Posts Tagged ‘lent’
Sustaining – How do you keep going? What sustains you in your relationship with Jesus? On cold days and weeks and months when you are cold and hungry and thirsty, what feeds you?These are the questions posed for this week’s discussion. At first the questions troubled me. If I only read the first question, the answer is easy – Jesus! He is the One who keeps me going. Then I read the second question and at first I drew a blank – mostly because He was the answer to the first question. My answer to the third question is the same as the first – Jesus! He feeds me, warms me and quenches my thirst.
But it wasn’t always so. The longer I have thought about the questions, the more I realized that there was a time when I wondered if I could hold on to faith. It was in those early days of faith – I had been raised in church all my life but those first days, months and even years of testing MY faith, I wondered…is this worth it?
I would try to live faithfully and fail – serving God as if he was a bit of a tyrant always looking for ways to “get me” and punish me for a wrong thought, a mean word or some other misstep.
Yet there was something about Him that continued to draw. Each time I failed, even though there was this fear of punishment, He still drew me. In time, I learned that He wasn’t out to “get me” but to have a relationship with me. I began to realize that any spiritual discomfort was not from punishment but from pulling away and keeping a distance from Him.
There came a time – and I’m not sure when or how – I found Him to be my refuge and strength. Instead of looking for ways to sustain my faith or to sustain my relationship with Him, I was seeking Him to sustain me in marriage, in ministry, in times of grief and in times of great challenge.
When there are places – relationships, ministries, etc – that are cold, lacking in some way, I find myself retreating to the only One who can bring sustenance to any of those. I retreat to the place of prayer – read Scriptures and wait on Him. He comes and I am renewed.
Tonight it was my mother’s prayer that sustained me. I had reached a breaking point a few hours earlier. You know, the point where you’re so sick and tired of being sick and tired that you just want to give up, but since you can’t do that (or at least I can’t), you break down instead.
Okay, maybe you have no idea what I’m talking about. Others, I’m sure, have been there more than once. I was there today. An event I had worked and planned for, anticipated and looked forward to, arrived; and as hard as I tried today, ultimately I didn’t have the strength to attend.
I had a good cry and got over feeling sorry for myself, but I was left feeling weak and worried about myself. Some of it may be anxiety over a medical test scheduled for tomorrow, and add to that the heavy stress of feeling homeless right now even though I have a roof over my head.
We were supposed to move to a beautiful new (to us) home tomorrow. Instead, we’re walking around stacks of boxes and a For Sale sign is staked in our front yard. Just hours before we were scheduled to close on our property sale last week, the buyer reneged on the contract. That caused us to lose the house we had bought.
My mom is worried about me too, so she came over to check on me tonight. We talked a while and as she got up to leave, she started to say, “I’m praying for you.” I could tell that’s what she was going to say, but her words trailed off.
Instead of finishing her sentence, she simply walked over to my chair, put her hand on my head and started to pray. Out loud.
Suddenly I was four years old again. Comforted by my mother’s touch, strengthened by the sound of her voice, confident in her faith. My heartbeat slowed and my breathing calmed as she verbally put God in remembrance of promises she had taught me from Scripture.
That’s ultimately what sustains me. Not my mother’s prayers, although I cherish them. I’m sustained by faith in bedrock promises. Promises made by One who flung the stars across the sky and sustains the planets in their orbits.
sustaining all things by his powerful word.
It was like a flashback moment in a movie. As I slipped those socks, stiff and smelly with the need for a good washing, onto my friend’s foot, I had a sudden mental image of Jesus with the towel and basin.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
We met at church. She and her daughter would come together off and on. If you’d seen them around town outside of church, you might have thought they were bag ladies. Often, their appearance at church coincided with a special event, especially one that involved a meal. Because the daughter lived in my neighborhood, there came a time when I was called upon to provide transportation. Eventually, I found myself not only giving the daughter a ride, but the mother as well, from a different location on my side of town.
At first, it was a duty relationship. And sometimes, I have to admit, it was an inconvenient relationship. (I’m thinking here that “seeking and saving the lost” may have constituted an “inconvenient relationship” for Jesus…) Over time, the daughter more or less faded from the regular picture of my life, but the mother remained.
Those fifteen minute rides between her house and, usually, church grew into a relationship—strange and wonderful, but still it was a relationship. Trust grew, and I earned the right to say hard things every now and then. I grew to appreciate her laugh, which taught me to see some parts of life through different eyes. And God taught me to see past the externals to see her, someone He loved just as much as He loved me.
When you don’t have a car and your don’t drive and you take a bus where you need to go but the bus doesn’t go to your medical appointments, you call a friend. I guess I was the designated friend.
So, that day, I went and I waited during the outpatient surgical procedure. When all was said and done, my friend’s hand was the part of her body that she was not supposed to use for awhile. Have you ever tried to dress yourself one-handed?
When the doctor discharged my friend from the outpatient surgery, someone had to help her get dressed. Faced with the choice of having a complete stranger or a familiar hand fasten the bra, pull up the underwear, slip on the slacks, button the buttons, and put on the socks and shoes, my friend chose me.
So, I proceeded with good humored banter meant to minimize the awkwardness of the moments of dressing an adult person much as I would have dressed one of my children. Then, I came to those socks.
At our house, we refer to people we know who haven’t learned manners, personal hygiene, or appropriate and non-embarrassing behavior in public as not having been “brought up”. (It’s not always—in fact, not usually– their fault.) Maybe my friend hadn’t been brought up. Maybe she didn’t have the money for laundry soap. (If the latter was the case, maybe I’d failed as a friend.) Either way, when I picked up those socks to put them on her feet, I knew they’d seen many a wearing since the last washing. And then, it happened.
In the same split second in which I could just as easily have gagged and thrown up over the stiff smelly socks, it seemed that kneeling before my friend with those socks in hand was suddenly the most okay place in the world to be. And I didn’t gag or throw up. In that moment, the image of Jesus and the basin and towel slammed into my heart—and repulsion was powerfully, strangely washed over with joy.
When Jesus washed the feet of his follower friends and told them to go and do as he was doing for them (John 13), He didn’t really dwell on the joy part. Maybe that’s because the joy’s not meant to be the motivation. But I recall from a sermon a few weeks ago a definition of joy our pastor gave: it is the experience of God’s pleasure when I obey His Son.
When He had finished washing their feet, He put on His clothes and returned to His place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” He asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (John 13:12-17)
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, . . . It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Colossians 3:23 & 24b)
I spent four years at the University of Michigan skating by on fairly minimal effort (you know, for college). I got decent grades, but I didn’t hurt myself or anything. I left there (sans degree) and spent a year at Fort Wayne Bible College studying, well, the bible (still no degree, BTW).
But, while I was in bible college, I taped the above verses to the inside cover of my notebook. It made a great deal of difference. It reminded me on a daily basis that God wasn’t interested in my grades, but in my heart. He didn’t care about the outcome of my work, but about how I approached it. The grades weren’t that different. My heart was different. My effort was different.
So, if I’m filing papers or doing the dishes I can breathe in, “This is for you, Jesus”. And when I’m preparing dinner or cleaning the bathroom, I can breathe out, “Thank you for my family, God.” And my life can become a prayer. And the funny thing about it is that when I am breathing in Jesus, I become much more mindful of the times I am breathing out anger or impatience or unforgiveness. And when I am breathing out Jesus, it is more difficult to deceive myself into thinking that I have the right to breathe in bitterness or anxiety or resentment.
And all that’s good, right? But what about my service to God? Is it enough to work wholeheartedly at whatever’s in front of me? Is it enough to participate in three hours on Sunday morning (and maybe another hour Sunday night and a couple more on Wednesday evening) and call it “service”?
Because when Jesus said this (John 13): “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” I’m pretty sure he was talking about more than a sermon and a couple hymns and a congregational prayer.
And when God said this (Isaiah 58):
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday
I’m pretty sure he wasn’t talking about erecting a building and filling it with staff who create programs to meet our needs, fill our heads with knowledge and provide opportunities for us to fellowship with one another. And I think we’re kidding ourselves to think we are discharging our obligation to the above verse with a monthly benevolence offering and an occasional donation to the local food bank.
So, “whatever you do” is not the same as just do whatever. And in order for my life to truly be a prayer that blesses God, I need to make sure that I am breathing in and out the same song that God is singing over me and not merely chanting one of my own haphazard compositions.
What about you? What tune is God singing in your heart? Are you quiet enough to hear it? Does your harmony honor his melody?
Several years ago I was part of a team composed of college students and pastors who visited another country to share Christ in camps and school assemblies. I will leave the country unnamed lest someone from that country would read this page and be offended.There are many things I could write about that experience but the one that stands out most involved a train ride. Thirteen of us waited at a train station for a trip to a church camp. The smell of strange food cooking on open pits, diesel fumes, body odor and garbage filled the air. There were poor people all around – some clothed with garments that were thread-bare.
The team of Americans (of which I was a part) with nice luggage, clothes, colognes, and obviously well-fed were quite a spectacle. There were beggars – children crying out, “no mama, no papa, no food.” They stared and pressed in closer as the time for the train arrived. I felt closed in and was relieved when our train finally came.
We boarded with the rush of humanity. The train was crowded, smelly and dirty. It was a four-hour train ride. This was the 2nd week of a 4 week trip. All I could think was, “I want to be home. I don’t want to be here any longer.” I wondered how I would survive the rest of the trip. I didn’t like this place or the people.
When we arrived at the church camp, I sat on the bed assigned to me and watched as a lizard ran up the wall and across the ceiling. I was really ready to go home. I sat and prayed – for grace, for a way out, for God to help in some way. I opened my Bible and it fell open to Luke 10 – an expert of the law was asking Jesus about eternal life and Jesus told him to love his neighbor. The lawyer asked Jesus who was his neighbor and Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan.
As I read, “who is my neighbor?” it was as if God played a video of all the people I had so wanted to escape from at the train station. Those were my neighbors. My heart ached. I had despised those God loved. God gave me a ministry there and before the camp was over I found myself embracing people – loving people, I never thought I could like.
I had looked at those people at the train station and saw them as wrecked lives – perhaps beyond repair. However, it was my own heart that was wrecked and I was of no use to the Lord until I saw the wreckage in my own life and allowed God to mend the broken places in me.
It was in the solitude of a lizard-inhabited bed room that God was able to make me fit to serve. I need regular times of solitude for the Lord to repair additional wreckage.
Yesterday (Friday) morning I was convinced that I had nothing to say about serving, this week’s blog theme. I wrote to Jon to let him know I contemplated copping out and recycling a meditation from a year ago. This morning I read some verses, thought and prayed some more, and took myself off to my favorite writing spot, still skeptical. Before I got engrossed in my emails, I opened up to Romans 12:1, the verse that had come to mind while driving here:
“I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” NASB [I prefer the more literal “reasonable” or “logical” service...]
My e-mail account was fired up by this time, and I saw I had a reply from Jon. After offering encouraging words, he shared a verse with me. Take a wild guess which one. Yes, you’re right.
Our reasonable service to the Lord is to offer all that we are to Him. Suddenly the struggle I’d had since yesterday, trying to come up with a definitive illustration from my own life of what serving looks like, seemed beside the point. What I’ve gotten is a montage of sensory images, and now they all seem relevant.
- I can smell the cucumber-melon lotion that was my elderly mother-in-law’s favorite for me to use on her hands and feet.
- I taste the 7-Up my mom brought her sickly little girl to sip in bed, or feel her lap and hear her lovely voice rocking and singing away my nightmares.
- I grin at the memory of being part of a team doing some needed yard work for a pastor a few years ago, anonymously (not my idea).
- I feel the tears of gratitude, humility and a bit of embarrassment after discovering that a group of friends had cleaned my house while I was away with my dying mother…that was anonymous, too, and it occurred to me long after to wonder if it was the same friends…
- My husband’s love language is acts of service, so I taste many hot cups of coffee or tea brought to me while I’m curled up in a living room chair.
- Because I speak his language back to him, my arms ache this morning from vacuuming and dusting, which helped him get the store ready to open at his Saturday job.
- Then there are the hours of being a gentle listener, and the hours of pouring my heart out to another kind ear.
- There are small voices, runny noses, and dirty diapers of children I’ve cared for at the drop of a hat.
- Our sons have shared those same “treasures” with dear friends who watched them for hours or days so Dennis and I could pursue our theatre ministry.
It seems to me that we could all easily live every moment either serving, being served, or both at once. If Paul’s definition of our reasonable service (worship!) is to present our whole selves to God as a living sacrifice, then this shouldn’t even be surprising. If I am His, then everything I am and do is both by His strength and for His glory…whether serving gladly or being served gratefully. A living and holy sacrifice might be sensitive words or a strong back, humble appreciation or professional ability, patience in waiting or actively redeeming the time.
That is a wonderful challenge to me this week: Could I live every minute, consciously serving the Lord with my body, mind and spirit, even as others serve me?
P.S. To my fellow contributors. Notice I didn’t say “should I”, Jon?…if this challenge is merely a burden, that defeats the whole idea. But as an privileged opportunity, a delightful contest, perhaps I can bear the idea in mind and heart, and pursue true “amateur” status as a Christ-follower. Thanks for that image, Anna! And Connie and Rob, I was thinking much about your last week’s posts and comments while writing this.
waiting, pushing, waiting
listening for my Lover’s voice
quieting my own
God speaks in the everyday
listening, doubting, waiting
Love that doesn’t feel like love
am i willing to be clean
waiting, wondering, praying
fitting my steps
stretching my stride
pausing, shifting, waiting
the mystery of strength
that’s found in rest
walking in the grace of faith
waiting, hoping, waiting
breaking me, for brokenness
waiting, waiting, waiting
waiting, resting, waiting
Here’s what I know:
Waiting isn’t stopping
Resting isn’t idleness
If God can’t use me now, why would he use me when
Struggles: What are you up against in your life as a Christ-follower? What is the hardest obstacle? What keeps you from believing God is with you all the time?
We have used various terms through the years to identify people of faith. In the early church we might have been referred to as people of “The Way.” We were first called Christians at Antioch. As believers we were set apart from non-believers. We have been called disciples and more recently “Christ-followers.” Each label has its own implications. Christians – little Christs – those who reflect His character. Disciples are learners – students of the Christ. Believers – those who believe in the birth, death, resurrection of Jesus and have trusted Him as Savior.
Then there is this term Christ-follower. Here is where the struggle begins. Am I really a Christ-follower? I struggle to always know where He is leading. At times I struggle because I do know and I’m not sure I like the direction. I struggle because I would much rather choose a direction and ask Him to bless it than to wait for Him to take the lead. Being a Christ-follower sometimes means waiting until He is ready to move.
When I think about the hardest obstacle or perhaps the biggest obstacle, it is ME! There aren’t circumstances that keep me from following, it is my will – my desire to have things my way. Then I read a quote from A.W. Tozer – pastor, evangelist, author: “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.” In the article there was a study of Jacob and his encounter with God. “Hurt and humbled, Jacob is a new man; Israel is born. He leaves Penuel having seen God face to face. His life is changed, but from now on he will walk with a limp” (Genesis 33).
I know of few people who want to be humbled – and yet, until we are, we can never follow freely. There will always be hesitation, reservation and even obstinacy. The writer to the Hebrews described it this way: Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:10-11).
I have never questioned His daily presence, only my submission to His leadership. I think it is then that I am most aware of His presence as He prods, tugs, and attempts to herd me.
The obstacle in this journey of faith is me. But I am thankful for a Savior who continues to work to move that part of me aside so that I can follow him unencumbered.
Recently I have been the recipient of charity, and I must confess that it is a struggle for me to accept it graciously. In this case the charity is not financial, although I have been in that difficult circumstance as well and found it equally uncomfortable.
We sometimes forget that the word charity derives from ancient words, in more than one language, that mean love. Here is what love looks like. The photo shows my pastor, Mark Pollock, and his younger son, Cory. Along with other members of our church family, they spent many hours last week doing strenuous work that my mom, my sister and I are unable to do.
On March 12 we are moving to a new home, combining three households into one, and leaving the property my parents bought in 1970, when this part of Austin was way out in the country. Thirty-eight years of memories stuffed into closets, cabinets, antique armoires, and an entire building where the leftovers of the family business were stored when my late father retired.
With my physical battle (still undiagnosed, still going through tests) comes the emotional battle of worrying how everything is going to get accomplished for the move. And the spiritual battle of being the recipient of an outpouring of love.
Ingrained into my psyche is the apostle Paul’s quotation of our Lord, words that sound familiar even to those who have never opened the pages of a Bible: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). I was taught to practice charity as a child–taught by the example of my parents, who were generous givers, who shared their home and their hospitality, who demonstrated love in practical ways, day in and day out. It’s simply the way they lived their lives; my mother still does.
As our brothers and sisters in Christ–oh, what depth of meaning is packed into that phrase, words that too often sink into the overgrown swamp of Christian jargon–sifted through the detritus of decades of her life, Mom looked for trinkets and souvenirs to share. A crystal elephant pendant for eight-year-old Carmen, as much an organizer and leader as her mother, Sonya. An antique anvil for Cory–who knew the teenager had taken up metalworking as a hobby?–was suddenly transformed from a hundred-pound albatross into a prized possession for a new owner.
Meanwhile, forbidden to enter the musty storage building because of my respiratory problems, I sulked. I was embarrassed that I was too sick to help. I felt guilty that I wasn’t doing my share of the work. I worried and fretted.
Why do we find it so much easier to give than to receive? True, it is “more blessed to give,” as the scripture says. But in order for there to be givers, there have to be recipients of their charity. When someone refuses to accept an act of charity, they deny the giver the blessing that accompanies the act.
My struggle, I realize, is rooted in pride. It’s easy to perceive being a giver as being in a position of power. Being a receiver implies powerlessness. That’s not a feeling I like, so I chafe against the very notion that I am not self-sufficient. Of course, the idea that I am self-sufficient is a complete illusion. I need to reread John Donne: “No man is an island . . .”
Have you ever been in the position of receiving charity? How did you handle it? Was it as much of a struggle for you as it has been for me?
While prayerfully pondering the topic of struggling (Jon’s suggestion for this week’s posts), the word “staleness” comes to mind…in several contexts. On Friday night, chilled and tired from a long day, a long week, I struggle to write something coherent about Struggling. Here’s part of it:
I am forced to admit that the toughest thing I’m up against in my life as a Christ follower…is me. When the still small voice of God feels muffled and far away, I know what the issue is: I’ve stuck the cotton wool of my own monologuing in my ears. When His living Word reads like stale bread, I know it’s that my appetite’s been dulled by overindulgence in other food, other books and diversions. When I lose another battle to the same old sin again, it’s plainly due to armor which is full of chinks or out of place entirely.
Saturday morning, rested and alert, I look at the book in my hand and see it as a gift direct from God. To explain:
On Tuesday this week I saw several large stacks of books (sight to make me salivate like Pavlov’s pups) on the work counter at church. One title leaped out at me: Study Guide for Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. I rank Celebration… as a favorite, though it’s been a few years since I’ve read much of it. “Ooh, I’d like to borrow this! I wonder whose these are?” I thought. Later, the books had been moved elsewhere. Sigh. Then on Thursday night in our chapel, while attending a prayer meeting for moms of prodigals (I have two—another struggle), I automatically looked at the room’s bookshelf…and there was another copy of the Study Guide. Without hesitation it went into my purse.
At home I pull Celebration of Discipline off my shelf and note that I first read this book in November of 1995. ‘A few years’ indeed! I am vaguely embarrassed. What does it say of me that an allegedly “life-changing” book has had so little apparent effect?
Foster speaks of spiritual growth as a path, and my heart recognizes a metaphor I’ve been using this season. “We must always remember that the path does not produce the change; it only places us where the change can occur. This is the path of disciplined grace.”
The path does not produce the change. Foster illustrates this with another word picture. The farmer, he says, “is helpless to grow grain…all he can do is provide the right conditions for the growing…” After tilling the soil, planting the seed, watering, feeding and weeding, he has no control over the germination, rooting and growth of the mature plant. This, he writes, “is the way it is with the Spiritual Disciplines—they are…God’s way of getting us into the ground; they put us where he can work within us and transform us. ” (“So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” I Cor. 3:7)
If the obstacle is ME, the obvious way to navigate it is HIM. When I recognize my struggle, He is faithful to remind me that the work is HIS, not MINE. I’ve been breathing stale air and tripping over my own feet because my head is down, my gaze is inward. In fact I’ve wandered into a bog where it’s hard to walk and the air is rank. Back on the path again, head up and eyes on the Son, I’ll let Him guide my feet. Deep breath. The air is freshening already.