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.  

Not I: a daily diagram for how in the world to navigate this crazy life

“…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.

Ugh.

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.”

John 15:5

“…It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Galatians 2:20

“God has said, “I will never fail you.
    I will never abandon you.”

So we can say with confidence,

“The Lord is my helper,
    so I will have no fear.
    What can mere people do to me?”


Hebrews 13:5-6

Worry, Hurry, Scurry: on living in a quiet place of rest

“Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength. But you would have none of it.

You said, “No, we will get our help from Egypt…So the Lord must wait for you to come to Him so He can show you his love and compassion…Then you will destroy all your silver idols and precious gold images. You will throw them out like filthy rags, saying to them, “Good Riddance!”

Isaiah 30:15-16, 18, 22

This week I have felt like this hamster. I worry and hurry and scurry in seven different directions. I stop in the middle of one thing to go work on something else. I am weary and frazzled and I am not alone.

Just today, I left the office to put Abishai down for his nap to the sad goodbyes of the adults we left behind asking if they could take one, too.

It’s good work, but it does not hold a good place in my heart if I have allowed it to rush me along until I am irritable. nervous, and fidgety. 

Something is off when my tasks feel so pressing that I cannot take a quiet moment to remember that my God is handling things quite capably, he is ready to help me when I ask, and I can go about my work from a place of patience and quiet confidence instead of rushing around like a mad woman and being so thrown off by the things that interrupt or derail my idea of how this day should go.

How draining or how life-giving the same task can be often depends on the state of my heart as I approach it.

All along, I could be resting, instead of craving those moments when the work finally stops so I can, too. All along I could be settled in God’s sure strength and his good plan. But how quickly I become impatient and rush off to craft my own solutions. How easily the words, “No, I will get my help from…” escape my lips.

When will I see that all the other things I turn to only steal my worship and waste my time? May I learn to see them as the useless detours that they are, leading me on an uphill treadmill to nowhere until I collapse, out of breath and defeated.May I gain the wisdom to say to them “Good Riddance! My only hope is the Lord!”


Lord, teach me to return to you and find my rest. You are the one who is patiently waiting to meet my needs. You are right there with me, ready to guide my every step, ready to set me in a place of quiet strength, unhurried, unworried, because my eyes are set on you. 

I am often scurrying off to my own version of Egypt in a panic to guard my walls and build alliances. 

But this is what you say:

“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.”

Psalm 127:1-2

Lord, lead me to a place of calm and teach me to live there, where I can say “The Lord is doing his good work and he is using me, but he does not require me to worry or scurry in this situation in order to do what He has planned with it. So I will rest because I trust in Him.”

In Isaiah and in Psalms there are echoes of a gift held out to an anxious people desperate for relief. A gift that is still constantly offered and often turned down because we are too busy and too worried trying to control our world, force outcomes, plan perfectly, and do God’s job.

But He does not weigh us down with heavy burdens and task us to keep up with an impossible pace.He asks us to let him take our burdens, trust him to carry our cares, and slow down enough to remember who it is we serve and what He is capable of.  

Our God holds out the gift of rest and patiently waits for us to take him up on it. 

See that sleeping baby? He’s on the same hike we are. He could be working just as hard, too, but it wouldn’t get him any further.

What a great reminder God gave us in little kids, who constantly outdo us in their willingness to relax and trust someone else to carry them. 

Undivided Worship: on tearing down temples

“Hezekiah…was twenty-five years old when he became king…He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight…He removed the pagan shrines, smashed the sacred pillars, and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke up the bronze serpent that Moses had made, because the people of Israel had been offering sacrifices to it…”

-2 Kings 18:1-4

My trust in the Lord is a most precious thing. Unseen wars are waged against it, constant messages seek to make it shift, even just a little. 

Reading through 2 Kings, I was struck by how many kings of Judah were godly leaders for the most part, but shied away from the bold actions their nation needed from them. They did not actively turn away from the one true God, but they allowed the worship of other idols alongside Him.

2 Kings 18 highlights one king who set things up differently. He stripped away and tore down any other receptacle of worship – even if it once served a good purpose (the bronze serpent), but had since become a replacement for God himself. 

The worship God seeks from us is pure of man’s ideas, methods, and supplements. 

Only Jehovah. Only his word. Only his way.

One king believed in his God enough to tear all the rest of it down, and when the most powerful empire in the world besieged his small kingdom, he was defended by the Angel of the Lord, who extinguished 185,000 warrior lives in the night and swept away the threat encamped outside his walls as easily as a breeze clears away the chaff. 

The massive Assyrian forces had poured across the land, conquering everyone in their path, but small Judah was impenetrable to them because Jehovah would not allow them to harm her. 

Hezekiah did not forge emergency alliances, come up with a back-up strategy, surrender to spare his people, or lay tribute at the altar of any and every god who might come to his aid. He went to Jehovah over and over and over as the situation became more dire. He held his ground and trusted his God, and his God was faithful to defend him. 

Lord,

In my life, may I be the Hezekiah, the Gideon, the Ephesian believers who burned their magic books.

It is not rare to worship you, but it is rare to worship you alone. And you treasure undivided worship.

Show me what else I add and give me the courage to tear it down.  Show me what else I point people to and teach me to use my voice for one message:
We need you, and you alone. Nothing and no one else will ever be enough.