When Mountains Crumble: a lifeline for the unexpected

“God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea. Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!

…The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us; the God of Israel is our fortress.”

Psalm 46:1-3, 11

We were so careful.

We delayed our travel. We waited for negative Covid tests. We wore masks for 3 days of air travel and airports. We finally made it to Papua New Guinea. We quarantined for two weeks. An enormous amount of effort and care went into avoiding any chance of spreading Covid from the U.S to our new home. But when we arrived, it was already here.

One day before our quarantine ended, Covid cases here had reached a point of such concern that all non-essential trips to town were cancelled. Imagine moving your family half the world away with only what you can pack into 9 suitcases and then finding out you can’t go to the store.

I cried.

We got through our first week of language learning, and two residents on our base tested positive for Covid. Classes were cancelled. Sports were cancelled. The market is closed. In order to keep from potentially spreading Covid into the community, we’re not allowed to leave the center. Our leadership is carefully navigating an extremely challenging situation, and they’re doing a great job. But the timing was hard.

When I think about why I came to Papua New Guinea, there is one main reason: to obey Jesus. The path up to this point has been full of so many unexpected turns. He has not landed us where I thought we’d be or in the ministry where I thought we’d serve. But I arrived excited, ready to start our life here, looking forward to what He had for us and how He’d use us.

All the unexpected changes during our first days here sharply revealed the other reasons I had for coming here: other hopes, hidden expectations.

I was excited to explore the beauty of the country.Ok Beka, what if you can’t leave the base? Was it still worth it to come here?

I was really looking forward to the sports.What if sports are cancelled and you’re back to running by yourself? Can you still be content?

I couldn’t wait to learn language. What if you can’t have contact with your language teacher? What if developing the ability to communicate here gets put on hold?

After moving from place to place for our entire marriage, I was looking forward to finally setting up our home. —What if you’re using a house full of things that don’t belong to you? What if settling in and making it yours has to wait?

If the other reasons are stripped away, is obeying Jesus a good enough reason, all by itself?

Can you obey Jesus whole-heartedly, even when what that looks like today is vastly different than what you envisioned? When you’ve prepared for 12 years, and then you get here, but it doesn’t look like what you prepared for – can you trust that God knew exactly what this moment would look like and that He has perfectly equipped you to step into it?

During our class introductions, one of my friends shared a verse from Psalm 16. It was a lifeline the Lord had used to carry her through loss, disappointment, and discouragement in a difficult season.

Set the Lord always before you and you will not be shaken.

Before this month, I would have said, “Yeah! I do that!” But He is starting to show me how often it is something else I set before me. And when that something else lets me down, I get discouraged. I believe that, in His love, my God allows those things to fail me. It’s not wrong to be excited or to look forward to good things. But it is crucial for my heart to re-center on the One who is the source of all those good things – the One who is enough even when all the other reasons are stripped away.

He is taking me to a place where I find my hope in nothing more and nothing less than Jesus Christ – crucified, risen, living in me, victorious, able, sufficient.

If I set Him before me. I will not be shaken. Though the mountains themselves crumble into the sea. Though earthquakes come and oceans roar and plans get cancelled and we lose any inkling of what to expect.

The Lord can use disappointment, difficulty and inconvenience to purify our dependence on him – to teach us the secret of joy. And in the midst of this, I would like to let him.

—-

Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart sad?

I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again – my Savior and my God…

I hear the tumult of the raging seas as your waves and surging tides sweep over me.

But each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me.

And through each night I sing his songs…”

Psalm 42:5-6, 8

But One Man Hid: on coming to a halt to deal with the heart

“Then Joshua cried out, ‘O Sovereign Lord, why did you bring us across the Jordan River if you are going to let the Amorites kill us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side! Lord what can I say now that Israel has fled before its enemies?…

…this is what the Lord, the God of Israel says: ‘Hidden among you, O Israel, are things set apart for the Lord. You will never defeat your enemies until you remove these things from among you.”

Joshua 7:7-8, 13

God had stopped the Jordan River in its tracks so that Israel could cross on dry land. He had brought down the walls of Jericho before their very eyes. Boldly, they sent a detachment to take out the small town of Ai, and then they were brutally defeated. Joshua was thrown. I would have been, too.

Why had God delivered mighty Jericho to them, and then brought the campaign to a screeching halt at Ai?

The rest of this chapter tells the story of Achan, a man who disobeyed God’s instructions. Israel had been given clear directions to destroy everything except the precious metals, and to bring those to the Tabernacle treasury. They were set apart as holy to the Lord. But Achan made off with just a little something for himself and stashed it under his tent.

I love how this chapter illustrates that when all of Israel obeyed the Lord, but one man kept back and hid what belonged to Him, God was not content to just carry on with the external task of delivering the Promised Land to Israel.

Joshua, in his discouragement, questioned whether they had been over-reaching by stepping across the Jordan at all. But the issue wasn’t having the confidence to go after all that God had promised. The issue was looking only for God’s claim on the territory before them and missing that the battle for his claim on their hearts was just as important.

Later, God did give Israel victory over Ai, and when he did, he told them they were free to take all that they wanted. He was not withholding from them in the long term; he was asking them to trust him and wait. But Achan’s actions in Jericho showed that his heart didn’t trust the Lord. He felt he needed to look out for himself. So God stopped the whole nation in its tracks and revealed to them what was hidden. Then, and only then, he took them forward into victory.

Just as everyone in Israel but Achan obeyed and it wasn’t enough; Jehovah looks for nothing short of a totally yielded heart in me.

Deuteronomy 6:4-6, Psalm 139:23-24 and James 1:21 explore a similar principle – that our loving God is not content with all in my heart that is honorable and well-intentioned when there are hidden areas that disobey, conceal, and hold back from Him.

But when I humble my heart and listen carefully to His word, He faithfully brings those things to the surface. He is in the patient business of drawing out the internal issues that enslave me, cultivate fear, and darken my understanding of Him. And He may even allow exciting external progress to come to a grinding halt in order to address my heart, so that when I walk forward, I do so truly free, wholly His, and unafraid.

“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his.
He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.
He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him.

Daniel 2:20-22

Checking Seatbelts: control freak meets roller coaster

“As for me, I look to the Lord for help. I wait confidently for God to save me, and my God will certainly hear me…though I fall, I will rise again. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.”

Micah 7:7-8

I have felt a lot of fear over the last few months.

I tend to respond to my fear by trying to control everything, but I only end up discovering how little control I have. I have been fighting like crazy to set us up for this next step, to find ways to make this adjustment smoother, to try and protect and care for my family on this roller coaster the Lord has us on.

What if I spent my time on a real roller coaster that way? What if I tried to anticipate everything we were going to feel, everything that might be scary, when to lean this way, when the lights would go out? What if I spent the entire ride constantly checking everyone’s seatbelts and re-positioning and conducting surveys to see how everyone was coping?

Half the joy of a roller coaster is that you don’t know what to expect. People ride them for the experience of being surprised, for the feeling of dropping through thin air and the shock of losing their bearings, for the rush of the wind on a ride that’s too fast for them to steer. The best roller coasters get you good and scared, but they don’t make you worry for your safety.

Oh Lord,

I have been need-meeting and checking seatbelts for so long that I don’t know what it’s like to stop straining against the harness and just be on this ride with my people. I don’t know how to just take this one unexpected drop, one unforeseen turn, and one stretch to catch my breath at a time.

Help me not to grow discouraged when something surprises me and I’m forced to see the state of my own heart. You are faithfully bringing to the surface the attitudes and beliefs that steal my joy and shake my footing. You stand ready to replace them with your peace so that I am able to delight in the unexpected journey you have prepared for me.

I will always be frustrated if I am trying to adjust the roller coaster instead of just riding it. Build in me such a confidence in you that I wait on you, persistently looking to you for help, not dissuaded when I fall, not intimidated when it’s dark, always ready to hope in you once more. May I grow ever more loyal to what is true of you, and less attached to my expectations of how this will go.

There are plenty of surprises ahead where I won’t feel totally secure. But help me to trust that, in you, I am completely safe.

Not By My Own Effort: on blood, sweat, and tears and grace given freely



…We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us
. We put no confidence in human effort.

Philippians 3:3
 

I wrote a letter this morning, and as I worked to frame words that might lead to a resting place, my eyes burned. I realized that I was also pleading for myself. Maybe this morning, it’s a prayer breathed for your heart, too:

I see you and your desire to grow and to learn and to do such a good job serving and taking care of others. I see how hard you are working and how desperately you are trying. I’m praying this morning that you would feel settled in this truth: God is not disappointed in you or hoping for more from you.

So the question is this: are you hoping for more from you?

All that yearning can produce an unbearable amount of pressure, and it only helps us when we let it drive us to the cross and remind us that our best effort will never be enough, but because we have placed our trust in Christ, that longing and reaching are met in him. In him, we are perfect, well-pleasing, enough, praiseworthy, beautiful, satisfactory.

I want you to rest and to know that it is okay to be right where you are, offering yourself to Him, learning, and still finding some things difficult. 

Philippians 3:16 says this: “But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.”

Our successes and our progress are gifts. They are not earnings. And that is hard to remember when we have been laboring hard. But our hearts are reassured and strengthened for the tasks ahead to the extent that we accurately identify grace and gifts given freely to us rather than marveling at what we claim our own hands have built. 

When we lay down the illusion that we have reached this place by our own blood, sweat and tears, we also lay down the pressure to tackle the next mountain short-handed.

Instead, we can look back and trace the path of his faithfulness. We can revel in gift after gift; each reflecting the generous character of a lavish giver. And we can have confidence that no matter what we face next, no matter how spent we are, we will continue to receive good things, and we will continue to be a channel of good things to others. Not because we’re trying so dang hard, but because our unfailing fountain of life will continue to be who he is toward us. 

He is ever able to keep giving as we look to him, as we keep asking for help, and as we keep thanking him for how far we’ve come. Not by our own effort, but by his undeserved grace.


…And what do you have that you did not receive?... (1 Corinthians 4:27)

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

 

Strong Houses: on troubled relationships and the courage to tread new paths

Oh Lord…take pity on your servants! Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love, so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives. Give us gladness in proportion to our former misery! Replace the evil years with good. Let us, your servants see you work again; let our children see your glory.

Psalm 90:13-16

Cody and I got to go out for coffee one afternoon in October – we were offered some surprise babysitting so we could put some quality time toward our marriage.

It was a sweet time, but a lot of it was spent in tears as we took stock of some of the walls we’ve had up toward each other and just how we have struggled, especially through the adjustment of having Abishai, the travel problems, struggles feeding the baby, and post-partum emotions. We both felt at a loss for how to cope with that season. We reacted poorly and now we’re trying to sort through it all and break bad patterns. It’s easy to just wish it could go back to how it was before; back to when our relationship just worked. But we don’t want that. We want to press through this to the place where our marriage is better than before. We want to stare down the hard things in our relationship and work at them and believe that God is growing something even deeper and sweeter.

A hopeful moment in the conversation was when we verbalized the truth that this hard season did not take a beautiful relationship and wreck it.

Each of these stacked-up challenges added pressure to a relationship that was functioning okay, but had some harmful undercurrents. God allowed a hard season to push to the surface dynamics in our marriage that he was not content to leave the way they were. His desire is to transform what does not line up with his design and his character – not just in our hearts as individuals, but in our relationships with each other.

He is teaching us not to be disheartened or discouraged but to come to him and humbly ask him to change what we cannot. We are powerless to be any different, but in Christ, we have all that we need to walk forward; and we have all confidence that we are walking forward toward something good.

He is also teaching me to change my thinking toward my son. I am starting to see how easy it is to lose the joy of our relationship because I see parenting him as a matter of my performance. I tend to think of him in terms of the academic – a problem I can solve if only I study hard enough, a test I can get a good grade on if I put in the work. But Abishai is a complex soul, a growing heart, a person who longs for love, attention, and control just like I do. A firecracker like me who wrestles to manage the same anger, frustration and intensity, but with a lot less practice. And God have given us to each other; and given himself to us.

For a goal-oriented person who likes to hustle and shoot high and work with all my might, it is a strange thing to discover that sometimes the best thing I can do for my relationships is to relax toward them; to stop fighting to make sure everything goes right and to lay down my many expectations, both for myself and for my people. Marriage and parenting are both callings that take hard work and I want to do a good job so badly. But a big part my job is to enjoy, appreciate and notice the sweetness of the gift I have been given.

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:18

Family is not just a job; it’s a treasure. It’s a context in which we work out our understanding of who God is and who we are – it’s the most important place for us to stand still and see him work on our behalf.

Family is where we grow in how we handle pressure, weariness, pinch points, and passion. It’s where we practice sharing, giving, encouraging, handling insult, and allowing for faults. It’s companionship for the funny moments, the little stresses, and the daily decisions that no one else may witness.

It’s not an arena for competition. It’s a garden for tending: a place for spotting beauty, giving thanks, and celebrating the growth of good fruit. It’s a sanctuary of waiting, trusting, hoping, holding steady and holding our breath to see what will break through the surface. It is soil that holds all kinds of potential, a calling to plant seeds faithfully and cultivate the good growth and new life God gives.

It is not a computer program with predictable input and output. No. It is far more beautiful than that.

Oh Lord,

Help me to see it, to really see it, and to thank you.

Please give us gladness in proportion to our former misery. Let us, your servants, see you work again. Satisfy us with your love. In our marriage and in our family, teach us to come to you for the strength to tread new paths. Fill our hearts with hope toward what you can do with what feels wrecked, with the deep ruts we don’t see a way out of, and with the scarred, tender places where have snagged a hundred times already. We invite you to step in, to transform what we are helpless to change. Lord, we need you desperately. Let us see you work beyond our highest expectations and let our children see your glory.

With each of my people, help my heart to see this truth: they are not my audience, they are not my rival, and they are not my project. They are your gift to me. And you are the builder who is knocking away our crumbling places so that you may lay steady foundations in their place.

May I learn to let my soul rest, to thank you, and to take courage – for you give good gifts and you build strong houses.

Unless the Lord builds a house,
    the work of the builders is wasted.
Unless the Lord protects a city,
    guarding it with sentries will do no good.
It is useless for you to work so hard
    from early morning until late at night,
anxiously working for food to eat;
    for God gives rest to his loved ones.

Children are a gift from the Lord;
    they are a reward from him.

Psalm 127:1-3

Stay In The Room: on grace with each other that doesn’t give up

While he was eating, a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume and poured it over his head. The disciples were indignant when they saw this, “What a waste!”

…but Jesus, aware of this, said, “Why criticize this woman for doing such a good thing to me?”…from that time on, Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.

Matthew 26:7-10, 16

Greed, dishonesty, and theft were already at work in Judas. But here, we witness a turning point. He sees someone freely pour out something precious for Jesus – a treasure wasted, in Judas’ opinion. A loss. A disagreement about how to manage resources. A “That is it!” moment. And Judas heads into the night, in more ways than one.

His story teaches me that I need to be wary when I start to get frustrated with how things are being managed, when resources start to become more precious than people, when the way a decision is handled tempts me to throw up my hands and throw in the towel. May I have the wisdom to hold my tongue and tread carefully when my heart grows angry enough to say “That is it!”

Bad decisions often follow.

In this season of much disagreement – in our nation, in our churches, and in our homes – my need to tend to my heart is greater than ever. It is labor-intensive to weed out the pride, bitterness, greed, and criticism that so easily take up residence within me.

As we work alongside others to manage the time and resources God has given, and as our lives are impacted by the decisions of others – how desperately I need him to give me a gentleness and a calm toward choices that are handled differently than I expect and toward events that may unfold differently than I hoped. We are not called to control our future, or to control each other. We are called to control ourselves in how we think about the future and in how we handle each other.

I want them to have complete confidence that they understand God’s mysterious plan, which is Christ himself. In him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge…let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then…you will overflow with thankfulness.

Colossians 2:2-3, 7

In all that is uncertain, I can be completely confident that I understand God’s mysterious plan: it’s Christ himself. The savior who laid down his life to rescue any of us who place our trust in him from the penalty and power of our sin. The author and finisher of our faith who lives in and through us and leads us forward when things get hairy. The solid rock where we find our firm footing. The vine that produces in us the kind of life that lays itself down for the sake of others, and reaches so far beyond our sad standard of love.

God’s plan and his instructions have much more to do with how I live through the events unfolding around me that it does with what those events are.

…you must clothe yourselves with tender-hearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives

Colossians 3:12-16

He does not require me to be carefully placed and painstakingly balanced within a very specific set of circumstances in order to display his power. The mystery and wonder of Christ in me is that his strength is enough and I can be thrown to lions, dropped in a furnace, overcome with illness, locked up, chased down or silenced with stones and He will still do exactly what he intends to in and through my life.

My hardships, weaknesses, and circumstances do not limit him in the least. Nothing threatens his plan for my life. And he asks me to fill my life not with questions about the future or a determination to steer it, but with the message of Christ as my firm foundation that gives me the fortitude to face absolutely anything, and to walk through it extending grace to other people.

When it comes to staying encouraged, maintaining unity, conquering evil impulses, and walking in new life – Christ is the secret, the source of power, and the only strategy.

When the pressure dials up, may I be confident that I understand exactly what God’s plan is and exactly where to turn for the help to carry it out. May I learn to sink my roots down deep into him and hang on tight. May I set my eyes on him alone and be renewed as I learn to know him.

Everything is wrapped up in him and to the degree that my life is, too, I live thankful, at peace, and able to extend a grace that doesn’t give up. It is out of that steady place that I can work willingly at whatever I do, forgive anyone who offends me, make allowance for the faults of others, take on his tender-hearted mercy in my interactions, put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking with me, and invite him into my most desperate moments, trusting him to transform what I am helpless to change.

Oh Lord,

When we reach our “That is it!” moments with each other, give us the courage to stay in the room and keep fighting for this to work. Give us the wisdom to turn our back on the night, not on the relationships that have become strained. Encourage our hearts so that we don’t give up on each other.

Take us deeper into an understanding of you so that we are changed from the inside out. Help us to offer ourselves and all we have daily to be used however you please. Remind us that we are united by something so much more significant than the issues that weigh down our relationships and leave us wanting to slam the door. Give us a glimpse of the forgiveness we have been given, and may it soften our hearts toward each other.

Equip us to understand how to walk in your power and display the life and abundance you offer to all who believe – to all who lay aside their pale efforts and revel in what you have accomplished on the cross – to all who trust you for this next step, too.

…those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength...

Isaiah 40:31

And That Is Why The Curtain Tore: on what it means when God rips things in half

“Then Jesus uttered another loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain in the sanctuary of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.”

Mark 15:37-38

The curtain hanging in Israel’s temple separated the Holy place from the Holy of Holies. It barred the way to the presence of Jehovah.

Only once a year, and never without a sacrifice, one man could step past the curtain as the representative of a sinful people before a flawless God. One after another, animals’ lives were offered as their substitute.

They were granted atonement – the promise that God would overlook their disobedience. They would not be judged this day. A tenuous peace held, but the curtain and the division it represented remained.

“…The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship…For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins

But our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time…For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy.”

Hebrews 10:1, 4, 12, 14

And that is why the curtain tore. God was done with the patch jobs that could never totally deal with the problem. He was done with living at a distance. The time for his promise had come. So he laid down his own life and paid the price for good. And he ripped in half the symbol of the division between himself and us.

The curtain was not taken down and reverently folded. It wasn’t pushed aside like the curtain of a window that can be drawn shut again. It was torn – in a violent, final display of how God feels about there being a barrier between us.

It was a door thrust open with enthusiastic invitation.

Colossians 1 says this: “You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.”

Lord –

May I remember that, because of the cross, I stand before you blameless, without a single fault. You do not draw a curtain shut between us; you do not close yourself off from me.

Trustworthy, steady hope casts aside my hesitations and leads me through a torn curtain and into your inner sanctuary – to confide in you, to consult with you, to beg for your help face to face, to rest in your company.

There’s no waiting room or receptionist I must find favor with or schedule a time with to get past the closed door of a busy God who’s in high demand.

I can breeze in with all the assurance of my excited one-year-old who yells my name, pushes his way past my computer and paperwork, and scrambles onto my lap with grin. He is totally confident that he is wanted there. And I am your priority, just as he is mine.

Your desire is not for me to pause at the curtain.

Thank you, Lord, for paying such a high price to deal with my sin once and for all. Thank you for ripping in half the symbol that would restrain me from entering into your presence boldly.

Anchor Rope: untangling our hope from our plans for tomorrow

“Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year….How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow?…What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” Otherwise you are boasting about your own pretentious plans, and all such boasting is evil.”

James 4:13-16
 

I’ve been under a lot of pressure this week, and the symptoms of that pressure have been messy. I yelled across the house and threw a pillow on the floor. I thought angry thoughts and spoke in harsh tones.


We’ve had a super busy schedule, some changing plans, and a lot of moving pieces we’re trying to keep track of, but I think what threw me the most was an email mentioning that there might be a problem with our paperwork.

We’ve applied for our work permits so we can serve long-term in Papua New Guinea. As far as anyone knew, we had prepared perfectly, but the requirements are changing and getting stricter. We’re working on it, and we’re hopeful that they’ll still let us come, but it’s a wait-and-see situation. It’s an at-the-mercy-of-someone-else’s-decision situation.

I have found that I have a lot of emotions toward this development. In short, it makes me want to pull my hair out. I’m already aching under the pressure every day, because I know we can’t possibly make it all work. We can chase every detail we know of down and something unexpected can still come up. Even if we knew what all the factors were, we couldn’t control them all. We can’t even change ourselves to handle it better.

My stress reveals that I have let myself start thinking my plans are a certain thing. Again.

Oh, how I love to decide that I know what will happen next. It’s pretentious and evil. And it is so, so easy for me to slip into. I love to plan all the specifics as if I’m the one in control. But I’m not. And when I’ve been nurturing my love affair with the planner, I hesitate to depend on the One I need so badly. Just because he might be allowing one of my precious plans to be threatened, I allow that hesitation and fear to make me miserable. And I throw pillows at the floor because I’m so frustrated.

And then there’s Cody, out mowing the lawn like everything will be okay. Just doing the next thing and waiting. Because everything will be okay. Our hope was never in those details.

Oh girl. You’ve got to go get your hope back. Pull it back and pick it up and detach it, strand by strand, from all those pretentious specifics you’ve let it wrap around. Lay the tangled thing at the feet of your Savior and let him braid it into something sturdy: an anchor rope. So every single thread leads to him and his faithfulness.

Then you will not be thrown when things do not go like you expect or when a certain course of action is threatened.

Yes. That plan might not work. But everything will be okay. You’ll be okay. Your family will be okay. Our God knows exactly what you’ll need for the journey you didn’t know to plan for. He knows just how to navigate every turn in the road and he is faithful to use our lives to do the work he is planning, even and especially when it doesn’t line up with what we’re planning.

He’s a good leader. He won’t drag us at such a breakneck speed that we have no option but to drown or let go. He prepares the path and walks it first and lends the strength so that we are surely able to follow the whole way.

Oh Lord,

I’m sorry. I’m sorry for trying to take this back and make it mine. I can’t make these plans turn out. I don’t know everything we’ll need for what’s ahead, or if we’ll even get cleared to take the next step. Can you help my heart release the process to you?

Will you help me trust you to get us there?

I want to do a really good job at this and I want to look good doing it. And that leads me to a place where I obsess and get so upset over the lists and the timing and the unknowns. I’m yearning to be perfect, impressive, on-the-ball, ahead of schedule, all-knowing, prepared for everything. But these goals are only throwing me off balance and adding unnecessary pressure.

Help me unhook my hope from prideful ambitions and pretentious specifics. That kind of obsession does not honor you or the people I’m serving. A humble heart holds all its plans up to you as ideas that could be improved upon and takes on the changes that come with great hope for what you are about to do.

“When you came down long ago, you did awesome deeds beyond our highest expectations. And oh, how the mountains quaked! For since the world began, no ear has heard and no eye has seen a God like you, who works for those who wait for him!”

Isaiah 64:3-4

Let’s take it back to this simple, steadying truth:

There is no God like you.

I am not impressive. But you are. And its not up to me to make your plan work. I am not under all this pressure to see to every detail. I can simply look at, listen to, follow, obey, and be rescued by a God unlike any other.

Again and again, my whole life long, as often as I need you, you will be there. You will exceed my highest expectations, you will handle the things I didn’t see coming, and you will do incredible work as I wait on you.

Nothing surprises you. Nothing threatens your plans. So I will bring this problem before you and ask you to work on our behalf.

Lord, I believe you’ve led us here, to this point, and you are asking us to keep believing you, to keep watching, and to see how you will make a way for us. We trust you, so we can just go mow the lawn while we wait. Because our hope is tied to a sturdy, unchanging anchor, not to our idea of what tomorrow should look like.

“No human wisdom or understanding or plan can stand against the Lord. The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord.”

Proverbs 21:30-31

Make Room For Mustard Seeds: on small priorities that aren’t actually so small

“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.”

Mark 4:30-32

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.

Lord,

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.  

Fulcrum: what’s the next step when we can’t get along?

“This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.  There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

John 15:12-13

“I will gladly spend myself and all I have for you…Everything we do, dear friends, is to strengthen you.”

2 Corinthians 12:15, 19

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…”

Philippians 2:3-5, 8-9

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.

Lord,

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:

  1. Humility is one of your most beautiful works.
  2. 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.