Fruitful Thoughts on Abiding

Now that the weather has warmed, I’ve made it a daily practice to sit outside in the morning with my devotions and coffee. What a big difference this small thing does to settle the soul. I listen to the birds and look at the trees in bloom. Yesterday, the noisy geese honked by. This morning, a boisterous crow cawed his way through the trees. There is a beautiful pink blooming tree off to the right side of my deck. I purposely turn my chair to face it, so I can admire its bursting color.

I’ve been reading a devotional about Abiding in Christ . It’s an old classic by Andrew Murray (the linked title will take you to it, if you are interested). The book is rich in the Word and fruitful thinking about what it means to abide. I find that I am reading and re-reading the daily devotions, hungry to glean all that I can from the text. It is somewhat difficult to grasp; parts seems beyond my reach in my current position. But I find the best books challenge us in this way. So, I keep reading, meditating, and cross-checking the passages referenced in my Bible . I find it helps to read the passage yourself too, and let it marinate along with the commentary.

One thing keeps coming to the surface for me. It’s not a new revelation about myself. Rather, it is a recurring theme in my life. I am a producer. By that, I mean I am action-oriented. I have trouble sitting still, and even more trouble with mental stillness, even when I am physically still. Something has been happening as I stare at the beautiful pink fruit of the tree before me each morning. First, the pink bloom didn’t last long. Within a week, the blooms were receding. My deck was covered with pink petals, where the wind had blown and scattered them. I’ve been wondering at all the tree goes through the rest of the year to produce those beautiful blooms for one glorious week. Is the tree any less a tree when not in bloom? It can’t sustain the bloom for longer than allotted. The bloom is but one short part of the tree’s life.

“All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:6-8).

So, I’ve been contemplating my life in its seasons. Realizing the brevity of the bloom, feeling less pressure to produce, more peace in abiding in Him. I struggle daily to keep hold of this Word of truth. One chapter of the devotional on wisdom really helped me. I have read it several times, and will keep reading it in the hope that more will seep into my soul. Murray says, “The life you have in Christ is a thing of infinite sacredness, far too high and holy for you to know how to act it out”.

There it is. It is the “know-how” and the “acting out” that always gets me. Deceived at believing this is possible, even preferable to my life in Christ. We always want to know more than we do, don’t we? As if our life can be figured out, like a puzzle. We are constantly rearranging its pieces, trying to see the bigger picture. What if we just entrusted the bigger picture of our lives to Him? What if we stopped reaching for things beyond us – far too high and holy to figure out?  What if we began to see how our searching undermines the very peace of abiding? 

Because it does. I am sure of it.

The very nature of abiding is to be content in every season. To know your life is not always meant to be in full bloom. The tree has many other stages and changes to undergo that make the short cycle blooming possible. I sense the significance in embracing this truth.

One more quote from Murray that has had a powerful impact in my morning meditation, “Motives are mighty powers; it is of infinite importance to have them high and clear”. Rather than seeking to understand our high and holy life in Christ, we need to go lower. Examine the roots of our trees. What is it that makes us seek beyond where God has planted us? What makes us long to make something happen that is out of sync with the season? Motive is the culprit. I am examining mine in the clear morning sun of spring. And amazed at how God uses something so small and brief as a tree in bloom to teach me so much about abiding in Him. This is the beauty of our Lord. More radiant than spring in bloom, the Living Word that reigns in every season.

 

How Do You Handle Change? Three Ways Mountains Become Molehills

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A friend made a comment recently that highlighted the difficulty I am having with a current change in my life. She said casually, “What a great opportunity, Robyn”. I had to acknowledge I hadn’t viewed it that way. I have been too mired in my own emotional junk about the changes to recognize the gift in them. This really humbled me. I had to confess my whiny attitude to God, and ask for His eyes to see the changes as He did. Almost immediately, I experienced a new peace that had evaded me before. Not that all my bad attitudes vanished. I am still in the process of disentangling the knotty, emotional mess, but this shift in thinking has helped me significantly. It has settled me down, allowing my focus to turn away from myself, and to God.

Change always challenges our faith. We are all prone to settle into our comfort zones. We like things to be predictable; to know what to expect, and what is expected from us. A change is unsettling. Especially when it involves real sacrifice on our part. Everyone wants to feel competent and useful. A change makes us question ourselves again, and go back around the “mountain” of self for a little review. I have found this part problematic because it encourages the wrong focus and stirs up the bad emotions. Comparison is carnal, and overshadows our thinking; blocking our ability to consider the good God is bringing in and through the changes. Pining over the past always undermines our ability to respond rightly in the present.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18, 19).

No one sees gifts at a pity party.

We cannot conceive the new thing when we are still underneath the old 1,000 pound gorilla. How can we recognize the opportunity in change and rise to the occasion? Here are three practical ways God is helping me right now, to move through change in a way that honors Him, and builds my faith:

Fix Your Eyes on the Goodness and Sovereignty of God: We’ve all heard things like “Nothing happens that doesn’t first pass through God’s hand” and the like. I don’t know about you, but sometimes this is not all that helpful when I am in the throes of change. We start to wonder why God would allow these painful, difficult, unfair things to happen. If God is good than why does He want me to feel so bad? This is a slippery slope in change. If we allow ourselves to follow these thoughts, we will slide down into self-pity, anger, resentment, bitterness, unforgiveness, etc. We must redirect our thoughts and emotions back to what we KNOW is true of God. What have we personally experienced of God? How faithfully He has led us through life to this point. How merciful and gracious He has been toward us. How much He loves us, and what His love accomplished for us on the Cross of Christ. I fill my mind and mouth with Scriptures that affirm God in His Goodness. “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy – think about such things…And the peace of God will be with you” (Phil.4 :8,9). I also meditate on God as the Creator of all. He has made everything, and in Him all things hold together. This includes my little life and the changes that seem so big in the moment. Thinking about God’s bigness helps level set my thinking, and brings perspective on the true size and significance of what I am going through. The perceived mountain is really only a molehill. Try this: visualize the earth spinning on its axis in the huge expanse of space. I do this sometimes while looking up at the sky and imagining what lies beyond it, past my ability to see or grasp. Think about the conditions required to keep the planet in place, and to supply the right atmospheric conditions to sustain life – your life and the breath you are taking right here and now. God literally holds the whole world in His hands. Breathe deeply as you think about this. Let the physical air you are drawing in renew your spirit in recognition of God’s Sovereign control over all aspects of all of life.

Honestly Confess, Humbly Receive: We do have to come to terms with the fact that God allowed the change, no matter how difficult or painful. In my experience, it does little to deny our true feelings and responses. If you are angry, confess it to God and ask for help in ridding you of the harmful emotions. Ask God to give you right thoughts and feelings about the change, and the other people involved. Confess it when you’ve taken out your bad emotions on others. Own your responses in truth before God. Nothing is hidden in His sight. This is not a one-time event. This is a perpetual process as you move through the change. When the anger, unforgiveness, etc. rear up again, go to God again – every time. Name it for what it is, and draw near to Him in humble dependence. He is able to make all grace abound to you. He values a broken and contrite heart who desires to live in a way that pleases Him. He knows that we are dust, with limited ability to response rightly. And His grace is greater than all our sin. The reward in doing this comes when you observe your own thinking and feelings changing – for the better. This is a subtle, gradual change, like heavy clouds parting to let the light peek through. “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day” (Proverbs 4:18).

Offer a Sacrifice of Praise: Nothing pushes back the darkness more effectively than worship. Come to God and make your offering, whether or not you feel like it. “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess His name” (Hebrews 13:15). I look for things I can praise God for in the midst of change. Instead of focusing the things we don’t like about change, focus on thanking God for the good He has allowed and sustained in your life. For example, I have been thanking God for the years He allowed me to serve in a ministry I love. I thank Him for the people He has brought into my life and allowed me to serve alongside – for their influence, leadership, and blessing to me, and to my family. This confuses the enemy and diffuses every harmful ploy he launches in our direction. Worship closes every opening and allows no foothold for the enemy to entice you down the wrong path. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4).

How do you navigate change? I’d love to hear your experiences in trying out these practical ways, and other ways that have personally helped you. Whatever change you are in the midst of, hear God on this, “I the Lord do not change” (Malachi 3:6). “Don’t be deceived…every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all He created” (James 1:16-18).

Seeing the good and perfect gift in your change is the fruit of faith.

 

 

 

 

Debunking Martha

We live in such a noisy world. Television, radio, the internet, games. It seems we’ve forgotten the value of quiet. Where do we even go to find it? Our homes are often just as loud, filled with all its baubles and trinkets to keep us entertained. There is a stark contrast between the sounds inside my home, and those outside, just a few steps out the back door. In the early morning, I can hear the birds chirping and singing in the trees. What a difference it makes to stop to listen, and yet, how often I don’t take the time. I forfeit the tranquil in favor of the frenzy.

That’s what it comes down to….I choose this. Again and again, though I know there is a better way. Though I know this way is not even good for me, or my family. Why?

Because I am hard-wired this way.

I am a product of my environment; shaped by the culture in which I live. We all are. The symptom is evidence of a deeper problem. The external fragmentation of focus reflects my inner friction; the constant buzz of a disquiet soul. It is a skill to develop a counter-cultural practice. Intentionality is required. I must unlearn old ways, open myself to new ones. Even with diligent, persistent effort, these changes will take time. And I am only willing to invest in something I truly value.

The book, Celebration of Discipline, is helping me reflect on this problem, and what is required of me to address it. The book’s author, Richard Foster, talks about the culture we live in. He says, “We live in a culture that does not value concentration. Distraction is the order of the day. Many will, for example, go through all the activities of the day and evening with the radio on. Some will read a book and watch TV at the same time. Most people find it virtually impossible to go through an entire day focused on a single thing. We are lesser for this dissipation of our energies”.

I got this book from the library. The person who had it before me made lots of pencil marks in it. The text is underlined and asterisked throughout; signifying that he or she must have deeply identified with its content. This has added to my reflection by drawing attention to these areas. Mercifully, more of it is getting in, despite my intake process being much like Foster describes. I read and watch TV. I read with Jamie tugging on my clothing, asking me “one more question”. I read over Chloe’s piano practice in the other room. When I stop to consider all the simultaneous noise competing with my reading, it is miraculous to discover anything sticking at all! The above quote was in the chapter about the discipline of study. Foster argues that concentration is required to study. Concentration centers the mind; focuses our thoughts and attention on the object of study. He emphasized this as one of a four step method (the steps: repetition, concentration, comprehension, and reflection). The mystery pencil-marker wrote something in the book on this page. I took a picture of it to show you: DSCN2377crop

In case you can’t make out the lightly penciled words, it says, “Stop multi-tasking”. Funny, right? This made me smile. It floated to my consciousness much like a message in a bottle drifting ashore. A timely SOS to my overstrained soul. This arrived just in time for vacation. We are leaving momentarily for the beach. I am determined not to take a trunk load of books and work; to spend my time listening quietly at the seashore for the Overseer of my Soul. The work can wait. My soul needs to find rest in God.

This thought reminded me of the familiar story of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42). Martha is the busy one; driven to distraction. Mary, the contented one at Jesus’s feet, hanging on His every word. Martha is angered by this, “Tell her to help me, Jesus!” But instead, Jesus answers, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her”.

I think there is a Martha/Mary conflict inside every one of us. It’s the reality of our silence-seeking souls navigating a noisy world. Our Martha busyness undermines our deep Mary need for soul satisfaction in God. The term “multi-task” is derived from the computer engineering industry. Servers are designed to multi-task, souls are not. Hear Jesus on this – “Choose what is better”. Stop multi-tasking; only one thing is needed. The work can wait. The soul who learns to concentrate on God finds the quiet life that will never be taken. And this is an essential safeguard to surviving the noise.

 

 

Beauty from Ashes

It is freezing today! I ran across this poem in my files this morning, and found it appropriate to the times. Not only to this crazy-cold weather, but to the emotional climate I find myself in lately. As the poem says, “The pain’s not gone…it’s still as hard and cold and long as lonely pain has ever been”. I continue to struggle through difficult days here, but am encouraged in the thought that from them (in them, in fact) a flower blooms.

If you find yourself in a painful season on this wintry day, be encouraged that God has not left you. He is with us and at work within our pain. The disillusionment in the way we thoughts things were going to be must come so we can push through to the glorious reality of what is. I have been comforted lately in knowing that My Father in Heaven does not change like shifting shadows. He is eternal, holy, and all-together lovely. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And He is the Resurrected God, the Living Lord; who is at work in our pain and desolation. He brings beauty from the ashes. May this poem encourage you in this truth today, even if you are reading it from a smoldering ruin.

“They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations” (Isaiah 61:4). All power and honor and glory to Our God forever and ever. Amen.

Resurrection
Long, long, long ago;
Way before this winter’s snow
First fell upon these weathered fields;
I used to sit and watch and feel
And dream of how the spring would be,
When through the winter’s stormy sea
She’d raise her green and growing head,
Her warmth would resurrect the dead.

Long before this winter’s snow
I dreamt of this day’s sunny glow
And thought somehow my pain would pass
With winter’s pain, and peace like grass
Would simply grow.  The pain’s not gone.
It’s still as cold and hard and long
As lonely pain has ever been,
It cuts so deep and fear within.

Long before this winter’s snow
I ran from pain, looked high and low
For some fast way to get around
Its hurt and cold.  I’d have found,
If I had looked at what was there,
That things don’t follow fast or fair.
That life goes on, and times do change,
And grass does grow despite life’s pains.

Long before this winter’s snow
I thought that this day’s sunny glow,
The smiling children and growing things
And flowers bright were brought by spring.
Now I know the sun does shine,
That children smile, and from the dark, cold, grime
A flower comes. It groans, yet sings,
And through its pain, its peace begins.

 Mary Ann Bernard. From Rueben Job and Norman Shawchuck, eds., A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants (Nashville, TN: The Upper Room, 1983) p. 144.

The Perpetual Coming of Christ Jesus

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.

Advent is upon us again. It is a time of anticipation as we look upon the baby born to us in Bethlehem so many years ago, and all that His coming means – for us and for the world. The word Advent means “coming” or “arrival”, and the season is a time to remember and celebrate the birth of our Savior: The Lord Jesus Christ.

But as I reflected on all of this, I couldn’t help but realize all the everyday ways I miss His coming. Jesus’s own Spirit dwells in me; how imperceptible He is in the harried pace of life. More than once in recent days, I have been startled by the sudden realization of His nearness to me. As I think of a word given or nudging I have felt, I have been both surprised and amazed to learn He is so near that I, at times, have mistaken His voice for my own. As Ruth Haley Barton puts it, He is “this God who comes and is always coming…like the sun…when it is time”. She encourages others to look for Jesus; to notice Him in the everyday places where He rises in us, “bringing light for our darkness, peace for our turmoil, hope for our fear” – Advent Reflections.

It is no slight thing to realize you’ve moved from a place of turmoil to peace, fear to hope. Where do these inner changes arise from? These sudden and recurrent healings that give us rise to another day? It is Jesus Himself who comes to our aid. He is our help in the emotional rise and fall of daily living. He is our stability and peace.  My focus and commitment to Jesus this year is to notice Him. To give Him glory for the ways He comes to me every day; calming my fears, renewing my confidence, encircling me in His peace.

“Our spiritual life depends on His perpetual coming to us, far more than on our going to Him. Every time a channel is made for Him He comes; every time our hearts our open to Him He enters, bringing a fresh gift of His very life, and on that life we depend. We should think of the whole power and splendor of God as always pressing in upon our small souls.” – Evelyn Underhill, Advent with Evelyn Underhill.

My prayer this Advent season is to know more of the fresh gifts He is continually pressing upon my small soul. To acknowledge Him and say “Glory in the Highest” to God my Savior; to this God who comes and is always coming. He is our light and life. He is as faithful as the sun that He set on the horizon. And just as the sun sustains life on our planet, so He sustains us by the light of His presence.  Jesus is the joy of every longing heart.

By Thine own eternal spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit
Raise us to Thy glorious throne