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?

The slow work of God

Contrary to what Oil of Olay, Revlon, L’Oreal and countless other cosmetics promise to do, fighting old age is senseless…a futile waste of energy. I see this every time I look at my mom. She spent most of her adult life trying to avoid aging. She spent a lot of money on  expensive ointments and creams that promised to stop–or even reverse!–the signs of aging. I guess they were helpful for a time, because for much of my adult life people asked us if we were sisters. Mom and I were both proud of her youthful appearance.

Eighteen months ago Mom fell and broke her hip, catapulting her into dementia. In that relatively short amount of time, every minute of her 85 years caught up with her. All the lines and wrinkles she worked so hard to avoid have now creased her face and body, and there’s no amount of cosmetics that will make them disappear. In this respect, I am grateful for her dementia as I know she would be distraught over her appearance.

Much in our culture today glorifies youth and disparages age. Yet trying to preserve youth is pointless. The book of Ecclesiastes puts it this way…

You won’t be young forever.
Youth lasts about as long as smoke. (Eccl. 11:10, MSG)

The Book of Proverbs, however, presents a little different take on aging…

Gray hair is a crown of glory;
    it is gained in a righteous life. (Prov. 16:31, ESV)

Youth may be admired for vigor,
    but gray hair gives prestige to old age. (Prov. 20:29, MSG)

I have journaled for close to 40 years. I’ve been thinking recently that I need to do something with all those old journals I’ve kept stored in a box all these years. They take up space. More importantly, I am not convinced that I want anyone else to read my ramblings! I’m closer to the end of my life than to the beginning, and time is a-wasting. Before destroying them, however, I feel the urge to look back and see how God has been at work throughout my lifetime, mentally stacking stones for an altar or two to mark his faithfulness.

During the early years I was inconsistent, sometimes writing every day, sometimes going months without writing a word. There were seasons of intense spiritual growth, every day filled with wonder at God’s goodness. There were other seasons of spiritual stagnation, where my writing evidenced my angst. But as I reflect on these past 40 years, I am blown away by what God has accomplished in me and through me, most of which I was unaware in the moment.

It takes years for God to do his work in us and through us. The best vantage point comes towards the end of life, looking back to observe the slow work of God.

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

-Teilhard de Chardin, SJ; excerpted from Hearts on Fire

Perhaps old age is not something to be avoided after all! aging (2)

A word of encouragement…

I am blessed to be traveling around Indiana this week, presenting workshops to help ministry leaders develop equipping values and practices within their congregations. I’ve spoken with pastors, paid staff, and volunteer staff who are working together to encourage their congregations to discover how fulfilling ministry can be, to live into their God-given call to serve. I am truly humbled by their commitment to learn and grow, to try different methods and practices in hopes that they can better encourage growth and maturation of the body of Christ.

One young man today said that he would like to just push the pause button on current ministry, put in place some of the practices he learned today, then turn the ministry back on again to run in alignment with those new practices. Of course, that can’t happen. And so I encouraged him to remember that the way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time! Do what he can today…take that first step…make one little change…then watch for the next opportunity to take another step into an equipping culture.

Another woman shared that she had to cap one of her children’s ministry programs due to a lack of volunteers. She said that it was unsafe  to allow more children to participate than the volunteers could handle. She also said that it was really unfair to the people who had volunteered in good faith to serve to overwhelm them with more children than they could care for. So, she faced the frustration of members whose kids had to be placed on a waiting list–not to mention the pastor’s skepticism about the wisdom of such a move. This leader did the right thing: she courageously protected the children as well as her volunteers. The result? More volunteers than she needed, which birthed a new ministry initiative!

Another older couple came with their much younger ministry leader. After the workshop, the leader told me that they were helping her re-structure all her ministry teams and had come to the workshop to learn all they could about helping equip people for ministry. She was blessed by their willingness to learn a new way of doing ministry and their excitement about helping church members grow.

Changes are occurring in churches as ministry leaders are working faithfully to equip their people to live into their life vocation. How exciting! As we pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done,” it’s actually happening! The body of Christ is maturing. For all of you ministry leaders, I echo Paul’s prayer from Ephesians:

That’s why, when I heard of the solid trust you have in the Master Jesus and your outpouring of love to all the followers of Jesus, I couldn’t stop thanking God for you—every time I prayed, I’d think of you and give thanks. But I do more than thank. I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength! (Eph. 1:15-19, The Message)