Rest

The baby wiggled uncomfortably in my arms, whining with his eyes closed. Over-stimulated and over-tired from the overflow of love my young daughters had been pouring on him all morning, my best friend’s baby boy needed rest. But he had no idea how to get it.

I held him close to my chest, put his pacifier in his mouth, and walked rhythmically around the room. He forgot his whimpering song within moments. No matter how hard he tried to fight it, sleep seduced him. His muscles relaxed, his little arms fell. His suckling stopped, and his breath calmed.

I smiled, the metaphor not lost on me.

I am that baby.

All too often I resist that which I know I need most – rest in the Lord’s unfailing arms. I cry and whine and flail, not realizing the very thing I’m fighting against is what I want most. Or, worse, realizing He is my truest desire and stubbornly refusing to go to Him anyway.

Why do I do that?

The Lord is waiting with bated breath, “Come to Me…and I will give you rest!” (Matthew 11:28). He longs to lavish refreshment upon me, but I must choose to come…

“I will lead you beside quiet waters!” (Psalm 23:2) He says, but if I want the renewal, I must choose to follow Him to the stream…

“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it,'” (Isaiah 30:15).

The baby analogy breaks down in that I was able to override his 4 month old free will. He had no choice but to succumb to the physiological trance his pacifier and my bouncing put him in. (There’s rather fascinating brain science behind this… get on the Google.)

I, on the other hand, being a slightly bigger and smarter human being (questionable), require a lot more coaxing before I can be forced into rest against my will. As near as I can tell, I have a say in the matter, and God isn’t willing to violate that say.

As much as I wish He sometimes would, God doesn’t give me a pacifier and hold me tight until I pass out. He allows me to stay as cranky as I choose to stay until I decide I’ve had enough and will come to Him for rest on my own accord. And, sadly, I can fight Him a lot longer than my little buddy who falls asleep by our third trip around the coffee table.

Why do I do that?

I could learn a lot from my little baby friend.

When I’m tired, when life is overwhelming and I’m over-stimulated and over-extended and flat OVER everything… Lord, help me choose Your rest, and help me to trust it really is what I want and need most. 

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God the Compassionate Father

Sometimes it’s hard to understand God. He’s complex.

He is, mysteriously, 100% just, 100% merciful, 100% righteous, 100% graceful, 100% kind, 100% holy and 100% compassionate all at the same time. (Actually, He is infinitely all of these things, but let’s not quibble.)

And our brains and hearts simply cannot process this 100% correctly.

It’s too much. It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen or experienced. We have nothing else to compare God to.

To complicate things further, God is often called our Father in scripture. That is to say perfect God is likened to imperfect men.

We all have specific emotions and images, for better or for worse, that spring to life the moment we hear or read the word “father”. As such, when we believers are told that God is our Father, we knowingly or unknowingly transfer our emotions about our human fathers over to Him.

If we’ve grown up with fathers (or father-like men) who have reflected the heart (particularly God’s heart for us) and character of God to the best of their abilities the majority of the time, we have a lot easier time accepting and understanding verses like Psalm 103:13, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him…”

But if we’ve grown up with fathers (or father-like men) who consistently did not reflect God’s heart (particularly God’s heart for us) and character, we are immediately confused by these kinds of verses. “As a father has compassion on his children…”? Fathers do that? Maybe in some vague, foggy way we know some fathers do that, but we don’t know firsthand what that looks like. In a very real sense, this concept is incomprehensible to us.

You can see, then, that if you fall into the latter category of children-turned-Christians, there is a certain amount of reprogramming that needs to occur before you can understand this dynamic of God better.

I think a lot of that is Holy Spirit work… allowing Him to guide us into all truth about who God the Father really is and who we really are from His perspective.

And I think one avenue through which the Spirit renovates our perceptions is through the scriptures. Psalm 103:13-14, for example, not only states that God has a fatherly compassion toward His children, but it tells us why that’s the case. “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.”

The Father is compassionate toward us because He knows how we are formed – that is, everything about us. He knows our strengths and our weaknesses, our complete need for Him, what we are capable of and what we are not, where our affections lie and where they do not. He knows our hearts. And if we are truly believers, at the end of the day, our hearts are to know Him, love Him, exalt Him, and share Him with others. Our actions won’t always line up with our hearts, but the Lord knows that, and He has compassion on us.

He is also compassionate toward us because He remembers that we are dust – that is, we are essentially nothing. He knows that it is in Him that we live and move and have our being. We can – let’s face it – do nothing (good) apart from Him. Instead of holding these facts against us, He shows us mercy and compassion – not excusing our sin so much as encouraging us that we do not have to be perfect for Him to love us. He is God the compassionate Father.

No matter how well or how poorly your earthly father represented Christ to you, you can gain understanding of God’s heart for you when you read verses like these. As foreign as they may feel, verses about God the Father are nonetheless true, and the Spirit will help you understand this if you ask Him to.

 

 

When Life is Hard

There are days (and weeks and months and years…) that life is one heartache after another.

That just kind of comes with the territory living on a broken planet among broken people being broken ourselves. Things don’t go right very often.

And it hurts.

It hurts me.

It hurts you.

It hurts everyone around us.

And sometimes talking to the Lord about all this helps.

But sometimes it doesn’t.

And sometimes reading scriptures about comfort and love and peace and joy and hope, all of which He wants to provide us, helps.

But sometimes it doesn’t.

On the days the brokenness inside me refuses to be comforted, about all I can do is decide to mentally assent to two things:

You are good, and all You do is good…

Psalm 119:68

This is the foundation of my worldview that I have to return to when I am stumbling.

God is good (and loving and kind and for me and attentive and trustworthy). God is good. He doesn’t just act in good ways; He embodies goodness.

And all God does is good (whether He is passively allowing things to unfold or actively causing things to happen). God is in total control of everything every second, and because He is good – that is, there is no badness in Him – He cannot act in a single bad way. Not ever. Even when He allows bad things to happen – evil things, horrid things – He only does so that we might come closer to His heart, the very best place for us to be.

Broken people on a broken planet watch the madness, feel the sadness, and are all but overwhelmed. Our feelings tell us, even those of us who know Jesus, there is no hope.

And, truth be told, sometimes we can read scripture and pray until we are blue in the face, and we will still feel hopeless. Reading, “You are good, and all You do is good…” may not alleviate the pain.

But I think just telling God we believe those things to be true does two things.

It shows Him we trust Him even if we don’t feel happy about it. And I have to believe He likes to be trusted.

But it also shows us we trust Him even if we don’t feel happy about it. And, especially when we’re despairing, we need all the help we can get reminding ourselves we do, in fact, trust God. It forces us to think about why He is trustworthy. And if we want feelings of hopelessness to lift, it seems to me sowing seeds of His trustworthiness is a good place to start.

Hostages of Hope

I’m not really sure how it happened.

Maybe it’s because I keep re-reading that crazy gratitude book.

Or maybe it’s because I’ve spent more time in the Psalms this year than any other book of the Bible.

Or maybe it’s because I finally got fed up with being fed up and did something about it.

Or maybe it’s a combination of these things, swirled together by the Lord in His perfect timing to finally begin producing a change in me that’s been a long time coming.

I hardly recognize myself.

I’m positive. As in optimistic. As in not cynical. As in I have hope.

And those of you who know me well know this is a radical change indeed.

I used to quip, “I’m not a pessimist; I’m a realist.” And I always knew it was a cop out. What I really was was stuck in feelings of hopelessness, even after – well after – I became a Christian.

And I know I’m not alone. A lot of (most) Christians live in doubt and bitterness and anger and depression and cynicism.

But we don’t have to.

(It’s taken me YEARS to believe that to be a true statement, by the way – that we can choose to have hope. It can be a lot more complicated than it sounds, which is why it often feels impossible, but it’s not. And that’s another post for another day.)

Not only do we not have to live in hopelessness and cynicism, upon further reflection, I think, as believers, we mustn’t.

Here’s why.

To not have hope – to adopt a cynical, hopeless perspective about ANYTHING – is to disbelieve the power of Christ.

As Christians we believe that Jesus bore the punishment we deserved for our sins on the cross, died and rose again. We believe God accepted Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf, and the evidence of that acceptance is that Jesus was resurrected (1 Thessalonians 4:14).

If we are convinced the resurrection happened, we are also convinced of God’s total sovereignty (Psalm 103:19). After all, if He can make a dead man rise to life again, as impossible as that sounds, can’t He do anything (Jeremiah 32:27)?

Can’t He redeem any impossible situation we find ourselves in?

Hostages of Hope
image via sattva at freedigitalphotos.net

If we have hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we must have hope in ALL seemingly hopeless situations. There’s no room for cynicism and/or giving up and/or losing hope in anything or anyone if we believe in Christ.

THIS IS NOT NATURAL FOR ME! I can’t emphasize enough that I am NOT a naturally sunny person with a pleasant disposition. You will never catch me with a “Life is good” bumper sticker on my car. Hear me when I say I am not an optimist writing this pie-in-the-sky blog post. To hope when it seems illogical, to hope when it is uncomfortable, to hope against my natural will is just as difficult for me as it is for you.

It’s hard to not let people and circumstances affect our having unwavering hope in Jesus’ ability – His desire, and His ultimate plan – to rescue and redeem everything.

When we find ourselves feeling hopeless and cynical, I think the underlying cause is that our hope has subtly shifted from being in Christ to being in man (others or ourselves). We have to find a way to put our hope back where it needs to be.

Here is one practical way I have found to do that. When you catch yourself having a cynical/hopeless/depressed/angry thought about anything, staunchly refuse it by asking God to take away that feeling and to replace it with hope in Him (2 Corinthians 10:5). And then make yourself find something to thank Him for in that moment (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

This is a simple exercise, but it’s very difficult. Don’t worry – you don’t have to do it perfectly. But you won’t begin to change unless you start. You will find, as I have, the more gratitude you offer, the more hopeful you will become. You’ll feel yourself begin to change. Others will notice a change in you. You’ll go from being a hostage of negativity to a hostage of hope. And I think that’s exactly what the Lord has in mind for us when we become believers (Romans 6:22).

“Never partake of the cynical view of life.” –Oswald Chambers

 

Learning to Wait

I’m doing a whole lot of waiting these days. Deadlines are getting pushed back, people are taking their sweet time following up with me, answers are taking longer to come than I appreciate. In at least four major areas of my life, it seems “wait and see” is the name of the game.

Learning to Wait
image via Stuart Miles/freedigitalphotos.net

But the thing is I’m not very good at this game.

Oh, I can agree that waiting is good and biblical (e.g., Lamentations 3:25-26, Psalm 27:14), but fun? Enjoyable? Tolerable? Not so much.

I want resolution so I can get on with living my life. I want conclusions and directions and answers so I can start “doing” whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing in each of these situations. We humans tend to feel more useful when we’re doing things…

I was telling the Lord my feelings about all this today as I waited for the afternoon to tick tock away. I told Him I’d been pretty patient for a pretty long time on most fronts and that I was pretty much ready for results so I can get moving on things.

And He listened patiently. He’s good at waiting for me to get everything off my chest before responding.

And once I was done telling Him how things ought to be – how my time table reads and how badly I want Him to conform to it – a word popped in my mind.

Rest.

As in, “While you wait, rest. Use this time to enjoy Me. Because you don’t know what’s going to happen once you get answers to all the questions in your life. Things could get chaotic quickly, and then you won’t have time to rest. So rest now while you do have the time.”

I knew this idea wasn’t from me immediately because never had I ever put the words “wait” and “enjoy” together in the same thought. In my dictionary, those words are opposites.

I marveled at the idea that the Lord implied He has arranged all the ambiguous circumstances in my life right now to create space for me and Him to hang out. What wisdom He has to tell me to look at waiting as a gift! How much more can I enjoy this period of limbo by choosing to see it as a chance to leisurely spend time with my Lord? This is going to be great for me, I thought.

He let me sit on that for a few hours… and then He leaned in close and whispered, “It’s a gift for Me, too.”

Our God… He loves us so… with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3)… that’s infinte love in both directions on the timeline… He enjoys us as much as we enjoy Him (more!). He just wants some time with us.

And lucky for the both of us, I’ve got nothing but time right now.

How to Take Things One Day at a Time

I know, it seems pretty self-explanatory. And yet, it’s so difficult to literally take things one day at a time.

Our minds whir past today and worry about the next day, week, month, year.

I don’t think we spend too much time thinking about the future because we’ve got nothing better to do. No, we forward think because we feel like we have to plan. 

And we do… to an extent.

In order to be responsible adults, we need to know where we’re going and how we’re going to get there. Even the Bible speaks to this, “…those who plan what is good find love and faithfulness,” (Proverbs 14:22).

But, as with most things, there needs to be a balance between detailedly planning everything about our futures and being open to the truth that God knows better than we do. He knows what’s coming down the pike. He knows what’s best for us.

A couple weeks ago I’d been rehearsing to myself that God knows the plan for my family. And that was comforting… until stress to plan crept back in and tried to take over… 100 times each day.

Then the Lord introduced me to someone who spoke some new wisdom to me through an “old” verse. She said, “Jeremiah 29:11 – ‘For I know the plans I have for you…'” I nodded as she shared, oblivious to the fact that God was about to turn this verse on it’s head for me. The acquaintance continued, God knows the plan; we don’t have to.” 

Huh.

I hadn’t considered this verse that way before. We normally quote this verse to encourage us that God has good plans for us and that He is in control. But to tilt the focus of the verse onto the pronoun – to observe Who knows the plans – this was big for me. It frees me up from feeling like I have to know the plans too. I don’t!

Instead, I can trust that God will reveal to me the steps of the plan as I need to know them

Which brings me back to taking things one day at a time.

The Lord is teaching me how to do this.

Yes, I still have a very loose “plan”, but the details aren’t written in permanent marker, and, in some cases, not even in pencil. Because at the end of the day, I don’t actually know the plan.

So, instead of worrying/trying to plan in vain, I’m taking a different approach.

Each morning I’m asking the Lord what He wants me to do today. That’s it. Just today. And He’s telling me. 

One day He told me to rest. Another day He told me to turn in my daughters’ school applications to one school. Just one. Several days when I’ve suggested to the Lord that I also “need” to work on other things – like record my last class and write my lesson for my next class –  He’s politely instructed me not to. I don’t know why. But I trust Him. I was tempted to job hunt yesterday morning. He reminded me that wasn’t on the list for that day.

Living this way with the Lord has been a lot more freeing than you might think. Especially for us “controllers”. It can be difficult to not plan and do when there is so much that needs to be done. And, to be sure, the world is not going to understand this approach to life, so expect some flack.

But learning to listen to the Lord’s directives one day at a time is building my trust in Him and helping me to obey the numerous scriptures which admonish us to wait on the Lord. 

Give it a try. He knows the plan; you’ve got nothing to lose.

“I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope,” (Psalm 130:5).

Thoughts for the Anxious Christian

Anxiety is a broad term for a lot of different psychological and physiological responses. And people use it in a myriad of ways.

Psychologically speaking, some people say they are anxious when they are mildly worried about something. Others don’t consider passing worry to be anxiety until it becomes obsessively debilitating worry – worry that’s often irrational or over the top.

Still others reserve the word anxious for when their bodies are responding to the fear in their minds – increased heart rates, feeling hot, feeling claustrophobic, feeling unable to breathe, feeling like your having a heart attack, stomachaches. When physical anxiety is at it’s worst, most people call that experience a panic attack.

The nice thing (if there is one) about anxiety is that the Bible speaks to it in more than one place. To be honest with you, I’ve always read verses about anxiety from the stand point of mild worry. But the Lord has me in a season where anxiety means more than that to me, so I am looking afresh at the “anxiety verses”. Just because I’ve limited their meaning in the past to mild worry doesn’t mean that’s the only way God intended them to be interpreted.

On that note, I read this today:

6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1Pe 5:6-11)

Verse 6: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” 
  • We should submit to the idea that our anxiety (however we experience it: mild worry, obsessive worry, depression, panic attacks, debilitating anxiety disorders, etc.) is God’s doing (either directly or indirectly); He is in control. He knows what’s best, and, as hard as it is, He has deemed this best for us right now.
  • He will deliver us from this suffering at the proper time. (The NIV isn’t a great translation here; thankfully, vs. 10 clarifies Peter’s meaning.)
Verse 7: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
  • We are to continually place our anxiety on Him, not keep it ourselves. Whether it’s worrisome thoughts or physical anxiety, we should consciously give those things to God. We can do this through prayer: “Lord, I don’t want to worry about ____. I don’t want to be afraid of ____. I don’t want to feel ____. You take these things.”
  • I have a hunch that if God tells us to cast our anxiety on Him, it’s because He is willing to take it from us. In other words, it will be a fruitful exercise. I can’t prove this. So don’t go hanging your hat on it.
  • He cares for us! As alone as we may feel in the midst of anxiety, we are not. And because He cares about us, He wants our anxiety. He wants to free us from all levels of worry, just as we long to ease our childrens’ worried minds and take their physical pain from them.   
Verse 8: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”
  • Satan wants to devour us in the midst of our experiencing anxiety. This is an opportune time for him. I don’t know that he can cause our anxious symptoms (particularly physiological responses), but I am certain he tries to exacerbate them by drumming up our fears concerning them.
  • We need to say to Satan, “I will not be the one you devour!” in the midst of our anxious episodes.
  • We are not picked on by Satan because we are weak or less than; I believe we are targeted because we unashamedly identify ourselves with Jesus. We should consider Satan’s attacks an honor and not feel ashamed in anyway that we are experiencing them (1 Peter 4:12-19).
Verse 9: “Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”
  • We can resist Satan by declaring truth out loud, “God is good. He only allows that which is in my best interest. I refuse to believe otherwise. He is in total control, and I am safe with Him.” (Psalm 107:1, Romans 8:28, Proverbs 19:21, Psalm 4:8)
  • We are not alone! Believers all over the world and all over our own churches are experiencing the same kinds of anxiety in all its forms. As a side note, Satan seeks to divide and conquer us by isolating us. The more we share our stories with each other, the braver we all become to get the help we need to overcome our anxiety, especially the more debilitating forms.
Verse 10: “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”
  • We will suffer, but not forever; only for a little while.
  • We are personally called and chosen by God, and He Himself will restore us from this season of suffering. And when He restores us to emotional health, He will make us strong, firm and steadfast. There is no mincing words here; this is a promise
Verse 11: “To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.”
  • It is by His power and as a testament to His power that these things will come to pass.
  • Amen is an expression of absolute confidence that it will be so. Peter is confident. We can be confident.
Whether you struggle with “normal” worrying from time to time or more intense anxiety, reread this passage of scripture the next time you feel concerned. There is power in the Word. I’d even encourage you to read it out loud. In some situations, doing so will be enough to quell the anxiety and empower you to cast all your anxiety on the Lord. Other situations warrant additional action steps. Either way, incorporating scripture will undoubtedly help us.