Trusting in what I can see – just plain stupid!

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Psalm 20:7  Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. (NIV)

Who wouldn’t want to have at one’s disposal a stable full of strong, thoroughbred horses and a complement of iron chariots?  Think how reassuring that stockade of muscle and might would feel!  Especially when the enemy rattled sabers and the rhetoric intensifies.

But that seeming crutch is not what God has in mind for His children.  No! As the psalmist asserts, the people of God purposefully reassure themselves NOT by gazing at their OWN provisions but by rehearsing and remembering the facts.  The Head of the supernatural angel armies is our King, our Protector, and Provider.  He’s that invisible kind of force.  Just as real and ready, but not the kind you can see or touch.

We, humans, tend to prefer what we can feel and finger and count. At least I do!

This divine and very different sort of defense force depends on our using the faith God has given us.  The difficulty is this:  faith is an invisible gift. It’s REAL and it’s THERE. But it only becomes operative in the very moment we choose to trust who God is and what He has promised to do and move out in reliance on Him. When we act as if we really know He will come through, He comes through!  Always.

You’d think that with each God-success under our belt, it would get easier for us to trust Him.  I admit, to my shame, that I find even WANTING to rely on God a constant battle.  I think it would be easier just to have the resources myself.

For instance, I don’t FEEL like a naturally creative teacher.  I plan lessons a few days in advance and then when I get to right before a particular French class bustles in, I find that I don’t feel confident about the activity I foresaw.  When I fling myself on God’s promise to provide what I need, I get real help.   Somehow He shifts my thinking and suddenly I can SEE what something that might work and be more effective.

And the class DOES hum and I’m grateful.  HE actually provides, each time I consciously cry out and depend on Him and do what He provides.

Last Monday I didn’t do that submitting my plan prayerfully and dependently to God for His help.  I relied on myself.  And the entire day’s classes proved to be flat.  I hated it.  In fact, I wanted to give up teaching altogether as I walked out of school to my car.  Then the Holy Spirit gently brought this question to mind, “Maria, did you even ask for My help? After that first class, why didn’t you think to hand over the next level’s plan?”  Stunned, I realized that I had not prayed at all that day about my teaching.  How could I overlook such a basic resource?

The truth is, in my natural flesh, I just rather have the resources at hand – ahead of time.  It’d be much easier to be a naturally gifted, creative French teacher who had her students eating out of her hand and speaking French.

But I know better.  The Bible teaches us that we are designed and created to be needy from our birth:

Psalm 22:  9-10Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
    you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
 On you was I cast from my birth,
    and from my mother’s womb, you have been my God.

So my prayer daily, even though I sometimes forget, is for God to make me glad and content in my dependence on Him.  When I fling myself on Him, and He comes through, I get the help and relief and He gets the glory.

Our Creative Designer and Sustaining Father calls this system, this way ‘GOOD‘.

Psalm 84:11 – No good thing does He withhold from the one who LIVES moment-by-moment depending on Him to come through. (what He calls being ‘walking blamelessly or uprightly’)  And if you think about it, if we are upright, that means we have our hands raised to Heaven, imploring and crying out to Him, instead of looking horizontally either at the need or what we can do to meet it ourselves.

Father, please help my unbelief!

 

 

 

 

Who determines your outcome?

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Romans 9:16 So then, it depends NOT on human will or exertion, but on God who has mercy.

Do those words make you feel stymied or relieved?  Angry or grateful?

Fellow pilgrim, this fact about our God and those who receive the gift of a permanent place in God’s family achieves two ends.  First, we are humbled.  If ever we entertained the idea that our works were good enough to leverage God into owing us anything, this verse in Romans affirms otherwise.

But doesn’t our world trumpet the opposite with THIS success formula:

Dream big and work hard.  Results go to the man in the ring who perseveres!

Second, and for me, this is burden lifting, Paul teaches that God alone determines family membership.  If I rightly suspected that no amount of good works or sincere effort to avoid sinning could meet God’s standard of perfect holiness, my gut feeling correctly aligns with reality.

Illusions dispelled should leave in their place only stunned awe and awakened gratitude.  If meriting this privilege never was likely, but God in His mercy has freely given it, then I have more than hit the jackpot.

Moreover, energy spent trying to drum up desire and work hard enough to impress the Creator and Sustainer and Judge of all with my ‘worthiness’ can be properly channeled.  And you probably know the counter-intuitive truth that shifting one’s life’s energy and focus off of self and onto God and His Kingdom satisfies us far more. Celebrating God’s sheer goodness and inviting others to step out from the crushing weight of performance won’t sap us of energy but multiply our joy.

Too remarkable to be true?  Not for the God of Truth!

 

One thing is necessary

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40. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations to be made. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to help me!” 41  “Martha, Martha, the Lord replied, “you are worried and upset about many things. 42 But only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, and it will not be taken away from her.”…  Luke 10: 40 – 42

A new school year started last week.  My anxieties came back to life after their sabbatical of 2 1/2 months.

What is at the root of these worries?  What I focus on during the school day.  Here’s my list of concerns – those situations where I lack confidence, occasions that intimidate me a bit:

  • Will I be able to capture and hold on to the attention of middle school kids?
  • Will I be able to create and carry out effective and engaging lessons, which actually result in them acquiring French?
  • Will I have sufficient time in my school day to complete teaching, planning, grading and handle all those extra duties teachers seem to have?
  • Will I feel free to spend time with my colleagues, listening and encouraging them, all the while accurately representing Christ?
  • Will I be able to grow the French program in the Middle School?

Those 5 matters I have turned into individual and multiple prayers that I send up to God frequently throughout the week.  Better to pray than to worry, right?

Yes and no.

Reading how Jesus corrected Martha and how He described her sister, Mary, caused me to think again.  Maybe I have miscalculated where I should invest the bulk of my energy. Rather than prioritizing and investing all my mental energy on ways to meet all these challenges, I should focus first on what actually might energize me and provide life.

Luke’s account of the two sisters who have just lost their dear brother Lazarus prompted me to imagine what Martha’s list might have looked like (had she written down what caused HER stress and anxiety:

  • Oh no!  Jesus just showed up and with his group of guys, too.  I’ve been feeding well-wishers and mourners for a week now.  What am I going to serve?
  • I’m exhausted!  Where am I going to find the strength and energy to fix more food. And who is going to butcher the lamb, now that our brother is gone?
  • I was going to send Mary around to the family that supplies our wine because we’re all out!  But look at her.  She just sat down with the men to listen to Jesus!  Where’s her head!  With all this work to do?  Doesn’t she care about me?  So this is the way it’s going to be now that Lazarus is gone. I should have figured!
  • Oh, my – Lazarus IS gone.  How are we ever going to make it, two women alone?

What is Jesus’ response, the God who knows all our thoughts and cares?   Read the 4 statements at the beginning of this post.   Freedom calls me with those enigmatic words of His: One thing is necessary.

What is Jesus NOT saying?  Does he tell Martha to skip all the food prep?  No!  Hospitality is a good thing.  But ultimately it doesn’t rank # 1.  We CAN live without food.

But we can’t live without Jesus.

So what did I see afresh in Luke’s account of a very familiar vignette?

It was how I evaluate a ‘good day’.  In past years, I’ve called it a ‘good day’ if I taught well. If I had a fruitful-for-the-kingdom conversation with someone.  If I completed my work.

But I can’t control any of those outcomes, hence my anxiety and uncertainty day to day.

So what IS necessary?  What is ‘the one thing’?

I can see more clearly how God has been moving me over the past 5 or 6 years to rely on Him throughout the day.  To look to and depend on His divine, supernatural Spirit for EVERY thought, word, action, and decision about the future.

Jesus and Paul challenged followers of Christ to stay ‘grafted in the Vine’, to ‘remain in union with Him’.  We actually are not meant to do anything apart from Jesus.  He even tells us we can’t.

  • John 15:5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing.

So I have redefined what Maria calls a ‘good day’.  The one responsibility I have as Jesus’ lamb is to do all in His strength, aware of my position IN the Vine.

Teaching a ‘good’ lesson, completing my list, engaging in a fruitful conversation with a colleague – yes, these are important.  But I can’t control the outcomes.  Hence – perpetual anxiety.

But I CAN control my thoughts.  That ability is given to every Christian in whom lives God’s Spirit.

My goal and focus this school year is to rely on Jesus and seek to please Him that way. And when I forget my source for everything and start angsting about X, Y and Z, I can still please Jesus by repenting of sinful AND needless worry.  And call it a GOOD day!

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.

 

What God means to do in your life

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I’ve been memorizing the first chapter of 1 Peter.

What I like about memorizing Scripture is that it causes me to think through and meditate on the words as I try to lock them down in my brain.  I started to memorize Bible verses when I was 48 years old. Wes, our youngest son, was a senior in high school.

One fall Sunday, a layman’s sermon delivered (not read) and peppered with Bible verses he clearly knew from heart wowed us both.  As head of the finance committee, he had been invited to the pulpit that morning to share with us the joy and experience of giving sacrificially.  After the service we both approached him to ask how he had managed to recite all that Scripture – a true feat! He told us about the Topical Memory System from the Navigators.  Wes and I were immediately sold and committed ourselves to memorizing and being able to recite all 60 key verses before he left home in June for West Point.

Since then, I have worked through entire SHORT books like Colossians and whole chapters.  I don’t work to retain these long chunks forever, for that would take constant practice and my practice sessions would expand as the months passed by.  But for the duration of the ‘work’, I am chewing on some portion of Scripture every day, often throughout the day.

The payoff is rich.

Which brings me to this morning’s ‘aha!’ moment from verse 2 of 1 Peter 1:

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia,
who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.
I’ve put the ‘chunks’ I was meditating on in different colors.  What HIT me this morning during my walk was the ‘sanctifying WORK’ of the Holy Spirit.
Here’s how my thoughts took off:
  • Maria, the Holy Spirit is working in you ON PURPOSE.
  • His work actually probably overrides MY plans as He directs my circumstances,
  • These circumstances of my life are part of His plan to sanctify me.
  • I wouldn’t choose MOST of these ‘detours’ if I were in control of my days, months and years.
  • No wonder these trials are painful at times!!!

A few significant activities of my life FEEL HARD these days:

  • Morning exercise is HARD and I have to fight my natural feelings of reluctance and dread when I get out of bed and lace up my shoes.
  • Losing these 6 pounds is HARD.  It’s taken me 6 weeks so far to lose 2.
  • Teaching school is HARD.  It takes effort and I fight laziness and just wanting to stay home with NO expectations hanging on me.
  • Practicing NOT worrying, but entrusting family needs to God is hard.  When you love someone and they suffer, you suffer too!

What helps counter all those energy-depleting concerns that tend to occupy large parts of my mental and emotional life is the idea that these details are very much intentionally part of the Holy Spirit’s plan to sanctify.  Random suffering drains, discourages and disheartens.  Knowing that God has planned and intends ALL this for my good strengthens me to endure.

I don’t think I’ve grown enough to rejoice in the trials, yet, but I know that I need to reach that point.  As I walk these days in fellowship with the Spirit of Christ, I am learning His methods.  EVERYthing He does is for my good, to sanctify me.  I can trust Him.  I MUST trust Him, if I am to flee from fear and discouragement and enlarge my capacity to enjoy God.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Matt 5:8

 

The cost of trusting God

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Charles Spurgeon: “(do) You want to see….how (affliction) can bring good to the soul; you must believe it.  Honor God by trusting him.” (as tweeted by Randy Alcorn, 20 Mar 2017)

So many friends waiting, waiting, waiting.

There’s D, whose husband got let go from his job at age 61.  It’s been 3 months and he’s gone through two REALLY promising and lengthy job interviews.  Only to hear back in emails, ‘Thank you for your interest, but we’ve decided to go with someone else.”

In addition to my friend D, several other friends pray for, search and await jobs.

And then there is J who holds on for a solution to a leak in her roof.  It’s not like she and her husband have oodles of money in savings, available to try first one remedy or another. That’s part of the problem.  The house has turned into a money pit, drawing from their retirement funds. They believe they should sell it to protect their savings.  But they can’t list the house until the leak is repaired.  Biding their time, they communicate, encourage and remind contractors, hopeful that each successive remedy will be THE one.

My other friend has endured countless medical procedures and tests and been the subject of panels of medical boards convening to seek the best way forward for an aggressive cancer.  Chosen routes have revealed dead ends.  Patience, while suffering, is her familiar journey partner.

Trying, painful situations hit believers and non-believers alike. We could despair, were it not for knowing the Truth.  For as Jesus teaches, “…you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”  John 8:32  

What is that truth that blocks our natural response to fall into a gloomy permanent pit? That God loves us and that the suffering has a good purpose!  That He has planned each trial to conform us to our older brother, Jesus.  To avail ourselves of that truth, God has given us FAITH to believe the manifold and rich promises that are the rightful property or resource of all who ‘love God and are called by Him, according to His purposeful plan.’ (Romans 8:28)

Just as we have been given physical muscles to exercise in daily life, so too have Christians been given the spiritual muscle of faith.  But the gift of believing God comes with a concomitant responsibility.  We have to use faith, to move out, do what is good in the moment, depending on the invisible but real promises that God will come through just as His word says. We have to exercise or actively depend on God’s written pledge to provide, protect, guide, comfort us.

How do we do that?  By deciding to ‘believe (sight unseen) every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’ (Matt 4:4).  And that FEELS costly and painful at times.

Who doesn’t suffer the pains of temptation to despair over circumstances that seem to be perpetual?  Yet God commands us to not look at the way things appear, but to see through the circumstances to the God who promises good to those who believe Him and cling to the truth of His promises.

The other night as we were discussing the day’s Bible readings, Mike and I pondered the the connection between trusting…..believing…..expecting…..waiting ….hoping…exercising patience……  All these actions sparkle as many sides of the one diamond called FAITH in God.  But what do those actions LOOK like?  How do you DO expecting, waiting, hoping….?

An insight has recently enriched my mind, an answer to a dilemma. I’ve often struggled to grasp how to live out Jesus’ command, in a self-deflecting, God-glorifying way: “…. let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”  Matt 5:16    I’ve gotten hung up on the concept, ‘your light’.  How can I have any light in myself?  The answer: this ‘light’ is the gift God has given me to BELIEVE Him.  My responsibility is to show the world in a visible way (light) how much I treasure this invisible but precious reality of relying on and belonging to Jesus. God calls that way ‘patience’ or ‘trust in God’.

Given that He commands me to make visible this divine, inner light, I pray daily to WANT to do just that (and follow through) a – to live in such a way that the world (my colleagues, family and friends) sees my Godward trust, hope-filled expectations, and patient waiting and be STUNNED and chalk it up to God!  (that Maria is so patient during suffering.  She must REALLY love her God and be satisfied by Him!!!)

Patience is a virtue recognized in the western world.  Yet most joke about it and cavalierly let themselves off the hook by admitting they have little.

When I feel strong, I affirm this fact:  God is kind to give me multiple occasions to practice and improve this muscle of contented waiting on Him.  Yet, I seem often to succumb to despair, sometimes multiple times in a week.

But what other choice do you and I have? We can either face the sufferings in life kicking and screaming, or we can submit to the wise and loving hand of the potter who keeps us on His wheel and won’t stop until we are beautifully fashioned into the family likeness.

Potters' Hands

This last truth stunned me this morning when I heard it again: Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. Isaiah 64:4

This baby bird got fed!

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Baby bird gets fed   Psalm 86:4    Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.

I felt like crap Friday night.  And I woke up feeling the same.  In a complaining, whiny mood, not content.  Why?  just the same ole-same ole reason – ‘not enough Maria time’ to satisfy me. (yes, school is back in session)

When I went to bed, I wisely made the decision to forgo exercising in the morning. I reasoned that just MAYBE I needed more time with God.  If I could start my quiet time earlier, then maybe I could find refreshment for my soul before we headed out the door with our planned Saturday’s activities.

Providentially, I had noticed the above verse from Psalm 86 the previous day and written it down. God used my hand-copied Psalmist’s plea to revive me.  It occurred to me – If the writer was begging God to give him joy, then he obviously wasn’t feeling enthusiastic about anything.  Why would he ask for what he already had?

A very weak, half-hearted request formed in my mouth.  No fervor or confidence accompanied this prayer.  It wasn’t mixed with strong faith.  It was all I could do to THINK the words.  No sound waves left my lips.

Praise be to my good Father who has planted His Spirit in me! For one of the happy jobs of the Spirit of Christ is to intercede for those saints in whom He resides.

Here’s what happened:  the Lord DID gladden my heart.  Just like the baby bird in the nest who can do nothing but open his mouth (thereby blocking sight of mom and dad arriving with food), I lifted my soul to the One who could fill it.  The invisible but real supernatural and almighty Sovereign Lord of the Universe filled my emptiness:

  • Our dreaded ‘change-the-water-filter-under-the-house-all-the-while-praying-the-seal-holds‘ bi-monthly task proceeded stress-free.
  • Our hike along a section of the Appalachian Trail out of Hot Springs turned out to be delightful.  The incline worked our bodies but didn’t punish our calves or thighs.  God provided a beautiful summer day.  The vista views and the close-up trees and bushes together with the pine straw smells and QUIET, all worked together to calm and renew our souls.
  • Grilling pork chops and spotting examples of grace in a Downton Abbey episode blessed us.
  • Coffee and reading on the deck as dusk approached and the mountains darkened quieted us for the night
  • A solid 8-hour sleep brought us to a new morning, thoroughly equipped with new soul and body strength.

And this morning, during my quiet time I gave thanks to the Lord who showed me mercy yesterday when I didn’t deserve it and hesitantly asked

Matthew 12:20a – He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle.

 

 

 

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