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

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.

Lay Out the Welcome Mat: on how to take pleasure in weakness

“Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness…”

2 Corinthians 12:9

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.”

Philippians 2:3 and 3:3

More and more, may this become my hallmark:

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:

Lord,

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.”

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Worthy: on untying little sandals and who it is we’re serving

“…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. 

Lord,

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.