“Your choice must be a deliberate determination—it is not something into which you will automatically drift. And everything else in your life will be held in temporary suspension until you make a decision. The proposal is between you and God—do not “confer with flesh and blood” about it (Galatians 1:16). With every new proposal, the people around us seem to become more and more isolated, and that is where the tension develops. God allows the opinion of His other saints to matter to you, and yet you become less and less certain that others really understand the step you are taking. You have no business trying to find out where God is leading—the only thing God will explain to you is Himself.
Openly declare to Him, “I will be faithful.” But remember that as soon as you choose to be faithful to Jesus Christ, “You are witnesses against yourselves . . .” (Joshua 24:22). Don’t consult with other Christians, but simply and freely declare before Him, “I will serve You. ”Will to be faithful—and give other people credit for being faithful too.”
My Utmost for His Highest, Updated Edition by Oswald Chambers
Lord, I will be faithful. I will serve You. Please equip me to be a witness for your grace and glory. Please bless me with wisdom. Please bless me with courage. “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” Romans 8:26
…choose for yourselves today whom you will serve…
Joshua 24:15 (NASB)
“Let not conscience make you linger, Not of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth is to feel your need of Him.
Come, ye weary, heavy laden, lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry til you’re better, You will never come at all.
You will never come at all.”
Yesterday I gave something up.
I realized it was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. But I didn’t give up this “something” for Lent. I haven’t observed Lent for decades, for reasons I won’t go into right now.
When I decided to give up this “something,” I knew I wanted to give it up forever. I need to give it up forever.
What is it?
For months, I had prayed like a widow, asking God if he wanted me to post some things I began writing in August of 2012. For months I fought against God’s relentless prompting to post. I rationalized. I pleaded.
Finally, I got a word from God I knew I could not ignore. I knew I was being blatantly disobedient and that I would find no rest until I posted. So, nauseous and against my will, I hit publish.
And then F5.
again. and again. and again.
I continued to post every day. And I continued to refresh my blog stats.
Over the last week, God revealed to me that I had a refresh addiction. That stupid little F5 key was having a significant negative impact on my blog posting. From everything I wrote to what I posted to when I posted it. It was intruding on my thoughts. and my sleep.
I skipped a day. Posted. Skipped another day. Posted again.
I knew I was holding back. I was letting digital feedback interfere with God’s direction. I knew I had to cut off the stats. I’ll still respond to comments and private messages, but I’ve moved my blog stat widget and my “Top Ten” widget down in my navigation menus, out of my line of sight. If I find that I can still see them as I work, I’ll remove them altogether. I’ve turned off email notifications for when someone “likes” a post or “follows” my blog. I haven’t viewed my stats page or my “Live Traffic Feed” widget since early Wednesday morning.
It’s the end of my second day without blog stat feedback and I can honestly say.
I have absolutely no idea how many people are or are not reading my blog. I have no idea what posts are being read or how often. I have no idea where visitors are coming from or what they click on. I have no idea what search strings are being used to find my posts. I know nothing about my blog activity.
I thought I would be anxious. But I’m surprisingly relieved.
Here’s what my new blog plan looks like:
6. Trust God to do whatever He is going to do.
I need to depend on Christ for affirmation.
To read the next post in this series, click here: “I made a mistake.“
Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
FavoriteDaddy reading The Hobbit to PinkGirl last night.
Honored to have had the privilege of delivering this message to a group of women at a Brunch this past Saturday morning. This video will give you a preview of the book I’m writing. If you’ve got 8 minutes and 27 seconds, check it out.
“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself…When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?””
Luke 24:27, 30-32 (NIV)
Lord, please open my eyes. Please open the Scriptures to me. Please teach me how to encounter Christ in every corner of the Bible. I can’t do it on my own. I desperately need your Holy Spirit to help me decipher what I read, but I also need teachers and books and other resources to point me to Christ in every measure of your Word. PLEASE Lord, don’t ever let me passively use or numbly accept others use of Your Word only as supporting material for moral living or motivation for charitable service – without an unmistakable declaration that apart from Jesus Christ, moral living and charitable service are empty, temporal pursuits. Please Lord, never let me settle for an assumption of Jesus. My desperate prayer is that I would never forget that JESUS is the single common thread that runs through every book of the Bible. Lord, never let me forget that without JESUS, the Bible is just a historical document. I want to see Jesus in Scripture where I’ve never recognized Him before. Jesus, please show me YOU. Please help me point others to You.
“ABOVE ALL, PREACH CHRIST…I got lost in the details of the text and didn’t have time for the most important part. In the mail came a letter from this lady saying, ‘I could have heard that message in a mosque.’ Ouch. Sometimes the best input doesn’t come in the easiest packages, but she was right. Nobody needs preaching that gives the testimony of God but doesn’t scope down to the Son of God and the gospel. That’s gotta be in our messages somewhere every week, that God loves fallen people, that they can be saved from their sins and find the hope of eternal life through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection. If I never get tired of preaching it, God’s people will not wear of rejoicing in it.”
Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs for. What Every Church Can Be.
by James MacDonald
“Chains be broken. Lives be healed. Eyes be opened. Christ is revealed.”
You’ll Come by Hillsong United
Then Moses said to Him “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”
Exodus 33:15-16 (NIV)
Lord, I don’t want to go – or STAY – anywhere if you aren’t there. I pray your forgiveness for finding long lasting delusion and comfort in places that only hold the appearance of dedication to You. Forgive me Lord, for being satisfied with serving others instead of abandoning my will and my ideas of what service looks like and allowing YOU to use me – however you see fit. Please forgive me for settling for appropriate and acceptable instead of wholeheartedly and unashamedly living out my faith in Christ, even when others see my thoughts, feelings and ideas as inappropriate, insufferable or naively dismissive of cultural norms. Forgive me Lord, for allowing the disapproval of people who don’t know me to dampen my enthusiasm and derail my dedication to live a life examined through the filter of Your Word. Forgive me Lord, for allowing so much time to pass before I found the courage and motivation to honestly face and process the reality of my surroundings and circumstances. My affinity for your people blinded me to the growing undeniable evidence that You are more an icon than THE reason we exist and gather. I want to be where You are. Please God, lead me to that place.
“Whether you are 15 people around a candle and a coffee table or 150 people in a tired building trying to turn it around or 1500 people on the rise with plans for another service – regardless of size: if you don’t have the thing that makes us distinct, you have nothing, no matter what you have. And if you do have it – what we were made to long for; what makes us a true church of the one true God – you have everything you need, no matter what you lack.”
Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs for. What Every Church Can Be.
by James MacDonald
“I don’t want to go somewhere, if I know that You’re not there. ‘Cause I know that me without You is a lie. And I don’t want to walk that road, be a million miles from home. ‘Cause my heart needs to be where You are. So I don’t want to go.”
I Don’t Want To Go by Avalon
I have two responses to that:
1. Of course it is and
2. Of Which I am the Greatest
For nearly a decade, I’ve volunteered to work my church’s annual Whale of a Sale, a gymnasium sized garage sale. The last two years, I served as its co-chair. Every year, two Saturdays before the event, we unload PODs (portable on demand storage) into the gym and for two weeks, we sort and price literally thousands of items while continuing to accept additional donations and offering free pick-up for large items. This past year, on the Saturday before the sale, we had scheduled about ten pick-ups and had put out a call for men and trucks to come and help with them.
I arrived that Saturday morning to find a group of about ten guys waiting for me. One gentleman in particular surprised me. He was overdressed for the occasion in dress shorts and loafers. As we entered the gym, I greeted him with “Well good morning! Are you here to help or to donate?”
In front of the other men who had come to work, he replied “I’m here to buy.”
Not to work. Not to donate. To buy.
Let me set this up for you. The sale was a week away. Pre-shopping privileges are offered to Whale volunteers as an incentive. If, while they are working, a volunteer discovers something they would like to buy, they are allowed to purchase it before the actual sale. Two people – neither one the buyer – price the item. Expensive items are researched and we aim for approximately 25% of retail.
“I’m here to buy.”
I said, “Let me get these guys going on their pick-ups and I’ll be right with you.”
Before I could open my mouth to relay a single address to one of the pick-up teams, he continued, ignoring my response as if I hadn’t spoken at all. “SoandSo told me there was a donation of a thingamagig and I’d like to buy it.”
I looked him in eye and said, “Do we need to do this right now? These gentlemen are waiting on me.”
Without missing a beat, he thrust a twenty dollar bill out and said, “Is it worth twenty bucks?”
I immediately and firmly said, “YES.”
He thought I was agreeing that the thingamagig was worth twenty bucks. I had no idea what the thingamagig was worth, I hadn’t even laid eyes on it. What I knew – and what the men who were listening knew – was that I meant it was worth twenty bucks for him to LEAVE and take his coveted thingamagig with him.
And then there I was, holding a twenty dollar bill. We have rules about money. I wasn’t supposed to just put it in my pocket. Besides, even if I bent the rules and temporarily put the money in my pocket in front of all those people, I knew I would get busy and forget about it. I told the men I would be with them in a few minutes, hightailed it to the other side of the gym, spent a few minutes unlocking a door with an annoyingly tricky lock, fetched the hidden key to the cabinet holding the cash box, secured the twenty, locked the cabinet, hid the key again, and crossed the gym back to where all the guys were waiting on me.
At first, I was indignant. But then I realized. He did this in front of at least nine men of the church, three of whom were impressionable teenage boys who got up early on a Saturday to come to church and volunteer with their dads. This man had made it clear to everyone in earshot that he viewed his time as more valuable than everyone else’s time. He got what he came for, but he was completely oblivious to the fact that he had made a terrible impression and lost the respect of those who witnessed his behavior. He was the only church member during the entire two weeks of preparation who bought something without working. Later, hearing about the exchange, another man commented that the man had traded his reputation for twenty bucks.
It’s sad and wrong. But unfortunately, it happens in churches just as often and as easily as it does in the secular world. He wanted what he wanted when he wanted it. And because I knew that doing the right thing would have caused all those guys to wait even longer – because I valued their time – I unfairly afforded one person a privilege that I didn’t afford to anyone else. In the church environment, examples like these are the cases in point when someone says they’ve been jaded by the church.
I personally used this particular situation as a teaching moment with my kids. I stepped through what happened and asked them for their opinion. Thankfully, they didn’t view this as an example of how powerful men get things done. Instead, they identified behavior and reasoning they didn’t ever want to emulate (my daughter used the word copy).
The question is, other than use it as a springboard for teaching my kids about character, what am I going to do about it? Do I give up on all churches because of the selfish actions one person? Am I going to hold a grudge? Am I going to allow someone to have that much power over me? Am I going to allow a person for whom I’ve lost respect to drive a wedge between me and God? Are you? Because make no mistake, unforgiveness is a big ol’ wedge between you and God.
“If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” 1 John 4:20 (ESV)
And here’s the harder question. What have I myself done to leave another person with a terrible impression? It’s highly improbable that I have a stellar reputation in the church or anywhere else. What things have I said or done to damage my reputation and evidence a horrible representation of Christ? Who, when relaying how they’ve been jaded by the church, has told a story about something I’ve said or done?
If I’m honest with myself, I am not without guilt. It’s extremely difficult to face and take ownership of the things I’ve said or done that I’m ashamed of. I believe it’s difficult for any Christian to face and accept the possibility that we’ve done something to damage the cause of Christ by providing fodder for the “they’re supposed to be a Christian” rants of people who find it much too easy to discredit Christians who behave badly.
In my case, it was exactly one week later when I said something I’m ashamed of. Only 7 days following my episode of indignation before I myself was a poor representative of Christ.
It was the last hours of the sale and I was making announcements about discounts over the loudspeaker. Just as I finished saying “Everything in the boutique is negotiable.” a woman approached me.
Woman: “That’s not true. They’re not negotiating in the boutique.”
Me: “They should be. They asked me to make that announcement.”
Woman: “Well, they’re not. I want to buy some teacups and they’re not negotiating.”
Me: “Okay. Show me the teacups.” (me, in my head: “I could not care less about teacups”)
We crossed the gym and entered the boutique. She headed straight for the checkout. Three unmatched teacups with their saucers were in a box. All three had their original price tags on them, but all three also had blue painter’s tape with a lower price handwritten on them. The cashier read the prices on the painter’s tape, pointing to each teacup as she spoke.
Woman: “That’s not negotiating.”
Me: “You asked them to lower the price and they have.”
Woman: “That’s not negotiating.”
Me: “What price did you have in mind?”
Woman: “I was thinking two dollars each.”
Cashier: “I’m sorry, I can’t do that.”
Woman: “Actually, you can.”
You could have heard a pin drop. This was not her first negotiation. and then,
Cashier: “No, I can’t. I didn’t set the price…”
Woman, interrupting her: “That’s not negotiating.” (me, in my head: “stop saying that.”)
Me: “The person who set the price has the option to retain any items until next year rather than sell them below their value.”
Woman: “You said the prices were negotiable….”
When I interrupted her to say “Give me a few minutes and I’ll talk to the lady who set the price” I knew I was completely over the teacup conversation.
The woman turned and walked into the gym. I spent a few more minutes in the boutique and discovered the woman had been at the sale the day before and had scored a name brand pantsuit at a discount by saying she was out of money. That, combined with the already reduced price of the teacups and the fact that unmatched English teacups are not a necessity for living, led me to back up the pricing decision of the volunteers. I decided I didn’t need to drag the person who priced the teacups into this “negotiation.” If they wanted to retain the teacups for next year’s sale rather than see them sold for less than they were worth, it was their call.
I walked into the gym and was immediately approached by the woman.
Me: “We can’t reduce the price of the teacups any lower than we already have.”
Woman: “I think it’s just that one girl.”
Me: “The girl who told you the price is not the person who set the price.”
Woman: “Well then, what’s her name?”
And here’s where it went south. Here’s where I had an opportunity to do the “right” thing and caved to the easy thing instead. And I even took a few seconds to think about it before I replied.
Me: “No. I’m not going to give you a name. If you would like to buy the teacups at the reduced price that would be fine, but I’m not going to give you anyone’s name.”
Woman: “Why not?”
And then I made it even worse.
Me: “Because I don’t do drama and I’m not going to nail my volunteers.”
The woman’s jaw dropped and her hand flew to her chest like I shot her: “I don’t need this!”
Me: “Need what?”
Woman: “You REALLY hurt my feelings!”
Me: “I’m sorry I hurt your . . . ”
Woman, interrupting: “I don’t need this! I am NOT causing drama!” (me, in my head: “this isn’t drama?”)
Me: “I think you may be overreacting.”
Woman: “WHO is in charge here!?!?”
I took way too much pleasure in this one: “Me.”
Woman: “And who is in charge of YOU?!”
Me: “My pastor.”
Woman: “I can’t believe you’re being this way over teacups!”
Me: “This has absolutely nothing to do with teacups. This is about people. And I’m protecting mine.”
Woman: “I don’t need this!”
Right then, another shopper interrupted us to ask me to price something for her.
As the first woman left crying, the shopper who interrupted us said, “I didn’t really need a price, I just wanted her to leave.”
I looked over her shoulder at the door and the shopper patted me on the hand and said, “I saw what happened. Don’t give her another thought.”
But I knew. While I did the right thing by backing up the volunteer’s decision and definitely did the right thing by preventing the woman from initiating a confrontation with the person who priced the teacups, I did it ungraciously. I didn’t get emotionally upset, but also didn’t extend an ounce of compassion. I was very . . . factual.
Stating facts without grace and compassion can easily be interpreted as meanness and insensitivity. And nobody had to convince me that the “I don’t do drama/not going to nail my volunteers” comment was uncalled for and out of line.
I stood there a few minutes, replaying the entire thing in my head, knowing what I should have done:
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Colossians 3:12 ESV
And then her husband was standing in front of me. A man who was able to extend the graciousness I had abandoned. He told me that his wife had come running to the car crying and that she said I was very upset with her. His wife was crying and he was asking me if I was okay. I assured him I wasn’t upset and that I was sincerely sorry that his wife was upset.
Then he told me that he had been out of work for a very long time. And that their son had been killed recently in a tragic accident. He told me that because of these two things his wife was oversensitive. I apologized again and offered to follow him outside and apologize to her in person if he didn’t think that would make things worse. He told me he would tell her what I said and then he left.
And here’s the thing. She was rude. She was confrontational. She was arrogant – while she was aggressively going after what she wanted. But when I confronted her, she immediately became a wounded victim, unjustly accused and unfairly treated. I’ve seen this behavior before. I know to react with grace when I see it.
And I didn’t. I took the easy way out. The “right back atcha” way out. It was wrong and I knew better. My past has equipped me to respond to this type of behavior graciously, but my circumstances led me to react dispassionately. Unkindly.
And I knew why. It had been days since I had spent dedicated time alone with God. The Whale of a Sale hours were demanding and I was exhausted. I wasn’t hungry and if people hadn’t brought me food during that last week, I wouldn’t have eaten. I went through an entire carton of Epsom salts and used way too much hot water, I was taking too much ibuprofen and not enough Nexium. I was physically and mentally worn out and spiritually bereft.
I had spent so much of my time serving God, I had neglected to be with God. I was operating and making decisions from my own limited view of my circumstances instead of striving to see the bigger picture through God’s greater perspective. My intuitive decisions were selfish instead of stemming from the Holy Spirit’s presence within me, not because the Holy Spirit had left me, but because I couldn’t hear God’s voice above all the noise – the external stimuli, my non-stop and easily distracted thoughts, my screaming muscles. I needed to STOP. To take a few minutes to talk to God and, just as importantly, to listen to God. To abide in His presence. Because I hadn’t, I needlessly hurt someone. If I had been spending dedicated time with God every day, would I have given the name of the person who set the price of the teacups? Would I have overridden her and reduced the price of the teacups?
no. and no.
But I would have been much more gracious about it. I would allowed myself to be the hands and feet and ears and voice of Christ.
Thankfully God can use hypocrites. Especially when they learn from their mistakes.
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.
Ecclesiastes 9:10 (NIV)
another year, over. No do-overs. No take-backs. Only lessons to be learned and new choices to be made.
Lord, am I where you want me? Am I living the life you’ve given the me the way you know would be best?
I want to be a living sacrifice for You. But sometimes – much of the time – I know my choices are driven by my own idea of what that looks like.
What does it look like to You, God?
My fear is that my desires are selfish and much bigger than those you have for me.
Is it possible that the plans you have for me involve me sitting across the table from one person, listening, asking questions and sharing my faith one on one? That this book I’m writing is equipping me for those conversations, but will never actually be read? or even finished?
Is it possible that the plans you have for me mean that the primary reason I’m recording is for the witness that occurs during the recording sessions themselves and that these recordings will live forever on my computer in obscurity?
And those things are good. Very, very good.
But you know I want more. Is that from You?
The last thing I want to do is pursue a dream you haven’t given me. I’m desperate to saturate myself in your will and I want to have tunnel vision when it comes to following Your lead. Please don’t let me pursue anything that actually takes me away from You. Please show me what I could or should be doing to bring You glory.
I think of the story about You asking a man to push against a rock. Day after day, year after year, the man pushed, eventually becoming discouraged, saying, “God, I give up. I’ve pushed and pushed with all my strength and I haven’t moved this rock even one inch. What did I do wrong? Why did I fail?”
The story says that you replied by saying, “I didn’t ask you to move the rock. I only asked you to push against it. You say you’ve failed, but have you? Look how strong you’ve become. You’ve done exactly what I asked.
Now I will move the rock.”
I know you don’t need my help Lord. Please allow me to serve you anyway. Please use me anyway. Please guide me. Please equip me. Help me to be obedient. Please don’t ever let me give up.
Too often, we bide our time with the routine of a life that we hope
will one day take us across the chasm. Our days become stacked upon other days.
And as time moves forward, we think about the great abyss in our quieter moments.
We wonder if we should take the leap soon.
But the busyness of our days pulls us back from the edge and we perpetually postpone it.
Why? Because we are afraid we do not have the strength to make it.
Don’t let that happen. You’re stronger than you think.
Dr. Les Parrott
My friend had asked me to meet her for coffee because she was smack in the middle of unsettling change and feeling lost. She was seeking direction, feeling powerless, overwhelmed and discouraged by her circumstances. She began our conversation by explaining that over the last few months, every time something would happen, she would think, “I really need to talk to Julie.”
Why me? Not because I knew what she should do, because I most definitely did NOT know what she should do. I don’t have some freakish sixth sense and as much as I pray for discernment, I have very little confidence in my ability to interpret God’s perspective on things in my own life, much less in anyone else’s life.
I responded by telling her that my plan was to listen and ask a lot of questions. She said, “THAT’S why I want to talk to you. You always know just the right questions to ask!”
I’ll admit. I can ask me some questions. And I know that both my plethora of questions and I can get annoying, especially when the answers begin to chip away at mindsets and decisions that were previously firm. But if I ask a question and someone’s answer leads them to doubt or to consider possibilities they hadn’t before, I view that as a good thing. It’s never good decision-making to dismiss alternative points of view without consideration. That kind of tunnel vision leads us to believe we have the best idea ever, only to come face to face with roadblocks and monkey wrenches later. Or even worse, it leads us to believe we’ve come up with the only viable solution to a problem, when really, it’s just what we found at the end of the path of least resistance. If we never consider alternative scenarios, how do we know if we’ve even come close to the best case scenario? Unchallenged thought processes run the risk of leading to substandard ideas and a false sense of security and, sometimes the high and low extremes of a false sense of superiority or resigned hopelessness.
My friend’s comment got me thinking. What are the “right” questions? There are a couple of factors.
First, I ask the honest questions, no matter how “inappropriate” or politically incorrect. I don’t have a lot of patience for pretense (reason #1 and reason #2). Because of my desire to be used by God and my understanding that He equips me for service, I always pray for Him to lead me, to give me the right words to say and to tell me when to ask them and when to SHUT. UP. I pray with full confidence that God will give me the right words to say and since I have that confidence, keeping my mouth shut or skirting around a question that pops in my head feels like a lack of faith. And disobedience. If I ask God for help and He gives it and I chicken out by rejecting or ignoring His help, that’s disobedience.
What else makes for the “right questions?” It depends. And that’s key. It depends on what the other person says. If you ever give me the honor of an onion layer conversation, I’m going ask you questions and based on what I hear, I’m going to try to ask MORE questions that (hopefully) progressively peel back the layers that may be concealing or distorting the crux of the underlying issue. I pay attention to your stories, examples and explanations with the foundational possibility that they are all manifestations of something bigger and deeper. I’m not a-scared to ask the questions that might be embarrassing or make someone angry with me. (Well. Usually. Remember the disobedience thing.) I try to test assumptions (yours and mine), whether I see them as valid or not. I’m not unaccustomed to people getting exasperated with me. As a matter of fact, exasperation is a big clue that I may be on to something. If they didn’t care about a particular issue, they wouldn’t get upset about it. The goal is to find out if they care because they are unwaveringly passionate about something or frustrated because they see the erosion of the reasoning for their point of view? Either is a step in the right direction as far as I’m concerned.
Rationalization is a huge obstacle in these conversations. I’m pretty good at it myself. Given enough time, the right books and at least 3 pages of Google search results, I can convince myself of just about anything. I can ignore the elephant in the room no matter how much he stinks. Statistically, I can not be alone in my expert and stealth rationalization skills. I’m thinking I have many, many partners in crime.
For the most part, I’ve found that deep down, people already know what they think and how they feel about their circumstances and choices. They just have trouble extracting it out of the subjective overwhelming chaos of their mind during the frantic pace of their days. We so rarely take the time to be still and think. And when we do, the sudden unaccustomed quiet is often barreled over by a deluge of overlapping thoughts all vying for top billing.
So when I’m blessed with an opportunity to engage in these deeper conversations with someone, I try not to start out by talking. There are already more than enough voices in their head already. I wait my turn, listen to the voices and, based on what I hear – sometimes spoken out loud, sometimes in between the lines – I ask questions.
Hopefully, the “right” questions.
In Kari Jobe’s album version of Revelation Song, the fourth verse builds and the word “mystery” is held for about 18 seconds. (It starts at the 4 minute mark)
I couldn’t do it.
And I really, really wanted to do it. For over a year, the worship leader didn’t even go near it. Then, one night at rehearsal, when I didn’t know it was coming, we held it out the extra beats.
I was hooked.
I rehearsed the rest of the week, and that Sunday, just before we were supposed to lead Revelation Song, the pastor lost track of the fact that we had one more song to do and began speaking.
It was scheduled again on a week with a guest worship leader. It took me THREE breaths to get through it. THREE.
I had taken it to my vocal coach and worked on it for weeks. No matter how hard I worked, no matter how many times I vocalized and repeated those particular voice lessons along with a CD, I couldn’t master those stupid 18 seconds. I achieved a whopping 50% success rate. On a good day.
Time and time again, I ran out of air after 15 seconds. If not sooner.
I took Revelation Song to the recording studio and was relentless. In the end, I was able to hold it every time, but only by holding my hands straight up in the air as far as I could reach. Whether it was physical or psychological, I seemed to make room for more air that way. But I held it. Made me lightheaded every time. And it had no building power. It actually got softer.
A thought occurred to me and I pushed it aside. For two weeks, I ignored what I believe now was God trying to tell me something.
Finally, two days ago, I told God that if I was trying to hold “mystery” out of pride, I wanted to fail.
Haven’t held it since.
Of course it’s possible that I’m freaking myself out. But more likely this is an ego smackdown straight from God. This is one of those failures I can’t overcome by working harder. Have to let it go. Counter-intuitive.
I told two other people on the worship team this ugly little truth and one of them immediately came back with this verse:
“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.”
Colossians 3:5 (NIV)
ouch. That’s kinda harsh, dontcha think?
I like this one better:
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.
Isn’t that prettier? I told my husband that it kinda felt like putting lipstick on a pig. His response?
“It’s a cop out if you ask me.”
Ugly but true.
Colossians 3:23 is a goal. Something to strive for. Colossians 3:5 is about acknowledging sin. Big, fat, ugly, lipstick covered sin. And who wants to see that? I certainly didn’t.
So ugly I didn’t even want to put that pig picture on this post.
But there it is.
I’m leading Revelation Song on Sunday. And I’m planning on taking a breath in the middle of those 18 seconds. If God doesn’t think I’ve been humbled enough, I asking him to make me need TWO.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Ephesians 4:29-32 (NIV)
Lord, there’s something liberating about an unresolvable situation. It forces me to remember that on my own, I can do nothing. YOU can do anything. So, when I reach an impasse with another person, when I face the undeniable fact that there’s absolutely nothing I can do to resolve a situation, the only thing I’m left with is prayer. Thank you for helping me realize and accept that all my own human efforts will pale in comparison to what YOU can do. If you choose to. Talk and actions may result in temporary manipulation, but long-lasting, fundamental change will come when YOU speak and move. Thank you for reminding me that while Romans 8:28 promises you will work all things for good, sometimes, in my own life, that looks like failure. Thank you for helping me accept that sometimes, in my own life, giving grace means walking away, even if it means walking away from something I love. Please comfort me as I let go. Please encourage me as I seek your will to fill the void this loss will create.
“Jesus washes our feet for two reasons. The first is to give us mercy; the second is to give us a message, and that message is simply this: Jesus offers unconditional grace; we are to offer unconditional grace. The mercy of Christ preceded our mistakes; our mercy must precede the mistakes of others.”
JUST LIKE JESUS by Max Lucado
“So who says he’ll forgive you? And says that he’ll miss you? And dream of your sweet memory? God does. But I don’t. God will. But I won’t. And that’s the difference between God and me.” (what? cut me a break, I’m still working on it…is this better?)
God Will by Lyle Lovett
“Well I find that I’m just not agile enough, to balance the weight of all of this stuff. It’s a cumbersome task that demands too much and it’s gettin’ me nowhere fast…As far as the east is from the west, these are the things that I must forget. I’ll lay down my anger before the sun sets, I will forgive. I will forget. I will remember not, I will forgive. These things that tear my heart, I will forget. I will forget.
Remember Not by Susan Ashton (click HERE to listen)
Me: “PinkGirl, you know what time it is?”
Me: “Time to lay out your clothes for school tomorrow.”
extreme, dramatic faux fainting
Me: “And pack your lunch.”
and just like that. Summer is over.
“If it was easy, everyone would do it” is one of my mantras.
I say it to my kids when they struggle with ANYthing and I see discouragement or frustration start to set in. I say it to my husband, friends, clients and sometimes, even strangers.
I say it to myself.
When I’m supposed to be writing and find myself staring at the screen, fingers atrophied over the keyboard.
When I spend two hours writing, proofread what I’ve written and immediately want to start over.
When I’m trying to curl a 15 pound dumbbell for the 12th time in my second set.
When I’m 2 minutes and 20 seconds into my 2 minute, 30 second forearm plank.
When I’m trying not to fly off the back of the treadmill during my HIIT walking program.
When I drag myself off the couch to pick up that stupid dumbbell or put on my walking shoes.
When I’m 3 seconds short of an 18 second note I’ve been trying to hold out. For the 100th time.
When my voice breaks on that high note I’m trying to hit in full voice. After two years of voice lessons.
When I’m vocalizing for the third time in a day in an attempt to get the “right” technique to become second nature.
Just a few weeks ago, during a break in a recording session, I mentioned something about needing to work on something with my voice teacher. The sound technician said, “YOU have a voice teacher!?” I responded with a big “Heck, YEAH!” He paused for a moment and then said, “It just seems more like you would teach voice lessons, not take them.” I quickly and firmly told him that I will never be too good for voice lessons.
But that exchange emphasized a very common misconception: The things people are good at just come naturally to them.
SO not true.
And the persistence of that mindset devalues the accomplishment, no matter what it is. The persistence of that mindset liberates other people from trying. It turns a potential mentor into someone to be resented and berated. Instead of being viewed as someone who met a goal as a result of hard work, they are instead viewed as “lucky.” Rather than inspiring someone else to take their own steps toward better and stronger, they become a discouragement to others. Because the perception is that whatever the goal, it’s not achievable by anyone but the lucky ones.
The book, Talent Is Overrated claimed, “One factor, and only one factor, predicted how musically accomplished the students were, and that was how much they practiced.”
The fact is that excellence isn’t easy. It doesn’t happen without work. Usually hard work. Developing a skill takes time. and repetition.
Experience is a teacher in and of itself.
What most people don’t realize is that mediocrity is only one short day of slackin away. Just because I do something well, doesn’t mean I’ve finished learning or practicing.
The fact that I was in a writing zone yesterday doesn’t insure against writer’s block tomorrow.
Being satisfied with today’s writing doesn’t mean I won’t be filled with doubt and repulsion about tomorrow’s.
The ability to lift a 15 pound dumbbell today doesn’t mean I won’t have to opt for 10 pounds tomorrow.
Making it through a 2 minute, 30 second plank today doesn’t mean I won’t collapse at 2 minutes the next day.
Finishing the 30 minute HIIT treadmill program today is no guarantee that I won’t wimp out the next time.
The fact that extracted myself from the couch today doesn’t mean won’t stay curled up on it tomorrow.
As I’ve discovered, holding a note for 18 seconds one time, does NOT mean I can now do it any time I want.
The same is true for that high note – once does not mean always.
Even after spending hundreds of hours practicing the “right” way to sing, I still drift into old habits . . .
For me, excellence isn’t a destination I’ll ever arrive at and rest comfortably. Because of my relentless determination to be a good steward of all that God has blessed me with, the striving for excellence is a lifetime journey.
To find out why I’m so obsessed with striving for excellence, check out this post: I. Want. More.
Fair is when hard won preparation and relentless dedication to excellence earns opportunity.
When I was in college, one of my friends, a member of the same singing group I was in, angrily told me it wasn’t fair that I got so many solos “just because I sang better than her.” She said she “couldn’t help it that she couldn’t sing as well as I did.” She said “God had just given me a better voice than her.” She had been shortchanged and she was disappointed. And ticked off. At me. And she let me know it. This particular time she said it out loud while looking glaring me in the eye, but most of the time the message was sent through her sulking body language and mopey facial expression every time I got assigned a solo or actually performed one.
Fast forward 20 years. I joined our church’s praise team and after a few months, all the vocalists were put on a rotation. The theory was that it would be easier for the musicians if they didn’t have to make a weekly commitment. Less burnout. I told the worship leader I didn’t want to be on a rotation. I wanted to sing every week. Why?
- I needed the accountability; preparing for a mid-week evening rehearsal and Sunday morning service forced me to sing EVERY day. If I didn’t work every day, I wouldn’t be as prepared as I wanted to be.
- I needed to build up my stamina, increase my vocal range and improve my breath control. Consistent daily work – on all three – was the only thing that was going to get the job done.
- I was being exposed to, and challenged by, a new style of music that I was instinctively gravitating toward.
- The mental challenge of memorizing a boatload of lyrics was exponentially increasing my memory skills. I was being forced to employ abandoned memory techniques I had learned years ago.
- The weekly exposure of being in front of a large group of people during the praise and worship service was slowly nicking away at the stage fright that had crept in during the 10 plus years I had taken off as a serious vocalist. I was once again becoming comfortable, more at home on stage.
- The worship leader’s easy dismissal of my screw-ups was leading to more self-confidence and as a result, I was taking more risks vocally and stylistically.
- I was experiencing emotion when I sang and I was gradually allowing myself to feel it. Rare for me to experience it. Unthinkable to actually allow it. Inconceivable that I didn’t feel compelled to retreat.
Every week I was gaining experience and growing stronger. I began asking for a DVD of every service and I watched the “game film” every week. That DVD is unedited; the vocals are unmixed. I heard what was going into the microphone, not what was coming out after I got a little help from the sound guys. I heard THE HARD TRUTH. Every week, I meticulously listened to the quality of my voice, my harmonies, and whether my phrasing and breathing matched the worship leader’s. I forced myself to evaluate my appearance and my stage presence. I relentlessly critiqued myself. I was determined to identify my weaknesses and work on eliminating them. I found a vocal coach and started working with her regularly. I was rehearsing 10 to 20 hours per week and I came to rehearsal as prepared as I possibly could. I had to make some hard choices to give up some good things in my life to fit in those 10 to 20 hours.
I was working my butt off.
And then another vocalist caught me off guard with a simple question: “Why are you so special?”
I was dumbfounded. “What?”
They said, “Why do you get to sing every week?”
I heard, “It’s not fair. You get to sing more than me.”
I was stunned. Since it wasn’t a real question, they didn’t really expect an answer. They just wanted me to know I was getting undeserved special treatment and they didn’t like it.
I learned a long time ago that when I’m faced with criticism, I really need to strip away all the emotion and acrimony and bravely look for a grain of truth. Special. Was I getting special treatment?
Yes. I sang every week. I was excluded from the rotation.
I found myself thinking about these two interchanges from my past multiple times today, and it led me to this video. Check it out. Only 1 minute and 2 seconds.
As soon as I watched that commercial on youtube I knew it was true. Both of these people from my past were making excuses. Both of them assumed that my voice was just a God-given gift and that I didn’t have to work for it. I was their scapegoat. Their guilt-free pass to rationalization and self-delusion. It was easier to blame me for hogging all their opportunities than to work hard for what they wanted.
Neither one of them came to rehearsals prepared, having learned their own individual parts ahead of time. Neither one expressed interest in voice lessons. To my knowledge, neither one recorded and listened to themselves. Neither one made adjustments to their commitments or schedules to allow extra time to work on their vocals. Neither one sought out and encouraged honest feedback about their vocals, instead depending on the polite comments of friends as justification that there was no room or need for improvement. Both of them garnered support through whispering campaigns, resulting in high tension and drama. I spent a LOT of time with my college friend and I never, ever heard her rehearse or vocalize outside of our weekly group rehearsal.
Each of those two people, because of their unwillingness to strive for continued improvement, prevented each group from rising above their lowest common denominator: Them.
Is it possible these two people might have put a tremendous amount of work and effort into becoming stronger vocalists only to discover they don’t have enough core talent? Possibly. But neither of them will ever know. They had dreams, but dreams without action are just wishes, not goals.
Wishin don’t make it so.
And fair isn’t when everybody gets a turn. Fair is when hard won preparation and relentless dedication to excellence earns opportunity.
But I learned a long time ago that life isn’t fair. And these two people from my past are by far not alone in their belief that fair is when everybody gets a turn. They are by far, not the only people who feel entitled to opportunities they don’t earn. And those opportunities are continuously provided to people who don’t work for them because it’s easier than having the difficult and honest conversation that will most likely hurt their feelings.
It’s not limited to music, it’s everything. Everywhere. So when an opportunity I continue to work so hard to earn is given to someone less qualified in the pursuit of fairness, I’m left with a choice.
Take my ball and go home because it isn’t fair? That fits me worse than pink clothing.
Be less because someone else can’t or won’t be more? Not gonna happen. I refuse to give God less than my best. I refuse to stifle the gifts He’s blessed me with.
I will be the best steward I can possibly be – of all He’s given me, even if that stewardship leads to resentfulness and jealousy and leaves me with significantly diminished opportunities.
My kids are paying attention to how I handle this. I’m not wavering from what I’ve been teaching them their entire lives: “sometimes, we have to do what’s required.“
Shoulder Devil: “It’s late. You did the HIIT training. Skip the rest.”
Shoulder Angel: “There’s still an hour and a half left in the day. Don’t listen to him. If it wasn’t for me, your body fat percentage would still be 51%”
Shoulder Devil:: “hhhhhh. okay, fine. then just do the plank. Skip the strength training. You’re tired. You can do strength training tomorrow.”
Shoulder Angel:: “He’s right.”
Shoulder Devil:: “I am?”
Shoulder Angel:: You should do strength training tomorrow. You should do tomorrow’s strength training tomorrow. Do today’s strength training today.”
Shoulder Devil:: “no, that’s not what I meant…”
Shoulder Devil:: “Don’t listen to him, he’s a fanatic. He’s talking about 10 Minutes. What’s the big deal about 10 lousy minutes?”
Shoulder Angel:: “EXACTLY my point.”
Shoulder Devil:: “NO! That’s not what I meant…”
Shoulder Angel:: “HEY! remember that FIRM 5 Day Ab workout from the 90s? Do that! Day one is only 6 minutes!”
And that’s how I ended up with this video in the DVD player tonight.
(and you’re welcome. this video clip is so blurry you can’t see that the shorts on the guys in this video are WAY too short. T. M. I. and ewww. and again. ewww. and who says “supine? My whole life I’ve never said the word “supine.”)
I’ve described my mother as a “defiant non-compliant diabetic.” She ate what she wanted, when she wanted, blood sugar be damned. After decades of neglect, her body began to deteriorate and finally shut down completely. I found a receipt in her wallet dated just days before her death. She had driven through Burger King on the way home from dialysis and ordered a BK Stacker (22 grams of fat, 700 mg of sodium.). She was suffering from congestive heart failure, taking 14 different medications and on dialysis 3 days a week, but she wanted a BK Stacker, so she got one. There were more fast food receipts in the pockets of her clothing and on her desk.
Time and time and time again she chose immediate personal gratification and a comfort zone, over long term goals, discomfort and inconvenience – and not just with food.
She bought what she wanted when she wanted it, even if she didn’t have the money.
She wanted a warm, inviting home, but she focused on the house and its contents more than the people who lived in it.
She wanted passionate relationships, but was controlling and plagued with pride.
She wanted to travel and experience new things. But instead, she booked the same vacation for years.
She loved to play the piano. But she didn’t make time for it.
She loved to sing. But she only sang in the house. And rarely.
She wanted to write. But she didn’t.
She wanted so much, but she settled for so little.
Her desire for the things she wanted made it challenging and sometimes impossible for her to recognize, much less appreciate, the blessings she had. Her inability to see that she had power to change her circumstances if she stayed true to her long-term goals kept her firmly rooted in mediocrity and the status quo.
I paid attention. And I learned quite a bit about what I want for my life by watching her choices.
I still pay attention. And I look for consequences – good and bad – so I can learn from other people’s choices. I learn a LOT about what I want as a result of my OWN choices and their consequences.
My mother had a stroke and blamed her doctors and her medication. She had a stroke and I got a personal trainer. Before and after her stroke, she relied on medications to make herself feel better and to lengthen her life. Before her stroke, I was following in her footsteps. After her stroke, I began relying on exercise and lifestyle changes to make myself feel better and to lengthen my life.
I had a choice. I could continue to go with the flow and eventually find myself at risk for a stroke or I could intentionally and consistently walk backwards against the current. If you know me, it shouldn’t surprise you that when I’m floating in a lazy river, I will at some point, become bored and walk backward against the current. It’s a metaphor for my life. I intentionally choose to view every experience God has allowed in my life – good AND bad – as a blessing. Together, these blessings fuel me with determination.
I’m a big believer in benchmarking. When I want to learn how to do something, I find people who do it well and I copy them. But I also learn what not to do by watching the things that people, myself included, do poorly. I pay attention to choices and consequences – good and bad. I call it opportunistic learning and it helps me discover what I want in my life.
I want more than immediate gratification and a well worn spot in my comfort zone.
I want MORE than the comfort of air conditioning, dry, pleasant smelling clothing, a good hair day, less laundry and an extra hour every day. I don’t consider a handicapped sticker on my car to be a well deserved ticket to a great parking space and the inability to walk up a flight of stairs without getting winded scares me more than a hurricane warning. The inability to walk up a flight of stairs at all scares me more than an actual hurricane.
I want a stronger body, even if it needs two showers in one day, generates smelly, wet laundry, “wastes” 30 minutes or more of my day and requires a longer walk from the parking lot. I want to get stronger as I get older, not weaker. I want to be a good steward of this body God has blessed me with. I’ve experienced the limitations of a body that won’t do what I want it to do and I hated it so much I NEVER want to experience it again. I’ll do anything I can to make sure that my body doesn’t deteriorate due to neglect.
I want MORE than a 6 inch high plate of nachos with a phenomenal cheese sauce or the most decadent, melt in your mouth chocolate lava cake in the world. I want MORE than the thousands of milligrams of sodium and double digit grams of fat in the restaurant food that saves me from cooking dinner when I don’t feel like it. I want MORE than a bedtime snack of ice cream or a Grand Slam breakfast from Denny’s. I want MORE than a BK Stacker.
I want unblocked arteries, normal blood pressure and stable blood sugar. I want my 7 day pill case to be filled with vitamins and supplements instead medications. I want to model good nutritional choices for my children, especially my daughter. I want to live a longer, healthier life than my mother did. I’m not swayed by spoonfuls being shoved in my face along with an exasperated voice telling me to “just taste it.” It’s not that I secretly want it and am just denying myself. I really don’t want it. I’ll never be convinced to abandon my long term nutrition goals just because someone belittles me for not eating something they want to eat. I’ll never belittle them while I watch them eat – but I also won’t sanction their choice or cave to middle school level peer pressure by picking up a fork and joining them.
I want MORE than a good marriage. I want MORE than candy and flowers and jewelry on Valentines Day and my birthday. I want MORE than a husband who handles car maintenance, toilet repair, heavy lifting, jar opening and high shelf reaching. I want MORE than a “good” sex life and a husband who does what I want in order to get it. I want MORE than a husband who agrees with me to avoid conflict and who spends time with me because he’s supposed to.
I want a GREAT marriage to a man I can’t go a day without talking to. I want to be the person who respects my husband more than anyone else in the world and I want him to know it beyond a shadow of a doubt. I want to come to the end of my day and be confident I didn’t say a bad word about him to ANYone. I want to be the kind of wife he wants to come home to and I want to be genuinely happy that he’s home when he walks in the door. I want a partner – a LIFE LONG partner – who tells me the truth in a gracious tone of voice, motivated by love. I want us to share EVERYthing without holding back: our thoughts, our ideas, our weaknesses, our fears, our passions and our bodies. I want to share household and parenting duties and I’m thankful that I figured out early in our marriage that different isn’t wrong. I want us to be able speak in idioms and always understand each other. I want us to be able to communicate with facial expressions and eye contact. I want to stay married to my best friend for the rest of my life and I’m thankful that we are both willing to run to a marriage counselor the minute our relationship can be described as “fine.”
I want MORE than compliant children who make good grades, keep their room clean and behave appropriately at all times. I want MORE than happy, safe children. I don’t want my children to do what they’re told because I say so.
I want to hear about everything that interests them, because I know that if I don’t listen with interest, they will stop telling me. I want to be challenged by their mind, fascinated by their discoveries, respectful of their ideas, convinced by their reasoning, inspired by their passion and exasperated by our differences. I want to always strive to respect them as individuals instead viewing them as extensions of myself. I want to be comfortable with their potential to embarrass me for the sake of their (and my) learning curve. I want my children to learn life lessons from remorse and disappointment as well as from pride and achievement. I want to equip them, not protect them. I want them to do the right thing because it’s the right thing, even when nobody is looking.
I want to be debt-free. I want to own my home, not hold a mortgage. I want my car to start every time I turn the key, and if it does, I don’t care how many miles are on it. I want to be a good steward of my financial blessings. I want to save and pay cash for the things I want. I don’t want to pay interest. I want to teach my children the value of a wise financial choice. I want to teach them that delayed gratification ultimately makes them happier and more secure than an impulse or convenient purchase. I want to give God MORE than 10% of what he entrusts to me and I want my kids to want to do the same.
I want MORE than to help lead a “good” praise set on Sunday morning. Lukewarm makes me restless. Holding back makes me unsettled. Trying to please everyone is deeply discouraging. Settling for fine wears me down. I don’t want to give God less than my very best. No one is drawn to mediocrity.
I want to work my butt off to prepare and when Sunday morning comes, I want to block out all the logistics and make myself open and available for God to equip me for service. I want to respond to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, not the body language of someone in the congregation who is missing His presence because they are preoccupied with what someone else thinks. I want to allow myself to be saturated with the Holy Spirit, so much so that Satan doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in Hell of distracting me from my goal of bringing as many people with me as I possibly can while I abandon myself to authentic, consuming praise. I want to go all out and see what God will do with my all.
I want to use everything God has given me – the good and the bad – to serve Him. When I write, I have no idea if the result is a cathartic purge or if someone will identify with something I say and be encouraged or changed by it. It’s just as possible that what I’ve written will alienate or discourage someone. I have no idea if God will use it to reach someone, but I pray He will. I don’t want the words I write to be in a vacuum.
I. want. MORE.
Do I always get it right? Not by a long shot. I do not find all this to be intuitive. These are determined choices I make, over and over and over again. And when I screw up, I start over, even if I have to start over multiple times a day. But I’m not going to stop striving. And I’m willing to wait for whatever God hasn’t entrusted me with yet. I’m willing work for it.
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness,knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 5-8
“Never neglect what you’ve seen God do in your life. Take a careful look at these things from God’s perspective, all the way from your birth to where you stand right now. They’re all significant.”
Experiencing the Spirit
Henry and Melvin Blackaby
(a short excerpt from the book I’m writing – and WILL eventually finish)
Why is it that when faced with a problem, my first inclination is to do something? To take action? Why is it that my knee jerk reaction is to throw myself into problem solving mode? Then, when I’ve expended every effort, when I’ve explored every possible option, only then do I pray? Why is it so counter-intuitive to pray first? Why is it that I, more often than I’d like to admit, see prayer as a last resort in a time of crisis instead of a first line of defense?
This is not something I’m proud of, nor is it something I can rationalize or dismiss. What I want to do when faced with a challenge or crisis, is immediately, intuitively go to God for help, but instead, time and time again, I find myself at the end of my own abilities, begging God for direction and ideas – and supernatural intervention.
Prayer is seriously underrated. We tend to keep it in a nice, neat little box, taking it out only when we need it. In the words of Robin Williams as the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin:
“Phenomenal cosmic power! itty bitty living space.”
I’ve found that when I’m actively committed to consistently spending time with God, the tendency to handle things on my own is automatically diminished. When I’ve already spent time with God on a given day, reaching out to Him as a first response when something happens later in the day is much more intuitive. I’m also less easily discouraged because when I talk to God first, my approach to a problem is much clearer and calmer. I’m not saying that every time I bring a problem to God I come away with a crystal clear approach to successful and immediate problem solving.
But in the great debate of whether prayer changes God’s mind or our hearts, chalk this one up to a changed heart.
In a previous post, entitled “I’m not your ‘fun’ friend.” I said I didn’t have a lot of patience for “surface” conversation because I have issues and that you either get used to me or you avoid me. (CLICK HERE to read that post.)
It set me thinking about why I’m so intense about life and so overly aware of lost opportunity.
I came up with four reasons:
I’m skipping over #2 because I’ve been thinking a lot about #3 lately.
Death. What do I mean by that? Let me tell you a story.
On Tuesday, January 12, 1988, Lee, an attorney, went to a meeting at a doctor’s office with Roger, a potential client. Roger wanted Lee to represent him in a medical malpractice lawsuit. The case had been tried before, but Roger had lost. The consult with the doctor that afternoon was intended to help Lee determine if Roger’s claims of medical malpractice were valid. Based on the doctor’s review and opinion of Roger’s medical records, Lee would make a decision to take Roger’s case or decline.
He decided not to take the case.
The meeting concluded and the doctor later recalled hearing Lee say ”Let’s go home and see our children.” Just moments later, as Lee still sat in his chair, putting papers into his briefcase, Roger calmly and quietly pulled out a .25-caliber handgun, put it to Lee’s right temple and pulled the trigger.
Two more shots were fired before the doctor managed to wrench the gun out of Roger’s hand and when Roger tried to run away, the doctor, his body coursing with adrenaline, chased him down and tackled him, pinning him until police arrived. Roger was arrested and just a few weeks later, he tried to end his life by shoving a 6 inch ball point pen 5 inches into his chest and 3.5 inches into his heart. When they found him, he apologized for failing to kill himself.
I didn’t know Roger. I knew Lee.
I was 23 when he was murdered. He had taken a risk hiring a 21 year old college dropout with no legal experience to work as his secretary. I spent 18 months working for him before I quit to go back to school. At that time, he was a sole practitioner, so most of those 18 months, it was just the two of us working alone in a small office. He used to walk around the office in sock feet while the shoeshine guy in the lobby shined his shoes, he would forget to turn off his tape recorder after he finished dictating in the car and would accidently record himself singing to the radio and he’s the only person I ever met who actually did break a tooth by chewing ice. I washed his coffee mug every day, picked up his lunch orders, and accidently saw him in his skivvies when he walked into his garage not knowing I was in there talking to his wife. I was his house sitter, his dog sitter and his baby sitter.
For nearly 18 months, I spent five days a week working in an office alone with that man and I never, not once, shared my faith with him.
To this day, when thoughts of Lee enter my mind, they are immediately followed by this one: If that man is in Hell, I had something to do with it.
In those 18 months, I had multiple opportunities to initiate a discussion about faith. It’s not that I wasn’t aware of them. I let each and every one pass.
Because I was 22. I was undereducated compared to him. He was important and he was professional and he was intelligent. And I was intimidated. So I stayed safely silent.
When Lee left his house that Tuesday morning in 1988, it never even crossed his mind that he would be shot in the head at point-blank range by a bitter, 72 year old man. When the doctor greeted his visitors that afternoon, he had no idea that less than an hour later, he would save his own life by wrestling a gun out of someone’s hand. When the paralegal left her routine office job that afternoon to attend a simple meeting, she had no idea she would see her boss murdered right before her eyes. When Lee said goodbye to his wife that morning, she had no idea it would be the last time she ever saw him alive. When he hugged and kissed his two little girls goodnight on Monday, they had no idea it was be the last time they felt their daddy’s arms around them.
When I left that job, I had no idea that my lack of courage would later leave me filled with regret; that my choice to stay within the boundaries of my comfort zone would result in such serious or long lasting discomfort; that I would forever wish that I had said something about my faith in Jesus Christ.
But wishing don’t make it so.
Is it possible that Lee was a Christian and I just never knew it? Sure. But that’s not the point. The point is that I didn’t know. How is that possible? This wasn’t a strained, formal or awkward relationship. I was comfortable talking to him from the moment I met him. My job interview took place in his car while he made an emergency trip to the mall to rescue his wife and baby daughter after she locked her keys inside her car.
It’s just wrong that I knew he wore tighty whities but didn’t know if he knew Jesus Christ. And yes. I do know how weird that sounds, but stay with me people, I’m making a point here.
Time’s a wastin.
We all have opportunities to talk to people about how are lives are different as a result of our relationship with Christ. Every single one of us. Every. single. day. Without exception. But if we aren’t intentional about our choices, those opportunities expire.
Sometimes, we don’t get a second chance.
Life is too short to waste it. People are dying every day. People will wake up in the morning and have no idea that it will be their last day on earth – or a loved one’s last day on earth. And too many of us spend this precious gift of time focused on things that fade away. Too many of us slink away from the difficult conversations because it’s easier to talk about “surface” stuff. Too many of us are afraid to look someone directly, maybe even uncomfortably, in the eye and ask, “How are you, really?”
God gives me opportunities to serve Him EVERY day. Every day, multiple times, I choose to ignore Him or obey Him. My prayer is that I choose the latter much, much more often than the former. Because, in the end, after I’ve spent my last day on earth, I’m desperate for God to say “Well done.“
. . . when you realize you have nothing to contribute. When you realize everything that can be said has already been said, that there are literally countless people who can do what you’re trying to learn to do – and they are already phenomenally better at it, and that you should give up this fantasy you’re chasing and get back to real life . . .
. . . and then you come to your senses and say, “Get thee behind me Satan! I am so unbelievably sick of you and your lies.”