There was evening and there was morning…

I was asked recently to reflect back on my life and look for the milestones that made my life seemingly worthwhile. The very first thing that came to mind was my children, their births and the subsequent years of raising them up into adulthood. Without a doubt, giving birth to another living being has been the greatest, most wondrous milestone of my life.

The next thing that came to mind were the deaths I’ve attended. Keeping watch at the bedsides of first my dad and then my mom was indeed every bit the milestones as the births of my three children. The rhythm of life…birth and death.

There was evening and there was morning…

The rhythm of days. Each one comes and goes, bringing whatever God wills or allows. An evening, life passing. A morning, new life begins. A day, the time from birth to death. There is a rhythm, a continuity that feels more right to me now in this season of life. I don’t feel the need to push against it, to defy its unceasing flow. These days it is rare that I think or say, “There just aren’t enough hours in this day to get everything done!” Instead I  trust that tomorrow will bring to me more hours in which to do whatever needs doing. Sometimes I even find that what was so important to get done yesterday holds less urgency for today!

There was evening and there was morning…a new day.

As I contemplate this rhythm, I find peace in simply entering into its flow. Of course, the rhythm can be fast or slow. Having a plan for the day is good; however, not being too ambitious and not holding too tightly to that plan is better. It slows the pace so that I can better appreciate the quiet grace of God in the unceasing flow, the rhythm of not just my own life, but life all around me.

In just the right time, Jesus will return and a new rhythm will begin. Until then, I will simply wait and watch, keeping with this God-ordained rhythm–there was evening and there was morning–finding peace and joy in its familiar flow.

One More Antidote for Anxiety

(Continuation on reflections from Psalm 37:1-11. The first two posts are here and here.)

As we’ve heard David’s exhortation to “fret not” and pondered his advice for avoiding anxiety, I’ve saved the best (IMHO) for last! It’s this…

Be still before the Lord. Wait patiently for him.

To meditate on God’s word, contemplating what it means to me in my particular circumstances, requires that I sit still and quiet before God, waiting patiently for him to reveal to me more of himself. That’s not at all easy in the fast-paced world in which we live. We are continually encouraged to do more and do it faster, to fill up every minute of every day with something that the world considers productive. There are several problems with that, not the least of which is that what is productive in the world’s eyes is often in direct opposition to God’s plan and purpose! God deeply desires our love and our attention. The enemy of our souls provides plenty of distractions, cultural busyness and the demand for productivity topping the list.

This past year has brought home the truth that being still before the Lord and waiting patiently for him is non-negotiable in my life, and I would daresay in the life of anyone who wants to follow Christ. I have lived the past four years going from one demanding season to another, juggling it all with as much grace as I could muster. However, at the end of last year, all the demands had been met and suddenly I was left with little to juggle! After four years of being driven and stressed with little time to process what I was experiencing, I found myself frustrated and worn out, even while my soul was incessantly restless. That’s when I discovered this great treasure in Psalm 37:7.

My habit for the past couple of decades has been to spend time with the Lord each morning. However, this time was not necessarily spent sitting quietly and waiting patiently. It was more often spent fulfilling the obligatory Bible reading so that I could check the box on my reading plan, while rehearsing the day’s agenda in the background of my mind and asking God to bless it. There wasn’t much time for listening…mostly it was knowledge acquisition and petitioning. So the truth of verse 7 required some life-changing choices.

For me, this has looked like changing how I live out each day…simpler. Not simpler as in doing less, but simpler as in doing what has meaning and purpose to me, and doing it at a reasonable pace.

  • My day still begins with morning prayer, but I now use a guide that offers a few verses of scripture, rather than chapters. I wait patiently for the Holy Spirit to illumine a few words and then sit with them–and Him–in the quiet.
  • I limit how many appointments I schedule in a day rather than filling every available hour, which leaves space for God to speak into my day as it unfolds.
  • I spend all the time I can outdoors, where I most easily experience God through contemplating his glory and imagination revealed through his creation.
  • I planted a vegetable garden this year—not because it’s the cool thing to do or because I want to make some sort of statement about organic food. I did it because I wanted to see what it would be like to sow seed and wait for God to grow it into something we can eat!
  • I bought a good camera and took a class in basic photography. It is much more challenging than snapping pictures with my phone! But it encourages me to literally see the world through a different lens.

I pray more than I ever have before. Not a to-do-list- for-God kind of praying, but an ongoing conversation about how good he is and how much more I want to know him so that I can love him more fully.

Am I fret-free? Of course not! I still have moments of anxiety. But when I’m tempted to fret, I find it helpful to consider David’s advice, to focus on

  • trusting in the Lord and doing good,
  • delighting in the Lord as I commit my way to him,
  • and being still before the Lord as I wait patiently for him.

Charles Spurgeon once said that faith cures fretting. What changes do you need to make in your everyday life to build a faith that becomes your antidote for anxiety?

 

More Antidote for Anxiety

(Continuation of my last post…)

Take delight in the Lord. Commit your way to the Lord.

It seems to me that these two go hand in hand. What might God delight in? What does God desire? The prophet Hosea says that God desires us to know him and to love him with a steadfast love.

How do we commit to knowing and loving God? Practically speaking, we spend time with those we love. How much time are we willing to spend with the Lord? I mean, really? What does that time look like? Is it ten minutes of looking at a devotional reading while the tasks of the day run through our mind? Is ten distracted minutes enough for a signficant relationship to thrive?

It takes more effort to engage with the Lord, and it requires a commitment to prayerfully reading the Bible regularly…as in every day.

Just a word of caution here… For a while, I used an app on my phone for my daily prayer. The app promised to make it easier to follow the Daily Office (my preferred reading plan), offering each day’s readings all in one place at the touch of a single button. But I found that the pings and dings of incoming texts, emails, and voicemails distracted me mercilessly. And then I would think of something I needed to add to my to-do list for the day, which prompted me to open my calendar to type in a reminder, which led to a whole bunch of other distractions. I’ve since gone back to my printed Bible!

And speaking of reading the Bible…while that’s certainly a good and necessary thing to do, is that all we need to do? Just because I read a book about someone, it doesn’t mean I really know them. Of course, the Bible is not just any book. It is unique in that it is the living word of God—the Holy Spirit enlivens each word for us as we allow Him to. And that’s just the point. Reading or studying for knowledge is one thing, and it’s what we are trained to do from the time we learn to read. But the intimacy of actually knowing God comes from meditating on his word, contemplating its meaning for our life and for our relationship with the One whose love for us is complete.

I’m certain that this sort of communion with God is what David is speaking of in Psalm 37 when he suggests that we delight ourselves in the Lord. And it will most certainly lead to another of his antidotes for anxiety, which will be the subject of my next post.

In the meantime, spend some time with God pondering these two questions:

  • Lord, how would you have me delight in you today?
  • Lord, practically speaking, what does it look like for me to commit my way to you today?

Antidote for Anxiety

When I’m frustrated and angry over some injustice, Psalm 37 is my go-to Psalm. It deals with the wicked and the unrighteous, the prosperity they enjoy in this life and the consequence of their evil doings when they have to face God. Psalm 37 reminds me that God will vindicate the righteous in due time. But as I prepared recently to preach from this Psalm, I found that–for me, anyway–the real treasure is found in the first eleven verses as David deals with an issue that most of us struggle with fairly regularly.

Anxious worry–which David refers to as “fretting”–is something I come by honestly. My mom was an anxious worrier, and her mother before her. There is much in our culture and in our world to provoke anxiety. News media focus on the negative, sensationalizing every terrorist plot, every tragedy, anything having to do with health issues, and so on. Our modern technology which promised us a more carefree life has instead enslaved us. (Just notice the anxiety you feel when you misplace your mobile device!) And all too often the doctors, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies we trust to take care of us when we are sick have proven to be more concerned about the bottom line of their financial statements than curing our health problem.

(I could go on, but I prefer to be more of a “glass is half-full rather than half-empty” kind of woman!)

Here’s where those first eleven verses of Psalm 37 come in. King David penned this Psalm in his old age, after he’d lived long and accumulated much wisdom. The first two words are, “Fret not.” He says it twice more in the following eight verses, which should catch our attention. Now granted, he is saying this in reference to fretting over the godless who are prospering, but I think it’s applicable to most any kind of anxiety we experience.

David goes on to offer some very good, very wise advice…

  • Trust in the Lord and do good
  • Take delight in the Lord
  • Commit your way to the Lord
  • Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him
  • Refrain from anger and turn from wrath

Trust in the Lord and do good.

Only when we trust in the Lord are we truly free to do good. When I fret over my possessions or achievements, comparing myself to others and coming up wanting, I invariably struggle to do good. Instead, I become self-referenced and bogged down in a scarcity mentality, that state of mind that says we are “never enough” or that we never have enough–whether that is time, sleep, energy, material possessions, significance, recognition, or…well, you fill in the blank. Scarcity mentality essentially says that I don’t trust that God has provided what I truly need and that he will continue to do so. Doing good, then, becomes a threat to my own security, for in doing good to and for others, I run the risk of not having enough for myself.

Trusting in the Lord and doing good leaves less time and energy for fretting. We have less inclination to give in to anxious worry because we aren’t thinking about what we lack, but what we can give.

I invite you to ponder that a bit to see if there is any truth in it for you. I’ll speak to the rest of David’s advice in my next post…

 

 

Listen, Lord

O Lord, we come this morning
Knee-bowed and body bent
Before Thy throne of grace.
Bow our hearts beneath our knees
And our knees in the lonesome valley.
We come this morning—
Like empty pitchers to a full fountain,
With no merits of our own.
O Lord—open up a new window of heaven,
And lean out far over the battlements of glory,
And listen this morning.
-James Weldon Johnson

The imagery in this poem is rich… What resonates within your soul this morning?

…the humble posture of prayer before God’s throne?
…the lonesome valley?
…the empty pitcher?
…the full fountain?

Imagine God opening his window and leaning far out, listening to every word of your prayer, whether it is full of thanksgiving or lament, anticipation or dread, confidence or fear…He listens intently, as though he has all the time in the world and you are the only person in the universe…because he does and, in this moment, you are…

Speak, child, for your Father is listening.

Which way do you live?

In her book, A Circle of Quiet, Madeleine L’Engle tells of her student who wanted to know if she believed in God. Madeleine replied…

There are three ways you can live life… You can live life as though it’s all a cosmic accident; we’re nothing but an irritating skin disease on the face of the earth. Maybe you can live your life as though everything’s a bad joke. I can’t.

Or you can go out at night and look at the stars and think, yes, they were created by a prime mover, and so were you, but he’s aloof perfection, impassible, indifferent to his creation. He doesn’t care, or, if he cares, he only cares about the ultimate end of his creation, and so what happens to any part of it on the way is really a matter of indifference. You don’t matter to him, I don’t matter to him, except possibly as a means to an end. I can’t live that way, either.”

Then there’s a third way: to live as though you believe that the power behind the universe is a power of love, a personal power of love, a love so great that all of us really do matter to him. He loves us so much that every single one of our lives has meaning; he really does know about the fall of every sparrow and the hairs of our head are really counted. That’s the only way I can live.

I want to believe that I’m living the third way. But it’s only true if others–family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, the cashier who checks me out, the drivers with whom I share the road–can testify to it. I am only living in L’Engle’s third way when I affirm that every single one of their lives has meaning to God, and therefore has meaning to me because God has created us to share in his love.

Perhaps you might find some time today to sit in the quiet and ponder these three ways of living. Can you ask God to help you see which way you truly live?

Is there more to the story?

How many times I’ve read Luke’s version of the feeding of the five-thousand (Luke 9:10-17). It is a great story, isn’t it? Imagine feeding five-thousand men–more when we consider the women and children who were likely present, too–with only five loaves and two fish! It’s a BIG miracle, for sure!

And that’s what catches our attention, isn’t it? The magnitude of that miracle. We are prone to look for the big stuff, the flashy show of power, the grandiosity of the moment. This story doesn’t disappoint, either–an incredible feat to feed thousands of people with what would barely feed a family.

But there is more, much more, waiting to be discovered in this story…

Consider this: How did Jesus make himself heard? He spoke to them about the kingdom of God. In other words, he preached…to over 5000 people, more than likely outdoors. How could all those people hear him without a sound system? Did he walk among them as he spoke? Or did he stand still and those closest to him turned to the ones behind them, repeating Jesus’ words to create a sort of echo?

And then there’s the healing… Did Jesus individually heal those in need, one by one? That alone would have taken more than a day! Or did he simply speak a word and all were healed at once? Certainly that would be more efficient, but isn’t the personal attention from Jesus a significant aspect of healing? Did the disciples, having just returned from their own ministry adventure, jump in and help with the healing to expedite the process?

How in the world did the Twelve feed all those people? If we simply consider the 5000 that Luke mentions, sitting in groups of fifty would have meant that there were 100 groups. That’s approximately eight and one-third groups per disciple, or 416 individuals for each disciple to serve. I occasionally help serve a meal to the homeless at a local non-profit. It takes about thirty minutes for eight of us to serve 100 people seated around tables. I can’t imagine serving 416 by myself!

In all, this would have taken hours and hours…teaching, healing, feeding, collecting leftovers. So, did time simply stand still for a while?

Can you see the potential for all sorts of miracles in these seven verses? When we slow down and engage our imagination, we can glimpse all sorts of wonders in these familiar stories, little treasures that we have previously overlooked. And doing so trains us to look for life’s little treasures available to us each day, the ones we might otherwise overlook in our quest for the big stuff.

 

What kind of miracle do you need today?

     Are you hungry for spiritual food?

          Do you long to hear Jesus over the noise in and around you?

               Are you in need of healing? Or is Jesus inviting you to be an agent of his healing?

                    Are you feeling overwhelmed by the needs or tasks before you today?

                         Do you need time to stand still for a bit, that you might have a personal encounter with Jesus today?

Ask…seek…knock…your Savior longs to answer. Just remember that the answer may not come in the big stuff, but in the small treasures awaiting you today.