What God commands – impossible!

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May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in obedience to him and keep the commands, decrees and laws he gave our ancestors. 1 Kings 8:58 (NIV)

I incline my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the end.  Psalm 119:112 (ESV)

I argued ALL day long!  Conversing with God throughout the hours, using Gospel logic. And at the end of the day, I was exhausted and still miserable and STUCK!

What was the matter?  Nothing more than not being happy with a number on a scale.

You’d say that my battle with the idol of the scales and an arbitrary weight I have self-assigned is IRRATIONAL.  And you’re right.  But I can’t seem to respond to unbiased logic.

The two-day battle took place on a Monday and a Wednesday (the one-day reprieve provided some emotional rest).

What made things worse was seeing that appealing to God’s promises and statements of Biblical fact did not appear to help.  In times of suffering, my go-to verses are these verses that I have personalized:

  • No good thing do you withhold, Lord, because I belong to you. – Ps 84:11
  • I know you do ALL things well, Jesus. Mark 7:37

Between affirming those truths, I tried to OBEY him.  Repeatedly I cast THIS care onto Him.  (1 Peter 5:7) But when no emotional or spiritual relief came, I concluded ‘it hadn’t worked’ and told my Father again, “Look, I’m casting this on you.  Help me!  I’m trying to do what you ask!”

I finally told my husband what I was struggling with, sheepish and ashamed, because we’ve been married 37 years. He has listened to me many a night pour out the same grief and pain.

Besides sharing a powerful insight that maybe this ‘thorn’ is a permanent gift from God, meant to drive me even closer to him, he offered this advice:

Maria, you can’t even begin to do what God commands, such as handing this issue over to him.  He has to help you even with this!  In fact YOUR acknowledged helplessness and powerlessness is what God wants from you, not your obedience.  He knows you are incapable of obeying.

Further tender counseling on his part revealed that I have a ways to go to think rightly about this burden.  Mike pointed out that I’ve been living and functioning as though eating and my body-care were something I could manage or control.  I realize this is a lie, an illusion that I have WANTED to believe. What betrays me is how often my prayers have been:

  • God, Father, just show me HOW to eat and WHAT to eat so I can be done with this.  I’m sick of focusing on me.  I want to be free of thinking about me.

A young friend shared recently how her days are REALLY hard and painful. She’s a young wife with a baby.  Continually she cries out to God for help.  But he doesn’t seem to respond.

Her experience and mine find company in the Psalms.  Some of those dark, hope-less accounts of David and Heman, one of his musicians, don’t end with cheer and relief from God.  Read Psalm 88, all of it.  Here are just two verses:

13  But I, O LORD, cry to you;

in the morning my prayer comes before you.

14  O LORD, why do you cast my soul away?

Why do you hide your face from me?

What I’m concluding is that God DOES care.  And if He isn’t answering me in the way I expect him too, it’s because he’s still up to something good in my life.  The story is not over yet.  I just thought that BY NOW, I’d have put THIS struggle to bed.

One byproduct of this misery is this:  I find that I am far more compassionate with some of the ongoing patterns of sin and pain other struggle with, especially the kind we bring on ourselves!

But I’m tired.

What about you? Do you feel saddled, still, with the ‘same ole, same ole’ sin?  What has helped you?

 

God’s sense of humor – my lunch hours

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For 3 years I resisted.  Finally, BEGRUDGINGLY, I gave Him one lunchtime per week. After all, that Holy Spirit can be a pretty persistent Friend and Counselor.

As a busy teacher, I cherish my lunchtime to catch up on personal email when neither duties nor meetings take precedent.

Most of my fellow teachers share lunch and conversation in the foyer, eating and socializing at an oblong table.  I have KNOWN I should join in, especially if I want to develop relationships and be available for Gospel opportunities.  But I have selfishly hoarded lunchtime, justifying my choice by reasoning that I use those minutes to encourage friends via emails and catching up on reading some quality posts.  All true, but……as God teaches in Ecclesiastes 3:1 There’s a time for everything and a season for every activity under the sun.

So under the gentle but persistent pressure of the Holy Spirit I yielded and agreed to dine with my fellow teachers once per week.  I even taped an index card on my desk to keep myself accountable, jotting down the date of my ‘ weekly sacrifice’.

To my surprise, I have found that I truly enjoy this social time with colleagues, even to the point of choosing more than once a week to join in the group.  God does have a sense of humor and doesn’t give up on stubborn daughters who think they know what is best for them.

Two benefits:

  • A tangible reminder that God changes our desires so we can find delight in obeying Him

Luke 11:28 – ……how blessed are those who hear God’s word and obey it!

  • I actually was given an opening to share why I am happy as a Christian and to explain the Gospel briefly at one of those lunchtime table talks.

May this experience make me more willing NEXT time to obey the prompting of the Holy Spirit!

 

Fruit of NOT worrying

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Gentleness

 

Because my tendency to worry is one of my on-going battles with sin,  I’m drawn to pray and read God’s Word in hopes that I will be courageous enough to kill off this habit.  My last few posts have chronicled explorations in living ‘WORRY-FREE’, even if only for short periods of time.

Recently I was surprised when I was re-reading the famous passage in Philippians 4 where God says through Paul:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

What struck me this time was how GENTLENESS was set up in contrast to ANXIETY, aka WORRY.

It seems that God is saying that when we are NOT worried, then we can afford to be gentle with others, with ourselves, and all the potential annoying impediments to ‘our agenda’.

But under what kinds of circumstances could anyone NOT be worried?  Is it when we actually ARE care-free?  By all means NO.  If that were the case, then a life without worry would seem like ‘pie in the sky, by and by’!

No, a worry-free life FILLED with stress is what is described here, I think. Remember, this is Paul, the sometime on-the-run church planter and traveling pastor and inveterate writer. The one who was whipped, shipwrecked, stoned, left for dead, imprisoned and finally murdered.  He learned, practiced and encouraged fellow Christians by his example.

When we actually believe God and trust Him enough to hand over each and every (big and little) concern/worry/problem/situation/stress (whatever we euphemistically use to call that which consumes our thoughts and drives our negative feelings), we are beginning to learn how not to be anxious.

Casting Cares and Worries

 

Being gentle is the byproduct of entrusting God with all of our circumstances and ‘situations’.  It’s also a blatant statement of our belief in the sovereign control of God over every single circumstance.

I’m reading Elizabeth Elliot’s 1976 book entitled: Let Me Be a Woman.  It’s a collection of letters of advice to her one and only daughter who is on the verge of marriage.  In chapter/letter/essay 33 she proclaims this fact:

‘What a relief it is to know that there is a divine design.  This knowledge is the secret of serenity. Jesus is the perfect example of a human life lived in serenity and obedience to the Father’s will.  He moved through the events of His life without fuss or hurry. He met men and women with grace.  He was able to say, “I do always those things that please the Father”……’

That whiff of a life lived gently, without anxiety or rush, doesn’t that appeal to you?  But does it sound TOO good to be true?  Did it only work for Jesus because He was God’s son?  Did it only work for Paul because he was super-apostle?

I’m sensing an actual growing excitement that this way of living could actually be true.  But if I can’t turn to my every day ordinary mess and apply God’s command ‘cum’ promise, then it doesn’t apply anywhere and it’s a patent lie.

The way I figure it, I have nothing to lose. I’m banking on God’s character, that every word He has uttered is true because HE is truth.

So:

  • problemsome 6th grade boys
  • bouts of constipation (just being real!)
  • potential of not meeting my principal’s expectations
  • a busy last week in September that might eat into ‘Maria Time’

all these I’m casting, casting….. hourly throughout each day ……on God for He IS the one who IS taking care of me.

 

Do sheep ever worry?

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sheep

 

Obedience, aka the humility to hand over my troubles, to my Heavenly Father has been this season’s lesson.

In the last two blog posts I  detailed how I can now see that the injunction to ‘Cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you’ (1 Peter 5:7) can NOT be taken in isolation, as we Christians are wont to do.

What is missing is the all-important context without which we will MIS-understand God’s message to us.

So what DOES precede this comfortable command of letting go of our distracting worries? Oh..just..the fact that handing over these concerns and anxieties is one way God wants us to humble ourselves.

 

Ambassador for Christ

And what follows the command? Just the reminder of our mission and duty as an ambassador of Christ – that we are to be clear and single-minded so we can watch out for our enemy who is on the hunt for distracted Christians. We are actually assigned to be our ‘brother’s keeper’, our ‘brother’ being those dear fellow believers who are distracted by their worries.

 

With that review, let me give you a peek at Part 3 of God’s lesson plan. The Holy Spirit used a couple of teachings by John Piper to give me some concrete practice in trusting God.

In a series of talks about faith in future grace, Piper reminded me of the only way to prevent distracting worries. Power to hand over concerns and live single-mindedly and focused, as God commands, is only possible if we take as true and sure God’s promises of His adequate provision.

I need to recall that God’s interactions with me until now have been ALL GRACE. Two ways I see His past grace:

  • First – I was saved according to His unearned favor given me
  • Second – Everything I have received ….from energy, to eyesight to education to equipping for tasks has come as a gift from God

So there is a pile of past grace I can look back to for encouragement. But that is not all! His Word looks forward and announces brand new mercies and grace-giftings to come to me.

All I have to do, and I’m practicing REMEMBERING this throughout the day, is breathe in the assurance that whatever lies ahead in the next 5 seconds or 5 minutes is known by Him. And AS life unfolds both in the ordinary daily tasks of teaching French and tending my home as well as the crises, God IS providing what I need.

Simple to grasp, challenging to practice.

Jar of clay

To you, I can admit that I am the clay pot WITH cracks. I don’t HAVE to pretend that I am competent and have it all together. It’s only the world around me that clamors for proof of my self-exalting independence. What a trap!

 

Down to where the rubber meets the road: we’re on a trip to Mike’s alma mater for his 35th class reunion. So many all the many details and circumstances appear ARE out of our control. As I notice my tension, I breathe out my anxiety and breathe in Holy Spirit oxygen and relax. Everything from preparing the substitute plans, to packing, to cat-minding considerations as well as the travel and healthy food arrangements can easily overwhelm me.

I do the above, relax and then MORE concerns pop into my mind. For example, even after God provided for situations that occurred during the day, (rental car, NJ Turnpike, arriving at reunion events reasonably on time) later that night other future situations loomed large. I had to STOP thinking about those details and hand over my ‘right’ to worry. Hasn’t God promised to provide for the next day ON the morrow? Is He not trustworthy?

You’d think I’d come into my heavenly inheritance a week ago and was still getting used to the idea!

What patience Abba Dad exercises with His little kids! I’m thankful He sees this as training for the responsibilities that await us as co-heirs with Jesus.

May you and I trust Him enough to accept with relief and rest that each lesson does have a divine objective. Nothing is wasted or without purpose. Even the suffering.

Thanks be to God!

Question: What promise of future grace can you place your faith in right now?

PS: I have let this post percolate over our travel days. Early this morning as I lay in bed, the first faith skirmish of the day commenced. I started to worry about arriving home late with little time to repack and head off first thing Tuesday morning as a teacher/chaperone for the two-day 8th grade class camp experience. Would I be able to fix dinner, repack, sleep enough and head out the door at 6:45 am on Tuesday morning ready to extravert some more?

What finally settled my anxious heart and scattered mind was Psalm 23.

  • The Lord IS my shepherd
  • He WILL provide
  • There are still waters and green blades of grass in fields I don’t yet see

Good shepherd

I rested easier in bed as I meditated on these facts of future grace and mercy.

Lessons in the midst of suffering

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I asked a few of you this past week to pray..

in particular for a growing problem at my new school this year.  I am now under a kind of informal probation, this my 22nd year of teaching.  Parent complaints, along with specific suggestions meant to help me, have been put into writing by my principal.  The assistant principal has scheduled weekly meetings with me to track my progress as he and I discuss my improvement plan.

Since it is God Himself who has permitted these trials, I am very aware that He has stockpiled sufficient grace to get me through hard times.  As much as I would like to be immediately delivered, I expect that there are many riches to be mined as I walk through this  valley.  Already the Holy Spirit has favored me with the following gold nuggets:

1. No matter what is going on in our lives, we are to DO the will of God.  So what is that will? The first instruction that came to mind was out of Paul’s letter to Thessalonican believers (chapter 5, verses 16-18)

So what does THAT mean?  I look at this exhortation as loving encouragement/direction to nurture myself with what I’m calling “Request Sandwiches:

The first slice of bread is the exhortation to REJOICE.  That means I am to find JOY in who God is, what He has done in the past and all that He IS doing currently. As my friend Joanne pointed out, I need to focus on my unchanging identity as a beloved, adopted daughter with a permanent, heavenly inheritance awaiting me.  That is TRUTH and a bedrock on which I can rest.

Then comes my prayer to God – the meat and cheese of this food.  What do I need?  What do others need?  I’m to be talking to my heavenly Father all the time because….well..He’s a dad!  And dads love their kids!

The final slice of bread that keeps this sandwich intact is my continual thankful heart.  There is never a lack of thank-worthy blessings in my life.  All good blessings come from God.

2. Don’t make ANY decisions when tired.  Exhausted Elijah, after defeating and slaying the priests of the pretend god Baal…

…could not think clearly.  He whined to God that he was the only true prophet left and was being hunted down.(1 Kings 19:9-10)

God led him to a safe place to sleep and then by means of ravens, He fed the poor man before enabling him to run away fast from his murderous enemies.

Friday night I was chaperoning the Middle School dance, so I had stayed at school and didn’t get home until 10 pm.  In my end-of-the-week fatigue, standing amidst the pulsating beat of current teen music, I found my outlook on life itself growing dark, to the point of seeing NOTHING worth living for. (I know – that sounds like an overly dramatic pity party of ONE!)

But the next morning, after 8 hours of restorative sleep, I felt like my old self again.  And I woke up with some counsel from a friend, brought unbidden into my mind by the Holy Spirit.

3. Finally, in our daily Bible reading, Mike and I are in Exodus.  After my first tête-à-tête with the Asst Principal on Wednesday, I picked up my Bible after dinner to finish the 3 chapters assigned for the day. Exodus 30:23 was the first verse I read and the Holy Spirit made it seem as though it applied to me personally:

  • Little by little I’ll get them out of there while you have a chance to get your crops going and make the land your own.

I took that comforting promise of God to mean that gradually families will come around to appreciate what I am doing with their children and that I won’t be compared with previous French teachers.  It won’t happen all at once, but bit by bit!

Without trials, we never test out the promises of God.  Crises and problems are opportunities to practice the book learning. It’s hands-on learning.  And the comfort I am getting from dear friends and family is pretty sweet!

So I soldier on, knowing that I am certainly not alone in struggling.  Everyone has problems all the time.  Some are more painful and dire than others.   But Christians are NOT without supernatural resources. It’s stupid not to use them!

Could it be that bearing fruit is really about looking up?

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John 14: 15  – 17 “If you love me, you WILL (emphasis mine)  keep my commandments.

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper,  to be with you forever, (that is) the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”

Do you know what happens to the ‘Dauphin’, the Heir Apparent, when his father the King dies and he is still too young to rule?  A wise, strong and capable regent is appointed to work with the young monarch.  This is what happened to the Sun King when his father, Louis XIII died.  Louis XIV was not quite 5 years old at the time that he assumed the reins with the Cardinal Mazarin at his side.

King Louis XIV as a boy

What does that have to do with us as believers obeying God and having the Holy Spirit as a counselor?

Today, I glimpsed a different way of looking at those verses in John 14.  I’ve always viewed them as an evaluative test of whether (or how well) I actually loved God.

  • You think you love God?
  • Then prove it!!!
  • Be obedient to all his commands.

Talk about discouragement!

I can’t even be ‘good’ for five minutes!

But what if we interpret the verse following the following logical flow of good news for believers in Christ

  • God loved us, so we are now capable of loving (1 John 4:19 – we love, because he first loved us)
  • If we love God, then we are guaranteed power to keep his commandments
  • Since once we are born again, we are babies in Christ.  It follows that we need a regent, a counselor
  • Jesus promised and then DID send the Holy Spirit to act as counselor
  • We look to King Jesus and we rely on our counselor’s prompting and we grow up in our faith.
  • We start to produce good fruit
  • But…if we take our eyes off of King Jesus and we look at the roiling waters, we sink at the impossibility of doing the very thing we are carrying out!

What good news!  We don’t have to prove something that we know for a fact is not true.  If you’re anything like me then you will probably agree that we don’t keep God’s laws and we don’t love him with a whole heart.  But we don’t have to – in our own strength.  We’re WELL encompassed by expert counsel and have the King’s favor.  He’s training you & me to be capable royal sons and daughters who will one day rule with Him.

What’s the take-away?  We WILL produce fruit to the extent that we keep looking at the King and relying on the Holy Spirit for wisdom, direction and power to grow into our role as a royal and holy priesthood.

Shoo away that horrid American philosophy, “If it’s to be, it’s gonna be up to me!” 

Overwhelmed and the choice to wallow or cast

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Feeling overwhelmed – you can identify, can’t you?

Too many things hanging over me and I don’t want to face any of them. But instead of obediently taking them to the Father, I choose to skulk around in my feelings- “I don’t want to DO anything, I just wish they would all go away and leave me in peace!”

So it was hard to stay focused in church this morning when my mind kept going back to that unpleasant list.

Yet I know the remedy!  God commands us, as a loving Father who understands us and can see exactly what is best:

  • Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.   Phil 4:6
  • You do not have because you do not ask God. James 4:2b

The thing is, it feels like too much trouble to articulate what I want, so I let apathy and pathetic pity just hover like a grey cloud.

” Oh God, Help me!  You say that your mercies are new every morning!  If I woke up in a luxury hotel this morning and felt like I wanted something, or I needed something, wouldn’t I pick up the phone and ask for it, either from Room Service, the Front Desk or the Hotel Concierge?”

“Father, I’m not saying that You are a short order needs provider…yet..

You DO say that given a choice between WORRYING about stuff, or taking the time and energy to PRAY in specific words for what I need , (i.e. specifically and measurably) that we should come to You as a loving Father.  Not just once, but over and over again, like that annoying widow.”

  • Jesus told them a story showing that it was necessary for them to pray consistently and never quit. Luke 18:1

” Okay, Dad, I will go off line from this blog for a few moments and invest the energy into making a list of all that is on my mind for this week.”

I’m back!  – I just typed up a list detailing everything that was waiting for me when I woke up this morning. I wrote each item as a specific request, with measurable phrases like these:

  • Guide me, Lord,  to write down exactly what meals to cook while the kids are here for Thanksgiving, to include the ingredients I need to buy.
  • Guide our prep this week at school so that the team members are closer to being ready for Mock Trial.  May all 7 students show up Monday as well as the double period on Wednesday.

By the way, for fellow tech users, here is a link to an app that Mike and I use daily.  We like it for many reasons.  But one handy feature, is that you can type your requests, save them to Drop Box and then import them into PrayerMate on the iPhone.   App for PrayerMate

Okay, I feel a bit better.  I’ll let you know how God came through.  I know He will; He always does.  He’s that kind of heavenly Father.  Furthermore, He has resources at His disposal that I can’t see or even imagine.  He is the God who operates out of OUR limited box.

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