A Rule of Life

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I feel blah, relishing nothing in the future.  It’s a Friday night, on the cusp of summer and 9 weeks off from school.  My mind thinks about upcoming trips.  I should be excited.  I’ll be with family; there’s even a 5-day cruise in my future.  But nothing stirs.

I finish dinner.  It tasted good! But it’s over.  I briefly ponder the merits of having some chocolate with me tea.  Maybe that’ll make my unhappiness and blah-ness go away.

But I don’t indulge and the next morning I’m glad.  The dessert would not have made me content in the long run.

I go to bed before too long, for even my book doesn’t satisfy.  My husband checks in with me a couple of times, ‘You okay?’  He cares, but I rather not go into it then.  After all, he has his ‘Ecclesiastes Moments’ too, when, as penned by Solomon, nothing under the sun satisfies any more.

The next morning, Saturday, I start my morning with a John Piper archived sermon.  He’s preaching from Isaiah 58: 8-11 about how a certain kind of fasting brightens your day.

“Then shall your light break forth like the dawnand your healing shall spring up speedily; if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.”

That’s the kind of light and satisfaction I yearn for!

There’s time for one more sermon as I exercise and I listen to John Piper in a current commencement address at Boyce college talk about ‘Sacred Schizophrenia.  Truth marinates as I finish up my exercise routine.  I settle in with a cup of hot coffee and open up God’s Word to read today’s assigned chapters according to the Chronological Reading Plan Mike and I follow.   

One foray into Scripture leads to another and I come upon Jesus’ harsh words to Peter that seem to reinforce Piper’s call to deal harshly with the unholy self (one of the two selves living in a kind of schizo struggle).  He corrects his outspoken disciple, Peter, admonishing him to move his mind OFF of man-centered priorities and onto what matters to God.  Matthew records what follows like this: 

Then Jesus told his disciples: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  Matt 16: 24-25

I’ve always shied away from the idea of denying myself.  After all, I’m an arch hoarder of time, of energy.

But I’m feeling empty….maybe that’s where fencing off daily time and space for myself has gotten me. Bankrupt and unsatisfied.

Turning 60 this year has stimulated a lot of this kind of self-reflection.  In my 20s, 30s and early 40s, I was busy with children and work.  And then our sons left home for college, work and marriage and I had time to think.  A lot.  Mike has gone through this soul reflection as well.  The kind of wondering ‘What’s it all about, Alfie?’.  Looking at others rushing to and fro and asking: ‘What is any of this for, any way?’

But this morning, I see a glimmer.  Piper says that once we have been born again, we have a new self.  But the facts are like this:  our old man is continually at war with our new man until the day we die.  This old man is a liar, as are Satan and the world.  But God doesn’t leave us clueless and alone.  Thankfully, He points us to what will TRULY satisfy, every time.  Speaking through the prophet Isaiah and then in Jesus’ words to His disciples, He instructs:

Only by putting to death the desires prompted by the old man and giving to those who are hungry and oppressed and naked will we find a life, daily, which satisfies.

So what does that look like, practically, when I’m on the cruise this summer, at my mother-in-law’s for a week, at home this summer, in my classroom?

Solomon has the last word and I find the peace that I need from Eccl 2: 24-26

A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness,

From Matthew and Isaiah I have already seen what pleases God:  

  • when someone hungry crosses my path, I can offer food in the form of a listening, sympathetic ear, some of God’s Word and a prayer right then and there when appropriate

But it starts with a daily re-commitment to suffer with Christ as necessary, to deny my old worldly self that hoards time and energy and a willingness to travel this day WITH Jesus, depending on Him to guide and supply and protect me.

And that’s not all.  God intends for me to also enjoy the simple pleasures of every day life, eating, drinking and working.  These are, indeed, gifts from God TO me.  When I do them acknowledging His goodness, I bring glory to God.

Later on during the day while we hike, I share with Mike what He has revealed. Already light has dawned.  I HAVE a mandate of how to live, a new rule of life.  I know what to do at each stage, whether now, almost 60 or at age 93 and in assisted living!  The burden and gloom have lifted. I revel in the beauty of the day and how good it feels to move my body and be with the man whom I love.

I’m a Friday person with my eye on Sunday

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I recently changed my ‘business card’.  For God has been weaning me from my dependence on merit badges or self-promoting tag lines. For years I felt the need to trumpet how great I am because I do XYZ. In my case – I teach French and many people have ‘oohed and aaahed’ appropriately upon learning that.

In the stripping away or burnishing off the tarnish, I have gone to a simple card that communicates my name, email, blog links and one verse.

Selecting just one God truth or promise as representative of what I believe challenged me.  I settled on:

  • sorrowful, yet always rejoicing from 2 Cor 6:10

Christians and non-believers look at life through different lenses – either via God and His good sovereign control over every molecule or via the haphazard, random circumstances of life.  This divide even extends to how we view the days of the week.

‘Worldlings’** or non-Christians live in the fog of Monday, but live for foggy Friday, which the world sells as the best day of the week.

Christians live in the Friday of this world (remembering the Cross) – that is they acknowledge that life on earth before Jesus returns is primarily one of suffering and sin, punctuated by joy and glimpses of beauty and goodness all the while bounded by God’s grace.

But Christians live for Sunday. For a restored and resurrected, categorically new and different heaven and earth.

Why am I writing about such heavy matters one week into the New Year?  For one, I am a happy realist.  The Bible has made me that way.  I’m learning, slowly, that through the school of neediness and suffering, our good Father blesses me.  In a recent broadcast (26 Dec 2016) Joni Eareckson Tada mentioned that very truth, a truth universal to Christians who rely on a Biblical lens to make sense of life. She explained Jesus’ challenge to His followers….

  • ….whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  Matthew 16:24 

….as an invitation to know Him through suffering.  That’s it in a nutshell:  the only path to know the 2nd person of our Triune God in an intimate, satisfying, joy-producing way is to walk yoked with Him in what has been named the Via Dolorosa, or ‘Pain Street’.

But our pain is NOT meaningless pain.  God’s directed hardships have many purposes. I give thanks for how they keep me desperate for Him.

I’m slowly learning the futility of trying to duck or avoid His purposeful pain.  I’m acquiescing to the fact that it’s easier, safer and quicker to cling gratefully to Jesus.

If you dipped into my blog posts from 2016 I think you’ll notice that I am growing to embrace this truth:

  • My neediness is God’s best gift to me.

Unable to handle life on my own (and willing to proclaim that truth to anyone who cared to listen) has taught me to call constantly on God.  And He always comes through.  This inability to live independently of my Heavenly Dad also keeps me glued to what He has to say to me in His inspired Word. I HAVE to meet with Him each morning, just like I HAVE to eat.

So ‘clingy’ to Jesus have I now grown, that wanting to advertise THAT central fact about Maria is what I want people to know about me.  In this area, I rejoice to see some progress, growing more like my Uncle Paul.

  • As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Galatians 6:14

 

**worldling

noun

1. a person who is primarily concerned with worldly matters or material things
Modern Language Association (MLA):
“worldling”. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 28 Dec. 2016. <Dictionary.com http://www.dictionary.com/browse/worldling>.

What makes you happy is a clue to who you are

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Matthew 16:26 – What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

“I need to get an A on my Psych test this week!”

  • Why?

“It’ll make me happy!”

  • Why?

“If I do well in my major, then I can get into a good grad program.”

  • Why do you want that?

“So I can have a career as a clinical psychologist”

  • Why?

“I think I’ll be happy in that profession and find it rewarding!”

  • Why?

“When I was a child, my family and I were greatly helped through some sessions with a counselor.  I think that I’d be happy assisting people the same way.”

The pastor who shared this scenario did not go any deeper with his questioning of the college student.  But had he probed closer, a possible subsequent question might have been:

  • Why does it make you happy to help people?

I think the truthful answer to that question is key to revealing the source of our hope, joy, value, identity, purpose – in a word, our VERY essence.

Here is why it matters.  If our hope, our happiness-source is anything but Jesus, we have engaged in a DOOMED quest for 2 reasons:

1) we’ll never be satisfied the way we are wired to be

2) we can lose THAT which we might gain

This reality came to a head for me on Friday.  I started my day at 4:20 am with my ritual worship at the alter of MY WEIGHT, aka the bathroom scale.  Talk about God’s sovereignty – He controls my body to such a degree for His good purposes, that just like previous days and weeks, I was stuck 5 pounds higher than I want to be…..a fact painful to me since November when I realized that I had added to Maria’s substance.

I KNEW that this moment was crucial, that I was battling idolatry and who and what was most important in my life.  I wrestled with this truth on my morning walk, recognizing the approaching ‘line in the sand’.

Line in the sand

Was I going to worship MY happiness or submit to God as Lord of my life?

So once again, I decided to abandon this morning ritual. (I don’t need the scales to help me eat in the manner that provides me with the most energy – we’re talking about something SICK in my soul, an obsession with the scales and a numeral!)  This time, I pray, the decision stays final.  (cynics or realists might rightly ask, “Where have I heard THAT resolve before?!”

Listening to John Piper’s sermon in the car on the way to school and applying his line of probative questions to what I describe as that which makes me happy, I saw the foolishness and futility of imbuing 5 pounds with THAT much power over me.

For MY bottom line with the weight idol is this: If I weigh X lbs, I’ll be happy.

That’s stupid!  Our lives are just a vapor,

As James says in chapter 4, verse 4- ….You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

Why should you or I allocate that many resources of mind, heart and strength to the shell, the temporary? Where is my concern with the main part of me that will last eon upon eon of time?  And if, as the Bible teaches, we are going to be completely changed upon seeing Jesus face to face, why am I angsting over what will drop off and decay?

As our pastor Patrick quipped this morning: When we die, the nut that we were leaves behind the withered shell of our body. (That got me pondering: Am I a peanut, a chestnut, a walnut, a pistachio????)   I’m 57 years old.  This weight issue is OH,SO temporary and 40 years from now I won’t be even thinking about it.  So why waste my earthly energy TODAY worshipping the outer casing that is going to disintegrate?

Back to the title of this reflection:

Who are you?  Who am I?  Are we our own god?  or are we worshippers and lovers of the only true and living God?  Truth is – we have souls. We were created and wired only to be satisfied by the best – God, Himself.  Why waste our happiness on junk when we can experience a partial joy NOW learning about and savoring God, all along knowing that ‘fullness of joy‘ awaits us. (Psalm 16:11)

PS:  One final thought about the student who might have answered that her idea of happiness was helping others.  If we help others to FEEL good about ourselves, that is sin.  If we help others to PLEASE our heavenly Father and do that work in His strength, honoring Him in the process, that is what the Bible calls ‘good’.  Inner motivation DOES matter. The Pharisees sought man’s approval and esteem through outward ‘righteous’ behavior.  (Read again Jesus’ words in Luke 18:9-14)

 

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