“How shall I describe the kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it? It is like a mustard seed planted in the ground. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of all garden plants; it grows long branches, and birds can make nests in its shade.”
It’s easy, in our planting, to forget that small seeds become what fills the garden.
James 3 explains that peace-makers sow seeds of peace with their words. Galatians 6 warns that we will always harvest what we plant and cautions us to select our seeds carefully. 2 Corinthians 9 encourages us to give generously with the visual of harvesting what we plant.
With our words, with our thoughts, with our time, and with our resources, we are always planting seeds. Peace or conflict, life or decay, scarcity or abundance; what we plant will grow.
As we choose, the small seeds can easily be overlooked for something that appears much more impressive or urgent, even by the most careful planter. We can end up with the sparse coverage of a fast-fading tulip whose bulb looked so promising, or we can make space in our lives to plant the small seeds God draws to our attention and watch him cultivate a plant that fills and shades the garden.
The work God calls important, the way he calls me to use my time and go about my life, the things he values: they don’t clamor for my attention. They don’t promise to indulge my ambition or my desire for instant gratification. There is only a gentle prodding to make the time, to surrender the plan, to take the step; even when it seems like a costly, illogical, or ill-timed move. A quiet call to obedience. A small seed.
But what it produces in my life is so much bigger than the many things I tend to chase after.
Teach me to ignore the approved garden plan of men and make room for mustard seeds.
For you are faithful with what I entrust to you, and small steps of obedience carry enormous potential.
What does love look like? It lays down all it owns for the sake of the beloved.
This is what Christ did for me. He gave up position, wealth, recognition, respect, power, comfort, dignity, and then, after all of that, He gave up his life. For me.
As he prepared to face the cross, he left this instruction with his followers:Love each other the same way. i.e. Lay down absolutely everything for each other if you have to.
I have a love-hate relationship with verses about this kind of love. It’s beautiful and it describes who I want to become, but these sentences often sting because my heart attitude is so unlike them.
Freely spend myself and all I have for you? No thank you. Even with everything I’ve been given, I count the cost, I weigh the risk, I hold my rights close.
I’ve read that among the many stresses of serving overseas, co-worker conflict can be the tipping point that sends a missionary home. It’s one of the top three reasons people leave the field earlier than anticipated. We’ve been warned over and over about it.
Now, here we are. We’re preparing to join a new team and a new way of doing things. We’ll be working with them on a tight schedule, in close proximity, and under a lot of pressure. And I’ve been anxious that we may wrestle a little to find our rhythm with each other.
So, it’s been my prayer that God will prepare us to work through any misunderstandings or clashes that come up and that, in His grace, we will mesh well with each other and be a team that is a joy and encouragement to each other and to those we are there to serve.
I think, in answer to that prayer, He has been driving home with me how much a selfless, humble attitude does to smooth interactions with others and diffuse conflict. He has been calling my attention to his example: willing to take the lowest position, willing to cover great cost without being repaid, willing to forego recognition or attention.
Gently, he has been pointing out how little I resemble that example, with my son, in my marriage, and in my own family. If I am to follow it, not only in those intimate relationships, but in my every-day, rubbing shoulders relationships, there must be a shift.
In Philippians 2, Paul asks his readers to imitate Christ; and he calls their attention not just to a specific set of behaviors, but to an attitude that reveals itself in a pattern of choices.
The attitude is the fulcrum.
The behaviors build up to the reveal of that attitude:
“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ had…He humbled himself…therefore God elevated him to the place of highest honor…”
What were the “do not’s” in this passage? Selfishness. The need to impress. The relentless pursuit of my own interests. What do all those behaviors point to?
They reveal a fulcrum of PRIDE.
That’s why they are so unlike Christ. And so, Paul pleads with the believers in Philippi to humble themselves, because even the One deserving of all the glory chose an attitude of humility as his pattern. And God says this is what leads to the honor we’re all so hungry for in the first place.
We all have a fulcrum. Working closely with other people is often the context that makes what that fulcrum is so clear. If I am to love my team, I must prepare myself to lay down many things, and the first of those things is my pride.
You will be working on this with me my whole life long. Humility is the divine crafting of your hands alone. I am not naturally driven to seek it or even able, in my fallenness, to produce authentic humility. But as I set my eyes on you, you are moving me closer to understanding two things:
Humility is one of your most beautiful works.
You are faithfully building it in my life.
Help me to lay down my craving for honor.
Help me to cling to the promise that you honor those who humble themselves, and it is more satisfying than any recognition this world could offer. Change my attitude, Lord, and the behavior will follow.
When my actions, my words, my pattern of choices show a drift, help me to recognize it: these are the products of pride. The next step is not to grow discouraged with the ugliness of it or fret over the trend I see. The next step is just to humble myself.
How do I follow the example of Christ in all I am called to decide and navigate? What is the next step when we can’t get along?
A humble attitude is a pretty reliable place to start.
Here it is. The great, paradoxical secret that unravels the way I think.
God faithfully uses the gifting he has given me. He asks me to be a good steward of my strengths.
But his power does not work best in my strengths. His power works BEST in my weakness.
Last month, I had the privilege of contributing as a guest writer for one of Man in the Mirror’s monthly newsletters. I mentioned it (okay, I announced it with celebration and a happy dance) to my dad, who simply said, “Good. I’d like to see what you write reach a larger audience.”
I explained that I’d like to be published here and there, but I would sort of prefer that my reach stay small because I love attention and I’m doomed to become self-absorbed and inauthentic if I ever become well-known.
My dad said this:
“I’d like more people to read what you write because it generally carries a theme of dependence. And that is so needed.”
His words humbled me. It’s not about the writer. It’s about the message. And this is a message worth calling to the attention of as many people as I can possibly summon, because our souls so easily forget:
I need Jesus. I need him desperately. I must depend on Him. For my salvation and for absolutely everything after that.
“Don’t be selfish. Don’t try to impress others…We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort.”
Dependence on the Impressive One. Awareness that without him, I have nothing to offer (John 15:5). An ironclad grip on the truth that he deserves all the honor for anything good in my life (Romans 15:17-18), and that when I start to be impressed with myself, I have become enchanted with a sad lie; because I have absolutely nothing that I have not been given. (1 Corinthians 4:7)
May I learn to be at ease with my weaknesses and with my short supply of resources, stamina, and even the desire to produce what is good.
These are opportunities to invite him to step in, not set-ups for failure. My bad attitudes, short temper, and need for transformation are the canvas upon which he does his best work. And it. Is. Breath-taking.
May I refuse to hide my frailty. May I learn to humbly lay it out and take pleasure in it. It is the welcome mat for his grace to enter in. It is the holy place where my strengths bow out of the way and his power takes the stage. It is the starting place of every good story.
When I see my inadequacy and I decide to I call it what it is instead of hiding or posturing or striving to be enough, that is when his unimaginable endurance, creativity, hope, and light seep into the most desperate places.
Pray with me:
You are the unfailing answer to my cry for help.
My inadequacy, my frailty, my weakness: these are your gifts to help a blind heart see how badly it needs you. They are ever more precious than the gifts I so often plead for.
Transform how I view weakness, hardships, insults. Paul learned how to lean into them and take pleasure in them. Teach me how this is possible for my heart, too, because my giving up place is your giving place.
So help me to lay out the welcome mat boldly.
“So now I am glad to boast in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
“…I do nothing on my own, but say only what the Father taught me. And the one who sent me is with me – He has not deserted me…” –John 8:28-29
I read these words and they flew up against a hard bent within me. The always-trying-to-be-enough bent that drives me to over-achieve and prove myself and never disappoint and never need help and never fall short.
But here it is from his own mouth. The One who calls me to follow his example in all things did NOTHING on his own.
That whole passage instructing us to stay in step with him, abide in him, draw from his strength, LET HIM produce his life in us instead of trying to conjure up the willpower to be good? He lived it before he asked us to follow.
This crazy life where he faced hunger and insult, homelessness and heartache, betrayal and abandonment, loss and enormous pressure to compromise, weariness and stress. He didn’t do any of it on his own. He spoke the words he was given and walked where he was led and received everything from his Father. And it was a day in, day out diagram for how in the world we are supposed do this life.
He does not want me to try it by myself.
He wants me to ask my Father for what I need. To call on my Savior for strength to take on each thing, big or small. To lean hard on his Spirit for the wisdom and guidance for each choice, as enormous or inconsequential as it may seem.
In big steps, tense discussions, inflammatory situations, choking grief, huge risks, daunting unknowns where I have no idea how to move forward. And also in just the challenging, stressful days where a crammed schedule and not enough sleep make me fear that I will give in to my irritable, selfish, harsh flesh.
May I not live in fear of the damage I might do or the damage I may sustain, but may I step forward in confidence that He is with me, giving me everything I need to face what this day holds, and He has not asked me to know all the answers or to handle one single part of it on my own.
I need to remember. I need to remember because when I feel like I’ve lost my bearings, I hang on tight. I cling to my ideas, my ways of doing things, my expectations of timing.
Those are the wrong things to cling to.
Lord, help me cling to you. When I feel a wave of confusion or frustration, may I reach for Jesus rather than trying to rally in my own strength.
You are enough. I don’t have to be enough for this or for what’s next or for anyone else because here you are with me, just as your Father was with you, never deserting or abandoning you.
You are enough for this. You are enough for me.
“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.”
“…I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandal.” – John 1:27
“I was hungry, and you fed me. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me….when you did it to one of the least of these…you were doing it to me!” – Matthew 25:35-36, 40
I’ve never looked at these two passages in tandem before, but I thought the parallel was thought-provoking: when you take care of people, you take care of Christ.
p.s. That’s an honor, because we’re not even worthy to tend to his sandals.
I’ve heard that marriage, parenting, and even the privilege of full-time ministry can be “a series of little deaths,” as we lay down our expectations and rights and desires for the sake of those we are called to serve. I think we only humble ourselves to the point of those little deaths when we remember that the One who asks us to do so led the way himself.
I have often found it helpful, whether I’m having difficulty with a stranger or family, to look past the person I am directly interacting with to the Savior who is teaching me how to treat them. When I see him, all my excuses about how it’s not fair and they don’t deserve it and I’m too tired fall away, because whatever it is he is asking of me, he is absolutely worthy of it. This person in front of me, I could easily find a reason to turn away from.
But how could I say no to the one who has given up everything for me?
Today, as I feed, clothe, and unfasten sandals, may I remember who I’m really doing it for, and that I am not even worthy to be his slave.
Make me a humble and willing servant, eager to give to and help those who are precious to you in any way I can.
Authentic generosity and willingness to serve are two of the clearest displays that someone is becoming more like you – the only one who is worthy of all service and yet laid down his position and rights and very life to serve.
My one-year-old is in this crazy stage of exploring and climbing on almost everything, but he’s still getting the hang of his balance. This month, he fell and hit his head. so. many. times.
On a door hinge, on the steps, on the fridge door, on the coffee table, on the gravel, on a pinecone. Some days, I’m convinced he’s actually aiming for the only hard object with a corner in sight.
Man, have I felt like a failure when it comes to protecting him! So far it’s been nothing serious, but I am exhausted from trying to anticipate when this top-heavy toddler is going to tip over and the guilt I feel when I didn’t catch him in time. I have literally found myself saying the words, “One day. Let’s just make it one day without any head trauma, okay?”
It’s been just one of the many contexts where I have been moved to frustrated, irritable words toward myself and my family, and it’s been revealing to me that:
a) I have some unrealistic expectations about my ability to foresee and prevent every injury.
b) Kindness, patience, and self-control aren’t exactly the traits that surface when I’m under stress or pressure.
It turns out, I can be just as off balance as my toddler.
Six Hundred Expectations
This verse in chapter 33 of Jeremiah looks forward to a new way of things for Israel. It hints at a time when God would do something totally unexpected; when he would take these 613 expectations where his people came up short again and again and again, and he would step in.
My eyes flitted across the words, “The Lord IS our righteousness,” and it caused me to pause.
I think I most often function at the level of “The Lord expects/wants/demands my righteousness.” What would change if that thinking shifted to, “The Lord IS my righteousness?”
I would stop trying to be something I constantly fall short of. I would rely on his goodness and strength and kindness instead of trying to be those things myself. I would let these words that sing of Christ stepping in resonate in my soul, and perhaps, for once, I would let him.
I read this verse in 1 Corinthians this morning, and it put to words the frustration I often feel day in and day out:
I am called to a way of living that I am powerless to carry out. I am called to participate in a plan that I am totally inadequate and unprepared to bring together.
And I hate butting up against that powerlessness.
He asks me to be kind and self-controlled and to consider others’ interests, to parent firmly and also graciously, to be a respectful and uplifting teammate in my marriage even when I’m under a lot of pressure and feeling frustrated, to raise the funds to do full-time ministry, to move overseas where there’s no Target or Starbucks and the internet is slow and I’m far from my family and the language falls strange on my ears and the state of things is heart-breaking and the work is worth it, but the team is understaffed and the hours are long and unpredictable and to adjust to everything being different and to still be kind and self-controlled and a faithful parent and a respectful wife and
I can’t keep up. I cannot do it all. I cannot do even one of those things.
And I am tired.
Your list probably looks different than mine, but maybe you feel that way, too.
Will You Let Me?
You and I are as powerless to keep up with our lists as any Israelite straining to measure up to those 613 impossible expectations and constantly falling short.
But our Savior says this:
I can. I can do each and every one of those things. You are powerless, but I am all-powerful. “I am the Lord, the God of all the peoples of the world, is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27)
I am your righteousness. I will do this thing. Will you trust me and come along? Will you relax your furrowed brow and breathe and watch me do it? Will you believe that I am bigger than the obstacles and able to heal even the most broken things? Will you let me be powerful and impressive and praiseworthy in your life instead of seeking to be those things yourself?
I am the Lord. I am your righteousness. Will you rest in that or will you keep trying to take my place?
A Prayer For When I Blow It
Oh Lord –
I am not kind. But you are my kindness. I am not patient. But you are my patience. I am not wise. But you are my wisdom.
When I am unkind, help me to remember, “Oh yes. That’s because that’s what I am like. But that is not what you are like. Jesus, be my kindness right now.”
When I blow up, help me to say in that moment, “Oh yes, that’s because I am short-tempered. But that is not what you are like. You are patient. You are self-controlled. You are gentle. Jesus, I cannot do what is right without you, because YOU ARE my righteousness.”
So I will just be weak. I will be humble. I will say I’m sorry. I will beg for your help. And I will watch and see what you will do with a heart that is willing to step out of the way and give you room to work.
This moment looks different for everyone. The moment that the pandemic goes from a situation I hear about on the news to an intruder that tears its way abruptly into my day. The moment COVID-19 gets personal.
The duck, duck, goose moment. Ducked this hit, ducked that hit, coping, coping, GOOSE!
For stronger souls, its might be something bigger that finally gets to them, but for me, it was the eggs.
I’ve been rationing eggs. I was prepared for it if there were no eggs. I got to the store and found a shelf full of eggs!
Round-trip to Walmart is an hour of driving for me. Today I had made the trip for flour, only to find that all the stores were out of flour. The milk and pizza aisles had signs legislating the max quantity per customer. But at least there were eggs again! I put two cartons in my basket and happily went on my way, relieved that I wouldn’t run out by Sunday and have to drive to town again.
I had already started the self check-out process at the register when a Walmart employee walked up to my cart and said matter-of-factly, “You have too many eggs. Each customer can only have one carton.” My heart sank as she reached into my cart and took away my 5 extra days of no grocery shopping.
The lady checking out across from me piped up, “Oooh! Could I have those?”
I should have just been happy that someone who needed eggs was able to get the carton I wasn’t allowed to have. But, on the inside, I was just seething that I wasn’t allowed to have it.
I hadn’t seen a sign. The shelves looked fine. I wasn’t taking a ridiculous amount. But I was shamed by the Robin Hood Walmart lady who took my eggs, and I was furious for the rest of the day.
A Gap in my Understanding
So I went to the other grocery store in town and bought a second carton of eggs in defiance (ugly moment, I know). I drove home stewing. I complained to Cody. I complained to everyone. Then I complained to the Lord and he brought to mind two things:
It is fine for situations to be less than smooth, especially right now.
It is okay for me to come up against these situations not perfectly prepared. It’s all right to be distressed by an employee taking my groceries from me (even if I should be happy they went to someone that needed them). I’m allowed to struggle as the opportunities to be around other people disappear and to wrestle with how to be thankful when I feel trapped.
It’s new. It’s hard. It’s an adjustment. And it’s the unsurprising evidence that I’m human and I need the Lord just as desperately as ever.
2. There’s a gap in my understanding.
Colossians 2:9-10 says, “For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. So you also are complete through your union with Christ…”
I’m familiar with the verse. I have it memorized. But I don’t know how to use it. I need being ‘complete in Christ’ to make a difference at the real-life level of feeling sad and lonely because I can’t see my friends, feeling robbed and accused when the Walmart lady takes my eggs, feeling dread when I look ahead to a month with just my family and see how much I prefer the option of socializing over the calling to love the people I live with day in and day out.
Why isn’t this working?
Because I am complete in Christ, I am not supposed to treat the company of other people hungrily. I’m supposed to be able to face a month-long world pandemic quarantine and not be insecure and needy.
I’m supposed to be calm, collected and confident that the Savior in whom I am complete will faithfully meet my needs, even my needs for eggs and interaction. So why isn’t it working?
I think that feeling angry or anxious or lonely or just tired of it all doesn’t mean it’s not working.
Being complete in Christ means I am able to experience all of that and still allow His peace to rule. Being complete in Christ means I can take the disillusionment and frustration and angst and make it yield to the truth:
How do I face the next month of this?
“Christ is all that matters. And He lives in all of us…you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults…Above all, clothe yourselves with love…”
This is what Christ’s life looks like, and in the midst of broken systems and plans that are coming apart at the seams, it still works. It’s not falling apart. It’s not out of stock. It’s not cancelled.
It walks us through the how of each next moment.
And Christ’s answer to how do I face the next month of this? is this:
In love. In my strength. Ruled by my peace.
Just wrap yourself up tight in this beautiful truth: You are complete in me. I complete every single area where you fall short. I am more than enough for you.
And that means you can face this.
Just come to me in every moment
And I will supply all that you lack to walk through the next moment in love.
“But He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you [My lovingkindness and My mercy are more than enough—always available—regardless of the situation]; for [My] power is being perfected [and is completed and shows itself most effectively] in [your] weakness.” Therefore, I will all the more gladly boast in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ [may completely enfold me and] may dwell in me. So I am well pleased with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, and with difficulties, for the sake of Christ…
At my husband, at my son when he constantly asks me for snacks, at myself because I knocked a whole roll of toilet paper into my washer without noticing AND WASHED IT in the middle of a toilet paper crisis. At my sweater because I couldn’t get it onto the clothes hanger the first try.
That was the indicator that let me know this wasn’t really about my husband or my son or the TP or my sweater. The small situations were not causing me to be bothered, they were revealing that I am bothered by something deeper.
My heart has been heavy over all the unknowns and precautions and trying to walk the fine line between wisdom and paranoia. The scientific community is making progress on treatment possibilities, but they’re still in the clinical trials stage. Models suggest that the measures we have taken will help keep healthcare resources available to the severely ill, but that this scenario our world is in will not resolve quickly.
Meanwhile, I’m concerned about our investments, unsure about our income and our economy, aware of the threat that looms over the vulnerable people I love. I’m wrestling with how powerless I am to protect them. I’m angsty over how long I may have to go without social interaction. I’m unnerved by the opinions and interactions on social media that are growing sharper as the disease spreads and the stress sets in. I feel all my plans growing less and less likely in the coming months.
As painful scenarios leave the hypothetical and start to rip their way into our reality, it’s more challenging to dismiss my concerns. The coronavirus concerns are valid.
And they are heavy.
Is it as simple as “Just don’t worry about it?”
I have been sitting with this verse.
“Give your burdens to the Lord, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.”
I love that I am not asked to wildly abandon my concerns as if they’re just in my head. It’s one thing to hear “just don’t worry about it” when I’m fretting over unlikely possibilities and I actually do need to lighten up. But when I’m bearing heavy situations and high risks and a great deal of loss is at stake, it’s not that simple.
If I am to shift the weight off my shoulders, I must know these things have been delegated carefully into the hands of one who is equally invested in their importance and is competent to manage them.
I think that’s why this verse connects with me so well. It’s not an over-arching, “just stop being so concerned” message. It’s a personal and specific invitation to name those things that burden my heart and give them directly to the One who promises to take care of me.
When my troubles have shifted onto the plate of someone in whom I have great confidence, they can remain unsolved and yet my heart can be light. It’s a matter of who I think is called to handle the situation.
One Finger At A Time
I am a worrier and an overthinker and a plan-ahead-er, so one truth that has made a huge practical difference in my life is this: “Be anxious for nothing” is not a matter of personality, it’s a matter of obedience.
With the ever-evolving concerns we are facing, I have been trying to wrap my mind around the how of obeying that command.
I know when something has stolen my focus and has my mind over-analyzing and my heart burdened. I know in that same moment that I should not be focusing, over-analyzing, or holding onto that burden. I struggle with how to let go.
How do I get from Point A: anxious, to Point B: not anxious?
How do I loosen my white-knuckle grip on the things that I cannot stop caring deeply about? In the midst of a hard situation I’m likely to be in for a while, what are the day-to-day steps to a light heart?
First, I think I have to recognized that by letting go of them, I am giving them to someone who is able to do a better job managing the situation than I can.
Second, because the worries will keep re-surfacing in my mind, I must capture those thoughts and link them to heart-steadying truth. That way, the next time they show up, they actually serve me. I want practical replacement thoughts – mental resets that guide my mind back to solid reassurance, so that as these concerns arise, while I do whatever it is I need to do, I also settle back into how I am well taken care of. I take the threat seriously, but I live with a light heart.
Finally, I think it’s easiest to let go one finger at a time.
So, in a season heavy with coronavirus concerns, I identified 5 areas where I felt irritation, worry, frustration and fear surfacing in my heart and my thinking.
This is my tool so that each time I feel myself growing tense, restless, and heavy as I walk through the weeks ahead, I can glance at my hand with its 5 fingers, or at this handy, short-and-sweet printable on my fridge and count down 5 steadying steps that help me let go of one specific area at a time.
When I feel concerned over how this situation will affect my:
I will offer sacrificial love freely and lay down my expectations.
Any time stress is heightened, we feel that tension in our relationships. Because it’s easy for me to obsess over rough interactions with other people and stress over whether we are okay or not, I want to be careful about how much time and attention those relationship dynamics get in my heart. I think the truth I can sit with is this: when people are not fine, their interactions suffer, and a lot of people are not fine right now. I can’t necessarily count on the reassurance, attention and company I want from other people. But I can shift my thinking from what I can GET to what I can GIVE. I can release people to just be where they’re at and keep offering them grace rather than fixating on hurt, surprise or disappointment when they don’t respond to me how I expect them to.
I will delight in how they are precious to me and pray for their protection.
This area probably hits the hardest: the threat of losing our loved ones. I don’t know what will happen, but today, I want to appreciate those who are precious to me rather than living in dread of losing them. I will cherish the people that God has put in my life and thank him for the gift that they are. I will praise him for providing a way for us to continue our relationships in eternity, with all the time in the world and none of the struggle or pain or physical ailments to get in the way of enjoying each other; even if he allows us to be separated for a time. And while I recognize that God’s goodness, provision and protection do not always look like I expect them to, I will remember that He is capable of keeping my people safe and healing their bodies if they get sick. He listens intently to my every request, so I will pray and pray and pray for Him to protect them as often as they come to mind.
I will think of one way God has taken care of me in the past and release my desire to see and control the future.
And I said, “This is my fate; the Most High has turned his hand against me.” But then I recall all you have done, O Lord; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago. They are constantly in my thoughts. I cannot stop thinking about your mighty works.
Because God has not let me in on all the details of his plan for my future, it is easy for me to grow fearful and skeptical as I face the uncertainty ahead. It is tempting to expend all of my energy searching for some clue as to how this will go so I can prepare perfectly. When things seem to take a turn for the worst, I can start to wonder if He’s on my side at all. But one of the most effective things to settle my frustrated, searching heart is to stop and remember one way God has specifically cared for me in the past. This is the God that has revealed his heart for me, intervened for me and worked on my behalf in so many creative and varied ways. When I cannot predict his plan, I must return to the evidence of his character. When I’m unsettled over a future I cannot see or control, I will trust the heart of the One who can see and control all that is to come.
I will name how my needs have been met today and ask God to faithfully meet my needs tomorrow.
When I’m used to God meeting my needs one way, I can grow attached to how things work right now and be really thrown by major changes. But God often uses these transition periods when my fine-tuned system no longer functions to help me see that I have stopped looking to him for help; I have shifted my trust to my system, my ability, and my management. He lovingly allows my systems to break down so that I will learn that he is just as able to provide for me in a new way. The changes I’m adjusting to did not catch him by surprise. When my thoughts drift to my finances and I start trying to calculate if we will be okay, I will stop and ask this question: Do I have what I need today? I will name the things I notice that God has already put in place, on this day. I will remember that, whatever is next, he is able to provide what I need, maybe in a new way I haven’t yet thought of. I will lay down my calculations and ask him for help, because he is faithful to answer the one who waits on him.
“I am the Lord who opened a way through the waters, making a dry path through the sea…But forget all that – it is nothing compared to what I am going to do.”
“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.”
I will rest in the freedom I have been given to just do my best. I will think of how to love people instead of how to impress them.
Comparison kills us: whether it’s how you’re handling your kids’ educational needs; whether you’re still running errands or in full-on quarantine; whether you have the opportunity to work from home or must brave the public workplace. We all feel the expectations of others, and there’s a lot of guidelines and opinions out there. It can make me feel crushed and like there’s no right answer. But I believe that in this, just like in any season, we have been given the freedom to start each day, hold it before the Lord, and ask him to guide us step by step. I’m just not going to get a 100% approval rating with how I end up performing in that, but one of the most freeing things ever is knowing that I don’t have to be on the same page as someone else to take care of them, to be kind to them, to sacrificially work for their good. So I will lay aside the burden to impress others, take up the calling I’ve been given to love them, and then just do the best I can before an audience of One.
“The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives.”
“Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness…” — Psalm 91:6
The first instruction I want to consider is the one that reminds me to turn my heart to the Lord and entrust my life to Him. He gives instructions to tend to my heart (Proverbs 4:23), to let his peace rule (Colossians 3:15), and to not let myself be overcome by dread or terror.
More on that later.
Distance: Leviticus 13
“Those who suffer from a serious skin disease must tear their clothing and leave their hair uncombed. They must cover their mouth and call out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as the serious disease lasts, they will be ceremonially unclean. They must live in isolation in their place outside the camp.” – Leviticus 13:45-46
Social distancing, quarantine and isolation protocols were actually God’s idea! All the way back in ancient times, he gave Israel instructions to keep those who were contagious separate from the living quarters of the main community, and to have them warn others in an obvious way so they didn’t get close enough to contract skin diseases unwittingly.
It’s important to set my heart on the Lord and trust in his protection so that I don’t react in a panic; but it’s also wise to practice thoughtful caution once I recognize that an illness has a propensity to spread.
Even Jesus, when presented with the promises of protection outlined in Psalm 91, refused to use them as an excuse to be reckless and put that protection to the test.
This virus is an extremely effective traveler! Not only does it spread by air droplets, but a recent study found that live COVID-19 virus was still detected up to 72 hours after application to plastic and stainless steel surfaces.
Rather than labeling the limiting measures that are being put in place as giving in to fear, I’m recognizing that it can actually be an act of love to lay down my freedoms and my plans in order to protect the health of those who are more vulnerable than I am. We can’t control every factor, but if our actions can help to limit how many people an illness affects, we may count those hard choices a worthwhile sacrifice.
God is absolutely able to deliver us from disease, just as He protected Israel from all the plagues that assaulted Egypt; but he does not promise believers immunity or an immediate fix for the physical struggles we face. He promises to deliver us eventually into a life without sickness, without pain; and to walk with us through all we face in the meantime.
“The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name. When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honor them.”
The COVID-19 virus attacks lung tissue. Most people present with mild respiratory symptoms and then recover; their body deals with the virus, then rebuilds the damage. But in some people, the sick who take a turn for severely sick, it’s not directly because of damage done by the virus. It’s because of something called a cytokine storm.
As the virus damages lung tissue, the cells send out a chemical distress signal (called cytokines) that draws immune cells to the damaged site to help. In some patients, this cytokine release prompts an overreaction of the immune system. Instead of “sniper mode,” where the white blood cells target and ingest foreign bodies, or the killer T lymphocytes scan for markers they recognize as belonging to the virus and kill only those cells; the body switches to “guns blazing” mode.
The immune cells flood the area in trouble, destroying any and all tissue in their path in an over-the-top campaign to save the rest of the body. The virus is taken out in the cross-fire, but so is the viable lung tissue that was still getting oxygen to the bloodstream.
The immune system was only trying to get rid of the threat, but in the process, it compromised the body’s ability to breathe. Those are the patients that end up on a ventilator, trying to oxygenate a body whose lungs have become a warzone. In the sickest patients of all, this hyperactive response of the immune system even damages the liver and kidneys, causing multiple organ failure.
Wisdom and caution are excellent guides to our thoughts. But when we start to use fear as the basis of our decisions, it’s like a runaway immune system whose overreaction can compromise the body’s ability to breathe.
We must weigh each choice, each issue with care and calm, and thoughtfully take such measures as we deem necessary. But when we get in a panic and start overanalyzing and overpreparing, rushing on the outside and running in circles on the inside; when we try to control what we cannot control; when we turn inward toward ourselves for solutions instead of outward to our God for help, we are the immune system who is overreacting.
We have stopped targeting and started blindly launching missiles and wildly throwing grenades. As collateral tissue is destroyed in the lungs, fluid begins to leak in, drowning the patient. As we give in to fearful thoughts, they open the gateway to more fearful thoughts, and we drown in them.
And so God lovingly instructs us not to live in dread.
So Practically, What Do I Do?
The Lord has given me a strong warning not to think like everyone else does. He said, “Don’t call everything a conspiracy, like they do, and don’t live in dread of what frightens them. Make the Lord of Heaven’s Armies holy in your life. He is the one you should fear. He is the one who should make you tremble. He will keep you safe…
When our thoughts are tempted to lean into an exaggerated response, may we learn to firmly place them on the One who is worthy of our attention and worship. It is often in walking through darkness and disaster that we get to know him most. In sickness, in peril, in struggle, in discouragement, in deep and miry pits, we find Him faithful.
I waited patiently for the Lord to help me, and he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see what he has done and be amazed. They will put their trust in the Lord. Oh, the joys of those who trust the Lord…
So, be wise. Be careful. Prepare prudently. Do all you can to protect others. And when you have done all you can do; do not fear what you cannot control. Do not allow fear to turn you inward so that you only see yourself, your inconveniences, and your losses. Look up. Look out. Press into our Savior. See those He has called you to love. Let Him lead you in how.
However this plays out, we will look back and see that He led us well. May we also look back and see that our words and actions in the midst of crisis were characterized by the One who lives and rules within:
Aerosol and surface stability of HCoV-19 (SARS-CoV-2) compared to SARS-CoV-1, NEJM Original Article, Contributors: Neeltje van Doremalen, Trenton Bushmaker, Dylan H. Morris, Myndi G. Holbrook, Amandine Gamble, Brandi N. Williamson, Azaibi Tamin, Jennifer L. Harcourt, Natalie J. Thornburg, Susan I. Gerber, James O. Lloyd-Smith, Emmie de Wit, Vincent J. Munster website: https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.03.09.20033217v1.full.pdf