Often, of late, I have found myself lamenting that I feel burnt out and completely consumed by my schedule, the pace of life, and by the tyranny of the urgent. In spite of the fact that I regularly set boundaries and refuse to get involved in activities that do not line up with goals I have prayerfully set for myself, I nonetheless find myself nearly drowning in a sea of scheduling challenges. I have come to the conclusion that it is impossible to be the kind of wife, mother, daughter, and friend that I would like to be to those I love. It is equally impossible to serve God the way I would like to serve Him.
However, God has not assigned me the task of the final judgment. THAT is very good news! He is the God of more than enough (El Shaddai). He will more than compensate for my deficiencies and inadequacies. His main concern is that I express my love for Him in the form of obedience. He judges my heart, not my performance. “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7) Other people may look at my failures, my insufficiency, my shortcomings; worse yet, I often judge and condemn myself, as I am painfully aware of the ways I do not meet my own expectations (much less everyone else’s!). However, God sees things differently — He cares about my love and devotion to Him and my willingness to have His heart for those He loves.
When I feel burnt out or used up for Him, I am, in fact, right where He wants me. After all, Jesus was poured out and used up for me. How much more should I be willing to be consumed and burnt up for Him? Perhaps I should stop wasting my energy on introspection and self-evaluation and concentrate on pursuing Him passionately, without regard for my success or failure, and simply allow myself to be consumed by His fire? Maybe someone else might be warmed by the heat….
Of late, does it seem as if everything familiar in your life has begun to shake? Are your plans continually having to be changed and your routines upended? Nobody — not even those of us who seem to thrive on adrenaline — enjoys living in a state of interruptions — full of sidelined plans, broken appointments, aborted goals, and chaotic schedules. For most of us, life seems to lurch forward at light speed; we are regularly almost late to nearly everything, and more and more details are swallowed up in the “forgotten items” pile of our brains.
As a child, I remember long, lazy summers when I yearned for the much-anticipated first day of school. I recall the joy and anticipation of the Advent season. I counted days until visits from favorite relatives or our much-loved vacations to family in the Rocky Mountains. Everything seemed to take forever to “get here,” and my enjoyment level of everything we had anticipated was unbelievably high.
Now, however, it seems school starts before I can even begin settling down for the summer. Christmas comes before I am prepared for it. There is never enough time to plan, much less execute, a lazy weekend with friends or family. Life literally screams for attention, in spite of my vain efforts to refuse much of what it demands of me. Schedules swallow me alive, and it seems there is very little room to breathe.
However, I am finding God is present in the whirlwind and the storms. My plans do not, after all, shape the framework of my peace. Only Jesus can do that. All my survival systems and coping mechanisms pale in comparison to His Presence. In fact, it appears He is currently shaking everything in my operating systems that can be shaken. He longs for me to rely on Him and Him alone, to seek His Presence and peace in the throes of all the pressures of life.
A well-organized day-planner will NOT give me peace, as people and circumstances have the power to alter the most carefully laid plans. A better calendar and more well-developed ability to say “no” will not give me rest. Only Jesus can do that. In His mercy, He shakes my plans and my systems and my coping mechanisms. “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 3:11). God wants our foundation to be on Jesus, the Rock, rather than on anyone or anything else (Matthew 7:25-27). Only HE will sustain us when the storms of life hit and our plans (our little houses of cards) collapse.
In His mercy, He shakes every foundation that does not reflect His handiwork. Although He temporarily allows us to go our own way, He promises that everything not built on Him will ultimately fail. In Haggai 2:6-7, God promises: “Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land;and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this temple with glory,’ says the Lord of hosts.” Truly, it is God’s MERCY and boundless LOVE for us that provoke Him to shake up anything of our own making. He yearns for us to yearn for Him — and to abandon all other things on which we so easily have come to rely.
Father, help me remove the rubble of my own plans and systems. Teach me — gently, if possible! — how to remain solidly planted on the foundation of Your Presence in my life and to rely on Your Word, Your plans, and Your perspective. Teach me Your way, O Lord. I choose to walk in Your truth. Unite my heart to fear Your Name (see Psalm 86:11). Help me to rejoice in the rubble of my own ways and embrace You — the joy and power of Your Presence in me!
As the exponential growth of technology continues to facilitate instant personal communication with a myriad of contacts, it seems ironic that our ability to maintain meaningful real-life (as opposed to virtual) relationships is taking a nose-dive. I know numerous people who suffer from depression, isolation, and loneliness, regardless of their intellect, variety of interests and hobbies, or charisma. Indeed, the old song “I Am a Rock,” by Simon and Garfunkel, could serve as the anthem of our culture in this friendless, fatherless, motherless generation [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ealhxti03pk]. When I was young and this song was popular, that song served to shore me up in some kind of strong castle when I felt rejected by my peers; I remember these words encouraged me in my self-perceived virtuous resolve to manage everything on my own and avoid trusting other people. Here are part of the words to this nearly-legendary song of my early teens: “I’ve built walls, a fortress deep and mighty that none may penetrate. I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain. It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain. I am a rock, I am an island. Don’t talk of love, but I’ve heard the words before; it’s sleeping in my memory. I won’t disturb the slumber of feelings that have died. If I never loved I never would have cried. I am a rock, I am an island. I have my books and my poetry to protect me; I am shielded in my armor, hiding in my room, safe within my womb. I touch no one and no one touches me. I am a rock, I am an island. And a rock feels no pain; and an island never cries” (part of lyrics copyright by Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel). I actually WAS the subject of ridicule, or at least, so I imagined, from my classmates; apparently reading foreign-language dictionaries and doing science experiments with plant hormones was NOT a typical pastime for a seventh-grader. I also managed to strike out at kickball more than once; my failure in athletics only increased the shame of my bookworm status. (Wearing ridiculously thick glasses didn’t help my image, either!)
However, the message of the Gospel runs in complete opposition to the proclamations of this song. God didn’t design us to muddle through life as loners or hermits. In the Bible, the only Person strong enough to navigate life (and all eternity) successfully in His own power and strength was Jesus Christ; He is the only Man referred to in Scripture as a Rock. In I Corinthians 10:3-5, Paul describes Jesus as the Rock and explains that He was the Source of the water that God had brought out of the rock for the Israelites when they were thirsty in the wilderness (Exodus 17:5). Although it seems odd that water would ever spring from a rock, this water is living water that will always satisfy (see John 4:10). This water from the Living Stone is available to all of us. In John 7:37-38, we read that “On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘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.’” Peter encourages us to come to Jesus, the Living Stone (I Peter 2:4), who has been rejected by men but is precious to God. Jesus, the Living Stone that is the source of this supernatural Living Water (aka life itself). In fact, many places in the Bible exhort us to rely on the Lord as our strength and depend on His power and resources rather than on our own. Nowhere are we encouraged to wall ourselves in and sing an anthem to the isolating, fortifying power of our own rejection, no matter how enticing the lyrics or melody may seem.
Isn’t it interesting that the only One who CAN manage every aspect of life, for all eternity, on His own — with His own power, strength, and might — is the One Who chose of His own free will to create us for relationship, first with Himself and then with one another? His tears of compassion for us are equivalent to water from the rock. Father, forgive me for the times I have attempted to isolate myself and hide in my own self-appointed bunker of solitary confinement. Call forth water from the Rock and cleanse me of my tendency to withdraw when wounded or disappointed, and empower me to continue to pursue relationship with You and with others. Thank You for the Rock, Jesus — my strong Tower and Fortress, my infinite supply of life-giving Living Water!
Our only daughter recently delighted us with the announcement that she is engaged to be married. As the nuptials are scheduled this summer, we promptly found ourselves in a flurry of activity. During the process of selecting a wedding gown, deciding upon the right setting for the ceremony, and discussing details with the caterer, someone asked us if we had a wedding planner. Of course, we replied that we ourselves were serving as the (albeit unpaid) wedding planners. Now that the bride and groom have committed to the marriage, we are scurrying about, attempting to tend to every detail, hoping we don’t forget something significant, and — of course — wanting our daughter’s day to be memorable for all the right reasons!
It occurred to me that God (as seems quite typical for Him — Jeremiah reports that God’s ways and thoughts are on a far higher level than ours) plans a wedding quite differently. We did not even begin to plan our daughter’s wedding with her until there was an official engagement, which indicated that both parties had agreed to the wedding. Suddenly we were mired in a myriad of details that demanded decisions, all in the space of a relatively short period of time — in our case, a matter of a few months. However, God planned all HIS wedding details millennia in advance of the actual date, certainly long before we were even born. What earthly father of the bride does that? Our heavenly Father paid for the entire wedding before we were aware that we would even receive a proposal from the Bridegroom, King Jesus! He bought our dress (we will be clothed in white garments, according to Revelation 3:5). He has already decided to hold a wedding feast (the marriage supper — see Revelation 19:9). He sent His Son, fully God and fully Man, to lay down His life for the Bride who had yet to even know her Savior, the Lover of her soul, existed! The most unusual part of this process is that God planned the entire wedding and reception before there was any commitment on our part to be that bride. Sounds a little crazy and backwards, doesn’t it? We would never have dared to set a time and place for our daughter’s wedding, much less worry about details of the event or pay a deposit on anything, before she had agreed to marry anyone.
However, God, mercifully, is NOT like us! He put everything in place, made all the decisions for an exquisite ceremony and celebration, and THEN He set about wooing us, His Bride. Yes, it technically is an arranged marriage, but unlike some earthly arranged marriages, the bride has a very real option. Hence, the question remains: Will we accept His proposal? Will we say, “I do!”?
Even though in my heart of hearts, I know without a doubt that I have accepted His proposal, I occasionally find myself behaving more like the runaway bride (see the movie by the same name). Each time I don my running shoes and flee in fear or even a little bit of rebellion, Jesus comes running after me. He is truly the most patient and loving suitor, and His love never fails. He NEVER gives up passionately pursuing us!
Lord, help my pursuit of You to be as passionate and unflagging as Your pursuit of me!
Today I attended the funeral of a dear friend’s adult son. Aside from the obvious sorrow attendant upon losing a close family member, what made this particular situation especially thought-provoking is the fact that this particular man wrestled with physical and mental limitations all his life that most of us have not had to face. As a result, he was quite a remarkable man.
Although I have many memories of my friend’s son that make me smile, God used one situation to teach me a foundational lesson about His Presence and power. One day several years ago, I had dragged myself to church after an extremely trying week. I felt heavy-hearted and full of despair, in spite of my best efforts to resist falling into an emotional tailspin. It turned out that my friend’s son was serving as a back-up greeter to his parents that day at the service. I greeted my friend and her husband and proceeded to stop by the bench where their son was seated and said hello to him. He looked back at me in response, and I literally saw the eyes and heart of Jesus for me reflected in his eyes and face. I recognized the Presence of the Lord in him, and the heaviness that had weighed me down simply evaporated!
Clearly, the power of God’s Presence in us is NOT hindered by our limitations (real or imagined). I believe this truth is part of the mystery Paul was describing in Colossians 1:27, the mystery of “Christ in us, the hope of glory.” God’s power is unfettered — it is not something that depends on US! That is certainly good news for those of us who find ourselves continually striving to hear God, to please Him, and to speak on His behalf the right way at the right time to others. While those goals are certainly noble, all we really need to do is trust that His Presence in us will shine through us and touch the hearts of those around us.
Although my friend’s son was confined to a physical body that limited his activities, and he never was able to read a Bible, he had the TREASURE, for he knew Jesus, the Lover of His soul. Jesus used him in countless situations and allowed him to leave a profoundly rich legacy in the hearts of those who knew him. Thank you, Steven, for the rich deposit you made in my heart!
Most of our issues in life could be resolved if we discarded our own opinions, perspectives, and prejudices and simply asked God to give us His view of our problem. The difficulty is, receiving His perspective requires following His example. What does the Bible say about this process? In Romans 12:1-2 [Amplified Bible], Paul exhorts us as follows: “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, and beg of you in view of [all] the mercies of God, to make a decisive dedication of your bodies [presenting all your members and faculties] as a living sacrifice, holy (devoted, consecrated) and well pleasing to God, which is your reasonable (rational, intelligent) service and spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world (this age), [fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs], but be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind [by its new ideals and its new attitude], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you].” Apparently, in order to truly see things from God’s perspective, in order to transform the way we think, we must climb up on His altar and commit ourselves wholly to Him. Only then can we benefit from His point of view, as He has already made the trip to the altar on our behalf (when Jesus went to the cross).
The altar is a scary place; if we regard it as a place of dedication, it sounds noble and virtuous. However, if we remember that the original altar in the Hebrew tabernacle was the place where flesh was burned on our behalf in order to pave the way for a relationship with the holy God who made heaven and earth, we realize that climbing up on His altar involves more than a simple dedication of ourselves to His purposes. There is a decided risk that something will burn up and be forever consumed!
Since Jesus risked everything on the cross and laid down His life as a perfect and holy sacrifice for me, I honestly must consider it my reasonable service to offer myself to Him — but I discover, to my chagrin, that I nobly climb up on that altar, yield myself to His service, only to clamber down (at the least provocation or the faintest hint of the smell of smoke!) and forget about my initially professed devotion altogether! I am so grateful that God is faithful to give us multiple opportunities to offer ourselves to Him and climb back up on His altar, since HE WENT FIRST!
The psalmist in Psalm 84:1-3 speaks of the beauty of the altar: “How lovely are Your dwelling places, O Lord of hosts! My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.The bird also has found a house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even Your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.” May God deliver me of the fear of what might be consumed in the fire of His Presence and empower me to dwell on His altar and make my nest there! May He thereby give me the ability to regard everything from His perspective, the perspective gained from the vantage point of the cross, the quintessential altar!
On Valentine’s Day, we pause to reflect on our relationships with others. I arrived home this evening to discover that a display case shelf in my kitchen had collapsed on top of one of my most treasured possessions: a biscuit my then-boyfriend had baked and brought to me in April of 1973. You might well inquire why I kept a biscuit so lovingly offered. The fact is, I do not like biscuits very much, or any white flour product, for that matter. However, I was moved at the thoughtfulness of that gesture. Not many girls have boyfriends who would even attempt making biscuits from scratch. Because I appreciated his kindness, I graciously accepted the proffered biscuits (yes, he actually brought me two) and thanked him profusely. It would be inappropriate to eat biscuits in an engineering class, so I claimed I would eat them later. (I am grateful that he and God forgave my lie.) Overcome by the sentimentality of the gift, I stored the plastic bag with the two biscuits in my makeup drawer, and there they remained for two months, until the university semester ended and I moved home for the summer. When I packed my things, I discovered the biscuits — one had crumbled beyond recognition, and the other lay in the drawer intact, completely free of mold after two months in room-temperature storage! I was so impressed, that I saved the biscuit.
Three years later, when we were married, I confessed my distaste for biscuits to my boyfriend-turned-husband and showed him the biscuit he had made, perfectly preserved. That same biscuit has been proudly displayed in our home ever since. Unfortunately, it has been forced to weather drastic climate changes and a few unfortunate mishaps. For the past decade, it has barely resembled its original form, as it has become rock-hard with crumbled, irregular edges.
All our children are aware of the history of the biscuit. When our eldest was ten, he tried his best to convince me to send it in to the Guinness Book of World Records to be certified as the oldest preserved biscuit on earth. Concerned for the welfare of said biscuit, I patently refused. That was twenty-three years ago.
You can imagine my consternation when I arrived home from out of town to find my precious biscuit in pieces under the collapsed shelf! Did I throw it away? Of course not! I patiently pieced it together, re-arranged and re-assembled the shelving, and put that four-decades-old biscuit back on display.
Somehow, the Holy Spirit is speaking to me of His love for me. No matter what bumps, bruises, or afflictions I weather, God’s love for me is always intact and perfectly faithful. My 40-year-old biscuit is no less precious to me now than it was when I was 18 and received it from the then (and now!) love-of-my-life. In fact, that little biscuit has become a symbol of everything we have weathered together, both joys and sorrows, and is even more valuable to me in its semi-crumbly state. Similarly, in my own brokenness, I bear the marks of various experiences in life, both joys and sorrows. God values and treasures me none the less for those bumps and bruises and has faithfully patched me up and put me back together over all those years. He has taught me much about His staying power in the face of trials and His care in the face of my failures.
Today, on Valentine’s Day, I praise Him for His goodness to me and for the very dear husband He gave me, who has given me infinitely more than a biscuit over the past four decades…
My heart has been heavy this evening. Admittedly, I have never been a great fan of football. However, ever since I found out (two years ago) that the Super Bowl is the single largest human trafficking event in our nation, my indifference has morphed into something approaching aversion. I purposed to pray for God’s mercy to wash over this event and pierce people’s hearts with His love. In that vein, I thought it might be a good idea to at least turn on the game for a few moments while I addressed that issue in prayer. It turned out that I caught the last few minutes of the halftime show. Although I was aware that such shows are purported to be “bigger and better” every year, my jaw dropped in horror at the raw marketing of sex portrayed as general-consumption entertainment by women who, at least I thought, should know better.
As women, do we still not understand how we sabotage ourselves and set ourselves up for all manner of voyeurism and exploitation when we cast every vestige of modesty to the wind? What we perceive as power over men, our sexuality, actually serves to enslave them and us in unholy patterns and paralyzes us for what God has in store: healthy, fulfilling romance with a life-long partner.
Lest I sound judgmental, please know that I have great compassion for those ensnared in the cycle of sex as a commodity. With no education, no personal affirmation from parents, and no means of providing an income for one’s children, any woman could easily fall prey to traffickers. God has set His heart on all of those who are held captive in any way — He loves each person with unrelenting fervor. However, what disturbs me is that women in the entertainment industry who serve as role models for others would use their sensuality to fuel a stereotype that is the very currency of slavery.
May Jesus reveal Himself to us all, right here in America, the ostensible land of the free and home of the brave. Sadly, we are neither free nor brave. We are enslaved and cowardly, afraid to admit our brokenness and in despair of ever being healed. Yet,… God has a plan, and it is good. He has ordained a future and a hope for us (see Jeremiah 29:11). He also promises that He will abundantly pardon, if we but turn to Him (Isaiah 55:7).
Father, soften my heart and make me quick to hear Your voice and understand when I am fueling a system that is not established by You! Forgive me and heal me! Father, forgive us, for we know not what we do….
As the years roll by, I become more acutely aware of how much forgiveness God actually has poured out on me. When I was a little girl and first learned to pray, I had a vague understanding of repentance. When I was talking to God, I tried hard to think of what I might have done wrong so I could tell Him I was sorry (of course, bossing my two younger sisters around seemed only RIGHT, since I was older and knew what was better for them, so that never made the list of offenses in my mind!). In fact, I was twelve before I remember having an overwhelming sense of failure and sinfulness. By that time, I was mired in a deep sense of self-doubt and incipient self-hatred; I recall making a list one day of all my talents (which, from a child’s perspective, still seemed pretty extensive – ha!) and another list, side-by-side with the first enumeration, of my character flaws. In my estimation, the few character flaws were SO pervasive and wicked that they FAR outweighed anything I could do well (which, by the way, was mostly limited to excelling in a long list of academic subjects). Hopelessness and a profound sense of guilt entered my heart at this point, accompanied by a boatload of self-condemnation.
My sense of defilement continued to increase as I navigated the murky waters of college life. I entered university at age sixteen and quickly grasped that the youth culture of those around me was immoral and misguided. In spite of my academic success and best resolutions in the ethical standards department, I found myself affected by the “frog-in-the-pot” syndrome; when I paused at intervals to examine my heart, I realized I had compromised in some areas and was no better at heart than many of those around me. How did I cope? I continued to read my Bible and worked even more assiduously at performing well by worldly standards. I enrolled in increasingly heavier course loads and even excelled in some graduate courses as a very young undergraduate student. I finished a triple major in under four years and was catapulted, quite unprepared, into the working world, where I found I could no longer be a college student; I was forced to be a grown-up. My self-loathing had not disappeared. I loved God but had no clue how active He longed to be in my life. I judged myself harshly; regardless of how many awards I had received or how high my grades had been in school, I found myself severely wanting in the righteousness department. After over three years of pushing myself with campus activities, leadership in various organizations, and heavy course loads, all the while pretending to have a casual attitude about school to avoid being ridiculed by my peers, my health had also suffered. A success on paper, I left university years behind; however, I also left school anorexic, bulimic, and hypothyroid. Worse still, I despised myself and knew in my heart of hearts that no successful performance imaginable could erase the heaviness in my heart.
What was the root of my dilemma? A blindness to the overwhelming power and magnitude of God’s mercy toward me. Jesus said that the one who is forgiven much is the one who loves much (Luke 7:37). What I had not understood was that all sin is sin, regardless of how minor it may appear. The blackness of my heart was not my responsibility once I had given it to Jesus, who DOES forgive and wipe away that blackness of heart. Somehow I had believed God’s Word but had been incapable of receiving it as truth for myself. I had somehow become trapped in a paradoxical mindset that regarded myself as somehow better than others because I KNEW what was right, yet far worse than others because I was therefore more accountable to DO what was right and found myself utterly incapable of that perfection. I thereby had exempted myself from receiving God’s forgiveness and mercy. However, through all those years, Jesus never left me; He continued to tug at my heart, and as my desperation for deliverance from myself increased, He poured His love out on me and wrapped His arms around me, His broken child. Ultimately, I found myself at His feet in complete despair. He responded by speaking to me of His love. What an incisive revelation it was to me that He really loves me more than I hated myself! His mercy for me was unlimited; He loved me before He set me free of self-condemnation and the downward spiral of self-hatred. He had loved me all those years as He watched me descend into the morass of hopelessness I had become. Ultimately, He met me at the bottom of the pit I had dug for myself (with some assistance from the enemy!).
I am forever grateful to Jesus for pouring His mercy out on me. I cannot thank Him enough for His acceptance, His goodness to me in spite of my faults, and His willingness and kindness to pick me up every time I stumble. Now, years later, as I find myself involved in outreach to bring His love to those trapped in some form of slavery, I have great compassion — for I am no different. I have a message of hope that no one can take away from me. God’s love is UNFAILING, and His mercy and delivering power are, indeed, BOUNDLESS! As Isaiah 55:7 states, God “will abundantly pardon.” As the psalmist says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has HE removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).
“Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because HE DELIGHTS IN MERCY. He will again have compassion on us and will subdue our iniquities [good news, huh?]. You will cast all our sins INTO THE DEPTHS OF THE SEA (Micah 7: 18-19).