Speed Reading

At any given moment, I have a stack of at least a dozen books that I am reading concurrently.  Some end up taking me months to read; others ensnare me and I finish them in days.  But always there is this stack, beckoning me.  I listen to books on CD in the car and around the house.  I set an open book before me while I eat; I have a pile by my bed for those moments right before sleep.  Even now, while I am typing this, I have a sandwich on my plate next to my laptop so that I can take a bite between words.  Reading them.  Writing them.  It’s almost a compulsion.

The other night I pulled from my stack One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp.  I set it on the table next to my dinner plate and proceeded to stumble through her opening text, tripping over her lyrical style in my rush to turn the page between forkfuls.  “This could have been written so much simpler,” I thought in frustration.  It was only the high acclaim of the book that kept me from relegating it to the bottom of my stack.  Yes, I admit it.  Sometime it takes me a long time to understand the obvious point.  And here is the obvious point: this is not a book that can be shoveled in alongside a plateful of spaghetti.

After dinner, I moved Ann’s book to my “quiet reading” stack, where it is much more at home.One Thousand Gifts Cover

Ann Voskamp’s style serves an interesting purpose for me.  It forces me to slow down.  It is this trait that initially frustrated me… and ultimately has endeared me.  I don’t like to slow down in anything, least of all my reading.  There is so much more to read!  But Ann’s style forces me to slow down.  To read deliberately.  To consider the words.  To taste the flavor of them.  To think.  When I let go of the clock, when I accept the fact that I will not “finish this one and start the next one” tonight, it becomes a richer experience.  This is not unintentional.

“Time is life,” Ann writes.  “And if I want the fullest life, I need to find the fullest time.”

She continues her story, standing at the sink, scrubbing dishes:

I wipe a water spot off the tap; there is a reflection of me.  Oh, yes, I know you, the busyness of your life leaving little room for the source of your life.  I’m the face grieving.

God gives us time.  And who has time for God?

Which makes no sense.

In Christ, don’t we have everlasting existence?  Don’t Christians have all the time in eternity, life everlasting?  If Christians run out of time – wouldn’t we lose our very own existence?  If anyone should have time, isn’t it the Christ-followers? (p. 64)

If anyone should have time, isn’t it the Christ-followers?

It is not a rhetorical question, and I consider my answer.  God gives us all things.  He gives us enough of all things.  Why, in this particular area, do I act as though He does not?  Why do I say, almost daily, “God, I do not have enough time!”

I do not learn quickly.  I still sit here, keyboard at one hand, sandwich at another.  Still trying to cram disparate activities into the same moment.  But later tonight, I will pause.  I will think “I do not have time for this,” but I will do it anyway.  I will curl up on my couch with my dog’s head resting on my knee.  I will take just one book from my quiet reading stack.  I will read just one chapter.  Slowly, deliberately, thoughtfully.  I will not speed read.

It will be enough.

But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.”  My times are in your hand… (Psalm 31:14-15a).

It’s Christmas Time! Are you weary and burdened?

You know what I usually do when I get tired?  I keep going.  Then I get sick.

This is a pattern that repeats itself several times a year.  You’d think I would learn, but I never do.  I always think I can do just one more thing.  Eventually, God draws the line for me and sends me to bed.  In no uncertain terms.

It’s especially easy to get rundown this time of year.  There are still the things I have to do (my job comes to mind).  And then there are all the things I want to do (it’s Christmas time, after all!) I do find it a little interesting, though, that all this bustle is in preparation for a day which originally had about as little preparation as we can possibly imagine.  Can you imagine telling your guests this year, “Oh, hi!  Sorry we weren’t expecting you and the house is full, but help yourself to the stable out back.”  Or consider the probability that the wisemen didn’t even show up until a year or two after Jesus’ birth! (This makes me feel better about sending my Christmas cards in January.)

Despite the seeming lack of preparation, I can only imagine that the Creator of the universe who orchestrates every detail of every human life paid extra special attention to the birth of His Son.  Which means that it must have transpired exactly the way He wanted.  If that’s the case, then maybe we need to rethink the kind of commemoration He wants today.  Maybe he wants us, like the wise men, to set down our gifts and worship Him.  Maybe He wants us, like the shepherds, to proclaim the good news and rejoice in God.  Maybe He wants us, like Mary, to ponder all of these things in our hearts.  Maybe He wants us, in fact, to not prepare at all, but to show up, just as we are. “Come to me” Jesus says, “all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). 

This sounds pretty good.  Why on earth don’t I take Him up on that offer more often?  The answer, I think, goes something like this.

There is a dark underbelly to the Christmas story that we don’t talk about during our brightly lit festivities.  We don’t mention what other ramifications were brought about by the wisemen’s visit to worship Jesus.  We don’t mention, in fact, that Jesus also said, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34b).

What??

Jesus Himself, of course, never wielded a sword, but He knew His very presence would be divisive.  And it didn’t take long for the sword to manifest itself.  When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi (Matthew 2:16). It was the original sin all over again.  It was a man fearing his power would be overthrown by this “King of the Jews.”  It was a man, once again, trying to place his own power above God’s.  Herod did not want to take on Jesus’ yoke.  He wanted his own.

On some level, we all waiver between Herod’s grasp for power and the wisemen’s giving of their burdens to Jesus in worship.  When we focus too much on earthly matters, we are like Herod, concerned only with ourselves or with things that don’t really matter.  But if we allow the Holy Spirit to intercede on our behalf, we are able to release our burdens to Jesus and experience His peace. “For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace (Romans 8:7). It is not something we can do on our own.  Paul knew this when he cried out, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?”  But Paul also knew the answer. “Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord”(Romans 7:24).  We can come to Jesus anytime we are weary and burdened.  Like the wisemen, we can set our gifts down and worship Him.  Like the shepherds, we can proclaim the good news.  Like Mary, we can ponder all of these things in our hearts.  Indeed, when we set our minds away from our selfish desires and onto the Spirit of Jesus, we will find that His yoke is easy.  It is, in fact, life and peace itself.                                                                                        

For today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:11).

Anger Management

Philippians 4:8 is one of my favorite verses in the Bible.  Someday I am going to write an eloquent post elucidating my reasons why.

But not today.

Today, I am irrationally angry.  I have no idea why, but I find when I stop to consider it that I can come up with a whole host of reasons.  And this makes me even angrier.

Have you ever done this?  Have you ever felt a sudden surge of anger and tried to figure out why and then gotten angrier and angrier as you began listing all the things that make you angry?  Or had a day when you’re feeling rather blue, and asked yourself why, and found yourself feeling sadder and sadder as you pondered all the possible reasons you could be feeling sad?

Okay, maybe it’s just me.  But as I was working myself into a fire-spitting fury for no definitive reason that I could deduce, I suddenly remembered Philippians 4:8:  Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

So I decided to think about fuzzy clean socks.

I’ll admit it, this didn’t help much.  So I tried actually putting on fuzzy clean socks.  This did help.  So did eating dinner.  But you know what helped even more?  Writing this post.  Because it got me thinking not about my own thinking, but about Biblical thinking.  And even thinking about Biblical thinking got me thinking more Biblically.

It’s easy to let emotions dictate our thoughts, but this is not what the Bible commands.  The Bible does not tell us to think about whatever we feel like thinking about.  We are to take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).  We are to direct our thoughts towards things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy.  This means we do not let our emotions dictate our thoughts; rather, our thoughts are to dictate our emotions.

It’s amazing what thinking about these good things can do for one’s attitude.  Such thoughts are so powerful that apparently even if you can’t come up with something good to think about, just thinking about good thinking can help.  If nothing else, it apparently distracted me enough that I’ve forgotten how angry I was.

Try it next time your emotions start heading in a non-Biblical direction.  Don’t think about what you feel, think about what you think.  Then, take your thoughts captive.

If that fails, try the fuzzy socks.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8

Vacation

There are some who say that it is so much work getting ready for a vacation that it is not even worth trying to take one.  As I’m racing through this week, I cannot help but think they have a point.  But it’s not going to stop me.  This week I am clinging to Exodus 33:14: The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 

I am very much looking forward to that rest. 

Whether I can maintain that sense of rest once I return from vacation is a whole different question, but we’ll save that topic for another time.  For now, I am off to catch the tail end of summer, and you can enjoy a couple of blog free weeks.  This blogger is officially “off the grid” and resting.

The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Exodus 33:14

Self Encouragement

I was having a frazzled kind of day.  Not anything in particular was going badly, I just felt somehow entirely discombobulated.  You know those days where too little sleep and too many racing thoughts start taking their toll?  I felt a bit as though a piece of me was going in one direction, and another piece was pulling in an entirely different direction, and no pieces were clear in their purpose.  It was one of those existential “What am I doing here?” kind of days.

Then I posted the Matchless article.  As I was giving it a final read-through before posting, I suddenly realized it was exactly what I needed to hear.  I needed to be reminded that even on days when I feel floundering and purposeless, there is still a reason I am right here, right now.  That God created me, just as I am, for a reason.  In a strange sort of way, I spoke to myself the very words I needed to hear.

This may sound a bit self-congratulatory.  But the more I thought about this experience, the more I wondered: what’s wrong with being self-congratulatory?  Maybe one of our problems is we don’t self-congratulate enough.  And more importantly, we don’t self-encourage.

It is a fact of life that there are going to be bad days.  Days we feel sad or scrambled or stressed or scared or all of these things at once.  Sometimes there is no one else around to help us sort through these feelings.  Sometimes the friends who do surround us do not know how to help.  Wouldn’t it be nice in these times of struggle if we had a source of encouragement that could speak hope into our lives even when no one else was around?  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could be our own source of encouragement?

Certainly, we have to be careful anytime we’re putting ourselves into the equation.  We are, after all, only human.  We may be wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), but we still make mistakes.  We make mistakes with others.  We make mistakes with ourselves.  We say incorrect things, we think incorrect thoughts, we seek comfort when what we really need is a good yelling.  If we try to encourage ourselves, chances are good we’ll probably screw it up.  But lucky for us, there is a safeguard in place.  Residing within us is the Spirit of God, who can help encourage our thoughts away from our woeful situations and replace them with thoughts of power and peace and perseverance.

David knew the importance of this type of self-encouragement.  When he was feeling down, he tried to buoy himself up by redirecting his attention back to the source of all encouragement.  “Why are you downcast within me, oh my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (Psalm 42:11). 

The first thing David did was recognize that he was feeling miserable.  But rather than dwell on this, he immediately redirected his attention back to God.  How many times when we are miserable do we do the exact opposite?  We like to dwell on the question.  We like to reply: “Let me tell you why I’m downcast!” Over and over again we allow our emotions to tell us how we feel.  We allow our minds to think about our feelings, and the reasons for our feelings, and the feelings of our feelings.  The more we think about how we feel, the more we feel, and the more we feel, the worse we feel, and the worse we feel the more we think, and the more we think the more we feel and…

But notice that David did not allow himself to do this.  “Why are you downcast?” David asked himself.  But it wasn’t posed as a ruminating question.  It was more of an accusation.  Followed by a command.  “Why are you downcast, oh my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God!”

“Put your hope in God!” David encouraged himself.  In other words, don’t ruminate on your feelings.  Don’t mull them over.  Don’t think about them.  Don’t try to figure them out.  Focus instead on God!

Ironic, isn’t it?  Self-encouragement is really not about encouraging the “self” at all.  In fact, self-encouragement is about encouraging ourselves away from ourselves… and closer to God.

Why are you downcast, O my soul?  Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God (Psalm 42:11).

Cracking, Part I

Have you ever had one of those days where you think: “If one more thing goes wrong, I am going to crack!!”  As in, “The weight of this stressful old world is weighing me down so badly that I can literally feel myself starting to crack up and fall apart!  Arrggghhh!”

I certainly have.  Sometimes I have a whole season of them, which always makes me think of the quote: “I try to take one day at a time, but lately several have attacked me at once.”

During these times, I have a particular image that comes to mind of a person literally drying up and cracking into dust that blows away.  “Dear God!” I say.  “Help me!”  And sometimes that’s all I can say: “Dear God!”

But here’s the thing about cracking.  It’s not fun, but it is sometimes necessary. 

Take, for example, a baby bird trying to get out of its egg.  The egg has to crack.  Rather violently, too.  And that’s exactly what cracking up feels like.  Like a sharp little beak that is incessantly pecking away.  Peck.  Peck.  Crack. Peck, peck, peck…

Granted, we are not an egg, and we do not have a baby bird inside who is trying to get out.  But as Christians, we do have something else inside: the Spirit of God.  And God did not give us His Holy Spirit to keep it bottled up inside for our own use.  He said, very clearly, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

God gives us his Holy Spirit so that we can share it with others.  And sometimes, the best way for the Holy Spirit to shine is for us to get out of the way.  Our mortal self is, after all, nothing but a shell of dust.  If it was just us, the stresses of this world literally would dry us up and blow us away.  But thank God it is NOT just us.  The more cracks we have on the surface, the more God’s presence becomes apparent.  Sometimes these cracks are little, uncomfortable things that make us reach for God’s hand.  Sometimes they are giant cracks where it feels like we have been shoved off a cliff screaming “Dear God, catch me!”  But the purpose is always the same: God’s light bursting forth as a witness to his presence and his power.

As we come into the Easter season, it is pleasant to think of cute little chicks with fluffy yellow feathers, but we should not forget the process that allowed them to be born.  And on Easter morning as we reflect upon our own rebirth in Christ, we should not forget the process that allowed us to be reborn.  Even our most stressful season is nothing compared to the apprehension Jesus endured in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Here is the picture of a man who is cracking up, whose stress is causing him to sweat drops of blood and who is pleading with God the Father to take this task away.  Yet he still manages to say, “nevertheless, not my will but thine be done” (Luke 22:42).  And in the end, it was through the cracking of His body that the Spirit of God shone through to offer salvation to the world.

In this world, we can try to rely on our own strength.  We can try to patch the cracks and hold everything together.  But God doesn’t want a perfect shell, and He will keep pecking away, trying to shine through.  He uses imperfect people by allowing his Spirit to shine through our cracks.  He pushes us out of our comfort zone so that we rely on Him.  He uses our weaknesses to demonstrate His strength.  Sometimes, in fact, the cracks we are trying so hard to glue together are supposed to be there.  Sometimes the cracks are how we see the very presence of God. 

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. (Romans 8:11)

Click to jump to Cracking, Part II.

Vacation

I gleaned a bit of wisdom recently from one of those “Take This Quiz” articles stamped in the midst of a check-out line tabloid.  The quiz wanted me to guess when the greatest benefit of a vacation was realized.  Before?  During?  Immediately after?

Having recently returned from a vacation, I can tell you the answer is not immediately after.  Vacations are splendid.  Returning from a vacation is not!  What I found interesting, though, is that according to the psychologist interviewed in the article, the greatest benefit is seen not during vacation, but up to two months before the vacation.  The vacation itself may be good, but for a real pick-me-up, nothing beats the thought of some upcoming R&R. 

This seems to suggest we should all bankroll our vacation funds and spend our time just thinking about vacation instead.  Unfortunately, I suspect we could only fool ourselves for so long before we caught on.  The real solution, of course, lies not in thinking about some transient travel, but in placing our focus on the one source of R&R that will never experience a post-vacation slump.  “Come to me,” Jesus says.  “All you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). Jesus is the ultimate vacation.  Getting, there, however, is sometimes a challenge.

I have a quote lightly paraphrased from Rick Warren pasted to the wall above my keyboard at work.  “Do not let what is most important be displaced by what is urgent.”  The words are a lesson – a warning – that is much easier to read than to do.  In fact, the stacks on my desk have gotten so high it has obliterated my view. 

And so tonight, when I feel like I’ve been spun in a twister and shaken like a dust rag, I try to heed the warning.  I don’t know what else to do, so I look for Jesus.  And I find him, getting into a boat (Matthew 8:23).  Along with his disciples, I follow Him, and we begin to sail across a vast lake.  Suddenly, a furious storm comes upon us.  Giant waves are sweeping over the boat.  The boat is filling with water.  I and the other disciples begin to bail.  The water is icy; the wind is whipping.  For every bit we manage to bail, twice that amount is pouring in.  We work with an urgency to match the storm.  As it twists us, we push back with the paddles.  As it douses us, we slop the water back over the side.  As it beats the sides of the boat, we brace against it.  It is relentless.  We are losing!

Yes, that summarizes my recent days pretty well.  And I’m sure your days are not so different than mine.  There are good ones.  There are bad ones.  There are just plain crazy ones.  There are days that go so slow we think they will never end, and days that speed by in twos and threes so fast we can’t believe they’re over.  If we’re not careful, whole chunks of time fly by, and we accomplish all that was urgent, but miss all that was important.  How do you stop urgently bailing long enough to focus on what is important?  How can you consider bailing “not important” when the boat is being swamped? 

I don’t know.  But tonight I have this image from the Word of God (Matthew 8:23-27).  Of Jesus, asleep in the boat in the midst of the storm.  Of Jesus, rebuking the winds and the waves.  Of Jesus, chastising his disciples: “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?”

Perhaps the storm is an illusion.  Perhaps the boat will not swamp if we pause in our frantic bailing to see if there is something more important that we should be doing.  Perhaps it is time to stop bailing and have a chat with Jesus.  Perhaps it is time for a real vacation. 

The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”  He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?”  Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.  Matthew 8:25-26

Planning

Here’s something I need to hear, so I’m going to tell you, too:  Sometimes God has a different plan. 

My mother sometimes laments how her days often do not turn out the way she expected.  “I can have my whole day planned,” she’ll say, “and it can turn out completely different.  We’re just not in control.  We may think we are, but we’re not.”  Sometimes, I need that reminder.

With the exception of work-related items that demand it, I’m not much of a planner.  I’m one of those people that pulls out a map more to see where I’ve been than to see where I’m going.  I’d much rather just go and see what happens.  Or better yet, go with someone else who plans it all for me.  So God and I – we’re often on the same page in this regard.  I tend to go along the path He lays in the knowledge that He’s got it all planned, and with the expectation that He’ll fill me in on the critical details when I have the need to know.  But every once in a while, even I just can’t help but get a few of my own ideas.

Take, for example, this year.  I had big plans for life after graduating with my PhD.  I was already secure in a job I enjoyed, so there was no need for a hectic move to a new location, no need to work extra long hours trying to learn a new job, adjust to a new culture…after two years of a full-time job and full-time school, I was looking forward to some much anticipated down time.  As graduation passed and the new year began, I was flooded with so many exciting possibilities of how to fill my new free time that for the first time ever I actually wrote down new year’s resolutions – two full notebook pages of all the things running through my head that I wanted to do.  Now, I was going to have time!  Time to tackle the many back-burnered writing projects I wanted to try, time to travel, time to sleep, time to read something besides peer-reviewed journal articles, time to step back and just listen…

I listed.  I prioritized.  I jumped in and started.  Then just as I was beginning to make progress, my boss left.  And my year off came to a screeching halt.  In addition to my job, I was now covering my boss’ job and scrambling to keep our department afloat as we entered into our traditional busy season.  Two writing projects fell off a cliff, another had me sweating bullets at the intermittent time I could devote.  More than one weekend evaporated at the office and more than one night’s sleep was plagued with an amorphous sense of pressure.  As the months flew by, I saw everything I had been so excited to accomplish this year disappear.  Instead, I was embroiled in exhaustion, disappointment, frustration, confusion.  I still liked my job, and was learning a whole lot of new things, but the path I was running (and ‘running’ is the correct verb) was not at all what I had planned.  Certainly not what I had envisioned for my “year off.”  What went wrong??

Sometimes even our best-laid plans get diverted.  Sometimes God has something else in mind.  “For I know the plans I have for you,” He says, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).  The path we are being diverted to may not be what we planned, but that does not automatically make it wrong.  Is it disappointing?  Yes.  Frustrating?  Most definitely.  Wrong?  Maybe not.

I am not going to accomplish everything I had planned this year – not even close.  But, maybe that is okay.  Maybe that is even supposed to be the point.  Because ultimately it does not matter how much of my plan is accomplished; it matters how much of God’s plan is accomplished.  God is still in control.  And sometimes He has a different plan. 

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

Adjust

What can one learn by pet sitting a friend’s dog for two weeks?  An appreciation for one’s own dog, who is quiet and does not pee in the house, perhaps.  But, I suspect the answer is supposed to be a bit deeper than that. 

One night, early on in the visit, while “Ricky” was sitting by the door looking forlorn and my dog was making vain attempts at engaging him in play, I said: “You might as well enjoy it while you’re here, Ricky.  You’re only here for two weeks, and it’s really not that bad.  You’ve got your bed, company, food and water, frequent walks…make the most of it and before you know it you’ll be headed back home.”

Ho, ho!  How easy it was to say, and how many times have I myself been like that puppy dog, sitting by a “door,” pining for something on the other side!  How true it is that the grass is always greener just over the fence.  Why is it that we often miss the blessings immediately surrounding us because we are too caught up in thinking about what we are missing?  And perhaps more importantly, how do we fix it? 

Through his letter to the Philippians (2:14) Paul tells us whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.  And John reminds us: From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another (John 1:16).  Adjusting to a new situation means adjusting our thoughts to focus on those things which God wants us to focus on.  If we are busy counting our blessings, there will be less time for us to count our losses.

I have often struggled with “moving on,” feeling as though allowing my thoughts to stray from what I am missing is somehow unappreciative to where I have been.  Or as though enjoying today means I enjoyed yesterday less.  But this is not true.  Counting our current blessings does not mean we are disrespecting the past or disregarding the future.  It means we are acknowledging the new situation God has presented and acknowledging the blessings – one after another – He bestows.

We also need to do more than train ourselves towards positive thinking and acknowledging the blessings in our current situation.  We also need to act.  James admonishes those who think simply having faith is enough.  What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? …faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead (James 2:14,17). We need to think the right thoughts, but we need to follow through by doing the right deeds.  God prepared in advance works for us to do (Ephesians 2:10), and that includes right here, right now.

I learned quickly there is nothing like a good long romp to help an anxious dog sleep through the night, and there is nothing like taking action, become involved, reaching out to assist others to help us adjust to new situations.  We may be someplace new and scary – physically, emotionally, spiritually – but it is not new and scary to God.  As David writes, all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:16).  God put us here, right at this moment, for a reason.  It is up to us to actually take action on what He ordained for us to do.  You cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.  Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let not your hands be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well (Ecclesiastes 11:5-6).  In other words, take action!  Even if you are not sure what it is you are supposed to do, do something.  You may not know what will succeed, but God does.

What can one learn from watching a friend’s dog for two weeks?  Well, to start, it takes a bit of adjustment – for both of us.  But more importantly, like Ricky, we need to make the most of the situations God presents to us.  It is only for a little while, and before we know it, He will be back to take us home.

This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118:24).

Simple

I was having one of those days – a whole string of them, actually – where it felt as though I spent every workday perched atop some amusement park ride called “The Scrambler.” Through sheer force of will, I repeatedly managed to eject myself at the end of the day, only to turn around and jump right back on the next morning.  Why is it they don’t make amusement park rides called “The Workday?”  It would be more harrowing than any 30 story free-fall ride of terror, that’s for sure.

After ejecting myself from the office for the third time that week and eating a supper consisting largely of burnt meatloaf, I headed out with my dog for our evening walk.  I was moving at a leisurely pace, more from exhaustion than from any real sense of leisure, when a gold finch flew to a bough just ahead of me.  He fluttered his wings, sounded a short little trill, and then bounded back off into the bushes.  I thought: life can be so simple.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of work, school, children, spouses, parents, friends, sports, hobbies, commitments…too easy to forget that as Jesus told the fretting Martha, “Only one thing is needed” (Luke 10:42).  That “one thing” is Jesus.  Come to me, He tells us, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your soul.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30). The Bible further tells us: It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil: for He gives to his beloved sleep (Psalm 127:3). 

Ah, sleep!  And yet, I rise up early and go to bed late, day after day.

Why is it so difficult to daily lay our burdens down?  How many nights has my mind paced the darkness, “eating the bread of anxious toil?”  Why is it so easy to become worried and upset about many things, when only one thing is needed?  How is it that when I see the dainty flash of gold feathers I feel the weight lift suddenly – if only momentarily – from my shoulders as I am reminded that life can be so simple?

The apostles recognized the challenge of living in this world without becoming a part of it, the challenge of being “aliens and strangers in the world” (1Peter 2:11).  It is a fine balancing act.  It is not easy to sit quietly at the feet of Jesus while the needs of the world press down upon us.  We cannot ignore the daily hassles and heartaches that come our way.  We have to work, care for our children, meet that imminent deadline… The fact is, we are in this world, even if we are not of it.  The key, as Paul wrote (Philippians 3:13-14), is to run our race with our eye on the goal, even though we haven’t yet reached it.  We are to be in this world and face the challenges of this world, but never forget our ultimate destination.

For me, reminders of the ultimate goal frequently come in the natural world.  I need time away from four walls and a roof, even if it is just 15 seconds on the porch.  Outside, the world still moves at the pace of God’s creation and not at the pace of my own creation.  The key for me is to remember that it’s possible for me to move at God’s pace, too.  To walk that fine line between running my race, but not laboring in vain. 

For you, the reminder may be vastly different.  And you may be facing something far more harrowing than a harried work day and a burnt meatloaf.  But whether it comes in the form of a feathered critter or some other small reminder, may God grant each one of us a simple moment to impel us when our race running begins to look a bit too much like vain laboring.

 I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone O Lord make me dwell in safety (Psalm 4:8).