Goals – do I set any? or what!

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Part of my family is entrepreneurial.  My son and his wife run on-line businesses.

Recently during Thanksgiving Shay, my daughter-in-law mentioned that as soon as they returned to Tampa she would be heading off for her annual 24-hour-away solo planning meeting to evaluate the year, set business goals, and create strategies for working toward those sales and growth targets.

No matter which industry you’re in (I taught secondary school French for years), planning is essential.  You can’t just wing a project and expect the same kind of outcome that is attainable through measured steps.

Since October, I’ve been searching for a Biblical goal, a Jesus-centered capital-G goal for my life (or this next year), one that transcends the narrower aspirations such as building more muscle mass, acquiring proficiency in Spanish, spending less time on my phone/with my laptop, eliminating rushing.

What drives my desire for ONE Holy-Spirit-powered goal?  Chronic anxiety, occasional feelings of being unsettled or splintered, and a struggle to hand over fears.

I’ve been trying on different goals for size.  Such as:

  • The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself as love (Gal 5:6b)
  • Breath mantras about God like: “His good, my peace”
  • Creating a habit of noticing beautiful aspects of life and creation and thanking God at the moment.

Monday of this week, I finally confessed to Mike all my anxieties ‘du jour’ and asked him to pray for me.  It was cyber Monday, and with Christmas approaching I was feeling VERY scattered, like Martha running around the house, as she attempted to multi-task her way through the day.

Then Tuesday morning, during my quiet time the Holy Spirit dropped THIS thought into my heart:

  • Since I am going to be spending the majority of my life (read: forever!) in heaven with the Triune God of the universe….
  • Since I am IN FACT an adopted daughter of the Father as well as Jesus’ little sister……

…should I not be PRACTICING MY ROLE, MY LINES for living eternally right now?  After all, in one sense, I already AM ‘above. It’s not like I need to pretend some thing that isn’t true. For we read in Paul’s letter to the church at Colossae:

Colossians 3:1 Therefore, since you have been raised with Christ, strive for the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.

Jesus’ little sister!  This thought captivated me. Yes, I AM His sister.  Then came the empowering breath of the Spirit:  “Well, Maria, if you ARE Jesus’ little sister, how about starting to ACT like who you already are!”

There it was – my goal. So simple. It claimed me.  Immediately and at various times yesterday AND today, I have been reminding myself:  ‘You’re Jesus’ little sister.  So, act like it Maria!’ That prompt is all I have needed to send the anxieties running.

How have I translated my eternal identity into concrete living?  For one, I immediately have taken a deep breath and relaxed.  Jesus never rushed. I certainly won’t be rushing in heaven. Might as well start practicing moving at HIS pace now, on earth.

The corollary to NOT rushing is taking time to be with the people I encounter during the day.  Yesterday that looked like: noticing and engaging gently with an impatient man in the grocery check-out line ahead of me at Kroger.  Today, it was sitting in my car for 30 minutes chatting with a friend after we picked out granite for our new house.

All I seem to need to pull back from stress is to say out loud to myself,  “I’m Jesus’ little sister.” And Holy Spirit calm settles on me.  Then I look up to see whom I might encounter.

The cool thing is that yesterday at lunch time Mike texted me writing that he had just prayed again for me to feel less scattered.  I rejoiced to share with him how the Lord had used his prayer for me.  Then I reminded him that he also is Jesus’ younger brother.

One of God’s gifts I was ignoring

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For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.  And his commandments are not burdensome. 1 John 5:3

Driving my granddaughters to school through Tampa rush-hour traffic this week has made me extra cautious.  Plus, I’m driving my son’s new car and I don’t want to damage it. En route to school yesterday morning, my speed just happened to be under the 70 mph limit on Interstate 275-S where the traffic was flowing before all the congestion hit. As a police car passed me on the left, I remarked to 10-year-old Chloe, “Obedience brings blessings.  You don’t have to worry about being pulled over if you obey the speed limit!”

I didn’t share the REAL reason I was traveling a bit slower.  It had nothing to do with avoiding a ticket and unnecessary stress. Nevertheless, I put in a general plug for obeying God.  The REAL reason to heed this traffic law is that I’ve been thinking differently about obeying God in the past 2 days. I’m starting to wonder that maybe our Father’s commands are actually a GIFT, a BLESSING, as opposed to a restriction God has imposed.

As I grow older and my cohort of friends is  aging; as I have grown children in their 30s with their own children; as the Holy Spirit shaves off some of my self-centeredness, sensitizing me to the pain and suffering of those around me, I find myself caring and praying A LOT.

But as God has grown my desire to pray for more people, a concomitant self-imposed burden has emerged.

Years in Bible Study Fellowship back in Virginia taught me to pray for specific needs in a way that is measurable.  Instead of asking God to ‘bless John’s work’, I’ve learned to detail just what John’s tangible need is and name it, asking God’s help WITH the ‘it’.

My prayers now look like this: Father, please guide John to soften his tone with his co-workers so that they and he cooperate better and carry out the assigned task at hand.

Why all the detail?  So, I can know when God comes through and then have the specifics to thank Him!

What then is the burden?  Just that I have fallen into thinking that if I don’t pray specifically WITH all the pertinent details, then my prayer is less effective.

I know what you’re thinking!  Am I not forgetting the comforting promise about the Holy Spirit’s help?

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Romans 8:26

Now that I have given you background, I want to share how marvelously the Spirit came to my rescue yesterday!  There’s a situation in our life that feels complex and overwhelming. Monday evening our granddaughters were in dance class.  While I waited for them Mike and I chatted briefly. He shared a setback over the phone.  After we hung up, a wave of dismay rolled over me as I tried to place this news into the context of God’s promises.

Thank you, Father, for the time TO think, to know where to hang this new piece of data according to what is TRUE about You!

Here is what the Lord did. He gave me insight having to do with obedience!

My obedience is not something I think about much. But on this occasion the Holy Spirit reminded me of Jesus’ many teachings NOT to worry.  The Spirit then brought​ to mind​ divine commands​ penned ​by Paul & Pete​​r​,​ reenforce​ing the Lord’s lessons::

Cast ALL your cares on Him, for He cares for you! 1 Peter 5:7

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Phil 4:6

Here then is how my mind worked to bring me back out of this tight spot after hearing Mike’s report.

“Oh, I am supposed to OBEY my heavenly Father.  And He tells me to hand over every single care TO Him. What a relief!  Here you go, dear Father, take this new development in this season of painful suffering and do what is best.  Amen”

Simple and easy.  I picked up my Kindle book, reading while I waited for the girls to finish. Each time my mind drifted back to the dark, tight spot it’s like I shook it off and reminded myself: “My Father is handling this.  I am to obey Him and leave it in His hands.”

The night that followed, I woke up a couple of times to gray mist seeping into my thoughts. But by the power and reminder from God’s Spirit, I quickly swept them away with this assertion: “I’m obeying my Father, so I am not going to think about IT!”

Just as with any new habit, this change in reflex will take practice over time.

But already, I FEEL the lightness. The bottom line is that I am to obey my Father. Yes, I will continue to pray daily with thanksgiving. Once. And then obey Him by leaving the matter with Him.​

I wonder what other commands our Father has given that might actually be blessings!

 

Laying my burdens down

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My Friday morning Bible study is studying the book of Hebrews this year.  Last week’s discussion focused on God’s warning about NOT mixing faith with God’s facts.

I’ve known for a while that my ‘unbelief’ is the root of ALL my sin.  That each time I’m worrying about something like Mike’s health or ‘am I staying in contact enough with my kids and grandkids?’ (one of my besetting fears because I am so selfish!)

But by grace, my heart is drawn to return often to the comforting Rx of Philippians 4:4-7.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;  do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Here is what I have seen this week:

  • The key and power for a peace-filled, worry-free day is OBEDIENCE to His command of being glad in Jesus and all that He is, has done and promises.  The strength FOR this kind of peace is not in me and what I can ‘gin’ up by forced grit.  And a superficial summarizing feeling of Jesus’ work for me won’t cut it.  Actually naming, calling out all that His blood purchased for me, is what will build up the spiritual strength to hand over my worries.
  • Supernatural strength will then permit me to obey God and his second command – to be gentle or reasonable with those I live, work, worship and fellowship.  Gentleness means going along with what pleases these neighbors/brothers in all the discretionary matters of personal preference.
  • But what assures me that MY needs will be met if I do seek to fit in with others?  The next FACT – the Lord is near or at hand.
  • Whew, okay, since He is near and at hand, I can and SHOULD hand over all my anxiety-producing needs & desires.  In fact, as I read somewhere this week: God won’t pick up your burdens UNTIL you lay them down!
  • Continuing on from there, do you notice that little 2-word exhortation from Paul who never has ‘throw-away words’?  ‘WITH thanksgiving’.  No begrudging my having to obey Him.  Just a glad handing over.
  • Payoff for all this obedience? Out-of-this world PEACE to barricade my mind against those pesky and sinful worries.  The ‘Sanballats‘ of my life is what I now call those worries that plague me if I don’t draw on God’s strength in Jesus.

“Remember, my God, Tobiah and Sanballat according to these their works, and also the prophetess Noadiah, and the rest of the prophets, that would have put me in fear.” Nehemiah 6:14.  These were false prophets who wanted to HALT Nehemiah and the Judeans who were rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem.

I now see that the battle against the sin and danger of worry is never-ending in this life.  So….I desperately need to hear the good news of what Jesus has done.  Over and over again.

And I need to be reminded that handing over these concerns is a command I am to obey.

A final thought that bolsters this case for NOT worrying comes from Jesus’ exhortation to take up our cross and follow Him.

Matt 16:24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

If I am to take up His cross, then I have to lay down my burdens that I’ve been holding onto tightly.  It only makes sense.  Reminding myself of WHY I can trust Jesus is my daily discipline to access His power to obey Him and receive His peace.

 

 

Who or what dominates your thinking?

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Is it just me, or do you find that living by faith and not by sight grows HARDER and HARDER as the years go by?  The ‘pop quizzes’ that used to land on me every few weeks now seem to show up every couple of days.

Not one to spot my unbelief right away, I sense God gently but firmly taking my face between his hands (so to speak!) to make me look at my unbelief. My pride recoils at yet more evidence for my lack of trust in the Lord as Good Father, Faithful Shepherd, Wise Counselor.

This past week has been that kind of personal attention or ‘handling’.  I have struggled to let go of persistent worry. It’s not that I have been anxious about anything, rather I have OBSESSIVELY ‘angsted’.  My personalized version of Phil 4:6 is now “Do not OBSESS over anything!” rather than the tame ‘do not be anxious’.

I KNOW what I’m supposed to do and I do try!

  • Daily I hand over my needs à la ‘Cast your cares on Him….’
  • Hourly I pray with much fervor à la ‘The fervent prayers of a righteous man…..’
  • I recollect many blessings, the good things about God, who He is and what He has done and the promises laid up for me……

Yet, I feel bound up in worry.

So, it was no surprise to me that the Sovereign Lord, the One who reigns over all creation, used a portion of yesterday’s assigned Scripture from 2 Sam 19: 1-8 to show me exactly what happens when I make a created thing PRE-EMINENT in my life.

Just so you’ll know how I recognize something as being preeminent in my life, it’s those occasions when my thoughts ‘glom’ onto a created thing like sewing pins sticking to a magnet.

Here’s a synopsis of events 2 Samuel 19:

  • King David’s rebel son Absalom has been killed by David’s men and the coup squelched.  David acts ‘un-kingly’ as he indulges his natural grief in an unceasing, over-the-top inconsolable fashion.
  • He does not publicly thank the valiant ones who risked their lives and their homes to flee Jerusalem and side with him.  He does not acknowledge the cost to his loyal citizens who probably fought against some family members supportive of Absalom.
  • He obsessively wails to such an extent, to such a danger point that General Joab, his chief of the army, has to shock him into acting like a king.  Joab point blank tells him that if he doesn’t stop crying about his son and get back to doing his job as God’s anointed king, then he’ll find himself at the end of EVERYONE’s spear.

That’s the narrative in a nutshell. In what way did I see this biblical example as a gentle rebuke from God to abandon my anxious obsession?  Reading this account revealed the evil of disobedience. God had appointed David to shepherd God’s people for Him. David courted danger, almost to the point of no return, when he inverted God’s priorities. This observation is what convicted me.

The king harmed good people when he made his son more valuable, more meaningful than the welfare of those in his care.

I do the same when I place a created thing over the Creator.

Our pastor’s sermons on the preeminence of Christ have bathed my thoughts over the past several weeks (when I wasn’t anxiously obsessing!) The Greek word for preeminence ‘proteuo’ is described in two ways:

  • Ranking first
  • Exercising the most influence

So even as I have struggled with handing over a particular problem to God and then taking it back, I’ve been asking myself:

Maria, who or what is preeminent in your life?”

It’s a piercing question that demands honesty.  I have felt bound up in the time I’ve invested in trying to ‘solve this suffering’ of a loved one.  And God keeps throwing me reminders to ‘JUST STOP IT!’ (you’ll smile if you’re old enough to remember TV actor Bob Newhart as the UN-empathetic counselor). Our good Father gave me the very same counsel but from a different source.

Margin

Dr. Richard Swenson, an author whose book about regaining margin I’m re-reading, penned this arresting statement

The purpose of life is not to solve suffering but righteousness.

Bolstering that truth has been the realization that EVERY single human being on earth in every epoch has lived or is experiencing now a life of suffering.  The purpose of life cannot then be to ‘solve’ suffering.  I have known this but now I KNOW it more deeply. My purpose, your purpose if you belong to Christ, is to be content in Him, to enjoy Him, to seek to please Him, to sing new songs of who He is and what He has done.  In the midst of suffering.

I think we can fall into the trap of making an idol out of a problem-free life, a life without suffering.  At least I am beginning to see that about me. And if that is my or your goal, then we are setting ourselves up for misery.

May God help us all to be joyful obedient servants of our loving God.

 

 

 

My hero and role model has feet of clay

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Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands,  as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.  1 Peter 3:3-6

I love this report about Sarah. I find her refreshing.  I am relieved that it is her Peter exhorts us to copy.  Yet I know the full story of Sarah.  I know that Peter, guided by God’s Spirit,  has selected the characteristics of Sarah WHEN SHE WAS AT HER BEST!  Yes, Moses wrote the unvarnished account of this matriarch who didn’t trust God all the time.  She is the one who thought she knew best how they could ‘get a baby’.  So she made her personal servant sleep with an old, old man.  And then she treated Hagar shamefully.

(One sin I think we women all share is that we, too, think we know best – pretty arrogant for a finite creature, don’t you think?_

Yet God holds her up as a role model. For me, for you (even if you are a man)

This time in life when our future feels as uncertain as that of Abraham and Sarah’s, I draw comfort from the realism-laced prescription that Peter writes.  I (and Mike as well)  am to cultivate a gentle and quiet disposition or attitude.  None of the crazed, “But what are we going to do!!!”  No need for that stress and unrest if we trust God!  We don’t HAVE to know today what we will do next week.

No, I am to be like Sarah and the other ‘holy women’ of the Bible ‘who hoped in God’.  That is they trusted, believed, counted on God to do and be what He said he would do.

But what sells me on wanting to be like my mother, or older sister Sarah is how Peter writes, “She didn’t fear what was frightening!”

We live in a scary world.  And it’s always been that way since the Fall.  That’s reality.  Yet because we have the happy, sovereign, good and all-wise triune God, we are NOT to fear.

So, do I know what will happen, what our future holds?  No.  But I am growing more able to rest and feel assured that God does know and is sovereignly working out the details.  We are to rest, trust, watch and be ready to move out.  To travel light.

Sarah left her home and friends behind in Ur. No mention is made of her pining away about what she left behind.  She moved and tented wherever her husband led.  Trusting and submitting to this fallible husband BECAUSE she trusted God.  And she was at rest.

I bet she didn’t have a worry line in her old face!

Worry – futile and evil

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Luke 12: 22 Then Jesus said to the disciples, “And so I tell you not to worry about the food you need to stay alive or about the clothes you need for your body.” (GNT)

Christians know they are commanded NOT to worry.  And some of us do worry from time to time.  This is an account of when I recently succumbed to worry. We had been in Seattle for our mom’s 90th birthday.  And I was NOT at peace about some of the return trip details.

We were due to land in Charlotte, a 3-hour drive from our house in the Smokey Mountains.  On this late November Friday it would be dark when we landed at 7:30 pm.  I brooded about 2 significant details:

  • What about dinner?  First off, we wouldn’t want to spend time at a restaurant, which would only delay our arrival home.  But where would we buy low-carb food that time of night, once we left the airport?  Should we stop at a food place in the airport before claiming our bags?  The problem was that our bodies were operating on Seattle time (4:30 pm) and wouldn’t be hungry.
  • More troublesome than that was my imagined ‘what-if’:  What if there is a tree down across the gravel road leading up to our isolated house?  I didn’t want to imagine Mike, stopping and getting out his chainsaw and in the dark cutting, and removing a tree.  We would be exhausted from the plane ride and the drive and the general stress of air travel at Thanksgiving.

I had been churning over these 2 situations during our trip to Seattle.  And hadn’t come to any resolution.

Here is how God reminded me, yet again, of the futility of worry:

  • Our take-off was delayed by 2 hours (we sat on the plane, having taxied back for a mechanical problem.)
  • Realizing we probably wouldn’t arrive in Charlotte until 9:30 pm, Mike and I chatted and decided it would be wise to get a hotel near the airport.  Because we were on the plane and back at the gate, I could use my phone. I booked us a room.
  • Now, what about food?  Maybe we’d just skip dinner and eat almonds which I always carry in my purse…..fasting wouldn’t hurt us.
  • Here’s how God answered that need.  We arrived at the Charlotte airport hotel at 10:10 pm.  There was a bar in the lobby.  They stopped serving food at 10:30. We checked in, left our luggage in the car, sat down and ordered bunless burgers, a salad and something to drink.

God came through, providing our low-carb dinner AND arranging our drive home for the next day.  We slept soundly, felt rested and made our way home under sunny skies.  And there were no trees down in the cove.

Once again, I saw how pointless it is to worry and ponder imaginary ‘what-ifs’.

Yes, worry is futile.  But how is it evil?

Hebrews 5:13-14 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.  But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

These verses above pinged me last week when I read them in a prayer.  Here are my conclusions:

  • Milk and solid food refer to 2 levels of Biblical teaching – the first is basic familiarization for new believers. The latter – a deeper study for mature believers.
  • The Bible teaches God’s standard of righteousness or holiness.
  • We grow more holy as we learn to distinguish good from evil.
  • God is the One and only who has authority to define evil and good.

Here are two examples of God explicitly describing evil.

  •  Jer 2:13 ….my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
  • Another example of how God defines evil is idolatry or serving something created, rather than the Creator.  Gal 2:20 And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

My conclusion from these and other verses? That doing anything not from faith in or grateful reliance on God is sin, aka evil – Romans 14:23 For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

Father, PLEASE help me, by your Holy and supernatural Spirit, not only to recognize when I’m straying into worry but to choose NOT to indulge in this futile, evil pattern. Amen.

 

Not my plan, not my life, not my worry

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It started like this.  We were reading about King Jehosophat and his God-ward response to the imminent attack by hordes of Moabites and Ammonites.  At the time, I was praying for someone enduring a long-term trial.

Each time I ‘revisit’ the reign of King J, I draw encouragement to turn over ‘impossible’ situations to our Father.  While in 2 Chronicles this time around, I shared with Cousin Terry my ongoing prayer.  She immediately pointed out what happened AFTER the Judean king humbled himself in his public prayer about the approaching enemy.  Opening up to chapter 20 of 2 Chronicles I found this in verses 4-6a:

And the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, son of Benaiah, son of Jeiel, son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, in the midst of the assembly.  And he said, “Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the Lord to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s.  Tomorrow go……..”

Seeing in print God’s encouraging direction NOT to fear, but to trust God and to fight in the Lord’s battle shifted something in my mind.

Subsequently, when I found myself wondering how God would come through to answer this top-of-my-list petition, I stopped and confessed to day-dreaming. I redirected my thoughts and recited out loud:

  • not my battle
  • not my plan
  • not my rescue

Next, I would turn my thoughts toward HIM, the one true God who is imminently qualified and powerful, and motivated to make his name known as Rescuer.

You might push back and say: ‘What’s wrong with indulging in a little speculation about how God is going to act?”

For me, it’s sin.  Because I derive more pleasure from fantasizing through possible outcomes God might choose than from thinking about what awaits me in heaven or about all the privileges I have now as a follower of Jesus.

Three weeks later, the ‘not my plan’ response has grown roots as my # 1 weapon (when I catch myself) against WORRYING, FEARING, FANTASIZING, ENVYING OR…. today, DREADING.  I added ‘dreading’ this morning when I realized that only one week of summer break remains.  Past years have found me dreading the rev-up of the school year that lessens leisure time at home.  Today God enabled me quickly to direct my thoughts this way.

First here is my assumption as a rock-solid foundation:

I believe that God sovereignly directs all things in this universe “……according to the purpose of the One working all things according to the counsel of His will.” Ephesians 1:11.

And then this premise:

It must follow logically that my good Father has a plan for me today along with the provisioning grace needed for each happening event.  Since God only plans what will be ETERNALLY ‘good’ for me as his child, I can relax.  I trust him.

Freed from all that mess of anxiety and fear, what do I do?  At my Father’s disposal, I do the next thing that seems good to me, keeping my eyes on him for a change in direction.

How comforting, these 3 words.

How do you combat the sin of worry and fear?

 

 

 

 

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