VISION, LIMITS, AND OBITS

IMG_4641 (2)From my 2011 Journal. We’re teaching the life of Elisha in Momentum (Sunday school for grades 4-6), and our leader Lori challenged us to ask ourselves 3 sets of questions.

#1 Write down a sentence that describes the vision you have for your life.

That’s a tall order! I’m sure it’s changed over the years [and perhaps has changed since I wrote this 8 years ago]. At first I thought of the word “prayer” and then “service,” but I think even more than that, the word “obedience.” I’m more of a rule-follower than a leader. Another word that comes to mind is “peace.” All these words have been my pursuit since childhood. Can they be melded into one sentence?

My Vision Statement:  I will prayerfully pursue inner peace while living a life of obedience in His service.

#2 Where do you limit yourself? and Where do you limit God?

Unlike my youngest daughter, I don’t like change. I’m not inherently adventuresome. I limit myself physically. I don’t get outside as much as I’d like to enjoy nature. I’m content to stay inside where it’s sterile and comfortable. [I’ve since then deliberately made that change.] I limit myself when I doubt that God is working in another person’s life. I limit God when I cannot see the big picture or when I don’t ask for big things. I’m Elisha behind a plow, plodding along. I have no imagination that God has a much greater work for me to do. [Again, thankfully God has grown me in these areas.]

#3 Write out your own obituary.

Besides the stats of where I’ve lived and what I’ve done and who my surviving relatives are—I suppose Lori means for what character traits will people remember me. The truth? Or what I hope they remember me for? Okay, here goes. . . .

She liked things done her way. She liked simplicity and minimalism. She neglected exercise. And she had a terrible memory. She loved spicy food and anything African. She accepted people at face value and tried to learn something from everyone. She was hardest on her husband and expected more from him than from others—but she eventually relaxed on that one and decided to let God be his Holy Spirit.

She loved prayer, but never felt like she mastered it. She had a driving passion for purity, obedience to God, mind renewal, helping others come to emotional healing. She enjoyed writing—for herself—and used to crochet and cross-stitch. Mostly she enjoyed reading, and when younger, climbing trees. She adored her family. She enjoyed baking, but not cooking on a routine basis—especially for picky eaters. Using her resources for God was extremely important to her. She loved monkeys but not dogs, and she tolerated cats. Sunsets, rainbows, a full moon, cloud formations, and the African sky. She liked to work on the computer—especially when creating words on a page, and even data entry. But most of all, above all else, she LOVED GOD.

Now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear your responses to these thought-provoking questions.

Who’s in Your Driver’s Seat?

Drivers seat

Baby Benjamin and big brother Jackson

I have heard people use the metaphor that God should be in the driver seat of our lives—that God is in charge, and I can trust Him to drive this vessel anywhere He wants. But I’m not sure that’s accurate. If I were the passenger, I would have no say in where I go and what I do. He has given human beings a choice. I am actually behind the steering wheel. And so, though I am driving, His hands are on the wheel with me because He is inside me. When I fight against His direction, we begin to swerve and hit potholes and run off the road and wreck, but when I yield to His gentle pressure, He keeps me on the right path, going in the right direction. He can see up ahead where the detour signs are, where the roadblocks are. So I can trust Him when He suggests we take a break, find another route, or stop to help a fellow traveler. I cannot drive another person’s vessel for him/her (sometimes I wish I could!), but I can lend a hand with a flat tire or offer a snack or a drink of cool water to ease his/her discomfort.

Where do you see Jesus in your picture?

God the Father

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” (Rom. 8:15 NASB)

From my 2011 Journal. For a long time I’ve tried to figure out my picture of God the Father. And all I could get was seeing Him sitting on a giant throne, stern and stiff and still, sort of like Abe Lincoln’s marble statue in Washington. And seeing Him on the throne is all well and good, but that doesn’t show me the “Papa/Abba” side of Him. Sitting on the throne is His job—King, Ruler, Sovereign Judge over the Universe.

Dad 2We’re often told that our view of God looks a lot like our view of our earthly father. I adored and respected and admired my dad, but we never had a close, intimate, soul-to-soul relationship. I always felt safe and protected, and he taught me a lot, but it was never the warm and fuzzy sort of nurturing feelings. He just didn’t “get” little kids. Okay, so maybe there’s an element of truth there about my view of God the Father.

As I prayed this morning, I asked God for a new picture—one that demonstrates His love for me. And this is what I saw:  I’m snuggled under the covers, ready for bed, and God the Father is sitting beside me, bedtime story in hand, answering my most puzzling life questions that arise at the end of the day when all is quiet and still. There’s deep love in His eyes. His kiss on my cheek is gentle. His hands tucking me in are careful and kind, but most of all, full of love for me, His child. I’m safe and warm, no fear, no worries or needs. He’s taking care of me. He loves me. That’s Who my Papa is. By day? King of the Universe. At night? The reader of stories, the delight of my day and night. Thank You, Abba, that I’m your child.

What does Father look like to you?

Small Bites

 

As I read the Scriptures, I find I can only chew on one small portion at a time. When I’m studying faith in Hebrews 11, it’s hard to focus on I Corinthians 13 and love. When I’m reading the Psalms, I’m focused on praise and thanksgiving. I have to trust that whatever bite I’m chewing on at the time is what my soul needs.

Sometimes my soul needs water because I’m thirsty (“as the deer panteth for the water”). Sometimes it enjoys dessert (the mountaintop experiences in life). But other times, a sip of bitter coffee (admitting I’m wrong) offsets the sweetness of forgiveness. Meat and starch for energy. I need it all . . . but I can only take (and enjoy) one bite at a time.

And so I lay aside the guilt that says I’m not praising enough, or I’m lingering too long over the coffee. I need balance. And I can trust God to bring into my life whatever He has planned for me to help me grow in my walk with Him.

What are you chewing on today?

Small bites 2

Sing with Me

Singing

From my 2008 Journal. You know what I miss? The focus of music in some churches has shifted from the sound of the congregation’s voices blending in harmony under the leadership of a song leader or musician—to a group of performers on stage. Now I know they’re not called “performers” and I know that’s not their intention, but . . . I personally find it a little distracting to watch what’s happening on stage. Critiquing performance is my natural tendency instead of focusing inward and upward. I know that my focus needs to be on God, and I know that I can become distracted by any number of things—so sometimes I just have to shut my eyes during worship.

I also acknowledge that the temptation with singing old familiar hymns led by a choir director is to sing with the lips and not from the heart. I get that. I know it’s not what’s happening on the stage that counts, but what’s in my heart. But certain environments are just more conducive to worship for me than others. We recently visited a liturgical church where the organist, hidden out of sight, led the congregational singing. I could hear my own voice blending in harmony with the voices around me. I found the experience quite refreshing.

Okay, I’ve said my piece. Now let’s sing!

The People’s Choice Award

KingLike a child begging a parent for candy before dinner, I wonder if there are times when we beg too hard for what we want, and God gives it to us—but it’s not for our best. Better to examine our hearts, motives and emotions to discover why we’re begging for something. Better to ask, “according to God’s will” and from a heart of peace that is aligned with what God has predetermined is best for us or our loved one.

Once more, just before the public declaration of God’s choosing, the prophet Samuel warned the people of their folly in desiring a king (I Samuel 12). It’s like the Israelites begging for meat in the wilderness: God answered their prayers, but then they suffered the consequences.

So why did the people want a king? “To be like the other nations” it says in one place. But verse 12 gives us more insight:

But when you saw that Nahash king of the Ammonites was moving against you, you said to me [Sam], “No, we want a king to rule over us”—even though the Lord your God was your king (NIV).

Their folly began with bending to the culture, followed by fear of the enemy, which led to stubbornness and rebellion against God.

What gives me hope is that even after God granted their request for a king, He still gave them a second chance to do right.

If you fear the Lord and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the Lord your God—good! (v. 14). [But IF the opposite is true, watch out!]

Even when we sin and foolishly ask for something that’s not good for us, God can still redeem the situation—IF we repent.

PRAYERS and PRAY-ERS

From my 2011 journal. Yesterday I heard a report about a group prayer session for someone who is very sick with cancer. The reporter mentioned how a lady in the group could really pray—she really connected with God, a real prayer warrior. My reaction was multi-faceted:  I’d like to be like that; I’m not like that; I wonder what pain she’s been through; I wonder what her temperament type is.

In my mind, I saw a visual of this prayer warrior lady piloting a large ship while, in contrast, my prayers were akin to clinging onto the side of the vessel, just going along for the ride.

When I talked to God about it, He said to let go and drop into the water. Really?! Ok . . . so I did . . . and found I didn’t drown as expected because the water was shallow enough to wade in. Then He told me to go back to the dry land and enjoy watching the monkeys and playing on the beach, and just spend time with Him. That’s when I noticed the prayer warrior lady was sailing around and around the island, keeping the bad things away from the island.

We each have our own job to do. I’m glad mine is to play on the beach and watch monkeys! I’m no “prayer warrior.” I’m a stay-in-His-presence-and-enjoy-Him kind of pray-er. Is that okay?

MK_HANDS_LO-002Somewhere, somehow, I find myself believing that my puny prayers—I mean the intercessory kind where my heart and brain are only half engaged—make very little difference.

It’s like when my girls were little and I was focused on what I was doing and one of them would approach me with a question. If it was a simple question like “May I go outside to play?” I could answer her without breaking focus. But, if she asked a question that demanded some thought, I’d have to stop what I was doing and turn to her and think about it.

Which of those interactions was meaningful and connected? My first thought is—only the second one. In the first, my mind was elsewhere. And sometimes I think my prayers are like that—the words are spoken, but the mind is elsewhere. But—and here’s the point—is communication of information any less valid or effective for my child? She still got a response from me even if my attention wasn’t fully on her. God wants communication from me. He’s always fully focused on me. It’s me who has a hard time tuning in fully.

And so I’ve somehow come to believe that a quick “mindless” prayer isn’t fully valid. Maybe there’s some truth to that. But on the other hand, it is a connecting point. I have voluntarily connected with my child. I have not turned her away. And I wasn’t in relationship with the neighbor’s kid. I have relationship with my own. Is it okay not to fully engage?

I think of Bill Rudd, my former youth pastor. I’ve never met a man who was so focused on each person he spoke to. Total attention and eye focus. Is this how my prayers should be? Preferably, yes. But the question is, “What if they’re not?” Is the communication any less valid? Is God’s answer dependent on how long, hard, or deep my intensity in prayer is?

When my child asks, “May I play outside?” she doesn’t have to beg and plead and cry to get me to answer yes. It’s a no-brainer if I know it’s safe outside and she’s old enough to handle that much independence. But what if there’s a lightning storm out there? No matter how much she pleads, I’ll say no for her safety’s sake. Other times, it’s just a preference for me whether I say no or yes, and her begging might change or help me make up my mind. The more she pleads and gives me good rational arguments, the more I’ll be apt to change my mind. (Moses did that with God.)

So . . .  let’s say I pray for someone who’s sick. My prayers come from a different place in my heart if it’s “a friend of my co-worker’s cousin” who is ill versus my own child who’s in the hospital. One is a prayer “in passing” and the other is on my knees or face to the ground pleading for mercy.

What’s my question, then? Is it okay, effective, permissible, worth it, important, necessary, whatever, to pray for someone’s request if my whole focus, heart, and mind aren’t in it? The request is still valid. Perhaps the urgency isn’t there, but is it any less valid or effective? I don’t know. Is it ever a waste of time? Whew! How could that be? Surely any communication is better than none at all . . . .

The word I’m working on is “doubt.” If I ask in doubt, what’s the point in asking? It’s worth a try! There’s no harm in asking. If you don’t ask, you don’t receive. So there you have it. Just ASK! And then surrender to whatever answer my Parent gives me. But ask!

What kind of pray-er are you?

Please Come to My Funeral

He passed away, to no one’s regret (II Chronicles 21:20 NIV).

This verse, to me, is one of the saddest statements in the Bible. Jehoram was a bad, bad king who killed all his brothers, put back all the idols that his father had removed, and forsook God. His punishment? His whole family gets wiped out, his possessions captured, and he dies a horrible death of an intestinal disease. And the sad end of his life? His people made no funeral fire in his honor, as they had for his predecessors (v. 19). No funeral memorial for him! Ouch!

What makes a man choose a good or godly heart? It’s more than just his parents’ example. Jehoram had a good father. But maybe he had an absent father. Perhaps something burned him as a child. Was he arrogant because he was the first-born and spoiled? Was he picked on by his brothers? Did his lustful appetites draw him into sin, and he followed after forbidden fruit? What need of his heart went unmet that he would deliberately close his eyes to the victories he witnessed in his father’s time?

Memorial services tend to focus on the positives of a person’s accomplishments or character. We say we don’t like to speak ill of the dead, but how awful to have lived so poorly that no one shows up at all!

rachel (white) berryI want to go to my grave with no unfinished business. I don’t even want to go through today with unfinished business of the heart. I’m so thankful for my godly heritage. I want to learn my lessons from my parents—follow their godly choices, reject any inconsistencies, love everyone—to the end. You all are invited to my funeral!

Whom do you want to come to your funeral?

Dry and Thirsty

O taste and see that the Lord is good . . . (Psalm 34:8).

From my 2010 journal. I had company here for a couple weeks, and my alone time with the Lord suffered as a result. Each day my spirit felt thirstier and thirstier. Strangely, I felt like I was sitting on the edge of a paved parking lot facing the road with no cars in sight.

I asked the Lord what He wanted me to do, and He said, “Go back inside the store.”

marketAnd when I turned around, I saw that it was one of those exotic Asian stores where everything smells pungent, but you have no clue how to cook with any of the ingredients. Jesus is with me, and I’m glad, but something else needs to be done.

Ahhh, at the far side of the store are endless supplies of samples to taste. Some things are tasty to me. Some things are tastier to others. It’s all good food, but I don’t have to like it all. I can eat my full and then it’s okay if I’m back in the parking lot for a while. I’m close to the food supply! My soul and spirit feel refreshed.

What do you do to refresh your soul?

Trembling at the Foot of the Mountain

From my 2010 journal. I realized today that I’m doubting my worth in Christ. I continually question whether or not I’m doing enough to please God. Why is it such a hard thing to believe? I’ve never doubted His love for me. Perhaps that’s because I felt my parents’ love. I do feel accepted by God. It’s not that.  Perhaps my feelings are born out of my childhood perception that God is watching: you better behave. I sense a fearsome reverence that doesn’t allow me to get too close.

mountainVisual:  I am the Israelite at the foot of the mountain who is forbidden from getting too close to the mountain. I’m never Moses and Joshua who climb the mountain and see God face-to-face. I stand at the foot and tremble at the smoke. Only the chosen one is permitted on the mountain. (The funny thing is, Moses had nothing to do with God choosing him. And besides that, he had a flawed character.)

In my visual, I realize that I want to be chosen.

As I surrender my feelings to God, I see myself as a little child, hanging onto the rope barrier at the foot of the mountain. The grownups have all returned to the camp to party, but I want to be close to God.

I see Jesus approach me from the mountain. He picks me up and carries me up the side of the mountain away from the noise of the camp, away from the revelry and the debauchery and sin. It’s quiet up here, silent and peaceful. And Jesus allays my fears that my parents will worry about my being gone.

Soon the sun begins to set and I shiver in the cold. He builds a fire and gives me a cloak for warmth as we sit down for an intimate conversation. In the end I understand that though I might not be chosen for Moses’ job or role,  I was chosen because “I sought the Lord and He heard me” (Ps. 34:4).

Now when the mountain trembles, I feel safe. Jesus will protect me. I’m His child. And He promises that He will “never leave me or forsake me.” He will not leave me on this mountainside by myself. When I pray to Him, He’s not far away anymore. He’s right there, close and intimate. We’re just having a conversation.

Does God feel far away to you? Or near?