When You Are Afraid to Stop for Fear Something Will Catch You

We are starting to recognize the heart issues that keep us from finding rest. And it doesn’t look at all the way we thought it would. Because as much as we want to point to the outside circumstances like work and responsibility and the needs of others, the Holy Spirit keeps pulling off the half-truths we wear…keeps gently revealing the fragility inside.

It’s satisfying to think that we are busy because we are capable, self-sacrificing women. (And we really are, in many ways.) But rather humiliating to admit that I am also busy for fear of disappointing others. Sometimes busy with the endless needs, no matter how stressful, to avoid the hurricane roar of God’s love. Pursuing performance to cover up the shame for all the ways I feel not-enough. Swallowed up in the mind-numbingly trivial so I don’t have to feel the loneliness and disappointment and boredom of this world. Busyness can be like an armor we wear to hide our weaknesses, protect our hearts. Busyness can be a banner to proclaim our worth, to give us a reason to get up in the morning. And women can end up owning this crazy busyness like a super-power, all the while it threatens to suck the life right out of us.

Yeah, there’s any number of reasons busyness is more appealing than rest, and none of them healthy.  No wonder God calls us to His rest gently and persistently, like a parent who knows what is best for a child. It’s kind of a relief to admit to one another that our reasons for doing things are often flawed. It helps to realize that we are so much the same in this, get to the point where we can shake our heads and laugh at ourselves, and help each other look for something better. In her book Rhythms of Rest, Shelly Miller points out the bald truth that busyness is a bully, pushing us to fit into the world’s patterns of thinking– whispering to us about who we need to be, and what we need to achieve, and what our lives should look like in order to be happy and loved and safe. And the more we go along with it in order to fit in, the more we lose of our true selves and our true purpose in life.

All the while Jesus is holding out His arms, calling us to rest there and be loved just as we are. When God calls us to Sabbath, He is giving us opportunity to detach from the world’s values and come into the light of His reality, let it re-shape our thinking. He wants to comfort our weary aching hearts with His love, refresh our hearts as we focus on Who-He-Is in worship. This is Sabbath, when we step into God’s holy presence….“and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29) It can be just a few minutes to breathe deep and give thanks in an office cubicle, or a whispered invitation to “Come, Lord Jesus” in the heat of a stressful moment. It may be a joyful gathering of like minds, or a quiet morning on the back porch over coffee and your tattered Bible.

Whenever we step aside to listen for His voice we are finding Sabbath rest, and God says it is the secret to that abundant life He offers. “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.'” (Isaiah 30:21) And we find our worth and our purpose here in the Creator’s presence– discover who He made us to be, and that we are beautiful in His eyes. “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10)

There’s nothing like a capable, self-sacrificing woman who isn’t afraid to stop and listen to her heart beat, in the presence of her Maker. “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.” (Proverbs 31:25-26)

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“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.” (Proverbs 31:30-31)

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“You hold my every moment;
You calm my raging seas;
You walk with me through fire,
And heal all my disease.
I trust in You, I trust in You.
I believe You’re my healer;
I believe You are all I need…
And I believe You’re my portion;
I believe You’re more than enough for me;
Jesus, You’re all I need.”
(Healer, Kari Jobe)

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Meet Me Here

Today there comes this lovely word from an early Protestant of the Reformation:

“Let your heart and desires continually hold converse with God, in heartfelt simplicity. Reflect on Him with feelings of love and reverence, and often offer up your heart, with all that you have and are, to Him, in spirit and in truth, as cordially and sincerely as possible. If through weakness or unfaithfulness you forsake this exercise, which is so incredibly helpful and beautiful, all you have to do is, meekly and heartily to begin again; and do not be weary of it, although in the beginning you my not find any great advantage from it, or make any rapid progress in it. It is not true that such a mode of life is hard; it is easy and pleasant to the spirit, and becomes in due time like a heaven upon earth. A little patience and courage alone are needed.” (Gerhard Tersteegen, 1697-1769)

Because I could spend the whole day at church doing the Lord’s work, and yet find it wasted, if I do not enter into heartfelt communion with God Himself.

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“…He is not far from any one of us. ‘For in Him we live and move and have our being.’” (Acts 17:27)

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“I need You to soften my heart,
To break me apart;
I need You to open my eyes,
To see that You’re shaping my life.
All I am,
I surrender.
Give me faith to trust what You say:
That You’re good and Your love is great.
I’m broken inside, I give You my life.”
(Give Me Faith, Elevation Worship)
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Slowing the Pace

When we grab hold of the busyness in our lives, intending to wrestle it down to manageable size, we had better address the balancing principle of rest– otherwise, the newly emptied and swept out schedules will soon fill right up with a new crop of hustle.

So we are on a quest for Sabbath rest, some holy respite from the busyness, this Winter. And I’ll be the first to admit that Sunday is often anything but Sabbath. Just getting a family out the door at a certain time, all washed and pressed and fancy-dressed when we’d rather be lounging around in our pj’s is a feat of superwoman strength, especially if you’ve also managed to put Sunday dinner in the crock-pot and gathered up your Sunday School lesson before you left. For too many years I ran extra-ragged on Sundays and felt guilty about not feeling Sabbath the way God surely intended it. Seemed like Sabbath was for everyone except the Mamas in this world, and Heaven knows we needed it badly.

Somewhere along the way I grew a little wiser and realized that Sunday wasn’t Sabbath unless I found rest there– which meant giving up a lot of my ideas about how it should look. A little advance preparation on Saturday and some simplified mealtimes definitely put the emphasis back on family rest, and from there we started to get the hang of it. Yes to eating in front of the football game, yes to a large pot of coffee in the afternoon, big yes to Mama sneaking off with a book at some point for a couple hours, yes to games or a movie in the evening after church, and something fun for a light late supper….all of which put us in the frame of mind to enjoy getting together with our church family and worshiping from the heart. It took us years to learn how to put Sabbath-rest into Sunday.

But that is only a place to begin, if we roll out of bed on Monday and push straight through our own agendas til next Sunday at high intensity, as if we had to do the rest of the week on our own steam. Because Sabbath isn’t about resting once you have your work all done. It’s not even just about setting aside one day a week for God’s stuff. Finding Sabbath rest is more about learning to experience the Holy in the middle of our Busy, so that we don’t forget Who made us and Who gave us this life we are living. When we pull away from the busyness to seek Jesus’ presence; when we cultivate that desire in our hearts and listen for His voice, find praise and thanksgiving flowing through our days no matter what we are doing, then we are starting to understand Sabbath-rest.

Shelly Miller, who leads the Sabbath Society of hearts seeking God’s rest, says that “A life built upon Sabbath is contented because in rhythms of rest we discover our time is full of the holiness of God.” He calls us to just come and be in the moment with Him, fully present. Just breathe, and know that you are loved and cherished and completed in Him. No requirements, no expectations, no need to please. It only takes a moment, and you can find it anywhere, if you are seeking Him with all your heart.

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“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”
(Psalm 46:10-11)

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“Turn your eyes upon Jesus;
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.”
(Helen Lemmel)

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Beginning Again

We sit around the massive wooden table as one year ends and another begins, warming our hands on hot mugs and enjoying the peaceful evening, now that the bustle of the holidays is on the down-swing. We share about our journeys in the past year, and look ahead at the months to come. It’s something we are learning– that the days and weeks will pass by, regardless of how you live, and you have to live like you mean it if you want all those minutes to mean something in the end. We waste too much, stuffing life into boxes labeled with Work and Family and Church and Play (as if some hours matter more or are deserving of more scrutiny), when it is all just Life, and all of it shaping who we are becoming.

The math says we have 168 hours every week, but when you start dividing them out into piles of Sleep, and Housework, and Job, and driving kids around, and even multiplying the minutes it takes to put on your makeup in the morning, they get swallowed up pretty quickly. And I confess that an inordinate amount of time gets swallowed up by the TV, and there are whole hours unaccounted for that fall through the cracks completely, so who am I to complain that I don’t have time to pray, or time to invest in my own health, or time to minister to others? We are starting to realize that the question goes much deeper than how we spend our time– it’s more about why we do what we do– the needs and fears that drive us.

The Church-planter Paul encouraged the new believers to leave that Self-driven life behind, to embrace their identity and purpose in Christ: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10) Hand-made uniquely and purposefully, and brought to life in Christ for God’s good purposes; and we are just the right people to do what He has in mind for us, because He made us that way. This is the abundant life that Jesus came to provide. Why then do I let other people’s expectations drive so many of my 168 hours, and push myself to impossible standards, or let lethargy and avoidance steal so much of my days, just because it is hard to believe that who-He-made is good enough? This is the yoke we lay on ourselves, and it does indeed get heavy. But Jesus is still saying “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me…and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29) Those 168 hours of sleep and work and play are all alight with His presence and the purpose He gives them, if we will only wake up and live them all.

So we look ahead at the days on the calendar and we choose right here to celebrate the good, mourn the bad, to forgive and to learn and to grow….to offer it all up to the Giver of Time as an act of worship. It’s what the Church-planter Paul kept telling the believers long ago: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Colossians 3:17) That kind of living doesn’t come naturally. Much more natural to float along the river of days and just try to navigate without too many bumps and bruises, snatch whatever good comes our way. But this living intentionally?…this taking responsibility for our direction and our attitudes?…this choosing “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable” (Philippians 4:8)? If we fix our sights on such things here at the beginning of the year, knowing well that they all find their fullest expression in the person of Jesus?…well, if we do that, maybe we are indeed growing wiser with age.

Here at the beginning, it’s time to make some wise decisions about the way we are living…all us women of different ages and stages of life, united in purpose and heart’s desire. So we talk about finding One Word to name where God is leading us, and we wrestle with how to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely” (Hebrews 12:1), and we make some honest confessions about why our schedules are filled with every distraction under the sun, and we explore how to encourage those younger to follow along in our intentions to live well. None of us know what we will face this year, but here at the beginning we resolve to seek God in it and through it, and invite His work in our hearts. This one thing, we can do.

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“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:10)

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“If you hold the past too tightly, your arms have no room for the present — no room for the gifts of now.” (Ann VosKamp)

 

 

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Ordinary Miracles

Sometimes we hear God’s voice in unexpected places. Just ask Moses. A blazing bush all afire with glory and a mission impossible coming straight from heaven’s throne…not your ordinary day with the sheep. My life seems so much less amazing, more slow-moving, filled with detours and distractions. Some days I wish I could hear God that vividly and life-changingly.

But it occurs to me in this Advent season of waiting that it’s all a matter of perspective, because Moses spent forty years leading sheep around, day in and day out in that wilderness, occupied with the mind-numbingly everyday existence of water and grass, wool and lambs, getting married and raising a son. Decades of slow-moving days with only the ordinary sounds of life. But when he wrote it down later he was careful to note that “God saw the people of Israel– and God knew.” (Exodus 2:25) In all those ordinary slow-moving days, God was there and God was at work to bring about His plans, listening to the cries of His people for deliverance. And when the time was right he spoke to the man He had prepared for the task and bullied him into doing it. Really. A man just as full of insecurities and fears as I am, who needed some pushing to get him going.

When Moses saw the bush on that one not-so-ordinary day he knew it was worth turning aside from his work to see, important enough to stop and listen. An impressive sight, certainly, but in the solitude of the open spaces under the stars and the changing seasons he had already seen the glory of God in a million everyday ways, listened to the wind and the thunder and the still small voice of God’s presence…and I wonder if he felt like he was waiting for deliverance too, if he recognized the bush for what it was: a fiery milestone of change in his life.

As I listen for God’s voice amid the everyday sounds of an ordinary life, let me remember that He is here and He knows. He is working out His plans, listening to the cries of His people, has a part for me to play if I will pay attention and not get distracted by the pull of media, and shopping, and people’s needs, and chores needing done. I don’t need to be discouraged by the slow passage of time. Because here in the everyday I am tuning my heart to His, bending to obey, and persevering to fill the purpose He has for me.

And if I can learn to hear God’s voice in the ordinary days, then someday when the Extraordinary blazes down from heaven, I will recognize it and be ready to follow. Really, which is the larger miracle, that a bush can burn with glory in the desert… or that God Himself speaks to me in the everyday,  in the quiet spaces of my heart? Emmanuel, God with us…I am listening.

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“It is amazing what the quiet holding of the soul before the Lord will do to the external and seemingly uncontrollable tumult around us. It is in that stillness that the Voice will be heard, the only voice in all the universe that speaks peace to the deepest part of us.” Elizabeth Elliot

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“The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.”
(Lamentations 3:25)

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Who We Are

So much of what we have learned about finding our balance is just a matter of living as Christ-followers– responding to God as creatures should, and being transformed as believers should, walking in newness of life as partners in His plan to shine the light of the knowledge of Christ into the world. If we realize a calling specific to us within that Plan, all the better, but we could live a whole life of shining love and doing good, and fulfill His purpose beautifully.

Something stood out to me in one of King David’s songs this week; it caught me again, that connection between belonging to God and thankfulness. Right in the middle there the king tells us to “Know that the Lord, He is God! It is He who made us, and we are His….”  It is short and direct, something every creature needs to know: the Creator is God and you are not.

Get that much clear and a whole lot of other things in life straighten themselves out too. Remember this, as we prepare for the holiday where we give thanks…while we organize people and plan meals and arrange transportation and vacation time…that there is Someone who made all this, owns all this, rules all this, and the holiday is precisely about giving thanks for what He has provided, even when we make a lot of fuss about our own makings. “We are His people, and the sheep of His pasture….” who truly need a Shepherd to take care of them, because there are some things we can control in this world and so many we cannot. Good thing He is always taking care of us, whether we stop to recognize it and give thanks, or not.

But when you do stop and recognize that He is God– that it is He who rules over creation and provides for every small living creature, including yourself, thanksgiving is the only proper response.

The king sings it out in the next lines, flowing from one thought to the next so naturally that praise becomes the obvious overflowing of a person who knows his identity: “Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise! Give thanks to Him; bless His name!”

It’s easy to forget sometimes that all this is gift and grace. Easy to take life for granted because it’s all we’ve ever known, and easy to wish we had something different, when we compare ourselves to others. Except that we could just as easily compare ourselves to the starving, and the naked and diseased, to see how very blessed we are. David paints it rightly, that our worship comes in full knowledge of our dependence on His goodwill and kindness. And we bless His name for who He is, because “the Lord is good; His steadfast love endures forever….”  We are the Found Sheep who belong to a loving God, and it is our purpose to give thanks.

Come, ye thankful people, come…

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“I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High.”
 (Psalm 9:1-2)

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“I am loved;
I am new again;
I am free–
I’m no slave to sin;
I’m saint;
I am righteousness;
I’m alive….
I am all He says I am,
And He says I am His own.”
(All He Says I Am, Gateway Worship)

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The Secret of Contentment

As we contemplate being content and counting our blessings this week….

“And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:19) It was the favorite verse of every impoverished college student, and we repeated it to one another encouragingly as we worked our campus jobs, and prayed over bills, and looked for lists of secondhand textbooks on the board in the Campus Center, checked our post office boxes for letters from home in hopes of a check. Lessons in faith well-learned in those years and often leaned upon. But somehow financial needs are the most straightforward place to trust and I have been struggling ever since to know where else to pin it.

Is that verse for grandparents who are raising a grandchild and finding it takes more energy than they have to give? Will God supply for the parents who are moving a college grad back home because he can’t find a job, knowing full well that student loans are looming? Does that verse belong to the ministry leader who keeps pleading for more workers, and often grows weary? Does God’s promise of provision cover the heart-sore mother on another holiday, who just wishes her family could be together? So many needs, and they color our lives with desperation for a solution, because they make us feel helpless and afraid. We need a Provider, and doesn’t this well-known verse say that God will supply all our needs…?

It strikes me, all these years later, that maybe it wasn’t really meant to be applied to many other things. Just before the missionary Paul made this sweeping claim for the Philippian church who had given generously to him in spite of their own hardship, he confided to them that he had learned the secret of contentment through trial and error….in all the pressing and shifting circumstances of his journeys, he had found this one thing to be constant: the God who had called him was with him always and gave him strength to meet every situation. In joyful abundance… it was Christ who enabled Paul to live well in the midst of it. And in hunger and need… it was Christ who enabled Paul to live well in the midst of it. It was a secret, a treasure he had found hidden in life’s ups and downs, the kind you only find by living through them. Clearly then, his statement to the Philippian church was no promise that God would supply everything lacking in their lives, nor was it a promise that they would never go without in the future.

Indeed, because the secret of contentment is a treasure worth sharing with his readers, Paul implies that both abundance and need are only a means to an end. To his way of thinking it is good for our souls to experience both (and probably repeatedly, given how slow we are to learn) so that we may find the treasure of knowing Jesus Christ. Clearly going without was not something Paul feared, not something he would be quick to promise away for his readers. And yet a few paragraphs later he says God will supply all their needs, and it makes me think that maybe his idea of need is something different than mine. And maybe it’s just that their generosity is something God notices and rewards.

We believe that Christ’s riches are big enough to cover, and we would like God to supply all our needs as concretely as money in a bag, but I think Paul’s real point is about that deeper issue: the secret of knowing God and living in His presence, whether you have the tangible things you need or not. Because the truth is, the assurance of His presence and being content there is what I need most of all. As I look for verses about God’s provision this week I see Him promising forgiveness, mercy, peace, justice, Presence, strength to do what is in front of me….these are the intangibles He thinks I need in life. The other stuff is just the extra details, the context. Like Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

It is culture shock, this head-long collision between normal human perspective and the spiritual reality, like trying to get my brain around a foreign concept. Show me what I really need, Lord, in each situation, and help me focus there, rather than on the needs most obvious. Help me discover the secret of being “content in whatever circumstances I am.”

It would be frightening to depend on a God who cared more about my spiritual growth than my situation, except that I know His heart. I know He cares about me as a person. Verse after verse piles up overwhelmingly in my favor. He loves me and He is good. I can trust Him in this.

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“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.” (1 Timothy 6:6)

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“All of You is more than enough for all of me
For every thirst and every need
You satisfy me with Your love
And all I have in You is more than enough”
(Enough, Chris Tomlin)

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Things I Can See

Even when we talk about balancing faith and sight, somehow it all gets back to recognizing the fence-lines around my Yard of responsibility. Because here in the Everyday, in the realm of my words, my choices, my actions… I reap what I sow. I know this, but I also recognize that outside the fence there is a whole world of things that I cannot control: other people’s feelings and perspectives, even their behavior…and it doesn’t matter how much I love them or how badly I want to help (fix?) them. I could sow all the best things in their lives, with no guarantee of reaping. Their lives are their own, and it is harmful to everyone involved if I go rooting around in their yards. Boundary lines help keep relationships healthy, and keep us humble, realizing the limits to our own power. So I balance living my best, inside my circle of influence, with holding onto hopes for happy endings for the people and the situations I care about.

And I can have hope, because out there in the unseen world– in God’s wide reality– nothing is impossible, and He “is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” (Ephesians 3:20) His Wind blows everywhere and no fence-lines can stop it.  No wish-dreams we hold onto so tightly can get in the way. He plans from beginning to end for the good of all His creation, and His loving-kindness never fails…it falls like rain on every Yard, because it is all His. The Song-Writer David could not find a single place on this planet where God was not at work: “If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” (Psalm 139:9-10) So when we talk about living by faith, we really mean acknowledging how small is our Yard and how big is creation, and Who is its rightful King.

I find that in the balance of understanding my Yard better, there is a different kind of Hope, something more than wishing hard. God’s overarching plans are for sure and certain, like the sun coming up in the morning and the way Winter always melts into Spring, whether or not we can see how it works. We can build our lives on Hope like that. And it is prayer that bridges the gap between the two worlds. “The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right, and His ears are open to their prayers.” (1 Peter 3:12) Big-brother James goes so far as to say that “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16) I have no delusions of power– the older I get, the more clearly I see all the things in this world that are outside my control– but I understand that prayer allows me to participate in the work of an almighty God, to reach beyond the fence-lines of my small Yard. This kind of Hope motivates me to turn fears and concerns into prayers, balances how helpless I feel at times, because the King’s plans are real and good and indestructable. Faith says that all I have to do is take care of my own Yard, and for everything I cannot do, there is Grace and all the Father’s good gifts.

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“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

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“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” (CS Lewis)

 

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It’s a Balancing Act

The biggest surprise, as we learn to find balance in our everyday lives, is how we keep coming back to the topic of doing our own Yard-work. See, that’s a word picture we use to talk about what God has given us– the circle of influence or realm of responsibility for which we will be held accountable. This is at the core of emotional and spiritual and mental health, to know where your circle ends and another person’s begins, and to invest your energy within your own Yard. The Bible calls it being a wise steward. Psychologists call it being highly effective. Whatever. We just realize that life works better when we know what is ours to do and what isn’t. But who would have thought that living a life of balance and being a good steward would turn out to be so much the same sort of thing?

We talk about schedules and which of us likes to plan and which of us tends to fly by the seat of our pants, and we laugh at each other, because we know in the end that unscheduled interruptions and unexpected circumstances are common to all. What any of us can do is work wisely and well within our circle of influence, and leave the rest in God’s capable hands. Of course that is harder than it sounds, because it is in our nature to worry about the unknown– and where does Wise Preparation end, and Trying to Control the Outcome begin? It definitely takes faith, and clear vision to live purposefully in the face of a future that is known only to Someone else. Taking one step at a time. Just doing the next thing, and trusting our Father to lead us on through the expected and the unexpected. But without the balance, we will teeter-totter between chaos and rigidity, and no heart can survive that for long.

When we talk about guarding our hearts diligently, and figuring out what to sow in order to reap the life we desire, we are right back to looking at our Yards again. The Wise King warned, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23) Because if we are not paying attention to the attitudes and values at our core, we can hardly be surprised when our choices go in all the wrong directions, or our words wreak havoc in relationships. We certainly can’t complain about how life turns out if we have left our own hearts in disarray. In gardening terms, you can’t let dandelions and crab grass take over your Yard, and then wonder why you don’t have a lush beautiful lawn. If you want the lawn, you have to do the work of weeding and watering and mowing. Balance between work and rest means taking responsibility for how we live– thinking about our yes and our no so that busyness is interspersed with marginal spaces. It means diligently pursuing health and wholeness within. It’s really just being a good steward of the person God has made you to be. The Wise King spells it out for us: “Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.” (Proverbs 4:26)

Even when we talk about balancing faith and works, it all comes down to knowing what I am responsible for and what God is responsible for. My soul is in His hands, and my eternal destination depends entirely on what the Beloved One accomplished for me at the cross. “…it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) On this my faith rests, and it has nothing to do with what I can do or earn or deserve, for He has done it and given it freely. But what I choose to do out of faith has all kinds of good results– it accomplishes much that pleases Him and serves others. If I don’t  understand what is mine to do, it gets easy to veer into keeping the rules to earn righteousness, and worrying if I have done enough for God to love me.

I see a pattern emerging, that when I am out of balance in my life, in my spirit, it is because I have forgotten to some degree what is in my Yard and what isn’t. Either I am neglecting to do what is mine to do, or I am trying to extend my reach into other people’s Yards, into things I care about but aren’t mine to fix. That fundamental lack of perspective is human in every way– it’s a function of our broken sovereignty. After all, when people who were made to rule over a planet as God’s image-bearers decide instead to scrounge up their own kingdom out of dust, confusion about their actual abilities is to be expected.

Imbalance can show up as condemnation, and then Jesus says “…first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5) It can look like anxious thoughts that keep me up at night, and I can hear the Church-planter Paul’s words: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6) It can take the form of stress and inner turmoil, and the Wise King counsels, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6) It can even show up as pressing need and very real fear, and again Jesus promises that “your Father knows what you need before you ask him…So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ ” (Matthew 6:8, 31) 

God’s Words reminds me over and over what is mine to do and what is outside of my control, brings me to my knees in worship before the rightful sovereign Ruler. He directs my attention back to my own Yard, where I will be most productive and healthy, and He promises to take care of all the things that concern me– assures me in every way possible of His love, and His goodness, and His power. When I am being a good steward of what He has given me, and praising God for all He does, that is when I finally find balance for all the aspects of my life.

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“Therefore, my dear friends…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12)

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“God I give You all I can today–
These scattered ashes that I hid away;
I lay them all at Your feet.
From the corners of my deepest shame,
The empty places where I’ve worn Your name.
Show me the love I say I believe.

Help me to lay it down.
Oh Lord I lay it down…
Oh let this be where I die;
My Lord with thee crucified
Be lifted high, as my Kingdom’s fall
Once and for all, once and for all.”
(Once and for All, Lauren Daigle)

 

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Of Juggling and Digging for Treasure

I have become good at the circus act…like most women I know. Juggling, wearing of many hats, role-changes in a matter of minutes. The fact is, our busy lives pretty much require this kind of skill on a daily basis. It’s a balancing act to keep up with everyone’s schedules, switch gears between work and relationships and ministry and household tasks that simply must be done so that people have clean shirts to wear and  hot dinner on the table, and somehow keep my own person and relationships intact. But I am good with details and organizing, and sometimes it seems like I can just keep adding more in, if I organize it right….just one more small piece here and there, and if I just shift this over a bit I can fit one more thing in that spot.

With that kind of mindset, having a relationship with God can become just one more thing to fit in, another plate to keep spinning in this big juggling act.

But the satisfaction in being a Woman Who Can Juggle Many Plates is short-lived, and I heard someone say it again today, that we have learned how to “live crazy” and are working hard to teach our kids the same. When did we ever get the idea that doing more is what makes us more– that doing a lot is the same as doing well? My parents always said “If you are going to do something, do it well.” But back then it meant quality over quantity. It  meant taking your time to think it through and do it well, so that you could be satisfied with what you accomplished. No regrets. That proverb applies to projects and tasks. It applies to lives, and if I only have one of those with no chance to do it over, then it makes sense to take the time to evaluate its quality….make sure I am living well.

Jesus told His closest friends that “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44) The reaction of this man in the story seems old-fashioned, somehow, and narrow-minded. My first thought is how much simpler life was back then, that this guy would sell everything for the sake of something he found in a field of dirt. But that’s not the point at all, is it?  The story is about the sheer value of knowing God, and the sensible response when you realize that fact. The man lays down his entire juggling act– trades it all in for the precious possession of a relationship with God. Get that one treasure and nothing else really matters. The Church-planter Paul said it this wayBut whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ…” (Philippians 3:7-9) It sounds almost too simple to be true, and calls into question the busy-ness we have come to accept as necessary.

But what if the Circus of Everyday Life is just part of the Enemy’s fog cover? What if all the urgent demands for our time and attention are not as vital as they appear? What if more isn’t better, and everything we are chasing after is nothing more than a school of red herrings? While the real treasure is buried quietly in the clay and could easily be passed over, unawares. Or worse yet, snatched up with only a passing glance and added into the spinning plates I can manage.

It’s not like you have to be a farmer digging around in the dirt to find treasure; Paul was on the road to Damascus, breathing fire and seething hatred against the new sect that claimed Jesus had risen from the dead. He was ready to kill them all, if it meant preserving the life he was used to– mind you, he was quite good at organizing thoughts and words and people. Until Jesus (aflame in His resurrected power) burst in on the traveler, and everything Paul had been doing suddenly meant nothing in light of the glory of God. He just laid it all down there in the middle of the road and it didn’t even matter that his physical eyes were blinded, because the eyes of his spirit had seen the Kingdom of Heaven and his heart was bursting full of joy. Later on he would say that God ”made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:6-7) It was the man in the field all over again.

And really, isn’t that how this treasure comes to us, in earthen flesh? A miraculous Baby in a dirty manger….the Son of God walking these fields and laying His head down at night….a  perfect Lamb dying on a hillside….a Body buried in a rocky cave for only a little while….until one morning it wasn’t. The treasure of the Kingdom of Heaven hidden in plain sight, and maybe it’s not so much a matter of digging around to find it, as it is opening our eyes to finally see what is truly valuable.

Maybe rushing around in this balancing circus-act is actually as crazy as it feels sometimes, and giving up everything we possess to gain Christ and His righteousness is the most perfectly sane and reasonable choice on earth. It’s worth considering.

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“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6)

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“Busy is a choice. Stress is a choice. Joy is a choice. You get to choose. Choose well.” (Ann VosKamp)

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