My inner murmurer

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Do everything without complaining….– Phil 2:14a

And they complained in their tents and they did not hear the voice of Lord Jehovah. – Psalm 106:25

Here’s a typical Maria tape – a transcript of my inner narration:

  • Sigh….I’ve GOT to go for my cove walk (it’s painful because of the hills)
  • Sigh….I’ve GOT to water the plants
  • Sigh….I’ve GOT to make supper AND get a crockpot ready for tomorrow night
  • Sigh….I’ve GOT to wash my hair today
  • Sigh….I’ve GOT to start back to work, which will REALLY cut into ‘my’ time

I tend to dread chores/events that are either discomforting or ones that reduce my time to sit down and do what I truly love – reading and catching up on correspondence with friends via email.

I think that inner wingeing voice has had free reign for longer than I know.  For a while now I’ve been aware that I am the source of most of my discontent.  But looking back, I think I have lived for years, accompanied by that unceasing inner complaining.

It’s only in the past week that I have suddenly awoken to the fact that I, Maria, a born-anew person, am endued with the permanent Holy Spirit of power, love and even-keeled understanding. Hey, I don’t have to continue struggling with discontent. I can kill the fleshly default. How?  By believing and acting on the many promises He has given me as part of my equipment.

And this idea to break my complaining habit is not just a good Maria plan.  God WANTS me to turn away from such sin.  No matter how ‘natural’ it may be.  No matter how common, accepted and normative in our culture it seems.  But come on, maybe verbalizing discontent, even to myself, might be something God frowns on, but is it really such a big deal, such a huge sin?  Isn’t it just one of those ‘little-ole-lady’ sins, as my husband used to call them?

Um, nope.  There’s an entire commandment devoted to it.  #10 – Do not covet!  What is coveting but wanting what you don’t have, wishing things were different.

Just this awareness that I CAN conquer my grousing habit has been enough to change the quality of my inner life.  The insight that inner complaining is wicked and evil has motivated me to find a new narrative.

I find that as soon as a thought forms like, “Oh…the dreaded up-and-down hill walk faces me before I can sit down with coffee and Bible” I’m quick to substitute a new script:

I GET TO go exercise my body.

That one little 2.5-word replacement for “I’ve GOT TO” apparently is sufficient to halt the complaining and block my mood from souring.

So for sure I’m encouraged by my waning discontent, but even more significant is the growing realization that I was engaging and practicing sin.  For according to Psalm 106 as quoted above, my inner murmurer was preventing me from hearing God.

Thank you, kind Father, for giving me your Holy Spirit who keeps on working to make me holy so I can see you and hear you more clearly.

Romans 7:25 – I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.

If you’re going to dwell on something….

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If you’re anything like me, you might get caught up in ‘do-loops’ from time to time.  That’s when you can’t stop thinking about a problem or difficult situation and you go ’round and ’round, without getting anywhere.

Fast Merry Go Rounds on a playground

 

 

 

I have let myself get mired down in a situation like that – even though I have a teaching contract for next year, I keep thinking about other job possibilities.  The problem is – no doors have opened and few suitable situations loom – at least THAT I CAN SEE!

But what happens when you think about a problem?  You FEEL weighted down and depressed.  Joyce Meyer, a popular Christian speaker, has some advice:

Stop Thinking about a problem

 

 

 

 

 

But does that go far enough?  No!  If we don’t replace the now-forbidden topic with something else to think about, we’ll just go back to worrying about the same old problem!

The solution is to fix our gaze (our mind’s eye) on something else beside the problem.  This is what the Hebrew people experienced early in their desert wanderings with Moses.  In Numbers 21 the Jews complained about the food and water situation.  That was their problem.  And in their bitter recriminations –  a blatant slap in the face to God who had sprung them from Egyptian slavery, they looked at their lacks.

So God sent a worse problem – lethal biting snakes and many died.  But along with this punishment, God provided a way out for those who would alter the direction of their gaze.  Moses was instructed to cast a snake replica and fix it on top of a pole and hold it up.  Those who TRUSTED God’s instructions did what they were bidden, looked up at something other than their circumstances and were healed.

Moses and serpent on a pole

  •  The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”  So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.  Numbers 21: 7 to 9

 

So, too, with us – if we want healing, we have to think about something else.

This account in Numbers is actually a picture of the Gospel in the Old Testament.  Just like those ‘wandering Jews’, we 21st century men and women are also practiced complainers against God.  And because of this inexcusable disobedience against our Maker, we are headed toward everlasting death.  But God has sent a remedy.  If we look up at Jesus and forsake our own attempts to save ourselves,  we can be healed.  The Son of God took the punishment we deserved by submitting to death on a cross.  His murder and resurrection produced 2 gifts for us:

One……

  • His death is both proof that the Father deemed the payment for OUR sins sufficient
  • Our trust in that ‘fait accompli’ means the payment applies to us

Two….

  • His resurrection to new life is proof that we too will also be raised
  • Our first-step trust** means we are now included IN Christ and are guaranteed to be raised to the New Heavens as well

(**Jesus’ death in our place only counts for us if we TRUST what God says about our dire condition and His Son’s work FOR us and if we STOP trying to save ourselves through what WE do)

Given all that (and that’s a lot), Paul tells us how to live in this sorrow-filled world:

  1. Rejoice in what the triune God (Christ, the Father and the Holy Spirit) has done for you
  2. Give God all your problems
  3. Don’t think any more about those problems but INSTEAD about what is…true, noble, right and just, pure, lovely, acceptable, excellent and praiseworthy

The bottom line is this:  We become what we behold.

Become what you behold

Who wants to look like one of his or her problems!!!!

 

Entitled to what?

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Entitlements are a hot potato in today’s political climate.  You want someone’s vote?  Promise that you will fight to increase what is their ‘due’.  But what sounds like a benefit is actually poisonous and harmful to one’s wellbeing.

The feeling of entitlement sets us up for:

  • Anger
  • Bitterness
  • Resentment
  • Anxiety
  • Fear

You can recognize the seed of entitlement within when you start to say, “I deserve…..”

Truthfully, there is only one thing we deserve:  DEATH!!!

God says, “The wages of sin are death.” (Romans 6:23)

Starting back in Eden’s paradise, sin required the death of someone.  When Adam & Eve turned from trusting in God, animals died:

Satan:  “You DESERVE unlimited access to all the trees in Eden. Is it fair that God should withhold from you that tree over there – the ‘Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil’?”

Adam & Eve:  “Hmm…no that ISN’T fair.  We deserve……”

**

Closer to our day, consider these common scenarios. Think of the feelings they might engender:

  • I deserved that promotion, not Joe!
  • When I get on the scale and I’ve deprived myself for a week, I should weigh……
  • My husband should know that I need adult conversation after 12 hours at home dealing with toddlers!
  • Who does that idiot driver think he is, cutting me off like that! He should know how to drive before he gets behind the wheel!
  • My time is valuable- Walmart should hire more clerks!
  • No one ever notices the work I do.  I try to make a difference here at the office.  But I never get any credit.  They don’t appreciate me at all!
  • After my long commute and the hours I put in at the office, I need some chill time to myself.  The kids ought to know better and leave me in peace.
  • He knows my hot buttons.  He shouldn’t have said that!
  • I deserve the A, not him!  I did my research the correct way, wrote a rough draft first before my final copy.  All Sam did was pull it out of the air during an all-nighter.  Why can’t our prof see that!!!

My friend and I are reading a book that is changing how I see my life.  It’s called  Calm My Anxious Heart – A Woman’s Guide to Finding Contentment

The author’s premise is that when we COMPLAIN or COMPARE or WONDER how the past might have been different or FANTASIZE about the future or DWELL on tomorrow – We are destroying our contentment.

I am actually beginning to catch my internal complaints.  I have come to realize that my normal sinful bent to be impatient is a form of complaining.  When someone is taking up MORE of my time than I want to give, I am actually saying, “This should not be happening!”

Not only does contentment evaporate like rain on a hot Tampa afternoon, I am actually lying.  Who says that THIS should NOT be happening?  Who says that I SHOULD have designer-life?   After all, I deserve death.

Let’s get honest, though.

The above examples are actually not the ones that try my soul.  It is my fears that pose a greater challenge.

  • When I start to fear the death of a loved one in a car accident…….
  • When I start to fear not being able to find another job teaching French…..
  • When I start to fear a family member never being saved by Christ…..

I think what I am really saying to God is this:

I have a vision of the future that I think is best.  I’m afraid that it is not going to work out the way I want because I know that I am not in control.  I actually NEED you, God, to make it like I want!

A more precise translation would be:  I should be guaranteed the exact unfolding of my vision of the future as it concerns me.

**

The antidote to my misplaced, misinformed sense of entitlement? – Repentance and trust in Jesus

This is why the Gospel has to be my life, every breath of the day.  Exhale-repent/ inhale-trust.  This is the only way to walk in Christ, to live by means of Christ, by means of His light, by means of His love.  When I detour off HIS path toward MY entitlements, the raucous WARNING-WARNING-WARNING of fear, anger, resentment, bitterness, impatience alerts me.

Once again, it’s back to:    Breathe out my sin – breathe in His Grace – feel His joy and presence.

I want more than a blessing

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Genesis 24:1   Now Abraham was old, advanced in age; and God had blessed Abraham in every way.

So….what more could he want? Abraham had wealth, status, power and obviously favor with God.

If I were Abraham I would want a lot more:  CONTROL and ABSENCE OF PROBLEMS!

You see, Abraham, though amazingly blessed, still had a major challenge.  His son Isaac needed a wife, the right kind of woman who would be appropriate to play a major role in God’s promised plan.  So Abraham sent his oldest and most trusted servant (we never learn his name) on a long-shot mission, to persuade a suitable woman to come out in the middle of ‘nowhere’ to marry into a very strange family.

Here’s the point.  Even when we have ALL of God’s blessings, we still have to deal with problems.  Challenges/burdens are opportunities to trust God and wait with patience while praying steadfastly.  These unlikely ‘friends’ are also reminders to hold our desired ends lightly.  When faced with a problem, I usually know how I want it to work out.  My vision causes me to be anxious, because I realize that I lack the ability (control) to bring about what I want.  I chafe at this lack of assurance that my outcome will be realized.  So I regard problems as anathema and think sometimes that they should not even be, since I’m now a Child of God, a believer.

But God’s ways are not Maria’s. I think I’m getting a glimpse of how God has set up life for His children.

The only way we will continue to trust our Father is for us to be needy.  Problems are both God’s chosen means to insure on-going reliance on Him and a daily wake-up call that we are not in control.  He obviously thinks we are at risk of forgetting this fact.

Here’s what I’ve been pondering.  If God means problems to be woven into the fabric of human life, both for believers and pagans alike, then I should change how I look at them.  Yes, I know about Brother James’ ‘Pure Joy Club’ (….count it pure joy, my brothers when you meet trials of all kinds…James 1:2 ) but despite that verse and others from Paul, I still regard problems as ‘the enemy’!

Recently, however, I encountered a different way of looking at life.  And it’s tempting.  CS Lewis apparently divided the world into happy people and people who don’t LIKE to be happy.  Before reading this, I naively assumed that happy people were those with no more problems.  But maybe that species does not even exist.  If that is so, then maybe Paul was onto something when he affirmed (first paraphrasing 2 Cor 5:5 –since we have this down payment -i.e. Holy Spirit  of what is to come, ”Therefore,) we always feel cheerful, confident and courageous..…” 2 Cor 5:6a

So here’s my new prayer:  Father, enable me to remember hourly what You have done for me through my adoption and assigned inheritance and equipping me with the permanent Holy Spirit as a guarantee of what is mine.  Furthermore, so change my mind through your Holy Spirit Renovation project that just thinking of my adoption and inheritance cheers me to no end so that I take the daily problems in stride.  After all, stupid is the child of God who keeps problems to herself instead of casting them on her Father to handle.

The pain and blessing of discouragement – or where is that abundant grace?

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2 Cor 9:8 – And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all-sufficiency in all things you may have an abundance for every good work.

This is my 3rd year teaching one particular French class and I have let this class color my school life. I live with daily discouragement.   When I teach their class, I feel inadequate as a French teacher. It’s partly because of their personalities and partly because I have not yet developed sufficient skills with TPRS® (teaching proficiency and reading through story-telling), the foreign language methodology I use for French.

They are a quiet group of students with little inclination to use their imaginations. Their lack of participatory energy makes my skills all the more necessary to carry the class.  I feel like a stand-up comedian whose jokes fall flat.  It’s uncomfortable.  My French 1s and 2s are very imaginative and eager to create stories.  It’s easy to work with their momentum and interest.  We play a mutual game, this tossing language back and forth.  Class with those two levels is productive and satisfying because the burden is shared.

My daily negative evaluation and self-talk is ongoing.  But so are my prayers.  My verse this week has been Paul’s encouraging words meant to assure us that we risk nothing by sowing a lot.  If we sow much, we will reap much, because it’s God who causes the increase.  Let me assure you that I sow plentifully and pour myself into this class and still feel pathetic as a teacher.

I’ve been talking to God a lot these days.  My conversation has been something like the elder brother – “Lord, I’m working really hard, reading what other practitioners write, trying new things and I’m frustrated. I pray continuously and acknowledge that I am helpless and needy.  You know that I have limited time and can only invest so much into lesson prep.  I’m offering the widow’s mite, the 5 loaves and 3 fishes, depending on you to make it be enough.  I’m not even asking for leftovers.  Just make what I have to offer be enough!!!!  Why don’t you help me?  It’s not fair!!”   I can be VERY whiny!!

But this morning I had a glimmer.  Something worked well in French 2 and I saw how I might be able to apply it to French 3.  Could it be that God is letting me just stew and struggle against the waves and find my way?  I don’t want that.  I want the rough waters to part. I want smooth sailing.  I want to feel like I’m a competent teacher with skills that always work.  I don’t like living like one of those salmon struggling to make her way up stream.  I don’t like being the caterpillar pushing against the cocoon.  In short, I don’t like on-going flailing, depending on God and waiting for His help.  But maybe more is at stake in my struggle than just feeling comfortable with my skills.

This morning I was reading in Charles Spurgeon about a time when a heaviness would not lift.  He had been feeling despondent and finding no sin to repent of, he wondered at his depressed state of mind. He repeatedly asked God to restore to him a state of thankfulness and joy.  As it happened, a very troubled man came to him for help that Sunday after services.  Because Spurgeon had been feeling so empty, he was actually able sufficiently to identify with the man’s feelings and offer him Gospel hope.  Now he saw why God had allowed him to remain discouraged.  He would not have been able to connect as well with the miserable man who sought him out.  Spurgeon’s conclusion was that sometimes God causes us to feel a certain way for the benefit of someone else.  If we belong to Him, we should submit to however God chooses to use us.

So, dear Lord, I will labor on and trust that you know what you’re doing with me and this French class.  May your will be done!

About God’s glory – what I learned on my school’s retreat

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Psalm 19:1-2

1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge

So whose glory are you intent on displaying?  Whose knowledge?  If nature purposefully magnifies God, why don’t we?

These are questions I ask myself daily.  For over a year, I have been painfully aware that I am more interested in communicating my talents and my uniqueness, hence ‘my glory’ than I am about making God look good.  Yet my daily prayer is, “Give me this day Lord, an opening to say something that makes much of you”.  Rarely, do I achieve that.  Now, to be truthful, I pray in the morning and then the rest of the day I fall back into my natural thought patterns of wanting someone to find me fascinating and ask me about my life.  Yes, I am well aware that this is pretty pathetic and also sinful.  I am stealing God’s glory.  After all, the reason you & I are alive is to glorify God.  So daily, I am NOT fulfilling my God-given purpose.

Last week our school, Summit Christian Academy, dedicated 3 days to an off-campus retreat.  The schedule for teachers and 7th-12th graders included community service, outdoor activities, free time, a talent show, games, small group time and a speaker.

The pastor’s theme was something to do about living a radically different life.  But God’s theme for me was, “How NOT to Rob God of His Glory”.  I was primed.  The young man from Lynchburg spoke for 3 one-hour sessions and it was in the last 10 minutes of Session 3, that God gave me specific insight on how to accomplish my heart-felt prayer.

The text was Acts 19: 13-16.  There were seven sons of a Jewish priest named Sceva.  These sons were exorcists who had observed Paul invoking Jesus’ name and driving out evil spirits.  They tried to copy Paul, although they were not believers.  At one point during an exorcism, a demon spoke out, frightening the seven fakers.  He said, “Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” And of course, these startled and petrified men fled, leaving their very clothes behind them.

The pastor’s point (that God tailored to me) was that as long as we have our own agenda and are living for ourselves, we are NO threat to the spirit world, the world of demons. In fact, we are like the seven sons of Sceva, totally unknown to Satan’s minions.  Self-absorption, therefore, is a guarantee of totally ineffectiveness on behalf of the Kingdom of God.  I will add the other SELF-sins:  SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS, COMPLAINING, WORRY, SELF-PITY, DEFENSIVENESS.  You get the picture.  As long as we are just about ourselves, we are certainly not glorifying Jesus.

But, if we realize that by our living for God’s glory, we can ‘stick it to the spirit world’ as the pastor put it, we are fulfilling our purpose.  When we don’t complain amidst difficult circumstances, we are a threat to the dark side.  When we are praising God for who He is, when we are praying, when we are patiently waiting year after year – in faith for God to work in someone’s life, we are taking a stand for the worth of God’s glory.   In short, when our thought life is so immersed in God instead of in us, we are confounding ‘the spiritual forces of wickedness’.

Paul is explicit in his letter to the Ephesians when he says that our fight is not against flesh and blood, but…..

We are ….contending against the despotisms, against the powers, against [the master spirits who are] the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spirit forces of wickedness in the heavenly (supernatural) sphere.

As you can see, this pastor’s words during our retreat were the practical ‘how-to’ I needed to actively glorify God instead of Maria.  What is SO encouraging to me is that in light of what my purpose is and equipped with these concrete steps, I can now see how every day matters.  There doesn’t have to be any such thing as a wasted day, no matter how my personal ‘stuff’ goes.  Problems, setbacks, failures as well as successes are ALL occasions to wait, thank God, trust Him and pray.   I can also encourage someone who is flat on her back in the hospital or constrained in a nursing home that her life also matters, no matter her physical limitations.  One’s good attitude matters, one’s prayers for others matter, one’s good cheer matters, and how one spends her waking hours DOES make a difference in God’s kingdom.

So thank you Pastor Matt.  I, too, will enjoy opening my eyes each morning and imagining the spiritual forces of darkness grumbling, “Oh no, she’s awake!”

 

Letter to a son – what we failed to teach you

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Dear Son –

Dad and I were so blessed by your phone call last night. Your transparent accounting of what you struggle with at age 22, both as a newly married man and a recently commissioned Infantry lieutenant, convey trust and love for us and a longing to grow.  These two changes in your life are major, in and of themselves.  Together they provide a lot of stress; even if they are circumstances you have chosen and for which you have mentally prepared.    You’ve faced difficult challenges before, since you’ve been a Christian for 6 or so years and have experienced pruning and growth. But new developments have peeled away a comfort layer and revealed more sin for your Father to address.  Your attitude and reaction to some of these feelings raised have caught you by surprise.

The way you described what God has been teaching you was well articulated.  It’s not a first-time lesson nor is it unique to you.  The choice before all Christians is to walk/abide in our human flesh or to walk/abide in Christ.  The first choice is more comfortable because we have developed personal coping mechanisms to deal with daily unpleasantness.  The second option works far better, but either doesn’t always occur to us and/or doesn’t appeal.  Our pride/stubbornness leads us to default to the shortcut, even if we can accurately predict the outcome. We are used to failure, self-condemnation, our own excuses and concomitant spewing over onto those we love.

Here are some observations from your parents who are 31 years older than you.  However, we have really only been growing as Christians for the past 10 years.  So you, your brother, Dad and I are really about the same age as God’s Kids.

Dad and I DID NOT teach you the following: (we have been learning these realities ourselves in recent years, since you left for college)

  • The reason we were born is to glorify God.
  • The nature of life on earth is brokenness and  warfare
  • Because of Christ in us, we can have purpose and joy beyond measure, but they have NOTHING to do with comfort or circumstances.  They have to do with the Cross.

First – the purpose of life is to glorify God.  Relentlessly, the world tells us that life is all about us.  Hear the constant litany – “our comfort, our desires, our bodies, our accomplishments, our purposes, our stuff, and our rights.”   We have to intentionally choose to live moment by moment, breath by breath for what magnifies and makes most of God, not what exalts us.  John Piper exhorts us not to waste our lives on ourselves, no matter how much we beguile ourselves with our own self-worth.  Self, self, self!

Second – because of the Fall, life is hard.  Because of Satan, we are in a war.   John Piper calls us to adopt a warfare mentality.  That’s not bad.  You were mentioning that a good soldier always has a plan and is prepared to fight.  Our enemy is not just terrorists from another land, fellow humans.  All they can do is kill us.  Our real enemy is far worse. He can deceive us into believing that God doesn’t exist, or in inventing our own version of God, made in our image.

So even though we Christians know how the story ends, we have to be alert and on guard.  The American dream in both the active working years and in retirement is a major ploy of Satan’s.  He has lulled us into thinking that this life is all there is and we had better enjoy it.  Meanwhile, he is behind our lines as a 5th column, beguiling the ‘innocent’.   Be mad!  Get righteously angry, but not at fellow humans, but at the Father of Lies.

My 3rd point is worth more discussion than I have time right now.  But I don’t think you need convincing of the possibility of lasting joy and purpose in Christ.  We are comforted and assured by God’s Word that, even now on Earth, we have eternal life.  Furthermore, God be praised, we are blessed with brief glimpses of joy even while wearing these perishable bodies.

Yet, as your chronologically older sister and brother in Christ, KNOW that this painful lesson of choosing to abide in Christ, rather than working out of your flesh/ your dominant side is a lesson you will have to RELEARN, time and time again.  I’m sorry to tell you that.  Were it otherwise!  But that’s reality here on Earth.  I still struggle with complaining and a poor attitude. I have to be pulled up short, daily.  I’m even doing what I love, teaching French.  Still I grumble, because of lack of perceived comfort, time, and choice circumstances, all the ME- desires.  Your father is blessed to sing with a quality chorus as a hobby.  He still struggles with the insidious temptation to work alone out of his own strength, thus experiencing frustration or to be yoked with Christ and enjoy rest.  How simple the choice seems with distance.  How blind we are.

So be prepared to fall again and again. We thank God for your wife, a godly woman who loves you and will hold you accountable.  And you will do the same for her, when she fails to remember the way life is.   Repentance is a blessing and the Father’s arms are never shut.  Fly to him frequently.

Love,

Mom & Dad

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