in very easily when He wants you to do something and believes in you even when you don’t believe in yourself.
I reluctantly obeyed the Lord and said to the woman, “So, how much are you willing to pay for a portrait of your mule?”
“How much do you normally charge for portraits?” the woman asked me.

I did not really feel up to painting the mule.  “Lord,” I prayed, “I am going to ask for a price to paint her mule's portrait that will totally discourage her-- then I will know it is NOT your will for me to do this!”
I gave the woman the price, which, though a fair price for a "people" portrait which I was comfortable doing, at the time it seemed an amazing amount to ask for an animal portrait. It didn't matter anyway, I  knew she would never agree to it so I breathed a sigh of relief.
To my horror she looked at me and said, “I want you to paint my mule! I will pay that price to have you paint him. He's like a beloved member of my family. I want to remember him forever.”
I could not believe my ears. Before I left the optician's shop that day I had a photo of her beloved “pet,”  and I’d given my word to paint a portrait of a creature I could barely distinguish from a horse.

“Oh Lord,” I prayed, “how did you get me into this? You know this is too hard for me!”
“Nothing is too difficult for God,” He assured me. “I will help you! Trust Me!”
“I have too many headaches to be painting a portrait... I can paint people…but mules...This is beyond me…I know nothing about such creatures! This is just too stressful.” I felt like crying.
But God whispered in my heart, “My grace is sufficient for you.”

Every day I would trust God and invite Him to work with me on the picture. Feeling bad that I charged so much for the commission, I decided to add the owner's portrait in with her mule so that it would be a double portrait. When I finished the first set of preliminary sketches, the woman cried when she saw them. She said I had "captured" her mule whose name was "Stormy." In my heart I knew that it had to have been God’s hand because I could never have drawn him on my own. And every time I worked on Stormy's portrait, I would pray for him.
Some days I had too much pain or fatigue to work, but on those days God just blessed me with prayer songs to comfort me. When I was able to work, God was always faithful. He encouraged me to keep trying even though I felt so inadequate for the task. Even though I kept worrying that the woman was not going to think it was good enough. In the back of my mind I had always heard that no one is ever really satisfied with a portrait. 

Every time I went to work I prayed, “God, you broke me for a reason. Work through this broken vessel so your glory and honor can be displayed more brightly.”
God guided my hands. He gave me peace. He gave me joy as I worked with Him on the picture. 

Finally after many months and long hours of hard work, perseverance and faith the painting was at last finished.
Detail of Portrait of A Mule © S.D.Harden All Rights Reserved
God's faithfulness to see me through was my greatest joy. It was worth the struggle to learn that when God makes a promise to help us do something we think we can’t do because we feel unqualified or inadequate, He makes up for our weakness in every area where we fall short. He will not fail us. 


 Heavenly Father, Thank you for such love that will never fail nor forsake us.
Thank you that your grace is always sufficient for us. Thank you that though we are weak, Lord Jesus, You are strong through your Holy Spirit within us. 
Thank You for that mighty strength that brings us victory in every challenge as we rely on you!
I love you! Amen.

"You Want A Portrait of Your What?" © 2012 Suzanne Davis Harden All Rights Reserved. 
Unto The Least Of These

Thursday, October 4, 2012

GOOD TEACHER

"One thing thou lackest:
go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, 
and give to the poor,
    and thou shalt have treasure in heaven:
  and come,
take up the cross,
and follow me.
And he was sad at that saying, 
and went away
grieved: for he had
great possessions."
— St. Mark 10:21-22 KJV


Good Teacher, What Must I Do? 

Poem © 2012  Suzanne Davis Harden

 “Good Teacher,” said the young man,
“What must I do to be saved?”
And Jesus looked in His eyes
He loved the young man He’d made.

And Jesus looked in His eyes,
Though rich, the man was a slave;
Now seeking the things of God;
Jesus loved the man He had made.

And Jesus looked in His eyes
“And so you seek to be saved…”
Keep the commandments of God—
All of the ones He gave…”
The young man stood up tall
And He looked at the Lord with pride,
“I’ve kept them all from my youth,
Yes, since I was a little child.”

And Jesus peered in His eyes,
Looked deep in His very soul,
“One thing, My son, you lack,
And then you’ll be made whole.”

The man looked up at Jesus,
His eyes a puzzled stare,
“Give all you have to the poor, My son,
Then follow Me everywhere.”
Trade your earthly riches
For those you cannot see…
Let go of all you have, My son,
And come and follow Me.
My son, come follow Me,
And give to Me your life,
And I will meet your every need;
I’ll never leave your side.
Don’t trust in what you see,
Don’t trust in what you have;
Trust in One who gives good things
To those with faith to ask.
 
 My love will carry you
Down every path you take;
I’ll carry you to heaven,
Your heart I won’t forsake.”


The young man looked at Jesus,
Then sadly walked away.
He would not trade His riches
For the Savior’s path of faith.
He would not trade His riches
For the heart of Jesus’ love,
And He walked away from Jesus
Choosing wealth over God above.

"He went away sorrowful; for he was one that had great possessions."
 Lay Up Treasures in Heaven

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;  but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  
~Matthew 6:19-21

Do Not Love This World
 "Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever." 
~1 John 2:15-17

Heavenly Father, thank you for all of the wonderful things you give us to enjoy every day! You love to give good gifts to Your children and take great delight in blessing us. But when our possessions become more important to us than You or other people, help us to see that we have become slaves to them. 
Lord, help us not to lay up treasures for ourselves on this earth, but to seek first Your kingdom and Your righteousness. For where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also.
Oh Lord, may You be our true heart's treasure. May we love You more than all things. In Jesus' name. Amen.


                                       Illustrations
"Christ and the Rich Young Ruler"~ Painting by German Painter Heinrich Hofman (1824-1911)
"For He Had Great Possessions" Painting of Rich Young Ruler by George Frederick Watts (British Portrait Painter 1817-1904)
"Good Teacher, What Must I Do?" Poem © 2012 Suzanne Davis Harden All Rights Reserved. Unto The Least Of These