Use your imagination!

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Do you know how to worry?

Then you are an expert imaginer.

According to Malcolm Gladwell, it takes 10,000 hours of practice to reach expert level in any skill.  So how many hours do you think you have invested in your worry habit?  Let’s do the math.

  • Let’s assume you didn’t start worrying until you reached 7th grade, age 12
  • Assume also that you have worried only 10 minutes a day ever since then
  • Add in a ‘day off’ per week from worrying and you will have racked up an hour a week

At that rate, it’ll take you 192 years to become an expert.

But is there a possibility that you have invested more than 10 minutes a day into this skill?

In an informal poll with ‘the man on the street’ regarding time invested in anxious thoughts, I heard 5-6 hours per day as a possibility.

That seeming a bit high, I checked Google and found the average to be 1 hour and 50 minutes a day. 

Let’s round that number up to 2 hours a day.  That’s equivalent to 730 hours a year.  At this rate, you’ll reach ‘expert’ status in only 13.7 years.  For the twelve-year old novice, he can reasonably expect to reach ‘success’ at age 25 1/2.

Of course if our hypothetical boy or girl is truly motivated and invests MORE than 2 hours a day, he’ll arrive at his goal sooner.  So maybe those represented by my informal poll, the ones who throughout the day and night practice imagining their fears make up the ELITE worriers, expert by the age of 17. It probably also helps to have grown up in a household of skilled practitioners who daily performed the liturgy of anxiety.

Back to what the practice of worrying requires – imagination.

Here’s the rub.  God has not given us the blessing of a fertile imagination for the sake of becoming a fantastic ‘fretter’!  He’s blessed us with a mind that WE can direct.  What we think about matters.

In Hebrews 3:1, God exhorts us through the writer to think about Jesus:

Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, set your minds on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.

What can help us focus on Jesus?  God, who wants us to know Him, has given us the written Word so we can read and SEE with Spirit-empowered eyes who Jesus is. We who are believers have been given ‘the mind of Christ’ (1 Cor 2:16).  We CAN know and receive power from what He did and what He has promised.

But habits are hard to change!!!  Yes…..,so what?  Plenty of things are hard.

It’s a fact – bad habits are difficult to break.  But our kind Father has given us a Helper, the Divine Spirit, the third person of the Triune God.  Paul tells us that this Spirit is not one that brandishes unending, peace-robbing ‘what-ifs’ as a tool (think Satan, the father of lies).

Au contraire, this Spirit is by definition POWER, LOVE and INTEGRATED SOUND THINKING. (look up 2 Thessalonians 1:7)

With Him planted permanently inside of us, we CAN stop feeding the worry habit with imagined fears.

With Him, we CAN change and start feeding the happy habit of focusing our imagination on all that Jesus has done and is for us.  Where’s the food?  God’s Word!  There’s more than enough nourishment in the Bible.  Feed on Him and not just 3 times a day. But snack continuously.  In fact God challenges us to move from little kid food to grownup food. He intends for us to mature in Christian practices.  And that takes intentionality and time on task.  Habits begin in the mind.  So we have to feed our minds, conforming them to Jesus.

There are so many benefits to using our imagination for this reason.

We won’t get fat, feasting on spiritual food.

And we’ll be a lot happier, more like our older Brother Jesus who was anointed with gladness:

You love justice and hate evil. Therefore, O God, your God has anointed you, pouring out the oil of joy on you more than on anyone else. Hebrews 1:9

Now THERE’s a New Year’s Resolution worth taking up. And one with a powerful promise of supernatural help.

 

 

 

 

The gift of neediness

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needy  How does our society view neediness?  Is it commendable or deplorable?

not-good-to-be-needy

I’m beginning to view my neediness differently.

Up until this year, a packed school week with meetings, evening obligations and reduced time for lesson planning routinely has stressed me out and caused me to DREAD the days ahead.

For example, last year on Friday afternoons, my extra duty was to arrange for and supervise a small group of 6th and 7th graders in a weekly community service activity.  We prepared meals at a women’s shelter in Asheville.  Just the idea of the motivating and encouraging and CONTROLLING these young students sufficiently to focus, work together and clean up all on a time schedule without devolving into a noisy chaos AND missing the bus back to school was painful.

I ‘griMMed’ and bore it.  Yet despite my faithless and pathetic prayers,  (yes I prayed and simultaneously ‘angsted’) God always came through.  You’d think I would have learned how NOT to trouble my heart and the futility of creating this fear and dread picture of what lay ahead.

If the utter uselessness of worry, fear and dread were not enough to convince me, wouldn’t you think I’d be horrified at the idea of disobeying my God and my Savior?  You know Him, our God who COMMANDS us NOT to fear, but to offload all our burdens onto His shoulders?  If I’m not going to believe His words, then why not tap into my God-given ability to imagine?  To what am I referring?

It turns out that I’m actually quite creative when it comes to painting MY personal dread pictures of what I THINK likes ahead.  Can I not use those same artistic faculties to picture  Jesus’ ordeal in Gethsemane?  That awful night when bloody sweat globules bathed His body as He anticipated taking on my sorrows and sins?  He conquered sin and sorrow so I wouldn’t have to take them on, single-handedly.  I don’t HAVE to dread any future moment.  For reality is if I abide in Him, if I walk yoked together with Jesus, then I won’t ever dwell a second deprived of His provision and presence.

John 14:27  I leave peace with you; I give my peace to you: not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it fear.

Somehow over the summer and now into September, my thinking is changing.  I’m beginning to view my neediness, my lack of sufficient time, energy, ideas as a gift.  How is that?

Each day when I feel strapped and resourceless, I am much quicker to select a promise and hug it for all its worth as I move into what frightens me.  And because I’m repeating God’s pledge to myself, because I’m praying it to Him as I tell Him how much I’m relying on Him to provide what He says say He’ll do, I feel CLOSER to Jesus. 

Talking to God throughout my days from the moment the alarm breaks into my sleep to when I settle back into bed at night, makes me sense Him next to me.  You might call it only my imaginings.  But I imagined enough dread scenarios to know that what I picture causes my feelings, both good and bad.

My conclusion? Here’s what both startles and delights me: this neediness, this insufficiency to do most anything given the time and resources I can see for the day ahead is turning into a gift. A ‘practicing the presence of God’ by turning my thoughts to Him makes me feel happier.  When I’m not need, my thoughts float elsewhere.

Could it be that this is what Jesus meant when He taught:

Happy are the needy, the beggars, those who are not self-sufficient and who know it, for they get the presence of the happy holy triune provisioning God!      (Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God – Matthew 5:3)

 

One antidote to lessen anxiety

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We all know that fear and anxiety tend to be the common human response to the unknown future.  I say ‘future’ because few are anxious about the present moment.   It’s already here! Our stress tends to be when we anticipate what MAY lie ahead.

But here’s where I think we go wrong.  When we imagine the next 5 minutes, or tomorrow with trepidation, we anticipate what I call ‘NAKED’ trials or suffering.  All we can picture is the worse that we think might happen.  But without taking into account God’s mercies and grace that He promises to provide IN the suffering.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end

They are new every morning; Great is your faithfulness!  Lamentations 3:22-23

What do we think all those promises in the Bible are for?  Poetry?  Or maybe they are true only for people ‘back then’ or ‘super Christians with a lot of faith’?

Here’s the good news.  If you have ANY modicum of faith in Jesus as your rescuer and substitute, those promises are YOURS!  How do I know?  Because the faith that you have is not something you initiated. God GAVE it to you.  You wouldn’t have even asked for the gift of faith or wanted it!  It’s ‘unnatural’ to desire God.  Only the man or woman or child who has been brought to spiritual life finds Jesus appealing.   So if you have ever exercised any measure of reliance or faith in the biblical Jesus, you belong to God as His child.

I once heard John Piper talk about his fear of betraying God were he to face a martyr’s death like those burned at the stake for translating the Bible into English.  What he finally realized that overcame this fear was that even in that extreme a circumstance, God provides GRACE for the moment to endure and die well.  How can we possibly imagine what that grace would look like or feel?  We can’t.

That is why we walk by faith and not by sight.

Take heart, dear fellow Christian.  Bank your all on God and His Word.  His promises and His character keep Him faithful to all His children.  God can NOT lie or change.

God in the future

God sees ahead and provides for our every day needs – getting real

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el roi

Let’s look at the mom who bore Abraham’s first son.  You remember Hagar, Sarah’s Egyptian slave?   Recall also God’s promise to make Abraham the father of multitudes. Ten long years of trusting and following normal reproductive practices had not produced a child for Abraham and Sarah. A bitter wife decided to initiate her own Plan B and foisted Hagar on Abraham.   And voilà – Hagar conceived.  And gloated. And Sarah couldn’t stand it.  She vented her pain of broken dreams and resentment on her slave and Hagar fled into the wilderness.

There by a stream the angel of the Lord appeared to Hagar, asking the rhetorical question about what she was doing. After an honest reply: ‘the angel of the LORD said to her,
“Behold, you are pregnant
and shall bear a son.
You shall call his name Ishmael
because the LORD has listened to your affliction.”  Gen 16:11

I want us to look at this mom’s response to an unimaginable pronouncement of blessing:

She gave this name (El Roi) to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” Genesis 16:13

If you’ve been reading your Bible for a while, you know that the names of God are actually attributes or characteristics of God. The good news about that fact is that since God never changes and is 100 % trustworthy (or He wouldn’t be God), we can count on these qualities.  Looking at the name El Roi, we know that El means God.  What’s most fascinating for me is that:

El Roi is not 2 words, but literally 3 words – (the) seeing God who sees.

And if God SEES ahead then He will not leave it at that, He also is the God who provides what we need IN those future circumstances.

Just look at the word ‘provide’: It comes from the Latin

provide (v.) 
early 15c., from Latin providere “look ahead, prepare, supply, act with foresight,” from pro- “ahead” (see pro-) + videre “to see” (see vision). 

So the seeing God who sees is by definition the God who supplies our needs.

This aspect of God, for both Mike and me, is growing more and more central to our lives.  Maybe what I mean is that we are growing stronger in our commitment and ability to take Him at His word and trust Him.

This past week we had some medical issues where God gifted us with some practical exercises (homework?).  The choice was clear, A or B:

A – give in to the sin of unbelief, that is the temptation to worry or

B – cast each of these cares and their component parts on the One who promises to provide our EVERY need.

I’ve been experiencing a swollen lip and uncommonly chapped lips for 4 weeks and no home remedy worked. Mike continued to urge me to see a doctor.  It’s a pain when you’re a teacher and live 45 minutes away from your doctor.  And besides, I felt stupid.

But Thursday night as I was in bed, I resolved to call the next day and SEE if just maybe I could schedule an appointment for the following Tuesday after school, the earliest that school commitments would allow. This time, I uncommonly, but deliberately chose to take God at His Word and give this coordinating detail over to Him. I slept peacefully.

When I called, I actually found out that my doctor had a cancellation at 3:45 pm THAT VERY day, Friday.  Without knowing how THAT slot would work out since I was scheduled to be with students on a tour of facilities for the homeless of Asheville, I said ‘yes’.  Step 1 had fallen into place in an unanticipated way.  Next was to figure out how I could drive away from the city by 3 pm to arrive in my hometown by 3:45.  I ‘rolled’ THOSE details onto my Provider and He came through:

  • I arranged to follow the bus to where the kids were going to be dropped off.  Found parking.  The bus returned in time to collect them and thanks to Miss GPS, I navigated from the unfamiliar location onto my interstate.  My handing over to the ruler of the universe the unpredictability of Friday afternoon traffic amid harried, tired drivers bore fruit and I arrived on time to my appointment.  The doctor prescribed an Rx and I headed to the pharmacy.
  • But the pharmacy never received the Rx sent via the computer.  A bonus extra credit opportunity from God.  I texted my doctor for the first time, not sure the number would work.  It did.  He did what he had to and later that night the pharmacy texted that the Rx could be picked up on the morrow.
  • And as frosting on the cake, the lost time after school on Friday that I normally spend inputting grades and readying for Monday, God gave me Friday morning in some unusual circumstances.  I hadn’t even WORRIED or ASKED Him about that need!

Our good God beautifully handled LOTS of details of this current problem. (God is good all the time, the horror of the evil terrorist attacks in Paris, notwithstanding).

Although maybe minor in the life of other believers, this growth in turning over to God a problem in lieu of clinging and worrying and imagining all the ‘what-ifs’ IS a major step for me.  Listening daily to John Piper sermons, his teaching that the sin of unbelief IS the root sin of all other sins has penetrated my mind and heart in a tangible way.  The drip method works!

Even Jesus taught this lesson in His instructions of the ideal prayer: in essence we plead, “Keep us from succumbing to temptations and deliver us from this and all evil!”

Unbelief IS evil in face of God’s commands to:

  • fear not
  • worry not
  • trust on
  • turn over all concerns
  • dwell on His faithfulness

What I’m learning is that I have to catch the first signs of unbelief as new thoughts of possible (bad) future scenarios spring up in my imagination. Stopping those ponderings and substituting TRUTHS about God IS the fight against unbelief.  Our baseless but SEEMINGLY real conclusions have to be weeded out ruthlessly as part of our ongoing preventative maintenance of the life of faith.  If allowed to take root, musings quickly grow into debilitating feelings.

To cement this new growth in trusting God, both Mike and I were handed our next challenge; an excruciating toothache that kept him slumber-less on that Friday night.

toothache

I quickly spotted the follow-on challenge to this week’s homework.  I handed over to my good Provider the problem of getting in to see the dentist on Saturday. And pulled up each thought/fear weed contrary to God’s word.  Result?

  • Mike’s dentist returned my cell-phone emergency message I left at 7:30 am
  • He spoke with Mike about 8:30 am
  • He told him to come by for Rxs for a painkiller and antibiotic before noon
  • When we stopped by, he actually took Mike back and looked at the crown job completed earlier in the week and is referring him to the endodontist.
  • When the pain killer didn’t seem to last long and Mike thought about the article deadline looming where he had to think clearly, write and submit his defense piece to his editor Sunday night, we together stared down the temptation to doubt. We encouraged each other to trust the ‘seeing God who sees’ ahead and supplies the need at the perfect moment.  We have learned by now that God who is intent on growing our trust won’t furnish resources AHEAD of time.

It’s now 5 pm.  Mike has finished his writing; the painkiller he took at 10 am seems to have worked well enough to keep the pain down.

We are geared up for the next need we are handing over to El Roi, that of getting in to see the endodontist SOON.  Pray with us that we won’t falter and succumb to this temptation. Satan loves to blow on any crabgrass of disbelief like he did with Eve in the garden.

Didn’t you know that weeding gloves are an indispensable part of the armor of God!

weedking gloves

Is worry normal or is it a sin?

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Worry

Yes!

Yes, anxiety is normal and yes, practicing anxiety is a sin.

And there is good news.

I’m being trained to look behind a statement in scripture to reason about the condition of the author.  For example, yesterday morning I paused at verse 4 while reading Psalm 86:

  • Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.

Since it was a rainy, gloomy Saturday morning I immediately asked God to gladden both my and my husband’s hearts.  But afterwards I realized that the only reason the Psalmist would have penned such a request was because he was struggling with the blahs or worse and knew he could count on God to help him!  Why ask for something of which you have no need????

Here’s another verse from Matthew 6:25

  • I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.

Why would Jesus dedicate these minutes to expound on worry if He didn’t SEE or KNOW that worry was present in the hearts and minds of those listening to Him?

How about the command NOT to fear?  I read in the on-line Christian Post (5 Nov 2014 blog post entitled Faith over Fear) that Jesus’ primary teaching was: to love others. (125 times taught in the Gospels) According to the writer of the post, Jesus presented and organized His teachings by theme.  And the primary theme (21 times) for His instruction was about FEAR.  Do not fear; don’t be afraid; be courageous; be firm in your faith.  This means that Jesus exhorts us to LOVE by NOT FEARING.  Hmmm, could it be that fear drives out love?  Is that the reason that the apostle John pens in 1 John 4:18?:

  • There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear,

And why would Jesus repeat such a message if it weren’t a glaring problem?

So YES – worry and anxiety are normal, but they are neither GOOD, nor HEALTHY, nor appropriate for Christians.  In fact, worrying is a sin since God commands us NOT to worry.

So how does it help to know that worry is both a sin AND a normal reflex?

Because God doesn’t leave us to battle it on our own. There is supernatural power to fight sin.  And we are called to enter into warfare every day of the Christian life. Through daily practice similar to our workouts at the gym, we will strengthen our reflex to rely on His promises and character, growing more like Jesus.  But let’s be realistic; we will not eliminate anxiety 100 %. Therefore, we can expect to have to engage this enemy of the faith daily, WITH the resources God provides. Even my hero of the faith, George Müller, admitted that the decade of his 90s were the hardest.  I imagine his struggles had to do with declining health and increased physical limitations.  There are always new fears to confront.  But God promises fresh mercies each day (‘our daily spiritual bread’)

It’s not for rhetorical reasons that Paul exhorts young pastor Timothy in his first letter, chapter 6, verse 12:

  • Fight the good fight of faith 

This same Paul is the one who explains how to dress daily for the warfare.  Besides defensive armor, he reminds us that there is ONE offensive weapon – God’s word.

The only way to drive the worry dragons away is by saying or singing or shouting or meditating on God’s many promises to BE our strength, to BE our peace and then to bank our life on those promises given to us by a Loving Father whose character is trustworthy.

Here’s one more look at a desperate psalmist and how he deals with danger or suffering

  • If your law had not been my meditation I would have perished in my affliction. Psalm 119:92

The fact that he mentions his affliction is significant.  Like us, he had a choice of mediating on how bad his circumstances were and how he couldn’t see a way out OR he could chew on the truth of God and what He has said.  This Old Testament man of faith makes it clear had he chosen the former course of limiting his view to the present, he would have died.

Aren’t we blessed to have the Bible which does not sugar-coat life’s sufferings?  Instead, it tells us that pain is real and there is help that is equally real and available.

I’ll leave you with an ‘oldie-but-goodie’ sermon link of the man who is teaching me to read my Bible and mine it for MORE than the explicit words:

You can either read or listen to the sermon here

God’s constant provision as seen in the Wizard of Oz

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Scarecrow from Oz

The local movie theater shows kids’ classics for free in the summer.  Accompanied by my granddaughters I relived this childhood favorite for the first time on the big screen. Startling were the illustrations of how God provides in the moment. I don’t mean to say that He is actually invoked and evident in L. Frank Baum’s cinematic version of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  But seeing the scarecrow use brains he didn’t think he had to guide Dorothy and the others in escaping the Wicked Witch of the West and her winged monkeys and guards brought to mind life lived walking with Jesus. One could almost call this film a parable of the Christian life.

I’ve been meditating this summer on the stunning promise from our Jehovah-Jireh in Romans 8:32 – Since He (God) did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?  That’s enough provision to settle anyone’s heart.

Yet……I perversely WANT to see – ahead of time – all the provision I’ll ever need, IN PLAIN SIGHT!  But that is not the way God has set up this world. He is training us to trust Him, to lean on Him moment by moment, to live by faith in who He is, to treasure Him as our greatest provision.  Time and time again, God exhorts us to be content with Him as our greatest good.

Viewing again this vintage film drove home in a gentle and nostalgic way the futility of worrying about the future.

The lion, tin man, scarecrow and Dorothy had NO idea what circumstances would be like just around the corner.  How could they have anticipated that the guards who worked for the evil witch would rejoice to see their tyrannical sorceress melt away?

Witch melting

And when the ‘Wizard’ inadvertently departed Oz without Dorothy, she had no need to worry about what to do next.  For Glinda, the good witch, appeared with all that was necessary at the opportune moment.

So, too, is our God and Father always with us, to provide just what we need in the kairos moment.  Psalm 23:1 – The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not lack a thing! 

Isn’t our God amazing in how He uses EVERYthing to teach us.  That’s a love that never stops!

‘The Big Fall’ into sin – again!

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I noticed the contradiction for a couple of days and named it. Preached it, even.
Then I fell for it.  And sinned big.  (Like in those days before I had heard about God’s biblical plan for wives.)
But back to truth.  Here’s the insight:
“It makes NO sense to believe in the sovereignty of God over every molecule AND worry about how I want my day to go.”  That is irrational and stupid.
But it’s been that kind of week.  I’m going out of town on Monday and the days were filling up.  I WANTED to do X, Y and Z and I saw only limited windows of time open for me to take care of those ‘important’ things on my list.  And I panicked.  Even though I know better.  Even though God patiently sets up this lesson time and time again so I can trust Him.
This past Wednesday, the day of THE BIG FALL, I even comforted myself remembering that God has ALWAYS provided in the past.  Without fail.
Not enough time
And yet…the banner over me was NOT ENOUGH TIME, so I grimmed up and grew hard.  Our conversation through dinner prep and on into the meal took on a combative edge.
That was when I found myself dishing back to him in like manner, feeling fully justified.  Just like during all those selfish years, when I would rationalize – “If he’s allowed to play the dramatic, then I should as well!”  But you know how THAT always ends.
Sin is a shortcut to what SEEMS like a good idea in the moment.  But it never satisfies.  Emotion short-circuits clear thinking. Praying to God didn’t occur to me in the midst of feeling sorry for myself.
So, how did it all end?  My husband chose the ‘mature’ card of love and softness toward me.  Having put as many chores as I could between my eventually wanting to absorb the cool mountain air of an evening in the Smokies I sat down next to him in silence.  He let no more than a minute go by before turning to me. His question drew me out, back to the truth of how much we love each other.  The humble features and pleading eyes showed me how much his heart has grown Christ-like since our last ‘raise your own barricades’ skirmish.
That glimpse and the remedial lesson in trusting God’s provision were worth the pain!
1 Corinthians 13: 7 (Love ….. )  always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

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