When our wants are polar opposite, our hearts are divided. The resulting heart-strain is inevitable and it cannot go on forever. One desire has to win out over the other, or both must be released for the sake of something greater. This morning I read Psalm 86:11, "Teach me Thy way O Lord; I will walk in Thy truth. Unite my heart to fear Thy name."
Unite my heart to fear Thy name. In those situations when our heart is divided - we want THIS, but find ourselves doing THAT, or we want THING A when we are in SETTING A, but when we find ourselves in SETTING B we couldn't care less about THING A - those are the times we need a spiritual reality check. A house divided against itself cannot stand - That isn't just an Abraham Lincoln quote, it is a Jesus Christ quote.
Not only can a divided heart not persist, but a divided church cannot either. Charles Spurgeon described it this way in his sermon on September 25, 1859, "It is one grand and grievous fault with the church of Christ at the present day, that it is not merely divided somewhat in its creed, and somewhat also in its practice of the ordinances, but alas, it is also somewhat divided in heart. When the differences are of such a character, that as people of God we can still love each other, and still unite in the common battle against the cause of evil and in the common end of building up the church, then there is but little that is faulty. But when our doctrinal divisions grow to so great a head that we cease to co-operate; when our opinions upon mere ordinances become so acid towards each other, that we can no longer extend the right hand of fellowship to those who differ from us, then indeed is the church of God found faulty."
So what is the cure for division? Whether it is within our own hearts or within the collective heart of a people? God is our only hope. We are naturally bent toward division and it is the Holy Spirit of God alone who can reconcile. This prayer of David, "Unite my heart to fear Thy name," can be our guide as we pray. The goal of a unified heart isn't to alleviate pain, it is to see proper function and prosperity restored. When the pieces of a machine work against each other rather than with each other in harmony, the machine breaks down and no profitable work is accomplished. The same is true in our hearts and amongst us. We are capable of bringing about amazing good in the world when unity is restored. God is the only force in the world that can completely control us without destroying us. To give way to any other thing that promises unity or a higher purpose for our actions is to open the door to eventual pain and a further dividing of our hearts. The cure for a divided heart begins with a prayer that puts the warring desires on the table before a God worthy of praise, adoration, and devotion, seeing each desire as subservient to Him and His purposes. Then, to stand back and see what He does with them and with us. Rest assured. It's gonna be good.
If you have attended Christian worship services or read the Bible with any frequency, you've heard the phrase, "Wait on the Lord." It is an ongoing refrain in Christian hymns, in the Psalms, and throughout the Bible and you just can't miss it. So what does it mean? How do you wait? How long do you wait? Why do you wait? Why is this such a consistently repeated message? I don't claim to know the answers to all of those questions, even though my family has gone through a long season of what feels like waiting, I don't claim to be an expert. Even so, today I read something that leapt off the page at me and helped me to get a handle on at least a portion of this concept.
Psalm 25:3A, 21: "Indeed none of those who wait for Thee will be ashamed. Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for Thee." NASB
I was reading from a study Bible that has cross-references and a Hebrew/Greek concordance in the back to serve as a reference and help the reader get more information about each verse and to parse out specific words. When I came across the words "wait for," they were underlined and in bold indicating that the Hebrew word that had been translated as "wait for" in this verse could be looked up in the back reference section of this Bible. I got excited! Maybe there would be something there that would help me better understand this concept and my current season of life. Here is what I found:
"Wait for" comes from the root Hebrew word, qavah (kaw-vaw). It means to bind together by twisting around and is translated as "wait for", "hope for", or "look for" in the Bible 44 times. If qavah, the root word, is any indicator itself of how we should think about waiting for the Lord, then waiting on God isn't standing alone in a barren place, patiently allowing the elements to batter us until He decides to move on our behalf (which is how I've often viewed it, even if I'd never say that out loud). No, if waiting is qavah, it is an active thing - making Christ the center of our thoughts, our actions, our decisions and circling back around Him continually, again and again, like binding together a rope. It means "depending on" and "ordering our activities around a future event or hope." (Strong's concordance)
I don't know if that strikes a chord with you, but it is an eye opener for me. In a season of waiting, we are not helpless, hopeless people awaiting miraculous intervention. We can and should be active, hope-filled people continually circling around Christ in expectation. Coming back to His Word, His ways, His Truth again and again, like an airplane circling the runway until it is clear to come in for a safe landing. All this circling isn't wasting time - it is space given to shift focus from the desired outcome to the One who holds the future. It is also strength-building. The more times cords are wrapped around each other to make a rope, the stronger the rope becomes. I am starting to think that is what waiting on the Lord is all about - it is an active time of strengthening, drawing closer to God, re-orienting our thoughts, attitudes and actions around the source of our hope until the day comes when it is time to move and we find ourselves so wrapped up in Him that we can't help but follow.
With that in mind, these verses come alive in a different way:
Psalm 27:14 Wait on the Lord; be of good courage and he shall strengthen your heart. Wait, I say, on the Lord.
Psalm 69:6 Let not them that wait on thee, O Lord GOD of hosts, be ashamed for my sake: let not those that seek thee be confounded for my sake, O God of Israel.
Isaiah 40:31 But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary and they shall walk and not faint.
Lamentations 3:25 The Lord is good to them that wait for Him, to the soul that seeks Him.
Hosea 12:16 Therefore turn to your God; keep mercy and judgment, and wait on you God continually.
Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord
Today is the big 4-0. Here are the top 20 lessons I've learned between ages 20 and 40. Hopefully I don't have to relearn them between 40 and 60! Here's to learning many more new lessons as the years go by.
Twenty - You can think that what you have is perfect and you can plan the rest of your life around it. You can imagine a future that is picture perfect and it can all be gone in an instant. Better to plan your life around truth, character, and faith in God than around any one person, goal or achievement.
Twenty-One - It is good to have friends who you can trust, enjoy and laugh with. They are worth searching for and they are worth celebrating and valuing when you find them.
Twenty-Two - Go for it! Take a chance! Risk, within the boundaries of God's goodness, is a boon to growth and is bound to make memories that last a lifetime.
Twenty-Three - However far you go in one romantic relationship (physically, emotionally, spiritually) will determine where you are likely to want to start from in your next romantic relationship. It is a snowball effect that can lead you to jumping in with both feet when you don't really know someone well. Tread carefully. The right partner is worth the wait in all aspects.
Twenty-Four - Be open to job opportunities outside of your area of education or expertise. There is much to learn and many skills cross over between fields.
Twenty-Five - When you think that your past experience is going to dictate your future, you are trusting in your own limited understanding. Leave room for God, the author and perfecter of your faith, to write your story and allow yourself to wait breathlessly for the next page to turn.
Twenty-Six - A baby is always good news. Always.
Twenty-Seven - Exhaustion can teach us lessons that we cannot learn otherwise. Let it drive you to God and to those who are able and willing to help you. Self-reliance will only get you so far. Learn how to rest and how to share a load.
Twenty-Eight - Parenting is all about humility. Children do not care about your reputation.
Twenty-Nine - When something is a priority to you, you will make a way. If there seems to be no way, pray and ask God to purify your priorities and help you reorient your life.
Thirty - Regularly meeting together with a group of people who share your faith, but may be completely different from you in every other way is a taste of heaven. Look for it and dive in head first don't give a second thought to the temperature of the water or whether your bathing suit is appropriate.
Thirty-One - Leaving something that has been good in the past because it is becoming truly dangerous to you or others requires great strength and unswerving commitment to doing the right thing. It is worth it. Leave.
Thirty-Two - Starting over in a new place is hard, but doable.
Thirty-Three - If you seek Him, God will meet you in the most special and personal ways. Truly He knows you better than you know yourself.
Thirty-Four - Money isn't everything.
Thirty-Five - Changing course mid-stream is never efficient or comfortable, but sometimes it is absolutely necessary. Don't be afraid; fear wastes energy that you'll need to persevere.
Thirty-Six - Mentoring can change your life just as much as the lives of those you are pouring into. Keep your eyes open for someone younger than you who you can walk through life with. You'll both benefit.
Thirty-Seven - There are thousands of children in foster care in our country today. It requires less than you think to bless them and help them retain their sense of safety and self. Open your home when the opportunity allows, and support those who are doing so when you cannot. It is worth every sacrifice.
Thirty-Eight - You can sit through a completely devastating moment in time and come out the other side a fighter. You can be embarrassed, humiliated, brought lower than low and still keep your head held high. God is bigger and His plan for you cannot be thwarted. Learn what you need to learn in that low moment. Keep your character intact throughout.
Thirty-Nine - There is beauty in big cities and in rural communities. Do not be intimidated by what you do not know. Recognize that what you have to offer is valid no matter your surroundings.
Forty - God is good. He is faithful. He will provide just what you need at the moment of your greatest need. Believe Him when He gives it to you and watch what happens.
The longer I live, the more I am in awe of the mystery of the human soul. This eternal part of each of us that somehow instinctively knows that the ways of this world are completely out of whack and that we were made for more. This part of us that seeks the hard road rather than the easy road because it knows that something worth fighting for is its own reward and so much more valuable than any simple pleasure easily attained. This inner life that, when we will be still and quiet and humble, can commune with our Creator God and be restored no matter how wayward it has become. The Bible tells us that it is the Spirit of God himself that woos each and every soul to Himself. It also says that we can grieve that Spirit and quench its power in our lives if we ignore it long enough. I know of no greater tragedy.
I am currently reading a book called In God's Underground, written by Richard Wurmbrand, a Lutheran minister during the dark days of communist rule in Romania. He was put in prison for his faith more than once during that time. The first stint was for 9 years. He went into prison and his one and only son was a 9-year old boy. He came out of prison to be introduced to his son, the 18 year old man, without being allowed a single visit from him during those years. Such a loss of years and time, and yet God had preserved both of their souls exquisitely. On the night of his unexpected return from prison (they simply opened the gates and let him go one day) his son, Mihai, said to him, "Father, you've gone through so much. I want to know what you've learned from all your sufferings." Wurmbrand put his arm around his grown son and said, "Mihai, I've nearly forgotten my Bible in all this time. But four things were always in my mind. First, that there is a God. Secondly, Christ is our Savior. Thirdly, there is eternal life. And fourthly, love is the best of ways." My son said, "That was all I wanted." Later he told his father that he had decided to become a pastor. Two souls who had gone through so much heartache and pain, poverty and suffering - but perfectly sustained and more beautiful than they were at the beginning.
Once Wurmbrand had settled back in with his family at his very meager home in the attic of a building owned by another (their house had been taken by the government when he went to prison), he said, "Now that I was free, I longed in the depths of my heart for quietness and rest. But communism was working everywhere to complete the destruction of the Church. The peace I desired would have been an escape from reality and dangerous for my soul." It is only God who can put such depth into the human soul. Such selflessness is actually soulfulness! Denying the self for the benefit of the eternal soul. This is not harmful or sadistic, this is exchanging the temporal for the eternal and it is wise beyond earth's wisdom. When everything in us and everyone around us is telling us that retirement from the cause is in order - you've done enough - surely someone else can take up the torch now. To have a soul that knows that its very existence is owed to a Savior who did not stop until the fight was won. To have a soul that knows that it will be sustained by God through far worse than the mind or heart believe it to be able to bear. To have a soul that seeks to grow and expand and draw closer to the God who created it and wooed it from the beginning. To have a soul that trusts in the reality of the perfect plan and the power of God more than in the temporal realities it can see and feel.
This is the goal. What interesting, mysterious, paradoxical ways God can and does bring it about in each of us.
May I never curse my circumstances without first examining their soil for soul-growth properties. It could be that what the world calls prison, my soul recognizes as true freedom.
Isaiah 46:4 NIV, "Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you."
So it is back to school time and little Johnny/Susie is a year older and that means a new grade... a scary grade. At least for you, the parent. Perhaps you were up last night, a bundle of nerves. Hoping for the right teacher(s) and the right friends. Praying for a good first day. (Not you home school parents, naturally - you know exactly what your kiddo has in store this year and it is all up to you! No pressure. I was once one of you.) Well, I thought it would be a good opportunity to give you some advice. I do have all of one child, mind you. And this one child did better in French last semester than any other class he had on his schedule. French is, mind you, the only subject his father and I know nothing about. So clearly, he is thriving at school because of our actions, and we are qualified to dispense advice.
So here you go, free of charge. The top three ways to deal with back to school parent jitters.
1. Emotionally. Be an emotional wreck. Just give in to it. Wail and moan. Freak out. Go from one extreme to the other in the span of 3 minutes. Take a million and one pictures, sit on their beds and lament that they are growing up too soon. Then eat your feelings. Then shift blame. "Wait a minute, I've done everything I could possibly do for this child. If he/she doesn't thrive in this new grade, it is pretty much his/her fault! That's right. I packed the bento box with just the right balance of carbs and protein. I provided hydration options. I went back to school clothing shopping at the mall with every other human being on the planet at the same time. What's wrong with this kid?" All of these emotions should be experienced and resolved prior to 3:00 p.m. when junior gets off the bus in the afternoon. This is a viable option. Not a good option, but a viable one.
2. Physically. Just go to school with them. You know you want to. Sit next to her. Point out when she could be doing better. Make sure the teacher notices how bright she is. Suggest appropriate friendships and then take the initiative to introduce her to them. Sit by her at lunch and continually stroke her hair. If she is in high school, she will be particularly pleased by this. This is a viable option. Not a good one, but a viable one.
3. Spiritually. Read this blog post I wrote last summer. Consider what the worst possible scenario really is and then let the God of the universe work in your heart to alleviate your fears and put a song of praise in your mouth. This is a viable option. A hard one, but a good one.
HAPPY FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL!!!
Today we went to a local martial arts studio to see a friend take her black belt certification test in taekwando. The test lasted two hours. That's two solid hours of swinging nun-chucks, kicks, punches, jumps, push-ups, sparring, proper form, jumping jacks, leg lifts and sweat. Lots of sweat. I don't know what I was expecting, but that wasn't it. It was all about breaking down the candidates physically and pushing them to their absolute limits to see how they respond. Earning a black belt was more about perseverance than perfection.
I couldn't help but compare the experience to the walk of faith for a Christian. Here are a few comparisons:
1. The instructors and the spectators were there to cheer the candidates on, to encourage them to go farther and try harder than they would otherwise, and to bear witness to their expected success. The church is meant to do the same. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 ESV, "Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing."
2. One of the criteria that the candidates were being judged on was attitude. They could do the entire two hour workout perfectly, but if they refused to bow in respect, respond appropriately to their instructors, and show a level of enthusiasm for what they were doing, they would fail. The same is true for the Christian. I Corinthians 13:1-3 ESV "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing."
3. The candidates were expected to yell back their responses to each of the instructors questions. We were in a small enclosed space and yelling seemed odd, but it was required. One of the instructors explained to the spectators that the reason they required the candidates to yell was that when you yell, it forces you to inhale deeply afterward, and breathing is one of the most important things for the candidates to do to keep them going. Rather than telling them to breathe over and over again, they train them to yell and allow the breathing to come naturally. Sometimes directions from a learned master don't seem to make sense, but we trust in our teacher who knows more than we do. It is the same for the Christian. Isaiah 55:8-9 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the .For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."
4. Perseverance and stamina over the long haul are key to success. There will be moments of feeling like you can't go on for every black belt candidate - probably more than one over the course of two hours, but continuing on regardless of feelings, trusting that a second/third/fourth wind will catch up to you if you just press on. The same is true of the Christian. James 1:12 ESV, "Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him."
A black belt is just a white belt that never gave up.
A saint is just a saved sinner that persevered in the faith.
Today I read this story about a young man in Belize whose life was radically changed by people loving him and encouraging him when his own parents abandoned him at the age of 12. I was moved by the way I saw God's hand in his life as he described the twists and turns that led him to the place of gratitude and hope where he is now. I can imagine that it took courage for him to write his story down and that there were probably times where he doubted whether he should or not. Sometimes something means an awful lot to us, but we have doubts about whether or not it would mean much to others. It is disconcerting to share our stories when others may discount their value or weight. Earlier this week I read two different accounts written by fathers who lost a child. One to a stillbirth and the other to a tragic car accident at age five. Both commented that they were hesitant to share their stories. They were concerned about somehow cheapening the weight of their experiences with their own clumsy words and even worse, laying them out there for others to criticize or judge - not just their writing, but their very motives for writing in the first place.
I am thankful that each of these people chose to tell their story. SO thankful. I am drawn to stories. True stories. Biographies, autobiographies, historical sketches, blogs, I want to read them all. To me, this is the stuff of life.
In Shauna Niequist's book, "Bittersweet," she writes this, "There are myths that we tend to believe about our stories: the first is that they're about us; they don't matter. But they're not only about us, and they matter more than ever right now. When we, any of us who have been transformed by Christ, tell our own stories, we're telling the story of who God is... My life is not a story about me. And your life is not a story about you. My life is a story about who God is and what he does in a human heart."
Let's be brave and tell His story about our lives - about what He has brought us through and what He is walking with us in today and where He seems to be leading us. And let's not be quick to judge when others share their stories. There are things to learn about God and what He is doing in the world bound up inside each and every person we meet - my bus driver, the woman I pass in the city each day holding a cardboard sign, your son's swim team coach, the mail carrier, my neighbor, the telemarketer. Perhaps if we saw each other that way, if we saw ourselves that way, we'd approach each other with a bit more grace and dignity, and we'd dive deeper into the the greatest story ever told.
After church today, I found myself frustrated with our son and about to launch into a diatribe on all the reasons he better "shape up or this is going to be one long summer." I then detailed my frustration to him - namely, the constant need to remind. Reminders to take care of the dogs, reminders to eat breakfast, reminders to make sure he has clean laundry, reminders to mind his manners, reminders to keep his attitude in check, reminders to brush teeth or use deodorant, reminders to limit his screen time. I told him that I felt like we'd been reminding him about the exact same things for 13 years and that I was about to lose my mind that he still needed to be reminded. Then I took a deep breath and looked at his frustrated and defeated face and found the grace (thank you, God) to say, "What's driving you crazy? That's what is driving me crazy, but anytime three people live in a two-bedroom apartment together and call each other family they are going to drive each other crazy. So what makes you frustrated with Daddy and I lately?" Surprise, surprise - His father and I have some pretty annoying habits as well! Turns out as much as we hate reminding him about things every day - he hates BEING REMINDED constantly! He also doesn't like that we tell him to limit his screen time, but it seems to him that we are constantly staring at a screen ourselves. There were others, but there's no reason to over-share, right?
We ended up having an impromptu family meeting and coming up with a game plan to eliminate the annoying reminder cycle (we will not remind him about things unless he asks for assistance in being reminded and he will suffer natural consequences and/or loss of time with friends if he lets something important slide) and to limit our screen time as a family this summer (Technology-free Tuesdays for the whole family and a set time limit for internet usage the rest of the week.) We have also posted a family calendar for the summer on the refrigerator and we have committed to finding a family hobby to enjoy together during all those hours that will be freed up by the lack of nagging and internet surfing.
Living together as family is not always easy (sometimes it is down right exhausting and painful), but God is faithful to provide ways to help us live together in peace and even joy when we commit to sticking it out as a family and not giving up on each other. What are some ways that you have found to make family life better, especially during the summer months?
Ephesians 6:1-4 “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”
No man is an island, but man is it ever tempting to try it out sometimes! There is nothing quite like having to suffer through the consequences of someone else's decision to make you want to bar the doors and windows and give the hermit-life a try. As long as we live on this planet, we will be effected by the decisions of others. Sometimes for good, other times not so much. The same decision-making capability and freedom that God granted you, he also gave to your family members, friends, boyfriend/girlfriend, co-worker, boss, pastor, political leader, and even strangers on the street.
No matter how hard we try, we cannot control those around us or insulate ourselves from their choices. So what can be done when we find ourselves tossed in the wake of someone else's decisions?
1. Take a deep breath. Maybe more than one.
2. Remember that you are responsible for your own actions and reactions, regardless of how you feel or who made you feel that way. One bad decision by someone else doesn't necessitate another from you.
3. Plead with God for a higher perspective and a compassionate heart. It may come right away, but it might not. Expect it. Wait for it.
4. Acknowledge the reality of the situation and the greater reality of God's sovereignty and His promise to work everything together for your good (Romans 8:28). Acknowledge it in prayer, in journaling, in a conversation with someone you trust. Keep acknowledging it until you find yourself dwelling more on what He can do than on what was done "to you."
5. Take one step in the right direction. A step of forgiveness, a step of faith, a step away, a step forward, whatever is the next right thing - do that. Don't wait too long.
Repeat as needed.
Bonus - #6. Thank God for your own freedom to make decisions and even to make mistakes and learn from them. Ask Him to help you vividly remember this moment when you next make a decision that will impact those around you.
I want to live life deeply and fully and to have grand adventures. So why is my default the couch? And why do my days of kayaking and camping, mission trips and girls' nights, road trips and exploring seem so far behind me? My inner life is deep and full, but not many would know it by my outward life. The reality is that if someone suggested an epic adventure (or even a mildly intriguing outing), I would say, "Yes! Let's do it!" in a heartbeat. But being the instigator of the out-of-the-ordinary has not been a role I've embraced for a long time.
Henry David Thoreau decided to head to the wilderness alone when he was feeling something similar - “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”
My best adventures, on the other hand, have happened in community, not alone. Rafting on the Colorado River with a friend from college, climbing Half Dome while living and working in Yosemite for a summer, the worst beach camping experience ever with my family, the best Redwoods camping experience ever with Grace Church family-campers, the most idyllic 2-day kayak trip ever on the Tennessee River with friends from Life Community, walking the streets of Antigua, Guatemala and sipping drinks rooftop with my brother, snorkeling in the Bahamas with my husband, snow sledding with my family near the north rim of the Grand Canyon, cliff diving on Lake Powell with my friends in high school, donkey basketball with my husband, exploring big cities with anyone who will explore with me, swimming in the Merced with friends from work, serving at an orphanage in Mexico with college friends and exploring more of Mexico with my high school Spanish club (speaking only Espanol for a solid week), a weekend in Vegas with a high school chum (getting dolled up, seeing a show, drinking fruity drinks by the pool, and eating at fancy restaurants), a week in Alaska serving alongside our friends who are missionaries there. Sucking the marrow out of life.
It has been too long and I'm hungry for some marrow! Perhaps it is time to be the instigator. Who's with me? Got any good ideas?
Carla Ritz. Proof positive that God uses cracked pots!