Monday, April 11, 2011

The Answer is "No"

"It is a trap for a man to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider his vows." (Proverbs 20:25).
I tend to overcommit. I am a people-pleaser by nature, a "yes-woman" who likes to think she can do everything. And be everything to everybody. And so I rashly say "yes" far too often than I should. Without first considering whether I will be able to honor that commitment. Without praying about it and seeking God's will.

I've been here too many times in my life. Full of zeal for the idea of a new project with no realistic evaluation of my ability to execute that new project. And that other new project. And the project right over here. And just one more new project. Overcommitment is the pattern of my life. And the root of it is approval-seeking.

But, oh, how I long to be a servant of Christ! Dedicated to His work. Using my talents wisely. Living in the center of His will. Fulfilling His plan for my life. But I can't accomplish this and be a people-pleaser. I cannot serve two masters.
"For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ." (Galatians 1:10).
To be a servant of Christ, I must recognize the unique talents, disposition, and desire God has given to me. And then I need to discern how best to serve Him with that foundation. In Philippians, Paul prays "it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more with knowledge and all discernment so that you may approve what is excellent...." (Philippians 1:9-10). My ESV Study Bible explains: "Paul's prayer is that . . . the Philippians' love would find expression in wise actions that would truly benefit others and glorify God . . . . to affirm and practice what is excellent."

I want to practice what is excellent. I want to benefit others and glorify God. I want to be wise - not rash - in my commitment decisions. And so that is my prayer these days, as I further define my role in my family and my calling in this world.

I do know that my God-given desire is to go deep with every task -- to research, plan, perfect, modify, consider, edit, learn, focus . . . and then execute. I am one of those people who wants to dig into the subject matter -- to seek expertise in each task. (For those of you who've seen my garden-planner 3-ring binder complete with charts, graphs, outlines, and diagrams -- you know what I mean. Pun intended.) God did not create me to be a generalist - a jack of all trades and master of none. So, attaching myself to too many projects just isn't the way I can benefit others and glorify God. I need to be selective to best use what God's given me. Yep, the overcommitment has got to go.

So the next time you see me, help me to practice that little word that is so foreign to me . . . . . "No." And please understand when I tell you, "I just can't commit to that today."

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Control

As much as we like to think we can exert control over our lives, the truth is that the Lord has it all. We can be sitting in church worshiping with our families one moment... and the next moment be taken home to be with Jesus. So, why do we try to control every minute of our lives when instead we should be savoring every minute of our lives? Cherishing each minute as if it were the last.

Heavenly Father, take away my desire for control. Pry it from my hands, oh Lord. I want you to wrestle this from me so that I can be free. I want to put my whole trust in You. Because I know that You are the true owner of my life. I just pretend that I can have a say in it. Lord, I don't need to create a false sense of security for myself here on earth. Because in You I am secure for eternity. Amen.

"I know, O LORD, that a man’s life is not his own;
it is not for man to direct his steps.
Correct me, LORD, but only in due measure." (Jeremiah 10:23-24).

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Bridging the Gap

"A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?" (Robert Browning, Andrea del Sarto, 1855)

Growing up, this was my favorite motivational quote. (I was an English/Philosophy major after all.) This quote inspired me to dream big, to reach beyond my abilities, to aspire to be the best. As an impressionable young woman who thought she could conquer the world, I read Browning's words to mean that I should always strive to be more than I am -- or what's a heaven (the ultimate aspiration) for?

And strive I did. To excel in high school so that I could go to the college of my choice. To double-major/double-minor in college so that I could get into a top-tier law school. To make stellar grades in law school so that I could land the perfect job. To be the best in my field so that I could be a Supreme Court justice. Yep. I'm embarrassed to admit it now -- but I had a life plan at the ripe old age of 8. And it all rested on reaching for more. Striving for one achievement after another with each goal a little loftier than the one before. Figuratively, with "heaven" as the paramount goal.

Oh, what a metaphor for my spiritual life for the last 35 years! Although I've always known that my salvation wasn't dependent upon my efforts, I haven't always acted as if I believed that Truth. How often have I unintentionally sought God's favor by striving to be the best student, daughter, church-attender, volunteer, servant, mother, wife, friend, Bible-study teacher, scout leader, homeroom mom, neighbor . . . Christian? Oh my, how frequent are my subconscious efforts to earn God's love.

But I know the Truth: He loves me just as I am -- a failing sinner. I will never be good enough on my own, and that's why He sent His Son to be good enough for me. That's what a heaven is for. Because I can reach all I want for God, but I can't grasp Him without Jesus. My reach will always exceed my grasp.

So this morning, God has revealed a whole new meaning to my favorite quote. When my reach exceeds my grasp, I can't bridge the gap with more ambition and striving. I must fill the gap with Jesus. Not only with respect to my salvation, but in all of my day-to-day struggles. When my reach exceeds my grasp, God wants me to look to Him for strength. Not to my own efforts. In fact, He created me so that my reach will exceed my grasp. So that I will run to Him when I inevitably fail. And that is what a heaven's for.
"'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Devoted Things

"You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away the devoted things from among you." Joshua 7:13.

That verse jumped out of my Bible and hit me between the eyes this morning during our Sunday School study of Joshua. And I couldn't stop thinking about it. It was if God was speaking directly to me: "Precious child, what devoted things are you holding on to that are thwarting My power from working for you and through you?"

To truly grasp the magnitude of this verse, we need a little Biblical context. I have to admit that I've never studied Joshua before now. Let's be honest, I've probably never read it before now. But the context of the verse makes all the difference in its significance (imagine that!). So hang with me - here's what bring us to Chapter 7 , verse 13.

The book of Joshua recounts Israel's capture and settlement of the land of Canaan - the Promised Land. After deliverance from bondage and then forty years of wandering, Israel is finally poised at the beginning of Joshua to claim the land God had promised so long ago to Abraham and his descendants. (Because that's just who God is -- He always keeps His promises.) So, the Lord leads the Israelites into battle with the indigenous peoples of Canaan, promising that He will "without fail drive their enemies out from before them." (Joshua 3:10.)

The Lord makes clear in Joshua that He is ready to "do wonders" in Israel's conquest of the Promised Land (Joshua 3:5). He will empower them to drive out enemies far more numerous and mightier. (Deuteronomy 7:1). So that "all the peoples of the earth [will] know that the hand of the Lord is mighty" and will have true faith in Him -- "that you may fear the Lord your God forever." (Joshua 4:24).

And, true to His word, God's strength was apparent from the very moment that the Israelites stepped foot into the land of milk and honey -- He cut off the waters of the Jordan so that they could pass over to Canaan on dry ground. A little preview of the awesomeness that was to come in battle. Forty years to the day after He parted the Red Sea. (Joshua 4:19). Do you think God wants us to know that there are no accidents? There can be no doubt that He has dominion over every detail, down to the very hour and minute. "The sea looked and fled; Jordan turned back." (Psalm 114:3).

Now you'd think that after witnessing such a miracle, the people of Israel would model faithful obedience, with no desire to sin. But that was not the case (as it never is with any of us fallen people). Despite the Lord's clear instructions to set aside for the Lord's treasury certain spoils of war from their battles, i.e., "devoted things," "the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things" by taking them and "putting them among their own belongings." (Joshua 7:1, 11).

Which brings us to the verse at hand: "Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow; for thus says the Lord, God of Israel, 'There are devoted things in your midst, O Israel. You cannot stand before your enemies until you take the devoted things from among you.'" (Joshua 7:13). There are devoted things in our midst. Devoted things that belong to God. Devoted things that were never meant to be ours. Devoted things that we sinfully hold onto. And the consequences of holding onto that sin? Of not removing those devoted things from among us? Of not consecrating ourselves for tomorrow? We "cannot stand before our enemies." We thwart God's power working through us. We miss out on His mightiness. And we cannot stand.

So, are there devoted things in your midst? Do you need to consecrate yourselves for tomorrow? I know I do.


Monday, January 17, 2011

A Surprise Blessing

"Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory!" (Ephesians 3:20-21).

Our God is full of surprises. Without a doubt He keeps His promises, but He also delights in showering us with unexpected blessings. Like the blessing of an incredibly, miraculously easy medical procedure this morning with our first daughter. All of our past horrible experiences with this test and worst fears for this round -- well, God knew that today was to be different.

And why, again, do I doubt Him? Why, again, do I assume the worst-case scenario rather than trusting that my God can do anything? We still have some difficult decisions to make about surgery for our daughter, but I have a strange peace about it, knowing that the Lord is in control.

So, we are confident and ready for test number two with daughter number two tomorrow. And "in the morning, Lord, I will lay my requests before you and wait expectantly." (Psalm 5:3). Because, I trust - I know - that "You do awesome things that we do not expect." (Isaiah 64:3).

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Rest.

God designed the seventh day of the week - Sunday - to be a day of rest. And oh, how I need it today.
So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:11-12).
My girls are scheduled tomorrow and Tuesday for medical tests that have me pretty anxious. And when I get anxious, I work myself into a frenzy - doing, fretting, controlling, going- when I know good and well that what I need to do is rest.

Rest in the Lord, and give His Word the opportunity to pierce my soul and spirit. Because when I'm doing and fretting and controlling and going . . . I'm not giving Him a chance. The passage above from Hebrews speaks so clearly to me: I must rest from my works; I must strive to enter His rest because it will not come naturally; and in that rest, God's Truth will pierce to my very core.

God promises rest throughout his Word. In Second Chronicles, "all Judah . . . had sought him with their whole desire, and he was found by them, and the LORD gave them rest all around." (2 Chronicles 15:15). Oh, Lord, I need rest all around. In 1 Kings, God fulfills His promise of rest: "Praise be to the LORD, who has given rest to his people Israel just as he promised. Not one word has failed of all the good promises he gave through his servant Moses. (1 Kings 8:56). Oh, Lord, give me the promise of rest. And again in Isaiah, "like cattle that go down to the plain, they were given rest by the Spirit of the LORD." Isaiah 53:14. Oh, Lord, I crave rest from your Spirit.

I can feel Jesus begging me: "Come to me, Laura, you are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your soul." (Matthew 11:28-29). I can only find rest by trusting Him. By giving over my burdens to Him. And in that rest, He promises that "Christ's power will rest on me." (2 Corinthians 12:9).

So, today, I will be intentional about resting. I will not be in a frenzy. I will be silent so that I can hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. I will be still so that God's Word has a chance to speak Truth to my soul.

Today, "for God alone my soul rests in silence." (Psalms 62:1).

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Joy in Obedience

"You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from Him who calls you." Galatians 5:7-8.

Yep. I had a good run there, Lord. It all started a few years ago, during a not-so-great-run, when You stripped our family bare. Broken, I finally surrendered. I gave up and obeyed. I finally let Your will be done. And what immeasurable blessing You bestowed on our family on the other side of that obedience.

Wow, I really had no idea what You could do with my life if I just let go and let You. You wrapped it up with a bow on top: a perfect new home in South Carolina, a
perfect job for Adam and a perfect half-job for me, a perfect church, a perfect community, a perfect group of believers to uplift us, and so much more. You gave me far more than I thought possible -- and we found a happiness I never thought I deserved.

I learned during that time that it is certainly easier for me to continue in
obedience while I am still enjoying the fruits of past obedience. And while we basked in the glow of your overwhelming blessings, it was a good run.

Then I got comfortable. The brokenness had been restored. Memories of Your redemption quickly faded. Blessings were taken for granted. I began to forget that You were the One responsible. And I got selfish. Isn't it so easy to become selfish and complacent when things are going well? That's usually when I am most at risk of letting my obedience and trust slip.

So here I am, Lord. Not running so well these days. It seems that somehow along the way, I thought it might be a little more fun for me to be in charge. And I gave in to sin. Not dramatically or deliberately -- I didn't just up and decide to stop obeying You one day. Nope, I slowly and quite unintentionally tip-toed into repetitive disobedience. Little by little, I gave into my sinful desires, and little by little, my own voice began to squelch the voice of the Holy Spirit.

Isn't that just how Satan operates? Just as you get comfortable with what the Lord has given you, Satan begins to prowl. He looks for a point of entry and then slowly, almost imperceptibly, he chips away at your relationship with the Lord. Until one morning, you wake up and realize that you feel very distant from the God you love. And you see that you've been pursuing the things of this world, and that they aren't filling you up at all. In fact, they are making you feel emptier with each passing day.

Empty and trapped. Giving in to sin isn't freedom because it will never fulfill you. Sin won't satisfy you -- it only makes you hungrier for more. And so your desire for sin multiplies until you are trapped in the cycle of wanting more and more and more to fill up that ever-increasing hole inside of you. That God-shaped hole that only Jesus can fill.

And that, my friends, is why when God speaks of sin, He uses words like "slave" (Romans 6) and "prisoner" (Luke 4:18, God's Word Translation). Oh Satan is deceptive -- he can easily convince you that Godly obedience is confining and rigid, while self-gratification is freeing and exhilarating. While it may be true that "when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness . . . . [here's the kicker,] what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed?" (Romans 6:20-21). That's right. Sin doesn't bear fruit. It just consumes it.

That's not what God intended for us. We "were called to freedom, sisters -- not [to] use that freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love [to] serve one another." (Galatians 5:13). I must remind myself - daily, hourly, minute by minute - that there is freedom and joy in obedience to God. Remember the hymn: "Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey." (Hymn by John H. Sammis, 1887).

For some strange reason, I have convinced myself that it is way more fun to do it my way. It all comes down selfishness and, frankly, unbelief. I don't believe that God will keep His promises. I think I can do better when I'm at the wheel. So I must constantly ask myself, what Gospel Truth am I not believing because I have fallen prey to Satan's lies that I will be happier indulging myself? Can't you just hear God's reply: "[w]ho hindered you from obeying the Truth? This persuasion is not from Him who calls you." (Galatians 5:7-8).

I will choose to believe His Truth that there is joy in obedience. (Job 36:11; Psalm 119:14-16; 2 Corinthians 3:17). I will choose to believe His Truth that there are blessings within the boundaries that God has established for my life. (Psalm 16:6). I will choose to believe His Truth that He wants me not only to have life, but to have it abundantly. (John 10:10). But, oh, isn't it a struggle to deny ourselves, take up the cross daily, and follow Him? (Luke 9:23). And yet, I will choose to believe:
that He will sprinkle clean water on me, and I shall be clean from all my uncleannesses, and from all my idols He will cleanse me. And He will give me a new heart, and a new spirit He will put within me. And He will remove the heart of stone from my flesh and give me a heart of flesh. And He will put His Spirit within me, and cause me to walk in His statutes and be careful to obey His rules.
(Ezekiel 36:25-27). Yep, He knows I don't have the capacity to even halfway obey Him. And so He promises to carry me down that road as well.

Great is His faithfulness. Morning by morning, new mercies I see. He keeps His promises. Including the most important Truth of all -- no matter how hard I try, or how well I obey, I will never be good enough to justify my own salvation. And that's because the measure of my obedience can't and won't save me. Jesus saved me. "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Thank
goodness my eternal salvation doesn't depend on my obedience (or, ahem, lack thereof) . But it does bring about joy. Full, satisfying joy -- the kind that can only come from Christ.
If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
(John 15:10-11).