My mind is too full.
And time is too fast.
I’m both too slow
and not nearly slow enough.
I’m an anchor
the rapid flow.
There is danger for feet that mark not the path.
I’m a journey-man
not yet arrived.
Life is never static.
Daylight does not wait.
Slow my mind
Measure my steps.
Find the rhythm.
Make life a prayer.
Make prayer my life.
Awake. And see.
It’s only mid-April, but at 90 degrees, summer has arrived in Florida.
Summer, that season that drains my body of energy and leaves me to wilt in the heat or sends me rushing to hide in the cool of the climate controlled indoors.
Parched. That’s a word I think of when I think of summer.
Parched gardens longing for moisture. Parched throats longing for a cool drink of water.
Have you ever been parched, shriveled dry and desperately thirsty?
Imagine that feeling of longing, that deep need to be restored. Then imagine someone brings you a glass of water, clinking with ice, shrouded with drops of condensation. And for a moment all you can do is stare at the glass, memorizing the look of it. Longing for relief you reach forward and run a finger down the side of the glass through the condensation. You press the finger to your lips and the dampness brings a momentary relief to your lips even while it stirs your thirst. You reach down and with both hands encircling the glass and you hold it. The cold seeps into your skin and the ice clinks in the glass. You raise the glass and you press it to the side of your face and then roll it slowly across your forehead savoring its cool touch against your hot and dehydrated skin. Then you set the glass down in front of you and with a sigh you arise and return to your work.
But you are still parched.
The dampness on your lips and the coolness on your head will do nothing to sustain you. You must actually drink the water!
It may be a silly illustration, but I think that it describes how I sometimes seek to sustain myself. In fact, I’d put money on the fact that it’s not just a problem for me, but that many, many believers find themselves going through these very same motions in their spiritual life. We do everything but actually drink of the living water.
Jesus comes to us with an invitation. He does not speak idle words, nor are they a one-time offer.
“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me,
as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
“Remain in me, as I also remain in you.
No branch can bear fruit by itself;
it must remain in the vine.”
We have an invitation to come to the source of Living Water. Jesus offers us rest and refreshment if we will abide in Him. But how often do we move toward Him and yet neglect to actually drink? We come to Him, but we neglect to learn from Him, to abide in Him. I think it happens more often than we care to admit, especially for those who are serving in ministry.
The Words of Life are our livelihood. The Scripture is not just for our personal edification and growth, it is our message and its truth is the foundation of all our work. We hear the Words day in and day out. But how often do we accept the invitation to drink? How often do I let the familiar words penetrate between flesh and marrow and how often do I simply observe them, like condensation running down the side of a glass, but fail to drink in that which my soul needs?
Sometimes I bring that beautiful glass of water up to my face and cool myself with its moisture. I rest against it and expect that external contact to sustain me. This is a picture of my life when I neglect solitude and silence with God. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this discipline is essential to the state of my spiritual life. If I neglect solitude and silence my mind is filled with a sense of busyness that crowds out my ability to listen well to the Spirit. Without solitude and silence I cannot abide. I know this. And yet it is so easy to allow this time consuming discipline to slip away in light of life’s day to day demands and the needs that are all around me.
Then, when I find my way back into the stillness of time set apart with the Lord it can be akin to drinking the glass down in one long draught and I wonder why I let myself get so parched with thirst. But sometimes it’s a slow reversal, like finishing a long marathon and discovering you are completely dehydrated and overcome with muscle cramps. You rehydrate your body through the pain. Sometimes I find that coming awake to God is like this. There is a painful process of toxins being removed and hydration being restored.
Still, whether the process is painful or whether it brings instant joy, I can’t deny that my deepest desire is to be refreshed, restored, renewed. I want to rest and I want to abide. The question is not should I drink. I know that I should.
The question is will I drink?
Will I daily arrange my life in such a way that I am not just gazing on or handling the living water, but so that I am actually drinking, coming, abiding in its life.
That begs the questions of how do you do it? How do you arrange your life to meet this deep desire? What would it look like to move toward daily drinking the living water?
Everyone is unique and the mix of spiritual practices that help me abide well in Christ are not necessarily the same practices that will be most effective for you. There are, however, some basic disciplines that every believer can draw from to open their life to a deeper practice of abiding in Christ.
Some categories to think through are:
- Solitude: Being alone with God.
- Silence: Being still and silent in a posture of listening before God. Giving Him your whole attention to be better able to hear His voice. Being silent before others to better listen to them and engage them at a soul level.
- Prayer: Conversation with God. Listening and responding; thanking and petitioning.
- Fasting: Going without food (or something else) in order to devote yourself to prayer. Entering deeper into the heart of God, aligning yourself with His desires above your own.
- Honoring Your Body: Paying attention to habits of eating, exercise and sleep, as it is through our bodies that we participate in God’s activity in the world.
- Sabbath: Honoring God’s provision and denying your own need for control by setting aside a day in which to rest from all that is necessary and engage in only those things that bring life to your soul.
- Engaging the Word: Opening your heart to the life changing power of the Scriptures through reading, reflection and meditation on the Word. Allowing God’s Word to be profitable in your life.
- Worship: Worship is our continual sacrifice of praise to God and can be expressed in a thousand forms. My personal favorites are worship in music, nature, creating and keeping a gratitude journal.
- Sacred Companionship and Community: Engaging other believers in prayerful conversation, listening to others in the Spirit and sharing our own lives without self-protection.
- Personal Reflection: Taking time to notice your own life so that you are aware of your circumstances, your suppositions, your sin and your holy desires in order to be able to move into a deeper freedom in Jesus Christ and to live with a fuller representation of His love.
- Service: Allowing your life in Christ and your love of God to overflow to others as you actively participate in being the hands and feet of Jesus to a world in need.
- Sacrifice: Being financially generous as an act of worship and trust in God’s provision.
- Submission and Humility: Practicing submission to God and others by refusing to assert our own cause or our perceived rights, but instead taking on the nature of a servant and living for the honor and glory of God alone. Humbling ourselves in imitation of Christ and living without boasting or seeking the acclaim of men for our good deeds.
If you are looking for a good, easy to follow resource to help you explore and discern what practices may lead you to a deeper place of abiding in Christ then I’d highly recommend Ruth Haley Barton’s Sacred Rhythms DVD and Study Guide.
While I personally recommend the visual imagery presented in the DVD, you can also read the same content in her book, Sacred Rhythms.
(Or you may be like me and choose to get them both so you can read the book while you follow along with the DVD and Study guide.)
You might have seen this video if you attend Idlewild on Wednesday nights or if you follow me on Facebook, but I still feel like it is worth revisiting. Sometimes just a hint of historical context can shine a huge light on something of immense spiritual significance. I find deep comfort in the truth of this lesson.
God does not plunk us down in belly deep alfalfa.
He does lead us mouthful by mouthful.
We don’t get a pasture of life long provision, but we join Him on a journey through the wilderness.
Staying close to the Shepherd moment by moment is the only way to live.
40 days to wander, 40 days to die to self
40 days to grow stronger as faith breaks open the gates of hell.
The Jubilee is over, but grace is far from gone
In the hearts of the faithful, broken on the wheels of love.
In the desert of temptation, lies the storm of true conversion,
where springs of living water drown and refresh you
And as the Jordan pours out change,
your true self is all that remains,
where springs of living water bind and break you.
40 days to remember the Paschal sacrifice
40 days to discover as passion calls us to new life
The Jubilee is over but mercy is far from gone
In the arms of the Father as the wayward child comes home.
- Matt Maher -
Several images in this video caught my attention and surprised me. I was captured by the illustrations of Jesus at play, chasing birds, finding joy. Odd as it may be, I never once thought of Jesus experiencing joy during his 40 days in the wilderness. And yet, something about these simple images stirred my soul. Why would I think joy was absent when God was present? And I thought of all of the times, when in the midst of hardship and struggle, I have found such joy in surrendered intimacy with my Lord.
In the middle of 40 days of dying to self, in the middle of this season of Lent, there is great joy to be found as death brings forth resurrection. Not just Easter morning resurrection, but present resurrection, living wide awake to God in the middle of the wilderness.
“Where springs of living water bind and break you.”
A reflection for Lent. A poem for dark nights and valleys of shadows. A prayer for us all.
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think that I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always,
though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
I don’t like waiting, most of the time.
Then again, sometimes I do.
I like waiting when it means I can sit in a lobby with a book and not feel guilty about indulging my love of reading. I have to spend all day waiting to see if I’m picked for jury duty? No problem. Work isn’t expected me today and I’ve got a book. I’m also perfectly happy to wait if the appointment is something I dread (think doctors and needles). Wait? No problem. I’ll wait until next year if that’s OK.
I don’t, however, like waiting for something I desire. I find that I identify with the instant gratification mentality a bit too well.
Waiting. Do I like it or do I hate it?
I think the answer really depends on whether the waiting is under my control. If I could choose, in this very moment, to wait or not to wait what would I choose? You see I’d choose to wait for the shot, so the delay is fine by me. On the other hand, I wouldn’t choose to wait for the tax refund so I move through my days mildly annoyed that it hasn’t come yet.
And this is where I run into trouble, when I don’t get to decide whether this is a waiting time.
I’ve been meditating on these verses from Psalm 62 (MSG)…
God, the one and only -
I’ll wait as long as he says.
Everything I need comes from him
so why not?
He’s solid rock under my feet,
breathing room for my soul
As. Long. As. He. Says.
This isn’t the self-indulgent waiting of immersing myself in a book or the self-protecting waiting of avoiding painful needles. This isn’t the whiny “are we there yet waiting” of something anticipated that I’m trying to hurry along.
The Psalmist is referring to humbled, trusting, resting in the goodness of God waiting.
This paraphrase renders the phrase causally. “So why not?” And yet, isn’t that the heart of the question?
If I truly believe that the LORD is good,
if I truly believe that He is always working for the good of those that love Him (me!),
if I truly believe that His plans are good,
if I truly believe that He is my supplier and that all other “provision” that I could muster “on my own” is counterfeit,
if I really believe that He is solid ground and all else is shifting sand,
if I really believe that it is only in Him
and in His will
and in His love
and according to His way
that I find rest…breathing room for my soul,
then it should be as easy as the Psalmist makes it sound.
So why not?
My “why not” springs from the lies I believe.
The one lie. The ancient lie.
The false belief that God is not good, that He withholds from me what is best.
I resist waiting time because I think I know better and that God can’t be trusted.
Oh God, grant me the grace of a deep and true repentance.
Waiting may cost me more than I want to surrender.
It may mean that I don’t get to do what I want to do…right now.
It may mean that I don’t get to live where I want to live…right now.
But Psalm 62 is a “David Psalm” penned by a man who knew what it was to wait.
And David said, “I’ll wait as long as he says.”
Lord, teach me to wait, because this dependance brings my eyes back to the truth of who you are. It brings my knees to bow before your Sovereignty. It renews my trust and stretches my faith. It teaches me to hope in your promises and let go of lesser things. In waiting I learn to surrender to your loving plan.
Waiting, when I do it in righteousness, renews my strength, because it returns my focus to the One who is the source of my strength, the source of my life and the giver of every good gift.
But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40:31 (ESV)
For God alone my soul waits… Psalm 62 (ESV)
Time has been on my mind of late so I want to share a couple of posts on the subject. Below is an entry from my journal (Fall 2012).
I’m thinking of our conversation last night. And you said you’d wasted time. There was such pain in your voice as you spoke of years gone by.
And I begin to wonder if wasted time is really possible for God’s children in God’s economy?
Even while we walk on this earth within a set number of days, God is outside of time. He’s never in a hurry. And He is weaving all things together.
When I walk in sin I waste the time I’ve been given. I miss out on the blessings. I miss out on intimacy with Him. I lose the good I might have had. I trade life for death and freedom for bondage, but this is a loss of that which might have belonged to me. And in God’s purpose and plan I wonder if the end result of change in my life from the lessons that do come to belong to me (in place of the good I might have had) mean that the time is not really wasted at all.
I believe that even while I am “wasting” the time that I have been given I cannot thwart God’s plan. He is still using time to its fullest even as I squander it away. What a thought. What a comfort as I look at the road behind me.
I’ve been revisiting Jonah’s story. It could be said that Jonah was wasting God’s time…filling his days with fleeing rather than serving and rebellion in the place of obedience. Yet God did not waste a moment.
Out of Jonah’s rebellion an entire shipload of gentile sailors came to worship and make vows to the One True God. Jonah lost the blessing when he missed the joy of their salvation, when He resisted God’s all inclusive generosity of grace for all who would repent. Jonah paid a price for his rebellion, and yet, even that was not wasted time. God used those moments of running, those moments of rebellion, to teach Jonah something about Himself. The “wasted” time became a lesson in the sovereignty and graciousness of God.
So while it might be said Jonah wasted time running, in God’s economy nothing was lost. While Jonah may have missed one type of blessing (joy in service of God’s salvation grace) he gained another blessing in disguise. He gained the blessing of being taught and used by God despite his rebellious heart. I wonder if he looked back years later and thanked God for blessings in disguise, blessings that were molding and shaping Him into a reflection of God’s image.
I read that Jonah most likely wrote the book of the Bible that bears his name. And I expect that he must have looked back and seen God’s purpose in his “wasted” days of rebellion to be able to write such a blatantly unflattering portrayal of himself. He must have realized that despite his failures this chapter of his life was not wasted. There was a lesson in the story of his life that God’s people needed to hear.
So I’m coming to the belief that we don’t have the power to waste God’s time. It’s an illusion where we put ourselves in control of the universe. When we cry remorseful that we’ve wasted time, that we’ve wasted our lives, we stand on a belief that denies the sovereignty of God in the middle of the story of our failures.
That is a thought that frees from the weight of shame. We can lament sin and rebellion, fleeing and faltering, even while we trust that even in our moments of deepest rebellion and most selfish squandering we have never, even for a moment thwarted the plans and work of God. He is always working for our good and His glory.
In the end, perhaps the blessing that we all need, more than we know, is the grace that we find when He has loving us drawn us back from “wasted days” and tells us to feed His sheep.
Lent isn’t about forfeiting as much as it’s about formation. We renounce to be reborn; we let go to become ‘little Christs’. It’s about this: We break away to become.
Photo Credit: www.aholyexperience.com
If the seasons of Advent and Epiphany challenge us by God’s gracious intervention in human affairs, the season of Lent prepares us for the death and resurrection of Christ. The transition between the seasons of Epiphany and Lent is marked by deepening realism about the cost of discipleship. It involves facing our temptations, knowing ourselves, having new attitudes, changing dispositions, living prayerfully – all to become more Christlike. As a penitential season of the church, it provides for a forty day period of fasting, in imitation of Jesus’ fast in the wilderness.
Fasting is any spiritual discipline of restraint we may exercise before God to live righteously.
From Letters of Faith through the Seasons – James M. Houston
I’ve been surprised at the amount of resistance in my soul this year as I’ve approached the season of Lent. I sat with God just this morning still torn.
I don’t want to make that sacrifice. I don’t.
I told God that I’d give up TV instead and was immediately ashamed. It’s rare that I watch more than an hour of television a week and some weeks I never even turn it on. How is that a sacrifice?
David proclaimed: I will not offer to the Lord that which costs me nothing. (1 Chronicles 21:24)
And then I find tears filling my eyes. How can I be so selfish? In light of His sacrifice for me how can I not offer even this little thing. A surrender to honor Him. A letting go to embrace His transformation in my life.
I do want to. I want to honor Jesus by learning to live with greater discipline and less self-indulgence. I do.
And I don’t.
So I’ve determined to do more than just cut something out of my life this Lent. I’ve determined to change my attitude and face my temptations by a continual asking of God:
“If I do this…if I eat this…if I drink this right now…can I do it to the glory of God?”
I’m sure I will fail and I’m equally sure that I will succeed. For this question takes me to a place that is beyond willpower, beyond law and into my heart. And in the deepest recesses of my heart I long to surrender and I long to glorify God in all things. So I’m sure that God’s purpose will be served in this season.
But this is also a call to awareness. A call to not put anything in my mouth without thought. And I know there will be forgetful moments. Moments that I will need to fall on His grace.
I have a feeling I will be learning a lot this Lenten season. Where I am most aware of my resistance then I am also most aware of my need.
I pray that I will stay awake to my deeper desire to honor God and to be transformed into His image day by day as I journey together with the fellowship of the saints through this season of Lent.
As we His Church move together toward the cross, the ultimate sacrifice of God for His beloved, may our eyes be open and our lives be surrendered to His great love and the total transformation of our lives.
Flash floods of tears, torrents of them,
Erode cruel canyons, exposing
Long forgotten strata of life
Laid down in the peaceful decades:
A badlands beauty. The same sun
That decorates each day with colors
From arroyos and mesas, also shows
Every old scar and cut of lament.
Weeping washing the wounds clean
And leaves them to heal, which always
Takes an age or two. No pain
Is ugly in past tense. Under
The Mercy every hurt is a fossil
Link in the great chain of becoming.
Pick and shovel prayers often
Turn them up in valleys of death.
Quoted from: The Contemplative Pastor
This isn’t a carefully written post. It’s more of a “directly from my heart to the screen” post.
I haven’t blogged for weeks now, because I’ve been driving. I set out from Florida on November first and I’ll reach California tomorrow.
When I first thought about this home assignment and the supporters that I wanted to visit I had a strong sense that I was to drive rather than fly this time around. But to be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure that it was what I wanted to do. I spent a lot of time wrestling over the decision. It’s a lot of miles to cover…alone. Flying would be more…convenient.
Yet, the more I prayed about it, the more certain I became that God was telling me two things.
First, I was to trust Him in this.
Second, that this trip was His gift to me.
Nearly two weeks, three thousand miles and more than fifty road hours later I understand just a bit of the gift that He has given me.
I’ve had hours and days of just me and Jesus time. Oh, I’m not always focused on His presence, but I’ve had the opportunity to be with Him in a special way. I’ve had hours in which to pray and converse with my Lord. Further, I’ve never been alone or lonely for He’s been my constant companion.
I’ve gotten to see people that I wouldn’t have seen if I’d had to buy a plane ticket to get to them. And I’ve met people along the way that I never would have met if I’d hopped on a plane. Just a couple of days ago I went for a meal in a place that was fairly full. A couple asked if they could join me at my table and we got to talking. What a joy it was to share with them about God’s work around the world! It was also an answer to my prayer that I have the opportunity to represent the Lord to the people I meet. Only God can arrange that kind of divine appointment, but I had to be willing to trust Him and follow His lead when driving seemed an unconventional choice.
But most of all, this gift to me has been about seeing His beauty scattered abroad. The earth is filled with the glory of the Lord and I’ve gotten to feast on it for weeks now. Every changing landscape is unique in its beauty and each Jesus follower that I have met along the journey bears His radiant image in their own distinctly fashioned way.
Today the lyric by Rich Mullins kept running through my mind…”So much beauty for just two eyes to see, but everywhere I go, I’m looking.”
So as I embark on my final leg toward California, where I will stay awhile before the long drive back to Florida in January, I want to lift up His name with thanksgiving.
I’m grateful that He called me to this journey and gave me this gift.
He is so good to me.
If you haven’t read yesterday’s post: Scripts, Stories, Porcupines and Community then I’d recommend you read it first. It will give you some perspective on my conclusions in this post.
“Notice that nearly always our interpretation of our days will reveal what we long to be but fear we really are not.” John Eldredge – Waking the Dead
I was driving home from church on that dark stretch of road. The rain poured, lighting slashed the sky and the man walked on the shoulder, hand out, asking for a bit of grace.
I was alone and for days I’d been praying a dangerous prayer.
“Awake. Awake. God, wake me up. Wake my heart to hear your voice. Awake. I want to be wide awake to you. I want to know you. I want to love like you. “
But then again,
And I knew the contradiction deep in my soul as my eyes took in the form of the hitchhiker.
I heard it as clear as day, that voice that disturbs my heart. It spoke no words, but I heard it nonetheless. And my heart ached for the contradiction ran deep down to the very depth of my soul. Compassion battled deeply ingrained thinking.
A woman alone in the country at night; I could hear every warning ever spoken. Foolishness! Don’t even think about it. Why are you still thinking about it? It crossed my mind that the bed of the truck may be safe to offer, but the voices drilled into my head since I was a tiny tot screamed loud and long against it.
Yet, I knew how it felt when the roles are reversed. I’d tasted the longing for a bit of grace. I’d been the one on the side of the road. In that Siberian city there were no taxis: a hand, a car and a haggle over the cost made every hitchhiker a customer, every car a cab and every ride a risk.
The seconds were years as the truck barreled over the pavement. Never slowing, no one could perceive my angst. And I heard my heart scream.
“How dare you,” it yelled. “How dare you choose self-protection over love?”
Yes. Tears blurred my vision as I drove on. How dare I?
Yet, every single day I dare.
And in that moment I didn’t want to be awake. The blind cocoon of slumber seemed vastly preferable to the war in my soul. I wept over my betrayal of my very prayer.
I’m all contradictions.
I long to love, but I don’t.
I long to give, but I hold back.
I long to be awake and then weep wanting to brick up my soul rather than face the pain that such awareness brings.
I’m all contradictions.
I don’t know if in not picking up that particular hitchhiker on that road that night I quenched the Spirit, but I suspect that I did.
I don’t know for sure if I rejected an invitation or if it was meant to be an object lesson all along, but one thing of which I am certain is that I was supposed to see him. I was meant to really see him: that man lashed by the storm with dripping white shirt and hand held out for a ride on a dark country road.
I was meant to see him and I was meant to see myself.
I’m a rebel with a divided heart: A foolish girl who knows what she really desires and begs for it on her knees, only to run and hide in fear when that desire might cost more than I want to give.
I’m all contradictions.
I’m just like that hitchhiker – in need of grace.
I’m reading John Eldredge’s Waking the Dead: The Glory of a Heart Fully Alive. Yesterday, in a section on intimate community, the author was speaking about a challenge to his small group.
“Write down on a piece of paper five words or phrases that capture your life right now. What does it feel like? Don’t edit. Don’t make it sound better than it is. How are you doing?”
The word “Unscripted” immediately popped into my head. I stopped this morning and wrote down four more words, but “Unscripted” practically leaped out of my head demanding that I take notice.
My life seems like a piece of a novel not yet written: a jotted note on a scrap of paper in a pile of possibilities.
Unscripted: Like writing, when you have this scene and that character and a loose association of ideas, but the ultimate storyline that ties it all together remains undiscovered, moving in an unanticipated direction.
Eldredge went on to make the case of how we need intimate community to tell us our story. He asked the members of his small group community to think using the power of myth; the means of story…of script. What story were they living? Were they Dorthoy in Oz? Or Lucy in Narnia? With which character did they identify?
And then in response, the group had the opportunity to counter the person’s perceived story with their vision of who the person was and which story they were witnessing. It was a powerful chapter based upon a powerful truth.
We need each other.
Eldredge encourages, “Notice that nearly always our interpretation of our days will reveal what we long to be but fear we really are not.”
My head knows that the “Author and perfecter of my faith” exists outside of time and that He has witnessed my story fully written and fully lived. My life is scripted by a loving hand, but it’s scripted somewhere outside of the realm of time and space in which I live. My story is full of beauty and unimaginable glory about which I fear even to dream. The plot holds hardship and trials, failures and triumphs, unbelief and faith, despair and hope, defeat and victory. It’s a tale of death and resurrection and ascension.
My life feels unscripted, because I have not lived it yet. It’s still a mystery to me. I do not have the eternal eyes necessary to discern how all the pieces fit together to form a perfect and beautiful whole. But I do have a band of believers, friends who hear my story and tell me when I’ve placed myself in the wrong tale. I’m so thankful for them!
“It was an incredible evening. All of us had chosen words that were hard (life is hard), and all our interpretations of our own lives were off. Each of us was in the process of making subtle agreements with the Enemy, and we weren’t aware of it. It was only through the eyes of our friends that we recovered our hearts, our true place, reality. But the real power of living in community is, we remembered those stories for months, and we used them for each other at crucial moments in the battle ahead. Jenny later said, ‘What makes this community so powerful is that you remember my story for me. I don’t have to carry the burden of remembering alone.’” — John Eldredge
Tomorrow I want to post something that I recently wrote and shared with a few of my “band of believers.”
It’s a snapshot: a moment in time, a piece of my story.
I needed my community to speak back to me the bigger picture. I needed their witness. The deepest thing in me now is beauty. The word rebel does not define me. My heart may be engaged in a fierce battle against my flesh, but it is not divided. My heart is His: fully and irrevocably. And my story…I’m not done living it yet.
I hope you have that kind of community. The kind where it’s a safe place to be real and authentic, because though you may be like “a pack of porcupines on a winter night – You come together because of the cold and you are forced apart because of the spines” you can gather to go to war for each others hearts, believing for each other that the good God has given His children new hearts. Remembering for each other that beneath all the prickly spines there is a beauty and a passion waiting to be released for the glory of God.
If you don’t have that kind of community let me encourage you to seek it out. Pursue it like a bloodhound, nose to the ground never losing track of the scent. Don’t let the poking spines distract you. Your story depends on it.
I enjoy gardening. I admit that I have a deep aversion to dirt underneath my fingernails, but armed with a pair of garden gloves I find myself quite happy to dig in the earth.
It’s not the soil that appeals to me, but the combination of beauty and hope. I have a hopeless attraction to beauty hardwired into my soul. Every shade of green leaf, every delicate petal unfurling, every uniquely shaped and vibrantly colored flower speaks to me of the Creator who loves the diversity that joins together in unity to sing His praises.
Gardens are places of beauty, places where many unique creations come together to form a landscape of unified loveliness.
Flowers and butterflies
Birds and Squirrels
Rabbits and Frogs
Lizards and Leaves
Shade and Sun
All these things and many more come together in the garden.
Gardens are places of beauty.
Gardens are places of hope.
When I dig down and place the bulbs in the ground,
when I handle the barren bare root rose to make a home for it in the rich earth,
when I clear the grass and weeds to create a plot of ground,
I am planting hope.
As I plant, I hope for a harvest of beauty. I till the soil longing for the day when tulips and irises and roses and lavender spring from the ground and bring color and fragrance to my little patch of earth.
This morning I read Second Peter in the Message and I found a beautiful image for the gardener in me.
“Since everything here today might well be gone tomorrow, do you see how essential it is to live a holy life? Daily expect the Day of God, eager for its arrival. The galaxies will burn up and the elements melt down that day – but we’ll hardly notice. We’ll be looking the other way, ready for the promised new heavens and new earth, all landscaped with righteousness.”
2 Pet. 3:11-13
God has plans for His garden and He has a message for us.
We’re called to plant our hope in Him through the act of Holy living and the focus of Holy attentiveness. We aren’t to be about planting our hope in the soil of this world. It’s going away! There is no hope to be found here. Instead we are eagerly turning toward Him. We’re looking away from the world and toward the Kingdom. We look toward His beauty and are attentive, watching for Him every moment. We know that our hope is even now sprouting forth and that one day it will blossom in full.
Our Lord offers a future hope that we can hold onto, that we eagerly look forward to:
His garden will be landscaped in righteousness.
No more sin. No more shame. No more decay that seeks to extinguish the beauty. No more of those annoying pests that steal into the garden with intent to destroy the plants through their consumption.
A whole new world landscaped in righteousness.
I can’t wait to see it.
Tuesday I stood before a grave. Wednesday I stood before a cross. As the Word echoed through the sanctuary this refrain filled the air: Cast all your care upon him; for He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)
Yes, I remember this I truth. I memorized this verse in Awana. Suddenly, long forgotten songs from my childhood started parading through my mind. It all seemed very…familiar.
There in the pew I began to wonder how it read in the Message. I wondered if I might grapple with the truth better if I approached it from a less familiar viewpoint. This is what I read:
“Live carefree before God; He is most careful with you.”
Talk about a new perspective.
Carefree? Live carefree? How do I live carefree when I’m so aware of the sting?
Careful? Most Careful? His handling often feels more like being tossed about, battered and bruised than handled with kid gloves.
So I started to talk with God about the words carefree and careful, wondering what He might want to teach me through these words.
The first place my questions took me was Isaiah 28:23-29.
Listen and hear my voice;
pay attention and hear what I say.
When a farmer plows for planting, does he plow continually?
Does he keep on breaking up and harrowing the soil?
When he has leveled the surface,
does he not sow caraway and scatter cummin?
Does he not plant wheat in its place,
barley in its plot
and spelt in its field?
His God instructs him
and teaches him the right way.
Caraway is not threshed with a sledge,
nor is a cartwheel rolled over cummin;
caraway is beaten out with a rod,
and cummin with a stick.
Grain must be ground to make bread;
so one does not go on threshing it forever.
Though he drives the wheels of his threshing cart over it,
his horses do not grind it.
All this also comes from the Lord Almighty,
wonderful in counsel and magnificent in wisdom.
I’ve written before about how this obscure set of verses have brought me deep encouragement in my walk with God. This passage reminds me that God knows what kind of seed that I am. He knows what it takes to cultivate me and He knows what would crush me.
Just like the caraway and the cumin in these verses, each and every spice comes to release its full flavor through its own unique process. As it is with every child of God.
God never stops the work of shaping and forming His children into the “true-self-in-Christ” that is unique to each of one. He alone has wisdom in counsel to understand everything that goes into the process of each soul becoming who we were created to be.
But when we feel the sting, the rod, the sledge, the wheel, we start to wonder about His goodness. In the midst of the pain of life it certainly does not feel as if He is being “most careful” with us.
We forget that only God sees the whole picture. We become blind to the fact that while we can’t always choose our circumstance, we can always choose how we relate in the midst of all that is happening. We so easily forget that we chose the sting; that death originated with a choice to sin. And we lose sight of the fact that God Himself took the heaviest blows of all on the cross. We start to define the idea of “care” as being pain free. We start to believe that He only cares for us if He gives us what that we want – including a life absent of pain.
I am guilty of all this and more.
I Peter 4:1-2 states:
Since Jesus went through everything you’re going through and more, learn to think like him. Think of your sufferings as a weaning from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way. Then you’ll be able to live out your days free to pursue what God wants instead of being tyrannized by what you want.
“Then you’ll be able to live out your days free.”
What if that’s what it means that He is most careful with us? What if He is using the pain of this life to carefully and completely release us from the tyranny of our self-centered and selfish nature so that we can live free?
The word carefree brings to mind a child at play. A little girl chasing lightning bugs. A little boy tossing sticks into a stream. Trusting. Unencumbered. In the back of their mind, hidden from the joys of the moment, they have a fixed faith that mom and dad have life under control. They live fully in the moment. They aren’t worried about making super or keeping a roof over their heads or the storm clouds on the horizon. They chase the butterflies and laugh at inchworms. They delight in friendships and focus on the task of building a sand-castle or playing a game with rules that only they understand.
But what would it look like for me to live carefree? I’m a woman grown. Children are often unaware of the struggle that goes on beyond their bubble of security. I am not unaware. I have known sin and death and grief and loss and struggle. I’ve felt the sting.
How do I live carefree?
Maybe it is simpler than I realize. Maybe it’s all about that fixed faith of a child. Maybe, just maybe, freedom is found in surrender.
What would my life look like if I really believed that God is always working for my good? What if I trusted that He is wonderful in counsel and magnificent in wisdom? What if lived out the belief that in the very midst of the rod and the sledge and the wheel and the sting that He is being most careful with me? Would that release me to live free?
Would living carefree be to let go of all my demands to have my own way; to surrender to His most careful wisdom? Would it mean not denying my pain, my hurt, my struggle, but releasing it into the care of the One who is most careful with me?
Would it mean letting go of my desire that I be protected from every pain so that I can discover a deeper desire born of the Spirit: A desire to know Him, to dwell with Him, to be made more and more like Him in the beauty of His holiness?
Would carefree living allow me to crawl up in His arms so that like the little lamb in Isaiah 40 so that I too can be carried close to His heart, laying my head against His chest and listening to His heartbeat as it thrums “I love you”?
My heart cries a resounding “Yes!”
I long to live free, carefree and surrendered before the One who is most careful with me.
I love many things about Florida. I love the bright blue skies and the fluffy white clouds piling up to the heavens. I love the green, green grass and the sound of the cicadas chirping in the evening. I love the old oaks and the Spanish moss. I love the tree frogs that sing in the rain and the squirrels that frolic in the trees. And while I dislike being hot and sticky I even appreciate the humidity that makes my skin soft, my nails grow and my lungs feel like they can drink in the air. But one thing that I do not love about Florida is the fire ants. Fire ants are tiny, red, venomous messengers of torment. They sting. Their poison bite sparks a fire under your skin. No, I have no love at all for fire ants.
On Tuesday I stood by a grave. Beautiful blooms draped the tiny casket. Words of hope and truth filled the air. And fire ants attacked my left foot.
I hopped on one foot for a moment. I pursued and squished each offender between my fingers until I could see no more bringers of venom crawling on my foot. I stood tall and hoped no one had noticed my dance of torment. But the sting remained. It swelled up and fought every sense with its demanding presence. My body ached for relief. And yet in that moment the pain in my body was no more than a dim reflection of the pain in my heart.
It comes from fire ants. It comes from sin. It entered this world with one man’s disobedience and we’ve been fighting the poison of death ever since.
It was first a judgment: A cause and effect reality of our rebellion. In Hosea 13:14 God talks about how His people are reaping the consequences of their sin and He asks:
Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol?
Shall I redeem them from Death?
O Death, where are your plagues?
O Sheol, where is your sting?
Compassion is hidden from my eyes. (ESV)
In the context of this passage God is actually calling on the plague of death and the sting of the grave as a just response to the sins of His people. He is asking a rhetorical question. The answer is no. He will not move in compassion on behalf of His rebellious children.
The interesting thing about this passage from Hosea is that some translations frame this passage differently. The New International Version translates this text to read:
“I will ransom them from the power of the grave;
I will redeem them from death.
Where, O death, are your plagues?
Where, O grave, is your destruction?”
Now I’m not a Hebrew scholar, but isn’t it interesting that in looking at the whole counsel of God both translations are equally true. Isn’t it just like God that in the moment he is hiding compassion from His people and calling on death as a response to their sin that He is already planning their redemption? From the moment He pronounced the curse of death, He also spoke of the bringer of life.
“And I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspringand hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.” (Gen. 3:15 NIV)
From the very beginning (before He even formed the world or set the galaxies spinning through time) God set in motion a plan to transfer the sting.
1 Cor. 15:50-55 quotes from Hosea and shows us the endgame.
“I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
In Christ the “shall I” of Hosea chapter thirteen comes alive as “I will”. He ransoms us from the power of the grave and redeems us from death. Life in Christ belongs to us, but for now we wait. We wait to shed this mortality and put on immortality. We live as imperishable souls among the perishable reality of a world that is slowly rotting away under the curse of sin.
Christ has triumphed over the grave. He has won the victory. Christ suffered in our place. He took the eternal sting so that we would never know the full extent of its pain.
In Christ – We have victory and we experience the sting. I still carry with me the sting of the fire ant. I still carry in my heart the sting of death. I still sin. I still mourn. I still grieve.
It fills me with sorrow to realize all the ways that I rebel in thought and deed against my good and loving God.
It pains me to see a friend wounded by death.
It breaks my heart to stand by the grave of a child.
Upon awaking this morning this sight greets my eyes. My cat lazily lying on the kitchen counter.
New home, new space, same old rebellion. (And it’s not just Gus. I just didn’t happen to get a picture of Finn sitting on my mom’s kitchen table happily munching on her flower arrangement.)
Now my cat is smart. He opens doors and drawers and he knows just what to do to get a certain response from me. There remains not an ounce of doubt in my mind that he knows the rules. He avoids eye contact knowing that my stern voice is about to be directed toward his languid pose and he stares, cocking one ear waiting for the command that he remove himself to the floor. (Which I am equally certain he will ignore, requiring me to physically remove him).
Then as he eyeballs me and as my gaze meets his I try not to smirk, because while frustrated with his willfulness I still love that ball of fur and I know that even as he breaks my rules he doesn’t really hurt anything. I always swipe the counters with a Clorox wipe before preparing food anyway. Then in that moment of love and frustration it occurred to me that I too have a rebellious heart. And my smirk is gone, replaced with a sigh.
I start wondering about the ways I lazily flaunt my heart’s rebellion. For the truth stands that while Gus’ counter claiming behavior can be rectified with a simple Clorox wipe, my willfulness is much more costly. My rebellion must be washed in blood.
“The Christian God doesn’t turn away from sinners in disgust but moves toward us, bringing us his redemptive presence.” *
Since I arrived in Florida a couple of weeks ago I’ve been attempting to adjust to all the newness: A new place, a new space, a new community of people around me, a new schedule and new goals for this season. I find myself feeling a little lost in the midst of it all and what I need most to settle my soul are habits, routines and things that ground me and help me dwell in the presence of the love of God.
In trying to bring the practice of my chosen spiritual disciplines into a new situation I find myself struggling to assimilate routine practices into an unfamiliar structure. But my old rebellious habits, they seem to slide into place like a well-worn and comfortable shoe. Oh, how I need mercy!
“What a different relationship begins to develop when you realize that God is head-over-heels in love with you…And he loves you deeply, recklessly and extravagantly – just as you are. God knows you are a sinner, but your sins do not surprise him. Nor do they reduce in the slightest his love for you.” *
One of the practices I am renewing is that of Examen: A simple conversation with the Trinity at the end of the day asking, “Where today was I closest to You – most in communion with Your presence, most aware of Your Spirit, most captivated by Your love?” and “At what moment was I farthest from You? When was I walking in flesh, unaware or unresponsive to Your loving presence, leading and direction?”
These questions teach me much about my rebellious heart, as well as revealing my hunger to dwell in His presence, yielded to His loving will. When I am asking God for this gift of awareness I often find that these questions don’t wait until nightfall, but they dodge my steps throughout my day.
Like when I awake and find my cat lazily lying on the kitchen counter.
“The movement of God’s Spirit is very gentle, very soft – and hidden. It does not seek attention. But that movement is also very persistent, strong and deep. It changes our hearts radically.” +
I believe nothing is more dangerous to the darkness than a believer who is wide awake and aware of their own sin and their deep need to cling to the love of Jesus. When we are broken we can release the power of the Spirit and relate to those around us as imitators of the Trinity.˚
And nothing I think is more fruitless in the Kingdom than when a child of God is unaware: of their sin, of their need, of their God and His surpassing love and longing to dwell in the hearts of men.
“Rather than drive us to ever-increasing efforts to get it right ourselves, God wants our sin to make us aware of our need of him.” *
“In spite of the messages of Western culture, personal fulfillment lies in connection, not autonomy. Spirituality is the discovery of the fundamental connection that exists between us and God – a connection that then properly aligns us to others, the world and our deepest self.” *
While I’ll have to wait for heaven to fully escape my rebellious heart, I pray that today I live wide awake and aware. It remains my prayer for you as well. May we ever be aware of the source of our life. May we dwell in the Vine. ˚
Quotes and References:
* Surrender to Love, David Benner
+ Life of the Beloved, Henry Nouwen
˚ 2 Corinthians 4:7-10, John 15:1-17
It’s been a week and my scars are fading. Still, I cannot look at my hands without being reminded of the One who is known by His scars.
In so many ways I am still nothing like Him. He chose the scars. He knew in advance what love would cost and gladly laid down His life out of loving submission to the Father and for the joy of relationship with us. Yet, I cannot deny that my scars were also born of love and all love is born of God, so even as my soul cried out in protest that I would have to struggle when I desired smooth sailing, I recognize that these every day moments teach me what formation into His image really means.
It started last Tuesday; my pondering of scars. It was nine forty-five in the morning; just fifteen minutes before leaving my apartment to catch the plane that would carry me far away from my adopted home of Hungary.
I put the travel harnesses on my cats amid jackhammers and drills and the construction noise that engulfed my flat. I turned away briefly to say goodbye to a friend and in that moment it all fell apart. Frightened by the noise, annoyed by the harness, sensing that something unpleasant was in the air, my cat Gus somehow got tangled up in his harness and went into full panic mode.
I can’t blame him. He’s a cat. He had an animal response…stop the pain at all costs. Throwing himself around the room, attacking everything in sight while he struggled against the bonds that suffocated him, he reacted in a completely natural manner.
[I, on the other hand, do bear the blame for my sin. Made in the image of God with the ability to choose, why do I so often react in the exact same way? I often reject everything true and refuse to submit desiring only to stop the pain at all costs.]
When I finally cornered Gus with both my body and a large pillow, I set about trying to free him from the tangled mess that he had made of his harness. But the relief from his pain wasn’t instantaneous. I had to twist and turn and manipulate him through the pain to set him free. He responded with fierce self-protection. Blinded by the pain he lashed out, digging teeth and claws into my hands, arms and legs. When the work was complete and he finally found himself free from bondage he hissed and growled and spit and caterwauled for the next hour while I tried to everything I knew to get him into his carrier so we wouldn’t miss our flight.
I couldn’t stop crying. I cried for him. I cried for his pain. I cried for his fear. I hated that he was too afraid to trust me. I hated that he so thoroughly rejected the carrier that would take him to a safe place away from the scary noises and empty apartment associated with his pain.
And I cried for me. I cried for my wounds. I cried out of my exhaustion. I cried for the loss that I had processed and the loss that I hadn’t come to terms with, both of which I felt profoundly in this moment of emotional weakness. Further, I cried for my selfish soul that said that this love I have for my pet isn’t worth the cost.
Oh, the love of God. How great is the love that knew completely all that He would suffer yet would not be deterred by the cost. When the Father looked out from eternity past He saw me and He said, “Son, see that one? She will be wounded by sin and she will act out of all the evil in her soul. She will be determined to protect herself from pain. She will even blame you for the pain she feels. She will bring you scars. She will bring you death. But I love her. I love her and will pay any price for her redemption. Will you go and rescue her for me?”
My scars were born out of imperfect love and they are fading.
But there is one whose love is perfect and He will bear the scars of that love for all eternity. He forgives me, the one who deliberately chose sin and rebellion. He loves me, the one who continues to do battle with a desire for self-protection (not truly understanding how such protection brings death to my soul). He lavishes love and grace on me, the one who so often rails at Him for not instantly removing every source of pain. He loves to walk close with me, the one who does not recognize the sacrifice He makes as He walks with me into the pain. He was wounded for me.
He chose the scars.
Oh, the love of God.
The Lamb that was slain is worthy of all my worship and all my praise and the absolute surrender of my life to live in the constant awareness of His love, becoming myself, a vessel of that love to the world.
My scars are fading.
Bloody gashes are becoming thin pink lines,
but I hope they forever remind me of the Love that bore the scars for me.
And in case you were wondering…
I did make it to the airport, cats and all.
And we all made it to Florida.
God gave me a gift in Krisztina who traveled with me, carrying things I couldn’t carry with my injured hands and whose joy has been a balm to my soul over this past week.
I would have never planned to leave Budapest in a rush of pain and tears, but I have much for which to be thankful, blessings, even amid the scars.
This morning I picked up a friend at the airport. While I waited by the arrivals door, I enjoyed watching the kids that were dancing around the terminal. (If you are going to be up early on a Saturday you should at least be able to enjoy watching happy children – it’s such a delight.)
Then the door opened and a mom stepped out. As I watched events unfold, I wondered if she would have enough time to drop her bag so that she could catch the bundle of joy that had instantly launched herself through the air toward her mother’s arms. An ecstatic cry of “Anyu (Mommy)” filled the air mingled with her mother’s laughter.
Just seconds later a boy and girl set of twins, who couldn’t have been much over two, saw their dad. Mom didn’t have a chance to contain them. Oblivious to luggage and legs they made a beeline under the railing and through the the crowd of departing passengers until they were clinging to their papa. They very nearly caused a domino effect of people trying not to fall over them, but they never noticed. They were completely focused on their daddy’s arms.
I was caught by the images.
Startled by the joy.
The hustle and bustle of a busy airport faded away and I found myself wondering when was the last time that I threw myself into my heavenly Father’s arms with such abandon. When did I last run toward His embrace with no thoughts or plans or scheduling or demands: just pure joy at His presence.
Today I want to “grow young” again and become a child.
I want to recapture that wonder of knowing that I am fully loved and the joy of deep belief that He will scatter both luggage and crowds so that I can run and fling myself into His arms.
I was talking with a Hungarian friend the other day and found myself trying to describe Spiritual Direction. For most people spiritual direction is not a familiar term and it is not easily defined. Our discussion brought to mind this quote from Larry Crabb’s book “Becoming a True Spiritual Community.” And though my favorite term is David Benner’s use of “Sacred Companion” I thought I might share this quote to give you an idea of what the term “spiritual direction” is all about.
“The phrase “spiritual direction” carries some baggage. I don’t use the term to imply that a director has the authority to tell someone else what to do. I refer, rather, to a mature saint called to serve others by pointing the way to God. Those who instruct others about whom to marry, what passage to read, and how many days to fast are on dangerous ground. They resemble leaders who lord power over their charges, people our Lord did not commend.
But no other term seems to carry less baggage. Spiritual guide has New Age connotations that blur the distinction between biblically informed guidance and whimsical ideas about what the Spirit might be saying, unrelated to what He has already said clearly in Scripture.
Therapist, an excellent word in its historical meaning of minister, smacks too much of the idea of gaining expertise through training. It doesn’t convey the importance of spiritual depth as a primary qualification.
Counselor feels too anemic. A good word, but overused. Everybody counsels.
Mentor and disciple both have mechanistic overtones that miss the fluid dynamics of the Spirit’s sovereign movement.
Elder too often means a person with business savvy and organizational ability.
Pastor conveys an image of someone you see and hear from once a week, and a little more often if you’re in the hospital.
Teacher conjures images of classrooms, overhead projectors, and lecture outlines.
Shepherd comes close and perhaps would do.
But, with reservation, I vote for the term spiritual director.
We are on a journey. Life is a journey toward a land we have not yet seem along a path we sometimes cannot find. It is a journey of the soul toward its destiny and its home. Spiritual directors are men and women who know the Spirit, who trust the Spirit, who by virtue of calling and gifting and self-awareness can see into the workings of the human soul and can direct it toward its end.
They read widely. Perhaps they have degrees in counseling; perhaps-and this might be better-in literature or philosophy. Perhaps they have little formal education. They love the Scriptures, revering them as God’s Word, but they also read novels by Annie Dillard, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and John Grisham.
Above all, they do not manage their lives or the lives of others. They live as mystics, sensitive to the reality of Christ in them, anchored in the reality that they are in Christ. They are people who pray.
The training they most value has come from godly men and women, perhaps professors, perhaps pastors, perhaps plumbers or seamstresses, people who spoke to them about prayer and the Trinity and worship and grace. The informality of their most valuable training has taught them to never follow formulas, never to “do” counseling. They instinctively and intuitively engage with people as the Spirit directs them.”
I found myself feeling overwhelmed by feelings this morning. My life is overrun with a million small details and important decisions. I was gone 12 days, back 13 and I’m leaving tomorrow for another 12. There is so much to be done and the pressure of it has been weighing heavy.
And I knew I needed to:
Stop – For this hurried spirit accomplishes nothing
Reflect – For God’s presence is with me
Pray – For He longs for me to abide in Him in the middle of the pressures of the day
Give Thanks – For He has provided for all that I need and so much more
And I find that just minutes focusing on His presence and resting in His love is like a bottomless well of purest water to my thirsty soul.
And somehow it all looks different now…for there truly are blessings for my soul, even today, ten thousand reasons for my heart to find
“The only fruit that glorifies God stems from abiding in Christ and he in us. It’s a life of faith and faithfulness. It’s a life of utter dependency and yet, strangely, daring initiative. Put another way, much and yet nothing depends on me. What depends on me is my tenacious dependence on Christ. I must do that thing which exposes the utmost bankruptcy of all my doings.”
Mark Buchanan – Spiritual Rhythm
I was praying with someone this evening and these words from their prayer are still echoing in my soul. “You are our home…a home for our hearts.”
That word evokes so many thoughts, so many emotions.
Where is that elusive place?
I’ve always loved the way the Hungarian language refers to home. Itthon – the word that I use when I am currently, geographically at home. Otthon – the word that I use when I refer to home, but I am not currently, geographically there. These phrases have meant a lot to me as a missionary for when I’m in the States I’m “home – Itthon” with my family but Hungary is the “Otthon – home” that I am away from. And when I am in my apartment in Hungary it is reversed.
But what do I do when all my geographical definitions of home fall short? How do I think of home when no place on earth can hang on to that title?
I’m still looking for the city. I’m still on a journey toward the Promised Land and I’m not home yet, not by a long shot.
But my soul has already taken this journey. My soul has found its home.
How glorious is your dwelling place
O Loving Creator of the Universe!
My soul longs, yes, aches for the abode of the Beloved;
All that is within me sings for joy
to the living Heart of Love!
Even as the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nesting place,
where its young are raised within Your majestic creation,
You invite us to dwell within Your heart.
(Psalms from Praying, Nan C. Merrill)
A home for my heart is a home found in the circle of the Trinity.
Home…that resting place for my soul is found in the very heart of God.
Home is found in the midst of the Triune embrace.
And that is a truer home than any geographical location can ever be.
So I ponder home and recall this line of a favorite song…
”I’m home anywhere if you are where I am.”
Hebrews 12:1-3 have long been favorite verses of mine.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
In the past weeks I’ve been meditating on what it means to fix my eyes on Jesus. What does it mean to be so centered on him that whether my day is slow and steady or fast and full, I move in unhurried awareness of his presence? What does it look like to live in steady rhythm with the movement of His Spirit? Isn’t it amazing that no matter how busy Jesus was He was never rushed. Isn’t it beyond comprehension that in the midst of crowds he consistently turned to give his full attention to a single individual. “Who touched me?” Why did he even ask? He knew who touched him and he also knew she was healed. He had important things to do, a little girl was dying. (Luke 8:40-53) But he stopped. He asked not because he needed to know, but because she needed to be known. She needed the look of love in his eyes. She needed the full attention of his gaze of love. She needed the gift of being drawn into relationship.
It’s a counter-cultural way to live. Counter to every earthly culture I think. We’re born with a sin nature that is moving away from God and from each other. We were created for relationships. Relationship with the Trinity. Relationship with each other. And these relationships remain the broken battleground of our lives.
But in Christ we’ve been given a key. We can fix our eyes on Jesus, just as Jesus fixed his eyes on his Father. Our focus determines so much.
If we’re looking at him we move differently. We slow down. We fall into step beside him as he moves in his unhurried manner. We become aware. It doesn’t mean our days are any less full, but we start to see them in a new light. Suddenly pleasing the crowds doesn’t seem so important. As we look into his eyes we hear him whisper, “Trust me, we have time for this precious soul. She needs the gift of undivided focus, unhurried attention. The crisis will wait. I have a plan for that too. Just stick with me.”
When I fix my eyes on Jesus I start becoming more attuned to his pace, to his voice, his movement. So I’m looking for ways to become more aware of Him moment by moment.
I started with a gratitude journal: a record of the ways I witness his presence in each day. But I’ve been inconsistent. I added the practice of breath prayer: a simple repeated prayer, a breathing in and out that refocuses my gaze. But it too is hard to maintain. I’ve begun praying the hours (using this great website) – a few minutes of each hour given over to the one who set me in time and space, but I’ve yet to hit every mark in a given day. New habits are hard to form.
And the spiritual disciplines are just that, habits. They are simply ways to assist me toward awareness; tools to help me fix my eyes on Christ.
I want to move like him. I want to walk his unhurried rhythm in the middle of busy days. I want to keep pace with the Spirit rather than the world. I want to look into the eyes of others and offer them my full attention. I want to offer relationship that models the Trinity. I want the miraculous, super-natural life of Christ to flow through me.
Extraordinary desires like this can’t be met through fleshly strength. Only God can make this a reality. But I have a starting place. I fix my eyes on Jesus.
Swan on frozen lake
Walking and biking on frozen Lake Bled, Slovenia
In a recent Facebook post I joked about walking on water in reference to walking across a frozen lake. Here I want to talk about a different kind of walking on water; the kind that comes through faith and a vision of Christ. I’d like to introduce my thoughts with a quote from Madeleine L’Engle’s book “Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art.”
…there is no denying that the artist is someone who is full of questions, who cries them out with great angst, who discovers rainbow answers in the darkness, and then rushes to canvas or paper. An artist is someone who cannot rest, who can never rest as long as there is one suffering creature in this world. Along with Plato’s divine madness there is also divine discontent, a longing to find the melody in the discords of chaos, the rhyme in the cacophony, the surprised smile in time of stress or strain.
It is not that what is is not enough, for it is; it is that what is had been disarranged, and is crying out to be put in place. Perhaps the artist longs to sleep well every night, to eat anything without indigestion; to feel no moral qualms; to turn off the television news and make a bologna sandwich after seeing the devastation and death caused by famine and drought and earthquake and flood. But the artist cannot manage this normalcy. Vision keeps breaking through and must find expression.
I don’t completely resonate with every sentiment in this quote, because I believe that there is a rest in God that is always available even in middle of the darkest of nights and the most heart-wrenching of questions. I, perhaps, would say that the artist will never cease to wrestle with restlessness, but it’s really just a matter of how I interpret the word rest. Still, even as it is written, I’d be hard pressed to come up with another quote that could so succinctly get to the heart of my life’s journey.
From the time I could wonder why the sky was blue and the grass green my head has been filled with questions. Maybe it is intrinsic to childhood to wonder or maybe it is more particular to those of us born with the heart of an artist. Regardless, I’ve spent a great deal of my life trying to deny the questions, trying to make the world black and white and controllable, but I cannot. Vision keeps breaking through.
Even my earliest memories carry within them a sense that not all was as it should be. It was years later when the Spirit taught me about sin and the fall: creature and creation all distorted and damaged. And it was in Christ that I found the fullness of vision that had ever tapped at the door of my heart.
In salvation I embraced the mystery, but fallen and frail, my flesh has long battled to keep faith bound and vision constrained to the mundane that we call normalcy. But, Praise God, vision keeps breaking through.
It was vision that whispered and needled and coaxed me to see how I aimed too low and dreamed too small. As John Acuff recently wrote, “Journeys where the outcome is already known are not adventures, they’re errands. And you were created to do more than run errands.”
It was vision that toppled my idols and led me to dream a greater dream, for my idols were woefully inadequate in light of the hope of glory. It was this vision that eventually led me overseas, for how could I “make a bologna sandwich” when so many have never heard the hope of Christ? And it was this vision that set me down the path I am currently on, for once confronted with the “disarranged” reality that so many servants of Christ are fighting their battles all alone, how can I ever turn back?
So errands abandoned and questions embraced I press forward. Vision must find expression in the art and faith of my life. I must walk on water eyes fixed on Christ. Nothing else will do.