Monday, February 23, 2015

Enough Already!

Do you ever get weary of this character building, you know, trials God brings into our lives to move us beyond childishness and into maturity?  Or maybe someone has said to you, "This hard time you are going through is so that you can help others going through similar circumstances."   Do you ever shout out, "Enough already!  I'm tired of going through all this trouble so I can empathize with someone else!"

Just this morning I read, "His faithful love endures forever," not once . . . but twenty six times. (Psa. 136)  By the end of the chapter the words seem rote and calloused.  I'm thinking, why do they keep saying this?  Then it became clear.

This love of God will not let me go!  It is enduring to the point that He refuses to let me remain as I am.  He loves so deeply that He continually brings challenge into my life to build me into the image of His Son, Jesus.  I might kick and scream against it, but His love is persistent and oh so patient.  And I am amazed!  How can God be that interested in my life, that He will take the time and the effort, yes, even the risk, to confront my immaturity?  Love like that is rare!   

Coming down from a retreat is hard and I've been having difficulties keeping my emotions in check.  They seek to control my life, to sway truth into making exceptions, until I start feeling entitled to rest, entitled to envy, entitled to complaints.  The more I nurture these emotions, the more they reign in my heart resulting in self-pity, sulking, and procrastination.  This is not the way I was meant to live.  

There are so many nice people out there, but I'm not one of them.  Oh, don't get me wrong.  I can put on a good front and pretend, but I know my heart and it is far from reaching that good standard.   Before long all this yuck oozes out.  I'm ashamed of my own self and wonder how I could be so childish.   

Yet, nice can be overrated.  My daughter recently told me, "Nice is just doing what pleases people.  If you do whatever others want, before long they will be calling you nice."  It opened my eyes to see that nice is not all its cracked up to be.  In fact, it can actually be a bondage. 

And so my goal is not to please people, but to honor the Lord with what is deeply embedded in my heart.  I want a purity within so that what I think, what I say, and what I do will always flow pure.  So often I think that holiness is for God's benefit, not my own.  But when I live in misery it causes me to realize that right living is really for my own well-being.

I've learned one solution to overcoming my emotions, that is, to simply do the next thing.  The depression, the yielding to my feelings, can be a form of procrastination away from where my energies should be spent.  If I keep my focus on what I am to be about, my Father's business, no time is left for unhealthy musings.   I'm not saying there are easy solutions, just that there can be answers.  There is joy to be found as I surrender to God's terms for my life.

Yes, the proof of God's Spirit within me is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  (Gal. 5:22-23) These qualities should be evident because I have given my life to Jesus.  But in order for Him to truly shine through me, I have to align my will with His, keeping in step with His Spirit.  Only then do I become a luminary that shines clear with a pure heart.

"Guard your heart above all else,
for it determines the course of your life."
 Prov. 4:23

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Trust Zone

I find it fascinating, these currents that move through the oceans.  In all the wild expanse of the untamed sea, there are passageways.  As the last two weeks dipped and swelled with monumental waves, God led me to a channel, a pathway of faith.

Though I could not see, I simply placed one foot in front of the other, trusting that He would take care of what concerned me.

In the midst of my helplessness I became keenly aware of God's presence, so real, so near.  I don't know how to describe it except to say I felt carried, lifted on His shoulders.   Every direction I turned, God spoke to me through His Word.

I just returned from our youth retreat.  I cannot speak for the students, but for me personally it was a weekend of blessing, because God met me in my weakness.  He answered when I called. 

I always try to have my ducks in a row long before the retreat is upon us, but this year God did not allow that to happen.  Instead, I was typing up lesson plans the night before the event, and it was not because I had been irresponsible.  In fact, God led me to the Scriptures I was to teach way back in September, and I had been meditating on these truths for some time.  But to come up with the specific outline, to arrive at a flow of thought, as well as visuals and songs to illustrate these truths was not coming to me quickly.  It was like God was saying to me, "Wait.  I will give it in my time.  Trust me."

Trust with twenty pairs of eyes bearing down on me?  Trust when others are counting on me to deliver something worth their time?  Trust when I don't know how to connect with both a sixth grader and a senior in high school at the same time?  Trust when I enter the weekend exhausted, a weekend that demands my energy 24/7?  Trust when I have prayed and it seems to fall on deaf ears? 

Yes, trust.  Because God compelled me to catch this current of faith.  He wanted me to risk my weakness and failure for His sufficiency, so that He could show Himself faithful. 

It started with a specific answer to prayer.  I was burdened for two young women who were not planning to go on the retreat.  It was like God was telling me, "I want these girls to hear this."  But how could they hear if they were absent?  And so I prayed earnestly, by name, for these women.  At the last minute they came.  They heard.   And God wowed my socks right off.

But it did not stop there.  The lessons came together with a flow that I did not even realize was happening until I was actually teaching them.  Furthermore, God gave me some visual illustrations that connected with the youth, not way ahead of time, but just in time.  I know God does that in order to keep me from becoming overly confident in my own strength.  In this way, I remain desperately dependent on Him.

At one point there was a dilemma and it had to do with Saturday's lunch.  I was at a loss and felt helpless, not knowing what to do, but again God showed Himself faithful and provided a solution.  Saturday afternoon I met more disappointment with a change of plans but God showed me my need to be flexible and He worked it out for good. 

At our Saturday night session the Lord's presence drew us in and settled my heart with an overwhelming peace and confidence in Him.  I knew, without doubt, that He was accomplishing His purpose through my life.  And He had been there all along.  There was, indeed, a pathway through the churning waves, for I watched Him lead me through on dry ground. 

A week before the youth retreat, I spoke to a group of women on faith.  The talk was a repeat, one I had given last year for our women's retreat.  But it was like God was making it new to me, showing me that faith does not plateau when we reach our victories.  He wanted me to continue trusting Him, only in a different area . . . through my present circumstances. 

One thing is certain.  Before I call, He answers.  I find nothing more satisfying, nor more thrilling than living in communion with my Heavenly Father, actively taking risks inside the trust zone.  He always remains faithful.  Always.  And as a result, my roots grow even deeper in Him.  


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Do You Care?

I'm in this sea and I'm sinking.  In the middle of its depths, the safety of the shore far behind, I find the point of no return.  At the same time the banks ahead seem so far away.  Lord, don't you care that I'm drowning?  At o'dark thirty this morning, my husband read these words over breakfast and they awoke me right up from my grogginess.  (Mk. 4:38)

Why?  Because only yesterday I delivered a talk to a group of women on crossing our Jordan.  I spoke of living on that plane of faith, the realm of fighting giants and waging war.  But whenever I deliver a message or prepare a Bible study, it always pertains to what I am going through at the present time.  Always.  God sees to it. 

After yesterday's drama I felt exposed.  Did I say the right thing?  Was my personification of the characters foolish?  Did I say too much?  Or, I should have said it this way instead.  All these self-doubts began to weigh me down.  I wanted to hide and so I did. 

I ran up a mountain, appropriately named, The Liberty Cap.  The only car at the trail head, I was alone with my mountain.  Near the top, in the shade of those mighty cliffs, the air feels different.  Somehow the cliffs emit an intimacy which brings a hushed awe over the one still enough to listen.  There God revealed to me the answer. 

I knew, without doubt, that God had divinely appointed me to this speaking task.  I had great faith while in the preparation process and exercised faith in the delivery.   He even allowed me to see that His Spirit was indeed moving in the hearts of the women.  But now I must exercise faith on the other side and believe that it was just what He willed.  I must get past feeling stupid and believe that I was a tool in God's hands for His glory. 

God has defeated our enemies, given us victory, and made us more than conquerors.

The rest of this week looms large before me, and to look at it causes me to feel overwhelmed before the day scarcely begins.  But God whispers, "Believe.  Only do the next thing, and I will take care of the results. Take a step.  Trust Me."  

Surely, the path of the Lord "leads through the mighty waters--a pathway no one knew was there."  (Psa. 77:19)  His way is not around the obstacles, but rather right through the middle of them.  And as I step in faith, only placing one foot in front of the other, He opens up the way before me.  It is a way that I cannot see, but, none the less, remains, for He is with me. That is all that matters.

Yes, God does care.  He can calm the turbulent waves, but even more importantly, He quiets my heart in the midst of them.  I trust Him to sustain me through the rest of this week, through every task set before me.  I cling to Him while He holds me fast.  

"Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty."  Psa. 91:1