Monday, March 29, 2010

Being instead of doing

It is so easy in life's hustle and bustle to forget God.  There may have been a time years ago when one could easily go somewhere quiet and think, but those places are more and more difficult to find.  Even in my own home, to escape the ever-present television, I have to go into my bedroom and shut the door.  And the more often I am drawn there, to the quiet table with my Bible and my computer and a window overlooking the park, the more often I WANT to go there.

That's the thing nobody ever told me about devotional time, also known as quiet time with God.  As a Christian, you are supposed to spend daily time reading the Bible.  As Lysa TerKeurst has pointed out in her excellent blog, we often regard it as a "supposed to" or a "should," which sadly puts it in the same category as making your bed, brushing your teeth, doing the dishes, etc. - just another item on the daily "to do" list. (Which for moms can be an INCREDIBLY long list - grocery shop, do laundry, make supper, read with the kids, supervise homework, etc.)

What nobody ever tells you - what you must discover for yourself through doing - is that this is the only "should" that will actually refresh you, satisfy your hunger, make you long for more - as long as you don't treat it as a "have to."  When I approach this with the right attitude, it feels a lot more like having coffee or lunch with friends.  I approach it with excitement, and when I leave, I can hardly wait to do it again.

Two books have really helped me on this journey to developing the right mindset.  Louie Giglio's excellent book, The Air I Breathe: Worship as a Way of Life, is an excellent reminder that all of life should be about worship - that in fact it IS all about worship.  Whether we worship God, athletes, our schedules, our children, our money, or something else, we are made for worship.  God doesn't wait silently in the church all week for us to come back and see Him again on Sunday.  He created us with a gap that, despite all of our other efforts, is only filled when we come to Him in worship.

The other book is called The Way of the Heart by Henri J.M Nouwen.  I had heard of Nouwen before, mostly in sermons, but had never read him.  The book explores solitude, silence and prayer as ways to grow closer to the Father.  Reading it makes me long to spend MORE time away - time parked next to the lake, or alone by a river, or even alone in my bedroom - sitting at Jesus' feet, thinking about all He has done for me and worshipping Him.

We are surrounded by noise and voices telling us to "Do this!  Do that!  Go there!"  But to grow as Christians, sometimes we must learn to stop doing and simply to be alone with God, seek His will, and listen to His voice.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Beauty from Ashes

A favorite T-shirt of mine reads, "NOTHING you do for a child is ever wasted."  A friend of mine says this isn't true, that there are thousands of things parents can do for their children that can turn out to be a total waste of time.  Nevertheless, I love the idea that all those little things can make an impact and change a life.

How comforting to know that we serve a God who promises that none of our experiences, none of our pain is wasted, so long as we submit ourselves to Him.  As a Christian, I cling to the promise of Romans 8:28 - that God works in all things for the good of those who love Him.  And Isaiah 61:3 - that He will exchange the ashes of our life for a crown of beauty.  I believe that no experience, no occurrence, nothing that happens to me in this life is a wasted experience, that He will use it all to help me minister to and comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:4).

This certainty brings me peace and hope.  But frankly, sometimes I find it scary.  Especially in light of some of the truly terrible experiences in my life.

Years ago when my first husband left me for another woman, my life was a total shambles.  Divorce, bankruptcy, pain, isolation, depression.  How can the Lord use that to bless others, other than lifting me up as a terrible example?  I am not naive enough to believe that I did not help to kill that marriage - the Lord has been far too frank with me for that.  And He uses those gentle, loving reminders to make me a much more loving wife to my husband today.

And what about the most terrible tragedy of my life - my sister's violent death at the hands of her son three years ago?  It chills me to think that I might someday be called upon to minister to another family dealing with the murder of a loved one.  The only way I could EVER do this is through His grace and mercy and power.  And even then it would be very difficult.  The very thought breaks my heart.

I know that every gift and talent He gives us can be used to His glory.  But for years now, I've wondered if He has any plans for my writing abilities.  Certainly I found these most helpful and greatly praised during my years in school and in the secretarial field.  But they've been underused in other areas of life until recently.

Encouraged by the wisdom of Lysa TerKeurst and Jen Hatmaker, I've been supplementing my Bible study time with journaling lately, and the more I write, the more I want to.  But I yearn to be able to develop this gift within a godly ministry so that He can use it not for my glory, but for His.  I want my words to be able to connect with women, to ring true in their lives, to help them see more clearly our amazing Lord, to learn something more about His love and faithfulness and promises.

That's why I've been praying about a conference He has brought to mind lately - the She Speaks Conference offered by Proverbs 31 Ministries.  To spend a weekend in the company of godly women engaged in ministry, sharing their wisdom and allowing God to work in my life, would be such a blessing.  Though the conference is geared toward speakers, it has a writers' track as well, and that's the one my heart longs to attend.

The desire is there, but the finances are not.  So unless the Lord sees fit to pave the way through a scholarship (such as the one offered by Lysa TerKeurst) or other unexpected graces, I will not be able to attend this summer.  But I will continue to pray for a way to get there.  And in the meantime, I'll ask Him to develop my gifts (and, more importantly, my heart) so that He can use my talents AND my tragedies to advance His kingdom.

May His glorious name be praised!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Praising Him in the storms of life

"Where seldom is heard a discouraging word..." - Home on the Range

God spoke to me this afternoon as I was reading the first chapter of Job.  Here is a man who had everything - seven sons, three daughters, lots of cattle and sheep and camels - this means little to this non-farm girl, but in Biblespeak it means he was very wealthy.

Then Satan slithered over and told God that Job was a fair-weather friend who only loved Him because of all His blessings.  So God gave Satan permission to take everything Job had, so long as he did not harm Job himself.  And then, ka-blam!  Calamity struck!  Armies invaded, a tornado hit, lightning struck, and all of Job's children and possessions were dead and gone.

What did Job do next?  He cried, he swore, he raised his fists and yelled at God...

What?  No, he did none of those things.  The Bible says he mourned (tearing his clothes, shaving his head) and then WORSHIPPED God.  "I brought nothing with me into this world, and I can take nothing with me when I die.  Everything I have comes from God, and now He has taken it away.  May His name be praised!"

And the Word further tells us that "in all of this Job did not sin or blame God."

Obviously Job was a man whose love for God went far, far beyond the blessings He had given him.  I mean, God allows Satan to take away all he has, and he praises Him instead of blaming Him?  That would not be MY first reaction!

Okay, let's be honest.  I complain when I misplace something or the dishwasher breaks or the kids argue with me or minor inconveniences get in my way.  I argue with God when He doesn't answer my prayers the way I want.  And when calamity strikes, when I am overwhelmed or griefstricken and simply don't understand, I don't praise...I yell.  I go into my prayer closet (or the car - since I spend so much time driving kids around) and I raise my voice and say, "I don't understand!  Why?  Where were You?  Where ARE You?  Are You still in charge?  I need to hear from you!"

Job never DID hear why all this happened to him...not in chapter 1 and not by the end of chapter 42.  Yet he still praised God, worshipped Him, acknowledged Him as sovereign.  I want to be like Job when I grow up...if I ever do grow up.

Lord, I believe, but help my unbelief.  Help me to trust in you so firmly and fervently that even life's storms and calamities cannot shake my belief that You love me, that You are here, and that You are in control.  Help me model this unshakeable faith to my children, that all future generations of my family may glorify Your name.  Amen.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Strength for the Battle: Devotional methods

Yesterday I shared about my struggles with holding regular devotions, that daily time with God that equips us for life's daily battles.  I often tell myself I don't have time to sit at Jesus' feet, since our mornings are so hectic (I really need to get a better morning plan!).

But I was reminded as I took the time this morning of something a friend once told me: Make the time for God, and then watch as He makes the rest of the day work out, so that you are rewarded for the time you spend with Him.  For the second time this week, as I spent what surely seemed like 30 minutes in the Word, I found that only 10-15 minutes actually passed on my clocks, and I came away refreshed and not as harried.

My time with God tends to follow a pattern.  I always start out with a prayer, asking Him to clear my mind and speak to my heart, to meet me where I am.  Then I study the Scripture, reflect on what it says, and journal what I learn or what I feel Him telling me.

As for the Scripture time, I've never been one to use one of those very brief (200-word) devotionals, simply because the time is so short I don't really feel I've been in His actual presence.  I know those work well for many people, but in my own life, it always feels like Gospel Light - only a bit of substance, with  my mind undiverted long enough to make a difference.

I've used other helps from time to time, but these days my Bible reading tends to be one of two methods.  Often I'll do as Lysa TerKeurst does and read a chapter or two of Scripture, asking God to give me a special verse to cling to that day as His way of speaking to me.  This allows me to cover more Scripture in less time, yet still leaves me knowing I've been in His presence and giving me something to carry with me through the day.  Whether I spend few or many minutes exploring His Word, I leave this oasis refreshed and ready to pursue life with the Living God.

Other days, when I'm in the mood for in-depth study or have more time, I'll use the five-step method detailed by Ann Graham Lotz in God's Story. It takes time, but the results are intensely personal and well worth the time invested.

  1. Look in God's Word - Read the Scripture passage.
  2. List the facts - What does it say? Make a verse-by-verse list of the most outstanding, obvious facts, not details. Who is speaking? On what/where/why? Don't paraphrase; use actual words from the passage.
  3. Learn the lessons - What does the passage mean? Identify a spiritual lesson to learn from each fact. Is there a command to obey, a warning to heed, a promise to claim, an example to follow?
  4. Listen to His voice - What does it mean to me? Take the lessons and put them in the form of a question I can ask myself or others. Ask God to communicate to me personally through His word.
  5. Live in response - What is God telling/asking me? How will I respond? Write what I will do in response to God's message, and date the note as a journal and also to ensure followthrough.

Ultimately it's not the method we choose, nor the time of day, but the simple fact that we pause in our busy lives to listen to the Lord that will make the difference.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Strength for the Battle: Devotions

As a child (and, okay, as an adult) I loved the Nintendo 64 game Zelda.  As Link, the intrepid adventurer, pursued his quest to find Zelda, his lifeblood would be chinked away bit by bit by the monsters and pests and obstacles he encountered on the way.  But every now and then he could enter a cave and find a certain fairy who would fill him up again, pouring powerful lifeblood into the little hearts at the bottom of the screen that represented his available life.  He would leave the cave filled up, healthy and ready to resume the battle.

As a Christian, when I'm feeling drained from the struggle, I know what I need: not a fairy with a magic wand, but time spent sitting at Jesus' feet - what we Christians call devotions.

I've been a Christian since I was 13 years old.  And I've known since at least age 20 that you don't progress much in the Christian walk without a regular devotional time - a daily time reading God's Word and praying.  So how is it that, at the age of 48, I STILL struggle with having a faithful daily devotional time?  What am I waiting for...maturity?

My sister-in-law posted a great reminder on her Facebook page yesterday, a quote from Watchman Nee: "We may delay the growth of the life of God's Son in us, but we have no way of accelerating it. Because of this, it is of utmost importance that we accept God's ordering of circumstances in our lives, for it is by these circumstances that we receive the disciplines we need from the Holy Spirit to strengthen us as we grow."

Over the years I have heard so many great, yet conflicting, pieces of advice about devotions: They should be in the morning, to equip you for the day - but if you can't fit them into the morning, anytime will do.  All you need is a few minutes - no, you need at least 30 minutes.  A great supplemental or devotional book will help - vs. no, you only need the Bible.  You can do them anywhere - but you should pick a special spot and do them there every day.  My evil twin (my sin nature) says my devotions aren't consistent because of all this conflicting advice, but the Holy Spirit calls this excuse total hogwash.

I've found some great tools and some great words of wisdom from three different sources.  I love the refreshing take on Bible study found in Lysa TerKeust's book Becoming More Than a Good Bible Study Girl.  Lysa is a member of the Proverbs 31 Team.  I love her blog, and highly recommend her article "Don't Read Your Bible," as well as just about everything else she's ever written.  She's a woman who has suffered much in her life and loves the Lord tenderly.

Jen Hatmaker is another Christian author who refreshes me.  Her Bible study books are among the most humorous I've ever read, and she makes no pretensions about having a polished life, which makes me feel right at home.  Her excellent book A Modern Girl's Guide to Bible Study is a great source of suggestions for getting the most out of your personal devotional time.

I believe the Lord will bless every minute we spend sitting at His feet, whether it's in the morning, noon or night, whether it's in a quiet corner at home or a quiet corner at McDonald's, whether we use only His Word or add some special books or helps.  He will take every opportunity we give Him to pour His Word and His wisdom into our noisy, hectic lives.  And we will be all the better for it.

Monday, March 8, 2010

To Save a Life - the movie

This weekend I took my 13-year-old daughter and one of her friends to see the new movie, "To Save A Life." I wasn't sure what to expect.

I had read a few reviews on Christian websites and had seen enough posts elsewhere to know that the movie portrays teen situations most of us hope our kids avoid - including swearing, drinking, parties, cutting, sex, isolation and suicide. I'd also observed mixed comments from Christians. Some decried the movie for portraying these things, saying they thought they were bringing their children to a clean (by which I presume they meant G-rated) movie. Others were very disappointed that the movie lacked a clear message about the gospel, how Jesus saves us.

I very much enjoyed "To Save A Life." I had feared the movie would present the aforementioned negatives, counter with an "include everyone" message, and leave God out of the picture entirely. This did not happen. The movie realistically portrayed a church and its youth group, including flaws, but also clearly pointed out the value of life, encouraging us to reach out to others in love and bring them to the Lord, knowing how much He loves us all. We were left with a message of hope.

Some say that the movie threw in too much - too many situations, trying to address them all, and that the acting was a bit weak. I agree that not all of the characters were well-drawn, and it sometimes seemed that the main character would become overwhelmed with all that was thrown at him. But the Christian life is like that. Often we believe our lives will get better when we start walking with God, that our paths will become smoother. The truth is that often this is when the bottom drops out and everything goes wrong. So I appreciated the fact that the movie didn't shy away from this.

There was also a clear message about reaching out to the lonely, the outcast, the isolated. We are literally surrounded with people who are hurting. Some of them seek solace in the partying life; others become more and more alone. There's probably not a person walking on this planet who has not at one time or another felt lonely, abandoned, outcast, unloved. It's our job and our privilege to reach out and help them connect with us and with the One Who loves them more than anyone else can, and I loved the way this movie underscored that point.

There is much to dislike in the films Hollywood continually tries to sell us. "To Save a Life" is an opportunity to vote with our wallets and our attendance for those filmmakers who give us what we say we want - realistic yet uplifting portrayals of lives faithfully lived, seeking the Lord's guidance as the storms of life rage around us. I intend to see this movie again, with my 11-year-old daughter at my side, and I encourage others to do the same.