Drivenness is dangerous

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Galatians 5:1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Graham reminded me of this truth yesterday as I was catching up with him. I had just face-timed my granddaughters as they were en route home from school. After chatting with them Graham and I talked.  This older son of ours has been an inspirer, sounding board, tech resource and overall great listener as I have fleshed out a ‘business’ called English without Fear.

In 2018, having taught French for years, I started to help second language learners acquire English the same way I teach French, through listening with understanding. What I call ‘Mommy Talk’ as opposed to left-brained, rule-based learning.  It works.  Many, many students can attest to the joy and confidence they have received in my classroom because of this method.  I personally know this is the optimal way to teach and pick up a language because I am acquiring Spanish that way.

Three months after thinking and praying about this new venture, I settled on a target market or niche –  those wanting to learn English as a second language. I learned to write, record and upload story videos in slow English with lots of images. I set up a YouTube channel and some tech support sites.  My idea was to eventually bring in some income that would supplement our retirement, post classroom.

But ‘retirement’ came sooner than later.  Seven months ago, God opened the door for Mike to step back into full-time work and we moved here to Huntsville, Alabama.  I left the schoolhouse after 27 years, not even finishing out the spring semester.

Suddenly, my identity was no longer ‘French teacher’.

Mike’s new job generously would provide enough income so I knew that I wouldn’t be looking for another job teaching French.  I recognized that God was gifting me with time and flexibility to spend with our far-flung family.   I would also be the support at home for Mike so he could focus on this new challenge of re-entering the workforce.  We were swapping roles, in essence. He had come from 6 years doing some part-time work at home in North Carolina while managing the house.

What I didn’t anticipate was how challenging it would be for me to move into this new role.  Only once in my life had I stayed home and that was when Wes, our second son, was born. And then for only 2 years.

I now see, though, that since the end of March, I haven’t let myself rest in God, allowing Him to lead me.  I don’t think I even ASKED Him through prayer about what kind of life He wanted for me in this new season, in this new place.

As I had done (and later recognized with repentance) in previous years, I just announced my plan and prayed for Him to bless it.  Blind to my folly.

Bereft of my ‘uniform’ of working woman, French teacher, I dressed myself in new clothes.  My new identity? Content creator for a digital product.  Without a pause, as a stay-at-home wife, I set up a daily schedule.  Discipline comes easily.  (‘she said smugly: Doesn’t it for all people?’)

Long story short, I have now become my own slave driver, but with tears.  No one has done this to me.  Deep grooves of habitual self-drivenness: I start something – and I’m all in.  Zeal and ambition are not, in themselves bad.  But when they become part of one’s identity, they can be deadly.

But God!

His gentle and persistent grace have caused me to blink twice and clear my eyes.  I realize, now with alarming clarity, that I myself had shackled Maria.  My body knew it, though, and my husband.  He’s skilled at reading body language.  He is also a good listener.  Empathetic.

What alerted me? tears, dread of having to do something with this ‘business’, and 2 days with Regina.  This friend of 13 years met me last week, half way between her home in South Carolina and my house here in Alabama.  We spent 18 hours catching up.

While describing how pleasant Huntsville is, I realized how I don’t ‘let’ myself just take an afternoon and wander, explore, go for a walk.  Why not?  ‘I have work to do.’  My boss/dictator has been telling me every day that I need to make this English without Fear endeavor into a successful business.

But why? To what end?  We don’t need the money.

Here’s my reasoning for undertaking this project:  I have experience, aptitude, some gifts and a sense of what is needed in the Second Language Acquisition space (encouragement for teachers who feel overwhelmed, as well as learners of English).  There is a need!  I can help.

But what was missing? Wherefore the dread and tears?

I lacked the desire.

Yesterday, in the car driving home from an ‘intercambio’ with a Columbian gal where we spent 30 minutes in English followed by time for me in Spanish, I was thinking about ‘what I had to do’ the rest of the day for ‘my business’.  And I dreaded the plans.

I turned off the podcast I was listening to in the car.  To think. What is it I REALLY want to do, where I don’t feel driven? That’s easy.!  I really want to speak Spanish easily. I already spend time each day with Spanish content.  And I look forward to it.  NO DREAD!

Aha!  DESIRE!!!

That is what has been missing all along in this business.

So yesterday when Graham reminded me of Paul’s word to the Galatians, I knew he was speaking Truth. Direct from my good and loving Father.

I don’t have to pursue English without Fear as a business.  God has given me space and time to slow down. To enjoy life. To savor NOT rushing.

But what about…..

I don’t know. But, here’s a thought: I could just keep creating English without Fear videos as a ministry.  No schedule.  Nothing to prove.  Just as a service.

I already have the identity Christ bought for me – ‘chosen, redeemed, beloved daughter and little sister in Christ’.  I already have a purpose for living – to glorify God by enjoying Him THIS day.

Phil 4:5 says – Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;

Please forgive me, ALL of you who have graciously put up with and borne my grim, head-down, no-time-for-play presence.

I’ve been living contrary to God’s Word, by letting my DRIVENNESS be known to everyone.

Which Maria do you think will refresh others?

 

 

 

 

Who am I, functionally?

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Do you recall Aesop’s fable about the scorpion and the frog? It goes like this.

A frog was about to cross a stream.  A scorpion sitting on the bank asked him for a lift on his back.  The frog hesitated: “What guarantee do I have that you won’t sting me?” he probed. The scorpion reassured him: “If I sting you, then I’ll die, too, as you sink into the water.”  Reassured, the frog started off across the stream with the scorpion on his back. Sure enough, in the middle of the journey, the scorpion stung the frog.  “Why did you do that?” blurted out the frog as paralysis set in. “It’s my nature,” shrugged the scorpion.

I’ve been thinking about identity and actions and the interplay between them ever since I read this verse in Nehemiah 9:8: You have kept your promise, for you are righteous.

What I realize is that the pattern of actions flowing from character and identity work both ways.  Whether we talk about God or you and me.

You can SEE my identity from what I do and say.  Not my true identity but what I functionally believe is my identity.   A lot of times I don’t ACT as a chosen child of God.

The Bible gives us many descriptions of who we are IF we are in Christ, that is if we have been made alive by Christ.

Here are just 3 of these ‘who you are’ statements:

Galatians 4:7 So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if you are a son, then you are also an heir through God.

Hebrews 2:11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.

John 14:26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

From these facts above, this is who I am:

  • I am a son/daughter of the living God, PLUS an heir.
  • I am the brother/sister of Jesus.
  • I am the recipient of the permanently assigned Holy Helper/Counselor/Teacher.

First off, I hear, that is I learn, that I have a family.  I have a holy Father and a divine Brother who is NOT disappointed or ashamed to call me sister.  On top of that, I am coming into an inheritance. Furthermore, I have a protective tutor and guide who will be with me every day on this earth.  I will NEVER be poor, overlooked or ill-advised, ever!

What’s the problem, then?

Just that, if you judged me by my thoughts, my words, my fears, my obsessions or actions, you would NEVER know my identity, that I belong to such an amazing Family.

I know I am not alone in this case of ‘identity amnesia’.  There is, after all, a war going on.  A spiritual battle against the evil, dark, power-full, hate-filled sworn enemy of God.  He uses our brokenness and the pressing needs about which we daily/hourly petition the Lord.

Isn’t this so? Aren’t you dealing with, as-yet unanswered prayers regarding:

  • broken or breaking marriages
  • unsaved family members
  • on-going health issues that drag one down because there seems to be no possible resolution
  • work problems – not enough work or painful work with no immediate relief in sight
  • addictions, whether porn, alcohol, food or pain meds
  • fears of children committing suicide
  • money issues

We say, HOW LONG, LORD!!!!

We get tired.  I know I do. We fall prey to discouragement and fatigue and maybe even some cynicism.  We get used to living with our fears, of worrying. We get used to the voices that say, “It’s never going to change.”

But no!!!  All this may be so, but I don’t want it to be so.  No more!  I don’t want to smear the character, the good name of my Father, the Spirit or my Brother.   I praise God that He is helping me by SLOWLY rearranging my ‘wants’ and priorities:

  • He is increasing my desire to be holy, like Him.
  • He is ordering what prayer tops my daily list.

How so?  It has finally sunk in, that when Jesus taught his disciples, Pray like this…., the first 3 petitions (what should be our TOP PRIORITIES each day) are that the Father’s name BE hallowed, that His kingdom COME, and that His will BE DONE‘DONE’ as is done in heaven by the angels.

When I reflect on my words, thoughts and feelings, I see just WHO I believe myself to be.  As a daughter and a sister of the Holy Family, I have no business being fearful, anxious or discouraged. Those patterns of behavior and speech reflect really horribly on God.

I’m beginning to check myself daily:  If I am the only Christian people meet, well, would they want to join a family and gain a sister like me, one who is grumbly, worried and not sure if she can trust her Dad and Big Brother?

How God changes people

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For 9 years I struggled with bulimia; 6 years before I married Mike, followed by 3 more years.  A favorite activity of ours as young lieutenants stationed in Germany was to explore the German countryside by means of a nearby ‘Volksmarch’.  These organized 3-4 hour walks through villages and wooded beauty gave us time to talk.  I would ask Mike each week while we traipsed, “What am I going to do?  How can I manage or handle this scourge of bulimia!!?”   Poor guy!  My supportive and loving husband probably felt frustrated as he offered his comfort and solutions time and time again.

In my mind, it was all up to me to find a solution AND the motivation to implement it.  The problem was, I couldn’t trust myself to follow through, no matter how sincere my intentions were.

We were new Christians and I prayed my heart out, week in and week out.  But God didn’t give me a way to free myself from this addiction to food.  Instead, he removed the burden himself, in a creative way.  I got pregnant.

With that dramatic change in circumstances, I had a new, compelling interest and desire.   Caring for this baby growing inside of me replaced the desire to binge and purge.  Up until now, I hadn’t felt enough self-love to take care of my body. But now, for the sake of this new life growing inside of me, I WANTED to nurture myself with good foods and healthy practices.

The 7 1/2 conscious months of carrying another human being turned out to be what I needed to break the binge and purge cycle.  God be praised!

God CAN and DOES change people and we know that.  If you are a Christian, there was a time when you weren’t. Maybe you can’t remember that period if you have loved Jesus from an early age.  But many of us do recall feeling either indifferent or luke-warm about God.  And then something happened.  All of a sudden we were interested in reading our Bibles.  The things of God drew us in.  We might have attributed that newfound growing fascination as something we did. But we would be incorrect. Dead men don’t make decisions!

Paul writes to the believers in Colosse: When you were dead in your trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. (Col 2:13)

That means that any interest, any LOVE for Jesus comes from outside of us.  As Paul so bluntly argues in his letter to the Romans – ……God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Rom 5:5b)

Mike, too, has experienced this ‘from the outside to the inside change of heart’ regarding cars.  After those couple of years stationed in Germany, the land of VERY fast and powerful automobiles, Mike returned stateside with a growing, almost insatiable love for cars.  About 15 years ago Mike started noticing the decreasing pull of all things automotive.  During the span of 37+ years of marriage, we have bought, owned and sold 28 cars, not counting motorcycles.

But God!  Yes, God removed the interest, the mania, the seemingly insatiable desire for new wheels.  Mike didn’t set out to change.  In fact, he didn’t think he needed to change.  God has been working on Mike’s heart and shifting his values.

When we married at 22 (we’re now 60), we were not even believers.  Over the years, what has emerged as our favorite time of the day is something we would never have imagined in the first 25 years together.  The dinner-prep time, those 90 minutes when we’re in the kitchen fixing dinner and tomorrow’s breakfasts and lunches, we talk and listen to music.  Before we sit down to dine, we each get out our notebooks where we’ve observed and written down what we noticed in the day’s Scripture reading.  Inevitably Mike will have picked up something that passed me by and vice versa.  This in-depth exchange deepens our love and appreciation for God’s holiness and his Word. In our twenties and thirties, talking about God held no place in our daily exchanges.  God has planted and cultivated this now-cherished habit.

Last year I witnessed two other new desires that ‘came up out of nowhere’. (I’ve written previously about ‘dining with my school colleagues’ and ‘wanting to continue teaching and working on my craft of helping students with Second Language Acquisition’). What I love about God is how he surprises and delights me.   Maybe that’s what my family should etch on my tombstone, “Surprised by God!”

Recently, God did it again.  The change caught me unaware.  But this time, I connected it to a pattern.  (Why had no one comforted me with the FACT that change IS possible in God’s kingdom and that it is not all up to us!?)

Here’s what happened.  As I described above God rescued me from bulimia in my mid-twenties. Although the binge-purge pattern no longer ran my life, my obsession with eating and how I looked and felt about my body still plagued me.  The scales have been a powerful idol for decades.  Gradually God has weaned me mostly away from them.  But I still don’t trust myself to stick to any resolutions.

But God!  Yes, he has changed my desire.  Visiting with Shay and Graham over Christmas prompted an unexpected change.  They have been following a plant-based way of eating for 2 years.  Whereas I have always enjoyed the occasional vegetarian meal I considered it extreme to avoid all meat and dairy.  I like meat and dairy.  But watching the documentary Forks over Knives changed me.  I happened to ask Shay a question about the smoothie she was preparing.  It was Christmas Eve and we had a block of time before heading to church.  She asked me if I wanted to see for myself what caused them to switch.  I did and I was convinced.  Plant-based eating IS healthier and CAN minimize one’s risk for disease.  For me, it was a ‘no-brainer’.

And with that, I switched.  Mike, a very good-hearted, generous and supportive husband, agreed to drop his morning yogurt and share a smoothie with me. My lunches, breakfasts, and snacks are plant-based. And I agreed to prepare an ‘every-other-night’ entré of meat.    After all, Graham and Shay have adopted a ‘reasonable’ 80 %-of-the-time- vegan lifestyle.  This allows for eating what is served them by friends, or the occasional desire to sample something not plant-based.

A few weeks into this way of life, I recognized that I no longer care what the scale says.  What I value is eating healthy.  Surprise!  When we drove down to Tampa for Christmas, this new world of plant-based cooking was not on the radar.

So here is the principle.  Don’t angst about a change you can’t seem to make for the better.  Give it to God to bring about:

  • in his perfect way
  • in his perfect timing
  • to his glory and your blessing

Psalm 37:4  Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

PS:  I think the desires the Psalmist had in mind are not what WE think we want, but rather what God wants for us as his beloved children!

 

 

One anothering – don’t stop

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Christian friends are invaluable.  We encourage one another by listening well. We pray for each other.  We redirect sisters and brothers back to God.  We focus on firm Truth in light of scary, wobbly circumstances. We offer our presence, sometimes just simple shoulder rubs and tissues.

And we never know what will help. But we stumble ahead and give what we have. Because God is in the business of using us to comfort others.

The other day, I was still mucking around in my latest pit-version of a long-term struggle with sin. Midday, Mike threw me what turned out to be a lifeline. He emailed Psalm 37 to me at work. At least once a week he shares a reading from his daily devotional.  Nice. Familiar.  Comforting.  Insightful as to what strikes him.  But THIS TIME what he forwarded seismically changed my thinking.  As RC Sproul says, ‘Ideas have consequences.’

God used one verse, a promise, to lift me out of the mud and set me on high ground.  I was stunned by this concrete, tangible proof that…….

……the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12

God’s pledge, known and divinely written by David in Psalm 37:5 launched me into new space – a kind of freedom.  Here is how God’s promise goes:  Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him and He will do it!

Immediately I saw my sin AND the path to rescue and freedom!

For years, I have struggled with ‘how to eat’ so as to ‘feel good about my body’.  The battle came from wanting to eat as much as I want, without limits, AND wanting to feel happy in my body. Nine years of bulimia, stopped by God’s mercy due to my first pregnancy, preceded the past 35 years of overeating and agonizing.  I have learned to control, sort of, my ‘habit’ of the overeating. Yet I still obsess.

For 37 years Mike has walked with me in this struggle.  Recently his God-inspired wisdom jolted me in a healthy way.  First came his observation that perhaps God has ordained this ‘design flaw’ or THORN in the flesh to be His means to draw me to Him. New thought!

Gently he pointed out that I’ve been asking God for a way to manage or control my sin. He offered that maybe God in His goodness has NOT given me a manageable way to eat or exercise.

All along I have labeled the OVEReating as ‘THE SIN’.  I never considered that my desire to CONTROL could perhaps be sinful.

Further light opened my cage door wider.  Paraphrasing 17th century English pastor William Gurnall: When you pray to God, add a vow.  But make sure there is no hidden sin in your heart. Gurnall then cited one of David’s prayers to the effect, ‘God, grant me _________, so that I may praise you.’

Stunned into pondering how I might EVEN word a prayer request to God about this eating/control issue, I realized that any petition would basically be asking God to give me a way to control my sin.  Furthermore, the idea of adding a VOW stopped me cold.  I saw clearly for the first time that there was nothing holy in my request.

Into that void, Mike’s email sharing Psalm 37 arrived.  Again verse 5 brought light that gave me power-filled hope, what I call ‘crunchy’ or substantial.

Commit your way to the LORD

Trust also in Him 

and He will act

What I saw for the first time was this:

  • I’m to give this ENTIRE thing to Him, the triune God.  It’s not my problem or issue.
  • I’m to place all my confidence in Him, not me
  • And most importantly, HE is the one who will act

Could things be any clearer?  All along I’ve been wanting to control this problem so I could feel good about myself.  But seeing that there was nothing praise-worthy in God answering my prayer the way I have so desperately sought startled me.

Do I know what to do?  Not if I mean, do I have a new plan.

But do I know the purpose of food and the body?

Yes!  Food is to fuel my body and to enjoy.  The body I inhabit temporarily is so I can serve others and God.  The end or purpose of all I do is to glorify God.  Beyond that, I don’t need to go.

I’m still chewing on the simplicity and the power in this promise.  It FEELS to good to be true – simply to hand over a burden and trust God to act.  But I do feel free!

Conclusion?  Don’t stop offering God’s Word to others.  You don’t know ahead of time what God will use to heal someone.

 

The ball and chain of craving results

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How do you measure your day, your work, your life?  If you’re American, chances are you think only about measurable results.

What’s wrong with that?  Why would you do something if you didn’t desire a specific outcome?

This is the month when New Year’s resolutions are grasped with intensity and then discarded with quiet disappointment. Yet hope seems to re-sprout with each new beginning, whether that of a school year, a budget cycle, calendar year or sports season.

Recently I have discarded my lifelong focus on outcomes.  I had become a slave to working for a specific result.

As a professional French teacher, I long to see students achieve skill AND enjoyment in the language.  Nothing inherently wrong with that.  Except my approach has been to hand over far too much power to my students to grant me the ‘success’ or even the ‘peace’ that I crave.

Yes, ‘crave’.  In fact, I now see a pattern that has emerged in my life. As I approach the end of my 6th decade, I find it easier to see themes and responses to life that I, by my actions, have crafted, either consciously or subconsciously.  Finally, I’m gaining the courage to give myself permission to STOP.

Is anyone else like me, in measuring their day by how well people react?  You might be a kindred sister or brother if you are a doer/performer like a musician, stand-up comedian, speech-giver, writer, film maker or even a skill coach.  Or maybe you’re one of the moms at home who teach their own children and are anxious to see growth.  Or among evangelists sharing the Gospel and discipling new Christian believers.

Despair and insecurity probably haunt more people than I realize.  Will it ever end, this never feeling like we measure up?  And I’m not talking about meeting OTHER people’s standards or expectations;I’m talking about the SELF-imposed high bars?  Let’s be real and call them what they are – prison sentences!

Recently, a ray of real hope broke through this burden I pick up every day illuminating a path of escape to a more fragrant and lighter world.

My daughter-in-law, who battles the home-school version of  ‘you’re not enough’, shared a verbal picture of what another mom explained as her daily task with her children. It was SO simple and SO doable.  Boiled down, the advice is this:

  • Each day, your job is to spread an age-appropriate feast before your children of that, which is true, beautiful and good.  In such a way that they can TASTE and SEE that the Lord is GOOD. (from Psalm 34:8)

Period.  That’s it.  She is not responsible for the OUTPUT, just for the INPUT.

Light-bulb explosion.  Isn’t that also my job as a language teacher?  to provide compelling and interesting and appropriate comprehensible input to my French students?

I am NOT responsible for their output.  That is an impossible assignment.  I can’t control them.  But I CAN control what I feed them.

And is this not also applicable to missionaries, both foreign and domestic, wherever God has assigned them (and us)?  We’ve all heard stories of years of labor before even one convert results.  The heart-warming account below is just one of many such examples. Missionary who thought he had failed.

What really convinced me of the sin of prideful expectations for Maria was a quote from CRU’s last print magazine, dated Sep/Oct 2016.  To wit: “We focus excessively on our output, because we want to be judged according to our effort, not our ability to remain dependent on someone else’s finished work.”

I am seeing this new insight transform my responsibilities.  I neither DO nor CAN control results. But I AM accountable in all my relationships for what I do and say and perform per the strength that God gives.

This lessened burden seems almost too good to be true, but I am proceeding as though it is and trusting our God to keep guiding me in all truth.  To Him be the glory for to Him belongs the power.

Not my strength

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Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships,in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  2 Cor 9: 8-10

It’s been, like, 523 times that I have asked God to give me another job over the past 3 school years and 2 months.  Yet each morning as I walk up the steps to the middle school, I climb the evidence that FOR TODAY, I am in God’s will, here.  That today THIS is His plan for me.  Today my job is to work for Him as a happy, dependent ambassador…and serve my students, colleagues, parents and principal to the best of my ability as I depend on Him.

Often I FEEL that I am not up to motivating and engaging 11-14 year olds through the creative means that are required.  Teenage taste buds for anything that is not ‘fun and different’ have grown dull.  The challenge daunts and fatigues me.  Add to that, faculty meetings where I hear of and witness the creativity of my colleagues who seem to really love these kids in ways I don’t.  Together, these combustible materials fuel that inner narrative that is more excuse than accurate report:

  • I’m too old to relate to this age group
  • I can’t connect with them like my younger colleagues who are late 20s, 30s and even 40s.

But because God has seen fit to fence me in (income needs), I’m compelled to DEAL with the job He has assigned me.

In His kindness, He lightened the load last week.

Wednesday morning I was desperate. I was applying make-up and braiding my hair and musing over how to engage the bored, dull, tired 8th grade first period class. I was praying, too.  Just before I hit ‘PLAY’ to roll out the well-worn monologue of why I wish I had a different job, a new script for the day emerged!    What occurred to me was God’s promise to Paul, cited above.  As I applied it to me, I reasoned:

  • If God won’t let me escape today’s challenge, then He must be willing to provide for me.

That conclusion turned into a prayer:

  • Father, HELP!  I need to modify the plan so as to engage these students who complain of being bored. Give me an idea!

And a possible activity came to mind – one that involved a bit of partner work to engage everyone.

And you know what?  It worked.

That was Wednesday.  Then on Friday, we had one of those faculty meetings I described. Again as my inner voice intoned, “I’m too old….” But then, for some ‘strange’ reason, I stopped it and realized that it WAS possible for me to change the narrative…… from:

I’m just not good at reaching/connecting with MS kids anymore…not that creative…or fun like all these other teachers….(as in giving myself an excuse)

to:

Your grace IS sufficient for me in this area that I lack, for Your grace is made perfect in MY weakness…So please, give me the will to keep asking You for what I need today and EACH day.  By your power I CAN do this job.

Mike and I have a rule of thumb in our house.  If the cats get away with something naughty two times in a row, it’s a pattern.  If we don’t break it then and there before the 3rd occurrence, it will become ROUTINE for them.

I am now on the lookout for that 3rd time, so my new tape will be my TOP of the queue go-to one.  Old dogs CAN learn new tricks.

 

My first duty of the day – to make myself happy in God

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My hero in the faith is George Mueller, the 19th-century British pastor who together with his wife established and ran orphanages for four to five decades.  He intentionally journaled throughout those years in order to encourage the ordinary Christian to live and work by simple but powerful faith.  He wanted the average Christian to KNOW that learning to pray in reliance on Jesus was a tool and blessing that all could learn to do, with powerful results.

One of his personal resolutions that he followed to the benefit of thousands goes like this:

“The first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day is to have my soul happy in the Lord.

Life may be falling down around us, but to be a Christian means to be the possessor of the most precious and lasting treasures imaginable.

It’s probably like this for you, but when that morning alarm breaks into my oblivion, it’s like I have forgotten all that is true and unchanging.  What hits me is the immediacy of the day’s circumstances.  And given this suffering and corrupted world, many days seem to loom difficult and heavy-laden when I get up.   If I let my feelings take their cue from those first thoughts, I will stay depressed throughout the day.  Or I will use something created to distract myself, what God calls an idol. (food, email, escape reading)

God offers an alternative if we but follow it.  Christian are called to rejoice always (1 Thess 5:16). Therefore, Mueller’s advice is not optional if we are to obey our Father in heaven.

I don’t intend to talk about how I go about making myself happy in God.  What I rather mention is why God wants his children to be happy they belong to him.  I’m learning the reason God commands me to exult in him is because joy in God is key to loving others.

Listening the other day to a sermon by John Piper I actually felt capable for the first time of LOVING OTHERS.  You remember how Jesus summed up the Law in Matthew 22:40 by saying in effect:

  • Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength
  • Love your neighbor as yourself

Because I seem to be wired more as a rational person than a loving, emotional person, I’ve struggled with what love looks like according to God.  I often feel guilty that I don’t FEEL love towards my neighbors.

But the way John Piper explained love, it sounded doable for a Christian empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Piper explained what God means by love like this: “Love is the overflow and expansion of joy in God, which gladly meets the needs of others”

Given THAT definition, making myself happy in God each morning is not only life-preserving to me, but equally necessary for those around me.  When I have re-established and reconnected with WHY I can be happy no matter how crummy the day’s circumstances may be, then I have strength and energy to move out of myself toward others.  That is the ONLY way to love others.

Have you ever had someone do something for you out of duty?  How does that feel?

It’s like when we tell a child, “Tell Sammy that you are sorry!”

and the child’s “Sorry” doesn’t satisfy at all.  It’s not from the heart.

Same with our deeds done to meet a neighbor’s needs.  If we help out of obligation, it’s not the same as initiating something out of the energy and God-given strength borne of joy in Him.

Joy in God is a pervasive and persistent theme in the Bible.  It doesn’t seem optional or healthy to neglect.

May this truth from Nehemiah 8:10b find its roots in you and me:

“Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the LORD is your strength!”

 

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