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Burned Out, Consumed, & Used Up?

Burned Out, Consumed, & Used Up?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….

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A Nest on Your Altar

ImageMost 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!

Marketing Our Assets?

ImageMy 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….

Running on Empty

Have you ever felt as if you were running on empty?  It seems the holidays fall upon us earlier every year, and my battle to keep from drowning grows proportionally more intense.  Although I have reasonably good organizational skills, I cannot possibly juggle all the items slung onto my plate.  Life seems to grow continually more complex and frenzied.   Once I asked God, “How can I ever hope to run with the horses, when I cannot even handle the foot soldiers?”  (“If you have run with the footmen, and they have wearied you, then how can you contend with horses? And if in the land of peace, in which you trusted, they wearied you, then how will you do in the floodplain of the Jordan?” Jeremiah 12:5)  In response, I felt the Holy Spirit whisper to me, “The pace and demands of life will not change.  YOU need to change.”  Needless to say, I was less than thrilled with His response to my desperation!

Years later, I still find myself regularly “running on empty.”  I consistently re-evaluate my schedule and re-assess my priorities.  I actually say “no” to people at times (something I NEVER used to do!).  However, my life is chronically on overload.   Suddenly, I realized that, in a way, I am exactly where God wants me.  For Him to function more fully and freely in my life, it is imperative that I arrive at the end of my own energy and resources.   I need to become desperate for a Source of life beyond myself.  He longs for me to admit to Him that I need re-fueling and that my personal fuel tanks are completely depleted.

God wants me to be emptied of myself — my own strength, talents, abilities, resources, and confidence.  Instead, He wants me to be re-fueled with HIS strength, talents, abilities, resources, and confidence.  God longs to fill me to overflowing and top off my tank with HIMSELF.  “Have you not known?  Have you not heard?  The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary.  His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”  (Isaiah 40:28-31)   I thank God that He desires to fill me with His presence and empower me with His strength to do the things He has called me to do.  He delights to abundantly provide for every need.   His vitality and stamina are without limit.  His fuel tank NEVER runs dry.  

Thank You, Jesus, for allowing me to acknowledge the limits of my personal resources.  Thank You for enabling me to recognize my need for You!   Thank You for re-filling and re-fueling me for Your work!  Thank You that I am aware I am running on empty and ready for a fresh infilling of Your Presence!   Fill me up and top me off!  Let me overflow with You.   Teach me a new way to run the race set before me.

An Open and Shut Case

As another year has evaporated and a new one is beginning, I find myself once again trying to resist being mired in nostalgia.  Our youngest child just moved several states away, and the other four are also already established in their adult lives.  Having five children who are making their way in the world is indeed cause for rejoicing, but I instead am resisting a tidal wave of nostalgia that borders on sadness and could very well end in self-reproach, if I allow the undertow to drag me there.  However, Jesus has set before me an open door that no man can shut (Isaiah 22:22).  I can choose, if I like, to remain in a former season of my life, but my desire to dwell there does not change the fact that it is over.   The lights are out in that room of my life; I am no longer a mother of five young children, five young adults, or even one college student.   The end of that era has arrived.  I can shed tears over stories I didn’t read and games I didn’t play because I was busy washing dishes or folding clothes (the business of survival as a mother, which clouds legitimate priorities such as game-playing with one’s children), or I can believe what God says about me:  that I, too, am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14) and that He knows everything about me (Psalm 139:3), and that, what’s more, He still LOVES me (Jeremiah 31:3). 

God has opened another door, a door into a new season, and He has turned the lights on, HIS light, in that new place.  He urges me to enter through that door and “Come up here” (Rev. 4:1).  However, the choice is actually mine.  I can choose to stay in the old place, which is no longer filled with the daily routine of tending my children and feathering my personal nest; it is now filled with treasured memories, which will be tainted by acute pangs of regret over things I did or did not do, should I choose to dwell in a hollow room and refuse to walk through the door God has provided into this next season.  The Lord cautions us against remaining too long in the womb before allowing Him to birth us into the new place (Hosea 13:13).  From the baby’s perspective, every birth feels like a death until the light of the new place is fully experienced. 

Do I want to stay in the darkened room and begin to believe my own opinions of myself (I didn’t do this or that right; I didn’t love my children enough; I wasn’t a loving and tender wife and mother; I was too labor-oriented, etc.)?  — OR, would it not be better to take a step through the door into the light of this new season God has ordained and experience, together with my husband, grown children, grandchildren, and precious friends, the delights and challenges He has appointed for me?  I don’t want to miss anything for wallowing in the past (with or without regrets that may or may not be unfounded).  The fact is, if I allow myself to be mired in the pit of regret and sorrow (nostalgia gone bad), I am calling God a liar, for yielding to the undertow means I reject the Truth of His love and His Word, the truth of what HE says about me.   Now THAT is a serious place to be. 

Father, I choose to walk through the open door You have provided for me into this new year and this new season of life.   I choose to believe the truth of Your love and care for me.   I choose to believe that You empower me to bear fruit that remains, in spite of my inadequacies and failings.  I choose to believe that You are more than able to compensate for any and all mistakes I have made, for You love my family far more than I do.  I thank You, Father, that You sent Jesus as the Door to ALWAYS being in Your Presence.  I embrace You, the Truth, and invite You to carry me over the threshold into whatever You have chosen for me to do!

“I know your works.  See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it;”  Revelation 3:8aimagesCAI2R0S0

Wholly Holy or Hollow?

plw[1]The Christmas sales and marketing machine seems to crank into action earlier every year. Unlike the first Christmas, its onset is not obscure or hidden in a cave. Instead, we have substituted glitzy packaging, neon lights, frenzied shopping, and blaring music for the Real Deal, who came at no cost to us but at a great price to Himself. Oddly, in spite of the annual clamor, the glitz and hoopla from Christmases past have evaporated from my memory. What remains is nostalgia for the sweeter, quieter moments I treasured from year to year: a steaming mug of hot chocolate in a darkened room by the glowing lights of our family tree; candlelight service at church with everyone singing “Silent Night” after the organ fell silent; the anticipation of snow; ample tastes of my mother’s spritz cookie dough; special times of opening the gifts together as a family.

Oddly enough, although my father worked for a premier manufacturer of high-quality ornaments and our tree was laden with beautiful decorations (and plenty of not-so-beautiful homemade ones we children had fashioned), one of my favorite decorations was a centerpiece my mother put on the dining room table every year. It featured deer in a snowy forest, and, to me, it was magical. As an adult, I was shocked to see the deer centerpiece recently in a closet at my parents’ home: the base was made of plaster of Paris, the deer were plastic, real twigs had been inserted into the plaster base to resemble trees, and the entire creation had been sprayed with white paint and silver glitter. It was far from the magical snow scene I had remembered from my childhood. Two lessons from these memories have distilled over the years in my heart. First, the things that captivate us are often not what we think they are; what appears valuable, or even magical, may ultimately disappoint us. Secondly, the things that are dearest in our memories are not those things that are have the greatest financial worth.

This year again, as I contemplate the holiness and gravity of what happened that first Christmas — the entry of Jesus the Messiah, Immanuel (God-With-Us) in such a simple package, an animal’s feeding trough –, the hollow cacophony of commercial holiday clamor contrasts sharply with the ultimate miracle: God in human flesh, born to die for all of us, while we were completely unaware of His entrance. I pray that I will “prepare Him room” and will be increasingly aware of the Presence of the Bread of Life in the manger of my heart. May our holy-days not be hollow; may the One who fills all in all (see Ephesians 1:23) deliver us from the emptiness of marketing mania and refresh us with Himself!

Home for the Holy Days

ImageThree of our now-grown children were home for the Thanksgiving holiday.   This morning, they have all returned to their respective homes to resume their separate lives.   That is, of course, how it should be.   That is what we raised them to do.   However, as each one departed, a piece of my heart walked out the door, and I was overcome by a wave of longing that only that particular child can fill.  Over the weekend, the house had been filled with their presence.   We did not plan any special entertainment.  We did what we do every Thanksgiving:  invite a variety of guests for Thursday’s holiday dinner and spend the rest of the weekend decorating the house for Christmas.   However, the atmosphere of our home was enriched immeasurably by the unique contribution each family member makes to the lovely palette of our household.  It happens every time.   The only thing that prevented the weekend from being completely perfect was the absence of the three older children (not to mention the grandchildren!).

As I contemplated this feeling of simultaneous fullness and emptiness  that always accompanies the comings and goings of our children, I remembered the years we lived in Norway when they were small.  We would fly home to the Midwest to descend on our families for an annual visit of a few weeks (it probably seemed like a few months to my mother, who did all the laundry and cooking for us during those visits!).  There were always tears on both sides as we all waved good-bye to one another when we boarded the plane back to Norway.  At that time, although I always felt extremely sad at the moment of departure,  I only understood those moments from the perspective of a grown daughter with a life and family of her own.  After all, I had my own life in another country.

As a parent of grown children who have ventured out to map their own lives, I am delighted that they have their own passions and dreams.   I would not want it to be otherwise.   However, nothing replaces their presence in our home.  Each one’s unique personality touches me at a profound level that is simply inexplicable.   Each one brings me joy — not for what that child does or does not do, but just for who that child IS.   Each one’s presence adds a dimension to our family that no one else could contribute.

THAT is, no doubt, how our Daddy God feels about each one of us.   He doesn’t care what I do for Him.  He has positioned me in this world to lead a life He Himself calls me to lead.  However, He longs for, delights in, and revels in the gift of my presence.   He can’t ever get enough of me!   His heart aches when I neglect to acknowledge Him or forget to discuss something with Him.  He bursts with pride when I walk out the door and move in confidence in areas He raised me to conquer.   His love is unchanging, and I am ALWAYS welcome on His knee.

Somehow, I think I just got a glimpse of holiness over the Thanksgiving holy day.   God gave me a little insight into His very own heart as a Father.   How grateful I am that He gave me the gift of motherhood on this earth; He has helped me understand His love for us.

“What’s the point?,” you might ask.  Just as I missed the children who couldn’t come home, our Father longs for those who have yet to come home to Him.   Whom could we invite to His table next?  Ask Him!  (See Luke 15.)