Earlier this year I had decided that I was going to run the Chicago marathon. Not exactly a small feat for someone who'd never run more than 4 miles at a time. It ended up being eighteen weeks of training that completely changed my life. There's something to be said for the solitude that running provides, and I know that God has allowed it to be one of the many ways I get to experience His peace.
But the training wasn't all great. Of course in the heat of the summer, there were days when running was the last thing I wanted to do. There were days when I couldn't even go a mile without feeling like my legs were going to collapse under me. Days like this caused a lot of self-doubt and I would question if I could actually do this or not. As the weeks went by, I was getting more anxious and impatient and I just wanted the race to be here NOW, even though I knew I was not ready.
But how critical is the training to the race? Most people would not just say, "I'm going to run a marathon today!" and have it be a success. The weeks of training were the difficult part…the time management, maintaining my motivation, listening to what my body is telling me, allowing myself to rest. Although difficult many days, the training and preparation were essential…I would not have finished otherwise.
For a long time, I had the complete opposite attitude toward my spiritual life and my relationship with God. I used to wander through life with no real focus. I had always believed in God, and just thought that no matter what, He would always come through for me. And often times He did. But there was no real devotion on my part…I wasn’t willing to do the training, so to speak, that God was asking of me to get me where He wanted me. My heart wasn’t in it and the result was not good.
But now, I’m learning to treat my spiritual life as if I’m training for a marathon. Learning that it’s not enough to just be waiting for something big to happen in my life, but to be focused and preparing myself so that I‘m ready when God decides it‘s time. To be purposeful and intentional every day of my life. To follow the path He’s laying out for me and trust it’s taking me some where great, even when it feels like it’s taking forever. To run and not be weary…
I’ve been reading a book called Leadership and Self Deception lately, and it’s really challenged me on the way that I see basically EVERYONE in my life. I’m only halfway through it at the moment, but the basic premise of the book is that through a series of interactions with other people, we develop beliefs about them, and consequently, about ourselves in relationship to that person. Furthermore, once we [perhaps, unknowingly] develop those beliefs, we bring those to the table every time we interact with that person, and we posture ourselves accordingly.
For instance, I may see my boss as a very legalistic, hard-edged person, which makes me react as more subservient than I would to my brother, who presents me with a totally different relationship dynamic. He obviously has no authoritative role over me, and is a very lax person, so I react much more casually and personally to him than I do to my boss.
This isn’t news to most people, nor is it a revolutionary way of thinking. But, what really caught me off guard is this cycle that the book illustrated that literally had me astounded and convicted to the point that my jaw was hanging open.
This is going to be a long ride, so stay with me…
The author began talking about self betrayal. He defined it as “an act contrary to what I feel I should do for another person.” For example, when we pass by a homeless person asking for change and we ignore the pull of the Holy Spirit to help them out, in this author’s vocabulary, we have betrayed ourselves.
To illustrate the author’s point in its fullness, let’s run with an example all-too familiar to each and every one of us: tipping wait staff.
Note: If you want to get anything out of reading this, approach it with an open mind. Don’t introduce your own details to the story to excuse a behavior or weasel your way out of applying this to yourself. Just run with me for a few minutes here, and I think we’ll both see something very powerful at work.
Imagine it’s Thursday night after Immersion, and you’re out with a group of friends at our dearly-beloved Buffalo Wild Wings for some socializing and spicy chicken. While you’re there, you are forced to wait longer than you’d like several times for your drink refills, your food took over 20 minutes to arrive at the table, and you were infrequently visited by your server after it was delivered. It was a busy night due to the large Immersion crowd, and your service was suffering. In addition to all this, when your server was at the table, she seemed very rushed and was struggling to keep up with all of the refills and miscellaneous requests from people at the table.
Finally, the bill comes, and you pick up the pen to fill in how much of a tip to leave. You’re faced with the decision to either leave a tip based on the service you actually received, or based on the situational factors that made your server’s job incredibly difficult. Being a person who receives grace weekly through the body and blood of Jesus, you know what the right choice is: Show your server some grace and give her a generous tip despite the inferior service.
But, let’s say for argument’s sake, you make the wrong choice. You choose the action contrary to what you feel you should do, and betray yourself. You leave a lousy tip. And in the blink of an eye, BOOM! The guilt hits you, and you’re faced with the weight of the lousy tip you left.
…But, the service was still really lousy, right? And, I’m just as important as every other customer there, right? Plus, if that server was waiting a ton of people like that, she probably still made out all right for the evening. I’m really not a tightwad. If that server really wanted to earn a good tip from me, she could have. She wasn’t working to her full capacity. I made the right choice.
You walk out of B’Dubs with no guilt, no shame, and your head held high.
Does this sound familiar? Making a poor choice, and then justifying it by distorting the situation? Think about these questions:
- What did you feel about yourself right after you made the choice about the tip?
- What about now?
- What did you feel towards the server while you were there?
- What about now?
And now, after distorting the situation to justify your behavior, you see yourself as generous, and the server as a slacker who needs to learn to work harder. Is this even close to reality?
No, it’s not. But it’s what you walked out of BWW believing in order to cope with the self-betrayal, the sin, the poor choice you made.
The author goes on to assert that this kind of self-justifying behavior can become characteristic of us. That, in explaining away our self betrayal, our view of reality becomes distorted, and that we carry those distorted views around with us. I’ll continue the example…
Let’s say you’re back at BWW a couple weeks later and you get the same server as last time. Before she even has a chance to greet you, because of the last interaction with her, you already believe she’s not a very hard worker, and that your experience at BWW is probably going to be a negative one. Your expectations of her performance soar sky-high, and you continue to see yourself as a justified, generous person.
But here’s the clincher, do you suppose the server remembers you? The group of people that she busted her butt to serve and got slapped with slave-wage tips to thank for it – you bet she does! Before she even has a chance to greet you, she already believes you’re a tightwad and that you’re probably going to be demanding more of her than anyone else she’s waiting on. She believes she is a good server, and that she deserves better tips than what you offer.
How do you suppose your interaction with the server will feel for you both? I would guess that the greetings would feel pretty forced seeing as you both actually have pretty negative feelings towards one another (which are based in distortions of reality, remember). I would also venture to say that she would be less inclined to work hard and serve you well because of how you treated her last time, which would further enforce your mis-belief that she’s a poor server.
How well do you suppose you’ll tip her this time? Do you think she’ll be surprised? Probably not…
So, what’s the point? Well, if you look at the example closely, you’ll see that in making the poor choice about the tip, justifying your self betrayal by blaming the server, and interacting with her based on those distorted beliefs, you invited the behavior that upset you in the first place!
By choosing to believe that your server was a lazy person who deserves low tips, you provoked her to believe that you’re an unappreciative tightwad. Thus, she feels that she has no reason to try to earn a good tip from you, and puts very little effort into serving you. Your distorted reality is reinforced, as is hers.
Gosh Luke, that’s a pretty elaborate example with a lot of assumptions.
Yea, it is. But, I can say with 100% certainty that this kind of mutually destructive behavior occurs with EVERYONE to some degree, and most of them are completely unaware of it. It’s certainly not limited to something as tangible as a serving tip either:
- I have a friend who finds a particular individual overbearing and annoying, so he goes to great lengths to avoid that person. Consequently, that person tries even harder to get attention from my friend, which annoys her further. Do you suppose my friend should just give that person the time of day, and maybe that would solve her problem?
- I know another friend who is extremely opinionated and combative about musical opinions. As such, many of us who know him see him as narrow-minded, and opinionated, and consequently, we feel we have to go to great lengths to justify our opinions to him. And, go figure - that makes him want to argue more. Do you suppose that if he were to lighten up, our views of each other might change?
The examples could go on and on, but I think you get the point. I’ll leave you with a paraphrase of this whole cycle that the author outlined in his book. It’s been a powerful reminder for me to approach every person and every situation as objectively as possible, and to make the choices I know are the ones Christ would make, even if I don’t feel like it at the moment.
An act contrary to what I feel I should do for another
- When I betray myself, I begin to see the world in a way that justifies my self-betrayal.
- When I see a self-justifying world, my view of reality becomes distorted.
- So – when I betray myself, I become distorted.
- Over time, certain distortions become characteristic of me, and I become them.
- By being distorted, I provoke others to be distorted.
- While distorted, we invite mutual mistreatment and obtain mutual justification. We collude in giving each other reason to remain distorted.
Sometimes I'm amazed at how quickly I forget all that God has done for me. I get busy with my life, my every day routine, and I do not stop to thank Him for all the ways He has blessed me.
I was thinking today about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday weekend, and I started to get sad because I remembered I have to work my 2nd job at the hospital on both Friday and Saturday. This means I'll be making a short trip home to visit my family on Thursday. This really bummed me out because I've been working so much lately, it seems I rarely have a day off and I felt I really needed a couple days to relax and do nothing.
Then God told me to shut up, stop complaining, and open my eyes to what He is doing.
In a time where people are losing their jobs left and right, I have been offered overtime at my full time job--an opportunity that was not given to any one else but me. In a time where people are being laid off or cannot find a job, I've been given a 2nd one. It's not just any "2nd job", it's actually the position I held for over 5 years before leaving a couple years ago to move to Omaha (which is where I quickly found out that wherever you go, there you are).
I should back up a little bit to say that I had been praying for many months for an opportunity to make more money so that I could get myself out of debt quicker. Praying A LOT. For a long time I was just waiting and it seemed like nothing was getting better.
And then one Sunday evening as I was leaving church, I ran into an old co-worker and she told me that our friend's (another old co-worker) mother's brain cancer had returned and that she would be needing an extended leave of absence from work while she cared for her. I should also tell you that this woman's cancer was diagnosed 3 1/2 years ago and she was given only 6 months to live at that time. See where I'm going with this?
My 2nd job is working at the hospital for her a few days a month so she can spend some special time caring for her mom.
While my heart breaks for my friend as her mother's health is declining every day, and I can't pretend to know how difficult this time is for both of them, His timing never ceases to amaze me. The sacrifice I’m making by working a couple of extra days is the least I can do for my friend. To that end, He has given her priceless time with her mom that otherwise might not have been possible. And He's given me another reason to be grateful and humbled.
Today, I have decided to share my very weird dream I had last night.
You know when you have those dreams that when you wake up, you can remember a lot of it? And if it’s a scary dream you can’t move until you tell yourself that it was just a dream and that it didn’t really happen?
Just me…..? (ya, I can be kinda a wimp sometimes ☺)
Anyway, here is the dream. The title is – Experience on Gnome Hill.
I was standing next to this giant gnome (it didn’t talk or move on it’s own – it was kind of like a tree) and next to me was Jesus (he was real and was talking). So, we were talking and I was facilitating this encounter Jesus was about to have with the Antichrist. And then Jesus went away and the Antichrist came and stood next to me and let out a roar so loud that it shook the giant gnome until it fell on it’s side and started rolling down this hill crushing all the little gnomes below.
I woke up.
And I had this sense of strong fear come over me. I don’t know why I was so afraid but it was very real to me…. so I started praying to Jesus and I had this revelation.
I can talk to Jesus anytime I want….. He’s real…..and He cares….
Now, I have prayed many times before and believed that Jesus was real, but this was a different kind of revelation. I think it was because I was just standing next to Jesus in my dream and now I was praying to Him.
The same Jesus that was born in a manger.
The same Jesus that grew up and became a great teacher.
The same Jesus who died…. and rose from the dead – allowing me to spend eternity with Him.
Not some nice thought up idea of what Jesus is.
Not some imaginary person you can pretend to talk to.
Not some hierarchy that doesn’t have time to listen to your fears about a stupid gnome dream.
A loving Jesus. A caring Jesus. An understanding Jesus.
I felt better, and I’m pretty sure that’s not how the apocalypse is going to happen, but you never know….. maybe that was a prophecy about giant gnome being built up right before the second coming….. something to look for I guess. J/K!!!
When I uploaded last week’s blog I knew it would be hard. Let me clarify. I knew that blogging THIS WEEK would be hard. Not that it wasn’t difficult to admit to sitting alone on a Saturday night watching movies while throwing myself a pity party- not pretty stuff. Nor was it particularly easy to admit that Jesus called me on the carpet for stuff. Big stuff. I knew the real challenge, however, would be writing this week. Because I knew that I would probably fail and I knew I would not want to admit it to you.
But I had promised myself that if I was going to do this blog I was not going to waste my time or your time with posturing, pretending or glossing over the truth. Post-moderns hate masks and moderns hardly know how to exist without them. Boomers are so darned driven and so success oriented that what I want to tell you is how great I did at obeying God. Jesus spoke, the Holy Spirit anointed and I immediately responded by giving up what I was supposed to give up and stopping what I needed to stop. I could then follow it with a 3 point teaching on how to walk in obedience, throw in some Greek roots to boot.
Yeah … not the case. Something shifted in my heart, but I still failed.
Hanging out at Immersion is changing me in ways I never expected. And one of those ways is I am learning to be what I have always claimed to value but never truly walked in – being transparent. Transparency is frightening. It is risky. It is uncomfortable. And honestly, transparency in a modern boomer Christian world invites all kinds of mini-sermons and well-meaning but ultimately finger-pointing advice on how not to fail from those to whom you confessed. Boomers have taken Christianity, boiled it down to principles and precepts, and turned it into another project at which we must succeed. New car. Check. Promotion. Check. Obeyed God. Check.
Interestingly enough, the very charge that moderns levy at post-moderns- not believing in absolute truth and the seeming ease of living with sin and without conviction- I am shockingly finding is the very thing that is freeing me to be transparent. In the mix of that I find amazing and breathtaking acceptance.
When I talk about my struggles or (gasp) failures I don’t get raised eyebrows, shocked looks, five ways to fix it or a “come on you can do better” talk. Sometimes I don’t even get a reaction which tempers my self-absorption; like ‘this is not only not a big deal it isn’t a deal at all’. I’m sure it can be argued at length that this is bad. But for me, for right now, it is freedom. Hear me clearly. I am not talking about the liberty to sin but the freedom to be honest about it.
I am learning to sit in my own sinfulness and to be comfortable with it and resist the temptation to hide it, fix it, fudge it or pretend it isn’t there. Like the extra pounds I’ve gained this past year, nothing I put on is going to disguise it and there is no quick fix to get rid of it. I am learning to be at ease with who I am as I am, and it is good.
My logical, linear thinking is starting to make room for the chaos and contradiction of sin and grace. The mask that used to protect is now heavy and suffocating; the image of perfection too exhausting. And if Christianity is all about success, I quit. Because the truth is I am now, always will be and always have been only one thing- a miserable sinner saved by God’s amazing grace. Fatally flawed, passionately loved. How freeing it is to live in the dichotomy of that truth.
I used to always laugh at the idea of going to the gym to lift weights. The idea of being around a bunch of sweaty people exercising and flexing their muscles in front of mirrors just seems so wrong to me.
Oh well...I enjoy going after work each day. It relaxes me. My mind is usually worn out from the day at the office, but my body needs to expel cooped up energy. So I try not to think too hard while I lift and let my body begin to work.
However, while I was pumping the iron recently, my mind was racing with fascination of how God designed the human body. It is amazing to think that the act of lifting weights does not build the muscle but rather it tears it apart and breaks it down. It is the time of rest after the workout where the muscle is strengthened by the body repairing itself from the damage done during the workout. My workout is really only breaking my body apart...tearing and stretching the muscles. It is while I sleep that my body becomes stronger as the muscle tissues use protein from my diet to mend and repair the broken tissue. The process makes my body stronger...or so I hope.
Isn’t it amazing how God designed our bodies to gain strength through being broken and torn? I think this is true in more than just physical terms.
Have you ever been broken? Maybe you have been at the end of the line, on your knees, humble before God, desperately needing Him to get through a trial in life? OR..maybe you have been broken from the consequences of sin when your actions finally caught up to you? Let me tell you I have been broken many times...both from trials and consequences of sin. I cannot describe in words what a state of brokenness feels like...it is a very humbling experience.
King David knew what it felt like to be broken. Just after Nathan confronted him about his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband, King David cried out these words to God in Psalm 51:
“Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me — now let me rejoice.”
Looking back at my life over the past few years I can certainly say I was strengthened the most when I was broken. Not physically, but in my spiritual life...deep down within my soul as I turned toward God.
I have been broken many times and will be again I’m sure, but today I rejoice! I am full of joy knowing God has designed us to grow stronger as we turn toward Him when we are broken. God has given me back my joy...and...I am stronger spiritually as well.
For those of you who know me personally, the fact that I’m choosing to wax intellectual about a topic like grammar in prayer will come as no surprise. But, for those of you who don’t know me well, at least give me a paragraph or two to explain myself and at least attempt to save face before you write me off as an obsessive-compulsive grammar nazi.
I have a degree in Technical Communication, which is an emphasis within English. It focuses intensely on audience analysis and determining what method and style of communication will be most effective for said audience based on your findings. It’s rhetoric in a sense, but with the added perks of being anal about grammar and technology, and it’s all rolled into one four-year program. Needless to say, once you’re trained in this type of thinking, it’s tough to turn it off…
I’m the person who laughs at signs that say “ATM Machine”, or chuckles at the redundancy of phrases like “enter into” that pop up all too often in the church these days [sorry Justin, I can’t let this go on any longer]. I’ve also been known to cringe at things like “8:00AM in the morning” or needlessly-elaborate phrases like “in the process of” when simply saying what you’re doing will suffice.
Anyway, I think you get the point. I tend to pay more attention to how people say things than I do to what they’re actually saying. And yes, I realize that’s going to be a major problem with a woman someday, but that’s a battle I’m prepared to fight! But for now, I’m hoping that my quirky brain will have noticed something that you, the beloved Immersion blog reader, will find thought-provoking at the very least.
So, with no further delay, here’s my question:
Have you ever noticed how often we say “just” when we pray?
Think about it. Almost everyone who you hear pray aloud will drop this seemingly harmless word into a prayer to God. “God we just ask that you [verb].” It’s very commonplace language anymore; and even I have to confess to hearing it slip into my prayers now and again.
So, what’s the problem? Well, think about the context in which the word is being used in a prayer. A dictionary suggests “only” or “merely” as synonyms for this use of “just” as an adverb. Linguistically, adding this kind of modifier to a request attempts to shrink the request and make it seem less daunting to the recipient, which therefore makes us feel more justified in asking for it.
Again, I urge you before you read on: Think about it. What are some other times in our lives when we use this kind of language? Who else do you “shrink” your language to in order to seem like less of a liability?
- Maybe a friend when you ask to just borrow a couple bucks?
- Or to a landlord when you just need a couple more days to get the rent?
- Perhaps to a friend or lover you’ve burned who you think just needs to give you another chance?
Call me crazy, but the trend I’m seeing here is that it puts us in a position of beggar, doesn’t it? By framing our requests as such, it seems that we’re acknowledging that the person we’re addressing has power over us and that, in some cases, we feel unworthy to even be asking them for a favor.
Now, be careful not to jump to conclusions. Even I want to ask, “Well, yea, but we’re talking about GOD here! Why WOULDN’T we want to pray as if we’re not worthy? Why SHOULDN’T we feel as if we’re beggars in light of God’s sovereignty?” Well, simply put, we’re not commanded to pray that way.
After Jesus told his disciples how to pray, he gave them a very powerful story about a man in need of bread that I think we could all stand to learn from:
Then he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.'
“Then the one inside answers, 'Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.' I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man's boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.
"So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Did you catch that? Because of the man’s BOLDNESS, he will receive as much as he needs! The footnote of the NIV says this word could also be translated as persistence.
How do you suppose the man inside with the bread would have responded if the man at the door had asked “Come on, just spare a couple loaves?” I can only assume that he would’ve grown slightly more irritated and probably shooed the “beggar” away from his house and gone back to bed. However, because of the man’s boldness and persistence, he got what he needed!
It’s no accident that this story immediately follows Jesus’ teaching of what we now call the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus is telling us that yes, we do approach God as strangers in need, but that we must pray boldly and persistently! We have no reason to approach God as if we have no business speaking to him. God wants us to speak to him, and tells us exactly the posture to have when we do it! Jesus endured what he did to give us the privilege to speak to God with confidence, as justified people before a glorious God. What a shame to not use it!
So, my friends, as strongly as I can urge you, pray knowing that you’re worthy! Pray knowing that you have every reason to bring even the smallest request to God! Pray boldly for the desires of your heart, and pray persistently without shame because your sins have been forgiven! Don’t just pray, pray BOLDLY!
I began thinking about this last week in church as I was listening to one of the most powerful sermons I've ever heard. I was moved beyond words. Why? Because I saw myself so much in it....too much. From start of the drama with the girl trying to fight off every temptation thrown at her, to the end when she surrrenders it all to God. That was me...beginning to end. If you were there, you may have seen yourself in it too.
It got me thinking...
What if every person in this church...this city...this country, actually believed this? What if every one saw themselves in that skit? Do we understand the power that could come from all these people being saved?
The reason I ask these questions is because lately as I look around church, I see people I know, friends even. They call themselves Christians. They say they believe in God. They go to church every Sunday. But they aren't exactly Christ-like outside the church walls. I won't go in to specifics...you can probably guess the kind of behaviors I'm referring to. Obviously they have a desire to go to church, otherwise they wouldn't be there. Isn't this desire from God Himself? So what is holding them back from experiencing all that He promises? Why do they continue to engage in a lifestyle that is taking life away from them?
I know what was holding me back and I'm sure I'm not alone - FEAR. Isn't it fear that prevents any one from moving forward? Fear of what your friends might think. Fear of what you might have to give up. Fear of being called to do some thing that doesn't quite fit in to the plans you have made.
People are only afraid of things they do not know, understand, or trust. Fortunately, we have the Bible, God's Word that is nothing but TRUTH. And the truth will set you free. Are you expectant of God's blessings but not willing to be obedient to Him in every area of your life? What is holding you back?
This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. 1 John 1:6
Deep listening is miraculous for both listener and speaker. When someone receives us with open-hearted, non-judging, intensely interested listening, our spirits expand.
So I have this planner, this Franklin Covey planner that was given to me as a gift from the company when I first started my job.
Not only did it make me feel appreciated and organized, it also was a great test of my decision-making skills because I got to choose the theme of my pages.
I ended up choosing themed pages based on the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
I have never read this book, so I cannot voice an opinion one way or the other, but the combination of nature scenes as well as quotes on the top of each daily page…..
tripped my trigger.
The above quote was from the top of page April 5th.
I made that up, I truly do not know the exact date so if you have the same themed pages please do not stress yourself.
Anyway, I LOVED this quote, and I don’t even know who Sue Patton is (not on Wikipedia, trust me, I checked), but regardless of her lack of Wiki-famousity, I thought this was super insightful.
People love to talk but LOVE to be heard….
There is a difference.
You can totally tell when someone is really listening to you. Not judging, intensely interested, not thinking about the next thing on their list of things to do, truly heart felt listening….. to YOU.
You know what I’m talking about, you can tell. Remember that time when you were trying to explain something to someone and they “heard” you but didn’t really “hear” you. And how did that make you feel?
Good listening is so valuable but so hard to find.
When someone stops what they are doing, looks you in the eyes, sincerely nods along, doesn’t interject with the ever popular “Oh, that happened to me once” “I remember when “I” “I” “I” “I” “MY””MY””MY””MY””ME””MINE””MY TIME, MY THOUGHTS, MY ATTENTION, MINE, MINE, MINE, MINE, MINE!!!!”
Not only is it a miraculous thing for the person being listened to… but it is also a miraculous thing for the person doing the listening.
And what Christ promotes!
How did that verse go again? You should be QUICK to what???? What should we be fast to do?? Oh, ya.
Try it for yourself, check your motives when listening to a friend, spouse, family member, etc.
See for yourself.
I often wonder what we could get accomplished if we practiced healthy listening skills.
I had a difficult night Saturday night preceded by my sitting alone for many hours watching Love Actually, The Holiday and Pride and Prejudice back to back. It was a 6 hour and 40 minute British love-story-palooza and yes, I cried and yes I’m a sap and yes I’m a girl and yes I’m single. Probably wasn’t the smartest way to spend a Saturday night.
There is something endearingly enchanting (to women anyway) about the “just happened to run into you, how weird is that, and now we are falling in love” love story. I think it’s the mystical “it can happen at any moment” part that is so beguiling. It catches single women wondering when they enter the grocery store, “Could this be the time? Will I accidentally bump carts with the man who will love me for eternity?” The
Many years ago a Newsweek article spoke words of doom over single women when they pronounced the chances of marrying a man after the age of 40 were slimmer than the chances of being killed in a terrorist attack. A collective cry of horror arose which if you listen closely can still be heard in lonely city streets, seedy hotel rooms and bars late at night. A horror the equal of Munch’s Scream.
Now I get that many of you reading this are no where near close to 40 and probably weren’t even born when that article came out and maybe you never even heard about it (lucky you). I dare say, if you’re single and a woman and a Christian, you know the angst, the ticking clock, the always a bridesmaid, the ‘should I put on makeup before I run out for the paper’ conundrum that defines your days and stalks your often lonely nights.
I turned off the movies and walked the dog for the last time that night and sad to say, no meet-cute. Not in the city streets, not in the elevator, not in the hall outside my loft. My life isn’t like
He clearly showed me ways He had blessed my life that were gifts that came straight from my Heavenly Father and things in my life I had badly bunged up by putting my hands in when I had no business. The Isaacs and the Ishmaels. These moments of crystal clarity come so infrequently. Usually life is a muddle. But I could see, really see what needed to be done and had a glimpse of where He may be taking me. Single? Married? I have no clue. He spoke not a word on that issue. I’m reasonably sure I am probably safe from a terrorist taking me out regardless of my marital state. (By the way, that Newsweek article turned out to be bunk though it remains today an urban legend.)
But this is the kicker of the story. When I woke up Sunday morning seeing clearer and knowing what needed to be done, my eye lashes were stuck together and there was this substance the consistency of oil on my eyes. Not the hard crusties like you slept too long. Oil. I am not making this up. All around my eyes- oil. I can only surmise that the Holy Spirit anointed my eyes as I slept. So apparently I did have a meet-cute that night with the greatest of Dates imaginable. Not
It is hard for me to write something today. I won’t try to hide it. Today I am sad and my spirit is torn. Today I cannot offer anything deep or insightful. Today I am on my knees begging to hear from God. I know He is speaking to me; I just cannot hear Him or probably I just don’t want to hear what He is saying. I suppose we all feel this way at times, but so often we cover it up. Honestly, I didn’t want to admit today either. I wanted to put on a fake smile and say life is peachy. Today that doesn’t seem to work. Today I need to know God is holding me close. I need to feel His presence.
Earlier this week I read these verses:
Isaiah 40:10-11, “Yes, the Sovereign Lord is coming in power. He will rule with a powerful arm. See, he brings his reward with him as he comes. He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in his arms, holding them close to his heart.”
Throughout scripture, we are reminded of God’s awesome power and authority. Nothing seems to symbolize His mightiness and justice like that of His arms. Reading these verses a I get the picture of a king holding his scepter or a battle-proven warrior holding his sword. I see the mental picture of a strong, muscular arm being flexed showing incredible strength.
Today I need to believe the second part of those verses. I need to believe the powerful arms of God...the same arms and hands that created this ever-expanding universe...are the same gentle, loving arms that are holding me close to His heart. I need to believe all the power of God is being funneled through His arms as He holds me.
God – today I pray and ask you to hold me close. Today I need to feel the warmth of your chest and the strength of your arms. I want to hear your heartbeat...the heart that loves me so much you were willing to give everything that I might live. May I rest in your arms today knowing you are holding me close. I know there are others who need to feel your presence today as well. I ask you to hold them close to your heart. May they hear your heart beating with love for them like never before.
Can you feel the strength in His loving arms?
Can you feel the warmth of His chest?
Can you feel His heartbeat?
I pray that you do.
The popular stance on worshiping God with song is that we should sing the songs for an audience of one. The ideal is that our hearts are so focused on God that we’re almost completely oblivious to what is happening around us. We are so caught up in praising God for his love that we can’t help but sing along to the music and shake whatever moneymaker he may or may not have blessed us with. :)
But, when we’re completely honest, that’s rarely the case - myself included. It’s nearly impossible to close our eyes, throw our hands in the air to God, and completely forget about the six complete strangers in close proximity. Granted, some of us are incredibly shameless with our worship (and my hat’s off to you), but for most of us, it’s a struggle. It’s as if we’re more concerned about someone around us having an awkward impression or thought of us than we are with telling our creator that we’re grateful for him. Sound silly? Well, it should. It is!
But, have you noticed that seeing the people around you engaged deeply and honestly in worship seems to relieve the fear you have of cutting loose and praising Jesus? Sure, it’s easy enough to just say, “Yea, it’s easier for you to not look like a fool if everyone around you is doing it too!” And that’s a fair point if all you’re concerned with is what everyone around you thinks.
I believe there’s more to it - there has to be. If our own ability to worship hinges on the behavior of those around us, I hate to say it, but we’re going to leave worship services very empty, very often. I don’t aim to make any conclusive point here, but more to just think out loud and provoke some thought or good discussion.
Is it possible that there’s something unseen that happens when someone fully engages in worship? Does it affect the people nearby?
Personally, I’d say yes with 100% certainty. If there’s one thing that will happen consistently, it’s that when I leave a service feeling as though I experienced God in a more powerful way than I had in a long time, a handful of other people will approach me and say the same thing. I believe there’s a synergism that comes when even one person is fully engaged in worship around other people.
It’s difficult to explain. Some people are comfortable with just referring to this concept as the Holy Spirit’s presence, but some want to explore it more and explain what happens. Both are ok!
So, what do the rest of you think? I’m curious to hear people’s thoughts on praising God with song and what things are happening between our reaching hands and beating hearts.
"For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."
I hobbled across campus to Student Health where I received at least 40 stitches. I now had a giant red and purple "S" shape down my leg...not pretty. The cut was so deep, almost to the muscle, and I was told if I wanted it to heal properly, I needed to restrain from any physical activity for the next 4 weeks. Not good news considering I was on the women’s tennis team and we were leaving for the annual spring break meet in a week. I had been anticipating that trip for months. Meltdown ensued. I thought my life was over (at 18 years old, I clearly had a lot to learn!) I was so angry, replaying the incident over and over in my mind and trying to answer the question “Why me???”
Now eleven years later, the scar is barely visible. Definitely not a quick healing, but a process that occured over time as a result of taking care of it properly. Yet it was hard to trust those who knew best--those who said that it would eventually be invisible. Those who said the dark, ugly scar was simply a part of the healing process.
What about our scars inside that nobody can see? The scars that developed as a result of someone hurting us. The scars that arose from the pain of another failed relationship...the end of a life long friendship...rejection…failure to meet our own expectations or the expectations of others. How are we caring for those wounds? Do we even acknowledge they are present? Or do we just go on about our lives, pretending as if everything is great and we've never been hurt? Packing our days so full of busyness that we never have time alone with ourselves and God to admit that our hearts, the very wellspring of life (Proverbs 4:23), are in need of some serious healing? I think often times it's easy to avoid. After all, no one is probably going to ask you (although they may be thinking it), "what happened to your Heart???" like they did my leg.
But a friend did ask me a few months ago "how is your heart these days?" Truthfully, I had never given it much thought, probably because the answer would've exposed a side of me I never wanted any one to see. If I cared so much about healing a scar on my leg, why was I not as concerned about healing my heart? It does, after all, determine the course of my life.
The scars on my leg and in my heart weren’t straight paths, but crooked ones. Isn't that how God gets us to where He wants us? The long, crooked, and sometimes ugly path? But He gets us there, without a doubt.
Organization… being organized…. Everything has a place and everything in its place. This is a life lesson that has taken me YEARS to learn and I’m still learning. When I was little I was the complete opposite of a “neat freak” my idea of cleaning my room was to shove all my toys under my bed. My thought process was “out of sight, out of mind” ….. right?!?! I mean if nobody else can see it, then does it truly exist? And to be honest I thought I was completely fine with this logic…. until the time came when my mom would say to me “Hey, Jodi – where is (FILL IN THE BLANK)? I would get this sick to my stomach feeling because I knew that I had to “come clean” (as corny of a line as it is). I remember just mountains upon mountain of toys pulled from under my bed. To me it was overwhelming… I didn’t want to start dealing with the problem because I didn’t even know where to start. I needed help. I needed someone who was blessed with the gift or organization to help me. I couldn’t do it on my own. And so I went to the person who I knew was the expert, my sister. She would put me to work and tell me where things should go and come along side me and help me figure out this overwhelming task. And when we were done, there was this peace that came over me. A weight was lifted. I didn’t have anything to hide. I was free.
I do this with my heart too. My feelings get shoved away, to deal with them at another juncture. If I push them away, they’re gone… right? I mean out of mind out of heart? And a lot of the time I am completely fine with this logic… until the time comes when God asks me “Hey Jodi, where is (FILL IN THE BLANK)? Ahhh, what? Not now God, I don’t want to deal with this… stop trying to refine me for goodness sakes, I’m tired of it. I can deal with this problem on my own, in my own time. I don’t need you. And then the pile gets bigger and harder to hide. When it’s finally pulled out, it’s overwhelming and I don’t know where to start. So I go to the expert, my Savior. And He stays along side of me, helping me figure things out and deal with them. He takes my problems and lifts them off of my shoulders, showing love in its truest form. A weight is lifted. I don’t have anything to hide. I am free.
Rasta Dog (name changed to protect the not-so-innocent) flushed up a wounded bird on our walk today. Cities are hard on birds. Not because of why you might think- the obvious lack of trees and green space. I think they do just fine with building nests in the nooks and crannies of tall buildings. It’s because those same buildings which give them shelter can spell their doom if they fly into a window six stories up. I have seen three dead and one wounded bird in the last few weeks. It makes me feel sad.
And then it stirs another curious sensation. Every time I see one of these fallen birds I immediately think of what Jesus said about how not even a sparrow falls from the sky without Him knowing about it. I think then I extrapolate. I ponder how many birds there are in the world and how many died today. I consider how many hairs there are that fell today from the how many heads there are in the world. I think and then doubt. How in the world could God possibly know all the birds, all the hair, all the heads and all our thoughts? At once? Seriously? Not possible.
I have been a Christian long enough to have had many wrestles with my intellect concerning God and the Bible. I remember struggling with the account of Jonah trapped in the fish belly for three days. Not possible, said I. Gastric juices would have eaten him from the outside in.
As I matured so did my doubts. Casting a legion of demons into swine? Why? Why not just send them to the dry and arid places and leave the poor swine owner his livelihood? Why make a paste of spit and mud when you can speak a word? Why didn’t You heal my marriage God when I prayed for so … many … years? Why? Why? Why? I don’t get it, Lord. Why?
I have been a Christian long enough to know that wrestles of the intellect end in one place- with a bowing of my knee. My brain is just not capable of grasping in entirety God’s power and might and sovereignty nor understanding His purposes, reasoning, will or plans. At the end of the day, after playing with my doubts the way my tongue plays with a rough new filling, I bow to His majesty and give up the need to understand and mysteriously the doubt turns to, “Of course You know all the sparrows that fall. Why wouldn’t You … You’re God!”
Rasta Dog didn’t hurt that fallen bird pathetic in its attempts to hop/fly away. I had mercy on the wounded bird and played God for a minute and used the fact that I have many pounds on Dog to pull her away and today, I may not have done much, but today I saved a bird. The bird fell and I saw it and I cared. Why shouldn’t I believe that God knows and cares about all the birds that fall and knows and cares about all of us even more?
Have you ever been told a lie? Have you ever looked someone in the eye and asked for the truth only to get a flat out lie in response when you know it is a lie? It can hurt deeply. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why does it hurt to be told a lie? Why does it frustrate us when we have been told a lie? Lies certainly hurt but even worse...they destroy trust. Why is it that it can take years to build trust and earn a good reputation, but one little lie can throw that all out the door?
I think the answer to all these questions are found deep down within our very own souls. I believe everyone was created with certain cravings within their soul. For example, at the very core of who we are, we all desire intimacy, to be loved, and to love. Also, we all desire to have meaning, purpose and significance. Just like these, I believe we all have a craving for truth. Think about it. We all want to know the truth. In life, every day we are subconsciously determining if things we are being told are true or not...do we believe it or not...can we trust the source or not. Where does this desire for truth come from? Why do we search for truth all day, every day, in all that we do, and in all we are told?
What are we craving when we seek truth? OR...is the question really who are we craving? Is our instinctive quest for truth really an instinctive quest for the source of all truth...God? Think through this with me. What is it about knowing the truth that comforts us and gives us peace and rest within our spirits? Why is it that when we do not know the truth we yearn for it and search for it and are not satisfied until we know the truth? I think this characteristic at the very core of who we are as human beings cannot be explained any other way than it was created within us by the source of all truth. Did God place within our souls the desire to seek truth so we would ultimately seek the source of all truth...God himself?
Reading my morning devotional earlier this week, I was reminded of this truth: God cannot tell a lie. The devotional discussed how this is not a weakness in God but a display of complete power. What is impossible for God? Nothing is impossible for Him due to lack of power; only what is contrary to His nature is impossible. God cannot limit His fullness and cannot change His nature. He is who He is and this does not show a weakness, but rather the absence of weakness shows His complete power.
Hebrews 6:18-19, “So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.”
God cannot tell a lie. This reminder was so comforting to me this week. Why? Because I know I can trust my God. I can believe everything He has ever told me. I can believe all His promises to be true such as: He loves me, He is with me, He is never changing, He is faithful, He is in control, and He is working all things for the good of those who love Him...just to name a few! I don’t know about you, but I know my soul craves truth...my soul craves the source of all truth...my soul craves God. There is so much comfort and peace in knowing the truth, even more in knowing the source of truth, and words cannot express the comfort and peace in knowing God. What does your soul crave? Are you searching for truth? Do you know God?
Last week on www.bedeviant.com J-wise posted a pretty sweet quote from a guy named Rhett Smith. In this quote, Smith suggests that we have strayed away from the style of teaching that Jesus used with his disciples, and that our doing so is preventing people from actually taking time to read, study, and extract meaning from scripture, which would lead to a much greater understanding and more durable faith as a result.
It’s as if the road that leads us to an end isn’t important anymore, which is a silly notion to say the least. Imagine if we were to engineer a type of pill that could provide us with all of the nourishment we would ever need in a day. This pill could contain every vitamin, mineral, and calorie a person could ever use from morning to night. As long as we’re talking crazy, let’s say it contains the necessary hormones to stave off any sort of hunger we would ever feel as well.
Knowing how amazing food is, could you do it? Could you sacrifice the enjoyment of sinking your teeth into an ooey-gooey, warm-and-toasty, extra sloppy-melty piece of pizza? Could you forego twirling and slurping each tomato and parmesan-drenched spaghetti noodle as you glance around the table trying to see who’s going to steal the last breadstick? Could you go the rest of your life without carving your way through a delightful blend of ice cream and whatever candy your little heart happened to be pining for as you stepped up to the counter?
I mean, as long as we are getting what we ultimately need from food, there’s no point in the process, right? Why bother with all the ceremony when we could provide ourselves with everything food provides in the blink of an eye by swallowing a pill?
Obviously I’m being facetious to demonstrate the absurdity of the example and questions I’ve posed. But, why do we approach a relationship with Jesus this way?
As Christians, we meander about talking about the most satisfying, fulfilling relationship anyone could ever know. We swear up and down that the ways of the world are repulsive and are to be avoided at all costs, yet it seems that we can get caught up in approaching our loving savior in the same way that we approach a flame-broiled Whopper. I want it my way, and I want it now!
At what point did we decide that hearing from God was work? And when exactly did we lose any and all appreciation for the journey of reading, studying, and meditation on God’s living word? And most dishearteningly of all, have we really been led to believe that if we simply manage to glean all of the “lessons” from the Bible that we’ll finally “get it”? We’ve been offered eternal salvation, and a promise from an everlasting God that He will walk hand-in-hand with us through every joy and trial in our lives. And instead of walking by his side, we’re trying to drag God by the hand and hurry him along as if we have somewhere else we’d rather be.
Of course our culture isn’t going to change anytime soon. It’s on us to put our approach to our relationships with Jesus in perspective. We’re faced with a myriad of decisions everyday, and by making a choice to endure and enjoy the journey instead of instantly rewarding ourselves, we can slowly teach our hearts to have a greater faith in God’s timing.
So, the next time your pastor doesn’t answer every question you had about a topic, maybe you can do the research yourself and let God show you the answers instead of just sending an email to your pastor and taking the easy way out. Or maybe the next time you’re facing a difficult trial, you can pray for the faith and wisdom to endure the suffering rather than for a swift conclusion. Even if you’re thumbing through the pages of God’s word and you end up confused by what you just read, try thanking God for the opportunity to explore the depths of his love because, deep down, you know that working through it will be much more gratifying and worthwhile than swallowing a pill.
Free Will...this tiny little gift that each and every one of us has been given. The freedom to choose what we want to do, which path to take...pretty much the ability to make any decision related to our life completely on our own. Sounds pretty amazing, don't you think? After all, it is OUR life, let's do what we want with it!
I find it ironic that "free will" is actually called such because in reality it gives us anything but freedom, especially when it leads us to behaviors that shape us in to something so far off from what God had made us to be. In the beginning, the choices we make apart from God may not seem like a big deal; they may not seem all that detrimental to our character. But before you know it, all of these small choices that are made day in and day out have developed into this huge burden to bear and we are left feeling lonely and confused, asking ourselves "Who have I become and how did I get here??" Yep, I've been there.
Lucky for us, God will only allow us to screw things up so badly before He hits us with circumstances that make us realize we can do nothing without Him. Lucky for us, He is all about second chances. Lucky for us, God will never stop loving us. These are amazing promises that I did not fully understand until I started surrounding myself with people who know who they are simply because of their relationship with Christ.
As I look back on the past year, I am blown away at how God's grace has changed my life. He has broken a vicious cycle I fought for so long and over a few months time has transformed feelings of hopelessness and guilt into a sense of peace and contentment. Isn't it amazing that He has the power to do that...to take away burdens I thought I would have to deal with everyday for the rest of my life...to rid me of the behaviors and relationships that were not honoring to Him...to change my heart that much?
When we can finally humble ourselves to the fact that we've really messed things up, acknowledge that we need God, and truly make Him the center, THINGS WILL CHANGE. His amazing plan for each of us is so much easier to see when all the old junk is finally gone...circumstances begin to change, you can see where God is working in your life, and there is so much hope in that. The only question I'm left asking now is, why'd I wait so long?
"He sent His word and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions." Psalm 107:20