Discounting the current gifts from God

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There’s this ONE prayer and request that I keep asking God for.  It’s the ‘tugging on the Father’s sleeve’ kind.  That heart-filled longing that would consume me if I let it. Over the many years, I’ve learned to compartmentalize it somewhat.  Allotting it very specific time in my prayers each morning.  But I also pray when the occasional acute detailed need arises.

When I’m feeling strengthened by God, my prayers are statements of faith, attesting to God’s goodness and His sovereign control over all events. I KNOW for a fact that our Triune God is:

  • sovereign
  • loving
  • holy
  • wise
  • all-powerful
  • good
  • merciful
  • faithful

Those characteristics of our Father sustain me most days and nights.  I can leave this need in His hands.  But on occasion, there are those tearful prayers when along with David, I cry out:  How long, O LORD!

Like yesterday morning. I felt depleted and discouraged.  Will God EVER answer this request?  The tears flowed.  I had my notebook open and penned my lament. But as I dried my tears, a new thought arrived.

What if I am SO fixated on this one thing that God has not yet provided, that I miss the good gift He already has bestowed?

Like my sweet husband.  We’ve been married 38 years.  And ever since our crisis at the 20-year point, our relationship has been on the upswing.   That in itself is a gift from God.  But over the past year, Michael’s expressions of love for me have distilled into something even more pure and tender.  The notes he leaves me on our frig whiteboard are enough to make any wife cry with humility and gratitude.  How did I end up with such a choice life partner? Only by His grace, for sure.

So here is the new thought that I believe the Holy Spirit of the Father brought to mind yesterday after my Godward plea. I’m going to put words in His mouth:

  • Maria, are you SO fixated on wanting this one thing that you are missing My many gifts designed specifically FOR you, my beloved daughter?

That thought startled me!  What if God is answering my request for X with this other gift because that is what He KNOWS is best for me RIGHT NOW!  In fact, could all His gifts be what He has decided I actually need at this Kairos moment in my life, while I’m seeking X?

Does that mean He won’t ever provide my X?  Not necessarily, but that answer is beyond my ‘ken’ or knowledge.  I can’t predict if He will bring about my desired circumstance.  But He is my good and wise Father.  I can trust Him.  For right now, what He gives is enough.

The Holy Spirit left me with this final realization:

  • Maybe THAT is why our Bible teaches and reinforces gratitude over and over.

Since then, I’ve been pondering and reflecting on what I might have already missed or discounted from God’s hand.  What OTHER gifts has He given me that I have not even VIEWED as gifts, nor as an answer to my Big Request?

How about you?  How is God answering your heart prayers?

Psalm 107:1 ESV – Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!

 

 

The gift of neediness

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needy  How does our society view neediness?  Is it commendable or deplorable?

not-good-to-be-needy

I’m beginning to view my neediness differently.

Up until this year, a packed school week with meetings, evening obligations and reduced time for lesson planning routinely has stressed me out and caused me to DREAD the days ahead.

For example, last year on Friday afternoons, my extra duty was to arrange for and supervise a small group of 6th and 7th graders in a weekly community service activity.  We prepared meals at a women’s shelter in Asheville.  Just the idea of the motivating and encouraging and CONTROLLING these young students sufficiently to focus, work together and clean up all on a time schedule without devolving into a noisy chaos AND missing the bus back to school was painful.

I ‘griMMed’ and bore it.  Yet despite my faithless and pathetic prayers,  (yes I prayed and simultaneously ‘angsted’) God always came through.  You’d think I would have learned how NOT to trouble my heart and the futility of creating this fear and dread picture of what lay ahead.

If the utter uselessness of worry, fear and dread were not enough to convince me, wouldn’t you think I’d be horrified at the idea of disobeying my God and my Savior?  You know Him, our God who COMMANDS us NOT to fear, but to offload all our burdens onto His shoulders?  If I’m not going to believe His words, then why not tap into my God-given ability to imagine?  To what am I referring?

It turns out that I’m actually quite creative when it comes to painting MY personal dread pictures of what I THINK likes ahead.  Can I not use those same artistic faculties to picture  Jesus’ ordeal in Gethsemane?  That awful night when bloody sweat globules bathed His body as He anticipated taking on my sorrows and sins?  He conquered sin and sorrow so I wouldn’t have to take them on, single-handedly.  I don’t HAVE to dread any future moment.  For reality is if I abide in Him, if I walk yoked together with Jesus, then I won’t ever dwell a second deprived of His provision and presence.

John 14:27  I leave peace with you; I give my peace to you: not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it fear.

Somehow over the summer and now into September, my thinking is changing.  I’m beginning to view my neediness, my lack of sufficient time, energy, ideas as a gift.  How is that?

Each day when I feel strapped and resourceless, I am much quicker to select a promise and hug it for all its worth as I move into what frightens me.  And because I’m repeating God’s pledge to myself, because I’m praying it to Him as I tell Him how much I’m relying on Him to provide what He says say He’ll do, I feel CLOSER to Jesus. 

Talking to God throughout my days from the moment the alarm breaks into my sleep to when I settle back into bed at night, makes me sense Him next to me.  You might call it only my imaginings.  But I imagined enough dread scenarios to know that what I picture causes my feelings, both good and bad.

My conclusion? Here’s what both startles and delights me: this neediness, this insufficiency to do most anything given the time and resources I can see for the day ahead is turning into a gift. A ‘practicing the presence of God’ by turning my thoughts to Him makes me feel happier.  When I’m not need, my thoughts float elsewhere.

Could it be that this is what Jesus meant when He taught:

Happy are the needy, the beggars, those who are not self-sufficient and who know it, for they get the presence of the happy holy triune provisioning God!      (Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God – Matthew 5:3)

 

Moving from believing THAT God….to treasuring Him

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Apparently 75% of Americans say they believe in God. Source of statistic here.  Sounds like a lot until you realize that 100 % of Satan’s henchmen believe God exists, for they rebelled against Him!

James writes in 2:19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.

Demons believe

Therefore, the frank acknowledgement that there is a god is insufficient. One obvious problem needing clarification is just who is this god that people identify?  Wouldn’t it be more useful if pollsters helped responders spell out just what KIND of god they believe in?

Let’s assume, for the purpose of this blog, that we have clarified and agreed upon the one and only true God. A problem remains.  Is it enough to believe that this God is real?

No!  And if that answer bothers you, then good!  But don’t despair if you suddenly fear that your belief alone is insufficient.  Read on:

I, myself, was assured this morning that I am a Christian and not someone akin to the demons.  For it IS a frightening assertion that belief alone in the existence of God does not make one an adopted child of the Father with all rights and privileges in his Kingdom.  Many people followed Christ during His public ministry, but very few were ‘His sheep’.  Why did they seek Him?  Food that doesn’t run out, replenishing buckets of water, healing, political solutions, purpose and identity come to mind.

John Piper, whose teaching continues to edify my faith, proclaims that valuing God for what He can do for you is not what it means to be a Christian.  That is a perverted version of ‘believing that God exists and is almighty’.  Saving faith is treasuring Christ more than anything He can do for you or give you.

Trembling like you might upon hearing this narrow definition, I often ask myself, “Am I a real Christian, then?”  For I DO appreciate all that Christ HAS done for me and promises to do.

But the Holy Spirit gifted me this morning when I was listening to one of Piper’s sermons.  God brought to mind my attitude toward God as a teenager attending church with my family. During my junior year of high school I fell into the horrible and frightening pit of binging and vomiting – bulimia. No amount of resolve broke the cycle.  Sunday after Sunday, I prayed in that same pew that God would remove this problem.  I knew enough about God’s previous miracles to believe that He actually could deliver me from this nightmare.  But He didn’t and I’m glad.  For I wasn’t seeking Him, just what He could do for me.

A couple of years into married life, the VERY bad news about my rebellion against God confronted me in a gospel-proclaiming service so unlike the pleasant, but anodyne church of my teen years.  If I thought the bulimia was my biggest problem……… (and I’m embarrassed to admit that I did – I used to smugly boast:  ‘My only sin is overeating!’)….. THE frightening and very real fact of God’s wrath against me was a categorically different crisis.

Both Mike and I gratefully grabbed the gift of pardon and adoption when offered the only remedy – Christ’s substitutionary death and life for us.

Did God then remove the bulimia?  No, not right away.  That deliverance did come a few years later when I was carrying our first son.  But more remarkable than that, God has undertaken to open our eyes to the wonders of the gift of salvation and all that awaits us.  I revel and marvel daily that before the creation of the universe, the Triune God planned for me to be one of His adopted kids with full rights and an inheritance and a future of endless joy far greater than the happiness inherent in freedom from food addiction.

The apostle John says in 1:12 – But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the children of God, even to them that believe on his name.

John Piper explains that it takes a miracle from God to change our desires. We can’t make ourselves savor anchovies if we’re wired to gag every time we pop one in our mouth!  Only the Holy Spirit’s supernatural power removes the lure of cheap delights and creates hunger for the Bread that never perishes, Jesus Himself.

So, if you have ANY interest in Jesus or in reading your Bible, take heart. That’s a permanent holy gift planted in you by our loving Father. Thank Him for it and pray that He would cause your enjoyment of Him and His presence to grow, surpass or replace anything that either this world offers or He offers. Treasuring Him over His gifts is the goal that promises both to glorify Him and satisfy us.

 

 

Should a Christian have a bucket list?

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bucket list

2 Cor 2: 8-9 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,”What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”

Bucket lists – those impressive lists that both trumpet to the world what we deem important (Can’t die until I have done X, Y, Z) as well as showcase our time, money and wherewithal to make IT happen.

I mention this because a gal at church attributed her several-week absence to checking another item off her bucket list, a cruise to Alaska.

I didn’t think much about this until I read a comment that reminded me of the mind boggling, spectacular splendor that awaits believers in heaven.

What are we Christians doing, acting like the ‘pagans’ for whom this one life on earth is as good as it is going to get? If this is as close to heaven that non-believers will ever come, then maybe THEY have reason to pursue these recreational dreams. After all, the ‘pursuit of happiness’ is woven into the American fabric.

But as Christians, the very idea of a bucket list of

  • exotic places to visit or
  • exploits to accomplish or
  • adventures to taste

as a guide for what we do in retirement (or even earlier!) doesn’t line up theologically with God’s call on our lives.

Not that God is against His children taking joy in His good gifts, such as natural beauty, or trips with family and friends, or even His distribution of interest, talent and grit to hone skills. No, God is NOT a killjoy. It’s just that ALL THAT and MORE is promised believers for later.

For now, God has set us on Earth to reflect HIS glory (not ours) through our day-to-day lives. In our ordinary work and communities, we are to showcase the magnificence and worth of God primarily in two ways:

  • by treasuring and loving Him and
  • by serving and loving our neighbor

…..NOT in our own natural strength, but in humble dependence on the indwelling Holy Spirit. As flawed men and women, we are bent inward. It takes SUPER-natural strength to focus outside ourselves, whether we look up at God or horizontally at our fellow human beings.

So a bucket list is inherently self-centering. Let’s be real – we’re talking about a list of what I want to do. This is so 21st century-ish, so indicative of a Western culture awash with money and leisure. If you’re wondering where the idea of a ‘before I die’ set, chosen from the catalog of possible dreams, slate.com attributes the initial usage to:

“the book Unfair & Unbalanced: The Lunatic Magniloquence of Henry E. Panky, by Patrick M. Carlisle. That work includes the sentences, “So, anyway, a Great Man, in his querulous twilight years, who doesn’t want to go gently into that blacky black night. He wants to cut loose, dance on the razor’s edge, pry the lid off his bucket list!”  Quote taken from this site

Don’t worry, dear brothers and sisters. We HAVE an eternal REAL ‘bucket’ filled with fascinating and splendid activities and pleasures to enjoy all guaranteed to each of us who is in union with Christ.

I’m reminded of that famous C.S. Lewis quote contrasting mud pies with a seaside holiday from his essay, The Weight of Glory:

“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.”

I’ll leave you with 2 further resources:

  1. the poem below
  2. a Christian pastor’s version of a bucket list.

A portion of John Piper’s poem, “Justified for Evermore,” found in his book, Future Grace: The Purifying Power of the Promises of God, rev. ed. (Multnomah, 2012), 379-82. (Taken from this website – Blog post by Justin Taylor

And as I knelt beside the brook
To drink eternal life, I took
A glance across the golden grass,
And saw my dog, old Blackie, fast
As she could come. She leaped the stream –
Almost-and what a happy gleam
Was in her eye. I knelt to drink,
And knew that I was on the brink
Of endless joy. And everywhere
I turned and saw a wonder there.
A big man running on the lawn:
That’s old John Younge with both legs on.
The blind can see a bird on wing,
The dumb can lift their voice to sing.
The diabetic eats at will,
The coronary runs uphill.

The lame can walk, the deaf can hear,
The cancer-ridden bone is clear.
Arthritic joints are lithe and free,
And every pain has ceased to be.
And every sorrow deep within,
And every trace of lingering sin
Is gone. And all that’s left is joy,
And endless ages to employ
The mind and heart, and understand,
And love the sovereign Lord who planned
That it should take eternity
To lavish all his grace on me.

A Christian version of a bucket list

Thanking God for a sleepless night

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Romans 8:28:  And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, that is for the good of those who are called according to His divine plan.

Sleepless

Like many of you, I don’t take a solid night’s sleep for granted.  Each morning when I arise after a night with only ONE visit to the bathroom, I consider that God has given me a gift.

But Monday night last week included 3 interruptions due to foot and leg cramps. As a result, I arose the next morning knowing I was going to be drawing on God’s energy for my commute to school. (I drive 50 minutes each way by interstate).

But two events occurred as a result of that sleepless night that have caused me to thank God FOR it.

I’ve been puzzling over how NOT to be anxious after praying for something I want to happen.  Here’s the situation.  My mother worried a lot about family when they travelled. Yes, she was a Christian, but old patterns of thought linger.  I absorbed her angst and it has fed these fears even to this day.  Last weekend, one son and his wife had been driving back from a late-night wedding and I had prayed for their safe arrival all day long. Even though I asked God to protect them, I still struggled with how to be free from anxiety after praying.

During my sleepless night when I was awake from 12:30 to 3:30 am lying in bed thinking about EVERYTHING, God brought Romans 8:28 to mind as the remedy for anxiety and fear once you’ve prayed.

Here’s how my mind processed this promise of future grace.  Yes, we are to pray for situations. Then we are to let them go and trust God when He vows emphatically to work ALL circumstances (even if the ‘worst’ outcome happens that I’m praying against) together for the good of ……. 

In the darkness of the night, God shone light on His Word and gave me relief.  It’s like He sprung me from my self-imposed prison cell of fear.  Yes, I want my kids to be safe and I will pray for that.  But I will let go and rely on God’s better promise to guide and direct even the ‘bad’ stuff for the good of my loved ones and for His glory.

That in itself was worth the sleepless night.

But then God answered another prayer of mine.  I’ve been having stomach problems and googling remedies for feeling bloated and nauseous each day. Here’s how God took care of that!  The evening after my sleepless night, after I had arrived safely home but foggy with fatigue, I was fixing Mike’s and my yogurt mixtures for the next day.  I put certain colon-friendly fruit in his and certain low-fiber fruit in mine.  Because I was ‘punchy’ with fatigue, I mistakenly switched the yogurts, leaving mine in the frig and putting his in my lunch box for the next day.

At 10 am the following morning when I opened up my snack, I spotted the ‘wrong’ Greek yogurt mixture.  Besides feeling bad for Mike, I was bummed that I had brought the high-fiber version.  I decided to put it back in our teachers’ frig and rummage for a Zone bar I could eat instead.  Not consuming that ‘dairy’ – well, you guessed it, eliminated my stomach problem for the day. Bingo!  All of a sudden it hit me that I might be dairy-intolerant.  Sure enough, a few days without the yogurt confirmed my hypothesis.

Dairy intolerance

Here’s the remarkable take away, though.  And this is HUGE for me.  It seems that God is sovereign even over OUR mistakes. Do you know how freeing that is?  Even when you mess up, God works all things for your good (if you are His son or daughter by the new birth).  Yes, we want to do what’s right, but we don’t live by karma. We live by grace and in a Kingdom ruled by a loving and good God who has ALL the power and ALL the wisdom and is ALL perfect and righteous.

So I’m saying to you and to me – give up the ball and chain of striving for perfectionism.  We are imperfect creations.  We are going to make many mistakes.  But mistakes are not sovereign.  God is.  We don’t have to carry the burden of being good, of being right. Jesus beckons us to trust Him and give up that yoke.

Matt 11:28 – Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

Pop quizzes lead to good things

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Pop Quiz

It was pop quiz Tuesday apparently.  A long-standing besetting anguish ‘popped up’ again and I recognized it for what it was:

  • not only a spiritual attack BUT BOTH
  • a trial AND
  • a venue for one of those ‘good things’ that God promises NOT to withhold from me.

In Psalm 84:11 God promises:

For the LORD God is a sun and a shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.

I’ve always LOVED that verse because it corrects my perspective when faced with a day when God did NOT give me the time I wanted to read, exercise, or get as much work done at school.  I say to myself:  “Having that time to read must NOT have been one of the ‘good things’ God intended for me today.”

This morning, however, when I was processing how to handle that reoccurring trial, James’ spin on tests was on my mind:

James 1:2:  Count it pure joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 

And I saw the connection.

  • If God has promised NOT to withhold even one good thing from me this day
  • If trials are designed to prove my faith AND give me greater endurance and patience
  • If the final result of this endurance or steadfastness is completion (aka: looking like my Older Brother)
  • Then…..this testing/trial/pop quiz is a conduit to one of those GOOD THINGS that God has promised He won’t withhold from me.

Maybe that’s why James tells us to rejoice when our School Master announces a Pop Quiz!

 

The good kind of fear

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So many things to fear.  To be human and do MORE than huddle in bed, sheets pulled up over our head, takes courage.

Cowering in bed

The Bible is very forthright when it comes to fear.  I can’t think of one Bible character whose fear is not described.  Abraham worried about the Egyptians and thus passed his wife, Sarah, off as his sister. Moses shrank back from the task God wanted to give him, that of confronting Pharaoh.  Esther trembled at the idea of approaching her husband the King without his initial bidding.

The former blind man’s parents feared excommunication from the Temple community when asked to explain why their grown son could now see. The disciples feared the Romans and met furtively behind locked doors after Jesus’ execution.

And this week we faced horror after horror as events in Paris, Syria and Nigeria unfolded, just to name a few!

But there are also more mundane fears.  Friday, I had the occasion to chaperone middle school students on the first of five afternoons skiing here in Western North Carolina.  It had been 12 years since I took to the slopes.  I found myself feeling nervous due to the unknown arrangements of ski rental (will my feet cramp in those confining blocks of cement?), of navigating the ski lifts (will I ‘miss’ the moving seat and fall and make a fool of myself?), of avoiding dare-devil kids on snowboards (will I fall and break something and not be able to complete my daily walks?)

John Calvin observed that our hearts are ‘idol-factories’. Well, we are equally skilled at inventing fears.

Therefore, I felt greatly encouraged by a Desiring God blog post entitled Trading Fear for Fear

Reading it over several times (the link is above) and grappling to put the truths into my own words, I have concluded that God MEANS us to fear and has wired us to do so. But there is a right kind of fear and a wrong kind of fear.

I’m curious to learn how YOU would explain the godly kind of fear (no one needs any help in describing our default mechanism to fear the unknown and the threatening).  Here is what I have concluded from studying God’s word and letting it sink in:

  1. Fearing God – Hebrew word YIRAH (Strong’s # 3374) is experiencing  awe and respect and even a thrill at the ‘greater-than-we-can-grasp’ power and majesty and being of God.  Psalm 2:11 illustrates this posture as in “Worship/Serve the Lord in Yirah (reverence) and rejoice in trembling.
  2. The proper fear of the Lord is actually a gift granted to those to whom light is given.  Before this ability to see, we actually have a twisted view of the world and of God.  For in fact, we are by nature born into darkness and the light with which we see and evaluate the world is about as powerful as that emanating from your bathroom nightlight.  When God, via the Holy Spirit, flips on the switch giving us HIS light, we then see the truth of the world for the first time. We then begin to KNOW who God is and how life, liberty and joy are the birthright of all of us who grab hold of this true, forever and loving God who has given us new birth.
  3. Therefore, until we are transferred from the Kingdom of Darkness in to the Kingdom of Light, we can’t understand the right kind of fear, godly fear, because we don’t see/understand God correctly.  (Colossians 1:13 –He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,  in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.)
  4. Once our eyes are opened, we can begin to fear God properly. And what blessings accompany this YIRAH/correct attitude and posture toward God! Just do a google search on ‘fear of the Lord’ and feast on the many promises of God.

5. Finally (and this helps me the most), I can’t fear two completely opposite things at one time.  Why not?  Aren’t we good at multi-tasking?  Perhaps YOU are, but it’s more than holding 2 ideas together at one time.  What we fear, what we respond to is dictated by what we look at.  If I focus on troubling world circumstances like the evil terror that seems unrestrained and growing, or if I dwell on my imagined fears accompanying upcoming new experiences, or if I worry about what might happen if this or that happens, then I am fearing PRECISELY in a way that God commands me NOT to. Isaiah 8:12 is a good reminder: “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.”

However, when we fear/revere/thrill/look at the awe-FUL, wonder-FUL character and works of God, then all sorts of attendant resources are made available to us, besides JOY.  The same prophet Isaiah assures of that….

33:6 He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.

2a - Maria skiing for first time in 13 yrs - 9 Jan 2006

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