Break Time

 DawnToDusk

This post originally appeared at: http://www.inspireafire.com/break-time
And yes, that moon photo is one I took recently on a drive through IA. Isn’t it amazing?

I was walking through the Wal-Mart parking lot when three individuals stepped out of their separate cars. They unknowingly fell into step with each other and headed toward the entrance. I watched in amazement as they reached out their left arms with the precision of synchronized swimmers. They moved like extensions of the same organism: first extending, then bending, then bringing their cell phones to their ears.

I don’t think any of them noticed the others. I wouldn’t have noticed them either, except for once I was not on my cell phone. I was not talking with a friend, checking messages, or otherwise engaged. I was simply walking my dog on a shortcut through the parking lot and toward our favorite park. As I went, I realized it had been a long time since I had simply walked and looked – I mean really looked – around me.

computers

All of this convenience, and yet…

There was a time when walking my dog was how I sorted through my day, just me and God and the occasional squirrel who rudely interrupted my ruminating by dashing a fluffy tail under my dog’s nose. There was a time I could say hello to the Wal*Mart greeter without him wondering if I was talking to him or the person on the other end of the line.The convenience of phones not tethered to walls means that I can squeeze in my verbal correspondence almost anyplace. With the advent of smart phones, I can even squeeze in my written correspondence while waiting in line or sitting on a park bench when I should, perhaps, be watching the sunset instead. All of this convenience allows me to connect with those whom I otherwise could never find the time to connect with. And yet…

Somewhere along the line my schedule got a little tighter. I joined this group, then that group, and worked late “just occasionally.” I volunteered for this, signed up for that, and was recruited into oh-but-you’d-be-so-good-at-this!

All of it was important. Most of it was fun. None of it could be dropped. Except of course, it could.

I’m not even sure how it happened, but it was gradual. I didn’t sign up for the next session. I stepped down for a term. I didn’t renew my membership. And suddenly I found myself walking freely across a parking lot, watching the ballet of the synchronized cell phone users and thinking: Sometimes freedom in Christ means giving Him the freedom to act in my life.

sunset road

Freedom means giving God room to act in our lives.

It’s a stunning thought, but I can hinder my own freedom by not giving God the necessary space to act in my life. When I have every minute of every day packed with activities, I am blocking God’s plans. Oh sure, God can and will use the activities I am part of, but I’m talking about that dawn to dusk treadmill that has me running so hard I might not even notice God is there. Heaven forbid He suggest I put my cell phone down and say hello to the cashier. I don’t have time for that!

It’s easier than I realized to become a slave to a schedule of my own creation. And there is more freedom than I ever imagined in letting it go… even for a short time.

It won’t be long before my little cushions of time get filled again. I’ll sign back up for this and return once more to that. But in the meantime, I am pierced by this probing question: How might God have used that time I filled with classes, sports teams, even church activities? While I am free to do as I choose, will I be even freer if I leave a little space for God to do as He chooses?

I’m taking a little break to find out.

MeOnBreak

 

Advertisements

Stalking Time

computers

Ever wish you had more time? After a 6 month lapse in blog posts, this seems like an appropriate one to share! This was originally posted on Inspire A Fire and you can view the original post at http://www.inspireafire.com/stalking-time. 

I wish I had more time.

Hardly a day goes by that I don’t lament the fact that there are only 24 hours in a day. There are so many things I’d like to do, so many things I can never quite get to. And the days, the weeks, the years, flit by.

Some people say that time is money, but that just isn’t true. The richest people in the world still have 24 hours in a day.

I don’t deny a certain level of financial stability can purchase amenities that make our lives easier and purpose to give us more free time. But just as likely, those fancy amenities begin a spiral of dependence that seems to take rather than make time. How many of us truly feel we have more time because of our televisions, cell phones, computers, automobiles? Don’t we instead just drive further, work longer, stare at screens more? The answer to more time is not found in increasingly fancy gadgets. The answer to more time is far more basic than that. Here’s what I have discovered.

Stop looking for more time. It doesn’t exist. Sometimes I find myself spending my time trying to figure out a way to squeeze more time into my schedule so that I can finally get started on The Project. It has never worked. It never will, because God – not us – created time. God created the earth and the sun and the daily and yearly cycles. God has also set our days. Moses noted in Psalm 90:10, “The length of our days is seventy years, or eighty if we have the strength.” Even with all the advancements we have made as a society, the average life span is still in line with that of the ancient Israelites. Spending our time looking for more time is not the answer.

clocks

Use the time you have. Remember the man who stockpiled all his grain, even building bigger barns to hold it all in the hopes that once he had enough he could take life easy? “God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you.” (Luke 12) We can do the same thing with our time – trying to stockpile it so that once we have enough we can do X or Y or Z. Don’t wait for “enough.” Start doing X or Y or Z right now, just a little bit, with whatever time you have.

There’s always time for what you do first. If I’m completely honest with myself, my lament for not enough time is often nothing more than a handy personal excuse. There is something I wanted to do and I did not do it… not because I tried extremely hard and was repeatedly thwarted, but because I never got around to actually starting it. I had time. I spent it on something else. Jesus chided his followers not to worry about life, food, drink, clothing. Worry is a waste of time. “Your heavenly father knows that you need them. Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33). How are you spending your time, really? What’s the first thing you do when you get up, when you get to work, when you get home?

Don’t confuse difficult with impossible. If God has laid something on your heart to accomplish, He will give you the means to succeed. “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised” (Hebrews 10:36).

Time is an elusive quarry, and the secret to catching it is counterintuitive: Give up the chase. Focus your pursuit not on stalking time, but on stalking those things that you most want to fill your time with. You will find that God has indeed given you enough time to accomplish what he has purposed for you to do.

Pray. And Go.

This blog was originally posted in November 2014 on Inspire a Fire, a blog site for inspirational Christian messages. Visit the original post at www.inspireafire.com/pray-go/.

Sometimes we are the answer to our own prayers.

There is a scene in the third installment of the Harry Potter series that I love. Harry and his friends are attacked by foul creatures known as dementors and are losing the fight. Suddenly, in the hazy distance, Harry sees a figure that looks like his father raise a wand and scatter the dementors. Saved – but how is that possible? Harry’s father is dead.

Fast forward a few chapters, and in that intrepid J.K. Rowling fashion, Harry and his friends have travelled back in time and are watching these same events unfold. They are standing just a few feet from where their rescuer appeared. Even as Harry watches their earlier selves succumb to the fight, he is watching and waiting for their rescuer to appear. Harry knows it will happen because it has already happened. But where is he?

Photo courtesy www.freedigitalphotos.net & Salvatore Vuono

Photo courtesy http://www.freedigitalphotos.net & Salvatore Vuono

Then suddenly Harry realizes: it was him that rescued their earlier selves! It was him he saw from a distance and mistook for his father. And leaping to his feet, he draws his wand and shoots the powerful rays that scatter the dementors. All along he had been waiting, but it was him that had to do it.

Yes, sometimes we are the answer to our own prayers.

I don’t think this principal is accidental. In fact, we see it modelled in Jesus’ work with His disciples. Jesus told his followers to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest field. “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few,” He said (Matthew 9:37). Jesus saw the rampant needs of the people He encountered. He knew additional help was needed to share the message of salvation and bring physical healing to the sick.

But Jesus did not stop with merely instructing his listeners to pray. Both times when this quote appears in the Gospels, it is followed by incredible action. In Matthew 9-10, Jesus instructed His disciples to pray, and then He sent them out to be the very workers they were praying for. In Luke 10, Jesus similarly instructed His listeners to pray, and then He sent out the seventy-two. “Go!” He declared. “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons…” (Matthew 10:7)

Jesus told His listeners what to pray for, and then He answered their prayer by sending… them!

Field at Sunset

The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. (Photo by Janet Beagle)

Be careful what you ask for, I have heard. Because you just might get it. Be careful what you pray for, I might add. Because you just might become it.

God already knows who He wants us to become. He knows what task he has for us to do. Like the twelve disciples and the seventy-two, God wants to send us into the harvest field. God is looking for us to cry out like Isaiah: Here I am, Lord. Send me. Send me! This cry may look different for each one of us. Some may be called to far-away mission fields. Some may be called to a backyard harvest. Either way, the process is the same. The first step is to pray. Then we must go.

Like Harry looking back on his earlier self, we can rest in the assurance that our Savior will come to save us, because He already has. Our God has sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die upon a cross and thus pay in full the debt of our sin. But also like Harry, this assurance does not prevent us from doing the task that is at hand. In addition to assuring us of our salvation, our God has also given us a job to do. As Jesus’ followers, we too are called to pray for more workers in the harvest. And then we, too, are called to go.

Quotes for the New Year

Happy New Year, everyone! I have been thinking about this pair of quotes from a sermon I attended last weekend, and they seem like a great way to start the new year.

1) “We don’t know what tomorrow holds, but we know Who holds tomorrow.”

The start of a new year always bring the promise of new beginnings, but it also brings a promise of new challenges. Isn’t it interesting that we celebrate the birth of our Savior right before the start of the new year? Let that be reminder to all of us. We do not enter into the new year alone; we are accompanied by the greatest gift ever given to mankind. Immanuel. God-with-us.

2) “I am not as smart as God.”

Sometimes it’s good to be reminded of this, because the way my brain gets to churning some days I could accidentally conclude that I was single-handedly solving the entire universe of problems. (Anyone else sometimes find themselves in this situation?) There are days I have a lot of questions for God. Why is a big one. So is how. It is a comfort, at the end of the day, to know that even when I cannot reason something through to my own satisfaction, there is Someone else who can. There are some things I will never understand. And that is okay. We have a God who knows all things, and is working all things together for the good of those who love Him.

Whatever the New Year may bring, we can rest in the assurance that we are infinitely cared for. The days of our lives are held – perfectly, protectively – in the very palm of His hand.

For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. (Isaiah 41:13).

What Others See in You

This blog was originally posted a few weeks ago on Inspire a Fire. See the original at www.inspireafire.com/others-see/.

Sometimes friends teach me things about myself I never knew.

Like apparently I talk with my hands way more than I realized. And I eat watermelon five times faster than any other food. (Keep this in mind if you’re ever feeding me in a rush.)

Maybe this isn’t exactly critical self-knowledge, but the point it raises certainly is. Sometimes others see something in me that I don’t see in myself.

Sometimes these things are negative. I need friends to encourage me when I’m frustrated, to tell me to snap out of it when I’m defeated, to remind me to be thankful when I’m not. But just as importantly, I need friends to give me positive comments. I need to hear about the strengths I overlook, the skills I take for granted, the gifts I should be nurturing.

I bet you’re the same. I bet you also need others to point out those things you overlook in yourself. And I bet your friends see more in you than you could possibly realize.

Girl in mirror

Sometimes others see something in me that I don’t see in myself. (Photo by Janet Beagle.)

God uses the people in our lives to help us find our way. But I’ll let you in on a secret. It’s not just our friends who see something more in us.

There’s Someone besides my friends who knew I would talk with my hands. Because He created them. There’s Someone who knew I would eat sandwiches slowly and watermelon fast. Because He designed me that way. There is, as Solomon wrote, a friend who is closer even than a brother (Proverbs 18:24). Maybe Solomon was referring to our earthly friends, but his words are true of our ultimate Friend as well.

“I have called you friends,” Jesus said to his followers (John 15:15).

God knows us more intimately than anyone could possible know us. He ordained every one of our days before we were born; He created our inmost being; He knit us together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139). God has told us things about ourselves. Listen:

  • You are loved and forgiven (John 3:16).
  • You are protected (2 Samuel 22:31; Psalm 32:7)
  • You are handcrafted for a purpose (Ephesians 2:10).
  • You are made in the very image of God (Genesis 1:27).
  • You are called to perfection (Matthew 5:48).
  • You are never alone (Matthew 28:20; Psalm 139:7-10).
  • You are surrounded by God’s perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3).
  • You are part of a family of believers dating back to the very first disciples (John 17:20-21).
  • You are being guided, even in your moments of confusion (John 16:13; Proverbs 3:5-6).
John 15:15 I have called you friends

Listen to the Friend who knows us better than anyone. John 15:15. Image by Janet Beagle

We don’t always know what happens next. If you’re like me, you have a hard enough time keeping up with what’s going on right now. But we can rest in the assurance that Someone else does know. And when we genuinely try to follow His direction, He will keep our feet on the right path.

We are called, right now, to fulfill our days with the work that is at hand. Everything we need has been planted inside us. We just may need a little help bringing it out. Take the time to tell those around you what you see in them. Listen, to what others see in you. Most importantly, listen to the Friend who knows us even better than we can ever know ourselves.

Sometimes friends teach us things about ourselves we never knew.

Waiting

I recently found myself in the midst of a possible house purchase.

I don’t remember ever thinking, “Hey, I think I’m ready to go look for a house.” I just woke up one day and discovered I was already looking. Despite my years of happy renting, I was suddenly staring at a potential purchase. Exciting. Terrifying. A little too sudden.

Then just as I was working up the nerve to put in an offer, my realtor went incommunicado.

Who does that? What realtor that close to an offer suddenly shuts down? What if this is my dream house and it’s sold out from under me while I wait? Worse, what if this is a sign that I should back off because it’s actually my nightmare home, and I could end up owning it?

Finally in desperation one night I prayed, “God, I give you this house. Do with it whatever you want…” And then I added, “But if you want me to do something, let me know. Because I could send the realtor another email. Or I could call. Would you like me to call? Or maybe I should see if there’s a different house I should look at. Maybe there’s a reason this is suddenly being put on hold. Maybe there are concerns with this house. Let me think about the possible concerns…”

Two hours later I still wasn’t asleep.

The next day my verse of the day was Psalm 27:14: Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!

The following day a song on the radio reminded me, “Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord. We will wait upon the Lord.”

I was starting to feel a bit like the lead character in that movie (Was it Bruce Almighty?) that was driving down the road calling out, “God give me a sign!” And all while he was pounding the steering wheel, a giant truck was weaving in front of him loaded with constructions signs that read “Wrong way. Do not enter. Danger.”

So okay, then. If I am supposed to wait upon the Lord, here is one conclusion I have come to: I’m not very good at it.

I have handed that house to God at least 217 times in the last several days, and every time I snatch it right back. I spasmodically check for messages from my realtor. I find myself re-routing my errands to drive past the house. I walk my dog through the neighborhood. I browse listings to see if anything has changed. I have done everything I can possibly think of… except actually turn it over to God.

I’m honestly at the point where I don’t even care what the outcome is so long as the outcome happens so I can stop thinking about it. You’d think that would make waiting easier, but it does not. Because while I don’t care which answer is the right one, I want the right answer to prevail. And what if I’m supposed to be doing something? What if God is waiting on me?

Hahahahahah

It’s laughable, isn’t it? To think almighty God needs something from me before He can act. And yet, in these terrible moments of indecision, isn’t that what it comes down to? Isn’t there some part of us that is scared that we are going to screw it up? As though there is something we could do that could possibly thwart God’s good plan for us.

Now that I think about it, God probably is waiting on me. I suspect He’s waiting on me to let go, and to let Him. He’s waiting on me to demonstrate my trust not just through my words, but through my actions.

God is waiting on me, to wait on Him.

Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails (Proverbs 19:21).

Easy

Wouldn’t it be great if it were easy?

That’s what it said on the back of the cereal box. It said some other things too, but my eyes stopped right there.

Wouldn’t it be great? Wouldn’t it be great if it were easy?

I used my pocket knife to cut around the words, and then, to save the coupon printed on the inside of the box, I peeled it. Or at least I tried to until someone with fingers more dexterous than mine took it from me and stripped it like a piece of tape. The irony was not lost on me. It was hard just cutting those simple words out.

So maybe the real lesson was something more like this: sometimes the things most worth doing are the hard things.

That seems like something my father would say. Succinctly and tossed out light as a fishing line to reel in years later. It sounds like something my heavenly Father would say, too. “Those hard things, pay attention. They are teaching you something.”

Like forgiveness being born out of hard relationships. Like humility being born from hard struggles. Like perseverance being born out of fear.

Think about it: When we have choices and no clear answer we learn patience. When we have too much to do and not enough time we learn acceptance. When we have to say good-bye we learn to keep going. When we are at the end of ourselves, we are most likely to look out and see God.

I think of Joseph, sold into slavery in Egypt. (Hard.) Or Moses, trembling before Pharoah. (Hard.) Or Jonah, sent in no uncertain terms back to Ninevah. (Hard.) How about Noah building an ark, or Abraham walking away from his home, or Ruth following her mother-in-law into an uncertain future? (Hard, hard, hard.)

What do you think about Jesus’ disciples? Do you think they had it easy? Have you ever really thought about what it would be like to follow the Son of Man who had no place to lay his head? Amazing, yes. Easy? Doubtful.

And isn’t that the path we are also called to? Oh, we are in a different time and a different place to be sure. But God is calling each one of us to be remade in the image of Christ. That doesn’t sound easy to me. It sounds like there are a whole lot of hard things I need to learn. And relearn. And relearn again.

Maybe the reality is like that song I heard while driving home the other day: the trials of this life may in fact be God’s blessings in disguise. Jesus said that His yoke is easy and his burden is light, but He also said the way is hard that leads to life. The truly easy path may in fact be the one that looks the most challenging right now. After all, Noah got to his rainbow only after going through the storm.

Wouldn’t it be great if it were easy? Yes. But sometimes what we want and what we need are two very different things.

Sometimes we get to the easy only by going through the hard.

For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few… Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 7:13, 11:29-30).