Sunday morning we had another guest speaker, LaNora Van Arsdall - a powerful woman of God who I've heard of before but never heard speak. It was another one of those sermons that presents something I've never heard before, or a different take on a scripture I've read a zillion times...
I took notes during the message, and decided I needed to blog about it so I can get it deeper into my spirit... Did you realize that there are four instances in the Bible in which someone parts the waters and walks through on dry land? Each of these instances and the lessons learned from it can be applied to different circumstances in our lives as believers...
My notes and observations follow:
We started out in Isaiah...
But now, this is what the LORD says - He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
This is what the LORD says - He who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick: "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.
- Isaiah 43:1-3, 16-19 (NIV)
God wants to link "passing through the waters" to the "new thing" that he's doing. When we pass through the waters, He will go with us to get us where we are going. His goal - to bring us to the character and nature of Jesus Christ in the process. (Funny quote from LaNora: "Thus says the Lord: DIE!")
There are four times in the scriptures that God parted the water, and each time it was to bring the person or people to a new place of authority or abiding, into a new dimension with Him. We often find ourselves standing at the bank of a body of water that looks like it's impossible to cross - but when our circumstances look like they are impossible, that is when God is getting ready to move!
The Waters of Testing, Exodus 14
As Pharaoh drew near, the sons of Israel looked, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they became very frightened; so the sons of Israel cried out to the LORD. Then they said to Moses, "Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt? "Is this not the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, `Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians'? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness." But Moses said to the people, "Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. "The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent." - Exodus 14:10-14 (NAS)
Notice here that the people first cried out to the Lord - but then, they turned on their leader! God had mercy on them anyway. They did not deserve His salvation at that point, but it wasn't about them. It was about God fulfilling His word. Even when we don't deserve it, the Lord will fight for us. Moses gives the people some good advice here - to be silent. "The Lord will fight for you while you shut up!", in essence.
"As for you, lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, and the sons of Israel shall go through the midst of the sea on dry land.
The sons of Israel went through the midst of the sea on the dry land, and the waters were like a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.
- Exodus 14:16, 22 (NAS)
When you pass through the waters of testing, God will use those same waters to destroy what has been standing against you. You will never see those Egyptians again forever!
What we learn from this: When you are facing the waters of testing in your life, just stand still and shut up - don't moan and complain. Stand still and see the salvation of God on your behalf! Face forward, the answer is not behind you. The answer is in what He is about to do in your circumstances.
The Waters of Transition, Joshua 3
Early the next morning Joshua and all the Israelites left Acacia and arrived at the banks of the Jordan River, where they camped before crossing. Three days later, the Israelite leaders went through the camp giving these instructions to the people: "When you see the Levitical priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD your God, follow them. Since you have never traveled this way before, they will guide you. Stay about a half mile behind them, keeping a clear distance between you and the Ark. Make sure you don't come any closer." Then Joshua told the people, "Purify yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do great wonders among you."
When the people set out to cross the Jordan, the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant went ahead of them. Now it was the harvest season, and the Jordan was overflowing its banks. But as soon as the feet of the priests who were carrying the Ark touched the water at the river's edge, the water began piling up at a town upstream called Adam, which is near Zarethan. And the water below that point flowed on to the Dead Sea until the riverbed was dry. Then all the people crossed over near the city of Jericho. Meanwhile, the priests who were carrying the Ark of the LORD's covenant stood on dry ground in the middle of the riverbed as the people passed by them. They waited there until everyone had crossed the Jordan on dry ground.
- Joshua 3:1-5, 14-17 (NLT)
Transition is the point at which you want to quit, but you no longer have a way to stop it. LaNora likened this to the transition stage of labor (and had some really funny stories to tell). This time, unlike Moses' parting of the Red Sea, the leader didn't stretch out his rod and part the waters for the people. This time, it was the presence of God that they carried with them. They had to wade into the rushing waters before they parted. Notice that those who were leading the group and carrying the presence of God with them were the ones who had to go into the water. Once they stepped in, the way was made clear for those God wanted to bring through behind them.
Once we step into the waters of transition, the way will be made clear for those people who are influenced by your life and your walk with God. People around us are constantly watching us - if they are aware that you are a believer, your life is a witness to them. When they see you walk through the transitions in your life with the peace that God gives you, it will make the way clear to them.
When you are standing at the waters of transition: walk in! The river of transition recognizes the authority and the glory of Christ within you, and it has to move. Another quick note from LaNora - the waters rolled back to Adam on one side (sweeping away the past), and on the other side, the Dead Sea (things that are death to your spirit).
The Waters of Training, 2 Kings 2
When the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, "Stay here; the LORD has sent me to Bethel." But Elisha said, "As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you." So they went down to Bethel. The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, "Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?" "Yes, I know," Elisha replied, "but do not speak of it." Then Elijah said to him, "Stay here, Elisha; the LORD has sent me to Jericho." And he replied, "As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you." So they went to Jericho. The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, "Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?" "Yes, I know," he replied, "but do not speak of it." Then Elijah said to him, "Stay here; the LORD has sent me to the Jordan." And he replied, "As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you." So the two of them walked on. Fifty men of the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground. When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, "Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?" "Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit," Elisha replied. - 2 Kings 2:1-9 (NIV)
Before Elijah was taken to heaven, he spent some time training (and testing) Elisha. Elisha's ministry was so much more powerful because of the time he put in being trained by Elijah - be assured that the training that you're going through, in whatever form it comes, does count for something.
Three times in this story, right before Elijah was taken and Elisha was given his mantle of ministry, Elijah gave Elisha the opportunity to camp and stay behind. Take note of this - when your breakthrough in your walk with Christ and your ministry is about to come, you will be tempted to sit back and stay in what you are comfortable with. Elisha said "no way!" He stuck with Elijah all the way, and took his chance when it came to ask for a double portion of the anointing that was on Elijah's ministry.
In your training phase: you are going to have to choose to go the distance, to press through into the fullness of the work that God has for you. Don't camp in your comfort zone! Another take on not camping - don't stake out your territory. ("This is my spot!") Be in the habit of training others to take your place, so that you are enabled to move on to the next new thing that God has for you.
The Waters of Triumph, 2 Kings 2
"You have asked a difficult thing," Elijah said, "yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours-otherwise not." As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha saw this and cried out, "My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!" And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them apart. He picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. Then he took the cloak that had fallen from him and struck the water with it. "Where now is the LORD , the God of Elijah?" he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over. - 2 Kings 2:10-14 (NIV)
This is the point at which we realize that we have broken through! We have moved into what God has planned for us.
You have learned to stand at the waters of testing and be quiet instead of grumbling and complaining. You have stood at the waters of transition and walked through, clearing the way for those that God has planned to follow in your footsteps. You have pressed through your training and gone the distance. You have been positioned to receive largely from God - that double portion that Elisha received.
(I'm sure I didn't do this message justice - if you would like a tape or CD sent to you, please e-mail our church receptionist, and ask for a copy of the Sunday, 5/23/04 service.)
At the end of this message, the vast majority of the church came forward to pray - we recognized that so many of us were standing at the waters in our lives. I prayed for understanding - I could sense the waters in my life. I feel like I've been standing here forever, not sure what kind of situation I was in, and what to do next. (I also bought LaNora's book, The Breakthrough Anointing - watch for summaries and insights from that book once I finish Steve Fry's I AM: The Unveiling of God, which I'm still working through.)
This morning in the shower - a common place for me to be alone with God - I continued that prayer. It seems to me that I'm at the waters of transition, but I'm surrounded by the water on 3 sides, and I've been so unsure of which direction my next step should take. Quit my job? Go to Bible College and work on a general minister's license? Get my Graphic Arts AA and go into graphic design? Work on the photography project that God gave me the vision for last year? Volunteer to work with the drama ministry at church? Try to go further in the music ministry? I know what I need to do is press toward the presence of God, and He will part the waters... but I couldn't see clearly which step was the right one to take.
So I prayed. God, make my direction clear. Where are you wanting me to go? I am not afraid to take that step into the waters... I just need to know which step. By the time I stepped out of the shower, I had peace. God brought to my mind the calling He placed on me 10 years ago, the reason I call myself the Songstress.
You see, 16 or 17 years ago, I went to a Methodist youth convention with my friend Anji, and one of the speakers challenged us with this question: If you knew that you could not fail, what would you be willing to do for God? And I said to myself "I want to sing. But... I can't do that."
And about 10 years ago, I was sitting in my living room listening to one of the most passionate songs of worship I had ever heard - Song of the Harlot, by The Violet Burning (lyrics don't appear to be on the web anywhere!). I poured my heart out before the Lord during that song, worshipped at His feet, and then, when it was over, I said "God... why isn't there more music like that out there? I want more songs like that one!" (Since then, praise and worship music has changed dramatically from the old Hosanna Integrity and Vineyard songs - but this was 10 years ago or so, and stick with me here.) I heard so clearly that still, small voice deep within me, all through me, saying "You write it. You sing it."
I began a journey that day, pouring out my heart in song to God. I wrote probably 25 songs over the next 3 or 4 years, although with my limited keyboard skills, I had to work with other musicians at my church to figure out the chords and play them for me. Several of them I never did anything with, but quite a few I worked up and sang for special music at church. The first one I sang for our congregation was a song called "Breathe" - after that one, a visiting minister called me up for a powerful personal prophecy, a word that I held on to for years after that day, but over the last 5 or 6 years I've let go.
In fact, over the last 5 or 6 years, I've barely written anything. A couple-few poems... Maybe 3 or 4 songs... Lots of meeting notes for work, letters and e-mails to friends, and this blog. That's about it.
This morning, God renewed that vision in my heart. I need to record these songs. I need to share them - as unimpressive as some of them are to me, I know that God gave them to me for a reason, and He wants to use them. Somehow, He wants to use me. That astounds me. Like I said, by the time I got out of the shower this morning, I knew the direction I needed to go. I had peace.
But you know God - just to make sure I got it, He had to confirm it to me. While I was picking out my clothes for the day, I was sitting on the edge of my bed digging through a stack of shirts that I haven't put away yet, and my eyes rested on a wall calendar that I haven't looked at in weeks. In fact, just last night before bed I realized the calendar was still on April, so I flipped the page to May. It's a beautiful calendar that the youth group at my church was selling last fall as a fundraiser. I bought it just to help them out, even spilled water all over the thing when it was still in my car and almost threw it away, but decided to hang it beside my bed somewhere around February or March, just for the heck of it.
I noticed this morning that this month's picture was a pretty purple flower, and while I was zoning out staring at the flower, my eyes drifted to the scripture verse beside it: "Sing to the Lord a new song."
OK, You got me, God. I'm in. I have no idea how the parted waters will look, but I'm taking the first step of faith. Next chance I get, I'm asking some of my musician friends to pray about working with me. I need to start working on these songs again, and find a way to get them recorded. I even think I know how that's going to work - one of the guys I work with out here (yes, one of the HardHatGuys - a very good guy, he is) has been building a recording studio in his backyard.
Stay tuned, and please keep me in prayer!