Are your expectations robbing you of joy?

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“Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall enjoy everything.” (Attributed to Francis of Assisi)

Mike read this quote out loud to us the other night. I couldn’t find any attribution to it on line, but no matter.  Whoever said it, I bless, for it gave me pause.

He and I talked a bit about what it would be like to live expecting nothing. For instance, upon awakening, the electricity to light and warm our house would be pure gift. Everything that worked and started up right away from the shower, to the coffee pot, to the phone to the car, all added blessings. Walking with no pain.  Arriving on time. Peace in our neighborhood. Mental clarity. Restful sleep. Fingers that work. Safety while worshipping. Harmony in relationships. Clean water. Glasses that enable me to see. Pain medication. The list of gifts extends.

Tuesday, Vera, my 9-year-old granddaughter and I were scheduled to connect by Zoom for a French lesson. But Graham texted about 5 minutes before our start time to say he was trying to get the internet back on.  I kept the Zoom room open, but 20 minutes later he sent an update.  “No internet possible today. Repairman will come out tomorrow.” So much for our French lesson.

When I shared what happened with Mike, he responded, “Wow, I am so glad this didn’t happen when were took care of the girls in October and I worked from their house!”

I realized how we had taken functioning internet for granted. Had this situation occurred while our son and his wife were away, Mike and I would have had to scramble to figure out what to do. Sure, he could have looked for a Starbucks that allowed customers to sit inside and use their internet. But their download and upload speeds are not necessarily fast.  Besides, Mike hosted several online collaborative meetings, totally inappropriate in public spaces.

Just that one brief reflection caused me to see how much we both take for granted. Just remove any one of those blessings, and watch how we respond.  Ah yes, the power of unmet expectations to poison our mood.


So, I ask, is it possible for us to arise each morning and receive the day ‘naked’, not counting on any created thing to ‘work’ or ‘respond’ a certain way?

Only one thing, one person is worthy of ‘counting on’ and that is our triune God.  We make a prideful assumption when we expect something to work, someone to treat us well and act like they always have.  Add to that the expectation of not meeting up with any roadblocks or obstacles each day.  That is no recipe for enjoying life.

Holy Spirit, keep me practicing this kind of reflection!

What are the odds? – God’s big interventions in my life

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So, keep and do them…….in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him?’ Deuteronomy 4:6-7 NASB 1995

When I read and lingered over Moses’ words above, the Holy Spirit convicted me of my need to point to visible evidence of how the Lord has worked in my life.  People sometimes need to SEE tangible proof of how God comes through in this life, before they are ready or interested in hearing about how the Father changes one’s eternal future through Jesus.

All people, not just those who have yet to see Jesus for who he is, but believers as well need evidence of God working in lives of those who belong to him.

So, with this passage in Deuteronomy desire bubbled forth, causing me to want to make a list of at least 5 big divine provisions from our kind Father. I saw so many possibilities, but I’ve selected the following to encourage you.  

  1. The first time God directly answered a specific prayer request in a way that I knew it was him, was my second day at Airborne School in May 1978.  I was a 20-year-old ROTC cadet pursuing some army training at the end of my junior year in college. Much to my horror, I had failed the pull-up evaluation on the initial day of week one. If I didn’t pass the re-do, I’d be cut from the three-week class.  I wouldn’t earn those Airborne wings that I wanted. Not yet a believer, but knowing that prayer was my only recourse, I pled with God for help.  He came through.  A female airborne sergeant took me aside for the redo and passed me, with merciful leniency.   That was God’s unmerited favor for sure!
  2. His next rescue took years of prayer, interspersed with lots of despair and tears, before he gave me what I begged him for.  I had fallen into bulimia at 16. This eating disorder relentlessly pursued me.  Nothing I attempted worked. During the 9+ years I suffered, I was converted to Jesus.  Certainly, I had prayed for years before my second birth, but God waited.  About two years after coming to Christ, he provided the answer I wanted in a very creative way. He used the long months of my first pregnancy to break that binge-purge-remorse-resolve cycle.  Knowing I was carrying a baby provided a compelling reason to care for my body.  Even though I feared returning to that old pattern post-partum, God liberated me fully.
  3.  This next marvel from God surprised me.  I had to wait several years to see his divine and good plan in hindsight.  As a lieutenant, a full-colonel ‘fired’ me due to not meeting his standards. In my mind, he treated me unfairly. No amount of behind the scenes ‘Maria manipulation’ worked. A mere lieutenant has no influence! With one signature, he dispatched me back to a subordinate unit from which I had felt relief when he had brought me to his headquarters staff the previous year.  Here’s what is meant by ‘he planned it for harm, but God planned it for good’ (Genesis 50:20). Back at my old unit, my boss assigned me the ‘additional duty’ of managing the MP battalion’s million-dollar budget.  With no finance background, I learned a lot.  My follow-on army assignment added to that knowledge.  What played out after I resigned my commission stunned me.  I needed a job to support our family of three, for Mike worked a sales job on a 100% commission basis.  The recently constructed Monterey (California) Sheraton Hotel offered a job-fair.  With my budget background (but no accounting or business courses under my belt), I applied to be the Credit Manager/Accounts Receivable Supervisor.  They hired me, because no one else applied.  Pure God. I remarked to Mike, ‘So THAT was what being fired and being assigned budget duties was all about!’
  4. Further evidence of God’s goodness occurred when our marriage ruptured. Many tears, many prayers, godly counsel from biblical older women kept me trusting God and his ability to restore us, to change us. Six months later, we were still together, headed in the right direction, and learning about God’s best for how husbands and wives treat each other with love and respect.  Now in 2021, 41-years into our ‘adventure of one flesh’, we are more content, more joyful together than we could have ever imagined.  God has certainly used our sin and our suffering to grow us more into a godly and HAPPY couple.
  5. My final example today of God working marvels in my life is how he removed a physical affliction that dogged Mike for years. A sales position in his late 20s caused his body to go ‘wonky’.  Neither doctors nor meds helped.  This condition often ‘sombered’ our family life, as it drained good cheer from Mike.  One day, after about 27 years living with this ‘unwelcome member of our family’, my hairdresser suggested an anti-anxiety medication that had helped her. Mike’s doctor okayed it and miracle of miracles; Mike found relief! We knew this was a gift from God, in answer to years of prayer. We praised him heartily. Yet, 8 years later when Mike started a new job here in Huntsville, stress triggered the same condition.  We were dumb-founded. ‘Really, Father? What is up with this!!!’  We renewed our prayers, this time from a much deeper place of confidence in God.  A year later, slowly and in fits and starts, God began providing relief.  Today, Mike has been freed from this condition!  We often sing God’s praises, for he deserves all the credit. And he could bring it back if he deems it good for us.  We are learning, through suffering, to trust him more and more.

So, what about you?  What are your top 5 evidences for God, Ebenezers that you can point to, for strengthening your faith anew and as a tool to assist you confidently to communicate the good news about Jesus Christ?  Have some fun taking time to reflect and come up with a top-five list. Then share it with others.

Unlikely ‘teachers’

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I read some good advice last night.  The author advised being on the lookout for each day’s teachers.  Her experience of being guided and taught by God includes His use of diverse events and people she encounters each day.  It could be the annoying or ‘boring person who teaches me courtesy.’ (Marilyn McEntyre, Word by Word)

My first offering to you, fellow pilgrims, comes from an unlikely teacher, the singer Carole King.  My other schoolmaster this week has been the Spanish language.  Reading the Bible in a different translation always brings new and delightful insights.

May we gratefully receive whatever the Lord gives us, trusting His creative way to bring us encouragement and training.

You just call out my name, and you know wherever I am, I’ll come running, running, yeah, yeah, to see you again. Winter, spring, summer or fall, all you have to do is call. And I’ll be there, yes, I will. You’ve got a friend. (The ‘gospel’ according to Carole King)

Driving into the pregnancy resource center today, I was listening to a podcast when this familiar song from the ‘70s came on.  Listening to the lyrics, one would have thought it were Jesus talking.

Jesus is the optimal, perfect friend.  He never uses, abandons or shames us. He knows just when and what we need, tailoring His provision to our personality and situation.

Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you. Psalm 50:15 ESV

A friend of mine texted me this morning. “I wish I had a nearby friend or that you lived down the street!”  I knew what she meant. Sometimes we need a real flesh-and-bone person who will cry with us and hug us.  But Jesus is always available, 24/7.

***

Tell all the skilled workers to whom I have given wisdom in such matters that they are to make garments for Aaron, for his consecration, so he may serve me as priest. Exodus 28:3 NIV

I read my Bible in Spanish.  This morning, I saw the repetition of the word ‘para’ in the three places underlined above.  Para can mean: in order to, so that, for the purpose of.

Friends, we have a Father and Lord of Purpose! Everything our God does is according to His good plan. In verse 2, right before this one, God tells Moses:

And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. ESV

God is not just a utilitarian, one-size-fits-all Creator.  No, He purposefully acts on behalf of individuals, providing what is pleasing to the eye and honoring to the person.

Moreover, our Maker includes us, ‘em-purposing’ us to craft beautiful and functional art.

Finally, God dignifies us through stirring our hearts and gifting us with talents.

What a Master!

I’m still scared of God

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It was that silent part in today’s service, the private confession, where we are encouraged to share unconfessed sins with our Father, counting on the safety of His promise to forgive us because of Jesus. Something from this morning sprang to mind, surprising me.

Earlier, sitting outside with my coffee and the birds, I enjoyed a time of study and prayer. At some point, I started reflecting and then savoring right now, this particularly SWEET time in my life, in OUR lives. God has answered MAJOR prayers, some going back decades.  What kind? Here are the biggies:

  • Repeated cries for healing from work-induced anxiety for Mike that has affected his body 28 of our 40 years together.
  • Prayers for healing and freedom for me regarding eating, fitness and body weight.
  • Pleas for job contentment for Mike.
  • Repeated requests for release from my difficult job situation.

I can’t recall a time in my life that has been this restful, this satisfying. Ever.

So, what is the problem? What did I confess this morning?

That I am afraid.

That I am afraid that the Lord will remove these gifts that mean so much, that are so wonderful and refreshing. That they won’t last.

Why would He take them away?

  • He has every right to for two reasons: He created us and He redeemed us. We are His possession.
  • I know from Scripture that our Father has committed Himself to sanctifying me, to making me holy like Jesus.  In His wisdom, He might take these gifts away. To deepen and strengthen my faith, testing (for my benefit) just exactly where my happiness is rooted.  In the gifts, or in Him.

So, during the service, those 45 seconds or so, I confessed that irrational fear to my Father.  I called it what it is. Sin. A slap in the face of the One whom I should trust most. (Am I listening to Satan’s lies, I wondered? With malicious reason that enemy of God doesn’t want me to trust the Father’s love for me.) And I asked for supernatural, divine help.  Wordlessly, I off-loaded this weight in those silent few moments:

  • Father, I am so ashamed to tell You that I don’t trust You. That I’m clinging to these gifts that You have given us, not You.  I see now that I fear losing THEM more than I fear displeasing and dishonoring You. Forgive me. You’ve got to help me, though. Help me to trust You. To trust that You are good. That all that You have planned for Mike and for me IS for our ultimate happiness. It’s just hard. And this time You’ve granted us is SO restful. Soothing balm after many years of pain.

After that confession, I didn’t sense any response from Him. But now, as I write, I see how His Spirit is working. Prompting me to use this ‘shalom’ as a springboard to proclaim to others what my Father, the One and Only Living God, the Lord and Giver of Life has done.

1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

I don’t have to fear what He will do.

‘Satan – depart from me. I reject your suggestions. I know that Christ’s Spirit is in me and He is truth and light and He is more powerful than you.  I will not listen to you anymore!’

Here is what I commit to, with help! Instead of meditating on the ‘what ifs’ of circumstances, may I keep declaring my Father’s works to everyone I meet. May I honor His holy name in my prayers, my words and my actions. By faith, I will rely on the strength that He provides to bless Him.

Father, thank You for your promised grace: strength to direct my thoughts and words.

Psalm 126:3 The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad.

What are you most afraid of?

One of God’s gifts I was ignoring

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For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.  And his commandments are not burdensome. 1 John 5:3

Driving my granddaughters to school through Tampa rush-hour traffic this week has made me extra cautious.  Plus, I’m driving my son’s new car and I don’t want to damage it. En route to school yesterday morning, my speed just happened to be under the 70 mph limit on Interstate 275-S where the traffic was flowing before all the congestion hit. As a police car passed me on the left, I remarked to 10-year-old Chloe, “Obedience brings blessings.  You don’t have to worry about being pulled over if you obey the speed limit!”

I didn’t share the REAL reason I was traveling a bit slower.  It had nothing to do with avoiding a ticket and unnecessary stress. Nevertheless, I put in a general plug for obeying God.  The REAL reason to heed this traffic law is that I’ve been thinking differently about obeying God in the past 2 days. I’m starting to wonder that maybe our Father’s commands are actually a GIFT, a BLESSING, as opposed to a restriction God has imposed.

As I grow older and my cohort of friends is  aging; as I have grown children in their 30s with their own children; as the Holy Spirit shaves off some of my self-centeredness, sensitizing me to the pain and suffering of those around me, I find myself caring and praying A LOT.

But as God has grown my desire to pray for more people, a concomitant self-imposed burden has emerged.

Years in Bible Study Fellowship back in Virginia taught me to pray for specific needs in a way that is measurable.  Instead of asking God to ‘bless John’s work’, I’ve learned to detail just what John’s tangible need is and name it, asking God’s help WITH the ‘it’.

My prayers now look like this: Father, please guide John to soften his tone with his co-workers so that they and he cooperate better and carry out the assigned task at hand.

Why all the detail?  So, I can know when God comes through and then have the specifics to thank Him!

What then is the burden?  Just that I have fallen into thinking that if I don’t pray specifically WITH all the pertinent details, then my prayer is less effective.

I know what you’re thinking!  Am I not forgetting the comforting promise about the Holy Spirit’s help?

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Romans 8:26

Now that I have given you background, I want to share how marvelously the Spirit came to my rescue yesterday!  There’s a situation in our life that feels complex and overwhelming. Monday evening our granddaughters were in dance class.  While I waited for them Mike and I chatted briefly. He shared a setback over the phone.  After we hung up, a wave of dismay rolled over me as I tried to place this news into the context of God’s promises.

Thank you, Father, for the time TO think, to know where to hang this new piece of data according to what is TRUE about You!

Here is what the Lord did. He gave me insight having to do with obedience!

My obedience is not something I think about much. But on this occasion the Holy Spirit reminded me of Jesus’ many teachings NOT to worry.  The Spirit then brought​ to mind​ divine commands​ penned ​by Paul & Pete​​r​,​ reenforce​ing the Lord’s lessons::

Cast ALL your cares on Him, for He cares for you! 1 Peter 5:7

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Phil 4:6

Here then is how my mind worked to bring me back out of this tight spot after hearing Mike’s report.

“Oh, I am supposed to OBEY my heavenly Father.  And He tells me to hand over every single care TO Him. What a relief!  Here you go, dear Father, take this new development in this season of painful suffering and do what is best.  Amen”

Simple and easy.  I picked up my Kindle book, reading while I waited for the girls to finish. Each time my mind drifted back to the dark, tight spot it’s like I shook it off and reminded myself: “My Father is handling this.  I am to obey Him and leave it in His hands.”

The night that followed, I woke up a couple of times to gray mist seeping into my thoughts. But by the power and reminder from God’s Spirit, I quickly swept them away with this assertion: “I’m obeying my Father, so I am not going to think about IT!”

Just as with any new habit, this change in reflex will take practice over time.

But already, I FEEL the lightness. The bottom line is that I am to obey my Father. Yes, I will continue to pray daily with thanksgiving. Once. And then obey Him by leaving the matter with Him.​

I wonder what other commands our Father has given that might actually be blessings!

 

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