In The Midst Of Chaos

While getting ready for church this past Sunday, I stopped and lifted up a few prayers. I was feeling overloaded by things going on in and around me, and wanted to be able to really  worship once I got in the doors.

After some deep breaths, I realized how tired I was – so I started with that item first. Next I poured my heart out about how chaotic I felt life had become lately. And in the midst of expressing some serious angst about that, I got what I affectionalely call a “God nudge.”

Do you ever get those? “Aha” kind of moments where pieces of truth you already know come together to form a whole new insight? They usually hit me right between the eyes (in the gentle way only God can do it), and this one was no different.

Here it was: God answered my cries about life feeling chaotic by reminding me of two qualities He has.

I am a God of creativity and I am a God of order.

That stopped me in my mental tracks and switched the direction of my thoughts. On the heels of that statement came a rush of examples from scripture where He demonstrated both qualities together.

  • When He created the Earth, He brought order to it.
  • When He created the nation of Israel, He laid down commands and laws.
  • When He established His church, He established elders to lead.

Even the way we were each formed follows this pattern – God created our bodies, which are an intricate balance of organs and systems that have to work together.

I found this whole idea not only very interesting, but very comforting for a couple of reasons. If I am living in obedience to God, there may be a new way of looking at times where things feel totally out of control:

  1. Chaos may actually be a part of God creativing something new in my life.
  2. God will sooner or later instill His order into my life.

Though I didn’t get any specific answers or advice, I entered church that day with a sense of having gotten a peek into God’s mindset. And I truly did feel stronger for it.

 

 

In Times Of Waiting

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I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him…it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”                Lamentations 3:24,26

How are you at waiting? I think one of our biggest challenges in life is waiting well. Think about it – so much of our daily life is spent waiting for all sorts of things. We’re forced to slow down until it’s our turn at the grocery store checkout, or to get a haircut, or talk to a “live” customer service person on the phone.

Then there are the bigger things we have to wait for, the requests near to our hearts that we’ve been lifting up to God. We may believe He’s heard us and that He has a good plan. But we can struggle if there’s a stretch of time between praying and receiving.

Waiting is going on in our house this morning. My son is waiting for news from a college he applied to. My husband and I are waiting for news about a family situation. In both cases, getting the answer feels like an urgent necessity because we really want resolution.

Well, I have to confess that I am not very good at waiting. If I’m not careful, my attitude can sour from one day to the next, and I’ve been known to whine during times of long heavenly silences. God knows I need growth in this area – and He’s been providing ample opportunity for me to work on it.

Two major emotions swoop in to make my waiting time difficult – fear (What if God doesn’t give me what I want?), and impatience (I need to do something right now to move this along!). In those moments, I focus on myself and my wants.

So how does God want us to wait instead? In Lamentations it says “quietly”. In other places we find descriptors such as “in expectation” (Ps 5:3), “in hope” (Ps 33:20), and “patiently” (Ps 37:7). All of those are positive and peaceful, no sense of rushing or worry. What a relief that would be! And what a difference from my usual reaction.

Waiting well seems to come down to trust. God already knew what I’d be asking for before I said anything, knows what’s best for me, and is working whether I see evidence of it or not. The question is, do I lean on God and His word, or my own understanding (what I see or feel at any given moment)? Can I let God be God?

Today my goal is to stay close to God, and to re-focus on Him as many times as I need. His promises may not include getting everything I want, but they offer His goodness and grace. Maybe this time of waiting can become a chance to worship God instead of questioning Him.

 

Morning Stretches

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The first thing I do every morning is a quick assessment of how stiff my joints and muscles are after a night in bed. Then I launch into a set of stretches to warm up. Today started out no different. But as I wiggled my fingers, an unexpected prayer popped into my head:

“Father God, let my hands do work for you today.”

I smiled a little at how cheesy that thought sounded. But then another one came while I did some jaw-loosening movements,

“Let my tongue speak things that will bless you today, God.”

I started to suspect that these “popcorn” prayers were not coming from me. Maybe they weren’t so cheesy after all! As I continued through my routine, I kept my ears tuned for more, and I wasn’t disappointed –

  • With my shoulder rolls came: “Let me not take on burdens that aren’t mine to carry.”

I’ve got a tendency to carry other people’s problems on my own back. The load gets awfully heavy. Better to let God show me how to help someone without becoming too caught up in their life.

  • With my arm raises: “Let me reach for You today for what I need.”

It’s easy for me to seek out the opinions and advice of other people. That can keep me from receiving God’s wisdom. Better to lift up a prayer and wait for His perfect answer.

  • With my neck turns: “Let me look for You wherever I go.”

I sometimes attempt daily life all on my own. It isn’t long before I feel lonely and worn out. Better to include God in my plans and decisions, so I can walk with more confidence and peace.

  • And you can probably guess what went along with my eye exercises: “Let me look on wholesome things.”

I don’t always monitor what I’m watching or reading carefully enough. And those outside influences truly can bring me down. Better to take a moment to make sure than an article or show will add value and build me up.

Along the way, I was reminded of the book of Ephesians in the Bible. The last part of chapter 6 is known as “The Armor of God” section because Paul connects the different pieces of a warrior’s armor to attributes that belong to Christians. The first verse in that passage says, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His might power.”

However I think of it, the bottom line is that I have to connect myself to God each day – it’s His power that carries me through. By the time I finished my stretches this morning,  I felt a lot more equipped for the day, both physically and spiritually.

What’s your way of connecting with God each day?

Spreading The Drama

 

man with newspaper and drinking coffee

As I was standing at the checkout line at the grocery store yesterday, I caught sight of the magazine racks. I usually do a quick scan of the teasers listed on each one, and find they range from practical (“80 Ways to Make Chicken” ) to silly (“Couple Adopts Space Alien Baby”).

Seeing the newest OK and Star headlines, the writer in me started to wonder what it would be like to work at one of those magazines. I imagined being hired basically to produce juicy stories about people, and the more provocative the better.

For a moment I thought it could be kind of fun. After all, I find there’s a thrill in the hunt for a good story. And having worked for a newspaper in the past, I’d be familiar with the routine of putting out feelers, then validating the information that comes in as well as the sources. In a way you could call It detective work.

But then I considered what I’d really be doing day in day out. In essence, I’d be looking for someone else’s drama, and announcing it to the world. And if, as I’ve heard accused, some of those stories are made up by editors, I’d be fabricating a lie about a person that could actually do damage. But just as I was feeling good about not writing for one of those outfits, a question suddenly popped into my head:

How many times have I spread bad news about someone?

More than I’d like to admit. And why did I do that? Was my just to let others know about a prayer need? Or was there a thrill in telling a juicy story? Did I hope that being the messenger would be a way to gain some attention for myself? And, even more concerning, could I have used my words of concern as a way to cover some judgemental thoughts?

By the time I left the store I felt pretty convicted. Yes, struggles happen to best of us, and we all make mistakes. But my role is not to proclaim those bits of news unless I’m asked to. Instead, I need to take what I hear and lift up my prayers in quiet.

An Avalanche Of Praise

20151016_113609One of the first things I do most mornings is to take my dog outside. She has a great time sniffing around the yard, doing what my Dad has called her “doggy business.” As I follow her (she takes me for a walk, you know), I find my thoughts usually turning pretty quickly to God.

Stepping out into the air, especially when it turns colder, is a wake-up call for me as well as Marcie. And walking through our little piece of nature grounds me in the present moment. I can get caught up in admiring how tall the trees have grown, or taking in the variety of bird songs being sung.

The more aware I am of these details, the more quickly I remember the One who made them. And I realize that He created them for both His and my pleasure. That thought leads me to thank Him for the beautiful display of His love.

Sometimes my praise is quick and quiet, staying tucked inside my heart. But other times, like today, it gets spoken out loud. I started this morning by naming what I saw right in front of me – Lord, thank You for the sunny morning, and for the amazing colors of the leaves. Thank You for creating such lovely things for me to enjoy.

I could have stopped there, but I didn’t want to. After the sun and leaves, I wanted to thank God for the blue sky, and our big back yard, and our house. More and more items came to mind, and each one seemed to lead to another, like links in a chain. Before I knew it, Marcie and I were at our front door 10 minutes later.

This kind of “avalanche” of praise can happen for me during my prayer time, too. People, situations, hopes and fears all spring to mind, making it hard to find a good stopping point. And I don’t really want these times to end – they feel so intimate and precious.

It was an awesome way to start my day – and that is a praise all it’s own!

How about you – do you ever find yourself caught up in avalanches of praise or prayer?

Subbing

I work as a substitute teacher in a couple of area school districts. This is actually the second time around. I tried it about 20 years ago, when I was much younger and very clueless – needless to say it didn’t go well.

In the decades between then and last year I worked as a preschool teacher and raised two kids. Both those experiences made me better at interacting with children and using what my kids call the “mom” scowl. (Don’t underestimate the disciplinary power of a good scowl!)

As I did those first early assignments, my attitude wasn’t right. I had been trying to prove my worth by, among other things, what job I had. Substitute teaching felt like the bottom rung of the ladder, and I was a bit ashamed to be doing it. And I lacked the humility to learn from my mistakes and misjudgments. I was miserable every day, and I’m sure the students could tell.

Luckily, by the time I decided to try again last year, God had taught me a few things. There were two especially faulty beliefs I had been holding on to.

  • I was trying to impress everybody, especially myself, by what I did
  • I was expecting perfection in every area of my life

Do either of those sound familiar to you? If they do, you know how exhausting they are to lug around all the time. And you know how they keep you feeling bad about yourself.

So how did God start breaking me free and getting me ready to sub again? For starters, He changed my focus. In my old mindset, I was very me-centered: How do I look? Am I good enough? Compare that with fixing my gaze on God, and seeing His majesty, feeling His acceptance.

Then, He helped me grow in humbleness. I thought turning up the pressure to perform would motivate me to stop making mistakes. But the only thing that did in the end was make me more anxious and discouraged. God wanted to show me grace and grow me in wisdom instead, but I had to drop the illusion of becoming perfect.

As I drove into school this morning, I prayed for God’s help to be a servant to the teachers and children, and for His Holy Spirit to be in the classrooms. And as I looked over the teacher’s plans for me, I reminded myself that doing my best was enough.

It was a good day.

Laid Low

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

2 Corinthians 12:9

Earlier in 2 Corinthians 12, Paul shares how he prayed three times that God would remove some sort of problem, a “thorn in the flesh.” Verse 9 is the response he heard from God.

Have you ever felt like you’ve gotten the same answer from Him? I have.

A year ago this month, I first started feeling the symptoms of what I know now is Rheumatoid Arthritis. I had a flare up in my wrists as I cut up vegetables for Thanksgiving dinner. Over the next couple of months the pain spread to joints up and down my body. It took most of my energy to get dressed then sit in a living room chair all day.

During that time, I often referred to myself as being laid low – the description really fit. It was as if someone had hit the shut-off button on my life, which up till then had been full and busy.

I had important things to do: keeping our home running, ministry, part time work, etc, etc. There was no time for pesky interruptions!

My disease is more than pesky, as is your “thorn.” And I don’t know about you, but I can relate to Paul asking for complete rescue from trouble. My first instinct is to look for the quickest way out.

But my experience is that God often chooses to keep me in difficult circumstances much longer than I would like. To test me? Maybe, but I believe the bigger reason is more tender – to show me how strong I can be once I start leaning on Him.

This morning I realized that the weather in my city is definitely turning colder, yet I am somehow dealing with each day better – namely, a little less grumbling and a little more patience. I could say it’s just the medicine working, or my own grit. But Paul’s words whisper the truth in my ear- it’s God’s strength, not mine.

What’s your thorn? How has God strengthened you in the midst of it?