“My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.”
Psalm 121:2 (NIV)
In the fall of last year, I began leading two Bible/Discipleship studies and after taking a break over the holidays, I’m seeing more people sign up to join us as we start back next week. My first thought was “EXCELLENT!”
Followed immediately by a humbling shot of “uh oh. WHAT am I going to say for 17 weeks? What if I run out of “stuff” to teach?”
And then the Holy Spirit nudged me: “Yeah, you’ll run out of ‘stuff.’ If you teach all by yourself. You need to depend on ME.”
I know from experience that if I stay grounded in close fellowship with God and continuously offer my preparation as a living sacrifice, He will give me HIS message every week, from the timeless truth of scripture to the practical application of it in our lives today. From the supporting stories to suggestions for personal challenges.
I know that if I continuously pray for the people participating in the study, HE will incline their hearts and minds to HIS message and He will draw each one closer to Himself in a way that is unique and needed for each and every one of them.
Time and time again – when I’ve depended on HIM as my source and my guide – He has led me to share something very specific to meet someone right where they are that day, that moment.
I know that if I’m obedient in planting and sowing the seed where and how he leads me, He will send the rain and the sunshine and harvest in His own perfect timing.
I’ll need the Holy Spirit to remind me of that last part again and again because I know my natural tenancy is equate responses from people as affirmation that the messages I relay are “effective.” In reality, I’m confident He’s reached people who have never given me even one ioda of feedback that something I’ve shared has spoken to them or impacted their choices.
I need to remember – persistently – that HE is the source of all I ever teach, or speak or write. Without Him, my voice is a “clanging cymbal.”
“The heart of man plans his way,
but the LORD establishes his steps.”
Proverbs 16:9 (ESV)
One of the most difficult things I’ve experienced in my striving to follow God’s guidance in my life is when
I pray, persistently,
I seek wisdom from His word and from faith-filled brothers and sisters in Christ,
I “count the cost” and
I make a decision that I’m am confident is one that follows the leading of the Holy Spirit, a decision that – through all the dependent tasks and decisions leading up to it – is covered in God’s fingerprints.
And then the outcome is ab.so.flippin.lutely. HORRIBLE.
How does this happen?
WHY does this happen?
Because the outcome is only horrible from my point of view.
Sometimes, after making plans and following through, circumstances go as expected and everything makes sense.
Sometimes, after making plans and following through, circumstances exceed my hopes and expectations and even my imagination and I’m left in awe of what God can do when I have the courage and motivation to be obedient and if I don’t fight back or dig my heels in while I stand in His way.
Sometimes, after making plans and following through, circumstances tank.
Things go horribly wrong and I doubt my understanding of every single answer to prayer I received leading up to that moment. I doubt my ability to interpret what scripture taught me about my decision. I doubt the wise words from brothers and sisters in Christ.
I don’t doubt God. I’m confident HE got it right. I doubt myself. MY ability to get it right.
Sometimes, after circumstances tank,
(1) I immediately get to see how God redeems the situation, often through the unexpected benefit of someone else or someone being drawn closer to and more dependent on Christ.
Sometimes, after circumstances tank,
(2) I find out months or years later how God redeemed my “failure.”
Sometimes, after circumstances tank,
(3) God never shows me or tells me why.
I hate door number 3 the most.
I’ll admit, there have been seasons of my life where a “failure” has resulted in paralyzation. I’ve spent months bogged down in fear of making another “mistake.”
Will I make another “mistake?”
Count on it.
I may lie low for a while and regroup, but when I persist in prayer – not necessarily prayer for a “do-over” or for God to “fix” something – but prayer for God to draw me closer to Him, for Him to bless me with the ability to see people and the world through HIS greater perspective instead of from through my own limited limited and skewed vantage point, my courage is restored.
My confidence in Him overshadows my lack of confidence in myself.
The next decision presents itself and I face it with Him. I make plans, giving Him veto power. I make plans knowing the outcome isn’t up to me.
I’ll be honest. I don’t always like the outcome. But I make plans in faith, knowing His ways are higher than my ways.
“The heart of man plans his way,
but the LORD establishes his steps.”
Proverbs 16:9 (ESV)
It’s January, time for new year’s resolutions and fresh starts. New goals. New plans.
I feel a metaphor coming on.
When I use my GPS to help me get somewhere, I not only have to set a destination, but I have to set my current location.
I don’t know about you, but in life, when I set a goal, I don’t intuitively take an honest, objective look at my current situation. Intellectually, I know that when I want to “go somewhere,” I need to have a clear and realistic understanding of where I am now, before I start trying to figure out how I’m going to get where I’m going. I wish I could say I always take stock of my current situation before I start.
When I STOP and pray about a goal,
when I ask God to show me if the goal is in line with His Word and if it’s a goal He even wants me to pursue,
when I ask for His guidance on how to achieve it,
when I ask Him to show me who and what I need to help me,
I see things much more clearly.
When I genuinely pray for Him to help me figure all that out, the Holy Spirit leads me to reflect, not just on my desires and plans, but also on where I am right now.
Sometimes God reveals it to me.
Sometimes God uses people to reveal it to me.
Sometimes the truth comes unsolicited and wrapped in emotionally charged language. I can dismiss the words because they were spoken in anger instead of “in love” but when I’m smart (and brave), I strip away the emotion and search the content for nuggets of truth.
Just because feedback is mean, doesn’t mean there isn’t some truth in it.
Sometimes, I need to give people permission to tell me the truth. Friends, acquaintances, experts, strangers…
When the only feedback someone ever gives me is positive, I usually say that person “blow rainbows.” Their feedback loses credibility with me. It’s statistically improbable that I’m great at everything I do.
Sometimes a friend who loves me will take me aside and tell me a hard truth.
Sometimes I need to ask a friend what they think and give them permission – encourage them – to tell me the truth.
Sometimes, I need to pay people. In my life, I’ve paid therapists and voice teachers to tell me the truth.
And then I need to be quiet and listen. Because my knee-jerk reaction is to explain how they are wrong. How they don’t understand. To try and get them to see things from MY point of view – the point of view I had before I asked for the feedback.
Then, I need to process what I hear. Investigate. Search my heart and the circumstances to determine if there’s truth in the feedback. I’m not the most objective person when it comes to evaluating my “current location.”
Are you making new goals? Pray and ask the Lord to show you your current location.
and “Courage, dear heart.”
“The heart of man plans his way,
but the LORD establishes his steps.”
Proverbs 16:9 (ESV)
I had such a great plan. I had prayed and I thought God had answered with a big ol’ “YES!”
and then things started to fall apart.
What do you do when a plan begins to fall apart? I’ve tried to force circumstances before. To create situations and opportunities. To manipulate them. To push them.
It’s taken me decades, but I’ve learned that my efforts are only effective when God intervenes. Especially when a plan requires more than one person to accomplish it.
I find myself thinking of Nehemiah. He didn’t rebuild the wall all by himself. And he wasn’t the one who convinced the king to allow him – to actually help him – rebuild the wall. After finding out the wall had been torn down, the first thing Nehemiah did was pray:
“O Lord, please hear my prayer!…Please grant me success today by making the king favorable to me. Put it into his heart to be kind to me.”
After praying, Nehemiah didn’t say anything to the king at all. He had prayed and he trusted God to answer. He waited. He continued doing the work he was supposed to do.
The king noticed there was something wrong. Was he just a perceptive man? Or did God make him aware there was a problem?
The king asked Nehemiah what was wrong. He made a few guesses, but not assumptions. He didn’t presume to know. He asked. Was he just a curious man? Or did God prompt him to ask?
Nehemiah told him what was troubling him, but didn’t ask the king to do anything for him. Why not? He could have just asked the king for what he wanted right then. But he didn’t. He waited on the Lord. He had prayed and he trusted God to answer.
And the king said, “How can I help you?” Was he just a kind and compassionate man? Or did the Lord “put it into his heart” to help Nehemiah?
Back to Nehemiah. A powerful king just asked him “How can I help you?” Did Nehemiah blurt out his request? It’s interesting to me that the question and Nehemiah’s first response are both contained in one verse. The actual request follows in the next verse:
4 The king asked, “Well, how can I help you?” With a prayer to the God of heaven,
5 I replied, “If it please the king, and if you are pleased with me, your servant, send me to Judah to rebuild the city where my ancestors are buried.”
Nehemiah didn’t say a word without God. He knew that the king would only say yes if God willed it.
That story has changed the way I approach problems and decisions. If a plan requires other people to accomplish it and God wants the plan accomplished, God will “put it into their heart.” When he doesn’t do that, I have a choice. Do I push through anyway?
or do I start praying about Plan B?
In my previous blog post, practice God’s presence. forget. remember. repent. (repeat, ad infinitum), I talked about practicing the presence of God by pretending Jesus was physically present with me everywhere I went. I confessed that, despite my sincere intentions to be aware of God’s presence with me throughout my days and my moments, I chronically forgot Jesus was with me. I realized I couldn’t remember on my own.
I needed help.
I was striving – and struggling – and failing – to consistently engage in an intimate, living, dependent relationship with Christ.
Change is difficult, but I’m a firm believer in the old adage “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” I knew that this intimate, living dependent relationship I so desperately wanted wasn’t going to just happen because I wished it.
It requires intention.
It requires discipline.
Intellect says you make time in your life for the things you love.
Reason says that if you want your life to change you’ll have to do something different.
So I had tried intention and discipline. With the best and strongest of intention.
No matter how “hard” I tried, consistency was elusive. To say I was frustrated would be an understatement.
And then, God reminded me of something Paul said:
“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.”
Romans 7:15, 18b
My natural inclination is to try harder. But if Paul couldn’t even do it…
My next inclination is to feel guilty about it. Is that What did Paul did? Continuing to read in Romans:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit…
Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.
Romans 8:1, 5, 8-9
Intention is needed, but it is not enough.
Discipline is needed, but it is never going to be enough.
Remembering that Jesus is with me everywhere I go requires a dependence on the Holy Spirit.
I could. not. do. it. on my own.
So instead of trying to remember Jesus was with me all day long, I began to pray that the Holy Spirit would remind me that Jesus was with me all day long.
Sounds like semantics, but oh, what a DIFFERENCE.
I already know the Holy Spirit dwells within me because of my relationship with Christ:
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit,whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
I can’t remember on my own. I can’t do anything on my own. But the Spirit who dwells within me CAN.
Therefore he told me, “These signify the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by strength and not by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD who rules over all.”
So, I stopped “trying” to remember Jesus was with me everywhere I went and I began praying for the Holy Spirit to remind me, again and again and again, of His presence in my life.
Do I forget to ask the Holy Spirit to help me?
to be continued…
In The Risk of Discipleship Practices, the second post in this blog series on the difference Between “a Good Christian Life” and Abundant Life in Christ, I talked about Brother Lawrence, a 17th century monk, and how he practiced the presence of God, no matter where he went or what he was doing.
I decided to try it.
But it was okay. I wasn’t surprised. Brother Lawrence failed too. In trying to practice the presence of God, his pattern was:
practice the presence of God.
Repeat, Buzz Lightyear style (to infinity, and beyond).
I had read about Brother Lawrence’s failings before I even began, so failure wasn’t unexpected. I wasn’t discouraged. If he couldn’t do it, I couldn’t do it. I’ve previously quoted what was said of him when he failed, but I’ll repeat it here for convenience:
[When Brother Lawrence] “had failed in his duty, he only confessed his fault, saying to God,
‘I shall never do otherwise, if You leave me to myself;
’tis You must hinder my falling,and mend what is amiss.’
That after this, he gave himself no further uneasiness about it.”
Since “just remembering” wasn’t working for me, I decided to try something a little unorthodox. I decided to pretend Jesus was physically present with me everywhere I went. He sat next to me at the kitchen table, at my desk, and on my loveseat with me when I read my Bible and wrote in my prayer journal. He leaned on the counter while I cooked dinner and loaded the dishwasher (which reminded me to thank him for providing for us). He sat in the passenger seat of my van (which reminded me to thank him for his mercy and protection) and he stood next to me when I tucked my kids into bed and said prayers with them (which reminded me to thank Him for so.many.things.).
And yes. He even hung out with me in the bathroom.
Imagining Jesus physically present with me began to make me aware that God was listening when I talked. I knew He was listening, don’t get me wrong, but most of the time, I wasn’t conscious of it. When I practiced God’s presence, I was more mindful of my thoughts, words and actions. I imagined His hand on my shoulder, pressing slightly when I began to say something unedifying. I imagined his hand at the small of my back, gently guiding me where He wanted me to go. I found myself speaking less. I found myself listening more. To other people and to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
In the beginning, this exercise was the equivalent of a spiritual string on my finger. Imagining Jesus physically next to me was a mechanism I used to remind me of God’s presence and movement in my life. I probably could have just as easily set reminder alarms on my phone to bring me back to an awareness of His presence at multiple time during the day.
But as the days passed, the spiritual string began to grow into a foundation of confidence in the promise of Joshua 1:9, that God was actually “with me wherever I go” As I became more and more aware of God’s presence, I found myself relying on Him more and on myself less. I started to see people and situations differently, through God’s greater perspective rather than through my own limited and skewed vantage point.
My chronic problem was the same one Brother Lawrence experienced. I continued to forget Jesus was with me.
I couldn’t do this on my own. I needed help.
CLICK HERE to read the next post in this series.
[I assigned this exercise as homework to the participants of a weekly Bible study I lead on discipleship. If you’ve never practiced the presence of God in this way this before, I encourage you to give it a try for one week. Expect to forget God. often. And check back to see what I assigned as the next week’s homework assignment. Here’s a hint: It has something to do with my realization that I couldn’t do it by myself and needed help.]
Saturday, April 19, 2014
I love my daughter.
It would appear my workout yesterday was extremely effective.
ibuprofen. stretching. water. protein. maybe epsom salt bath later.
Anything I’m missing?
Little Known Fact #30 on my blog: “I would rather eat a Brussel sprout than a Peep. bleh. It’s like goo with glitter on it.”
The only good peep is a dead peep.
Saturday, April 12, 2014
My men are fishing today. There are two text messages hubs sends me from his GPS satellite messenger when they’re on the ocean. One is “All is Well” and the other is “Fish On” I’m very thankful for the four “All is Well” messages I’ve gotten so far this morning, but I would REALLY like a “Fish On” message this afternoon. #bringhomethemahi
Catching up on my facebook compilation blog posts. All my posts from 3/15 to 3/21 on one page:
facebook fragments: 03/15/14 – 03/21/14 (spring break)
Shared my husband’s facebook video from their fishing trip:
The guys didn’t catch any fish but they had some great company.
Both my daughter and my son are having a full and stress filled week. A VERY full and stress filled week. Sleep is going to come at a premium.
It’s “tech week” for a show PinkGirl is teching. She’s not performing in this show. She’s one of the people wearing all black who works behind the scenes and helps keep things moving smoothly during a show, no matter what the need. That means rehearsals every night this week – for her own show Monday/Tuesday night and rehearsals for the show she’s teching Wednesday/Thursday night. The show opens Friday night and additional showings are Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.
FavoriteSon is in the final week of his spring semester and he works as a tutor, so he literally did math for over 12 hours on both Monday and Tuesday, either learning it or teaching it. He has two finals today and another paper due tomorrow. His week started after an exhausting (but great) weekend. Saturday the weather was rare and perfect on the ocean, so he and his dad got up at 5am to go on a PHENOMENAL fishing day on our boat.
They got home late and stinky. Then, he got up Sunday at 6:45 to run sound for the K-5th grade worship services at his church from 8am to 1:30pm. (He does that every Sunday.) He spent his Sunday afternoon writing a paper and finished off his weekend tutoring a friend till late Sunday night.
It’s only hump day and both PinkGirl and FavoriteSons are already tired. This means one thing. They both need grace from me this week. (And from my husband, but he is admittedly better at patience and giving grace than me. I’d like to think it has something to do with the fact that due to his work schedule, I see the kids more hours in a day, but the fact is, he’s more easygoing than I am.)
Giving grace takes prayer. Some might say it takes patience.
Because I knew cranky was coming. I knew frustrated snark was in my future.
I’m still praying. For patience like manna. My schedule is pretty calm these days, so I ordered my week in anticipation for their growing exhaustion by making myself available to help them. Little things, like picking up some of their chores, typing a handwritten paper, putting healthy snacks down in front of them, prepared and ready to eat, pushing them to go to bed when they are still worked up from their day, and praying for them and with them for strength and stamina, among other things. Praying for myself to be able to give them grace in response to cranky snark.
Some might say I’m a patsy.
If this happened all the time, I’d entertain that thought. But it doesn’t. It’s rare and temporary. Both these kids and my husband are there for me when I need them to pick up my slack or help me out, and I don’t take that for granted.
Is someone in your life dishing up a full helping of cranky snark?
I don’t just assume I can muster up patience and grace on my own.
I already know I can’t.
Pray for patience and for God to bless you with a supernatural ability to extend grace. His grace is sufficient in your weakness and He is glorified when His strength is visible in your life.
Sunday evening. Easter Sunday. I was sitting at the kitchen table, focused on my laptop. PinkGirl came over and turned my chair sideways so she could curl up on my lap and lay her head on my shoulder.
“Mom? How can I find joy in God?”
13 years old.
Immediately, I prayed.
“Lord, is this moment one of the reasons for everything that’s happened over the last year? Have you been preparing me for this question? Please help. Please speak through me.”
Me: “Well…for me…the way I find joy in God is to grow closer to Him. There are a few things you can do to grow closer to Him. You already know what’s first though, right?”
Me: “Yep. There’s lots of different ways to pray, but I think the way that brings me closest to God is practicing His presence. You remember what I told you about practicing the presence of God? How I first started doing it?”
Me: “I imagined Jesus physically with me everywhere I went – in the passenger seat of my van…”
PinkGirl: “oh yeah.”
Me: “Jesus is right here with us now.”
I pointed to the chair next to us.
“If you imagine Him sitting right here with us – not just sitting here, eavesdropping on our conversation, but actually participating in it, it changes everything. And sometimes not in a way you might expect. It won’t be all rainbows. You won’t be thanking Him and praising Him all the time. If you really do imagine Jesus with you wherever you go, you may find yourself crying and yelling at Him sometimes. Telling Him all the things you don’t think are fair, begging him to help you and heal you and protect you and getting frustrated or mad or even heartbroken when He doesn’t do what you want or expect or if He’s slower than you think He should be. But you have to be honest with God.”
PinkGirl: “He already knows anyway.”
Me: “Yeah, He does.”
We sat there for a while, talking about all the different ways to pray. We talked about honest, wide open prayer, without holding anything back. We talked about how authentic prayer helps us to grow closer to God and how growing closer to God helps us find joy in Him, no matter whether we’re happy or sad about what’s happening in our life. We talked about how happiness is temporal and based on our circumstances, but joy in God is eternal and based on who He is and our relationship with Jesus.
Me: “Prayer is when we tell God everything. But we also need to listen to Him. What’s the best way to hear from God?”
PinkGirl: “Be alone with Him?”
Me: “That’s one way. I call that abiding in Him. But that’s next. Something else comes first. The best way to hear God speak to us is to read His Word.”
PinkGirl: “I try, but I don’t understand a lot of it.”
Me: I get that. There’s a lot I don’t understand either. But here’s the thing. There’s a lot you do understand – way before you even get to the stuff you don’t understand. You understand what you learn in Bible [class], right?
Me: “So, see? You understand more than you think. Outside of Bible [class], what’s the last thing you read on your own?”
PinkGirl: “I don’t remember.”
Me: “You understand the scriptures in your devotion book, right?”
Me: “What was your last devotion about?”
PinkGirl: “I don’t remember.”
Me: “When do you do your devotion, in the morning or at bedtime?”
PinkGirl: “In the morning.”
Me: “After your devotion time is over, how often do you think about the scripture you read later in your day?”
Me: “Just reading the Bible isn’t enough. You won’t grow in your relationship with Christ if you don’t remember what you read. You have to engage in God’s Word. That takes effort. How can you remember the scripture from your morning devotion throughout your day ? And for days after that?”
We talked about how on our own, reading the Bible isn’t something we want to do all the time and that God knows that. We talked about forgetting to read the Bible or not making time for it. We talked about how we make time for the other things we love. We talked about the first and constant thing we should do: pray and ask God to give us a desire to read His Word. We talked about the fact that we can’t just “do better” on our own. We talked about asking God to give us – to bless us – with a hunger for His Word – with a hunger for Him. We talked about setting reminders on her iPod, bands on her wrist, special jewelry, even writing notes to herself on her hand.
Me: “After reading the Bible, another good way to hear from God is to abide in Him. You called it being alone with Him. When are you ever truly alone. Quiet and still?”
PinkGirl: “When I’m in my room.”
Me: “Sleeping doesn’t count.”
Me: “If you want to be closer to God, if you want to find joy in Him, you have to spend time with Him. Think of it this way. When you and PeterPanFan (her BFF) hang out together, you grow closer, don’t you think? You talk to each other, you have inside jokes, you start to think alike, finish each other’s sandwiches…even when you two are at your own houses, when you interact over the internet through text or instagram, you’re still spending time with each other even though you are miles apart. But if you were at your house and she was at her house and you weren’t interacting over the internet, you wouldn’t be able to hear her. What would happen to your friendship if you didn’t spend time together?”
Me: “How connected can you be to God if you don’t spend time alone with Him?”
Me: So. Prayer. Reading God’s Word and Abiding in Him. There’s something else you can do to find joy in God.”
PinkGirl: “Thanking Him?”
Me: “Actually there’s two kinds. Giving thanks for His blessings and praising Him for who He is. When you thank Him for blessings, you begin to recognize those blessings in your life more and more. And when you praise Him for who He is, no matter what your circumstances are, it helps you remember that God is sovereign and nothing happens to you that He doesn’t will or allow.”
We talked about disappointments, God’s providence and the peace that comes from trusting that all circumstances – which lead to both happiness and sadness – are God’s providence. We talked about tapestries. And praising Him, no matter what.
We talked about a lot of things. The things I’ve shared here are the things she gave me permission to share.
Afterwards, I realized.
Prayer. Reading God’s Word. Abiding in Him. Gratitude. P.R.A.G. The first four chapters of the book I was writing about how to experience a more intimate relationship with Christ. Seems so easy, just looking at them here. Not so easy. To do or to write about. If they were easy to do, every Christian would do them. If they were easy to write about…I haven’t been able to write for months. But in these precious moments with my daughter, I was able to articulate a summary in kid language.
He has been preparing me. Not only for that question at that moment.
God is Good. All the time.