Boring-ness is Close to Godliness

I kind of love my boring quiet life, and the older I get and the more frantic society seems to become the more I crave it. I’ve joked about it in a series of #fridaynite Facebook posts where I highlight just how unexciting our lives seem to be. Maybe it irritates people, but my hope was to bring a little freedom:

Freedom from the “always show your good side”, best-foot forward, selfie taking craziness of social media; freedom to spend my time the way I see fit; freedom from pretending that I am cooler than I actually am (who am I fooling anyway?; freedom to unapologetically be myself; freedom to take joy in what might be tedious to someone else.

Freedom to stop worshipping the idols of busyness, influence or, failing that notoriety.

Freedom to love the ones I love – just by giving them time and undivided attention.

Freedom from pretense so I can be honest, authentic and, dare I say, healthy.

Boring is sounding pretty awesome.

I might be judged and ignored for my boring life choices, and that might hurt a little at times, but even that rejection will be good for me – maybe it’ll root out a little more of my self-importance. Hallelujah for that! I need all the help I can get!

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that boring is always better…that’s taking it a little too far, but there does seem to be an awful lot of biblical encouragement for simple, daily faithfulness, for doing every small act to the glory of God, and everyone I can think of in the Bible who was in the public eye, doing something “exciting” for God had a clear call. I think it would be a very good thing for the church (really, for everyone) if we chilled out on the YouTube and the selfies and the platform building – and stopped trying to force our way into people’s notice. Let’s just be faithful with the little things (that’s hard enough for me).

Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other… Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. – 1 Thess 4:9-12

Disappointed

It was the first email in my inbox this morning, the one that felt like a punch in the gut. Strangely enough I knew it was coming, a look here, a terse answer there – they all pointed to this moment, but I hoped that I was just being a little oversensitive.

Since the day we knew we would coming alongside this small, declining rural church – my husband as part-time Pastor, and I as the “pastor’s wife” – we had talked about how the building would definitely need some updating. It had been maintained well, but it looked tired and out of date. I think that the congregation had simply become accustomed to the way it looked – it was familiar and comfortable – and not that bad, to them.

Anyway, over a year ago my husband and I started talking about some ideas to update the space. We talked to different members, everyone seemed happy about a little change. We invited a decorator to consult. We presented a detailed plan to the board. It all seemed on the up and up. I was going to start painting this week.

…and then this morning happened.

Nevermind that I had a raging headache and a teething baby and children that were starving, and a breakfast planned that would take at least 20 minutes. Nevermind all that.

Was I reading this right? Am I really an insensitive, agenda-pushing, know-it-all? Was this the beginning of the end at this church?

My first reaction was to defend myself. I had been misled!! If I knew we had needed this, and this, and that, and that I would have acted different. I had a long list of reasons and excuses.

Well, thank God that what I didn’t have at that moment was time to write an email. All I had time for was 2 minutes between breakfast and school work to ask God to help me that day – to give me patience with my kids, to ease my headache, to help me focus on the priorities for today (and maybe for the baby to take a really awesome nap).

And then we opened the Bible to start our school day (we don’t always do this). I wanted to read the kids a story about Jesus. I thought I would read the Lord’s prayer – but the passage just above it caught my eye.

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

Oh. Snap.

I thought I would get to the email before lunch, but I didn’t. Then another verse popped into my mind.

Why was I disappointed? And why did I feel so defensive? And what response would bring healing to a church that has been hurt?

Was it really so important that we start painting this week? Of course not. So what was my real problem? Why sin, of course. My pride had been hurt. That’s the truth of it. I don’t like it when I don’t look good and I want everybody to like me all the time – and to like all my ideas and to want to do everything I want to do. Wow. I sound like a toddler.

I hadn’t been called insensitive, agenda-pushing, know-it-all – that was just all my insecurity trying to read through the lines. Insecurity is a liar.

And they weren’t kiboshing the whole plan – they just wanted a little more time to get a few things sorted out first. They just wanted me to rein in my enthusiasm a little bit. They were not being unreasonable. I was.

Fast forward a few hours and I am finally ready write back. Here is what I wrote, slightly edited to remove names and a few unrelated details.

Forgive me for not getting a chance to reply until now. It has been a busy day!

I want to apologize if it has seemed like I have been pushing my agenda. While I am excited about the changes, and would like to see them happen sooner rather than later, it was not my intent to be insensitive. For what it’s worth I think there has been a little bit of unclear communication – I won’t say miscommunication – just maybe some assumptions happening on all sides that have been unhelpful. Also, I was completely unaware that there was so much work to be done before we started painting.

I won’t pretend that your email was not a bit of a let-down this morning. I have been eager to see these changes we have been talking about for months finally start. But:

“Desire [zeal] without knowledge [wisdom] is not good – how much more will hasty feet miss the way!”(Prov 19:2) – I am prone to falling into this trap. Thank you for telling me the straight truth and reminding me of my own weakness.

I have been praying all along for guidance concerning the church, of course, but today I stopped to specifically pray about why I am so eager to get things done, and I can feel the Lord calming me. I am a Martha who gets wrapped in the distractions of doing – sidelining what is most important.

Would it be great to have the building revamped? Of course, and there is a time for that – but not at the expense of what will really change hearts – Jesus!! There is no comparison to what the Lord can do, and our church can be a vibrant place of worship, a place to offer a hurting world the gospel, even if we were meeting in a barn. How easy it is to substitute our good ideas for the only thing that is needed!

So, as far as going forward is concerned. Carl and I will be extra diligent in making sure that communication is clear. I can’t expect that every decision will have unanimous support, but we can at least be certain that everyone is on the same page.

On that note, while we are pretty sure that everyone in the congregation is aware that we have planned to update the church, I think you are right that we ought to “officially” announce the plans. Especially given some of the congregation’s past experiences, we ought to be especially sensitive to communicating honestly and clearly.

I will not go up to the church on Friday to paint a sample part of the wall – it will only take a few minutes. Once these busy few weeks pass and we are actually ready to move ahead I can do that quickly while I am there for some other reason.

How wonderful that our God takes the seemingly petty concerns of our hearts and walks us gently through them. There is nothing too small or too great that we cannot ask his help with. My day started out discouraged, but a few moments in his Word, in his presence, and in prayer and my attitude was lifted…and not just about this issue – we had a rough start this morning anyway. Praise the Lord it did not stay that way.

I almost wrote that I cannot wait to get started…but I can :)

Love! Sara.

 

I could have defended myself. I wanted to defend myself. In the end this was the humbler, harder, but right way. I received a response only an hour later and I couldn’t have asked for a more understanding and sympathetic answer.

God is good.

Hypocrite

So, you think all Christians are hypocrites?

You’re right.

For a long time, a very long time, I believed that to be a good Christian I had to have my act together. I had to be a good girl, a good wife, a good mommy. There were certain things that had to be done to prove that I was “good enough”. The list of expectations generally followed the Bible, and whatever ‘hot topic’ was being addressed in my church at the time. Perhaps it was modesty, or not drinking, or always going to prayer meeting, or being a submissive wife, or …

Sometimes I still believe it. It’s so easy to fall back into thinking that I need to prove myself, to the world, to the church, to God. I feel this persistent pressure to show that I am worthy of God’s love.

Except that I’m not.

And never will be.

I feel the weight of a thousand expectations from every side – this world requires something out of an unapologetic born-again believer. Of course, those expectations are a moving target and it’s not a fair game, but whatever – I still play along, and when I can’t quite live up to the standard? I pretend to. I pretend like I have my life together, that my kids are better behaved, that I sin less and love more than I actually do. I put on make-up to hide the circles under my eyes that give away the fact that I have not slept well in seven years, and maybe I’m running on empty today. I pretend that the back-handed comment didn’t offend me like it did. I pretend not to be jealous of her baking skills, or his quick wit.

But the worst is that I judge you for doing the same: For pretending; for only showing a happy, beautiful version of your life on Facebook; for not being both transparent and perfect at the same time.

Listen: I know I’m not really living up to my own expectations, but rather than admit it I compare myself to those around me, putting them down for their faults and shortcomings to make myself feel better about mine. I expect from them what I cannot expect from myself.

“Hypocrite!” you say. And you’d be right.

If you are reading this, you probably fall into one of three categories:

  1. You are not a Christian, and you think all Christians are hypocrites. Well – you got your answer – but can I challenge you to realize that you are one too? You expect consistency out of others that you cannot keep up yourself. You look down on me for being a Christian who looks down on you because you are not. (sorry about that, I’m working on it)

  2. You are Christian who agrees – you know you don’t live a consistent life – that you are not all that you want (and pretend to be), but are thankful for the mercy of knowing the truth. You are free (when you remember this, of course) to be honest with yourself, and God, and perhaps even others. You know there is grace for even this fault.

  3. You are a Christian and don’t like that I have called you a hypocrite. Well, sorry (not sorry), but it’s true. There is no way, NO WAY! You can live the life you ought to live. There is no way that you have it all together. You have not turned your back on sin, never to stumble again. SO STOP PRETENDING!!! You are not doing yourself, anyone else, and most certainly not God any favours by acting better than the rest of us.

Have you noticed what we all have in common? We’re all messed up. We’ve all screwed up. We can’t fix it. We can’t heal all the hurts we have caused. We can’t undo the damage we have done, or do enough to make up for it either. We are, all of us, up the creek without a paddle, a motor, or the ability to swim.

What’s to be done?

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5:8)

But God.

We’re hopeless, and he offers us hope, while we are still messed up. He doesn’t expect us to clean up our act first.

And guess what? We don’t even have to clean up our act after, either! Say what!?! Read it and rejoice!

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1)

Do we change, though? Well, yeah, we do – but not because we need to prove ourselves, and not because we will get something from God, but because the joy of freedom allows us to trust that what God says is good, is good – though it might not be easy. And He makes us new and gives us the desire to change for our own benefit, and for his glory.

And that is good news for this hypocrite!

(As for those self-righteous, placard wearing, so-called Christians who won’t admit their hypocrisy? Pray for them. They haven’t seen the truth about themselves, that their hearts are as prone to sin as the people they put-down and fight against. They don’t know about grace, not really – the grace God freely offers them and the world – love without cost – forgiveness, freedom. If they did they might put down their signs long enough to realize we are all in the same boat, and maybe do a little more loving and less condemning.)

For the rest of us, here is one of my favorite Martin Luther quotes:

So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: “I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!”

Thank you, Jesus, for forgiving even my pretense and hypocrisy. Help me to give to others the mercy that I have received. Help me to see them with understanding and compassion, and not with harsh judgment, for I have been forgiven much – much more than I will ever know. All praise to you, Jesus. You have not just saved me for eternity, but you are working in me now, making me more like you – however slow and painful the work may be. Help me submit to the changes you are making in me, though it hurts at times, I trust that it is for my good, and the good of the world you love, because you are good.

When You Can’t Seem to Get it Right

Ever since I became a truly born-again Christian, and really, even before that, I have held up the beautiful idea of having daily time in the Word and prayer as the mark of a true, mature believer. I have prayed for this to be true of my life. I have anguished over how I could never manage to faithfully keep the habit. I have tried morning devotions, and every trick possible for getting out of bed early. I’ve tried afternoon devotions, and before bed devotions. I’ve tried a hundred different reading plans and prayer guides.

I’ve been following the Lord for over 15 years now and I still cannot do it every day.

I have cried out the Lord, and asked him to make it easier, asked him to show me the key to this discipline. I have wept bitter tears over my unfaithfulness. Surely, if I loved Him as much as I say I do I would make the time!?! I’ve carried so much guilt and so much confusion over this one thing for so, so long.

Why? Why couldn’t I get this right?

After 15 years I am starting to get a glimpse of what God was doing – something so much bigger than my “quiet time’.

I wanted to have that time with God, to get to know Him more, yes, but also to feel and look mature, and to earn his special attention.

I thought I knew what was best for me. I thought that the only way I could mature in Christ was to have this elusive Quiet Time. “Not so,” says the Lord. I know the path you need to take.

God was patiently addressing a bigger issue in my life than my daily bible reading. He allowed me to struggle to spend time with Him, allowed distance in our relationship so that I would come to the very end of myself – so that I could see the truth about myself – my sin and weakness and utter inability to do anything about it.

I learned that He really does love me unconditionally, whether I perform or not, and that His blessings have nothing to do with what I do to earn them.

I needed to know that all my effort wasn’t doing me any good so that I could invite Him in – to forgive and change. I’ve finally found peace.

If you are struggling right now, if there is something you’ve wanted to sort out and get right for so very long, but it’s just not happening, please, trust Him. Entrust yourself to Him. Ask Jesus to help you, but know that his help might not follow the course you’ve mapped out for yourself. One day you may look back and see that the path He chose for you, that made no sense at the time, was inifinitely better.

His grace is enough.

Sweet, Beautiful Happiness

I just listened to this sermon by Matt Chandler, and loved this part so much that I had to take the excerpt from the transcript and share it with you:

The Village Church – Acts 1 The Beginning of the Church Feb 2 2014

Martyn Lloyd-Jones uses this illustration. It’s the best illustration I’ve heard on this subject. Lloyd-Jones talked about [how] the Christian has a happiness in the Lord that is there because of the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of him. Our Christian experience is one of a child holding our Father’s hand, faithfully walking down the road. We feel safe. We feel secure. We are his, yet not overly compelled to sing about that or shout about that. We’re just happy and safe and walking faithfully, holding our Father’s hand.

There will be moments where the Father startles his sons and daughters by sweeping them quickly off the ground, pulling them in, kissing their neck, then pushing them back out, looking into their eyes, and saying with all the affection imaginable, “I’m so glad you’re mine,” and pulling them back in for one more tight embrace, and then putting them down on the ground and continuing to walk. Lloyd-Jones says that’s what it looks like to be clothed in power from on high. That’s what it feels like to be covered in the power of the Holy Spirit.

In fact, I’ll read for you this piece of the quote from Lloyd-Jones. “The fuses of love are so overloaded they almost blow out. The subconscious doubts––that he wasn’t thinking about at the time, but that pop up every now and then––are gone! And in their place is utter and indestructible assurance, so that you know that you know that you know that God is real and that Jesus lives and that you are loved, and that to be saved is the greatest thing in the world.

And as you walk on down the street you can scarcely contain yourself, and you want to cry out, ‘My father loves me! My father loves me! Oh, what a great father I have! What a father! What a father!’” That’s what it’s like to be clothed with power from on high: a driving out of any doubt, of any lack of assurance or gladness of heart, a blowing of the fuses of our hearts under the weight of God’s delight in his children.

Fire Needs Fuel 3 – Discipline

So, the obvious follow up to my last post about spiritual junk food is how to get good spiritual food into us…how to keep that fire burning, keep the passion for the Lord and not just smolder. I don’t want adversity or hardship or the enemy’s schemes to smother my joy – I want to persevere in the faith.

I need a plan!

I am great planner – the problem is that I usually fail to follow through.

I plan how I will handle a certain situation with the kids (picky eating, whining or whatever) –but within the week I’ve fallen back into my default parenting methods. I plan to get the house more organized, stay on top of the laundry and the clutter, and it works for a week or two – but then it doesn’t anymore. Over and over the same pattern – plan and fail, plan and fail.

Why? Why this obsession with planning? And why can I rarely persevere?

I have a deep seated desire for order, improvement, even discipline, but I also have deep rooted sin in my heart that balks at the idea of control – any control – even the controls that I’ve set-up myself. Of course, I try to hide this sin behind more acceptable excuses like “life is unpredictable, how could I have anticipated every contingency? This just isn’t working anymore,” but in my heart of hearts I know I’m just rebellious, lazy, or both.

I know that discipline will set me free, and yet I feel like I am being enslaved while I submit to it, so I kick and scream and fight to be free of the very thing that will bring liberation.

The other problem with a plan is that it focusses the attention on what I have to do.

I don’t want to obscure the gospel. If you read this and think you need to go and do as I am hoping to do – as a way to secure your salvation, prove your salvation, or earn God’s favour or blessing; really for any other reason besides the compelling of the Spirit out of joy and love, then there is a problem.

I desire to fuel the spiritual fire with good things, because I love Him, because He first loved me. He has won my heart, and I know that there is nothing better for me than to be overcome by His love and goodness. Nothing I do makes me worthy of Him, nothing could. I am a hopelessly lost sinner, but for the grace of God.

I’ve had to check my motivation, yes, but I still need a plan.

I struggled with the idea of how to feed the fire for over a month. I’ve prayed and thought and read and waited on the Lord. I hesitated to make another plan that looked really good on paper, but that I would not be able to keep up. Throughout this process I continued reading in Hebrews.

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. – Hebrews 12:11

In the past, I read this verse all wrong. I focussed on the discipline, reading it as “spiritual disciplines” – the things I need to do. I thought that if I could persevere at the spiritual disciplines (prayer and Bible reading in particular) then I would be righteous and peaceful – by my own efforts. It really had almost nothing to do with Jesus at all.

But, take all of Hebrews into account, how the author takes such great pains to show that Jesus is the Great High Priest, the mediator, the one who atones for our sin and intercedes for us. It’s the real point of the letter, not this little verse about discipline. Even just consider a few verses above:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. – Hebrews 12:1-3, emphasis mine

When I fix my eyes on Jesus, I want to know him more. In Christ, I hate my sin, and want to be holy the way He is holy. I don’t want to be satisfied with anything less than all of God.

In the Spirit there is something to be done. He will not take over my will, but he will empower me to persevere, to become holy, even as I am already holy. Verse 12-13:

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.

That sin that is rooted deep disables me. It is wrapped around my heart and tangled into my every desire, thought and action – but Jesus is the healer. If I want to be free from this sin, I don’t need to try harder – I need more of Jesus!

A NEW PLAN

So, I do have a new plan, a plan to get more of Jesus in my life; a plan for someone weak and feeble, an easy, level path:

Three times a day I will intentionally put good fuel on the fire.

Firstly, I am taking my Bible to bed so I can read a chapter (or just a verse) before I get up for the day. My kids get up ridiculously early (like 5:45) so there is no way I am going to beat them downstairs for a quiet time by myself. They do, however, play quietly in the morning. When the baby wakes they know to go into his room and give him some toys and play in there. It buys me a little time to wake slowly, and to fix my eyes on Jesus.

Secondly, in the afternoon, when the little ones nap and the big kids have a little time out, I will take a few minutes, as many as I can grab, to read a little bit, or journal, or just pray and breathe. It might be pretty – I might get to have tea and quiet for an hour, or it might be an exasperated two minutes behind a locked bathroom door. The point is to fix my eyes on Jesus, and that only takes a moment.

Thirdly, in the evening, when the kids are tucked in and the house is quiet, then I’ll go tackle the kitchen and listen to a good gospel-centered podcast or sermon online. They open my eyes to seeing the Gospel in even more ways, and once again my eyes are fixed on Jesus.

And I’ll throw off some of the things that hinder:

In particular, social media. I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest – they are tools that can be used for good, yes, but when I over indulge I lose focus. I am restricting myself to not using it at all before 3pm, or while the family is together. There are other things that catch me up, but this is a big one, and enough to try and gain victory over for the moment.

And when I don’t want to do any of this? Well, I am praying that I will remember that discipline is not pleasant. I won’t always feel like praying – sometimes I don’t even feel like getting dressed. Hopefully with the Lord’s help in those moments I’ll remember the why, remember the joy, and ask for his divine strength to throw-off the sin the so easily entangles, and do it anyway!

I’ve put together a pocket sized planner printable to help me along in my plans. I’ll share it with you in my next post.

Blessings on you, as you seek the Lord in your own life. You may falter, but He is faithful. All hanks and praise to Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our faith.

Fire Needs Fuel 2 – Spiritual Junk Food

Last week I wrote about realizing that if I want to be passionate, if I want to burn for Jesus, and be on fire for God, that I need to feed the fire. A fire cannot be sustained without regular fuel. It was one of those A-ha/Duh! moments. I can’t believe I had never really thought about my relationship with God like that before.

But just that realization alone is not enough. After all, you can’t throw just anything into a woodstove and expect to get heat from it. The metaphor starts to break down at this point, though, so I’d like to set it aside and talk about spiritual food.

I recently opened up the book of Hebrews again, and the passage about spiritual milk and meat hit me anew:

In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. – Hebrews 5:12-14

I was shocked when I read beyond those few verses to find out what the author (probably Paul) considered what spiritual milk was.

Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. – Hebrews 6:1-2

All these years I was wrong, calling something milk that was not that at all.

Will you allow me to be blunt?

We, the North American church, are not just immature; we are addicted to spiritual junk food.

You see, milk is nourishing. When an infant receives milk he grows as he should, craving more of that goodness and eventually moving onto solid food. Junk food, on the other hand, tantalizes our tastes buds, but isn’t nourishing. It does not support development, or lead us to want more of God as we grow; it makes us crave more of itself. Eventually it makes us sick.

I am sad to say that we have been duped into believing an imposter, just like the “healthy” processed food at the grocery store. Spiritual junk food is the stuff that makes us feel good – but doesn’t really change us. It is the happy story, the inspirational song, the movie with the moral ending. It has a form of godliness, but denies it’s power.

It’s a sad reality that many Christians spend their entire lives wandering around a spiritual wilderness, malnourished, thirsting, and consuming rubbish because they have never feasted on the soul-consoling, heart-transforming, zeal-engendering truth… – Elyse M. Fitzpatrick, Found in Him

That’s the truth I really want, but how to figure out what’s good for us?

In this culture, where information abounds, discernment is needed more than ever. Do not take this lightly, our very souls are at stake. If we fill ourselves up with junk food, we will never have the strength to withstand a trial – our malnourished spirits will crumble at the slightest difficulty – but for the grace of God.

If I want to really nourish my faith I need to start filling up on true milk and meat – real food, not “food like substances”. And how will I know what is what? Obviously the Bible is the best source, but what about the book, the blog, and all the other hundreds of sources of so-called “spiritual encouragement”?

I can’t make this complicated, so how about two simple rules:

Is the message true to the Gospel? Does it keep the focus on Christ’s work or on what we need to do? Does it elevate an “ism” over the good news?

Does it fill me with desire to know God more, to pray, to open the Bible, to love others? Or do I just want to consume more of “it”? True, real food, will cause me to crave the purest source of spiritual food – junk food just feeds the addiction.

How shocked I am when I realize how much of my intake does not pass the test.

Father, give me an appetite for food that truly satisfies, for water that truly quenches my thirst – for you alone. Deep in my soul I know that apart from you I have no good thing. Forgive me for falling for the imposters. Give me the discernment of your spirit, that I might worship you alone.

Fire Needs Fuel – Part One

We heat our home with a woodstove, and supplement with a furnace. This means that every day for about half the year I have to build, and keep, a fire going. I’ve been doing this for three years, and have learned a few tricks along the way about building a fire – which pieces of wood work best for starting, which ones burn hot, how to arrange them, how to tinker with the flue etc.

Apparently it takes me three years of seeing something every day to really “see” it.

Last week I was struggling to keep the fire going. I started it in the morning, and then headed off to another part of the house to homeschool, or clean the kitchen or something – by the time I wandered back into the living room the fire was smoldering. So I started it up once more – a few pieces of tinder and paper and it was burning again. I went off and came back an hour later to find only a few glowing coals. This pattern repeated itself all day and into the night.

And while I sat there trying, again, to get this fire really going, it struck me: a fire needs fuel. If I want to be “on fire” for God – that fire needs fuel, too

How many times have I prayed for more passion in my relationship with God? How many times have I lamented the feeling that it had gone cold?

And while the answer may be overly simplistic, the question still needs to be asked: Have I been feeding the fire?

Well, honestly? Not enough.

I wanted God to work some sort of magic that made me feel emotionally passionate about Him, without investing in that change myself. I wanted to be able to throw a few pieces of tinder on the fire, light it up and have it burn strong all day (or week), without any more of my attention.

I want to give my energy to all the details and distractions of life without that fire going cold.

Though it’s embarrassing to admit, I never saw it before.

Father, what can I say? You are most important to me – the sweetest part of my life, and yet I neglect you. I am a hypocrite and incurable by my own efforts. I feel the pull of a hundred different distractions every moment of the day, and I surrender to them. Instead of attending to the details of life with your strength and perspective, I push you aside and try to do things myself – and then I fail at everything. I fail to do things well or with a pure heart, and I fail to involve you in my life.

I want to burn for you – to be a light for your glory. I want to be consumed with passion for you. I don’t want to be a flickering candle, or smoldering coals. I want to be a bonfire – I want your light to shine through me into this dark world. I want the fire of our relationship to warm and encourage those around me.

Help me, Lord, for I don’t know the way. I don’t know how live any differently than I do now, only that I must. Open my eyes to see the path ahead, and strengthen my will and resolve to follow it. Above all, I desire you.

A Prayer for the Wonder-Starved

Father God, I know that you are wonderful, beautiful. You are full of wonder and the fullness of beauty. I know that the skies declare your glory. I know that you are always good. But lately, Lord, I’ve struggled to see it, and when I can’t see I start to forget. I try to remember the times when I have known you were speaking to me, the times I was just in awe of your beauty, and I am comforted, sort of. But what I really want, Lord, is to gaze on your beauty today – and every day.

Like Bartimaus, Lord, my eyes are sick. It’s not that you are any less glorious – you have not lost your lustre like cheap jewelry – I just cannot see. I’ve developed cataracts – I’ve focussed too much on my little life, my little problems and worries. It’s as though I’ve held a book in front of my face, blocking out all the wide world beyond, blocking you from my line of sight.

Forgive me for not trusting you with my small concerns, for making mountains out of molehills, for again and again seeking out and settling for a second-rate substitution when I know that only the love you offer truly satisfies.

Jesus, have mercy on me. I want to see.

I want to see the way a baby sees the rain for the first time – to laugh giddy at the miracle of a sunrise, a smile, and daily bread.

Heal my blindness, Lord – and make the daily and everlasting song of my heart that “apart from you I have no good thing“. When distractions and the cares of life vie for my attention; please, PLEASE, Lord, be the foreground…the largest thing in my sight – be the glasses that put all other things in perspective.

And when I still choose to turn away? Thank you that your beauty and goodness CHASE AFTER ME! Your grace overtakes me. How can you love me like you do? I rejected you, and you died for me, and then drew me back to you, as you are drawing me even now – removing the scales from my eyes, and showing me once again your great love, your goodness, your glory.

Thank you.

Rethinking Love

 

If you’ve ever read the part in The Screwtape Letters where he picks on someone who disdains everything that is popular, just because it’s popular….um, yeah, that’d be me, but I really care about what is here, so in spite of the fact that it’s almost February 14th I am posting this anyway.

Have you heard about the Five Love Languages? (That’s mostly a joke, by the way, but just in case you somehow have never heard of this 20 year old bestseller, click the link!)

It is totally possible that this book has single-handedly saved hundreds of marriages (according to the reviews). It’s a fantastic concept, and terribly practical – that each of us has a particular way in which we receive love best. According to the author, people can feel loved when lavished with acts of service, words of affirmation, gifts, are physically touched, or spend quality time with their spouse. Armed with the knowledge of what you and your spouse’s love language is you each try to “fill the love-tank” every day in a way the other can appreciate. Do this, and you will live happily ever after. Oh so easy.

If only our selfishness didn’t get in the way.

I’m picking on the 5 Love Languages idea, but really most marriage books and advice fail to effect lasting change. At least they have failed me.

While knowing Carl’s Love Language (aka, knowing what he really appreciates) is helpful, when I care enough, knowing my own has proven dangerous. There is something in the knowing that “Acts of Service” is my love language that has made me feel ENTITLED to being loved this way, especially if I am intentionally showing my love for Carl in the way he appreciates. Eventually our relationship becomes little more than a mutual exchange, a trade-off of love where I could say “you take out the garbage, and I’ll give you praise – I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine – and we’ll be happy.” Is this really all there is to a happy marriage?

But even if we could, theoretically, come to some sort of negotiated peace, it wouldn’t ever really be enough. Because enough is never enough. For example, I might think that if he just cleaned the kitchen three times a week I would be happy – but I know that as soon as I got used to that I would want more. I always want more. The ugly sin of self-centered ingratitude will grow in me again, and I will never be satisfied – and neither will he.

And what if I am showing more love in his language than he is reciprocating back? Well then bitterness starts to creep in and we are really on a slippery slope.

There has to be a better way.

If we are each in this relationship for our own good, it is never going to work. We might stay together by sheer determination, but we will never be truly happy.

Should I refuse the gifts of love that don’t fill up my love reservoir as effectively – or can I humbly and graciously accept Carl’s love in any form? More than that, can I sacrificially show love even when I’m not feeling loved? There are so many verses I could pull from:

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. – John 15:13

Do nothing out of selfish ambition …rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. – Phil. 2:3-4

I hesitate to pull this verse out of context (read the whole chapter here), because it is planted in the middle of the gospel. If we just try harder to be less selfish and put our spouses first we are doomed to fail. Our efforts must be rooted in the example of Christ, the transforming power of his love, and the empowering of the Holy Spirit.

I love what Tim Keller writes in The Meaning of Marriage

“The reason that marriage is so painful and yet so wonderful is because it is a reflection of the gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. The gospel is this: we are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ that we ever dared hope. This is the only kind of relationship that will really transform us. …the gospel can fill our hearts with God’s love so that you can handle it when your spouse fails to love you as he or she should.”

The reason that speaking each other’s love language will never fully satisfy is because we were made for unconditional love. Giving and receiving love from our spouse alone will always be somewhat conditional – there will always be in the back of our minds some kind of scorecard. We will feel either that the other is in our debt, or that we owe them – and that conditionality taints our happiness, so that the best we can hope for is just a mutual complacency.

The better way is not to ultimately look to my spouse to fill my love needs at all – rather my perspective changes completely. When I am not feeling loved, I can look to Christ who loves me with a never-failing love to fulfill me. When I am feeling loved by Carl, I can thank God for showing his love for me through my husband. Furthermore, in my own small way, I can show Carl how much God loves him by loving him. Our love languages, then, become a way in which we seek to reveal God’s love to each other instead of a way to earn brownie points.

True love, must be rooted in the only True Love, God’s love – then we lay down our lives for one another, because Christ laid down his life for us. …and then we find true marriage.

I would love to write so much more, but instead I’ll tell you to read Time Keller’s book The Meaning of Marriage. It is an eye-opening exploration of Ephesians 5. Get it. It’s worth every penny.