Monday, November 25, 2013

Schooled in Humility

This past week has been an interesting journey into humility. I really do want to have and exhibit the humbleness that is blatantly obvious in our Lord Jesus Christ as revealed in Scripture, but like every other member of the human race, pride, in all its many forms, is my default.

I wish I could tell you the story behind this week’s blog because I know it would be a very familiar one to many of you, but it might cause embarrassment or even hurt feelings for the other individual involved. So let’s just say that among the many normal accomplishments I achieve on a daily basis…getting out of bed in the morning, bringing a bag lunch instead of spending money I don’t have in my budget for lunch out, doing my work to the best of my ability, supporting and loving my family, etc. was one accomplishment that I was particularly proud of and excited to share. That is until I started to share it and this other person ruined my shining moment by stealing the spotlight.

This person wanted everyone around us know how big their contribution to “my” accomplishment was. Now, to be honest – this person was entirely correct. I didn’t do this on my own. If this thing had ended in failure, I alone would have been responsible, so I felt I deserved the applause when I succeeded. But the truth is that I had help. In what I thought should have been my moment of glory, I was angry that this person embarrassed me in front of everyone by pointing out that I really didn’t accomplish this thing at all – we did. My pride had reared its ugly head and instead of celebrating the triumph, I was stewing in anger at this other person.

It kind of reminds me a little of King Saul and David. Saul was the leader of God’s people and bore the heavy responsibility of that position. At the moment of what should have been one of his most glorious accomplishments, he became angry when those celebrating with him pointed out that he didn’t do this great thing on his own. In fact, he had a lot of help. (As they danced, they sang: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.” 1 Samuel 18:7) His pride got the better of him again and he hated David. Not for any wrong David had done, but because Saul had to share “his” moment with someone else.

No one really enjoys being schooled in humility, but I am grateful to have received it. The truth is that I do nothing on my own. God is my strength, my breath, my guide, and my path. “My” accomplishments are His accomplishments in and through me. If there was one Person who deserved the praise and glory of that moment last week, it was God and both I and the other person missed that completely. From here on out, If glory is to be given, I hope to do a better job of making sure it given to the One who deserves all glory and praise – Jesus!

May God bless you all with a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Finding Myself in the Story

For the first time in 4-1/2 years, I didn’t post on my blog last week. Today I want to share with you why. Last Monday morning, as I started my prayer time, something very bad happened. As I was praying for clarity of purpose in my life, I was suddenly beset with a crushing sadness and began sobbing. I was devastated and inconsolable because I wanted to be with Jesus. I was tired of trying to come up with goals to work towards in life when all I really wanted was to leave this world behind and be in the arms of Jesus. Yes I know how bad that sounds. And yes, I know that life is a precious gift from God and should be received and lived out in profound gratitude and joy. But what I know and what I feel doesn’t always agree.

A long time ago, before I gave my life to Christ, God gave me a dream. In the dream Jesus held me in his arms as I cried out all of my pain, my shame, and my sin. For the first time, in his embrace, I knew joy and security. In his arms I was overwhelmed with sensations of perfect love, pure peace, absolute grace and deep satisfaction. The pain and loneliness I experienced as I woke from the dream is indescribable. I can tell you that there exists no greater emptiness than being in God’s embrace one moment and in the next, not. That emptiness and the desire to be with God was the root of my despair on Monday.

In keeping with his incredible mercy and grace, even while I wallowed in my own selfish misery, God carried me through the day and this past week in triumph. Sometimes in life, the only prayer we can utter is “Jesus, I need you.” And I prayed it over and over again, all day long. By the next morning, I had finally stopped crying and after sharing in God’s Word and in prayer with close friends, God began to give me a peace. I didn’t have any answers, no resolution to my lack of motivation or sense of purpose, but I did have peace. As the week continued, I felt strong again—happy even, for the most part. Still I had no answers, but each new day became an exercise in waiting and total dependence on the Lord.

This morning, still searching for clarity of purpose, I again prayed, “What is my goal in life? What is my purpose?” As if giving me the answer, God brought to mind a favorite bible story—Jesus travels across the lake to the region of Gerasenes where he heals a demon-possessed man. As Jesus is getting back in the boat to leave, the man begs to go with Jesus but Jesus says no. Instead, he tells the man to go home and tell his people how much the Lord has done for him. The man did as Jesus commanded and went back to his people in the ten towns known as the Decapolis and told them how Jesus had healed and saved him and the people were amazed and believed. (Mark 5:1-20)

It’s very easy for me to identify with the “formally” demon-possessed man wanting to go with Jesus—to be in his presence, sit at his feet and hear his voice speak words of truth and grace. To be with the one who saved him, who healed him. To be in God’s embrace. But it was not to be—at least not then. With a renewed sense of purpose, this man went back to his home and shared the story of how Jesus saved and changed his life and the Spirit used that man’s bold honesty and changed-life to bring countless others into a grace-filled, life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ.

This is not the first time God has given me that answer. It seems that occasionally, I forget that telling people about Jesus and what he’s done in my heart and my life is my purpose in life. God gave me a testimony to share and that’s why I write. I wonder if that man from Gerasenes occasionally went back to the graveyard by the lake where Jesus found and healed him. Did he longingly look out over the sea, wishing he could be in Galilee with Jesus? Were there days when he wondered why Jesus left him behind?  Probably. That’s what makes God’s Word so real and personal. It’s the story of everyday people like you and me and the God who loves them and us.

Where do you find yourself in God’s story?

Monday, November 4, 2013

Hearing Difficulties

 One of the few real memories I l have from my early childhood is of my mom constantly yelling at me because she told me to do something and I hadn’t yet done it. Honestly, I didn’t hear her say it—that’s why I didn’t do it. Now if you’re a parent or have any kind of close relationship with a 7-8 year old child, the first words that probably came to your mind were “selective hearing.” After all, children and husbands are famous for that! You can’t blame my mother for thinking the very same thing. It frustrated her to no end to tell me to get my shoes on and find out 15 minutes later, as she is toting her purse, the diaper bag, and my very energetic toddler brother, that I never moved from the couch and had no idea where my shoes were.

After many, many months (she really was a very patient woman) of hearing over and over again, “I never heard you say…” Mom took me a specialist to get my ears check. Mostly out of concern, but there was a small part of her just waiting to prove her “selective hearing” theory. What we found out was that I was in fact losing my hearing due to scar tissue from numerous past ear infections and constant fluid in my ears because they don’t drain properly. Poor mom. Here she was secretly sure the doctor was going to confirm her theory and hearing that she was in fact wrong. He told her that if she had waited another month or two, that I would have been deaf for life. They put two ear tubes in each ear and a few months later and I was hearing a lot better. I still have some hearing loss, but now I say to mom, “I hear sound coming from your mouth, I just can’t distinguish the words.”  That’s usually when we’re in a noisy room and I can’t see her mouth to connect the sound to the sight of the words forming on her lips. To complicate my hearing difficulties, I also suffer from tinnitus.
One of the things I’m learning during this prayer challenge is how much this physical hearing issue I’ve had to deal with all my life is like my prayer life these last several years. I prayed. I tried to hear God’s voice and sometimes I have. But more and more these last few years, as God became more silent, I gave up trying. That’s how my hearing difficulty seemed to me as a child all those years ago—like mom was getting more and more silent. She stopped calling to me. I would have gone to get my shoes and put them on if she had said something…but she didn’t. Because (and here’s some logic for you) if she had, I would have heard it!
But these last few weeks, I have been realizing that pray is more like how I deal with my hearing difficulties today. I know Mom is talking to me. I hear the evidence of sound and when I don’t, I don’t assume that she didn’t say what she said she said (say that three times fast). Sometimes I have to put all of my concentration on hearing the sounds that come from her mouth as I read her lips and body language—especially when there is a lot of noise around us and if it’s too noisy, I just smile and enjoy her company until we get somewhere I can hear her words again. Because of the tinnitus, there is always some level of noise I have to ignore and listen past and it’s become easier with practice. I’ve found that I only really hear it now when I let myself think about it.

I know that God is talking to me. The peace in my heart, even in the silence is evidence of it. So I will no longer assume he isn’t talking. I just need to learn to hear him as I learned to hear my mom. I will need to concentrate on the sound of his voice as I see the words of his mouth (found in the Bible) and see the expression of his sentiment in his body (pray with and seek advice from my trusted brothers and sisters in Christ) to understand what he is saying to me. Like with the tinnitus, I have to ignore my own selfishness and sinfulness and listen past them to hear God’s voice. And sometimes the world around me is so noisy with temptation and tragedy—I might hear God’s voice but his words will remain unclear and that’s okay. In those moments, I can lean into him and, amidst the temporary chaos, relax as I simply enjoy the pleasure of his company.