May 8, 2016

Moving Ahead

It is a good Sunday here in Phoenix. The skies are clear and the weather is warm. I am sitting at home, blogging, on this peaceful Mother's Day. My parents are at church (early service), my son is still asleep, and I am drinking my coffee, hoping it will soothe my aching head (sinus pain and pressure). It is a good day, still, and it is a blessed day.

Today, I remember my Mom, whom I dearly love for all the good she has brought into my life. My Mom is slowly losing her ability to recall details, and is struggling each day to keep time and pace. It is the ravages of Alzheimers, and while the progression has been slow and not sudden, the changes are noticeable and getting more pronounced as the days wear on.

I pray my Mother will not linger nor lose her ability to recognize her family. I pray that this disease is held in check, and that she is able to continue to live her life in the comfort and care of her family. Yet, it is such an UNKNOWN, the future I mean. I struggle to understand what my future will be, and I often panic when I think about my days, my weeks, and my months -- all with an unknown certainty. My Lord keeps me steady, always, and for that I am thankful. He has a good plan for my life, and I know that the details, while hidden, will be good, very good, indeed. He is good to me. All the time, He is good! Selah!

Pacing Myself Today

I woke up with this headache, and with the feeling that there was something in the pit of my stomach. It was stress, of course, and the first thing I did, even before getting out of bed, was pray. I confessed that I am not afraid of the various things that were causing me to be stressed today. I had read on a blog yesterday that all mental stress is the result of psychological fear -- a fear of something -- and that fear is the result of spiritual condemnation by the enemy. I started to think about it and it made sense to me. I mean, when we are feeling condemned (worthless, unable to function, etc.), we often begin to think of the outcomes that will occur as a result of our lack of ability. For example, if we feel that we are a worthless mother, a poor example for our children, then we fear for our relationship with our children. We may then begin to engage in behaviors that do not help us to build healthy relationships, and instead, serve only to further distance us from our children.

On the other hand, when we feel confident in our role as a mother, we will behave in ways that support that line of thinking. In this way, while we may possess natural concern for our children's welfare, we will not live anxiously and in constant fear for their safety or well-being. Fear and anxiety are by-products of our belief system.

As I considered this line of thinking, I began to realize that my fears are mostly psychological in nature. I mean, I am not afraid for my life (as in physical harm). Nor am I worried or panicked about being homeless (again, physical loss). I am not stressed over the impending loss of a loved one or a relationship, thus there are no outward triggers that could cause physical stress in my life right now. My stress, thus, is generated by the fear of not knowing what tomorrow will bring, that is all.

So as I was laying in bed and praying, I recalled all the areas or triggers that seem to cause me stress. When I confess them verbally, I realize quickly that the underlying belief or assumption that forms the rationale for that stress is faulty. Let me explain...

These are my greatest fears right now:
  • Fear of failure - I fear failing in school, in work, and in life
  • Fear of provision - I fear not having "enough" income to live comfortably
  • Fear of security - I fear losing my comfortable life (my things and my home)
In fearing failure, I am stressed because I try to control my circumstances and outcomes. In order to prevent failing in school, I work very hard to maintain a high GPA. In order to not fail at work, I work very hard to be the best teacher I can be every day and to receive high student evaluations to show my success in the classroom. In order to not fail in life, I control my time, my days, and the tasks I do through a series of written lists, to-do sheets, etc. so that I can always sense a forward progression. I am never "chilled" or relaxed because to do that could prevent a loss of any forward movement that I made previously in my week or over many months. As such, I live tightly wound up, always striving to achieve, to gain reward or respect. This is an area that generates great internal stress for me, and it is an area where I must contend with my personality (type A/INTJ), and with my natural abilities (high-performing). In short, I am stressed partly because of the way I am wired, the way God has created me. I must, therefore, always be producing so that I can feel productive, and as a consequence, I can feel as though I am well.

In fearing provision, I am stressed because I see the lack in my hand at present. I see the path I am on as not producing "enough" for me to live on comfortably. I am stressed over the lack of a job, full-time, that I panic and I worry about how I will make ends meet over the summer. My temptation is to take control, use my self-sufficiency (my fear of failing) to subvert any lack in my life. This is my go-to approach, and while the world would champion it, my spiritual faith says that looking to my own hand relies less on God, and more on my own abilities (which are futile). My fear of provision often fueled by my fear of failure, causes me to be doubly-stressed. It is a vicious cycle that can wear me down to the point where I can no longer function well.

In fearing security, I begin to wonder if I will ever be safe, truly safe. I worry whether I will have enough long-term provision to keep my ship afloat. I stress about the unknown in the future all because I am worried about my provision. My stress is built on a foundation that ultimately rests on failure.

In counteracting my fears, I must address each one and recognize that the underlying belief system is faulty. It goes something like this:

I hear "You are not worth this degree," "You will not finish on time," "You will never be as good as X" and other words of condemnation. I listen to them, and I begin to believe what these words mean. Instead, I need to address them and recall several important points, namely that my degree is a gift from God, part of His plan for my life, and as such, He is responsible for seeing me through to its completion. Secondly, I remember that the timeline I have has been set by the Lord, and that it is not of my own making. Third, I remember that God has not called me to be compared to anyone else, and in fact, He has forbidden me to consider my efforts in light of any of my peers. He says to me "they are called for a different purpose" so I am to remember that my path and their path are unique. I must do the work He has purposed for me to do. He is judge over me, and in the end, it is up to Him to tell me whether He approves of the work I have performed in His good name.

In short, as I hear these negative words that serve only to derail my efforts, to keep me from achieving what God has ordained, I realize that the power I have rests in my faith in God. I use my power of faith to redress these accusations by my enemy, and in sum, to set the record straight. My faith rests in God and in His ability, not in my own. I may still strive because of my personality, but day in and day out, I must remember that the work I do is because of His call on my life. It is not about me, my needs or my provision or my security. He is my El-Shaddai and my Jehovah-Jireh, and as such, He protects me and provides for me. I look up to the hand of the Most High, and I trust in His character and nature, in His promises, and in His plans and timing. There is nothing I need fear this good day, because my Lord is the One who directs my steps, who makes my way smooth, and who goes before me. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, and I do all my work in His name, for His purpose, and to bring Him praise and honor this good, good day.

Leaning On and Abiding In the Lord

I remember the parable of the vine today (from John 15). As I think about this story, my mind immediately remembers that when I am leaning on and abiding in the Lord, all my needs are met with sufficiency. Thus, my desire to achieve, to produce, to not fail -- is predicated on how well I learn the lesson of the vine. If I lean on and abide in the vine, then I have whatever I need to accomplish whatever task is set before me. I can, literally, do all things because I am connected to the Vine, Jesus. Furthermore, my need for security and for provision are satisfied by the Vine as well. In this manner, the Vine provides the nutrients (provision) and the shelter (through its leaves and other branches) so I am well protected. I am safe and secure in the presence of the Vine.

I realize today that while I fear failing, and I fear lack in my life, this is only because I have not taken the time to look to the One who is providing everything to me. I have taken my eyes off the Lord, and I have instead, looked at my circumstances. I have lost my perspective. In looking at my own hands, I see lack. In looking at my timeline, my tasks, I see overwhelm and dread. I see the mountain before me, and I see my inability to scale it. I see how small and insignificant I am, how powerless I am to do what God has called me to do. In short, I see my failure in big red letters:


Rather than seeing the truth, I see the lie. I see the lie that says "See, I told you that you couldn't do this level of work, that you couldn't be successful in this path, that you would fail to produce good results." I hear the words of condemnation by my enemy whose only desire is to see me fail at everything in life, and then in consequence, turn away from God, my Savior.

When I lean on and I abide in the Lord, however, I do not see failure, but rather I see success. I see His provision clearly and completely. I feel His presence as it envelops me to keep me safe. I feel His power as it surges through me and makes even the most difficult task seem easy. I feel His grace lift me up and help me to overcome obstacle after obstacle. In all these ways, I experience the goodness of the Vine as He provides and protects me. He is my shelter, my rock, and my refuge. He is the One who accomplishes all things in and through me. I can do nothing in my own strength, yet He is able to do mighty works through me -- all because of His ability, His desire, and His foresight. Yes, He is the One who is able to see me through these difficult tasks. He is the One who will perform these mighty deeds. He will do it. He will bring Himself the glory, the praise and the honor.

Bringing Him Glory, Praise and Honor

As I sit here today and I blog about this new insight, I realize that much of my present suffering is the result of a prayer I prayed several months ago. I asked the Lord if I may bring Him glory in my work, in my efforts with my doctoral degree, and with the work I produce in His name. It was a good thing to ask, and I meant it sincerely. I want Him to receive glory. The mistake I made was in thinking that I could bring Him glory. I guess you could call it a child-like faux pas. I sincerely believed that I could bring God glory through my own efforts. I didn't realize that there was no way for me to do that without giving my life, really giving my life, as a martyr. Instead, what I meant to say, to offer, was my service and my efforts in order to bring Him praise.

The early Puritans wrote that the chief aim of man was to worship the Lord. I believe this is true. Worship means "to have or show a strong feeling of respect and admiration for God" (Cambridge Dictionary, 2016). When we worship God, we often behave in certain ways that demonstrate our respect and admiration for Him. We pray, we sing songs and hymns, we obey His word, we gather together to celebrate His work, and we read and study His word. We maintain a worshipful heart attitude that places God in the position of our focus and our adoration. This is worship in its most basic sense.

When we seek to bring glory to God, we are saying that we want to bring "public praise, honor, and fame" to Him (Merriam-Webster, 2016). In this way, we are meaning that we desire to "to exult with triumph; rejoice proudly" (Dictionary.com, 2016). What is interesting to note is that glory itself is a response to something worthy of praise. In this sense, we bring God glory when we praise His attributes or His work in and through our life. We cannot bring Him glory, per se, but we can respond with praise as we recognize the work He is performing in us and through us. Thus, we are to give Him thanks (1 Thess. 5:18) in all things as a way to bring Him praise. 

Praise means is "the expression of approval or admiration for someone or something" (Dictionary.com, 2016), so when we give praise to God, we are expression our admiration for Him. We are responding to His goodness in our lives, and in this way, He is honored. My desire is to bring God praise and honor. I want my efforts, futile as they are, to be a response to His goodness in my life. I want to maintain an attitude of thanksgiving so that I am always responding to His work in my life in this way. I want to demonstrate to others that God is the source of all my joy. My efforts, my work, my hands, as such are simple tools that He uses to craft and to create the work that pleases Him most. Thus, I desire to honor the Lord with my mind, my body, and my spirit so that my service of worship is to always show others His goodness.

Now that I understand what I was trying to do, and the lesson learned by remembering the Vine, I realize that I have been attempting to do the impossible, all within my own strength and predicated on my own abilities. I can do nothing outside of the Vine, and I don't want to do anything that will not bring Him praise. My response must be to submit to the protection and provision of the Vine this good day, and to allow Him, my Lord, to perform the work that will bring Him praise and honor. He alone is worthy to be praised. I give Him my praise this good, good day.

Setting the Matter Right (Again)

Today, therefore, is a good day to set matters right. I know my place. I know where I am now, and I have a strong sense of where I am to go tomorrow (my future, I mean). The in-between is a mystery, as it should be, and I rest in the sense that He does have this all figured out. I will not worry, panic or fear over my circumstances, no matter how inconsistent or incomplete they appear today. Instead, I will place my faith, my trust in God, as my source of all provision and power, and I will rest in His sufficiency this good, good day. I look up, and I see my Lord, my victor and my champion, ready to help me, to defend me, to provide for me. I look up, and I see that He has been ready for some time, waiting patiently while I learned this lesson (yet again). I thank Him for waiting for me, and I confess my insolence and troubled-spirit. I have caused myself great pain, great hardship, and yes, great suffering simply because I refused to yield to the Vine and His power in my life. I know this, I see it is so, and I rest in the knowledge that I was obstinate, disobedient, and as a result, I suffered for a time while I came to the understanding that He is God, and I am not. The work I am about to do is for His name alone. There will be no praise or honor for me in the work. I will do it heartily unto the Lord, and He will be praised and honored as a result. I take no glory in and of myself, but I freely give the praise to Him as an act of service and worship. He alone is worthy to be praised. He alone is worthy of our adoration. I give this to Him now, and I rest in the sufficiency of His provision. It is enough. It is good. It will last. I am safe, and I am secure today. He is good, so very good to me.

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