Are you up to the task?

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Due to this pandemic-shift in my weekly routine I have more time.  One activity I have taken on is teaching 3 of my grandchildren beginning Spanish, via Zoom.  Two live in Florida and one in North Carolina.  Now, you have to know that I am only an intermediate-level Spanish speaker.  I’ve been working on acquiring Spanish, not yet two years. Being fluent in French has helped. God also has given me years of assisting kids acquire a language.

I do not FEEL up to this new task. But it’s not my limited Spanish that unsettles me, it’s my fear of not ‘being ENOUGH’ as a language teacher. I have doubts about creating and engaging my 3 students competently enough to hold their attention so that they both learn and enjoy Spanish.

This feeling of ‘not enoughness’, of not being UP TO the task is not new.  I struggled with that same sense of inadequacy during the 27 years I taught French.  I cannot remember one day when I ever approached my classes feeling confident in myself OR competent.  In fact, I had a love-hate relationship with this career.  On the days when a lesson would go well, I rejoiced and felt energized.  But a previous day’s success never translated into the expectation that tomorrow would deliver the same outcome.

I know I am not alone.  A pastor friend of ours ALWAYS asks Mike and me to pray fervently for the preparation and delivery of his occasional sermons.  Like me, he evidently struggles with doubts and fears about being ‘up to the task’, as do many others I can think of.

What about parents raising kids?  Do they ever have confidence in their ability to nurture, discipline and teach their children?  I don’t know a single mom who does! I never did, that’s for sure.

Mike, my husband, rarely feels self-confident.  During our 6 years in Western North Carolina, he would ask me to pray for EVERY radio script he researched, wrote and recorded, for EVERY article he composed for World magazine, for EVERY Sunday school class he taught, as well as for EVERY session meeting in which he took part.  Here in Huntsville, he continues to ask for and I know he depends on my prayers to our good God on his behalf.

One of our sons who is an Army lawyer texts us to pray for each court appearance and airborne jump he makes. We also pray for the weekly work, travel and parenting needs of our other son and his wife. They regularly share the tasks that face them that keep them ‘needy’.

So, I ask you, is self-confidence wrong or is it the norm?  Could it be there is something weirdly weak about me and the people I’ve mentioned?

Tabletalk, the devotional monthly magazine published by Ligonier ministries, reassured me this week that not feeling UP to it, to the assigned task, is normal.  Pastor David Strain wrote in his March 21-22 weekend devotional (page 57 of the March 2020 issue):

…..the infinite God…only (is) enough. (This doctrine of God’s infinity) reminds the anxiety-riddled introvert: “You are right to feel your limits so keenly. But you are wrong to think you should be up to the tasks before you.  You were never meant to be enough.  You were meant to live depending on Me. Only I am enough! My grace is sufficient for you, and My grace is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9).”

What a relief!  No wonder I don’t feel up to teaching the kids Spanish.  I’m not supposed to.  That uncertainty, that fear is a gift from our good Father. He created us to be needy, right from our conception.

I love 2 of the looser translations of Matthew 5:3 where Jesus proclaims the poor in spirit to be blessed.

Contemporary English Version: God blesses those people who depend only on him. They belong to the kingdom of heaven!

God’s Word© Translation: Blessed are those who recognize they are spiritually helpless. The kingdom of heaven belongs to them.

Is there no room for confidence in the Christian life?  You know the answer to that!  We put our confidence not in ourselves but in the One who is infinite, powerful, good, wise and sovereign over every one of us whom He created: whether rock, butterfly or human being.  What a relief NOT to depend on Maria!

What are YOU gathering?

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Exodus 16:4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.”

Do you collect anything? My cousin Darby for a while collected all things turtle.  My mom collected blue glass. I tend to collect quotes and interesting words. What that means for all of us collectors is that we keep our eyes open for what we value.  We’re always on the hunt.

No doubt you’ve heard the term ‘hunter-gatherers’. It’s a very logical title, isn’t.  We can only gather what we spot, what we notice.  Hunting, searching out something, is the precursor of gathering.

Last week I fed deeply at a conference for my denomination called ‘Refreshed – help and hope for those who are suffering.‘  My major take-away centered on how to pray more biblically for myself and others IN suffering.  (the key? – pray for what God promises to give us in suffering).  Beyond the main theme there was a side ‘nugget’ I picked up that intrigued me, and that was about gathering.

The wandering Hebrews in the above passage learned to hunt for the manna that they were to gather.  Their new habit collecting the white flakey substance lying about in the early morning depended on them looking for it.  Think of an Easter egg hunt.  When their sack was filled with the food substance, they took it back to their tents to bake or boil.

Constrained supernaturally to pick up ONLY enough for the day (and double the amount the morning before the Sabbath), God trained the entire population to depend on Him day by day for their life’s substance, for their food.

God provided, but they had to look for it.

That picture or example transfers so well to the fact of God’s promised daily mercies.  How so? Like the manna, God’s provision or mercies…..

  • are fresh and waiting for us in the morning.
  • and God requires us to scout them out, intentionally.
  • are waiting for us TODAY.
  • We can’t live without them.

How do I gather God’s mercies, His provision for the day?  First off, I trust Him when He says He WILL provide.  After all, He provided yesterday.

I search the Scriptures in my morning quiet time for mercies, through His word.  I DO look forward to my quiet time each morning because I feel so empty.  I long to feel satisfied by what I read in my Bible.  If the assigned portion of Scripture doesn’t meet that hunger, then I know that in my prayers or in Tabletalk, a devotional I read daily or in my current spiritual/ theological book, there will be something that is meant for the day.  Right now, I’m reading a Thomas Watson book on Romans 8:28, a gift from Regina!

In addition to God’s word, I have my eyes peeled for provision, for mercies sent to me through people or circumstances.  Our God is immensely creative.  I’ve made mention of this before, but once I really needed more time one particular school day. I was behind with planning or grading and from looking at my schedule, there was not enough space in the day to meet the need.  God provided by causing a hoax bomb threat call to my school. And after evacuating everyone safely, we all got to go home.  And I had enough time to finish the tasks.  THAT taught me the futility of worrying!

To close, think of Jesus’ prayer that He gave His disciples:  Give us our bread for the day –  a clear parallel to Israel in the wilderness who were given manna for the day.

Back to the title of this post, what are YOU gathering?  What are you hunting for each hour?  Or if you’re not, why is that?

 

 

 

 

 

Does joy look different in each of us?

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For the joy of the Lord is your strength Neh 8:10

I desire joy and you probably do as well.   But, do you or I always know it when we see it?  Can we recognize joy in another Christian?

For sure, there are those fellow believers who seem to bubble over with a happy passion for Jesus. We recognize that as ‘the joy of the Lord’.

My husband, Michael, prays daily for that kind of joy.  He really wants it, but seems burdened by the belief he bears that he is not anywhere NEAR feeling or displaying that kind of visible, expressive contentment in the Lord.

But is he making a fair self-assessment? I wonder if we do ourselves harm and cause a disservice to fellow believers when we narrowly define the expression of joy, when we expect a joy-filled Christian to look and act a certain way.

This morning I read a definition of JOY in a Tabletalk article. The following two sentences brought relief:

  • “Joy is an apprehension of our great God. It is a realization of and a trust in His promises.” (Rev Kevin D. Gardner)

Oh!  So, joy doesn’t HAVE to look like that constant jovial, spilling over, unrestrained child-like delight that I imagine in ‘real’ Christians?  Is it possible that we’re not ‘less’ of a Christian if our sense of and expression of joy is different?

Here is what I think happens. God has wired each of us, his image-bearers, as one-of-a-kind individuals, assigning us temperaments per his wisdom. Could we be incorrect in assuming that OUR particular experiences of God will be or should be the same for each believer?   Could we be burdening brothers and sisters when we describe AND prescribe God’s way of relating to us as normative?

I don’t doubt that you have people in your life who admire you for something, who look to you as a role-model.  By observing you in person, they have bestowed upon you a degree of power to speak into their lives.  You might not even know them.  They may in fact be social media followers who respect you from a distance and want to be more like you.  That is a weighty responsibility, my friend.

I have accorded others that kind of influence over my life.  And it has not always been good for me.  At my very weakest moments when I have measured myself against that ‘Admired One’ and come up short, the self-flagellation has been toxic to my soul and well-being.

In the past, my insecurities as a mom left me ‘that kind of’ vulnerable.  These days, my self-generated critical tapes can play over and over about how I grandparent and how I ‘ezer’ or help my husband. Those times of self-doubt tempt me to look at other older women and draw incorrect conclusions about them.

The result?  I feel bad about myself and think….”I gotta do something different.”  That thought alone feels like pressure and I grow anxious.

Now isn’t ‘anxiety’ another word for ‘discontent’!

Is that what God wants for us, his beloved children?  Does our Father mean for our sense of falling short (of the kind of joy my fellow believing brother or sister displays) to cause doubt about his love for us?  Does he want us fearful that we might not be a Christian?

No!  I don’t think so.

Brothers and sisters, be gentle with yourself.  I believe that joy as a trait or marker of believers comes to fruition by the operative power of Jesus’ Spirit implanted in us at our RE-birth.  Believing, trusting, taking as TRUE all of God’s words in Scripture is what nurtures and grows the kind of joy Jesus had. Jesus loved his flock, his posse of friends and supporters.  But he was a serious Man, the God-Man who suffered in a real body.  I don’t get the picture from Scripture that he was the bubbly type, but the always trusting type, the God-Man who believed his Father.

Brothers and sisters, be wary of describing and prescribing YOUR experience of God’s joy (or forgiveness, peace, guidance, love, mercy etc) as the only fitting expression and communication of God’s goodness.  Yes, be real and share about God and his goodness in your life. But be responsible and wise with your words. Remember those weaker and younger in the faith and be aware of your impact on them. As for me, I don’t assume that everyone enjoys or experiences God the way I do. I am analytical and feel fed through reading and studying and meditating on true ideas about God.  Others feed on God through music or nature or movement.  Our God loves diversity!

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;  and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord;  and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.  To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.  1 Cor 12: 4-7

PS: As I was editing this post, I decided to see if I could find out what kind of ‘of’ is meant in the phrase, “The joy of the LORD”.  Does ‘of’ mean FROM, or PART OF or……?  I googled it and found this helpful blog post that shifted my understanding of the verse in Nehemiah.  Please invest the time to read it.

Confessions and consolations of a jaded Christmas spirit

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Ravi Zacharias describes bedtime stories he would recount when his three children were little.

Bedtime story

All it took was one line, to fire up his youngest –

“There once was a monster!”   That proclamation was enough to send 3-year-old Nathan into the sweetest of shivers of fear and excitement.

Naomi, a bit older, needed more than the existence of a monster to get her going. But Daddy whispering, “The monster snuck up the stairs” produced the same goose bumps.

Finally, oldest child Sarah, a bit blasé about monster stories in general, kept her cool until Daddy inserted the extra detail “This particular monster loved snacking on little girls with braids!”

As we age, it takes more to satisfy us. Most of us can anecdotally attest to this truth when we think about how excited we were as children about upcoming events. The thought of trick-or-treating in costume or an annual trip to the beach brought great anticipation. But by the time we were 14, these annual events might have begun to lose the allure they once held.

Here we are, so quickly it seems, Christmas week! Where is that same anticipation we once had as five-year-olds? The long wait was both a source of impatience AND way to infuse the whole festive time with a holy wonder. Although I can ‘taste’ the long-ago anticipation in my mind, I can honestly say that it’s been decades since I felt those same thrills about anything.

But there have been touch-points of renewed excitement, first as newlyweds, then again as parents with little ones. The novelty of celebrating such a meaning-laden holiday, or travel to Europe under vastly different circumstances did reappear, because they were now shared experiences.

Now as I approach 60, I have (by God’s grace) celebrated Christ’s birth many times. A fellow Christian and I were talking about the diminishment of pleasures the other day. It had been a trying day for him, with a bitter work-related disappointment, and I’m sure that didn’t help his mood. For better or worse, moods are often the context or window through which we evaluate life. He commented how even the approach of Christmas didn’t fill him with much joy or anticipation. I responded that maybe this was God’s way of detaching us from the things of this world. That maybe God was maturing us to appreciate a richer type of true pleasure.

Bored (gargoyle)

People in their 40s and older often succumb to mid-life blues, “Is this all there is?” They draw despondent conclusions from the fact that what used to thrill them no longer does.

But those conclusions are wrong, for the Christian!

And that thought was bolstered by what I read before bed. The author, Thomas Brewer who manages Tabletalk Magazine, reminded believers of ‘the fullness of joy’ that awaits us:

God paints the future reality of ‘fullness of joy’ we will experience in the everlasting kingdom of God.

Psalm 16:11 In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

The Hebrew word for fullness is ‘soba’ and it means satiety. (Think of our word ‘satis-fied’.) On page 61 of the November 2014 magazine Brewer recalls Paul’s teaching that this life’s present sufferings aren’t worth comparing to what God is going to reveal to us, glories that we cannot even begin to picture. Brewer goes on to write,

  • “In other words, this life is just the beginning. There are joys we haven’t yet experienced – a new life awaits that can’t even be compared to this one.”

How encouraging! So there’s nothing wrong with us! When what used to thrill us no longer does, or at least not to the same degree, we draw a different conclusion. This lessening of earthly pleasures is part of the normal course of God’s providential plan for humans. And in fact, maybe there is something faulty with our theology if we cling TOO tightly to this world. Yes, our family is precious to us and nature still has the power to render us speechless with awe.

As Brewer concludes his essay, he reminds Christians that, “…this life is merely the childhood of our eternal happiness. We wait to enter the gates of that eternal city, where we will enter into the joy of our Master (Matt 25:21)”

So embrace Christmas. But don’t measure today against previous celebrations or what you think you SHOULD feel. Thank God for all his good pleasures and above all for the promise of everlasting life in his presence. Rest in the comforting fact that ‘The best is yet to be!’

 

 

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