Fighting discontent with prayer

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Father, you who SHOULD be enough, forgive my discontent!

You specifically command us NOT to covet. And I continue to disobey you. Coveting, wanting what I don’t have, is the very opposite of loving you with 100% of my mind. As the sun of summer passes over the yardarm, I find myself internally grumbling and focusing on the countdown to the end of my quiet mornings and longer evenings. As though Jesus’ purchase of eternal life were not enough, my disquieted heart is MORE focused on my dread of going back to school. To the point that:

  • not only am I not reveling in these pristine mountain mornings,
  • but I’m deliberately avoiding your will for me that I rejoice, pray and thank you in every thing.

But you have not left me to fight this by myself. If so, then as Martin Luther so rousingly portrayed:

a mighty fortress

Did we in our own strength confide,
Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side,
The Man of God’s own choosing

So just how do you propose to help me, Father?  Your word to me in fear and anxiety has always been –  Armor-up, Maria!  Dread, that wicked picturing of a scary future, is simply a different flavor.  (And just as much a violation of your command to count ALL things as joy – whether trial or trove, since they come from You, for my good.)

I thank you, that your word in Ephesians 6 has taught me the following tactic:

  •  we’re to pick a weapon from the arsenal of your Word and fight the fear with spirit-indwelt force.

Here is what you gave me this morning during church and I’m going to make it mine in this battle with discontent:

James 5: 11-12 Take the old prophets as your mentors. They put up with anything, went through everything, and never once quit, all the time honoring God. What a gift life is to those who stay the course! You’ve heard, of course, of Job’s staying power, and you know how God brought it all together for him at the end. That’s because God cares, cares right down to the last detail.

When I personalize your encouragement I find it easier to remember your promise. But I need your Holy Spirit to prompt me, to remind me of your sure pledge each time I’m attacked by those Satan-suggested gloomy pictures of the coming school year.  Then I can substitute your word to me for the fear scenario I’ve assembled.

Just like Job’s assignment was not what he chose, but he stayed under your heavy hand, honoring your name, with your strength I will stay in the seat you have seen fit to assign me this day, this season. In return for his loyalty, you blessed Job more richly than he ever could have pictured. So I will look to my future blessings.  You’re more kind than I can imagine, so just maybe you have woven treasure into what I’m dreading.  But if nothing else, may my sure inheritance in the next life fill me with enduring energy to be faithful to your will.  Help me to savor and daydream about what full fellowship with you, and overflowing joy may be like.   

God, you KNOW that I can’t successful win the battle against fear and dread without your supernatural help. But woe is me if I don’t daily take up the spiritual weapons you’ve handed me and use them throughout the day and night as the enemy lobs in artillery shells of discontent.

In Jesus’ name, whose intercessions I’m counting on, I pray.  Amen!

My seat….

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Ephesians 2:6

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.

My Seat

Thank you, Father, for raising me from the dead and giving me new, different and everlasting LIFE. Thank you for the seat you have assigned me.

I didn’t pick this seat. You selected it for me.

I’m sorry for all the times I compare my seat with others’, longing for a different one. Forgive me for the many times I get out of my seat, just like those squirmy boys in my French class.

Help me to trust that You know just what I need in a seat.

May I practice sitting contentedly in my seat. After all, I’m going to be spending a long time next to my older Brother and knowing how kind and loving You are, I bet my seat will turn out to be just the one I would have picked out had I known all the facts. Amen.

Can we really trust God?

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George Mueller   George Mueller is my hero in the faith. He’s the pastor who together with his wife undertook orphan care in 19th century England. His primary purpose was NOT to provide love, care and education for children, BUT was to collect evidence to share with ordinary Christians that God had NOT changed and could still be trusted. In his words, Mueller wrote in 1835:

  • “….so many believers with whom I became acquainted were harassed and distressed in mind, or brought guilt on their consciences, on account of NOT trusting in the Lord: (these) were used by God to awaken in my heart the desire of setting before the church at large, and before the world, a proof that He has not in the least changed; and this seemed to me best done, by the establishing of an Orphan-House.”

Two features stand out about this adventure in trusting God:

  1. Mueller NEVER asked for funds.  He and his wife and the matron who worked with them prayed the money in, by taking God at His Word, by banking their all on His promises to provide.
  2. When all was said and done by 1870, 1722 children were being taken care of in 5 purpose-built homes that had required 100,000 English pounds to build, all provided by God through unsolicited donations.

So…the other dark day, in the midst of despairing over my own particular sin ‘bent’ that was overcoming any joy in the Lord, it came to me (thank you for your prayers used by the Holy Spirit, dear friend!) to tackle it once more but BY FAITH in God’s promises rather than by determination and Maria-power.  (yes, a novel idea, you rightly smirk!)

I’m embarrassed to share that this struggle with sin revolves around eating and my weight and the pre-eminent place all that still holds in my heart. The fight against idols persists. But the truth is my weight has gone up AND (creating the unpleasant dilemma) I like to eat. Reflecting soberly about this situation for the umpteenth time, I moved cautiously in the following direction.  So as not to change the kind of healthy foods nor the PORTIONS of the 3 meals I eat,  I settled on cutting out snacks between meals, a small change I know.  The daily deficit would be about 300 calories.

The next step after setting on a plan was this: I named my fears in black type on the white screen in an on-line journal:

  • That with such an incremental approach, I’ll just kind of ‘forget’ I’m doing this and go back to my old way of eating. I’m an expert at rationalizing and changing my mind.
  • That I will be hungry and unsatisfied between meals and feel sorry for myself and won’t be able to stand those feelings.

I knew I needed a go-to verse as my first weapon, if I was going to undertake this adventure in Holy Spirit power.  So I cobbled together 2 verses that quickly came to mind:

When I am afraid, I will put my trust in you, the God who is able to do IMMEASURABLY more than all I can ask or imagine, according to Your power that is at work in me! Ps 56:3 and Eph 3:20

My husband has often shared with me his joined-at-the-hip pair of verses that he prayed for our son Wes to lean on as he underwent the rigors of Ranger School:

Apart from you I can do nothing; but I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!  John 15:5c and Phil 4:13

So yesterday, day 1, we walked in the rain, it being a Saturday and NOT a hiking day.  I knew that given our leisurely start, I would not be able to eat my packed lunch until we reached the turn-around point of our walk at Biltmore Estate. As I anticipated being hungry and not having my habitual baggie of almonds to snack on, I leaned on God’s promise of provision.

152 - Biltmore in the rain on 10 Oct 2015

I took that fear and looked past it to God’s promise to provide in ways I can’t even project.

And He did!  No surprise there.

We ate lightly for supper, as I tried a new recipe for wild-caught flounder.  But again I contented myself with the assurance that each time I started to ‘panic’ I could take comfort in the God who IS living and runs the abundantly full cupboards of grace set aside for each of His children.

Day 1 – victory in Christ and on to adding to God’s track record of proof.  I know that He can be trusted.  I just need to prove it to myself again in that dark place that has been my hold-out, a stronghold of self-control and sin.

Are you exhausted?

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God helps those...

Have you ever heard this American-ism?  Who hasn’t?  In fact, my father used to quote it to me all the time growing up.  Trouble is, he wasn’t a Christian.  But he was a self-made man.  He grew up in a family that had money, pre-1929!  Born in 1924, he lived a while in Alaska as his family raised silver blue foxes for their fur-fashioned luxury stoles and coats supplied to wealthy blue bloods.

Silver Fox Fur Jacket

That niche soured quickly as the depression dried up the demand for expensive accessories.  Reduced to poverty, the family moved south to Arizona where his father was killed by a drunk driver in 1930.  ‘Mom’ relocated back to Arkansas with my dad and two brothers to eke out a living. There were cousins there, I think. The family scraped by, subsisting at the lowest economic rung. FDR saved my dad through innovative Civilian Conservation Corps camps for young men.  Spending his senior year of high school away from home, Pop studied at night in order to graduate on time with his class back in Mountainburg, Arkansas. His checks provided the funds so his mom and youngest brother could eat.  From there my dad joined the army, grappling his way up the military ladder. He earned a BS and an MA at night. He commanded units in Korea and Viet Nam during 5 combat tours. He pioneered and wrote aviation doctrine as well as a book.

About his relationship with God, all he would ever say when I gently pressed amounted to: “I’ve made my peace with the Lord” But my dad DID live by the ‘Gospel’ – the American good news of ‘work hard and make something of yourself’.

And Ben Franklin’s aphorism about God lending a hand to independent self-helpers fit his worldview. See this brief Wikipedia explanation of the history of the phrase that Ben Franklin popularized. For a long time I didn’t know how to counter that statement.  After all, the Bible does extol working hard to add to our virtue.   Take Peter’s exhortation in 2 Peter: 1:5-7

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith excellence, to excellence, knowledge; to knowledge, self-control; to self-control, perseverance; to perseverance, godliness; to godliness, brotherly affection; to brotherly affection, unselfish love.

That sounds like effort!  If the God-waiting-on-us-to-do-our-part doctrine is not so, then what do we make of much of the moral law in the Bible?

After thinking about how to reconcile “work hard and your efforts will be supplemented by God v. to trust God and watch Him do it all” I think I can propose the right way to consider this topic.  Here’s my attempt:

It’s a matter of one’s starting point, having the correct ‘mindset’ to borrow a term in vogue in my field of education. Do we believe that God created us and then left us to follow our interests and passions, with our calling the shots in life?  Or do we take our cue from our Creator and ask some of those foundational questions such as:

  • Since God created us, He must have had a purpose. What might that be?
  • And if it makes sense to look at what He has written to discover His plans for us, what has He said?
  • And how are we to DO this work for Him?

It would also be prudent to identify God’s own ‘teleos’, His goal for offspring created in His image. Fortunately, He does not leave us guessing.  God writes in Isaiah 43:6b-7:

Bring my sons from afar

and my daughters from the ends of the earth—

everyone who is called by my name,

whom I created for my glory,

whom I formed and made.

Paul in the New Testament echoes the same purpose when he writes to the Christians in Ephesus: (Chapter 2:10)

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Here’s the  64 thousand dollar Q

How does God get the glory when the spotlight shines on us and what WE do…..with a little boost from God?

That was rhetorical, obviously.  He can’t!

God ONLY gets the praise and glory and acclaim He deserves when unlikely, weak people accomplish His work where it’s evident that only He could have enabled either the attitude of the ‘worker’ or the results. Remember the 5 loaves and 2 fish accounts?  Were the disciples praised for their supply of enough food to satisfy 5000 hungry men? Do you understand a bit more Jesus’ curious exhortation:  Let your light so shine before men that they see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.  Matthew 5:16

I never could figure that out!  If we’re doing the good works, wouldn’t WE get the kudos? Why would anyone think to praise God?

Good question!

The good deeds we are to do, we are to do with His strength, in a humble way that magnifies the surpassing greatness of God. No surprise there!  If we actually read His Word, we find out that God expects nothing less from us. After all He explicitly created us to carry out and accomplish pre-planned tasks, each one initiated BY HIM for you and for me.

So back to my blog title: Are you exhausted?  Could it be that you are doing a lot of ‘good stuff’ that you initiated without reference to Your Creator?  And working hard in your own strength, in a way that makes you look good?  No one is denying that much good is done in the world by Christians and non-Christians alike.  But IF we’re worn out, maybe, just maybe it might be because we are functionally living out the American Credo.  After all, who could possibly criticize our good works? Have you considered the answer to that question might be God, Himself?

Here’s a sobering thought: …..anything that is not done in faith is sin.  Romans 14:23c

Pop Quiz!

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Mexican Impasse

 

 

Ephesians 4:32  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you

Why did he bring up that old sin of mine?

I’m not often caught off guard, but his comment blind-sided me. It definitely related to the movie we were watching, but I hadn’t thought of that shameful chapter from my past for years.

My stunned silence in turn took him back. He hadn’t meant any – it was just a remark. My unexpected reaction so took him back and left him not knowing how to process what was happening.

A chilly distance and awkwardness descended upon us both.

We each felt put upon by the other. We each wanted the other to lay aside their feelings and make the effort to understand our surprise and hurt. It was a Mexican impasse.

Words weren’t adequate to work through the weight of feelings. I sat down to read the paper and he made his way to the ‘man-cave’ to smoke his post-prandial cigar.

Slowly there came over me a sense that I was being offered a pop quiz to plumb the genuineness of my verbal proclamations of love for my husband. Here was an occasion to put my money where my mouth was.

Do I truly love my husband as much as I tell him and others? If so, then aren’t his feelings important to me, even more so than MY own feelings?

And there he was, down in that cold place, next to the propane heater, trying to enjoy a cigar, but feeling UN-loved and MIS-understood and probably maligned.

Soft feelings of compassion replaced my desire first to be understood. A texting conversation began and after a flurry, I knew that offering him grace instead of holding out for what I thought I wanted (to be understood) was more satisfying. I went to bed in peace.

How did I know it was a pop quiz? Because the chapter in my book I picked up after our electronic back and forth addressed GIVING versus TAKING.   And John Piper’s devotional for the day was about forgiveness.

 

Not wearing that letter “A” any more!

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Scarlet Letter

James 4: 4 You adulterers!  Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? 

 

What a relief!  To come clean and admit that you have betrayed the one who loves you best.  With the ‘worst’ out in the open, there is nothing more to hide.  And in that public knowledge lives freedom.

But do we wear our branding of ‘unfaithful to God’ or do we cover it up, disguise it by good works, competence, religious behavior, helpfulness or talent?

Last week I was wrestling with the wrong kind of fear, the dread of others thinking poorly of me or less of me. But as I let God’s Word guide me in distinguishing fear of man from that ‘AWE-full’ thrilling though cautious respect of God, I found safety again and open spaces.

This week William Gurnall, my current 17th century author of choice, has given me a renewed appreciation for my God-given clothing.

His most famous book is a compilation of sermons he delivered teaching his flock about the reality of warfare in this life and the spiritual tools we are to use to be both safe AND useful as redeemed children of the Father.

500 Old Cabin Cove taken from Blue Ridge Pkwy

So each morning, as I tread up and down the gravel road in our cove, I pray for God’s help to pull together all the scattered thoughts of the previous day and submit them to God.  I mentally and almost physically tighten that first piece of spiritual clothing Paul describes in his exhortation to the Christians at Ephesus:  the belt of truth.

Belt of truth

Which truth? – the truth about who Jesus is and who I am since He bought and freed me.  What others might consider an accessory today is what literally holds us together.  Without that boundary line separating truth from confusion, we come apart.  So tighten your belt, friends!

Next I ready my feet, not with my own planned-out, agenda-bound shoes.  I don God’s sandals that are directed at bringing to those I encounter this day the counter-intuitive message of ‘How to find peace with God’.

Shoes of peace

Everyone is seeking it, though many don’t know that ‘being right’ with the God of the Universe is their biggest need.  But I have to remind myself before I leave the Cove for school that I’m not off to fulfill my plans, but God’s.  After all, I do work for Him.

Since I can’t face the world just with my belt and my shoes on, what is my basic uniform for the day? Certainly not that Scarlet letter of Shame: the Father has replaced that temporary tattoo with a permanent Blood-Stained R for Jesus’ righteousness.

Letter R

What the Romans wore as effective protection for the heart and other organs, God calls our breastplate.  It’s both armor AND an advertisement to the spiritual world of whose we are.  So front and center stamped permanently on me is Jesus’ earned and validated righteousness.

To round off  my equipment, I gather my helmet to protect and SAVE my mind from misleading thoughts and grip my shield to block the doubts and fears and what-ifs that are aimed straight at my heart and head and eyes that day.

By now my morning sweat and lactic acid producing walk accompanied by this mental spiritual dressing has brought me back up to our cabin.  I thankfully pour some coffee, fix a quick breakfast and sit down to sharpen my sword for the day. You know the only offensive weapon our Father gives us is the ensemble of truths and promises written down in the Bible.  I am so thankful for the time to fill up my mind with powerful fuel for the day.  Funny how all those insights that held me firm yesterday have drained away.   But why is that so strange?  After all, we take in physical food several times a day and expect it to tide us over only a few hours. Why should spiritual nourishment be any different?

So I eat with gusto and head out for the day.  Another page in the life of a thankful ambassador reporting for duty to her rebel outpost in that dark place called the World.

Question:  How have you personalized one or more of the pieces of spiritual armor?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feed on this as we move closer to Easter

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Speak out to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, offering praise with voices [and instruments] and making melody with all your heart to the Lord.  Ephesians 5:19 (Amplified) 

Here is a mid-week suggestion for you to feed your soul with some good music.  Graham Cochrane from The Recording Revolution just released his first solo album in 10 years.  You can download the 5 songs at the link below.

The Tree Album Cover

 

 

 

 

 

The lyrics are a synthesis of his theological development in his 20s  and into his early 30s (the album was released on his birthday, 31 Mar 2014).  His melodies and accompanying instrumental harmonies do not overpower the vocals, so the words are easy to comprehend.

Since his senior capstone music project at James Madison University when he recorded his first original solo album in a campus studio, there have been 2 A Cappella Christmas albums  and 7 Aletheia Church albums.

My favorites are the 1st and 3rd songs.

Bon appétit!

Download music here

 

Graham with studio behind him

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