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?

So Fix It Already!

When you try to fix people, things only get broken. (Eric Swann, Believers’ Chapel)

From my 2011 journal. Two incidents happened this week that held a mirror up to my face, and I didn’t like what I saw. I like to be kind and gentle—but I can also be bossy and take charge and can step on people’s toes, albeit unintentionally. I tend to push my way in where I’m not invited. This week I butted in where I should not have. I stuck my nose in someone else’s business and got kindly and gently rebuffed.

It’s a tricky thing—when to step in and be helpful and when to keep my mouth shut. I like to solve problems and find solutions—if I know the answer. But if the person doesn’t need or want my help, then I can be a hindrance.

black-and-white-close-up-equipment-210881I see a problem. It needs fixing. Then fix it already! What is that inner drive? Is it temperament? Genetics? Wounding? This drive can accomplish good things, or it can be a catalyst for ill. The thing is, when I see it in myself, I try to fix it. When I see it in others, I want to fix it myself or encourage them to fix it. I wonder: Why would anyone want to continue to wallow in the mire when there’s an answer for their pain?

So how does it feel when things aren’t right and in their proper order? My brain likes things orderly. Words should be spelled correctly. Punctuation in its place. Pictures straight. No clutter on the table. Other people are wired to enjoy and thrive in clutter and mess and chaos. Why can’t I be more tolerant of other people’s messes?

The key? I am not the solution to everyone’s problems. Imagine that! We were taught in evangelism class to be aggressive, to push forward, to get people to make decisions and “draw the net.” Unfortunately, those tactics can actually cause more harm than good and can drive people away.

I want to be honey that attracts, not vinegar that sets people’s teeth on edge. I want to learn to be content with people’s messes, but not content with my own. I can only fix ME.

Later. So now that I’m tuned into it, I caught myself once again giving unsolicited advice. It was unappreciated and inappropriate. How do I break myself of this habit?

This second incident occurred when a visitor came to drop off his two girls at my Grade 5 Sunday school class. When I discovered that one of the children actually belonged in Grade 2, I ran after the parent to inform him of his mistake.

“But the sign said her class was here!” His tone was angry and insistent.

My first response? Fix it, of course! I wanted to prove he’d read the sign wrong. I wanted to walk him to the next wing and show him how to find his daughter’s classroom (but I couldn’t leave my 5th graders alone).

This same emotion shoots me back to a memory when I used to work in a dime store where I was assigned, happily, to the fabric department. I was fresh off the mission field and had never worked retail before. I didn’t even know how to count out change in American money. One day a lady came in with a bag of material and dumped it angrily on the cutting table. She claimed it had been measured incorrectly. Well, my grandpa, who had owned a hardware store in Des Moines, Iowa, had taught me that “the customer is always right.” So, without re-measuring or checking it against the receipt, I pulled out the bolt of cloth and proceeded to cut another length as she specified and exchanged it.

That’s the day I learned the rule that when there’s a problem, you’re supposed to defer it to your supervisor. Oops! My boss was kind about it, but I knew I’d messed up.

So . . . what was I feeling when this lady stormed into my section of the store? I felt for her. How annoying to be sold the wrong length of cloth! I’d been there myself—trying to make a garment when I’m short of material. It’s like I could feel her dashing water all over me.  In my visual, I can see her tripping over a log or something and losing her pail of water. I feel bad for her. I’m more concerned that she’s okay than that I got wet. “Are you okay? Did you get hurt? Can I help you draw more water?” I ask. That’s how I respond. Fix the problem.

Psychologically, I know I’m not capable of taking another person’s emotions or pain for them. I can only feel what I feel. So . . . I mentally climb into this lady’s shoes and feel what it feels like to trip and lose my balance and lose all my water. But as I do that, I begin to laugh—amused at myself for not seeing the log in time.

For some reason that helps. Now in the memory, when the lady walks in with her material, I can say, “Oh how disappointing it must have felt to start a sewing project and become stymied.” And I can look at the Sunday school parent and say, “It must be annoying to find you’re in the wrong spot and you still have to drop off another child before you head to the worship service.” No more emotional response; no need to fix the situation. It is what it is. Just acknowledge it and move on.

Who are you trying to fix so that you can feel better?

Jesus, the Gentle

When two people meet, there is an exchange of energy. There are life-givers who release energy into your soul, and others who receive energy from you. (Blessing the Spirit, by Gunter and Burk, p. 7)

Hug

From my 2007 Journal. I have experienced a gentle touch and an encouraging word from a friend. It feels good, comforts, calms, soothes, draws me in, relaxes, releases tension. It’s lightweight. Jesus’ touch is like that. You want more. You want to stay there where it’s smooth and soft.

In my grief today Jesus told me, “I’m a gentle lover.”

The opposite does not feel good. Harsh, hard, repelling, forceful, pushy, annoying, irritating, pesky, jangling, heavy, recoiling, repulsive, hurts, makes you steel your nerves. That’s what hate-filled words feel like. They are a physical force and a spiritual attack.

Jesus the Gentle. Lover of my soul. I want to be more like Him.

He Restoreth My Soul

From my 2007 Journal. I seem to be in a rut, a slump, a feeling of monotony, sameness. Where’s the excitement in life? I long for fellowship without the work of making it happen. I want things to get stirred up a bit!

Jesus whispers in my ear, “Come on an adventure with Me.”

I’m intrigued.

“Where are we going?” I ask.

“Trust Me,” He replies. “I have all the necessary supplies for the journey. You’re dressed just fine. If the weather changes, I brought rain gear. Will you come?”

Of course! How could I resist such an invitation?!

I see a valley spread out before me, and a long, long line of tables filled with a feast fit for a king. When I get closer, I see both sides filled with people—hungry, poor, ragged. They’re so absorbed in their meal, they hardly acknowledge me. I’m disappointed.

food

“I thought this feast was just for You and me,” I say. It feels like a trick. “Now I suppose You expect me to help feed the ones without arms, wash their feet, wipe their runny noses . . .” I’m tired just thinking about it. I feel peevish.

“Sit down,” He invites. “I’ve reserved a spot just for you.”

“For me? Whom do I get to sit by?” I ask suspiciously. “Am I going to get stuck next to one of those chatty people? Or a silent one? Everyone seems so self-absorbed.”

I sit. He sits beside me.

“What would you like to talk about?” He asks.

“Oh, stuff . . . like how come You made snow cold? Or how’d You dream up a rainbow or a sunset? Did you really have to create fleas and flies and snakes?”

He laughs. I made Him smile, I think.

“Had enough to eat?” He asks. I’ve barely touched my food. I’m too fascinated by His face—the way His eyes twinkle, the lines, the crinkles. He has restored my soul just by being in His presence.

Ho-Hum, another miracle

When he learned of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you arguing about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Have your hearts been hardened? (Matt. 8:17 NET)

heart blanket

I’ve been mulling over the comment about the disciples having hard hearts after participating in Jesus’ miracle feeding of the 5000. I don’t know why their hearts became hardened, but I wonder if it has to do with their becoming complacent about seeing Jesus’ miracles? Or . . . were they mad that they had to play waiters and busboys when they were already exhausted? Or . . . were they prideful that they were in the inner circle with the Miracle Man? Whatever they were feeling, a hard heart is not receptive to understanding truth.

I feel conviction when I think of the first suggestion: complacency after experiencing God work miracles in people’s lives. When I first began praying with people in M&K Ministry, and watched God reveal truth to people’s hearts, it was fun, exhilarating, liberating, exciting—an emotional rush. People were getting set free of addictions, finding freedom from fear and anger and pain, and discovering that their childhood abuse memories no longer had power over them.

Your first experience with something leaves the greatest emotional impact because of its novelty. When the disciples witnessed Jesus performing miracles for the first time, I bet their eyes bugged out. But after many months of trudging around the countryside, foregoing the comforts of home, being mobbed by the crowds, sometimes too busy to eat or rest, I suspect they became weary of the journey, no longer surprised when the lame walked and the blind saw and the deaf were made able to hear. Ho-hum, another miracle.

It troubles me to think I might start to view God’s miracles taking place in people’s hearts as commonplace. In one sense, I should expect it of course—it should be a commonplace occurrence (why are we so surprised when God answers our prayers?) But what I don’t want to happen is to get a “ho-hum” attitude toward it.

Staying in ministry requires keeping your heart soft and open to learning new truths. 

I Have a Question

Last week I talked about Gideon’s “Ifs.” Here’s another one, but with a twist.

Then Gideon said to him, “O my lord, IF the LORD is with us, WHY then has all this happened to us? And WHERE are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’” (Judges 6:13 NASB, emphasis added).

Question mark

My clients often get stuck on the questions “Why?” and “Where?” Why did God allow the abuse? Why didn’t He rescue me? Why doesn’t He care about me? Where was He when it happened? Why didn’t He stop it?

And God seems to remain silent. He knows that answering the why and where questions won’t satisfy the heart because He knows what emotion or pain lies behind them.

When Gideon asks the why question, God does not answer him. Instead God replies: Go in this your might and you shall save Israel . . . Have I not sent you? (14)

In the next verse, Gideon responds with another question: HOW can I deliver Israel when I’m the least of the least?

Again, God doesn’t directly respond to this reasoning.

The problem is, when we ask the wrong questions, we often come to wrong conclusions and make false assumptions and accusations.

Gideon concludes: But now the LORD has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian (13).

When I’m attacked, falsely accused, demanded an answer of, my tendency is to go on the defense, attack back, or try to justify my actions. A better choice is to sidestep and find out what the other person is feeling. God knew that Gideon was feeling fear. Answering his questions wouldn’t satisfy his heart, because those weren’t the right questions. Twice, God sidesteps the questions and answers, “I am the solution, your answer, your source of power and strength” (14, 16).

Next time you’re tempted to ask God why or where, try asking instead: How do I feel that  . . . God allowed the abuse, didn’t answer my prayer, it seemed He wasn’t there, etc.? And then be willing to listen for God’s satisfying answer to your pain.

On a side note, after the pain is gone, sometimes God does indeed answer the client’s WHY questions. I’ve heard answers from Him such as, “Are you willing to let Me use this pain to minister to others?” and “I gave all men choices, and I won’t violate their will; neither will I violate yours.” And the WHERE? He always answers, “I was there with you, feeling your pain.”

What questions do you ask when you’re in pain?

Why do we ask how?

From my 2007 Journal. Why do I question God? When He declares something is true, why do I doubt it? Why do I fret so and try to figure things out for myself? I may think I have the solution for an issue I’m struggling with—but it is very limited. My imagination isn’t big enough to figure out His solutions.

God said to Moses: I will provide meat for the Israelites. Moses asked: HOW? Shall flocks and herds be killed? Collect all the fish in the sea? God said, Is the LORD’s arm too short? Now you will see whether or not what I say will come true for you (Numbers 11:23 NIV). You’d think that Moses, who had witnessed spectacular miracles before his very eyes, would not question God’s ability, power, and creativity. But he wants to know HOW God will provide.

Jesus said to his disciples: Feed the multitudes. The disciples asked: HOW can we do that? We don’t have enough money to go into town and get enough food for this many people. Jesus said, How many loaves do you have?

God says: I will supply all your need according to My riches. I ask: HOW?

DollarI’ve asked for resources for my daughters’ education and for their potential weddings, and then I fret when I think He may not come through, and I brainstorm ways I can get the money to make it happen. Instead, can I not sit back, relax, and watch Him work?

And so, dear Lord, I release to you my worry over where the money is going to come from. I will quit fretting, quit scheming, and simply ask. I ask for faith that will move mountains. I ask for willingness to be obedient when You speak and ask me to do something. I will trust You to guide our paths. I want to unleash Your creativity through faith instead of doubt. Lord, help my unbelief. I am releasing to Your care our checking account, our savings, our retirement funds, the college needs. I will allow You to direct how and when I need to work and how and when I need to be involved in ministry. Guide my footsteps today, Lord Jesus. I don’t know what Your plan is for me today, but I’m open to follow Your lead. Amen.

A 2018 Update. As I reminisce, I’m in awe at how God provided our financial needs. All three girls graduated from college debt-free. And two of our daughters, now married, managed to pull off their weddings within our budget. Now I can say that I, too, have witnessed miracles before my very eyes, and my faith has grown as a result.

Do you think asking HOW is a lack of faith? Why or why not?

Where Is Your Focus?

Focus 3

From My 2009 Journal. Work got canceled, and I had an unexpected, unplanned glorious day to myself to work on the computer and catch up on some work. But one thing after another, my day got interrupted multiple times. I ended up stewing and angry as I headed to the grocery store to pick up some bread, just to discover that the shelves were empty! I’d been trying all day to get rid of my feelings of irritation and hadn’t succeeded too well. Praying for inner peace, I wandered around the store, asking the Lord What was the purpose of all these interruptions to my day?

Just then, I passed a plaque on a shelf that read, “Delight yourself in the Lord.” I laughed out loud. My focus had been all skewed. Thanks, Lord, for putting things into perspective. I chuckled all the way home.

The rest of the verse says, and He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4 NASB).

Where is your focus today?

Shoulds and Ought-tos

From My 2009 Journal. I feel a hesitancy inside when I think that God loves and accepts me just the way I am. I’m still caught in the trap of “I need to.” Being a task-oriented person, “doing for God” feels like a “should” or an “ought to.” It’s a continual mind battle to shed the guilt that I’m not doing more for Him. What is that all about?

I hear in my head the voice of some preacher saying, “You ought to knock on doors for evangelism.” I thought I shed that obligation a long time ago. I know I’ve been derogatory toward those who touted knocking on doors, considering them to be a little kooky, driven by fear or guilt (never mind that I used to be one of them. How hypocritical is that!) But I don’t know their hearts—for all I know, they could be more spiritual or passionate than I am about following God.

Hallway with doorsVisual:  I see an endless line of doors that need to be approached. It’s exhausting and the task is never complete. While walking down the hallway, there appears to be a large hand guiding mine, like I’m a child in training. I thought at first it was the preacher’s voice and hand on me, but now I see him standing to the side at a pulpit. The hand that guides me is that of The Father.

I erroneously compare myself to the famous out-front Christians who have great influence over many crowds of people. They’ve been entrusted with ten talents and have been faithful to use them. Bruce Wilkinson comes to mind. Billy Graham is another. Our faithful pastors as well. And then there’s little ol’ me with a very small sphere of influence. I think somehow I’m supposed to do their work.

I know all the right answers: be faithful with what God entrusts to you. I know that God has not created me with the temperament to spend massive amounts of time with people or in front of people—which is what I seem to equate with the highest rank of God-pleasers.

Here’s my bottom-line question: Is God pleased with me and my performance? I’m fully aware that character is far more important. That’s a given, and I work on that constantly. But I still need the question answered—am I doing enough? Enough for what?

I feel uneasy. Like I’m missing something. How do I know how many talents He’s given me? Yes, it’s His work through me. Yes, I must be obedient to His every command and instruction. No, I don’t have to have the big picture or understand everything God’s chosen for me to do. “Rest in Me,” He says, “and I will guide you. I will show you which door to walk through and when.”

HikeAnd the visual changes. “I’ll make the path for your feet,” He says, “and shed light on the stumbling stones. Just keep walking. I’ll tell you when to put down a stone or pick one up. I’ll let you know when it’s time to lend a helping hand to a fellow traveler, when to give away what’s in your hand, and when to keep walking. Sometimes you have to just keep plodding through the forest. The glen or open spaces are yet to come. Sometimes it’s okay to sit on a rock and rest and take a drink or eat. Doing is not always what’s best for you. Self-discipline is good, but listening to Me is better.”

And so, Heavenly Father, I give to You today my path. I trust You to guide me. Help me not to run ahead of You or lag behind. Give me the energy to keep up. I can walk in Your footsteps, unafraid of the dark and the animals nearby.

“Not enough,” “should,” and “ought-to” are not are not quantifiable concepts and don’t belong in God’s vocabulary for me.

Call It What It Is

From My 2009 Journal. I was in a bathroom stall at the Orlando airport on my way home from my mom’s memorial service when I had an epiphany.

Hook

The hook on the back of the door was missing, and my first thought was, How annoying! Where am I supposed to hang my purse?

Now, I didn’t want to be a complainer about insignificant occurrences in my life—a hook on a door compared to death and dying . . . a little thing like that should not have controled my emotions!

And so I started searching for the right word—because “annoying” or “frustrating” or “irritating” were really too strong to describe what I was actually feeling inside. I wanted a neutral word. That’s when I thought of “inconvenient.”

The circumstance is inconvenient.

How I feel about the circumstance may be annoying, frustrating, irritating.

And so, with the change in vocabulary, there was a shift in my attitude. I would call it what it was and acknowledge that the circumstance was less than ideal, but I didn’t have to have a negative response to it.

What has helped you to “call it what it is”?