Protection against Prosperity

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The Lord has done great things for us, whereof we are glad! Psalm 126:3

God has come through with an extraordinary mercy to us in answer to much fervent prayer – our own cries for help along with sustained prayers offered up by family and faithful friends. I’ll tell you more in a bit.

I’ve been reading in Scripture examples about the dangers that ‘good’ times can present. King David gives us many examples. His most notorious is his complacency (leading to the Bathsheba incident) after God’s divine help in driving away Israel’s enemies. Were it not for Biblical narratives of his downfall and his own writings in the psalms we would not be warned. Yet despite his astonished and grateful joy in God’s forgiveness, over time, David’s gladness waned. He grew distracted by comfort, helped along by an increasing lack of attentiveness to his Master, the LORD.

Merriam-Webster explains complacency this way: “self-satisfaction, especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies.” Com means ‘with’ and if you recall the verb ‘to placate’ (to please) the idea of being pleased with oneself is obvious.  But self-pleasure can be dangerous, especially if we grow über-SELF-confident.

But what does prosperity in the title of this post have to do with complacency?  We can see that it was God who had made King David prosperous. And in the beginning, David’s gratitude over his ‘prosperity’ or successes was real. But he didn’t nurture that spirit of thankfulness. As life grew easier after years of hardship, his attentiveness to God slackened. He let himself get preoccupied with the gifts.  Not only was David wealthy he enjoyed multiple blessings of regional peace, family, friends. For sure during those painful, difficult years he had followed Moses’ advice to Joshua about how to be ‘prosperous’:

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Josh 1:8

But once God was gracious to him, David FORGOT the part about ‘meditate on God’s law day and night.’ A change came over the prosperous David. Enjoying God’s bounty, he let down his guard. 

I don’t want that to happen to us! 

As Mike and I have come to know our Bibles, we understand how to please our Father.  Ultimately it’s because He has changed our hearts that we WANT to obey Him. We also have grown to realize that afflictions are gifts from God that keep us clinging to Him.  They keep us needy and very close. Desperation keeps us ‘meditating on God’s Word night and day’.

Since June 2013, when we left Virginia and moved to the Asheville, NC area, we have been especially needy.   How so? through hardships right and left, one after the other. Like what, Maria?

  • a blatant closed-door, dead-end to Mike’s plan to work from home in NC as an operations research analyst
  • no open doors to other significant work for him during our time in NC
  • perplexing difficulties for me in a new school teaching French – each year in that school was laden with painful experiences. Nor could I couldn’t find another teaching position
  • Mike’s frightening heart crisis that lasted some weeks
  • his slide into depression during our 6 years in North Carolina, alienating some people
  • a surprising decision to leave mountains we loved for Mike to go back into full-time engineering work
  • then after God’s good gift of a job and sale of our house in NC, a recurrence of a physical stress symptom that had dogged Mike for 25+ years but had been absent during the previous 7-8 years. ‘Complacently’ we had assumed it would never come back.

The return of this latter affliction seemed to be the most painful of all the above. It colored Mike’s world and spilled over to me.  He could hardly avoid noticing it, because it affected his body, every day and all the time. I prayed fervently.  We both did. As did friends and family.

What else did we do?  We journaled, we tried functional medicine, Mike met with a Christian counselor.  Friends and family continued to pray and stay connected. Most of all we went deep into God’s Word. As we did, He began to change our thinking to align more with His Word. Whether you believe that He ‘allows’ or ‘sends’ suffering, in God’s hands He wills all things for our good.  We began to ask God to change our desires – that we would desire HIM more than an affliction-free life.

Then, about 4 months ago God seemed to be directing us to have Mike go back on a medication that had ‘stopped working’, one he had gone off of.  He visited his doctor, asking for a higher dose. We prayed on, willing to live with this suffering if it were God’s best for our holiness and ultimate joy.

It took a full 10 weeks for any relief to be evident.  His body started slowly to respond, in fits and starts.  Mike kept meeting with his Christian counselor.  We continued to pray, to journal, to study God’s Word. 

It is now almost the end of May 2020 and we rejoice. Mike DOES have relief. The symptoms have subsided. His body feels normal. He is visibly relaxed and cheery.  I can tell he is enjoying life in a new way. 

I check in with him each evening as we write down our God-directed thank-you’s in our prayer journal.  Then we pray for one another mentioning the next day’s needs. We don’t hesitate to ask Him for another day of relief for Mike.  Just as we ask Him to grant me a good night sleep. We take NEITHER gift for granted. We also know that God has the right to withhold both. They are not our due.

Hence my meditating on the ‘danger’ that comes with answered prayer, when the pressure lets up.  Not that God is dangerous, but that a cavalier attitude on my part can easily endanger my heart. I want to lay in place good habits of thinking. Yes, our Father IS good and He delights to give us rest and periods of joy-filled relaxation.  Mike and I are grateful for these broad or open spaces where ‘enemies have been driven back, bodies have healed, children have been born, and the harvest is plentiful.’ 

Psalm 18:9 He also brought me out into a broad place; He delivered me because He delighted in me.

So how DO I guard against complacency?  I have landed on two ways: 

  • Gratitude and
  • Humility

Gratitude looks like this for me:

  • recognizing and chattering my thanks to my Father throughout the day for all the gifts I can see 
  • mentioning His kind provision of what I might not even think to ask for, like safety or how loving my friends are

Humility looks like this for me:

  • Recognizing that I am a contingent being, that I cannot do ANY thing on my own.
  • Acknowledging daily that God, the Creator and Sustainer, gives me life moment by moment. Unless He wills that I KEEP LIVING, I am but dust molecules
  • Talking out loud to Him about what I need Him to provide NEXT in order to do the task at hand

This, then, is how I am trying to ‘walk humbly with my Lord’.

Friends and family, we want YOU to know how glad we are for the great things He has done.  Thank you for your prayers and years of encouragement throughout these past years. This new broad and fertile time is refreshing us.  We are savoring it.  It feels sweet.  We don’t deserve it, and we are grateful.  May we continue to keep our eyes on Him!

 

What do our needs tell us?

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‘You’re so needy!’

“Yep, and your point is?”

Why is it that we think something is wrong with us if we can’t do it all?  I can only speak for Americans.  It seems as though being needy is un-American.  Since our pre-founding, we’ve grown up imbibing the ambient atmosphere of:

  • pull yourself up by your own bootstraps
  • you can be/do anything you want in life
  • if it’s going to be, it’s up to me
  • plan your work, then work your plan
  • follow your passion

Actually all that rah-rah positive motivation denies the FACT that God has designed and created us AS creatures with needs.  Before the fall when He created man, He called His male and female creation VERY GOOD!  And they were needy, ON PURPOSE!  They required human companionship, food and productive work.  And they had to sleep.

As I learn to depend more on God each day, I am embracing and even liking my neediness. The Father is teaching me to request His protection, strength and wisdom in the ordinary and not just to call on Him for the ‘big things’ I can’t handle on my own. Somewhere I read that if we don’t invite God’s covering and help with the ordinary routine activities (such as cooking, driving, taking a shower without slipping, hiking/walking), then in effect we’re announcing to the Creator and Sustainer of the universe:

  • I’ve got this, God!

Besides, when we DO ask Him for help in writing a blog piece, or shopping for groceries, we re-awaken ourselves to His presence and gain an occasion to thank Him, to praise Him for His grace.

A couple of weeks ago, I read this quote from a sister blogger:

“If you’re meeting your own needs, it’s quite possible you’re not meeting the right one.”  (Quoted by Pippa in her blog, linked here)

That wake-up call to humility connected with an experience I read in Joyce Huggett’s book, Listening to God.  Seeking spiritual counseling to deal with fearful thoughts of suicide, she staggered into a new reality. Her guide led her through a confession of the sin of wanting to kill herself and prayed for her to believe and receive God’s sure forgiveness. Then he added this:  (I’ve paraphrased)

  • Now that you’ve confessed to trying to meet a very real need in a sinful way..
  • Let’s look at this underlying emotional need and see how we can address it in a way that is healthy and God-reliant.

That extra step turned out to be a turning point for the author and eye opening to me! It fit right in with the FACT that God has designed us as dependent, needy creatures. Dependency is woven into the fabric of life.   God created us incomplete and unwise without Him, cracked jars of clay requiring His support.

As Paul boasts in 2 Cor 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

Notice also that God intends to MEET our needs, Himself!  The inadequacy, or lack of confidence I feel is SUPPOSED to be the norm.  Insufficient on my own, I have been created precisely to live moment by moment, dependent on God.  And grateful.

So what does that look like in everyday life?  I’m finding a new quality of contentment in my days.  I tend to reply to myself more and more, “Well, what do you expect, Maria, from a clod of earth?  Trust the Master Gardener and rejoice that HE has written the divine Plan. He has just what you need for THIS, so fret not!”

How is embracing your neediness going for you?

 

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

The sin beneath the sin or ‘Don’t waste your sin!’

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I never saw it until this week.  It turns out that I’m like the thief who is sorry only that he was caught, not that he did anything wrong.

This realization of my hard, unrepentant heart came about through reading Extravagant Grace by Barbara Duguid

Extravagant Grace Book Cover

I had purchased it 14 months ago at a conference and finally got around to reading it.  I don’t think I would have been ready for God’s message to me any early.  (an example of His perfect timing!)

One of the central premises of the book is that God ‘s goal for us is to keep coming to a deeper humility and greater dependence on Him.  That two-prong goal actually describes spiritual maturity, according to Barbara.  In order to foster or ‘force us’ into a life-long posture of humble dependence (guess we wouldn’t gravitate toward it on our own!), God tends to leave one or two struggles with sin IN our lives.

I find that to be both encouraging AND discouraging:

  •  Encouraging, in that at least I now know that every other disciple of Christ is struggling, even if they appear to be rock-solid in their faith.
  •  Discouraging, for I recognize that I’m probably going to be fighting these faith-battles regarding my body and food the rest of my life!

At one point toward the end of her book, Barbara talks about feeling comforted knowing that Jesus both feasted and fasted perfectly on her behalf.  She has been a life-long fellow food-aholic.  I found myself sputtering when I read those words.  As I struggled to articulate my objection, God allowed me to pinpoint the problem.  In fact I wrote the author a letter asking her, “What can you write me, give me to HELP deal with this objection?”

Maria’s objection:

  • When I overeat, I don’t really care that it’s a sin….against God
  • I just care that I’m stuck with the consequences
  • Knowing that I’ve overeaten, I immediately withdraw INTO myself as I berate, regret, flail around for a fix to this problem
  • Consumed JUST with me, I could care less about anyone around me; I retreat into my interior world and my demeanor is just plain hard toward others

Apparently putting into words just what is my sticking point was what I needed to do, for since composing that email to the author God has been working to help me to see the REAL problem.

epiphany

Here’s the result of my ‘Eureka!’

  • Overeating is not the sin
  • Overeating is something that happens occasionally
  • The sin window of temptation actually begins at the moment my stomach registers an overload and asks, “Maria – Why did you fill me this full???”
  • It’s at this point that I can choose a reaction along the lines of “Oh well, the food tasted really good and I guess I did eat more than I should.  I’ll eat less at the next meal.  Thank you, Father, for this feedback from my body that prefers balance.”  OR……
  • I can start the familiar pattern of recriminations and churning around how to ‘make up for/put right/regain leanness/compensate for/undo what I’ve just done’
  • I can start to rail against reality and say, “It should not be! I thought I was better than this, more controlled.  How could I have let myself overeat like that? I know how much to eat; so how did that quantity of food slip past the guards unnoticed!  Now look at what I’m going to have to do!!! – deny myself food pleasure in the immediate future to undo this damage.”

It’s self-pity. It’s pathetic.  It’s all about me.  And THAT is the sin!  All along I’ve thought that the overeating was the sin.  I’m just beginning to glimpse that what’s beneath the behavior that bothers me is the sin of self-righteousness and self-absorption.  That’s the SIN BENEATH THE SIN. Because it reveals that I care MOST about my body and Jesus comes 2nd or 3rd or……

One application and one sign of hope:

First the application:

  • I realize that the next temptation to sin will start the moment I have already overeaten. And I can be sure that there WILL BE a next time.  I’m a typical human who is easily swayed.  I’m not a programmed machine.

The hope:

  • There are still plenty of spiritual growth opportunities that God intends to nurture from this fertile pastureland of food control and self-image

Today in Sunday School, Mike was teaching on a passage from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church.  His closing words gave me pause.  He summed up the lesson with this thought:

“Thank goodness for the messed-up Corinthians!  Because of their sin, we have these rich letters from Paul!”

So maybe my sin is not just for my benefit.  Maybe the assurance that “God works ALL things for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purposes” (Romans 8:28) means ALSO that God is causing my sin to serve not just me, but other Christians as well.  At least I can thank Him for not wasting my sin!

The twin evils of smugness and envy

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I was feeling smug. Admiring my ability to juggle this and that. Compared to others.  Evaluating myself next to another sister. He pulled me up short. As realization of sin spread, so did horror.

Juggling life

“I repent, Lord! Forgive me! I see! Truly! I humble myself. You don’t need to do anything else to get my attention. Seriously!”

 

For what had flashed across my consciousness about God was this:

“You, the all-wise and infinitely good God, have perfectly arranged this fellow Christian’s plate with the appropriate palate of weaknesses, strengths, characteristics, bents, abilities, talents, habits (good and bad), circumstances, and experiences all intended for her to grow in the knowledge and love of your Son. Every piece on that plate of hers is necessary to her sanctification and growth in holiness. You planned each one, the good and the ugly!”

And You have done the same for me. Who am I to boast about this or that as though they were due to my efforts and smarts? All along You are the one who has traced out our paths? And more pointedly, who am I to complain about the potholes in the road if they are according to Your will?

“Father, I see that this constant comparing of me with others produce either envy or pride and both are evil! Deliver me from these sins, please! Pride says: Look at me!  Envy says: You are a bad God not to give me what I want/deserve!

Since that day a week ago, He has continued to show me that He does indeed ordain and govern all circumstances. Because He is in charge of every molecule in the universe I can trust what He commands me to do:

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6-8

Not evaluating, not judging the circumstances of others is wise. That’s God’s business. Do you remember Peter’s comment to Jesus as told by John after Jesus appeared to his eleven disciples post resurrection?

“So Peter seeing him (John) said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man? Jesus said to him, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!’” John 21:21-22

Several times a day as my smug-o-meter rises, (that is – when I awake to this sin), I put myself back in my place. I say to myself:

“Maria, you have died! And the life you now live, you live by faith in Jesus. (Gal 2:20) That is to say – you move and live and have your being attached to Him. If there be any good in your life, it is only good because of Him. So give it up, this thinking that there is something good in or about you alone!”

That truth not only humbles me, but it liberates me. Since all that is good in me through faith is a gift, I don’t have to worry about earning it. And since Jesus has given me the most costly gift, Himself, I can trust Him to give me any and all such that He deems good for me for godliness and life (2 Peter 1:3)

PS:  When I caught myself later on in the week doing my ‘I’m-so-good dance’, I realized that God was showing me a specific way to PRAY for this fellow Christian.  Again, I repented.  We are all different, intentionally.  He has arranged each of us in the Body of Christ as He sees fit.  Therefore, we are to encourage and pray for one another. It’s in our best interests, after all.  Another gentle smack-down!

The danger of worry and anxiety

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When I was mucking around in my anxiety, Satan’s lies slipped past my defenses and entered my mind as MY own thoughts and MY own analysis of reality.

Satan's lies

 

 

 

You can call this blog post Prayer Part 5 – what happens when you don’t trust God ON whom you had cast all your worries.

A couple of months ago, I offered to share some insights I had learned about contentment at a conference I attended in June.   A Saturday morning workshop for the women of my church seemed like a good idea back in July.  I don’t work during the summer and I was enjoying a more leisurely-paced life when I suggested this to my pastor.

Here’s reality:  School has been underway for 4 weeks now. The workshop is scheduled for 6 days from now.  I still need to review and finalize the material.   I didn’t realize that I was counting on VISIBLE chunks of time later in the week.  Just the night before one of those chunks became rescheduled with something else – a very good something else.  Nonetheless, that block of time dropped off my schedule and I had been fighting anxiety for 24 hours.

It’s GOOD to plan ahead.  But we should not rely on or TRUST the provision we can plan, orchestrate and see in lieu of trusting the only true and most capable provider whose name is Jehovah Jireh – ‘the Lord will provide‘.

It was Thursday, almost 6 pm and I was en route home from Asheville having done the weekly grocery shopping.  I knew that I would have very little time to relax (aka READ) before having to go to bed.  There were groceries to put away, dinner to fix (albeit a simple one), my breakfast and lunch to sort, chop and prepare, dinner to enjoy with my husband and then dishes.  But I was praying and believing God that He could stretch my 15 minutes or so of ‘me time’ to make it AS satisfying as 45 minutes.  And I had finally turned over the workshop reduced planning time THING to God and was trusting Him in the present situation at hand.

But then Mike (who writes from home for World magazine) casually mentioned that his audio piece had aired that day. We usually grab our drinks and head downstairs to listen on the big speakers to his 4-minute technology segment he writes and records.

My first thought: This will cost me SEVEN whole minutes!  Grim Wife And out popped GRIM WIFE!

I said tight lipped, “I don’t have time to listen right now, would you mind terribly if we listen tomorrow?”  And I slid into the sin of unbelief AND idolatry.

The most important thing I could have done at that moment was value my husband and trust God to stretch the time.  Instead I put MY agenda over my husband’s needs.  My anxiety and panic and yes – my anger at being so limited in time began to grow as my vision took in JUST my needs and the resources I could see.

I’ll spare you the ‘bad-to-worse back and forth’ my anxiety caused my husband and me.  But you can imagine the 24-hour coldness that invaded our relationship.  The discouraging truth was that I was doing the very opposite of what God has been emphasizing to me over the past few weeks – trusting Him with my worries in order to be:

  • clear-headed,
  • single-minded and
  • focused on the one and only thing that is important – His kingdom right here

God commands us to humble ourselves AND hand over our worries to take care of because we actually have MORE important work to do than our own agenda.  We’re to pray.

And when we don’t, the ever-roaming enemy Satan, creeps in to devour our peace and contentment and joy in Jesus. How uncanny that this ‘fight’ happened right before a workshop that might help women step out of some unbelief in their lives….

Sorry

I’m happy to report that our Father gave me a repentant heart desiring to ask my husband’s forgiveness and to get back on track doing what is in my job description and NOT what is above my pay grade.

 

 

Disclaimer:  My husband IS a huge help around the house.  He cleans our house every Friday since he works from home and I commute almost an hour each way to school.  And it’s not like he was standing by idly while I was putting away groceries.  He had gotten our produce box from the farm.  He had carried in all the groceries and put away the 2nd frig stuff.  Much of the chopping and prep of salads and veggies is for my breakfast and lunch.

Do sheep ever worry?

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sheep

 

Obedience, aka the humility to hand over my troubles, to my Heavenly Father has been this season’s lesson.

In the last two blog posts I  detailed how I can now see that the injunction to ‘Cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you’ (1 Peter 5:7) can NOT be taken in isolation, as we Christians are wont to do.

What is missing is the all-important context without which we will MIS-understand God’s message to us.

So what DOES precede this comfortable command of letting go of our distracting worries? Oh..just..the fact that handing over these concerns and anxieties is one way God wants us to humble ourselves.

 

Ambassador for Christ

And what follows the command? Just the reminder of our mission and duty as an ambassador of Christ – that we are to be clear and single-minded so we can watch out for our enemy who is on the hunt for distracted Christians. We are actually assigned to be our ‘brother’s keeper’, our ‘brother’ being those dear fellow believers who are distracted by their worries.

 

With that review, let me give you a peek at Part 3 of God’s lesson plan. The Holy Spirit used a couple of teachings by John Piper to give me some concrete practice in trusting God.

In a series of talks about faith in future grace, Piper reminded me of the only way to prevent distracting worries. Power to hand over concerns and live single-mindedly and focused, as God commands, is only possible if we take as true and sure God’s promises of His adequate provision.

I need to recall that God’s interactions with me until now have been ALL GRACE. Two ways I see His past grace:

  • First – I was saved according to His unearned favor given me
  • Second – Everything I have received ….from energy, to eyesight to education to equipping for tasks has come as a gift from God

So there is a pile of past grace I can look back to for encouragement. But that is not all! His Word looks forward and announces brand new mercies and grace-giftings to come to me.

All I have to do, and I’m practicing REMEMBERING this throughout the day, is breathe in the assurance that whatever lies ahead in the next 5 seconds or 5 minutes is known by Him. And AS life unfolds both in the ordinary daily tasks of teaching French and tending my home as well as the crises, God IS providing what I need.

Simple to grasp, challenging to practice.

Jar of clay

To you, I can admit that I am the clay pot WITH cracks. I don’t HAVE to pretend that I am competent and have it all together. It’s only the world around me that clamors for proof of my self-exalting independence. What a trap!

 

Down to where the rubber meets the road: we’re on a trip to Mike’s alma mater for his 35th class reunion. So many all the many details and circumstances appear ARE out of our control. As I notice my tension, I breathe out my anxiety and breathe in Holy Spirit oxygen and relax. Everything from preparing the substitute plans, to packing, to cat-minding considerations as well as the travel and healthy food arrangements can easily overwhelm me.

I do the above, relax and then MORE concerns pop into my mind. For example, even after God provided for situations that occurred during the day, (rental car, NJ Turnpike, arriving at reunion events reasonably on time) later that night other future situations loomed large. I had to STOP thinking about those details and hand over my ‘right’ to worry. Hasn’t God promised to provide for the next day ON the morrow? Is He not trustworthy?

You’d think I’d come into my heavenly inheritance a week ago and was still getting used to the idea!

What patience Abba Dad exercises with His little kids! I’m thankful He sees this as training for the responsibilities that await us as co-heirs with Jesus.

May you and I trust Him enough to accept with relief and rest that each lesson does have a divine objective. Nothing is wasted or without purpose. Even the suffering.

Thanks be to God!

Question: What promise of future grace can you place your faith in right now?

PS: I have let this post percolate over our travel days. Early this morning as I lay in bed, the first faith skirmish of the day commenced. I started to worry about arriving home late with little time to repack and head off first thing Tuesday morning as a teacher/chaperone for the two-day 8th grade class camp experience. Would I be able to fix dinner, repack, sleep enough and head out the door at 6:45 am on Tuesday morning ready to extravert some more?

What finally settled my anxious heart and scattered mind was Psalm 23.

  • The Lord IS my shepherd
  • He WILL provide
  • There are still waters and green blades of grass in fields I don’t yet see

Good shepherd

I rested easier in bed as I meditated on these facts of future grace and mercy.

Why God wants to be the one to take care of our worries

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Last week I practiced handing over each worry/anxiety/problem/’concern’ as it came up as an act of obedience to God’s call to humble myself by transferring/dumping/casting them on Him. (…when I remembered!)

Not my problem

 

 

 

 

God’s words as recorded by Peter was my guide (1 Peter 5: 6-7):

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

The new thought that pressed in on me, though, was the ultimate reasons God gives for why we MUST hand over our burdens.  The first one is explicit, a kind of ‘DUH’:

  • we are to hand them over to God because it is actually HE who is the one handling them!  It’s not something He says He WILL do, but that He right now is undertaking. So when we hold on to them and ‘think about‘, aka WORRY, we’re just spending precious energy in a maelstrom of anxiety that is accomplishing ZILCH.

But here’s what is even cooler about God’s command. I’ve always stopped after verse 7, not noticing what follows.  There happens to be an even MORE crucial reason why we are NOT to invest energy into our problems.  Look at the next exhortation as verses 8 and 9 continue the thought:

  • Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith.

When I really read these words, letting them sink in, the Holy Spirit reminded me that ‘…I am not my own.  I was bought with a price….I am an ambassador for Christ..I am on duty – always!’

And what good is a soldier on duty if he is distracted?  Our orders are to be alert and watchful:

Enemy the devil

 

 

 

 

I’m beginning to see that my thinking has been too small.  My error was believing – falsely – that my worries were my own business and didn’t impact anyone else.

I obviously have forgotten that I am responsible ALSO to my brothers and sisters in Christ, to look out for their spiritual well being.  And if I am so self-absorbed; if I am acting like a functional atheist who has no good and loving Heavenly Father, I am hurting the Church.

Here’s what I want to remember this week, that with Holy Spirit power I am both encouraged and am capable to:

  • trust in my good Father at all times (Ps 62:8)
  • not depend on MY understanding of the problems, worries, concerns, needs that concern me and my loved ones (Prov 3:5)
  • not do anything from selfish conceit, but be concerned and interested in the lives of others (Phil 2:3-4)

Family of God

New Beginnings….. or Repentance aka 180 turnabout

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There’s NO way – I don’t HAVE the time!

No time

Have you ever found yourself going ’round and round’ with the same problem, unable to see a way forward?

Time is always the most stalwart of constraints, or so I thought until a new idea collided with my lifestyle time routine.

Over the years as the internet has exploded with content, I have gradually added to my daily life blog posts in both French and English about logic, French culture, teaching foreign languages, apologetics, Biblical Christianity, word origins, cooking and fitness.  Innocent at first, prideful as time passed, I got used to  beaming inwardly at having grown into a well-read, thinking person.  On top of that I would boast (to myself of course!) how I was not like others who WASTE time with TV and idle chatter, but I was one of those few ‘efficient users of time’.

Truth be told, I had become a slave to all the content, spending up to one and a half hours a day reading, saving and forwarding on to friends and family (I truly apologize for blitzing your inboxes with stuff – all very ‘good for you’, you know!)   I took pride in this self-appointed ‘job’, yet felt constrained as I continually pushed up against the 24 hours that God has allotted to each one of us.

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Then an offer to audit an on-line seminary course on Biblical Womanhood arrived and I was intrigued.

Info about the course is here

Realistically, I knew that there was NO WAY I could fit the required on-line viewing, reading and study into my soon-to-ramp up teaching life this fall unless I eliminated something.

Here’s where God came in – by His providential timing, my oldest son Graham gifted me with a book he re-reads every year.  Pen in hand, I started working through it this week.  Some of Tim Ferriss’ ideas shattered my self-limiting notions about time!Four Hour Work Week

 

 

 

 

  • Being busy is a form of laziness
  • Lack of time is actually lack of priorities

I have ALWAYS asked God to stretch my time, but never have I asked Him to re-order my activities or even IF what I was doing was what He wanted me to do with my His time. 

If you haven’t guessed already, I like to read.  I REALLY like books and there’s never enough TIME!

So prompted by the impending collision of Tim Ferriss’  new ideas AND the desire to add something to my life, I turned ruthless!

  • Yesterday I unsubscribed from all but 3 email blogs,
  • eliminated ALL my Feedly subscriptions
  • and even dropped off the professional list-serves I have followed for 13 years.

This is good news for ALL of my friends and family.  I won’t be passing on more stuff that you either

-read out of politeness and delete

-or delete and feel guilty about

Change can exercise a snow-ball effect.  Along with freeing up study time by eliminating screen time, I have decided that the amount of sleep I get during the summer when I’m not in school is what I really need to feel good.  So come the start of the new school year, I will do the following: instead of getting up super early in time BOTH to walk AND do my daily Bible study ‘cum’ prayers, I will sleep the 7 and one half hours optimal for me and shift Bible time to the evenings when I’m not rushed.

As David prayed in Psalm 31, verse 15:

My times are in your hand;
    rescue me from the hand of my enemies

My Times are in your hands

 

 

 

I used to ask God to STRETCH ‘my’ time.  How arrogant – as though I knew best how to fill the time allotted to me!

It’s BABY STEPS in this new way of asking Him what He wants me to do with HIS time entrusted to me to steward.

Question: What new idea from God has recently turned YOUR world upside down?

How difficult is humility?

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So many counter-intuitive truths in the Bible:

-It is better to go to a house of mourning than to a house of feasting (Eccl 7:2)

-If someone takes your tunic, give him your shirt also (Luke 6:29)

-Happy are the poor in spirit for they have the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt 5:3)

-God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6)

 As Tullian Tchividjian, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church puts it, the way up is down.

I’ve been thinking a lot about humility these days.  The brain is funny (and so again is the Holy Spirit as He works with the brain and our seeing).  Once your brain widens the filter to notice something, you start seeing that very same something all over the place.

My friend and I have been reading a book that including a chapter on humility and submitting to God.  Another friend gifted me with a book about purposefully humbling one’s heart when God sends suffering.  “Father, are You trying to communicate something to me?”

Earlier in the week, I ran across this two-word sound byte from God’s Word:

  “ …..seek humility……”  (Zeph 2:3) – it’s just a bit of Zephaniah’s advice to the people of Judah in around 625 BC.

Why would anyone CHOOSE to seek humility?

  • Only to avoid having the God of the Universe as your enemy
  • Only to avoid falling
  • Only to get more grace

God is so pragmatic. He WANTS us to seek rewards. He WANTS us to count the cost. He purposefully offers incentives.  We are stupid when we don’t do what is in our own best interests.

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God always seems to illustrate His commands with real-life examples. Just last week He gave me a ring-side seat to witness the payoff for humility through my husband’s vocational life.  Mike just retired from 32 years of government service.  He has fought hard to make a difference on a daily basis.  But divine providence, aka God, has constrained him most of those years. In fact, I would say that Mike has enjoyed only about 2 years of government work.  One year involved him researching, writing and then presenting a briefing multiple times to senior leaders.  This cutting-edge intelligence analysis focused on the Soviet military’s tech threat in the 80s. Mike loved that work.  The job that followed was equally satisfying.  After some schooling at the Army’s intelligence center and school, he taught current doctrine to successive classes of senior leaders. The other jobs wearied him.  Right-brained, intuitive introverts who like to think don’t find their home in bureaucracies.

Why would God keep him in jobs that frustrated him?  In hindsight, I can see the rich blessings that have come from this L-O-N-G vocational desert.

  • He has been protected from the danger of work becoming an idol.
  • Safe from the siren’s lure of ‘work harder to climb the ladder’, Mike has had the time to invest in his sons.  Present for ball games, swim events, theater performances and parents’ nights at school, Mike communicated to Graham and Wes that he loved them and cared about what they were doing.
  • Long hours of rich dinner-time discussions, background music playing, exposed the boys to conversation, argumentation and the world of music.  The daily dinner hour provided a relaxed forum for all of us to practice the art of reason and articulating our beliefs.
  • Working for the government guaranteed Mike both the means for periodically taking a couple of hours off to catch games, but also time for family vacations.  God blessed us through my dad who was financially able to share trips with us.  We travelled to Europe, Alaska, and the Caribbean and Viet Nam Veteran reunions with Pop. Thankfully, Mike had vacation days to be with us.
  • No chance of a swelled head.  Not seeing much fruit for his labor kept Mike pressing in to God, crying out to Him.  We both prayed hard, day after day, to understand why he was so stymied in his vocational desires.

All those circumstances humbled Mike.  Hence his (and my) surprise at the accolades he received from multiple sources in the weeks leading up to and the day of his retirement ceremony.   Colleagues and supervisors started gifting him and taking him to lunch as his last day drew closer.  Then at his official ceremony, the speeches by his two big bosses affirmed him by detailing his unique contributions.  There was also a short movie prepared by our son Graham that included all sorts of family photos and video messages from Mike’s mom, favorite cousin Terry, son Wes who is deployed and his dear brother, Steve. From the perspective of time, the overview of Mike’s life let him (as well as others) see that his life since age 18 HAS been rich. Friends and family who travelled to witness/share his retirement also gave testimony to his contributions. The cards, presents and remarks were all pure gift.  This was evidence of the impact that Michael has unknowingly made these past years. 

God DOES give more grace to the humbled.  And this MORE exceeds what one ‘might’ lose by not trying to ‘make it.

Seek humility?  Doesn’t sound like fun, but who are we to know best? As Graham was saying last night in a moment of shared reflection, “It’s exhausting trying to make a name. How do you know when you’ve done enough?”  But the humble way, which involves serving others and putting others first, turns out to be easiest.  As we start to go lower, God gives us help and praises us for our stumbling, impure efforts in that direction.  Like an encouraging parent applauding his little one taking that first step, our heavenly Father praises us for all our faltering steps toward self-imposed humility.

It’s not rocket science figuring out what we have to do to earn God’s highest praise:  “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

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