Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Our story is the tale of a fool made wise.

This paragraph from Oswald Chambers caught my attention this morning:

When looking back on the lives of men and women of God the tendency is to say - What wonderfully astute wisdom they had! How perfectly they understood all God wanted! The astute mind behind is the Mind of God, not human wisdom at all. We give credit to human wisdom when we should give credit to the Divine guidance of God through childlike people who were foolish enough to trust God's wisdom and the supernatural equipment of God. (My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers (1935), 26 October; emphasis mine)

I can't explain to you how much I long for that phrase to describe my life: "Do you know Jess?"
"Yes, she's one of the most childlike fools I've ever met, but her trust in God's wisdom is unshakeable."

Granted, to the world, that's a very unflattering picture. But I've spent enough of my life (all of it) struggling to be independent, responsible, self-sufficient. And by the world's standards I was. But because I was measuring myself by those around me rather than by the One who made me, everything I got was hard-won and empty. I lived for four years in near-poverty (legally, I was in the absolute lowest tax bracket). And it took four years of misery, frustration, and self-loathing before I threw up my hands and said, "God, what You're asking me to do doesn't make any sense, but I'm choosing to trust You. I believe; help my unbelief."

I also can't explain to you how quickly my life reversed itself. It wasn't overnight (and believe you me, I still have to be responsible, independent, self-sufficient - just never alone, and never beyond help). It took over a year for the commitment to root itself in my heart. I often grew in leaps and then baby-stepped my way through months at a time.
And now I am in a place of remembering - keeping ever before me the long, long list of what Dad did for me, the things I learned. It's a place of trying daily to apply the lessons. That's the hardest part - the day-to-day. But every time I come to my senses and throw my voice heavenward and drag my eyes away from the rocky path in front of me, my Father is relentlessly merciful and overflowing in grace - He picks me up in His arms and carries me a ways so I can rest, and He can soothe my heart.

This all reminds me of 1 Corinthians 1: 

Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.
Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble;
but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong,
and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are,
so that no man may boast before God.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Grow up into Him in all things.

Spurgeon's morning devotion was on Ephesians 4:15: Grow up into Him in all things. While Spurgeon is rather wordy and grandiloquent in his exemplification of this verse, his point is solid: a life hidden in Christ should not look the same from year to year.
I love his suggestion: curl up in Jesus' arms, rest your head on His chest, and soak in His grace. Reminds me of one of my favorite Shane & Shane songs:

He's the only one strong enough to lean
My heaviness against, the weight of all my sin.
Falling on a rock, leaning on a fortress -
Oh the wall of God, Jesus, He won't move.

On God I rest my salvation.
My fortress shall not be shaken.
My mighty rock and my glorious -
I lay my head upon His chest. On God I rest.

Monday, October 18, 2010

I cannot teach you how to pray in words.

Prayer again. 
I'm going to try and learn to do it by sheer dint of determination. My Dear Roommate suggested praying together in the mornings before work, and I jumped. I want to also start reading at night before I go to bed. It's just the in-between-times that I struggle with.
Dad has been sweet - He's given me music (which is a form of prayer, as long as it doesn't become background noise). The song "Oh How He Loves" has been a kind of anthem for me lately (and a lot of other people, it would seem). And this morning, first thing on Pandora was Relient K (I heart Relient K... could explain, but I'll save it for later):

Cause I’ve been housing all this doubt and insecurity,
and I’ve been locked inside this house - all the while You hold the key.
And I’ve been dying to get out and that might be the death of me.
And even though there’s no way of knowing where to go, I promise I’m going because
I gotta get outta here.
Cause I’m afraid that this complacency is something I can’t shake.
I gotta get outta here, 
And I’m begging You, I’m begging You, I’m begging You to be my escape.

That's the feeling I've had for weeks - I'm stuck inside myself, and there's nothing there but desert sand, a bound-less sea of nothing. I haven't cried in ages, and the image that comes to mind is a heart of stone. I've been afraid - afraid that this complacency is something I can't shake. And fear (wait, this is sounding familiar) has kept me from asking the One Who can help. *Sigh... we're slow learners, aren't we?

Kahlil Gibran, On Prayer:
You pray in your distress and in your need; would that you might pray also in the fullness of your joy and in your days of abundance.
I cannot teach you how to pray in words.
But you who are born of the mountains and the forests and the seas can find their prayer in your heart,
And if you but listen in the stillness of the night you shall hear them saying in silence,
"Our God, who art our winged self, it is thy will in us that willeth.
It is thy desire in us that desireth.
It is thy urge in us that would turn our nights, which are thine, into days which are thine also.
We cannot ask thee for aught, for thou knowest our needs before they are born in us:
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all."

Monday, October 11, 2010

Swim 'til you drown; Know that we all fall down.

Prayer sucks.

But only because I'm not good at it, because it's a struggle.

In reality, prayer is "more powerful than any force of nature." And like all disciplines, it takes practice, dedication.

If my hunch is right, it's something like painting: you wander around, prepping canvases and arranging paint tubes and making fussy little charcoal sketches and shifting the lighting and selecting the right background music. You hesitantly mix a color or two, touch brush to canvas, mix another color, steel yourself against walking away, and continue to touch the canvas. And suddenly, it's five hours later and your canvas is bursting with color and your heart is so involved that you don't realize the music went off, the sun went down, and you missed dinner.

When I pray, I pray for this and that, mention all my family members, bring up my singleness, and remind myself of God's sovereignty and grace, then wander into another list of little things. I know that if I were to paint every day for hours at a time, not only would it get easier to pick up the brush and touch it to canvas, but my paintings would become more structured, more inviting, more artistic. And I get the feeling that if I could just learn to pray more often, every day for hours at a time even, prayer would be less like a visit to a nursing home patient and more like painting, or making love, or a white water kayaking trip.

I don't know this for sure, but this is what I hear some people saying, and a voice in my heart says, "That is true."

Friday, October 8, 2010

What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step.

I keep finding myself face-to-face with my failings lately.  I know things should change, and I try to change them, but I have not been asking for help from my Back Up like I used to.  I haven't been talking to Dad as often as I want to - it's like Frank said once, "We stop praying because things are kind of ok, and then when we think about praying it's scary and we don't want to so we put it off some more."

It's like being an artist: I have an idea - a beautiful, new idea - and I want desperately to start working on it, so desperately that I arrange all my tools and the bits that I'm going to use and set up the workspace and make the time in my calendar and then...Then I can't touch knife to paper, I can't properly mix the colors, I can't choose the bits that are most important.  And the thing that holds me back is fear.

I'm like that in relationships, too.  I spend time with someone, I like them and they like me, and we talk about being more serious.  And I want - I ache for - that.  But then it comes right down to it, and I start thinking about all the ways that I could hurt them or they could hurt me and how we'd be much safer if we waited or just didn't... Fear.

Since my last relationship ended, Dad's taught me a lot about fear.  Mostly in financial and job situations.  I am terrified of money - I loathe it.  But it's entirely necessary.  And I'm scared to interview, to start a new job, but new jobs mean pay raises, and pay raises mean more money, and more money means less fear (supposedly).  We worked through all that, He and I.  Now I have a new job and a good salary and more than I could have asked for.  And you'd think I could apply those lessons to relationships, to art, to life.  But I can't - at least not fully or well.

I'm taking steps at least - in a couple areas.  I'm working on hiring an illustrator for one of my shorter pieces.  And I'm going to try the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) - it's November (and there are no penalties for failing - only good can come of that one).  And we're moving forward on house buying talks.  *Sigh.  Hi, my name's Jess, and I'm a chicken.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Unveiling more layers: Psalm 103.

I love Psalm 103.  I always find myself back there when I'm confused or tired or frustrated, reading it again and again.  I've been sick for days with no real signs of improvement, and I had a few minutes to myself this morning, so I turned to 103 (out of weariness and frustration).  I love how my Father follows up on what I'm learning!

Vs. 9-10: "He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever.  He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities."

Peace with God, abundant grace.  A reiteration of the things I learned Sunday.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

What's in your wallet? Not CapitalOne!

Sunday we had the privilege of hearing Dan Hickling speak at Calvary.  He's a pastor at Calvary Fort Lauderdale, and he's Frank's mentor.  I don't know why, but I always become apprehensive when he speaks, but at the end find myself completely taken with his message.

First, Dan asked us to write down the one nagging, sits-in-the-back-of-your-mind thing that we wrestle with when we're lying in bed at night. Then he asked, "What's in your spiritual wallet?"

Walking through Romans 5:1-5, he gave us five things to remember - things in our wallet to pull out when we need, when we fear, when we lag.

1. Peace with God.  There are two ideas working here: absence of conflict (we are no longer struggling against God); and being "face-to-face" (no issues, no fear, no dread - looking one another in the eye takes peace).

2. Access to Grace.  Again, two ideas: there's grace that saves us from our sins; and there's access to God's power in our moments of need - it is instantaneous, freely given, divine enablement.  Dan said (so appropriately), "I love that the thing which we need most is the thing we have most access to."

3. Hope in what's ahead.  "The glory of God" talks about heaven, the immediate presence of God (face-to-face!).  Compare: worldly hope has a degree of uncertainty to it; biblical hope is "an assurance that sees beyond the present conditions and circumstances!"

4. Transcendant perspective on trials.  Trials bring perseverance; perseverance develops character; character builds hope.  So those of us who believe that God is in control know that the trials eventually work for us, not against us.  "We're not dominated by what happens because we're dominated by Who is controlling it all."

5. The Holy Spirit.  I am not alone.  We are never alone!  God lives in us in the form of the Holy Spirit - he is our constant companion.  The worst punishment our prison systems use is solitary confinement - we cannot live alone.  But when we believe in Jesus, we are given a living, serving, internal friend, a help-meet.

I can't tell you how amazing this message was to me.  The word I wrote, the one that I am conscious of when I'm going to sleep, when I wake up, every few moments of my day, is "alone."  My fear of being alone affects the way I interact with my friends - I find myself peering into their reactions, searching for a guarantee that they will be my friend forever.  Every man I meet, I examine as a potential life companion - I don't want to be alone!  It filters into every aspect of my life, and I hate it, and I fear it.  Because what if I'm intended to be alone - to rely on God for everything?  That's a scary place to be, too.  Almost more scary than trying to make a broken, earthly relationship work for the rest of my life.

I don't have any profound revelations to add: Dan did a good job stating things clearly.  But I want to assure you - from my own personal experiences - no matter what skin your beliefs wear, what stage of life you are in, how big your fears or your sins, or how far from God you are, He is faithful to meet us.  Right there, in the middle of our mess, in our hopelessness, He comes and He touches our faces, and He reminds us of how unfathomable His love is for us.

For another perspective on God's wild love for us, check out the Spiritual Klutz's recent blog.