That Still Small Voice

Fire

Happy Father’s Day! This post originally appeared at http://www.inspireafire.com/still-small-voice/. I’m re-posting it here in honor of my dad!

“Let your conscience be your guide,” my father used to say.

Compass

Let your conscience by your guide.

I don’t remember him ever telling me what my conscience was, but somehow I knew. It was that still, small voice that stopped me when I was tempted to go along with the wrong crowd. It was that slight, uncomfortable prodding when I was tempted to take the easy way out. It was the seed of something beautiful that would grow with me and become at times the clear, almost audible voice of God.

Sometimes that voice needs to work through a lot of tangle before I can hear it. I am reminded of this when I read the story of Elijah in the cave (1 Kings 19). There was a great and powerful wind, followed by an earthquake, followed by fire, but the Lord was not in any of those things. Instead, these cataclysmic events were contrasted with the gentle whisper of the Lord.

The thing that struck me recently about this story was not the contrast of catastrophic power with gentle instruction, but the fact that the catastrophic power came first.

We read this story in a few lines and it seems like Elijah waited only moments before he could walk to the opening of the cave and talk with the Lord. When my life is in cataclysmic upheaval I wish that I, too, could wait for just a moment and then walk out of the devastation and into gentle instruction. I yearn for God to say to me: “You are not the only one left. Come out of there. Let me tell you what to do.”

But we don’t know how long the winds blew as they tore apart everything that once seemed secure. Or how long the earthquake rooted everything into upheaval. Or how long the fire burned to rubble even what little remained. What we know is that even after all of that, the still small voice was still there for Elijah.

And that still small voice is still there for us.

Footsteps

He is guiding our steps.

Sometimes we have to go through wind and fire before we are in a place where we can hear His voice, but we have a promise from God that even when we cannot hear Him over the tumult, He is still by our side, guiding our steps. He is still stopping us, prodding us, growing us, until we come to a place where we can hear Him more clearly again.

I recently asked my father what lessons he hopes he passed on to his children.

“Integrity,” he answered. And in that one word he summed up a multitude.

Integrity is how you treat people. Integrity is how you do your work. Integrity is when you listen to that still small voice…  and let your conscience be your guide.

I have more than one Father teaching me that lesson.

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A Whole New World

NewWorld

It’s been a long time – too long! – since I shared some of my writing. Here is a recent post I wrote for www.Inspireafire.com. I think it speaks to the deep feeling of struggle we all must walk through… and the new place God is trying to take us. It is, indeed, a metaphor that at times feels very real.

“You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’” (John 3:7)

The birth metaphor is more than a metaphor.

Yes, the process of birth is a beautiful picture of God’s grace and sovereignty. Grace because He is bestowing new life. Sovereignty because it is God who bestows it. Just as the baby does very little to usher himself into the world, so we do very little to experience rebirth. It is God who takes away our heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh. It is God who calls us and leads us forth.

But that doesn’t mean the journey is easy. The metaphor, my friend, gets real.

Butterfly in Hands

Once the process begins, there are only two options. (Photo by J. Canino)

Physical birth changes the most fundamental aspects of your existence. The way you breathe. The way you eat. The way you engage with the world around you.

Spiritual birth is just as shattering. It may be true that the transformation is the result of something happening to you, but the effects demand a response from you. Once the process begins, there are only two options. You can push forward into new life, or you can retreat. The journey forward leads to life. The path of resistance leads to death.

Sometimes the path forward doesn’t seem like the best way. The journey itself is so dark. And every comfort you have ever known lies behind you. There is a loneliness and a disconnection you have never felt. You are being pushed and pulled and twisted until it feels like your insides are spilling out. What has happened? Everything was just fine! If you knew how to scream, you would, and your scream would be a cry of “Help me!”

The response is one of greater pushing, greater darkness, greater aloneness.

The path out, my friend, is forward. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know the way; it turns out there is only one. And once God has gotten ahold of you, He will never let you go. He will push you and push you and push you until you feel your insides coming out. He will twist you and turn you and flip you upside down. He will cut you off from the very things that seem to sustain you. And all of that, all of that, is the path forward.

Desert flower

Just because you cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

I don’t know what happens next, but I’ll tell you what I think. I think we come into a whole new world we can’t even begin to imagine. It may be a long journey, or it may be a short one. It may come in a single arduous stretch or a series of sharp contractions. The journey is not really our choice. But eventually the new world comes. We take our first breath in a way we didn’t even know we could breathe. We feel things we didn’t know we could feel. We see things we didn’t know we could see. How small and dark is the place we come from, compared to the place we go! In this new place we learn and grow and live in a way we could never imagine.

God will bring us there. He may be bringing you there right now. And if He is, if you look around and all you see is darkness, remember: Just because you cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Your eyes may be closed to the fact that an entirely new world is just above the crown of your head.

“How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked.

Oh, Nicodemus, Nicodemus. You will find out. You will feel it. You will feel what it is to be born even when you are old.

You don’t even know what it is to breathe. Until you take your first breath.

 

Don’t Miss the Disguises of Jesus

This post originally appeared at http://www.inspireafire.com/dont-miss-disguises-jesus/.

In the dream, we had to shepherd all the kids inside, because there was a strange man outside trying to lure them away from the house. And not just with penny candy or puppies. He was setting up extravagant bounce houses right in the front yard. Tall ones to climb, and sturdy ones to jump inside, and long ones to race through and slide down. This was a serious threat for even the most stranger-wary child.

bouncehouseOnce safely inside we pulled the curtains. The kids were playing happily since none of them had noticed the extravagant playhouses just outside our door; I stood guard at the window. I watched the man move from one brightly colored obstacle to the other. It was an entire playland, just waiting for someone to join the fun. Each time he glanced at the house his whole face lit up with a beaming smile. Then when no one appeared, his face fell into such a deep sadness that I felt my own heart twist inside me. Again and again this happened until someplace in the recesses of my subconscious another idea knocked against the dream. I jolted awake with the realization that it was not a scary man after all – it was Jesus, waiting for us to come out and play.

Jesus comes to us in many different disguises. Mother Teresa talks about serving Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor. Jesus himself said whatever we do for his brothers in need we do for him (Matthew 25:31-46). But service to Jesus is not limited to those in need. Sometimes Jesus comes to us simply to have fun. Sometimes He flings open the door to the banquet hall (or bouncy house) and invites us to join the party. We should ask ourselves how often we choose to stay behind a locked door, peering through the window, and mis-judging his intentions.

Jesus wants more than anything else to be with us. We know this truth especially well during this time of year when we celebrate Jesus’ most famous disguise of all. A little more than 2000 years ago He was born into the world, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger. Herod tried to kill him, the magi came to worship him, and the shepherds praised God for him. He was so well disguised that it is likely no one, even Mary who pondered all these things in her heart, really understood what the birth of this infant truly meant. Jesus came to be with us. And He went to the cross so that we could always be with Him.

desert hills

In moments of quietude, God is there.

Today, don’t miss the many disguises of Jesus. Don’t miss Jesus in the poor and downtrodden, but also don’t miss Jesus in the joy and the fun.

Jesus is the Prince of Peace. See Him in the moments of quietude.Jesus is the Light of the World. See Him in the brightest of moments.

Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor. See Him in all wisdom and knowledge and truth.

Jesus is Love. See him in the love of your family and friends.

two friends

In the love of family and friends, God is there.

 

Take some time, this Christmas season, to have fun. Have fun with your family. Have fun with your coworkers. Have fun with your friends. Have fun with Jesus. He may be setting up the most fun activities on the very doorstep of your heart.Jesus is Emmanuel: God-With-Us. See him, even when you can’t actually see him.

Don’t hide inside.

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

 

On the Road to Success

We were on the road to Success.

Literally, I mean. We were driving along route 62 East across Arkansas when we crossed a junction with a township sign pointing to Success. This prompted the conjecture you might expect: How many people do you suppose live in Success? How long does it take to get there, and is Success hard to find?

Before long, we had pulled a U-turn (legally, of course) and were on the road to Success.

Road Sign to Success
Turn here for Success! (Photo by Janet Beagle)

This prompted a great deal of conversation on – you guessed it – success.

“What’s your definition of success?” my friend asked.

“Well, my interview answer is to be in a position where I can constantly learn new things.”

“And your non-interview answer?”

“Probably the same thing,” I admitted.

“I don’t think we can ever really be successful. Success is like this perfect ideal we strive for but never really achieve,” my friend commented.

We talked about work and whether work-in-progress could be deemed successful or whether an event needed to be completed before it could be labelled. We talked about relationships and successful people. We talked about the difference between success and contentment or success and happiness. We concluded that success was not an easy word to define. Apart from being a very small town in Arkansas.

Despite our meandering conversation, it turned out Success was only a few minutes from where we had started. (And to think we almost missed it!) Very few people live in Success – only 180 according to the population sign. It seemed like a nice enough place, but for us, Success was fleeting. We had miles to go before we slept, so we captured a few photos on the edge of town, and then continued on our way. I wonder how often the Successians look out their windows to see crazy tourists snapping pictures of their population sign?

In the weeks since I’ve returned from our detour, I’ve often pondered the term. So often “success” is associated with fame, monetary wealth, prestige, or power. In today’s culture, it seems to be obtained in a winner-take-all rush for the top with little regard to the methods used to get there. Yet the Bible gives us a very different definition. “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” (Joshua 1:8) In God’s design, we become successful when we follow His commandments, not the whims of the world. Again and again the history of Israel shows us how generations who were obedient to God thrived, and how those who turned away from God were overthrown. In God’s design, success is not a location to drive through and snap pictures; it is a way of life walking in obedience with Him. It is a journey we take with Him securely at our side.

Town of Success Sign
You never know when God might take you on a detour through Success. (Photo by Janet Beagle)

I encountered my favorite definition of success just the other day embedded in one of those email forwards I usually delete. In it, a little girl asked her grandmother for her definition.

“Success,” she replied, “is when you look back at your life and the memories make you smile.”

What kind of memories are you building? Are they the kind that will bring a smile to both your and God’s face? It is a new day and a new opportunity to start your journey. Take the time to reach out to others, to work hard, to spend time with those you love. Listen to God’s guiding voice. He may just send you on a little detour through Success.

This blog was originally posted May 10, 2016 at http://www.inspireafire.com/on-the-road-to-success/. 

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.

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.