June 12, 2016

Working it Out

Good Sunday! It is a blessed day here in sunny and warm, Phoenix. The skies are clear blue, and the air, well, it is its usual warm (mild) temperature. Today's high is forecast to be 100. We had some rain in the valley yesterday, but I believe skies are set to be clear for the next couple of days. The monsoon is said to begin on the 15th, but that is an arbitrary date set by the weather people who track our seasonal moisture pattern. In truth, the monsoon doesn't seem to "arrive" until early July. Still, with El Nino causing problems across the USA, it is difficult to tell if this summer will be wetter than usual. I am hoping so. It will be such a nice change from our previous hot and dry summers! Sigh!

In other news, not that there is much "new news" today, I am feeling good. I slept well, soundly, and for the most part, woke up without too much stiffness or pain. I am feeling good right now. As I sit here at my computer and blog, I am enjoying my first cup of coffee of the day, and thinking about the goodness of God. Yes, I am thinking about His goodness today.

My day is less than full, at the least, my plans for my day seem to be this way. I am sitting here thinking of things I could do today, and frankly, nothing comes to mind. I guess that means that I will take a day's rest and think about all the goodness in my life. Today, therefore, is a good day to be thankful, to give thanks to God for bringing His peace into my life. Rather than react to the "lack" of work, I am giving thanks to the Lord for giving to me His peace, His calm, and His overall sense of wellness. He is good, so very good to me! Selah!

Terms and More

So after my complaint session yesterday (whining about being on hold for my dissertation project, etc.), I have decided to take a different tack regarding my situation. I thought a lot about this yesterday, and last night when I was talking with my good friend, I was confirmed in my response to approach this time of rest as a blessed thing. The more I talk about the "lack" in my life, the more I realize how blessed and full my life really is. I mean, I have every need met with sufficiency. I am in this very good, good place. And, yet, I complain about the most minute things. Yes, I grumble and complain over the smallest things, when in turn, I should be rejoicing in God my Savior who has done marvelous and wonderful things for me. It is truth. I need a good wake up call to shake me from this bad habit, and restore to me, my bright and hopeful outlook (the one I used to have). I am not sure how I got to this point, where I feel so grumpy all the time, but I realized yesterday that I have nothing at all to complain about. Truthfully, I am in a very good place, a very good place. I need to rejoice once again in my salvation for the joy of the Lord is my strength (Neh. 8:10) and my portion and my cup.

It is funny, really, how quickly we can lose our countenance, how quickly we can go from joyful to sad in a moment's notice. I mean, nothing has happened to me to bring on this grumpy persona. I am not even sure why I feel the way I do, but suffice it to say, I am feeling a wee bit "annoyed" and that bothers me. I have nothing annoying me at present. I am not upset. I have no real issues, concerns, or problems to deal with, AND as a result, I feel annoyed. Why? Why is this so?

I think the reason is that change is on the horizon. I feel the winds of change coming, and I am preparing to be moved. Yes, I feel as though the Lord has opened the floodgates, and the water is coming down toward me. I see the onslaught, I see the rage, and I see my helpless and hopeless self standing right smack in the middle of the impending and foreboding approach. What can I do? How can I prepare? Where do I go to hide from it? Can I hide from it? I don't think so. I don't think it is possible, really. I have to stand, literally stand, and take whatever is coming my way. I don't want to take this on. I don't want to face it. I want to run and hide away. I want to find some place where I can avoid this painful presence, yet I know that this is my portion, it is my lot. I must take it. I must face it. I must endure it.

My life is about to change forever, and that means that as I look forward to my future, I see uncertainty, I see so much that is unknown. Right now, I don't know what to think. I don't know what tomorrow will bring. I see my past clearly. I see my future, though, as such a foggy mess. I wish I knew why I felt this way, why I felt as though my future has been upended suddenly. I mean, I was all set, settled, content, and then BAM! -- my little world has been turned over -- and I am reeling from that change. I do not like this feeling. I do not like feeling so unsettled right now.

O, Lord, why do I feel this way?

In a moment of frustration, I heard the words of the hymn, "I Need Thee Every Hour" resonate within my mind. I hear the voices of "Selah" as they sing their rendition of this beautiful old hymn...

When I think I'm going under, part the waters, Lord
When I feel the waves around me, calm the sea
When I cry for help, oh, hear me
Lord and hold out Your hand
Touch my life
Still the raging storm in me


The original hymn was written by Annie Sherwood Hawks. Her lyrics resonate with me this good day. I am reminded that no matter what storm, what trial, or what temptation I face, I cannot escape the fact that I need my Savior every day, every moment of every single day. I need thee, Lord! Oh, how I need thee, Lord!

I need Thee every hour,
Most gracious Lord;
No tender voice like Thine
Can peace afford. 


I need Thee, oh, I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee;
Oh, bless me now, my Savior!
I come to Thee.
 

I need Thee every hour,
Stay Thou near by;
Temptations lose their power
When Thou art nigh.
 

I need Thee every hour,
In joy or pain;
Come quickly and abide,
Or life is vain.
 

I need Thee every hour,
Teach me Thy will;
And Thy rich promises
In me fulfill.
 

I need Thee every hour,
Most Holy One;
Oh, make me Thine indeed,
Thou blessed Son.



Making Sense and Turning Around

So, my decision this morning is to realize that I have made an error, a mistake, and that it is nigh up to me to turn myself around and head back to the One who is standing at the ready and waiting for me. You see, I made the mistake of moving ahead of His timing, of considering ways and thoughts and approaches that simply were not yet to be. In doing so, I relinquished my blessed state of peace in order to consider opportunities that were not supposed to be. I cannot really explain it other than to say that there are times in my life when I step out and walk on, thinking that I am doing what the Lord desires for me to do, when in reality, I am walking on ahead of His lead. If I am yoked to him, and I am, than I cannot walk anywhere He doesn't lead. Furthermore, as a yoke fellow, I am constrained to walk beside Him, and not ahead of Him. This means that I cannot run ahead of His timing. It is physically impossible for me to run out of ahead of Him because we are yoked together (joined, so to speak).

In Matthew 11:29 NLT, Jesus says, "Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls." I read a wonderful blog post by Rick Renner Ministries regarding this verse and the one following that explained what the words in Jesus' offer mean in the Greek. You can read it here. I thought the writer did a super job explaining the meaning of resting as we are yoked to the Lord. 

Today, I think about the burden I carry, the load that is normal for me to carry. In my life, I carry a heavy pack (Renner, 2015). This pack has been prepared for a very long journey, so it is heavier than normal. I am walking on a long road that leads me into His work. I see the future clearly from this perspective. I know that what the Lord has called me to do is tiring work. I am weary, and at times, I am worn out. The Lord offers to help me carry the load, but only if I let Him do so. Together, the Lord's strength comes upon me, and we are able to accomplish much good work. Yet, I know that the work I do (as in Regent, my dissertation, and even in teaching) requires periods of rest. The Lord has seen to it that I have rest, a breather of sorts, a nice break so that I do not become too ill to carry on. He has determined that it is time for me to rest, and yet, I grumble and complain that I am ready to work, when He says, "No, I think you need to rest." God is good. The Lord knows my ends, and He knows when I have reached my limit. I see this now as His blessed provision for my life. I see that He has determined that while I could go on, it is better for me to rest now.

O, Lord, I thank you this good day for giving me rest. I thank you for the provision of rest. I thank you that I can learn from you that resting is good. I understand that my pack, the burden you have given to me to carry is heavy because of the work I am to do for your Name. Thus, I know I cannot carry this pack alone. I can do all things THROUGH CHRIST who strengthens me. The joy I need to see me through the end of this journey can only come from my Savior God. Thus, I cannot do anything outside your will, your timing or your provision. If I do, I will feel the heavy burden, the hardness of the road ahead of me. Instead, Lord, I rest in you. I rest in your knowledge, your understanding, and your ability to do all things. I let this go now, and I sit down beside you and I rest. Thank you, Lord for your gracious and most merciful lesson this good, good day.

I share this prayer from Rick Renner Ministries because it sums up my heart today.
Lord, I admit that I’ve been trying to pull the whole load by myself, and I simply can’t do it any longer. I have given every ounce of my strength; now I need You to come alongside me and help me finish the task that is before me. I’m willing to do it, but I must have Your help if I’m going to do it with all my heart and finish it all the way to the end. So today I am asking You to become “yoked” with me in my job, my business, my ministry, my family, and in all my personal affairs.

I pray this in Jesus’ name!



Update: Progress Restored

After I posted this entry, I headed over to Scottsdale Bible Church for Sunday worship services. I was feeling down, and I even didn't want to go. I plopped myself in the car, dropping my Bible on the seat next to me, all the while under my breath, I murmured to the Lord. I said, "O, Lord, what is the point? I don't even FEEL like going to church today!" Then throughout the 15-minute drive from my house to the parking lot at church, I grumbled. I complained. I murmured some more. I poured out my frustration to the Lord. I started with my issues and concerns, but quickly started to point the finger at the Lord for all the things He hasn't solved in my life yet. I mean, I believe in His ability to do things for me. I believe He is the Great I AM, yet lately I have felt the burn of unmet expectations. I have tried to figure out everything I have done wrong, and I have readily confessed my sins. Still, nothing has changed in my life. There has been no MOVEMENT toward any resolution or cessation of the tension I feel inside of me.

As I walked into the main worship center, I thought to myself, "Well, at least, I will hear a good message today." I know, miserable. Pathetic. Unsympathetic and uncaring. Indulgent and self-serving. Yep, lump them all on, because I was in full-mode, "Pity Party Extreme Makeover!" In good form, worship was great. Troy, our worship leader did a super job, and the service was lovely. Our pastor, Jamie, preached a great message. I mean a really, really, really great message. It was from John 11:17-27, and it covered the pivotal story of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, specifically Lazurus' death.

I know this story well. I have heard it preached before so the content and lead up didn't really do anything for me (so to speak), but the twist, the way our pastor tied this story into his spring series on what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, well, that was just plain superb. Yes, I was humbled. I was flat-out called on the carpet, sent to the principal's office, and in short order, given a good "talking to" by the Holy Spirit of God.

Our pastor titled this message, "Ruthless Trust," and if you want to listen to it, you can do so here: Ruthless Trust. The core point in this message was that Jesus calls us to trust Him for everything -- no matter what.

I think this message spoke to my heart on several levels. First, I was convicted by my behavior when I saw how Martha reacted to Jesus' presence after the death of her brother. If you recall, Martha was the sister who ran to meet Jesus at the edge of the city. Her first words to Him were criticism for His failure to arrive sooner. In short, Martha believed Jesus could have saved Lazarus if only He had only been there to save him. More so, she believed that even after death, Jesus could restore Lazarus if He wanted to do so. Her faith was intact, but her actions demonstrated that she was far more concerned about temporal things than eternal things. Her attitude was focused on the "here and now," the life and death of her brother, and not on the fact that Jesus, the Christ, had come down from Galilee to see her, Mary, and Lazarus. My recent behavior has been very "Martha-like." I have grumbled, complained, and criticized God for failing to meet my needs, for failing to produce results despite the fact that He is always with me, ever present, and has promised never to leave me. I have been temporally-focused rather than spiritually-focused.

Second, this message reminded me of the life lesson I have been working through involving trust. I have trust issues, and as such, I struggle to trust people and things. Our pastor gave three truths that we accept when it comes to this issue of trust. As a pastor, he has said that these three things are pretty much universally accepted as true. They are: 1) We trust when we place our confidence in someone or something; 2) We find it hard to trust when someone or something lets us down; and 3) No one follows people or things they do not trust. I agreed with him 100%, especially the second and third points. In my life, in my marriage crisis specifically, I felt the devastating reality of losing trust. The lack of trust in my marriage eventually led to separation and divorce. The loss of trust of a loved one, specifically a spouse, is not only significant, but often causes long-term detrimental results. Furthermore, as I have stepped out in faith over the past six years as a single person, I have had to learn how to trust God -- for everything. I have had to rebuild my life from nothing. I have had to learn how to manage money, buy cars, engage in business, go back to school, etc. all while placing my trust in God for His provision and care. I am now at the point of graduating with my PhD, the completion of a magnificent goal, and what is at crux is whether or not I trust the Lord to provide a way for me through to the end (the dissertation and graduation) and into the life I believe He has promised me (comfortable, modest, good). Do I trust Him to provide for me? Do I place my confidence (my weight) upon Him, and do I believe He will be faithful to keep His word to me?

Third and last, my recent experience in trusting the Lord was called into question by several remarks my pastor made. The most significant was when he jokingly said that Jesus inferred that Martha was paying "lip service" to Him rather than demonstrating her real faith. She was saying she believed Him, but wasn't acting like she really did (ouch!). In addition, my pastor said something that I think was one of the best ways to explain why bad things happen to good people (as the saying goes). He said that Jesus never promised to not let us down in the temporal. He meant it this way -- Jesus promised never to leave us or forsake us, and the promises made in Scripture have an eternal stamp on them. Jesus promised us things that were spiritual, that were marked out for eternity, and this is where our trust in Him (for the resurrection, for example) lay. However, we often presume that He will never let us down in the "here and now." But He never promised that we would not be disappointed in this life. In fact, He promised just the opposite. He said that He would always be with us -- even unto the end of the age. The natural, fallen world filled with sinful and fallen people is fraught with complications and life challenges. The Lord is our strength, our refuge, and our strong tower -- but -- He is not a slot machine with which we can quickly and effortlessly solve every problem we encounter. Yes, there are promises in scripture of blessing and reward, and some of this blessing and reward will come to us now, but much of the blessing and reward will be received on the other side --> in heaven only.  We must not lose our spiritual, our eternal perspective when we encounter the various trials and temptations that plague us in this natural, fallen world.

My heart was convicted, but also greatly encouraged. I left thinking how rotten I have behaved, demanding that the Lord provide this kind of job or that opportunity. I know the Lord does have a good plan for my life, and I believe that He will provide for me. I allowed my focus to become so temporal that I started to behave like the spoiled child who demands their father pay heed. As my pastor put it bluntly, "God does NOT play those games!" Yes, lesson learned LOUD AND CLEAR.

What I thought was most curious was the fact that this very day, my greatest need was confirmation of the Lord's activity in and through my situation. In fact, I prayed before I left home, and I asked the Lord to provide confirmation to me so that I would know why I felt the way I did, and that He would help me see what I needed to do to resolve this tension, this frustration in my life. BAM! Yes, my prayer was answered big time. Thank you, Jesus, for your marvelous word today!

The Great Take-Away

My take-away today is simple. It is straight-forward, and it is commonsense in its application. The Lord is my Shepherd. He is the One who leads me, guides me, and provides for me. The long and the short of it is this -- in this life you will have troubles (John 16:33) -- but we must remember who has overcome all those troubles. Jesus is the One who has overcome. If we look to ourselves, our hands, and our knowledge and understanding, we are not longer resting, trusting, or even abiding in Him. We are relying on our own abilities to accomplish life. 

I know that the work I am doing -- teaching, scholarship, dissertation, etc. -- cannot be completed in my own strength. It is impossible for me to change my circumstances, to alter my outcomes, or to accomplish anything that concerns Him or His work in my own strength. I can do all things THROUGH CHRIST WHO STRENGTHENS ME. I am not able to do anything toward this end. The more I try, the more I strive, the more I imagine, conceive or even attempt, the more my strength fails me. Instead, by resting in Him, leaning upon and placing my confidence (trust) in Him alone, then I am able to move forward, to do whatever He calls me, appoints for me, or assigns to me to do.

I have sputtered down and landed in a place where for a time I was told to stand still. I am standing still now. I am waiting for my Lord to give me permission to move forward. This time, however, I move forward with full acknowledgement that I do everything in His strength. I go where He sends me -- because He sends me. I live where He tells me to live -- because it pleases Him. I do the work He has prepared for me to do -- because it is for my good. And through it all, I do all things so that He will be honored, praised, and ultimately glorified.

To God be the glory, forever and ever, Amen.

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