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!

What if?

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The Lord is my light and my salvation—
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the refuge and fortress of my life—
Whom shall I dread?

Though an army encamp against me,
My heart will not fear;
Though war arise against me,
Even in this I am confident. (Psalm 27: 1, 3)

“But Daughter, what if the men forget?” the anxious and elderly man conjectured, rubbing his hands as he rocked back and forth.

“Father, I have their assurance. We mustn’t be fearful.  They will come through.  After all, I did not let them down when they were being sought by the King’s men,” Rahab spoke quietly with calm assurance as she rubbed his shoulders.

The old man seemed to soak in her words for a few minutes, but then another thought assailed him.  “What if they can’t find our house in all the confusion of the attack?”

Tenderly, Rahab reminded him, “But I have fastened the scarlet cord to the window ledge, just as they instructed me.  They will see it.”

One last time, her dad fished for another possible mishap, “Yes, but what if they are killed by the King’s soldiers before they can save us?”

Rahab’s words silenced his doubts, for a while. “Father, I trust the God of the Hebrews. He is not like any other god. We know how He rescued His people from the Egyptians and led them through the desert.  He is trustworthy.  He always does what He says.  We will put our faith in Him, not the spies or fortuitous circumstances, but in this Rock.”

Rahab

Like Rahab, I have moved beyond my known world of visible help out into the wilderness where many of God’s people have journeyed.   About two weeks ago heart palpitations invaded Mike’s heart. Uninvited, they immediately set about to mess with his pumping chambers, adding extra beats in an intermittent pattern that disrupted his sleep in a debilitating way. What brought them on? Apparently a series of seemingly random events such as dental pain and a bad cold and a reaction to Sudafed are the precipitating causes we think. But ultimately God, the originator and sustainer of the universe, is the First Cause of all that happens to us.  Permitting these little messengers of Satan to plague Mike, God has gently and lovingly overseen my husband’s battle with fear and anxiety at night.  ‘What-if’ scenarios have especially been hard: apprehension that the heart meds won’t work and worry that sleep will evade him.

What God has shown me as I’ve battled with Mike, mining God’s word for strength and assurance, is this:

Every hero of faith has been led out to the very same desert, alone except for God, and beyond sight of provision, to confront and battle the fear of the ‘What-Ifs’.  Similar to how American Indian young men endured solitary testing for their manhood initiation rite, believers have been dragged or led into an arena to do spiritual warfare.  Equipped only with God’s word, (His promises, His past provisions, and knowledge of His character) this fiery trial has provided them the opportunity and gift to prove decisively to themselves whether God is true and faithful. Just look at a few of our Biblical ancestors:

  • Rahab had to trust the spies’ promise of rescue when Joshua and the tribes surrounded and attacked Jericho
  • Abraham had to hold on to God’s promise that heirs as numerous as the stars would come through his son Isaac who lay bound on the wood, about to be sacrificed
  • Esther had to entrust her life to God as she courageously broke the king’s law and approached him unbidden, risking death
  • Mary faced possible death and certain public humiliation by explaining to Joseph and accepting the circumstances of her imminent pregnancy
  • Paul’s friends in Rome brought food and supplies to him in prison, courting possible imprisonment by association

Many weak, frightened and flawed men and women have encountered that ultimate, often unsought moment.  They have had to answer once and for all the only question that matters.

  • Can I trust God?  Do I believe what He says in the Bible?  Will He actually come through?

With no more visible proof than what each of us has already learned about Him experientially, and/or by reputation per other believers’ accounts and in His Word, we come to the edge, alone.

  • Do I step into the chasm, trusting in the evidence provided?
  • Will He catch me?

Many of you have already endured this refining, this baptism of fire meant to bless you, not to harm you. Sure, we can orient our life in the direction of banking all on God, preemptively before God brings on a trial of trust. But sometimes our good Father accelerates the timetable or the intensity of the ‘Faith Course’.

Mike and I didn’t consciously enroll in this particular curriculum.  But obviously God thought it was necessary to strengthen our faith, to test it so WE would know how real and valuable the gift of faith is that Christ purchased for us. We needed a push, apparently!

Daily the homework and pop quizzes confront us, but I know that all who stick it out in God’s school make it to the end, fully qualified.  And what is reassuring is that He doesn’t enroll anyone who is not going to graduate and be purified.  In fact, we have the personal attention and daily assistance of the Remedial Counselor.  We can’t help but pass.

As I reminded Mike this morning, we WALK through the valley of the shadow of death. We haven’t moved in, to settle down.  Yes, it is dark and scary and over the past few weeks we have not KNOWN what to do.  We feel like Hezekiah who prayed publicly in front of his people,

“….we have no might to stand against this great company that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.” 2 Chronicles 2:12

In our need, the road has seemed starless and confusing with no signposts directing us where to go or what to do. But our good Shepherd IS leading the way, HIS way, along ‘paths of righteousness for His name’s sake’.  He will bring us out into green pastures.  The end is sure.  I can see it, with my eyes of faith.

 

 

God sees ahead and provides for our every day needs – getting real

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el roi

Let’s look at the mom who bore Abraham’s first son.  You remember Hagar, Sarah’s Egyptian slave?   Recall also God’s promise to make Abraham the father of multitudes. Ten long years of trusting and following normal reproductive practices had not produced a child for Abraham and Sarah. A bitter wife decided to initiate her own Plan B and foisted Hagar on Abraham.   And voilà – Hagar conceived.  And gloated. And Sarah couldn’t stand it.  She vented her pain of broken dreams and resentment on her slave and Hagar fled into the wilderness.

There by a stream the angel of the Lord appeared to Hagar, asking the rhetorical question about what she was doing. After an honest reply: ‘the angel of the LORD said to her,
“Behold, you are pregnant
and shall bear a son.
You shall call his name Ishmael
because the LORD has listened to your affliction.”  Gen 16:11

I want us to look at this mom’s response to an unimaginable pronouncement of blessing:

She gave this name (El Roi) to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” Genesis 16:13

If you’ve been reading your Bible for a while, you know that the names of God are actually attributes or characteristics of God. The good news about that fact is that since God never changes and is 100 % trustworthy (or He wouldn’t be God), we can count on these qualities.  Looking at the name El Roi, we know that El means God.  What’s most fascinating for me is that:

El Roi is not 2 words, but literally 3 words – (the) seeing God who sees.

And if God SEES ahead then He will not leave it at that, He also is the God who provides what we need IN those future circumstances.

Just look at the word ‘provide’: It comes from the Latin

provide (v.) 
early 15c., from Latin providere “look ahead, prepare, supply, act with foresight,” from pro- “ahead” (see pro-) + videre “to see” (see vision). 

So the seeing God who sees is by definition the God who supplies our needs.

This aspect of God, for both Mike and me, is growing more and more central to our lives.  Maybe what I mean is that we are growing stronger in our commitment and ability to take Him at His word and trust Him.

This past week we had some medical issues where God gifted us with some practical exercises (homework?).  The choice was clear, A or B:

A – give in to the sin of unbelief, that is the temptation to worry or

B – cast each of these cares and their component parts on the One who promises to provide our EVERY need.

I’ve been experiencing a swollen lip and uncommonly chapped lips for 4 weeks and no home remedy worked. Mike continued to urge me to see a doctor.  It’s a pain when you’re a teacher and live 45 minutes away from your doctor.  And besides, I felt stupid.

But Thursday night as I was in bed, I resolved to call the next day and SEE if just maybe I could schedule an appointment for the following Tuesday after school, the earliest that school commitments would allow. This time, I uncommonly, but deliberately chose to take God at His Word and give this coordinating detail over to Him. I slept peacefully.

When I called, I actually found out that my doctor had a cancellation at 3:45 pm THAT VERY day, Friday.  Without knowing how THAT slot would work out since I was scheduled to be with students on a tour of facilities for the homeless of Asheville, I said ‘yes’.  Step 1 had fallen into place in an unanticipated way.  Next was to figure out how I could drive away from the city by 3 pm to arrive in my hometown by 3:45.  I ‘rolled’ THOSE details onto my Provider and He came through:

  • I arranged to follow the bus to where the kids were going to be dropped off.  Found parking.  The bus returned in time to collect them and thanks to Miss GPS, I navigated from the unfamiliar location onto my interstate.  My handing over to the ruler of the universe the unpredictability of Friday afternoon traffic amid harried, tired drivers bore fruit and I arrived on time to my appointment.  The doctor prescribed an Rx and I headed to the pharmacy.
  • But the pharmacy never received the Rx sent via the computer.  A bonus extra credit opportunity from God.  I texted my doctor for the first time, not sure the number would work.  It did.  He did what he had to and later that night the pharmacy texted that the Rx could be picked up on the morrow.
  • And as frosting on the cake, the lost time after school on Friday that I normally spend inputting grades and readying for Monday, God gave me Friday morning in some unusual circumstances.  I hadn’t even WORRIED or ASKED Him about that need!

Our good God beautifully handled LOTS of details of this current problem. (God is good all the time, the horror of the evil terrorist attacks in Paris, notwithstanding).

Although maybe minor in the life of other believers, this growth in turning over to God a problem in lieu of clinging and worrying and imagining all the ‘what-ifs’ IS a major step for me.  Listening daily to John Piper sermons, his teaching that the sin of unbelief IS the root sin of all other sins has penetrated my mind and heart in a tangible way.  The drip method works!

Even Jesus taught this lesson in His instructions of the ideal prayer: in essence we plead, “Keep us from succumbing to temptations and deliver us from this and all evil!”

Unbelief IS evil in face of God’s commands to:

  • fear not
  • worry not
  • trust on
  • turn over all concerns
  • dwell on His faithfulness

What I’m learning is that I have to catch the first signs of unbelief as new thoughts of possible (bad) future scenarios spring up in my imagination. Stopping those ponderings and substituting TRUTHS about God IS the fight against unbelief.  Our baseless but SEEMINGLY real conclusions have to be weeded out ruthlessly as part of our ongoing preventative maintenance of the life of faith.  If allowed to take root, musings quickly grow into debilitating feelings.

To cement this new growth in trusting God, both Mike and I were handed our next challenge; an excruciating toothache that kept him slumber-less on that Friday night.

toothache

I quickly spotted the follow-on challenge to this week’s homework.  I handed over to my good Provider the problem of getting in to see the dentist on Saturday. And pulled up each thought/fear weed contrary to God’s word.  Result?

  • Mike’s dentist returned my cell-phone emergency message I left at 7:30 am
  • He spoke with Mike about 8:30 am
  • He told him to come by for Rxs for a painkiller and antibiotic before noon
  • When we stopped by, he actually took Mike back and looked at the crown job completed earlier in the week and is referring him to the endodontist.
  • When the pain killer didn’t seem to last long and Mike thought about the article deadline looming where he had to think clearly, write and submit his defense piece to his editor Sunday night, we together stared down the temptation to doubt. We encouraged each other to trust the ‘seeing God who sees’ ahead and supplies the need at the perfect moment.  We have learned by now that God who is intent on growing our trust won’t furnish resources AHEAD of time.

It’s now 5 pm.  Mike has finished his writing; the painkiller he took at 10 am seems to have worked well enough to keep the pain down.

We are geared up for the next need we are handing over to El Roi, that of getting in to see the endodontist SOON.  Pray with us that we won’t falter and succumb to this temptation. Satan loves to blow on any crabgrass of disbelief like he did with Eve in the garden.

Didn’t you know that weeding gloves are an indispensable part of the armor of God!

weedking gloves

More peace? Less anxiety?

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Would you like to FEEL at peace more and more each day?

Who wouldn’t!  Personal circumstances and problems as well as complex world situations seem to conspire to keep even the most placid in a state of agitation. Add to the warp and woof of 21st century life the seeming random as well as intentional violence! Just a glance at one’s iPhone in the morning is enough to draw up the covers and stay in bed!

stay in bed cat

Hear the promise of the Lord, however!

You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you: because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3

The last 2 days I have whiffed peace.  God has been working in me for years as I grow to understand and love the FACT that He is sovereign and in control of everything that happens to you and me.  Just that knowledge has eased my anxiety about:

  • traffic delays
  • alarm clock malfunctions
  • minor and major wounds from other people
  • accidents or chronic physical conditions (constipation that dogs me!)
  • the pain of my own chosen sin (‘there I go again, blurting out something hurtful’/ ‘there I go again, overeating’/ ‘there I go again, choosing to indulge in self-pity’ / ‘there I go again, lying to look good’ / ‘there I go again, divulging a confidence’ / ‘there I go again, saying something negative about a friend or family member AND enjoying it!’ )

Coupled with a deeper appreciation for what it means for God to ordain/plan/send/prescribe/allow every event has been a growing understanding of God’s will for the lives of His children.

And you know that I’m talking about our growth in holiness, also translated as ‘sanctification’.   1 Thess 4:3a – For it is God’s will that you should be holy:

A very precious friend has played a significant role in my spiritual maturing.  Last October, she mailed me William Gurnall’s 800-page book called The Christian in Complete Armour. Eleven months later I am on page 422 of collected sermons.  It’s so rich that when I dip into it on weekends, I chew slowly, sucking out this English pastor’s exposition of Ephesians 6.  His 17th-century perspective is refreshingly deep.

Across recent pages Gurnall has been talking about the benefits of holiness.  Today, I read this quote:

“….perfect rest depends on perfect holiness….”

Okay – we will NEVER attain to perfect holiness until we SEE Jesus face to face.  But don’t you think it follows from the above premise that:

As we grow in holiness, we grow in rest and peace

What I wrote in my journal this morning was that ‘I should seek holiness and be GRATEFUL for all the circumstances God has planned for me THIS DAY……

  • if it is true that God works all things for the GOOD of those who love Him, who are called according to His purposes  (Romans 8:28)
  • if it is true that NO ‘GOOD’ thing does He withhold from those who are righteous  (Ps 84:11)
  • if it is true that God’s design to do us ‘good’ means to grow and shape us to think, act, react and feel more and more like His beloved Son’

If I take God at His Word, then it follows logically that I should see every event as bearing an opportunity for growth in my holiness or sanctification.  Yes, events can be evil and there is suffering and pain, but each circumstance is packed with holiness-making practical exercises.

And if the more I grow in holiness, the more PEACE I will feel, then why should I fear?  And if God allows/sends/ordains/plans good out of this next event then I SHOULD be able to relax, to rest if I truly trust Him.

Go back to that Isaiah quote and see for yourself.  The taking God at His word lies at the end of that promise…’because he trusts in You.’

Why is this a big deal for me?  Why do I care so much about growing my ability to rest and be at peace and be free from anxiety?  Because I live with fear – a lot of fear!

Some people fear the whole getting old and dying process.

Others fear not having enough money to take them through those final years on earth.

Existentially, I fear something happening to my kids and grandkids.  On a day-to-day basis, I fear not having enough time to get my work done (so I can READ and RELAX).  And in my profession, I fear that I won’t be able to be creative enough to sustain the interest of my students.

So, YES, I AM interested in TRUE and LASTING inner peace that doesn’t depend on circumstances.

And what the Holy Spirit is teaching me through His Word and writers like William Gurnall is that it is in my own personal best interests to see holiness.  I’ll close with a quote of his, taken from page 422:

“There is only perfect rest, because (of) perfect holiness.  Whence those frights and fears which make them a….terror about? (These) make men discontented in every condition.  They neither can relish the sweetness of their enjoyments, nor bear the bitter taste of their afflictions.”

What I am left with is this question:

Maria – why should you fear tomorrow if God promises to use every thing that happens in order to work MORE holiness in you, replacing what is unholy and selfish and destructive?

Just think!  If we could allow this thought to permeate our conscious, waking thoughts, maybe it would begin to seep down into the realm of the unconscious.

What do we have to lose?

Thanking God for a sleepless night

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Romans 8:28:  And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, that is for the good of those who are called according to His divine plan.

Sleepless

Like many of you, I don’t take a solid night’s sleep for granted.  Each morning when I arise after a night with only ONE visit to the bathroom, I consider that God has given me a gift.

But Monday night last week included 3 interruptions due to foot and leg cramps. As a result, I arose the next morning knowing I was going to be drawing on God’s energy for my commute to school. (I drive 50 minutes each way by interstate).

But two events occurred as a result of that sleepless night that have caused me to thank God FOR it.

I’ve been puzzling over how NOT to be anxious after praying for something I want to happen.  Here’s the situation.  My mother worried a lot about family when they travelled. Yes, she was a Christian, but old patterns of thought linger.  I absorbed her angst and it has fed these fears even to this day.  Last weekend, one son and his wife had been driving back from a late-night wedding and I had prayed for their safe arrival all day long. Even though I asked God to protect them, I still struggled with how to be free from anxiety after praying.

During my sleepless night when I was awake from 12:30 to 3:30 am lying in bed thinking about EVERYTHING, God brought Romans 8:28 to mind as the remedy for anxiety and fear once you’ve prayed.

Here’s how my mind processed this promise of future grace.  Yes, we are to pray for situations. Then we are to let them go and trust God when He vows emphatically to work ALL circumstances (even if the ‘worst’ outcome happens that I’m praying against) together for the good of ……. 

In the darkness of the night, God shone light on His Word and gave me relief.  It’s like He sprung me from my self-imposed prison cell of fear.  Yes, I want my kids to be safe and I will pray for that.  But I will let go and rely on God’s better promise to guide and direct even the ‘bad’ stuff for the good of my loved ones and for His glory.

That in itself was worth the sleepless night.

But then God answered another prayer of mine.  I’ve been having stomach problems and googling remedies for feeling bloated and nauseous each day. Here’s how God took care of that!  The evening after my sleepless night, after I had arrived safely home but foggy with fatigue, I was fixing Mike’s and my yogurt mixtures for the next day.  I put certain colon-friendly fruit in his and certain low-fiber fruit in mine.  Because I was ‘punchy’ with fatigue, I mistakenly switched the yogurts, leaving mine in the frig and putting his in my lunch box for the next day.

At 10 am the following morning when I opened up my snack, I spotted the ‘wrong’ Greek yogurt mixture.  Besides feeling bad for Mike, I was bummed that I had brought the high-fiber version.  I decided to put it back in our teachers’ frig and rummage for a Zone bar I could eat instead.  Not consuming that ‘dairy’ – well, you guessed it, eliminated my stomach problem for the day. Bingo!  All of a sudden it hit me that I might be dairy-intolerant.  Sure enough, a few days without the yogurt confirmed my hypothesis.

Dairy intolerance

Here’s the remarkable take away, though.  And this is HUGE for me.  It seems that God is sovereign even over OUR mistakes. Do you know how freeing that is?  Even when you mess up, God works all things for your good (if you are His son or daughter by the new birth).  Yes, we want to do what’s right, but we don’t live by karma. We live by grace and in a Kingdom ruled by a loving and good God who has ALL the power and ALL the wisdom and is ALL perfect and righteous.

So I’m saying to you and to me – give up the ball and chain of striving for perfectionism.  We are imperfect creations.  We are going to make many mistakes.  But mistakes are not sovereign.  God is.  We don’t have to carry the burden of being good, of being right. Jesus beckons us to trust Him and give up that yoke.

Matt 11:28 – Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

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