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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Pondering the Direction



How do we combat the things in our lives that try to pull us away from God? Do we hurry without lingering to obey God’s commands instead of allowing ourselves to be swept away by the world? It’s so easy to go with the flow.

Until the flow turns into a waterfall. A whirlpool. A steep drop-off. Sometimes, the flow ends abruptly and we end up sitting in the middle of a desert.

In each of these scenarios, we are at the mercy of whatever swept us away. Who knows what the end point will be?

Satan attacks God’s strongest warriors, I’ve learned. Those who have strong faith are constantly under spiritual attack from the devil’s schemes. An army of heaven’s soldiers is always fighting for our souls. It’s an abstract thought for a very real world.

The whole business wears me out. I don’t have the strength to stand on my own. I rely on God’s army to back me up, but sometimes, I’m too overwhelmed to fight or to hurry to obey God’s commands. Evil comes too fast, and I always seem to have one hand tied behind my back. So I sit down and wait for the danger to pass.

The thing is: the danger doesn’t pass. It is always there, inching its way closer until it takes control.

We all have areas of weakness where the enemy takes aim. Physical or mental health, relationships, personal tendencies – we all have soft spots. Sometimes they change or multiply. None of us is fully shielded from danger all the time.

I have to assume that not one person on this earth is immune to the strength of Satan’s attacks. None of us is God, after all. Even Jesus was tempted to stray from God. The stronger we are in faith, the more underhanded are the techniques used to fight against us. Satan can even use our own perceived strengths to make us blind and arrogant. We don’t even know that we are being overtaken.

“Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil,” says the Bible (Eph. 6:11). God’s armor: his word, Jesus’ blood, the Holy Spirit, our faith.

At times I find myself – like the psalmist – pondering the direction of my life. Am I going in the way that leads to the Lord? Or have I become tired and complacent, allowing the world to sweep me away? Worse – am I relying too much on my own strength to carry me through the battle, becoming blind to my own weaknesses?

Only when I am fully anchored to God can I live a holy life. From the smallest seed of faith, I have learned that I can do nothing on my own accord to live the life God intends for me. My weaknesses are too great – I am only one soldier fighting against Satan’s army of evil. But with God’s word, Jesus’ salvation, and the Holy Spirit, I can be victorious, refreshed and ready to fight without lingering.


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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Comfort

I’m all about comfort.

I like a state of ease and contentment, free from pain and worry. We are all like this. We seek the familiar, what makes us comfortable.

Comfort can be a dirty word in the Christian faith – “Get out of your comfort zone!” is a popular command. The idea that if we are comfortable all the time, we aren’t growing in Jesus is emphasized. If you’re all about comfort, you aren’t doing it right.

We can forget that in our zeal to live like Paul, to boldly enter into each day for God no matter the consequence, that God seeks to comfort us. He wants to assuage the hardships in our lives. Further, we are to embrace that which he gives us in every situation, even the comfort that eases our tension, and pass it along to others using our holy gifts of care, compassion, and love.

A full definition states that comfort is a strengthening aid, one that brings assistance and support, or consolation in time of trouble or worry. Solace. I hope to be that for someone – I seek it. God is a comfort to me in this way. I’d like to be this for others, if it’s possible. We are encouraged to do for others as God has done for us.

Comfort is also defined as a feeling of relief or encouragement. One of my main goals in life is to understand others. To relate and to share. Life on this earth is full of trial and worry; when we know others who either share our experiences or love us enough to weather the storms with us, we are comforted by their presence. We feel – dare I say – blessed by God, who gave us others who get us. We are encouraged by them to keep on keeping on. In turn, we encourage and promote others’ feelings of relief when we share our experiences with them.

The definition of comfort goes on: contented well-being. A satisfying or enjoyable experience. One that gives or brings comfort.

These are all things that God gives us. These are not bad things.

We can all swing the other way when it comes to comfort – we can ignore the needs of others because they don’t fit into the schedule for the day, for our lives. I’m certainly not promoting this level of comfort that cocoons us away from others. Although sometimes it’s tempting.

But when we look at what God does for us, we can’t help but want to do this for others, to share his glory and goodness and our faith – how did we get here? Look - I am just like you, scared and unsure and uncomfortable of my purpose here. But God shows me, and he will show you, too. It isn’t always easy and enjoyable, but I have learned to seek him during the hard times, and he has – impossibly – made them comfortable. He has comforted me in my grief, and he will do that for you.

Comfort is not a bad thing in this life, when seen from a godly perspective. We can use what God gave us to comfort others, building relationships and being a light for him. It might not always be comfortable to reach out, but when we know that we are being used by God to bring a feeling of ease and contentment to others? There’s not much better than that.

Dear God,
You have comforted my heart and my soul and my mind many times over.
I seek to pass this care onto others who come into my life.
Please give me the opportunities to share your comfort.
Thank you. Amen.


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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

No Time for Planning

Ask anyone on the cusp of a major life decision when they’re going to take the leap, and you might hear one of the following:

I’m not quite there yet.

I’m not ready.

I have to get my ducks in a row.

The planning stage is still in effect, the time for execution not yet arrived.

I get it. I say it when I’m buying time before taking the plunge in any direction. Often my reasons for putting things off to the future are because of procrastination instead of planning, but let’s not split hairs.

Sometimes, the great leap into the unknown with no planning involved can be magic. For all of the times I’ve said “I’m not ready yet – I’ve got to prepare,” I’ve said at least as many times “What the heck – let’s do this!”

And that’s why I have two children.

Some things, when aren’t planned, work out beautifully.

Many life circumstances happen whether or not we are ready. Taking pains to plan our next move are wasted when a timeline is sped up or eliminated. During these times, we have a choice to go with what happens and embrace a new situation, or fight against it and spin our wheels.

* * *

One day Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee. There he saw Simon and his brother Andrew. They were throwing a net into the lake. They were fishermen. “Come and follow me,” Jesus said. “I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

Then Jesus walked a little farther. As he did, he saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat preparing their nets. Right away he called out to them. They left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men. Then they followed Jesus.

Mark 1:16-20 

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Can you imagine leaving your job instantly to follow some dude walking down the street who called you to him? That’s exactly what these disciples did. They were successful business owners, too, not a couple of jackwagons out casting a line into a pond on their day off. They certainly had plans to keep their fishing business thriving, and they left it all to follow Jesus. And, by the way, the life of a disciple wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows, either. It was hard times.

And they embraced it.

This lesson isn’t lost on me. Embracing what comes my way is better than fighting it in the long run. Life changes when plans shift, and if we allow it, resilience kicks in and we figure out how to handle our new situation. Sometimes we drag ourselves through it kicking and screaming, but that’s no way to live. We learn more and do better when we make the best out of what we are given.

And if we believe in God, we just might see his hand in every step we take.

I believe that God has called me to do certain things in this life. He created my path – one that I can’t see clearly, but I can navigate it with his help. The decisions I make come from past choices, and he guides me according to them.

Sometimes I’ve planned these choices, been ready for them. Sometimes, not so much. Some of the outcomes from these choices are wonderful, expected.

Sometimes, not so much.

But along this path, one thing is certain: I am learning about who God is, and who he made me to be. Not who I want to be, not always who I’ve planned to be.

When Jesus calls us, we might not have time to plan or figure out how to follow him – we just follow him. With his help, everything falls into place and our actions are right. No amount of earthly planning makes up for the perfection of God’s will and his glorifying love. 

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Friday, March 25, 2016

Sleeping Warrior

In the middle of the night, when I sometimes wake for the bathroom, a drink of water, a sudden noise, a change in temperature, or for no reason whatsoever, my mind wanders.

It lands on all the things that plague me, the little doubts and worries that pick and poke at me during daylight hours but that are normally dissipated by strong reason and rationalization, confidence and assuredness. When I have all my faculties, and I can clearly choose not to sweat the small things.

It could be a financial concern, a strained relationship, something I said that might be construed as offensive, something coming up that I am not ready to face, all the work I need to do the next day – these are the things that I think of late at night when my mind is open and vulnerable.

Years ago these things would keep me up all night. I would stew and worry and think and think and think – all to no avail. Nothing can be done in the wee hours, no solution carried out while the world is sleeping. The idea that nothing could be done right then would be added to my list of worries.

It's not like that so much anymore. Though these thoughts still spring to mind upon waking, I have grown enough to be able to banish these thoughts more readily.

I realize that Satan parades these things across my mind when I am weak and prone to attack. He preys when I am weak – chooses the parts of me that are exposed – to strike at first.

The realization makes me angry – how dare he do this? I have done nothing to deserve his attacks. I am not in a war here. Why doesn’t he pick on a terrible person, someone who brazenly lives with no shame or fear or conscience, someone who is more easily destroyed because of the choices he or she makes? I’m just living my life, making errors like everyone else – I am not so special.

But I am special. I am God’s child. I am a warrior, even when on my back, groggy and soft and at my most vulnerable.

Satan has picked off the weak already. They are of no concern to him, and easy prey. He will fight viciously for my soul, battling it out in my room – in my mind – in the middle of the night. He relishes the fight, because he knows I am hard-won. If he can get to me, he has won a mighty victory.

In those moments soon after Satan tries to assume power over my mind, I fight back. Not with fists or weapons, but with prayer. I turn from plaguing thoughts and pray to God to take them. I tag in God by throwing at him the cares and concerns that the devil tries to burden me with, and ask him for my next move. And just like that, I am protected.

In the middle of the night, when I am weak, I can still fight. I can summon the name of God and thank him for all he has done. Satan has no power when compared to the power that God wields in my life. God fights for me, alongside me, before me, and after me – I believe this wholeheartedly.

When I eventually fall asleep after Satan's attack, my last thought is on God’s goodness.  My faith is strengthened for another day; this particular battle has been won.



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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Coat



Have you ever had a time in your life where every Bible verse you read seems to echo in your mind? This happens to me pretty often. It’s like that old Sunday School trick where you open the Bible randomly, close your eyes and point on the page – God always has something specific to tell you in the verse right under your fingertip.

Sometimes it’s not just every verse that applies. It’s every blog post, every image, every song heard that screams at us to focus on God at that point in life. To turn to him. To get back on the path.

Usually this happens during a place of suffering. Whether tangible or nebulous, warranted or unexpected, self-imposed or involuntary, we struggle in life. And we have to get a grip on the struggling to move on.  When we feel the weight of life – and often, our own sins – acutely, it’s like a smothering coat, one not easily removed.

We come across those words, those images, those melodies, and at once we realize that we are being stifled. We become impatient to shed our heaviness.

But sometimes, instead of shedding it, we cover it up with a heavier coat. We rationalize our behavior. We shift blame. We point outward instead of inward. Or we continue in our behavior, pretending that we haven’t done anything wrong, ignoring the problem and kicking it further down the road.

It’s hard to face responsibility. We get stuck in patterns of behavior that are difficult to change. We don’t even know how to change them, we are so entrenched. So we go on, acting as if we haven’t done anything wrong, not aware that our heavy coat is keeping us from moving forward and experiencing the warmth of the sun on our shoulders.

When I am weighed down by sin, I search my brain for lessons I’ve learned. What past experiences are similar to this one? What did I do to get through it? Sometimes, I am still wearing a particular coat I thought I had shed and I work to undo the fasteners before moving onto the next layer. It might be a way of thinking left over from an old set of beliefs. It could be that I haven’t really been aware of how I’ve been living lately, and it’s hardly godly.

Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish what I have learned from who I have become. I need God’s clarity to know what to do, what to focus on, how to proceed. My life is in his hands. I trust him to put me back on the path, to shine the light on my face.

But first, I need to get rid of that coat.

Dear Lord, forgive me today of my sins. They are many. Please help me to see clearly my next steps, and give me the wisdom to see your path. Thank you, Amen.


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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Source

Life, love, joy - these things are human desires we hold dear. There are others, but these are the ones under which most others fall.

In relationships, we struggle with these things. Life becomes monotonous when there’s no extra money or time or imagination for extras, love unsuccessfully binds people together when uncertainty reigns, and joy falls victim to the failings of both.

I have struggled with holding onto these three things at times. Juggling all three can be a feat.

We are too easily swayed by blaming. She drags me down; he doesn’t treat me well; if we had more, we’d be happy. It’s always someone else’s responsibility.

How many times is life unbearable because of someone else’s behavior? As a parent, I sheepishly admit that my kids have ruined my day more times than they should. An adult whose mood is dictated by the whims of toddlers and snarky kids is an adult who is unhappy most of the time. Kids are learning life alongside their parents, and the job of parents is to teach them. When we allow our kids rule our lives, we all suffer.

Likewise, I have been swayed by my husband’s moods. How many perfectly fine days of my own have been marred by his bad day at work? A lovely evening can end up in the gutter when one person is down in the dumps.

photo courtesy of unsplash

The fact that I am so readily influenced by the meanness of life really grates on my nerves. After I’m finished being annoyed at the external source of my pain, I turn on myself. I am weak-minded, soft-hearted, thin-skinned. Buck up – jeez. It’s their problem, not mine. My job is to support them, to model life, love, and joy so they can be positively influenced, not dive into the hole with them and shove them out of the way to dig deeper.

Do you see something missing?

It’s God. God is there, waiting patiently while we struggle, wishing to pluck off the blinders we firmly planted over our eyes. I’m here, guys, says God. All the time.

We miss seeing him sometimes.

Not seeing the forest for the trees is my specialty. I get so bogged down into daily tasks that I forget why I’m living this life. Daily tasks are wearisome and frustrating. But when I focus on the source of these tasks and the author of my life in them, they become bearable. I’m not at the point where scrubbing toilets brings me joy, but I believe it can happen.

Everything that God gives us is good, not the least of which are life, love, and joy. Our world can’t help but bring bad things and feelings into our lives because of its brokenness. That’s not God’s fault. It’s the fault of imperfect choices made by imperfect people. People change and make questionable choices over circumstances and time, and power is fleeting, along with things like good health, freedom, and security – all things that we wrongly choose to trust. Stress and negativity result from misguided trust and the failings of others. It happens to all of us.

I hope to achieve a place in my faith where feelings and actions occur through the filter of God’s love and strength. I don’t have this strength on my own, as evidenced by all the times I allow the bad stuff to infiltrate my demeanor. All the good stuff comes from him. As I continue to learn this, I hope and pray that I will see the life, love and joy that he so freely has given me.

He has given it to us all.

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Dear God,

I am weary in this world.

Your love sustains me – nothing else.

I look to you with hope and confidence that you will show me
the treasures you have given to me.

To all of us.

Teach me to be an example to others
so that I can be a light for you and for your love.

Thank you.

Amen.

Friday, February 19, 2016

A Rebel, for sure. But a Loner?



Don’t you just love Pee Wee?

When thinking of a solitary sort, someone who likes to be by herself a lot, one who prefers time alone and away from others in a crowd, this clip comes to mind.  It’s a leftover from childhood, a silly scene from a movie that we watched on a loop and quoted often.

I’m a loner, Dottie.  A rebel.

It resonates with me, this line.  Despite it being funny that Pee Wee Herman could be anything that closely resembles a rebel, that a person could be characterized by her need to get away, to be alone often, to not rely on the company of others to feel energized, and to be recognized as this specific type of person, is validating.

I didn’t realize it then, but I was this person.  I am this person.

Being in community is wonderful and fulfilling, fun and meaningful.  Spending time among others, taking part in inspiring conversations, learning and helping and living together – this is why we were made.  No man is an island.  We need each other to survive.

I know this.  I live this.  I keep my family members alive every day.  Proof of this is that they rely on me to know what they will eat later.

The service aspect of my job is obvious.  I’ve spent years doing for others; it’s my main job.  But serving is exhausting.  I know this.  I live this.  Regularly getting away from constant service is the key to physical and mental health.  Asserting my need and taking the time to for rest has become a side job, because who doesn’t like to always have someone around to serve them?  There is always another need.  It’s up to me to retreat.

I learned this with difficulty, but Jesus knew it well.

After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.
When evening came, he was there alone.
Matthew 14:23

 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up,
left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.
Mark 1:35

 After telling everyone good-bye, he went up into the hills by himself to pray.
Mark 6:46

 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
Luke 5:16

 One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray,
and spent the night praying to God. 
Luke 6:12 

Now, look. I Googled “Bible verses about Jesus retreating” and came up with these. They are written by different people about the same guy, and are probably written about the same events they experienced together, so seeing these verses together may be overstating Jesus’ need to run off into the woods to get away from everyone for a while. We all know Jesus was a rebel, but maybe he wasn’t the loner I am hoping he is to further validate my own loner tendencies. He is a good role model, though.

During those times Jesus gets away by himself, he doesn’t lie on the couch and read, or cruise social media, or watch TV, or shop, or even drive aimlessly, doing his best Adele impression along with the radio.

Jesus retreats, and he prays. He spends his downtime with God. He doesn’t hoard the time, hurrying to get miracles and teaching and work for the day over with so he can get back to his room and relax by watching YouTube videos.

Jesus doesn’t grumble over the time he spends serving. He serves, stops to eat, rest, and pray, fills up on God, and gets back to it. Because he knows that is his job. And his job is important.

We are all here to do whatever it is we are doing. We were made to serve, and rest when we are tired.  Jesus knew the importance of these things, and he knew how to do them well.

I recognize that my time to regroup and rest is as precious as what I give away. But maybe it is a little too precious and not as fulfilling as it could be if I focused on asking God to restore me during that time.

YouTube can fill the minutes, but it can’t fill my soul.

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