The Things We Hold Onto

The Easter season has unfolded very naturally into our next study on Acceptance and Gratitude. It is freshly amazing how God fits things together in the Body-life of this church family– what we are processing, singing about, praying for– to meet individual needs at the right time. If you have eyes to see the big picture, it is really quite remarkable how the Spirit moves and breathes among us as we press on in our faith-journey.

So the fasting and repentance of Lent gives way to the joy of Resurrection Sunday, and green spreads over our hills, every little grave of Winter opening up to new life and growth. And as we celebrate what Christ did for us, may our hearts open up and pour right out in gratitude, the way Mary’s anointing fragrance poured out on the feet of Jesus– a surrender of her treasure…her security…her future. He knew what it cost her, knew the faith she was proclaiming without words. “She has done a beautiful thing to me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial,” Jesus said. (Matthew 26:10,12)

Shelly Miller points out that “Sacrificing what you love during Lent is like opening fisted hands into palms outstretched; laying out palms and waiting for Jesus to walk down the center of your busy life.”  There’s no escaping the fact that acceptance of God’s plans often means opening our hands in release: letting go of our ideas about what should happen, offering up our fears and our hurts, surrendering even our interpretation of circumstances to His better judgment. Because the things we hang onto tend to shape us in their image, and Jesus knows that what we need most is to be made new into His image. And when we let go, our hands are open to receive what He wants to give us, and there is more than we could expect.

So acceptance can’t help but lead to gratitude…or maybe it is the other way around, or even a full circle. And this woman who is supposed to remain invisible, sits and learns at Rabbi Jesus’ feet, and worships Him as the Messiah with her poured-out gift at the dinner table, and He publicly defends her actions, writes her down in history as one who proclaims His truth, while the men in the crowd are still arguing over how the money would be better spent, and deciding how far they are willing to follow Jesus. Trusting God’s way of doing things and having a thankful heart opens your spiritual eyes like nothing else.

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“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in Me will never die. Do you believe this?'” (John 11:25-26)

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“You give life, You are love,
You bring light to the darkness;
 You give hope, You restore
Every heart that is broken…
Great are You, Lord.”

…It’s Your breath in our lungs,
So we pour out our praise to You only.”
(David Leonard, Jason Ingram)

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Looking Through Faith-colored Glasses

We talk a lot about walking by faith and not by sight. Paul the Church-planter said it just like that, in reference to living here and looking beyond to our Home-with-Christ: “For we live by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7) 

But I think we mostly are talking about having faith to accomplish things. Faith that moves mountains. Faith that changes hearts and lives. Faith that takes risks and steps out to do impossible things. Faith that carries us through difficult times. And it’s pretty easy to understand that in all these pressing situations my own abilities fall short and I need to reach out to the power of God. Faith is more like trust in that context, and that makes sense to most of us, because we have experienced childlike dependence that reaches arms up to Someone Bigger Who Can Help. When we are looking for that kind of faith, it has more to do with convincing ourselves that He really does love us individually and personally. Or maybe, if we are utterly honest with ourselves, it’s about figuring out how to get His power to work out the circumstances we desire (and cope with it when He doesn’t). It’s not that I doubt Who He Is…just that I need to experience it for myself, prove to my heart and my senses that He is present, and interested in my small world.

But when the writer of Hebrews is reminding us of all the great people who lived by faith and what they accomplished by God’s power, he defines faith in a somewhat surprising way. It sounds more like poetry than fact, and I have read it for years as one of those beautiful sentences you just accept without understanding: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for….” (Hebrews 11:1) The substance– the nature, the very essence– of things unseen. Which, if you are talking about faith to do, or faith to receive what you desire, might lead you to conclude that faith produces substance– as if by believing something hard enough you can will it into existence. Of course many have gone down that road with all its spiritual and emotional gymnastics, until they inevitably meet big-enough circumstances to defy any amount of positive powerful thinking.

No, these ancient people of faith weren’t trying to create what they desired. For the most part they were listening to the bewildering instructions of God about what He wanted, and struggling to listen and obey. Faith is that act of latching onto what God says, in full confidence that He knows what He is doing, reaching out for something He says is Real and True, even though we cannot experience it with our senses. It reminds me of something I read recently in a random book summary: “Life lived for sensory input alone cannot deliver the spectacular promises that each sense evokes.” And my spirit resonates with the truth of that sentence: there are unseen worlds that we glimpse only briefly here, and the glory of God flashes like sunlight through the thin places….what the Oxford Christians saw as inklings of immortality, and Amy Carmichael called “the edges of His ways.”

The Letter-Writer of Hebrews helpfully specifies what exactly those ancient heroes were holding onto: the universe formed entire at God’s command, worlds and suns hung in space in an instant….the knowledge that God exists and wants to interact with His people, inspiring worship and obedience in their everyday lives….that death is not the end, but the beginning of a different kind of life….that righteousness is the proper condition of mankind….that all God’s promises are true and faithful. This is grand overarching Truth beyond the reach of physical senses. The old heroes were looking at the Reality beyond ours, the invisible world where God lives and moves and works out His plans, with a host of created beings at His command, where stars sing and the heavens bow before His throne.

This is a faith that goes beyond accomplishing things in my little world, and making life better in some way, with God’s help. Because that’s still all about my interests and my concerns. It is a good start, at least, and Heaven knows I need all the help I can get, to live here. But let’s recognize what the author of Hebrews is talking about: a larger, bolder faith that opens its eyes to God’s world and what He is doing– the Real World, you could even say, with Jesus in the center, “For in Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through Him and for Him.” (Colossians 1:16) In this context, faith is more like opening your eyes to see what has always been there. “Faith is… the evidence of things hoped for.” (Hebrews 11:1) Faith is our spiritual eyes and ears, gathering evidence of the unseen world and witnessing to the truth of what God tells us.

And when the unseen realities become as near and tangible to us as the physical world, we’re not just wishing for a better life any more and reaching out to God to help us. Faith literally gives us the substance of an unseen world beyond the tangible experiences of this earth, and Hope along with it. Not a daydream sort of hope, but a foundation-to-build-life-on sort of hope… an assurance of what is to come that is as dependable as the sun rising and the seasons changing….the kind of thing you can only know for sure when the eyes of faith are open. So open your eyes, and run well in this New Year. Because we understand what is lasting and real, and what is fading away. Because we have the evidence of the Unseen, alive and powerful within us. Because faith witnesses to God’s Truth every day. Because everyone is watching, like it or not. “Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

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“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.”  (Hebrews 11:13)

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“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.” (CS Lewis)

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When Hope is What You Really Need

In the space of a week Seasons turn, and we go from thanks-giving to waiting, preparing for the birth-day of the Christ Child. And as usual, trepidation and excitement wrestle in my heart for the upper hand. It’s a battle between all the extra work of the season and all the things I truly love about Christmas, and it remains to be seen which feeling will come out on top. I know I am not alone in the mixed feelings. Despite all the glitter and gaiety, or maybe because of it, there is an undercurrent of quiet desperation– as if the whole world feels most strongly this time of year just how much we need a Savior. This is why we observe Advent, to remember in this month of preparation that the fears of our hearts and our wild hopes for happy endings intersected in a stable-cave in Bethlehem long ago on that Holy Night, when all of God’s promises were poured into flesh….all of them “fulfilled in Christ with a resounding ‘Yes!’” (2 Corinthians 1:20)

So here at the beginning of Winter…as the Christmas season launches headlong into its race to be bigger, do more, shine brighter… as one year crosses out its last days and another looms large ahead, we unpack our trappings of Christmas and mark off the days of our waiting. We light the candles and read again the old story, unpack the traditions of our years that are rich with meaning, hang the angels on the tree, and wrap up surprise gifts for those we love. All with the silent message: there is Hope for every longing heart. For God Himself has come down to us, and the world cannot ever be the same again.

For all who have held onto the bare branches of Winter and searched hard for Hope, listened long through the night for answers that never seem to come, looked at the blank expanse of a new year with nothing but dread at its enormity, the lights on the tree shine through the window like little beacons lighting the way. The beauty of this Season calls to the spirit, somehow– whispers what we are straining to hear all year long– that there is magic in this old world, something More than what we see and touch, something of eternal value and immense meaning hidden behind the glittery trappings. And the angels on the tree hold out hope in their hands: “See, the Sovereign Lord comes….He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” (Isaiah 40:10-11)

But this season of frantic Joy to The World can grind you down to weariness, take away every last shred of peace if you are not looking for the One who brings it. Ironic, isn’t it, that the very way we celebrate the birth of the Savior only serves to underline our need for deliverance. God spoke through the prophet Isaiah seven hundred years ahead of time to reassure us about His coming: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice…” (Isaiah 42:3) The Creator stoops to our need, bends to lift up a fragile broken world and make it new with His own flesh-and-blood hands. There is help for the burdens we carry, and hope for restoration of every crazy situation we face; the future may be unknown to us, but it is not so to Him, and He will bring justice (in the old-fashioned sense of protecting the innocent and vulnerable, and righting of wrongs). The words of the old hymn resound, “Fear not to trust my mighty arm; it brought salvation down.” (JW Howe) 

The angels over Bethlehem shouted until they shook the heavens, and I am sure it was magnificent and glorious when they announced Jesus’ birth, but I have always been drawn to the laments of the prophets, waiting for God’s promises to come true and reminding God’s people of His faithfulness. Thus saith the Lord…“By Myself I have sworn, My mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before Me every knee will bow; by Me every tongue will swear. They will say of Me, ‘In the Lord alone are deliverance and strength.’” (Isaiah 45:23-24) This is a solid Hope to hold onto, a compass point to steer by so we don’t get lost amid the shopping and baking and partying; this is the depth of meaning that underlies every sparkle of Christmas. God is with us, and He is for us– if you listen you can hear the angels: “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12)

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” So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

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“He has come for us, this Jesus
He’s the hope for all mankind
He has come for us, The Messiah,
Born to give us life…”
(He Has Come for Us, Meredith Andrews)

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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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A Mother’s Super-Power

The world is a scary place, maybe for mothers most of all. Whether we are sending our baby girl off to preschool for the first time, or releasing our young men to pursue their dreams, our hearts race on ahead of them, and we are profoundly aware of all the ways the world will hurt and confound them…how swiftly and irrevocably tragedy can fall. Any mother can tell you, we would face lions to keep safe the ones we love. And any mother can tell you, we know there are so many giants out there that our growing-up children will have to face alone. This is the particular strength and vulnerability of a mother’s heart.

But we are not alone with our fears and we are far from helpless, because the God who made us designed our hearts to look like His, to mirror the nurturing care He has for all His creation. Jesus reminds us that His Father God feeds all the little songbirds; He watches when they fly and when they fall. The same Creator who tells Job that He keeps track of when the wild goats give birth, describes Himself as “a bear robbed of her cubs” to the prophet Hosea. He appeals to a mother’s love as the highest standard, to help us understand how He feels: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” (Isaiah 49:15) It is one of the most intimate and passionate promises in the Scriptures.

Perhaps this is one reason that many women become such warriors in their prayers: expressing their hearts to God’s in that shared intensity for the needs and well-being of others, a common language of love. Women like this are affirming Paul’s conviction that “neither death nor life…nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39) Although our children will certainly face monsters in this world…of bigotry, of injustice, of violence, of harsh words and harder consequences, of war and disease and heartbreak…yet we understand God’s heart and we say with Paul, “if God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32) All the monstrous evil in this world is overcome with the blood of the Lamb, God’s own fierce sacrifice of love for us, and nothing has the power to destroy us in the shadow of His Cross.

So we can stand firm on truth in the midst of a frightening world, and be who God made us to be. We can teach our children to know their Creator and follow His ways, so that they have a foundation on which to build. We can show them how to live with integrity, how to walk in faith, and how to serve in love. We can pray with them and for them in Jesus’ mighty Name and claim His protection over them.

And we can rest our hearts in knowing that He loves our children even more than we do, and He is at work in their lives as He has been in our own. We can trust His love and faithfulness to follow them all the days of their lives. This we can do, as mothers, and take captive every fear.

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“The LORD is my light and my salvation– whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life– of whom shall I be afraid?… Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.” (Psalm 27:1, 3)

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“Peace be still, You are near
There’s nowhere we can go
That You won’t shine redemption’s light
Our guilt withdrawn
As You rise, we come alive
The grave has lost, the old is gone
And You’re making all things new
You are making all things new
You are making all things new
And we are free”
(All Things New, Elevation)

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Speaking from the Heart

As we explore the topic of silence, it is inevitable that we talk about the words we speak. Not only does practicing silence require us to speak less and listen more, but it also gets at the heart of the matter– specifically the heart that is in us. We are seeing more and more how listening to God is a heart-stillness, a heart-readiness, a heart-focus, rather than an outer condition or environment. At some point it seems reasonable to turn that inside out, and look at how our changing inner hearts will affect the words that come out of us.

It’s pretty straightforward cause and effect, that a heart tuned toward Self will produce words that promote your welfare and your concerns…and the more one’s heart is consumed with God, the more your words start to reflect His beauty, His nature, His concerns. Similarly, when you are filled with thankfulness for His blessings, it’s much harder to complain on the outside. When your heart longs for more of His beauty and goodness, the words to make yourself the center of attention just don’t even seem to matter any more. This connection between heart and words is predictable enough to be plotted on a graph. And we laughed ruefully as a group, about the mathematics of words…how a greater volume of words leads to increased potential for the wrong ones coming out, and for useless chatter…and how we women are good at using words. (Sobering when you realize that in terms of sheer verbal potential, women are twice as likely as men to let their tongues get into trouble.)

But looking at the math does make you consider the words you speak in a day and how you will spend them…makes you take a long look at what is inside of you. Jesus put it in more agrarian terms when he said a tree is known by the fruit it produces. “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.” (Luke 6:43) But His point is the same, that words and actions grow out of the soil of a person’s heart. It may take awhile to look past the showy leaves and bright colors, but the proof is always in the quality of the fruit.

James borrows the analogy and adds the idea of a water well, mocking the idea that you can draw both good and bad water out of the same place. We all understand how what is inside is eventually going to bubble up into our speech, even if we are trying very hard to keep our mouths shut. So rather than figuring out ways to guard our tongues, it seems like we would do better to guard our hearts– and then here we are, back to the value of cultivating silence before God. When the insides are silent and resting in His presence, that kind of thing can’t help but show up on the outside. And it’s starting to sound a lot like what Paul was encouraging us to do: “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (Philippians 4:8)  A heart that is focused on Him and full of praise for who He is, is going to overflow into words that are “helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:28

Lord, help us to keep putting these things into practice in our everyday lives, “and let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

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“Simply to refrain from talking, without a heart listening to God , is not silence.” (Richard Foster)

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“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” (Proverbs 25:11)

 

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When You Just Need to Stop and Listen

There was a time in my life when I was afraid of the silence. So I understand when people tell me they need the TV on when they are at home, and how the radio in the bedroom is the only way they can fall asleep. I know what it’s like to turn the music up the whole way in the car and sink into it, lose yourself for awhile. There is no shortage of sound and color and sensory stimulation that we can pour into any hunger.

Maybe we depend on the background noise, to keep us from hearing the thoughts we’d rather not think. Maybe this is why we welcome every pleasant distraction in the world, to avoid the full brunt of our regrets, our disappointments, the big questions of how to make our lives mean something. When in doubt, cover up the unease with noise and more stuff. The problem is, when you pile enough on there to dull the pain, you are liable to cover up the very answers that you so desperately need. I’ve been there, and I know how the fear of stopping to listen can seem bigger than the weight you are carrying around.

Jesus isn’t afraid of our wounds and our baggage. He isn’t deterred by our commotion and clamor. He has already seen it up close, “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief,” as the Prophet Isaiah called Him. He would rather pull us in, touch our dirt-streaked face and bent limbs with His own hands, and speak into our ears Himself–the way He did with the hundreds that came to Him for healing when He walked this earth. “What do you want me to do for you?” He asked the two blind men who were calling out to Him by the roadside. And this is what He asks us, still. “What do you want me to do for you?”

If we are not afraid to be still, to stop and listen, to be honest about our pain and the things that bind us, we will find Him standing right there next to us, ready to begin the work of healing. But it’s up to us to weigh whether it’s worth hanging onto the pain that we know, for fear of the change that we don’t know….up to us to still the noise of our own need and listen for His voice calling. “He says, ‘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….” (Psalm 46:10-11)

And yes, it is a fearsome prospect to stand in silence with the Lord Almighty. Because like the old hymn says, “the things of this earth will grow strangely dim,” in His presence, and all the masks we wear get stripped away. And we can see who we are “in the light of His glory and grace”…and Who He IsBlessed are you when your sense of need outweighs your fear, and when you have come to the end of yourself so that all you want is Him. As Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

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“Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
(Psalm 73:25-26)

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“I tasted the world seen more than enough
It’s promises fleeting
Of water and wine I emptied the cup
And found myself wanting
But there is a well that never runs dry
The water of life the blood of the vine

‘Cause all I know is everything I have means nothing
Jesus, if You’re not my one thing
Everything I need right now
All I need is You right now”
(One Thing, Hillsong)

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Carried

For the days when the weight of this world seem too heavy to bear, and you wonder if you are going to make it, remember that He is big enough to carry us all. The brokenness of our sin and disease….the heart-wounds and empty places of our lives….all the peoples of the world crying out for deliverance….and the Cross at the center of our human existence, the sacrifice of our Savior answering with His own flesh and blood: “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.” (John 14:6)

On days like this He is the only place to run. “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.” (Proverbs 18:10)

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“Take this fainted heart
Take these tainted hands
Wash me in Your love
Come like grace again
Even when my strength is lost I’ll praise You
Even when I have no song I’ll praise You
Even when it’s hard to find the words
Louder then I’ll sing Your praise
I will only sing Your praise…”
(Praise Song, Hillsong United)

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“Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares about you. Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are.”
(1 Peter 5:7-9)

 

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Keeping It Simple

Feeling thankful this week for the wise words from other pilgrims on this Faith-journey, and how they inspire and challenge us. When you read their words from long ago and are amazed at how much you resonate with their spiritual experiences, there is a certain sense of soul-satisfaction– a relief that you are not alone. That is also the best part of being in a small group, of course. The encouragement and prayers of brothers and sisters in Christ accomplish for me far more than my own solitary efforts could ever manage.

But I also see how comparing ourselves with others becomes one more way we complicate our walk with Christ. Somehow we get the idea that if we can’t pray or teach or give or send cards like someone else, we are not doing well as a Christian; maybe God prefers people who dress a certain way or like to read the Christian best-sellers. Surely there is some kind of point system to all this, and surely we could be doing better. That feeling of not measuring up can be downright paralyzing. After all, how do we know how much is enough, to feel close to God and have that abundant Christian life we truly desire? And here we are– just ordinary women who often fall asleep in the middle of our prayer lists at night.

As we wrestle with implementing basic good habits for spiritual health, let’s not get off-course by setting up impossible standards for ourselves. No matter how many hours you’ve heard so-and-so spends in her prayer closet (before dawn, no less!), or how many times another one has read through the Bible…no matter whether you feel heart-hungry or ready-to-give-up…let’s not forget that all God asks of you is that you choose His way right this moment. Just make the effort and show up, expecting Him to meet you. He will not let you down. Whether you read one verse or fifty. Whether you pray with your eyes closed or open, indoors or outdoors, in stillness or in chaos. Whether you feel His presence or not. “Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” (Psalm 62:8) The testimony of millions of saints who have gone before us stands as a reminder (maybe even a challenge) that there is nothing in life that is more vital to our inner health and well-being than time with our loving Father. Just do it. Any way that works for you. Today, and again tomorrow, and over and over again, until it is a lifestyle.

Ours is the choosing to spend time with Him; His is the fruit that will grow from our actions. Sometimes the choice comes out of our desperate need; sometimes only out of obedience. Regardless, it is better than not showing up at all. He will not fail to speak to us if our hearts are ready to listen. There is no magic formula for success in the Christian life. There is just real life and a real God who wants to be right there in the middle of it. Don’t let anyone complicate this matter for you.

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“Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” (John 14:21)

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“Most important though is…our deciding on some time and duration and sticking to it, at least for a trial period of a few weeks.  This means that once we’ve decided to do it, we treat it like brushing our teeth: it is just something we “do,” without agonizing over it each time.  Brushing our teeth, once it’s a habit, is very simple.  So is prayer time.  If we leave open a crack for “re-deciding” every day, then it becomes complicated. We’ve undercut the very simplicity that prayer time can reveal.”  (Tilden H. Edwards)

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The Simple Lifestyle

We have been carefully avoiding concrete measurements and formulas, in our discussions of simplicity, mostly because we do not want to obscure the very real internal issues at stake. It would be far too easy to get distracted by controversial details and completely misunderstand what practicing simplicity means in our lives. Not to mention that coming up with one visible standard to lay across all our backs (to make sure we are measuring up) is nothing more than forging chains of man-made expectations; Jesus warned us about our hypocritical tendency to tie other people up into tidy bundles.

So let’s revisit the truths we’ve been distilling, drop by drop, gaze into that quiet pool of clear water and breathe deep, let it sink in where the Holy Spirit can make His own connections to life. Simplicity is trusting God for life itself. It is total dependence on His provision and the resulting freedom from anxiety and fear. It is a focus of heart and mind and life on the “pearl of great price” that we Christ-followers have discovered in the Kingdom of Heaven, seeing everything else falling into new perspectives because of that focus.

And let’s not overlook the fact that at some point these truths are going to have to push their way into the Everyday, both in large and small ways. Perhaps even in some startling life-upheaval ways. Otherwise simplicity is just one more nice idea. But that is between your heart and God’s Spirit. We are babes at this, so we stand and lurch forward a few steps, maybe even take off at a tip-toe run across new wide open spaces, only to lose our balance and fall flat a moment later. It’s all in a day’s growth. He will show us where we need to change, and how much is enough. That’s why we use the phrase spiritual practice or spiritual discipline (training) when we talk about learning these new habits.

It is perhaps encouraging to remember that this does not come naturally to us– mistrust comes naturally…wanting to control my own world comes naturally…following my emotions comes naturally. These are the old-way habits I am trying to unlearn. Only the Spirit of God living in me can open my eyes to how beautiful a simple dependence on my Creator can be. It takes His divine power at work in my heart to shift my viewpoint to realize how unnecessarily I complicate my life with worries, how I get tangled up with rationalization and desire for others’ approval and wanting things. Only Jesus’ grace will cover the mistakes I make and give me the courage to try again. And His strong arms will guide me and protect me as I go on.

So when we slide back into old ways we will get back up on our feet, with the Spirit’s help, and follow after Jesus with our baby steps, and keep on putting these truths into practice, until someday we can look back and see how far we have come, just like any child growing up under a parent’s loving watchful care. The important thing is that we practice this new habit of simplicity over and over again, knowing it is for our own spiritual health…keep listening and obeying. Life is much simpler when we do.

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“Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with Me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
(Jesus in Matthew 11:29-30, The Message)

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“At every moment,God’s Will produces what is needful for the task at hand, and the simple soul, instructed by faith, finds everything as it should be and wants neither more nor less than whatever it has.” (Jean-Pierre de Caussade)

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