Tag Archives: peace

Letting God Manage My To-Do List

2 Feb

IMG_20160126_124010You may have noticed that my blog posts lately have just been updates on my girls. That’s not because I haven’t had thoughts I wanted to write about. I do have thoughts, and I do want to write – it’s just that when I sit down to write, sludge comes out. A few words emerge from the muck of my brain, but they’re incoherent and incomplete. Even writing this paragraph has been sludge-like, letters forming into words at the speed of molasses.

My problem is that I have too many thoughts. There are too many things going on in my head. This actually happens a lot. I’m struggling with things, so I go to God in prayer but I can’t even get words out about my emotions because there’s just too much all at once. It’s like there’s this giant bottleneck at the point of my thoughts merging into external expression. (At those times, I’m incredibly thankful that God knows my thoughts without my needing to actually say them!)

This also happens when I’m talking to Travis. Poor guy. I often start telling him about an idea I had but while I’m talking, a voice in my head counters it or offers a different idea, and I swerve mid-sentence to disagree with my idea before I have even finished telling Travis about the original.

Just as I am a chronic over-thinker, I am also a chronic over-planner. I suffer from the condition known as “Too much to do and too little time.” I frequently find myself stressed out over my own imposed to-do list – things that I alone have decided must be done.  During this past Christmas season, when I was just beginning to see this tendency of mine, I found myself thinking, “Well, when the holidays are over, things won’t be so crazy.” Before I had finished that thought, the dang voice in my head interrupted and said, “No they won’t.” And I realized, that voice was right.

I have been stressed out over my imposed to-do list since even before I had kids. There’s this blog post from my life pre-kid, lamenting my ability to turn even a day off into a stressful situation.

The truth is that I’m not stressed out because of the time of the year, or because I have two young kids, or even because one of those kids is a toddler tornado. The “too much to do” does not come from the laundry, dishes, cleaning, grocery shopping, diaper changing, mess cleaning reality of being a wife and mom.

I’m stressed out because of me. I’M THE PROBLEM.

My stress comes from wanting to do extra things like update baby books, create scrapbooks, write blog posts and books, plan elaborate birthday parties, repurpose furniture, decorate the house, go thrift store shopping, get my craft on.

In short: THINGS THAT AREN’T NECESSARY.

It’s the unnecessary things (that I like to think are necessary) stressing me out.

But here’s the tricky thing: it’s also the unnecessary things that bring me joy.

For several years, I fell into the trap of feeling like I “should” do certain things because they were either expected of me, or because I was trying to “keep up with the Joneses” as it were. But that’s not the case here. If I didn’t want to scrapbook, craft, decorate or update baby books, I wouldn’t. But I DO want to do all of those things – because I ENJOY THEM. (Case in point, back in high school, I planned a formal New Years Eve party in high school FOR FUN. Formal as in, we sold tickets, wore formal dresses and suits, and held it in a hotel ballroom. Kudos to my mom for indulging my whim and helping me with the process!)

So it’s not that I’m doing things I don’t want to do. I have whittled my list of All the Things down to those that I personally want to prioritize, but I still don’t have enough time in a day to fit it all in. It works on paper, and I have contemplated implementing a more rigid, set schedule for the purpose of using my time wisely and intentionally. But then the girls have several days when for some unknown reason, they don’t follow their usual routines and the whole idea of having a set schedule seems laughable and completely unrealistic.

Obviously I don’t have the answer to the question, “How do you do it all?” (Not that anyone’s asking me that anyway, ha!) I’m caught between wanting to be intentional with my time and wanting to be flexible for whatever the day holds. I don’t want to be completely rigid, but I also don’t want to fritter away minutes here and there on “who knows what.” Minutes add up to hours, and hours to days, and think of the things that can be accomplished with that kind of time!

The only thing that has brought me peace in the midst of this swirling whirlwind of emotions and plans is trusting God. Several years ago, God used a particularly stressful time of my life to teach me that while I love me a to-do list, it cannot serve as the agenda for my day. Peace comes from holding my plans with open hands, doing the One Thing in front of me, and entrusting the rest to God.

I like to picture God sitting at a big table, tall enough that I can’t see the top, with all of the items of my to-do list sitting before Him in 3-D form. He hands me the first item, saying, “Do this first.” And I do it. When I’m done, I go back to Him. He hands me another. “Now do this one.” My job is to complete the tasks He gives to me; His job is to show me which tasks to do.

Every Tuesday when Emma goes to daycare, the list of what I want to accomplish that day is 15 items long, all of which take at least an hour. There’s absolutely no chance under heaven that I’m going to even make a dent. So I lift the list to God in prayer and ask Him to help me spend my time wisely, and to trust Him to provide me with the time and energy for the things that He intends for me to get done.

In addition to prayer and the Spirit’s leading, part of what helps me determine what the One Thing to do is priorities. What’s the higher priority? Spending time with God should be #1, so that is often what I do first. I also give priority to things that are timely, like making a meal to bring to a family who has a new baby; scheduled, like doctor appointments; or necessary, like eating lunch.

Beyond that, I often experience the Spirit’s leading by feeling energized to do the task. There have been many times when I look at my to-do list and two things seem to be equally important, but I feel excited about doing one and drag my feet about the other. So I do the one I feel like doing. That doesn’t mean I never do the things that I drag my feet about – otherwise, I would never clean bathrooms! (As it is, I clean them much less often than I should.) But on the whole, it is much more enjoyable and efficient to tackle tasks when I feel up to them, instead of forcing myself to do them on a timeline I’ve arbitrarily determined on my own. Almost always, if I postpone a task that isn’t timely and I don’t feel energized for, I end up feeling energized for it a different day.

Obviously, though, I’m not in charge of everything, and many days involve unforeseen, annoying or undesirable circumstances. This way of approaching each day is still valid in those moments — because it’s God adding a few items of His own to my to-do list. Like I’ve said before, if I truly want joy, I must embrace the circumstances God allows.

Walking through my to-do list each day with God in prayer and faith that He will provide for what needs to get done, and take care of what doesn’t, has brought me immense peace and joy. And freedom! Before I learned this, I couldn’t sit and read a book without feeling guilty about not being productive. Now, I believe that if I want to sit down and enjoy a book, and have the opportunity to, I can do so without feeling guilty.

My desires are not something to be “overridden” by what I think I should be accomplishing. Jesus is not a taskmaster. He does not demand that I accomplish x and y each day. Rather, Jesus invites me to take His yoke upon me, and promises that when I do so, I will find rest for my soul. What is His yoke? “…having accomplished the work you gave me to do.” His yoke and burden were determined by God. He let the Holy Spirit guide Him through each moment of each day, and didn’t worry about how everything would be accomplished, or how He was being perceived, or what He should teach next, or where.  “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak.” (John 12:49)

Unfortunately, I still let my to-do list act as my taskmaster and slave-driver too often. I still get stressed out and overwhelmed by having too many things I want to do and too little time. But I’m making progress. I’m growing. I’m learning to walk by faith, and not by the sight of seeing my to-do list checked off. 😉 I do believe that God cares more about character and connecting with others, than He does about productivity and efficiency.

As for finding time to do everything I want to do, I don’t have an answer. Instead, I bring myself back again and again to this quote from Elisabeth Elliot: “When there is a deep restlessness for which we can find no explanation, it may be due to the greed of being — what our loving Father never meant us to be. Peace lies in the trusting acceptance of His design, His gifts, His appointment of place, position, capacity. It was thus that the Son of Man came to earth — embracing all that the Father willed Him to be, usurping nothing — no work, not even a word — that the Father had not given Him.”

If God intends for me to do something, whether it’s as important as spend time with Him or as trivial as making a scrapbook, He will provide the time and energy for it. I can trust that God will fulfill His purpose for me. My #1 job is walking in daily dependence on Him.

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:16)

Behold Your God {2016 Focus}

5 Jan

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“How we behold determines if we hold joy. Behold glory and be held by God.

“I know what I want: to see deeply, to thank deeply, to feel joy deeply.

“Don’t I give God most glory when I am fully alive? And I am most fully alive beholding God!”  (Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts, pages 113 & 118)

……………

“I don’t want a new better life in 2016. I just want new eyes to see that my life is already staggeringly beautiful.”  (Glennon Melton, Momastery, Best New Year’s Ever)

……………

“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31)

“Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Psalm 119:18)

“They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God. Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.'” (Isaiah 35:2c-4)

“Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’ Behold, the LORD God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” (Isaiah 40:9-10)

……………

Over the past few days, God has spoken to me. Through the Tim Keller sermon we listened to on our drive home from Grand Rapids. Through a song we sang in church on Sunday. Through a blog. Through Ann Voskamp’s book that I can still quote verbatim though I haven’t read it in several years. Through Bible verses.

And He’s saying: This year, BEHOLD ME. Behold My Power and My Glory.

Because honestly, as I stare down another year, I am fearful. I am scared about what this year has in store for me and my family. Usually, a new year brings excitement and freshness, a renewed commitment to priorities, a chance to start again. And while I do feel that, I also feel SCARED.

It’s not a mystery as to why I feel this way. My mom’s battle against cancer has been sobering and shown me how not-in-control of our lives we really are — making the idea of New Years resolutions seem rather petty and laughable. “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.'” (James 4:13-15)

“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.” (Proverbs 19:21)

I think these passages in James and Proverbs show that it’s not wrong to make plans. It’s just wrong to trust our plans more than God, and to live like we know what’s best for us. We may have ideas about what good things we want to happen in 2016, but we don’t know what’s best — because often, God giving us what’s best looks nothing like we expect it to, and truthfully, it’s not what we, in our limited insight and vantage point, would choose. Yet, the truth remains that “no good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11).

So I feel God prompting me to hold this year — and all it will contain, whether good or bad — with open hands, to wait and watch expectantly for Him to prove Himself faithful, and to behold His power and glory. I believe, in the depth of my being, that God’s way is the best way. It has to be, if He is the God the Bible says He is, and the God I believe He is.

But it takes FAITH, oodles and oodles of faith, to believe this day in and day out, in the mundane mediocrity of the everyday and the heart-wrenching trials of the hardest times. I need new eyes and new ears to see and hear God’s glory and power in my life. The glory of His presence already surrounds me; I just need help recognizing it.

So that’s what I’m praying and hoping for in 2016 — new eyes to see how staggeringly beautiful my life already is, because no matter what happens this year, my greatest need is already met: I have a Savior.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

{Repost} Breathe in freedom.

28 Sep

So our Minnesota trip was a little rough. It was great seeing my parents but Emma had a hard time napping and sleeping at night – I think it must’ve been that she was in a new place, and she has a little bit of a stuffy nose. I’ll admit that I was VERY angry that Emma needed to be bounced and rocked, and sometimes held, or she refused to sleep. I was there to help my parents and she was making that next to impossible.

That situation, combined with the rest of everything going on and my general feeling of ‘meh’ and stress, has sent me back to blog posts from last year, to remind myself of the Truth I was learning then, and am still learning – or needing to relearn – now. That’s where this post comes in. It’s just as true now as it was when I wrote on June 1, 2012. Enjoy.

………………………………………………

When your body is challenged in yoga and weight lifting, the natural response is to hold your breath. We need to be reminded to breathe with the movements. Inhale, lift. Exhale, lower. Inhale vitality. Exhale tension. It may not seem like it at the time but breathing actually makes the postures and exercises easier because it gives you something else to concentrate on than just the muscle fatigue and supplies your muscles with oxygen.

I’ve been thinking about this the past couple of days because I realized that this applies to life too. This week, I have felt tired and lazy. And I found myself emotionally gritting my teeth to “just get through” the week – essentially, holding my breath to survive.

But is that really what God wants for me? Are I really reduced to just gritting my teeth to get through life?

The trouble is that I associate the fullest life with being on top of things, things going my way, falling into place, being easy.

The fullest life is still available even when life isn’t that way (which is often). Even on the days, weeks, or months when things are hard, I’m tired and feel overwhelmed, and everything feels like a burden. Instead of holding my breath to survive, I can breathe through life’s challenges with God. 

Just like holding my breath doing a Half Moon, it seems easier and less painful to not think too much and just go through the motions. To not care. To resign myself to life being crap for the next few days.

In reality, I’m making the situation worse. And when I actually think about what I’m doing, it seems ludicrous. Why do I think that hard situations are easier to handle without God?

It’s because I think He’ll make me (wo)man up and deal with the situation. And the last thing I want to do is deal with the situation. I want to escape, withdraw, ignore.

What I forget, though, is that living in dependence on God is where I find joy always. Not just when I feel up to it, or when life is going well, or when I’m naturally happy. Always.

I also forget that living in dependence on God doesn’t require me to feel me up to it, or life to be going well, or me to be naturally happy. In fact, living in dependence on God comes most easily when I am starkly aware of my weaknesses and insufficiency. When I feel too small for something too big. When I’m struggling with the same thing yet again. When I’m having trouble even mustering up the energy to not give up.

I find freedom in acknowledging reality. Instead of shutting down and going through life on autopilot, I can admit that the situations I’m facing are affecting me and that it’s not all coming up roses. Jesus promised us peace in the midst of difficulty – not peaceful circumstances.

I stop trying to change reality. Once I acknowledge the tough circumstance, I stay there. I don’t try to change, fix, or manipulate it. That’s God’s job. My job is trust. This is the challenge I come back to time and time again. Asking me to live with God in the midst of my weaknesses and insufficiency is like asking a dog to walk on its hind legs. It’s not impossible but it takes a lot of work to actually stay there because it’s not my natural inclination.

I focus on the moment and give thanks. In yoga, you breathe with the movements to get your mind focused on the here and now. Stop thinking about all the things you’re going to do later in the day, all the bills and laundry and dishes piling up at home. Live in the now. Jesus told us this too: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). I especially like The Message’s paraphrase:

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”

And the best way to live in the moment (I’m discovering) is to give thanks, for everything. Specifically. Audibly. Remember God’s blessings. Remember His faithfulness. Remember His grace.

This post wouldn’t be complete without a quote or two from Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts:

“Life is so urgent it necessitates living slow.”

“Life change comes when we receive life with thanks and ask for nothing to change.”

Trusting God in Pregnancy

29 Jan

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Yesterday, I talked about the physical discomforts of being pregnant but I think one of the biggest challenges of pregnancy is not letting my mind run wild with scary possibilities. We’ve all heard stories and known women who have experienced loss, and it’s hard not to freak out about every little change or thing that is probably normal, but might not be.

When I first got pregnant, I thought that I would feel more peaceful once I was out of that first trimester window of risk. But no, I still found things to worry about.

Just recently, I had some bleeding and while it stopped on its own and Emma continued kicking around in my belly, I called and talked to a nurse (a week later) at my OB office. She was very concerned and wondered why I hadn’t called earlier. She said that she would feel better if I came in on Monday instead of on Friday, which was when my next appointment was. In the meantime, I should avoid exercise and the activity that caused the bleeding. She was very nice, and I wasn’t too concerned about it.

But then I was watching TV one night and Emma wasn’t kicking around like she usually does. I timed her kicks and technically, I felt her move 10 times in less than an hour, but some of those kicks were really weak… could I count those? What if she wasn’t ok?

Another night, I went to bed and felt nothing. No kicks. Emma always kicks as I go to bed! And my mind started racing with all kinds of very unproductive and worst-case-scenario thoughts. But I woke up in the middle of the night to her doing her standard karate chopping, so she really was fine.

I had my appointment on Monday and sure enough, everything was fine. There is an explanation for the bleeding (I won’t go into detail here) but it’s nothing to be worried about. And Emma seems to be fine – her heart rate is normal, movement is normal and good overall, I’m measuring right on track, etc. So all of that worrying for nothing. (The doctor did have me schedule another ultrasound for next Monday, just to be sure there’s not another explanation.)

Another day at work, I was just sitting at my desk and all of a sudden had horrible shooting/stabbing pain in my pelvis and belly. Like so bad I couldn’t stand up straight. It came and went for about 30 minutes. And because I hadn’t felt Emma move much throughout the morning, my mind started racing with thoughts of preterm labor and having to have a c-section at not even 30 weeks. After eating something and going to the bathroom, it got better for the most part, but I still called the nurse because Emma still wasn’t moving much. The nurse said told me to drink something sugary and lay down for an hour to count Emma’s kicks. And that as long as the pain went away and the baby was moving enough, they didn’t usually worry too much. I left work early to work from home for the afternoon and sure enough, after a glass of OJ and laying on the couch, Emma was fine. (I’ve since had more belly pains like that and I guess it’s just things stretching out down there? It’s definitely not pleasant, whatever it is! I also assume Emma wasn’t moving a ton because she was exhausted from storing up her little baby fat!)

Pregnancy continues to remind me of how not in control of things I am. I can research and worry and overthink and panic until I’m blue in the face, but what do I change with all of that? I only manage to destroy my own peace.

What I really need to do is trust God – and acknowledge that God has given me this gift of pregnancy and motherhood freely, unmerited, and I must hold it with open hands.  That’s where having an eternal perspective is critical – it reminds me that this life isn’t “it”. I can wholly surrender all of my dreams and expectations, including motherhood, because a better life is coming. And there are purposes to things that happen here that are bigger than we can presently understand.

I go back to my theme verse – “The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the LORD.” Being meek means accepting all things, even the hard ones, from God’s hand. It means not demanding that things go a certain way. I’m not saying that’s easy to do, because it’s not. But if I really want joy, real joy, I must fight to surrender.

So I’m praying for wisdom to know if/when something really is wrong, and for peace to trust that God is good and loving, no matter what happens.

Do you have a hard time trusting God for anything in your life?

Waiting with My Heart Exposed

19 Jul

One more post before resuming the posts about our trip to Alaska…

So I’ve mentioned before that I went off birth control and we are trying to get pregnant this year…

Now that the marathon is over, it could happen anytime.

OR it could take a while.

It’s that limbo, that waiting and not knowing, that excitement and anticipation and longing and hoping and wanting it to happen right now so I can start decorating the nursery already…

That’s hard.

I already see that whether the road to pregnancy is long or short, it will be difficult. I can be a tad impatient about big things like this. Which is why looking for houses in Minnesota “just cuz” is dangerous for me. I am constantly tempted to see something I love and panic because we need to get our house on the market and sell it NOW so we can buy that house before someone else buys it first! 

God’s faithfulness reminds me to take a step back and breathe. Remember Truth.

“This God, his way is perfect – the word of the LORD proves true.”

When I was involved in Campus Outreach in college, a common phrase we girls used when talking about boys and dating/marriage was “Guard your heart.” And I got to thinking this morning what that actually means, and how it applies to this situation too. Here are my thoughts:

“Guard your heart” is a call to live in the moment. Instead of waiting for That Day When, you embrace the reality of This Day Now. You offer God the sacrifice of thanksgiving for this day being what it is, right now, and deem it Enough.

In Psalm 118, the psalmist writes, “This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” I don’t think that those two verses occurring together is a coincidence. You could rephrase it: “This day is the LORD’s doing. It is marvelous in our eyes. Let us rejoice and be glad in his creation of this moment.”

Yes, sometimes it feels like you have to search high and low for the things to be thankful for. But they’re there. And the more we train ourselves to look for them, the more we see.

Faith is not easily won. It is fought for. But we can count it all joy, for the glory to be revealed far surpasses the fight.

So I will not dampen my excitement, or pour myself into something else to be distracted from my heart’s desires. I will sit at the foot of the throne, heart exposed, waiting for God’s faithfulness to prove true, however and whenever.

Resting in God for Life

1 Jul

{While I’m reading copious amounts of books in Alaska, please enjoy these posts from the archives and random thoughts library of Life, Really.}

–Originally posted January 15, 2011–

God is so faithful.

I had a rough start to this past week. Being back from Mexico, I was confronted with all of the problems I had left behind: namely, my struggle with what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. Again, I was stressed out. It felt like there was a heavy ball of anxiety sitting right on my chest. I felt paralyzed. I had nothing that I had to do and yet didn’t feel free to do anything. I felt like I had to be productive. Like that’s what a good model citizen does – they get stuff done. But I didn’t want to get stuff done. I wanted to relax and read.

Little by little, God has been inviting me to release the responsibility I feel for my life. At first, He showed me I could let go of being responsible for my sanctification. Instead of rifling through my own soul looking for sins that I needed to work on, I could trust God to convict me of the sins that He wanted me to work on.

He then showed me I could let go of being responsible for projects at work. Even though I don’t technically have a job right now, I am helping out at the church and as such, I feel involved enough to be held responsible for things succeeding or failing. But God says that I can release those projects to Him too. It’s not me accomplishing His work – it’s Him accomplishing His work through me. I wrote these points in my journal:

1. God knows what needs to be done and when.

2. I can trust God to guide my day and to provide the wisdom, inspiration, and motivation necessary. I can even trust Him to bring to mind things I need to remember.

3. I can leave unfinished projects in God’s care – this is His work after all. He will take care of it.

4. If and when I fail, I can run to God and He will help me fix the mess. He is a gracious, patient and loving God.

Finally, God showed me that I can let go of what I have perceived to be the things I needed to be doing to live the life I want to live. I had been creating my own religious rules about how to live but God had not empowered me to live those. I constantly felt like I should be doing more than I was doing. If I bought a coffee at Starbuck’s, I felt guilty that I didn’t donate that money to charity. If I spent time reading a book, I felt guilty that I was making myself happy instead of helping someone else in need. I was constantly questioning my motives and constantly feeling condemned by what I perceived to be the selfishness of everything I did. Even the good, thoughtful things I did for others were swallowed up in the notion that they were just drops in the ocean of my own patheticness.

But praise the Lord, He has revealed the truth to me! On Thursday morning, after feeling very discouraged and fed up with life on Wednesday night, God showed me that what had started out as a good desire – wanting to live above the status quo for Christ – I had turned into an end in itself. I was trying to make myself right with God by setting a high standard for my way of life. I only succeeded in making myself miserable. Because I can’t make myself right with God!

And I don’t have to. I don’t have to procure my own salvation because of Jesus and I don’t have to make my life count because of Jesus. For the longest time, I thought that surrendering control meant conceding defeat. Resting in Christ meant that I didn’t care if my life changed – it meant I was ok if I just kept on living the typical American lifestyle. But I did care! So I couldn’t, I wouldn’t surrender. I had to make my life what I thought it should be – because if I didn’t, who would?

I am in awe at God’s perfect timing. Just totally in awe. In the past month, I read 2 books that revolutionized the way I look at my relationship with God: Walking With God by John Eldredge and Soul Craving by Joel Warne. Both authors talk about listening to God, walking through situations with God, talking to God, communing with God. I had never before realized that such an intimate two-way interaction with God was possible!

Because of that new discovery, the idea of surrendering control of my life and my expectations and desires to God makes sense. Before, I didn’t understand how I could let go of control and expect things to still happen. I mean, after all, even though God is sovereign, He is not a puppeteer. I still have to act. So how would anything change if I gave up trying to change things?

I see now that change comes out of an intimate relationship with God. As I am walking with God, talking with Him, listening to Him, inviting Him in to every area and experience of my life, I am changed. I sense His Spirit’s leading. I see doors open that I would have missed before. I find courage to do what I couldn’t in the past. This is exactly what I wanted for my life and was so desperately striving after. But now, it is God leading me. It is God doing the hard work. Joel Warne writes in his book that our relationship with God is a responsive one. He leads; we respond.

Moreover, if there is something amiss in my life, something I should abstain from or do differently, I can trust God to reveal those things to me. I don’t have to obsess over everything and continually feel guilty. This has been the biggest relief of all. I can finally put in correct perspective all of the mundane, practical, trivial details of life. I don’t have to question everything anymore! I can live everyday life in faith that when God wants to change something, when He wants to move me, He will reveal that to me. And He provides the courage and grace for obedience on top! So now, instead of asking God to show me what He wants me to do with my life, I pray:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there by any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”(Psalm 139:23).

I cannot undermine enough what a revolutionary shift in paradigm this is for me. I feel like I had been going through the motions of life in black and white but now I am rejuvenated with vigor and eagerness to engage in life in Technicolor! Because my life is what it is because of God. And I can rest in Him for wisdom, guidance, sanctification. I can trust Him to do in my life what I have been desiring – because He desires it even more than I do!!

GOD IS AWESOME!!

The Simplicity & Difficulty of Connecting with God

4 Apr

Last Friday and Saturday, I didn’t want to get in the Word. I really just wanted to read a good book, one with new ideas and words I hadn’t read before. I didn’t want the usual formula of my morning: read the Bible, pray, meditate. So on Friday, I took a walk. It was a beautiful morning and I reveled in the sunshine and warmth, very thankful to God for His creation. “See?” I said to myself. “I don’t need the formula. I can connect with God many different ways.” But a little voice said that if I didn’t read the Bible and pray for others, my time with God was incomplete. Sure, I could connect with Him in nature but it wasn’t sufficient.

Saturday, I read The God Hunt by Karen Mains for a couple of hours in the morning, then some more in the afternoon, then some more at night. I felt my childish rebellion welling up inside in response to the responsible voice that talked about reading the Bible and praying: “I want to just read a book! Why can’t I just do what I want to do?” Reading The God Hunt was in some way, a rebellion, a way of staking my claim to how I wanted to spend my day. I wanted to read a book, not the Bible. I wanted to sit in silence, not pray.

As I was reading the book before I went to sleep Saturday night, Karen Mains was talking about setting up “ducks,” what I have normally called cairns, rocks stacked on top of one another to delineate a path and keep a hiker on the right track. But instead of setting up physical ducks, she was setting up spiritual ones to keep her on the right path with God and reminding her to look for Him. Her spiritual cairns were Bible study, prayer, personal liturgies, memorizing Scripture, etc.

Instead of being a curmudgeonish chore, studying the Bible is a way for me to “keep the object I am hunting within my spiritual sightlines,” to remind myself that “as I moving forward…what I am looking for is God’s work.” God’s work. His touch and presence in my life. Him seeking and finding me. Was I basing my relationship with God on how much I pursued Him?

Then on Sunday morning, I awoke with the cold I had felt developing the previous night. It hadn’t gotten as bad as I expected; I was still well enough to go to church. But I was groggy, sleepy, and short-tempered. Even the bagel crumbs falling to my skirt in the light breeze outside Panera irritated me. As we arrived at church and sat in our usual spot, the worship music started. The first song was one I didn’t particularly like, then second song was a new one that I “didn’t have the energy to learn.” I stood there lamenting how tired and sick I felt, worried about who I would talk to during the five-minute break, and worried about meeting Ana Helena after church to talk to Gerry, a new member who had just moved from the Congo, about teaching him ESL. I heard my usual voice of self-pity, “I’m just so tired. I don’t feel well. I can barely even concentrate on singing. I can’t wait to go home.”

As I stood there, half singing the songs, I remembered something I had read in Practicing His Presence:

One of the mental characteristics against which I have rebelled most is the frequency of my “blank spells” when I cannot think of anything worth writing, and sometimes cannot remember names. Henceforth I resolve to regard these as God’s signal that I am to stop and listen. Sometimes you want to talk to your son, and sometimes you want to hold him tight in silence. God is that way with us, He wants to hold us still with Him in silence.

If I didn’t feel up to singing, could it possibly be God’s way of telling me to just listen, to just enjoy His presence? If I didn’t feel like searching for God and straining to uncover God’s word for me that day, could God be reminding me that He will meet me with rich blessings?

I stopped singing and closed my eyes, listening to the harmony of voices lifted up to God. Then it became clear: I had been basing my encounters with God on how “up to” the Christian life I felt, how much I felt like I could handle, how dedicated I felt, how ready to obey I felt. I was still trying to find the strength and stamina for the Christian life in myself. Why else would being sick and tired feel like a setback or hindrance to God’s work in my life? If I were truly relying on God for everything, I would be just as ready to obey God in sickness as in health, in bad times as in good. My circumstances would have no sway on my readiness to see or respond to God, because the ability to do so would be bound up in Him—and He never changes.

I was once again reminded of my alternate translation of 2 Corinthians 16:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in humility.” It is true that my self-pity is the reverse form of pride, the opposite of humility. The cure is finding sufficient grace and power in who Christ is for me. Instead of worrying about who I was going to talk to during the break, I could wait and listen for God to speak to me in the moment. And He did: once the break rolled around and Travis went to the bathroom, I saw Renia sitting alone and was actually excited to go over and talk to her. God’s leading. After church, I found Ana Helena and while she went to get her kids, I tracked down Gerry and talked to him about the ESL lessons and furniture for their apartment. God’s leading. It is after situations like this when I am humbled yet again by God, for doubting His goodness to me. I am like an Israelite, who continues to doubt and question God even after all of the times that He has so obviously proven His track record.

God showed me yet again that I can rely on Him for everything. There is nothing I need to live out my faith authentically for His glory besides His constant sufficiency and supply of grace. Even in my intimate daily walk with Him, I don’t need to find the stamina and motivation in myself to seek Him; I need only to ask Him to produce it in me. When I have found myself wanting in spiritual desire, instead of running to God, I have lamented my lack and tried to make up for it in my own actions—or conceded defeat and turned away to do what my flesh wanted to do instead.

Anything that takes me away from intimacy with God, whether sickness, fatigue, or desire to relax, should put up a red flag. Why? Because the idea that it is work to spend time with God, or that I have to choose between rest and Him, or that it takes a lot of striving to connect with God are all lies. God is the epitome of relaxation (Psalm 23:2-3); I find rest in Him (Matthew 11:28); and I only have to draw near to God for Him to draw near to me (James 4:8). As Roy Hession says in We Would See Jesus:

God has made Him as accessible to us sinners as He possibly can…We see the standard of the victorious life above us, and we are quite sure that if we can attain to it in this or that particular we shall be in fellowship with God and filled with His Spirit. But it is the attaining to it which all the time defeats us. And all the time we are climbing so hard the Lord Jesus stands immediately available to us as our Door, open on street level, and we could so quickly enter in if we were willing to bow our heads at His Cross.

Bible study, prayer, worship, memorization—all of these are means to connecting with God, not ends in themselves. How Satan loves to heap guilt on us when we declare that! He knows their power, their use, their effectiveness. He knows that if he can pervert their use and purpose in the minds of believers, we will become in bondage to them and they will lose their beauty, freedom, and glory in aiding us to discover the God who we so long for.

If I find myself feeling condemned by desiring one day to connect with God through nature instead of His Word, it doesn’t take me long to see that I have turned reading my Bible into an end, instead of a means. The only thing that should grieve my spirit is losing my connection with God and I should seek to amend the situation however I can at the moment, instead of promising myself “I’ll get in the Word again tomorrow.” God is available now, in the moment I so desire Him! Don’t tarry, don’t make excuses. Go to Him now. Your small desire is enough. Like Brother Lawrence says, “Just a little lifting up of the heart to God is enough. A little remembrance of the Lord, one act of inward worship…will be fully accepted by the Lord.”

So often when I come to God, I think I need to be in a spiritual mindset, to feel ready to accept truths from God, to be dressed in my spiritual armor, ready for any battle God calls me to. While that does sometimes happen (no doubt God preparing me for His revelations), those are not prerequisites to time with God. I can come to Him when I feel groggy, lazy or grumpy; I can come to Him when I don’t feel like reading, or do feel like reading, or want to take a walk outside; I can come to Him when I am anxious, self-pitying, or short-tempered. He will never acquiesce to my sin or pity but He will always speak to me gently exactly the words I need to hear and show Himself to be the way to peace and joy. God’s dedication to His own glory is the most reassuring thing in the world.