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?

 

 

 

 

Spiritual lesson from a botched colonoscopy

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Our Father has a sense of humor.  Even with colonoscopies.

It was the dreaded 10-year purge by puke-worthy prep liquid ritual of aging.

D Day – 2:  give up my beloved fruits and vegetables.  I started to feel ‘OTHER’ when I dined with my colleagues at school.

D Day – 1: no food after 11:59 am.  I stayed in my classroom during ‘lunch’ so I wouldn’t have to WATCH my colleagues enjoy their food.  Pity party continued all afternoon.  Got home and endured my Purge Cocktail. Happily chugged 32 ounces of water right afterward as directed.  Looked forward to warming some vegetable broth (I’m vegan for 18 out of 21 meals a week) to nurse AFTER that my ordeal.  Only to find out that the reason they restrict one to chicken broth is that it’s LIGHT colored and my veg broth is DARK.  And dark colors are ‘verboten’. Nothing but peppermint tea for me rest of evening.  Meanwhile, Mike enjoyed his dinner.  And wine.

D Day – my only consolation for the double horror of round 2 of the prep liquid is that ‘At least I won’t have to do this for another 10 years!’.  Famous last words.

Matthew 6:25-27  Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

Once my morning beverage was behind me, the ‘what ifs’ taunted me.  I listened for a while:

  • The doctor who was to do the procedure had told me that he lived in Asheville and commuted the 45-50 minutes to my local hospital.  ‘What if he is sick?  or has car trouble?  or there is traffic? If he can’t make it in, they’d have to RESCHEDULE me!  And I’ll have to drink that stuff all over again!’

I fought that fear with facts about God’s providence and control over every single molecule in the universe.

The worry gremlins probed again:

  • ‘What if there is a tree that has fallen down in the middle of the night, after all that rain?.  It might block our egress off of the mountain onto the 4-lane to the hospital?’

Again, by faith I reminded myself of who God was, meditating on His command:  Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)   Whew! Once down the hill, I thanked our good God.

We arrived at the hospital on time at 7:15.  All went well.  The staff was friendly and competent.  The doctor poked his head into the prep room to greet both of us.  The procedure went well from my point of view.  Quicker than both Mike and I expected I was wheeled back into the prep room.

Then the ‘bombshell’.   “You weren’t cleaned out enough.  I could not complete the scope.  I’m afraid we’ll have to reschedule you. Soon.”

Rats and double rats!  That’s putting it mildly.  I responded to the gastrointestinal expert with something a little more reflective of how I actually felt.  I had not anticipated this possibility.  In fact, I had not even WORRIED through this scenario.

As Mike and I were driving back up the mountain lane to our house, I contemplated yet another round of this ‘hardship’. Suddenly I saw the absolute futility of worrying about possible negative outcomes.  A chuckle escaped.  Mike looked over at me in the passenger seat, eyebrows raised.  I explained:

“Michael, you and I worry about different things.  But worry is worry, no matter what flavor.  I suddenly see that I wasted energy angsting over what might occur to cause me to have to go through that awful prep, all over again.  I think God is showing me that I cannot predict anything, so why should I bother mucking around in possible negative futures?  He’s sovereign, one way or another.  Better just to relax and trust Him.  Usually what I worry about never even comes to pass.  And if He has an event planned for me, then He will provide the grace to enable me to live through it.  Today, apparently, was more TRAINING that I needed.  He’s trying to teach me NOT to worry, but to rely on Him.”

Mike nodded in agreement.  He recognizes that each day contains these kinds of lesson plans. Part of God’s daily spiritual ‘workouts’ to make us more like our Big Brother, Jesus.

But do you know what?  There’s a happy corollary to this pattern of God’s, His unpredictability in some things.  He has unimaginably good and joyful plans for us, too:

1 Cor 2:9 (NLT) That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”

So….what did I learn from this to-be-repeated unpleasantness?  Simply that there is absolutely NO good reason to worry.  May God help me remember that!

 

 

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.

 

 

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