Thursday, December 18, 2014

Lack What You Withhold

The 4th line of our challenging prayer reads: I am willing to lack what You withhold. I don't like being in a state of not having enough of something or being without. It has been common knowledge that my greatest lack the past six months was a home of my own. Now, that need has been supplied and yet I still lack the finances I'd like to fix it up to my tastes. I lack a flesh and blood daughter. I lack time with my sons. I lack time with close friends and family. At times, I lack love from my spouse. There have been periods of my life when my lacks have been so intense I thought I couldn't handle another day.

When I need to realign my perspective on this subject, I turn to two women in the Bible who struggled with the lack God withheld from them. In Genesis 29–30, Laban’s two daughters are introduced. Leah was the oldest daughter. She had weak eyes–perhaps she was delicate or not attractive. Rachel, the younger daughter, was beautiful. Jacob was in love with Rachel and agreed to work seven years to win her as his wife. When
Jacob woke after his wedding night, he found Leah in his bed!
Consider Leah’s predicament. I can only imagine the humiliation and hurt Leah must have felt that night. My heart aches for Leah as I think of the words Jacob might have said to her that night, thinking she was Rachel. Of course, we are all thinking, “How could this have happened”? We can only speculate, but the most plausible explanation I have read so far is that Jacob had probably indulged in much fine wine at his wedding reception, thus being too drunk to know who was with him. How sad!

A week later, Leah’s problems were compounded when Jacob married Rachel. Leah was overshadowed by her younger sister because her husband loved her sister more than her. So, God gave her children. What intrigues me most about this account is what Leah said as an explanation for the name she gave each son. I think her words reveal her deep pain and desire. When Reuben was born, she said, "It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now." And with Simeon, she stated, "Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too." And then when Levi was born, she was convinced, "Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons." Her fourth son, Judah, held the only ray of hope in this story, "This time I will praise the Lord."
Again, I feel for Leah. Her husband did not love her and so she turned to other things to make her feel loved and worthy. She hoped that by doing or being something, she could gain his affection.

Now, we turn to Rachel. She had her husband’s love but she, like Leah, was unhappy.
She had no children and her sister was having babies (boys, no less) left and right. She had what her sister wanted, and her sister had what she wanted. Rachel tried to fulfill her lack by blaming Jacob, crying and whining to him “Give me children or I’ll die”. She expected him to be able to meet this need. When he could not, she took matters into her own hands and gave her servant to her husband and adopted the resultant child as her own. 

The competition heated up as Leah followed Rachel’s example and gave her servant to Jacob as well. Again, the words they spoke at the birth of each child is deeply revealing. At the birth of Dan, Rachel said, "God has vindicated me; he has listened to my plea and given me a son". And for Naphtali, "I have had a great struggle with my sister and I have won." And Leah exclaimed when Gad made his entrance, "What good fortune." And for Asher, "How happy I am! The women will call me happy!" Both women are so consumed with their rivalry, they aren't thinking clearly.

Rachel was still not satisfied. Her attempt to satisfy her deep lack had failed. Desperate, she turned to drugs–a home remedy of  mandrake plants which were considered to give fertility. Rachel was trying drugs, if you will.

Next we see that Leah’s desires were still not met even after having six sons (counting her servant’s sons). It seems that Leah’s sexual privileges were withheld from her. Another lack. She accused her sister, “You took away my husband”. And so she “hired” Jacob in exchange for some mandrake plants. What a lovely arrangement these two women had!

This time, Leah had two more sons. Issachar, after whose birth she said, "God has rewarded me for giving my maidservant to my husband" and Zebulun, "God has presented me with a precious gift. This time my husband will treat me with honor, because I have borne him six sons." It strikes me as sad that after all this time, all she wanted from her husband now was some honor and respect.

Finally, God gave Rachel what she had longed, manipulated and schemed for. Joseph was born from her own womb. "God has taken away my disgrace. May the Lord add to me another son," were her words. Isn’t it interesting how each sister had what the other wanted and yet each was still unhappy and unsatisfied? No matter what the lack was, they were both in pain and jealous of the other. Rachel blamed her husband and Leah blamed Rachel. They both took matters into their own hands and tried various methods for fulfilling their lack. And when God was gracious and gave Rachel what she wanted, it was not enough. Desires are like that. They are insatiable. Even when we get what we lack, we want more. 
We all experience some lack at some time in our life. Some lacks are small but others causes deep pain due to an unmet desire. Our soul screams, “Give me _______ or I’ll die!” And we will die inside if we do not deal with this pain in a Biblical manner. We will end up bitter, unhappy, in despair or worse, convinced that God doesn’t care. So we have to change our focus from the lack to the One who withholds. We have to look at his character first and see what he says about our needs. When we accept by faith that he will supply all our needs, then we can accept by faith that we do not lack our needs today.
God says a lot about this subject in his Word:
  • The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. Ps 23:1
  • Call on the Lord, fear him, cry to him and He will satisfy our desires. Ps 145:16-19
  • God knows what we need before we ask him. Matt 6:8
  • Ask and you shall receive. Jn 16:24
  • He will graciously give us all things. Rom 8:32
  • God will give you strength to be content in all circumstances. Phil 4:11-13
  • God will make all grace abound so that we will have all that we need. 2 Cor 9:8
  • God will meet all our needs according to his riches. Phil 4:19
  • God’s power gives us everything we need. 2 Pet 1:3
During the toughest days of waiting for my own home, I tried to remind myself that I had a bed to sleep in, food to eat, a place to bathe, access to internet and a supportive partner at my side. My basic needs were met. Now that I have my home, I still need to practice these principles or I will be like Rachel and quickly want more.

So, what is your lack? What is being withheld from you? It might be helpful to fill in the blank “Give me ________ or I’ll die.”
How have you been trying (or tried) to deal with your lack?
How can you get your focus back on the One who lovingly cares for you?
Father God, I acknowledge that I lack things I so desperately want and feel I need. I confess that these desires have consumed My heart and mind. I also confess the wrong ways I have sought to fill my lack. Lord, today I tell my soul again that you will supply all my needs and that you will give me grace to help be able to say "I am willing to lack what you withhold." Amen.

Christmas Around the World

Two weeks ago, I began moving into my new home. If you were to visit me today, it would not look like Christmas in my house. And how would you know that? What makes Christmas, Christmas? If you could describe Christmas in one word, what would it be?

I think you would probably describe Christmas with words such as: snow, presents, trees, decorations, kids, advent, family, fun, white, green and red, lights, Santa, elves, reindeer, sleigh, holly, angels, stockings, poinsettias, wreaths, or manger scene.

When I look at these descriptors, I am struck by how many are bound by location and culture. For instance, we were in Indonesia, snow would not be on the list. In Papua New Guinea, poinsettias grow year round in large tree-like bushes. And Australians might have seafood barbecue, camping and boomers. Christmas crackers are an important part of Christmas in the United Kingdom! You see, much of what we do to celebrate our Savior's birth is culture bound. Let me illustrate by sharing several vignettes of Christmas around the world.

As you probably know, I grew up in Papua New Guinea. It never got below 60 degrees where we lived. So the weather on December 25 was the same as any other day. My mother attempted to add the familiar trappings of Christmas. We had a pine tree with mostly homemade decorations, and we enjoyed a limited number of gifts and lots of good food. She made a tasty cinnamon roll tea ring each Christmas morning and I was sure to find an orange or apple and a chocolate bar in my stocking. We lived in a village that had a small church. When people have no Scripture in their own language, drama becomes a vital method of sharing the Christmas story and capturing the attention of all ages. Let me quote Vida Wolter, a single missionary teacher who shared  a particularly memorable pageant with us one year.
As the last light of evening faded into a star-splashed Christmas Eve, we left the house and joined the crowd which gathered from all seven villages.  
Lighted torches provided flickering illumination and smoky heat into the already warm and humid night, while masses of unseen but fragrant blossoms provided tropical incense. Muted drums hushed the excited chatter as the narrator shared the ancient story. Scenes progressed from Elizabeth and Mary's reunion, through the journey and the arrival in Bethlehem. 

Out of the darkness teenage shepherds emerged herding village children covered in burlap and crawling on all fours. Most had never seen live sheep but they had learned well how to baa-aaa. Suddenly the angel appeared, and not only the shepherds, but also the sheep, were struck down in amazement and terror, only to be encouraged by the heavenly visitor to go to the stable and see the child.
Next arrived the wise men from the eastern sector of the village. Dressed as sophisticated explorers in boots, pith helmets and sunglasses, with cameras slung over shoulders, three coal-black men peered through binoculars made of bamboo as they followed the star which sailed majestically over our heads. When it stopped its journey above the simple stable, the three searchers pointed with enthusiasm to the goal of their journey. There, lying in a wooden box filled with dry grass, the newest village infant voiced his complaint at his role as the Christ Child.
Off in the shadows a growing commotion caused a wave of fear to sweep over the village children as soldiers appeared sent by King Herod. Brandishing long machete knives, the young men shouted, "Ol pikinini man it go we? Mi laik kilim i dai." ("Where are the little boys? We must kill them.") So real was the play to wide-eyed young children, that they cowered in terror trying to hide, while parents and friends called out, "No young boys here; search elsewhere!"
The final scene that night portrayed the less accurate demise of wicked King Herod. He had come to Bethlehem himself to check on the progress of his soldiers in carrying out his evil command. Instead, they turned and began beating him and carried him, kicking and screaming, off into the shadows beside the rushing river which flowed right behind the pageant site. Beyond reach of the pungent torches, darkness hid the last act, but all shuddered as a boulder splashed into the angry river and a scream faded off into the night.

Later, I became a missionary myself to Indonesia. I felt right at home in the tropical heat
on Christmas Day. It was so warm that many years we spent the afternoon by the beach or a resort pool. Christmas in Indonesia is mostly celebrated in churches with big programs on Christmas Eve and a service Christmas morning. A movie about Jesus is also often shown on television around this time even though Christians are a minority in Indonesia.

Part of our ministry was to develop local forms of art and music for use in church worship. The Christmas Eve I remember most vividly was when my husband worked with a local artist to make wayang puppets to tell the Christmas story. These two dimensional paper figures were silhouetted behind a screen by a light shining on them. It ranked right beside the village pageant as one of the most unique Christmas pageants I have ever seen.  The puppet show was followed by a Sasak dance set to a Christmas carol played by the traditional gamelan orchestra. This orchestra is made up of gongs, and xylophone type instruments. I believe that the familiar story of Christ's birth takes on new meaning when communicated through unconventional means. 

Although the way Christmas looks and is celebrated is very different around the world, there are some things about it that are universal. Perhaps one of the words you first thought of was: love, joy, peace, merry, festive, reverent, glorious, light, togetherness, family, giving, helping.

These words point to what Christmas really is. No matter where you are in the world, Christmas is love, joy, peacein other wordsthe Gospel! God loving us so much he became human to die in our place. It is not the lights, the snow, the gifts, the music, even the manger scene itself. We could every one of us celebrate Christmas without all these. But what we cannot do without  what is described in Hebrews 2:14-17.

Because Gods children are human beingsmade of flesh and bloodthe Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying... it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people.

What is essential about Christmas is that we know the Savior. That we recognize Jesus gave up his rights as God to become a human being made of flesh and blood. That we acknowledge that while he was uniquely God, he also cried and needed feeding and changing and educating because he was human.

You see, only someone who was made of flesh and blood was able to fulfill the requirement for a blood sacrifice to take away our sin. And only One who was also God could fulfill the requirement for that sacrifice to be perfect and without sin. God took on the only form that could die, and once and for all, died in my place. He died a public death so that there would be no doubt that he had died. And he died with arms outstretched so that all the world would be embraced (James Bryan Smith). That is Christmas the world over!

So as I close here, think again of that word that you came up with to describe Christmas. How can you use thatwhether it be the tree or the lights or the decorations or the food or whateverto remind you of what Christmas really is? How does or can that point you to the Savior this year?

For instance, while I don't have many Christmas trappings in my house today, I did make sure I found one thing in my boxesa wreath made by a dear Indonesian friend out of Sandalwood. Seeing this wreath on my front door reminds me of Nella who made it for me and who is now with Jesus. It reminds me to pray for Muslims in Indonesia to know Jesus as their Savior. It's scent points me to fragrant gifts that I can give to Jesus this year. 

I encourage you to enjoy the trappings of Christmas by making them into symbols that remind you of deeper meaning so that not just Christmas, but JESUS is celebrated around the world.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

God's Big Answer to my Big Prayer

Have you ever prayed one of those prayers you wish you hadn't? Well, I did last March. My pastor challenged me to ask God for something big. So I asked God to sell our home in Pennsylvania in such a way that it would be so clear that He had done it. In my mind, that meant a super quick sale at above asking price! Wouldn't that be a great miracle?

Instead, the house sat for eight months before we received our first and only offer. The price was lowered, lowered again, raised and lowered again. The roof didn't meet mortgage standards so had to be replaced (from slate to composite). Then all roofers were booked up due to a long winter and hail storms. And when a roofer was finally scheduled, rain was forecasted. On top of this, the market in which we were trying to purchase in Texas looked bleak. Houses were selling at above asking price in multiple bidding situations within hours of being listed. This seemingly impossible scenario meant prayer, more prayer, and still  more prayer. 

As always happens, there were many lessons learned from the long wait: getting my heart really ready to release the old home, letting us concentrate fully on our new ministry and getting to know our new location, time to live with my dad to reestablish our relationship, allowing my husband to come to grips with purchasing in Texas, understanding anew what missionaries experience when they travel so much, come on home leave and live as guests in a host country. As the process unfolded and dependence and trust increased, I asked God that we have only enough return on the sale to get the home of his choice here in Texas. Don't get me wrong, there were hard days! Days I curled up and cried my eyes out, days I let myself acknowledge that this was hard. I tried to be real about it, while not losing hope.

Then after six months of "homelessness", it all came together in one week - the week of my husband's birthday, our RENEW retreat for missionaries on home leave and our Pennsylvania settlement. We were two weeks into an intense search for a new home. We had still not found a house we were willing to buy so we looked at a total fixer upper. That night, I couldn't sleep, partly because I started feeling nauseous with stomach flu, but also because my head was filled with potential plans for how to make the total dump we had seen that day into a lovely home. I decided we needed to see the house again. I contacted our realtor and arranged an afternoon showing, hoping I would feel up to it by then. No new listings were showing up on my email list.

An hour before our scheduled showing, our realtor texted to tell us to meet her at a new address, one not listed. Upon inquiry, we discovered that she had been on the phone earlier that day negotiating another deal. She asked him if he had any homes he was getting ready to list. That led to our showing on Yvonne Place in Richardson. My husband knew immediately upon entering the house that it was the one. I was less certain. I had seen several that I could have lived in and so this one wasn't all that different. The difference was that Mark liked it and was willing to commit. And he promised me an updated kitchen! That was enough for me. We gave an offer that afternoon which was accepted by midnight that evening.

I didn't jump up and down and immediately announce it on facebook. I felt like a woman newly pregnant who doesn't want to share the news until she is past certain stages of development. We knew that this house needed foundation repair and so waited for a quote and to see if the seller would pay.

At the end of the week, the seller agreed to pay for the foundation repair, so we proceeded with the purchase. That day was capped off with news that the settlement on our house in Pennsylvania was completed! What an answer to many prayers worldwide! Prayers for every step of the process, every negotiation, the roof replacement, the weather. The news was carried far and wide so more prayed and more got to participate in the miraculous answer to prayer.

God certainly answered all our prayers (and the prayers of people worldwide). We got a house before it was even listed on MLS. The seller paid for foundation repairs at a cost that was equivalent to what we paid for our roof replacement. We were able to make an offer before anyone else even knew the house was on the market and so there was no bidding war. We settled in three weeks and had enough from our sale to pay closing costs and put twenty percent down. Our new home is in an excellent location - a quiet cul de sac only 1.5 miles from the Christar office. And God provided the contract before our trip to Pennsylvania with settlement in time for us to move out of my dad's so my brother and his wife can move in (they are on home leave from South Africa)!

God answered my big prayer! I don't believe God's answering was dependent on my prayers, meaning, I don't think I am that powerful to determine God's actions. Rather, that our continued praying produced dependence and a reminder of where all things come from and who is really in charge. He will do the same for you! It probably won't be in the way you imagine and it may mean lots of waiting and inconvenience. But he does hear our prayers and I believe He loves to get the attention and the glory!

Psalm 21:1a, 4, 5 In times of trouble, may the Lord answer your cry. May he grant your heart’s desires and make all your plans succeed. May we shout for joy when we hear of your victory and raise a victory banner in the name of our God. May the Lord answer all your prayers.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Release What You Take

The third line of the prayer I am studying this year begins with release. If my word for 2014 is "receive", then my word for 2013 should have been "release". I released many things that year - my sons, one of my roles at church, my youth (I turned 50), trying to fix those I love, people I had discipled and finally the big release of my home and life in Pennsylvania. (See blog entries 3/8/14, 1/21/14 and 2/23/13.)

Last entry, I looked at receiving whatever God gives without guilt and without complaint. Now, I take a step back, because I believe I often cannot receive unless I first release. Sarah Young in Jesus Calling describes it like this:
Clinging to other things makes it hard for you to receive My precious gifts. That is like wrapping your fingers tightly around a small copper coin, while I am offering you unlimited supplies of pure gold. To receive My proffered gift, you must first open your hands and your heart to Me.
Releasing can be instantaneous or a process. Even though I got down on my knees months ago and offered my home to the Lord as a sacrifice, I found I had to continue to release it, right up until the day it finally sold! The day before settlement, I wrote this in my journal,
One part of me is rejoicing and so ready to be rid of this house, so we can move on. The other part of me still mourns for the home I loved, fixed up and made great memories in. Have I truly and fully released it? I offered it up many months ago, but did I release it? How can I know? Do I still think about it and long for it? Do I obsess over it? Do I still compare other homes to it? Do I still desire it? Can I let go of more than the physical house? Until I do, I will not truly enjoy the new home coming my way. I will always think that kitchen was better or that living room was nicer or I wish I had the glass block or the patio. Will my memory of it be false, over glorified, better that it really was?
This was the problem the Israelites had when they wandered in Egypt. Their immanent death and starvation in the dessert clouded their memory of their real life in slavery. "Isn't this what we told you in Egypt, 'Leave us alone so that we can serve the Egyptians, because it is better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!'" (Exodus 14:12) "We remember the fish we used to eat freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic" (Numbers 11:5).

Every time I read these accounts, I am reminded at how quickly I can forgot the realities of my life, remembering only the things I want to remember. Uncomfortable situations often cause me to have distorted thoughts and keep me from releasing what God takes. I believe releasing means that I concentrate on remembering and appreciating the provisions of "manna" today instead of dreaming of the "leeks and onions" of the past.

The second half of this prayer is, in my opinion, a bit harder...what you take. We don't like the idea that God takes away from us. We learn from Scripture that our enemy takes away and comes to steal. Sin robs us. Other people take from us and we even cause things to be taken away by our poor choices. But God? Does our loving God really take away from us? Job says so in chapter 1, verse 21, "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. May the name of the Lord be blessed." It was Satan who instigated the "taking away", but Job attributes it to God. God permitted Job's family, wealth and health to be taken away.

I don't really like this concept. But then I was challenged by the realization that I usually think that God only wants to take good things away from me. Things that I love. Why don't I realize that God wants to also take things that I carry needlessly, that harm me, that prevent me from moving forward, from growing? Just like God took away the Israelites' slavery. Zephaniah 3:19 says God will take away my humiliation. Luke 1:25 says he will take away my disgrace. Matthew 11:28 says he will take my burdens. And of course there are many verses that remind me that God takes away my sin (Romans 11:27, 1 John 3:5). God will take away the hard stuff if I will release it. Again, Sarah Young expresses it beautifully:
In order to hear My voice, you must release all worries into my care. Entrust to Me everything that concerns you. This clears the way for you to seek My face unhindered. Let me free you from fear that is hiding deep inside you. My main work is to clear out debris and clutter, making room for My Spirit to take full possession. Collaborate with Me in this effort by being willing to let go of anything I choose to take away.
When something has been taken away from me, I tend to focus only on the good things I have to give up (like my house in Pennsylvania). Instead I am learning that God has a promised land in front of me (a new home and ministry in Texas), if I will only trust him and journey onward, releasing "Egypt and the leeks".

What do you need to release today? What are you clinging to that is keeping you from facing the future? What "leeks and onions" are you longing for? What things has God taken away that you can be grateful for?

Take a few moments now to sit quietly with the Lord and answer these questions before him.

Lord, I want your Spirit to take full possession of me. I want you to clear out debris and clutter in my life. I release again those things that are holding me back from fully receiving all you want to give me. I release possessions, people, worries and sin. Thank you for taking my burdens and sins. Thank you for the "manna" you give in place of "leeks and onions". Thank you for taking away slavery and giving freedom. I open my hands and heart to you today. Amen.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Receive What You Give

Last year (2013), Mark and I celebrated our 25th anniversary. We had wanted to go back to Bali, but as the time approached, we realized that was too far, too expensive and we had been there, done that. We wanted someplace new. The Caribbean was our answer. Tropics, familiar flora, ocean, papaya, snorkeling - heaven! So we ended up spending ten glorious days in St. Lucia. What a wonderful gift to receive from the Lord!

Waking up early the first morning to sit on the porch and gaze out at the blue sea, I opened my devotional, Jesus Calling. These words blew me away: "Sometimes My children hesitate to receive My good gifts with open hands. Feelings of false guilt creep in, telling them they don't deserve to be so richly blessed. This is nonsense-thinking, because no one deserves anything from Me. My kingdom is not about earning and deserving; it's about believing and receiving. When a child of mine balks at accepting my gifts, I am deeply grieved. When you receive my abundant blessings with a grateful heart, I rejoice. My pleasure in giving and your pleasure in receiving flow together in joyous harmony." (Sarah Young)

Acts 20:35 says It is more blessed to give than to receive. I think this verse has made Christians afraid to receive, afraid to accept help, afraid to appear too blessed or too wealthy or better than someone else.

Let me illustrate: Pretend I have a gift in my hand right now. I want to give it to you. I saw it in a shop and I think that it is perfect for you and I want to bless you with this little special something. And so I hand it to you. Now what do you have to do? You have to take it, accept itreceive it. This may be a bit awkward. Why might you not want to receive my gift? Maybe, it's not your birthday, you don't deserve it, you don't want to be in debt to me, you didn't earn it, it seems unfair that no one else gets a gift, you don't want to be singled out or the gift is too expensive.

Now, we all have already received tons of gifts. A quick perusal of scripture reveals that we have received forgiveness of sin, grace, mercy, a reward, an inheritance, a crown of life, the Holy Spirit, eternal life, answered prayer, salvation, family, friends, good things.*

We have also received things that are unique to us. On a personal level, this year I have received a new ministry, a chance to use my gifts, to work with my husband, my sweet spotthat perfect ministry. But in receiving these good things, I have also received some other things that I have struggled to see as good. I have had to begin support raising, move to Texas, be separated from my sons, sell my dream house, endure a shoulder injury from the move, wait for my own home and loose some friends. I have to receive these things too along with the “good” things.

Let's look at some people in Scripture who received from Jesus.

As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” “Lord, I want to see,” he replied. Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God. (Luke 18:35-43)

The parallel account in Mark 10:46-52 reveals that this  man’s name was Bartimaeus and we learn in Matthew 20:34 that God gave him his sight because he had compassion on him. But what intrigues me most about this story is that Bartimaeus answered Jesus honestly. He told him exactly what he wantedto see! He could have given the right, spiritual answer (the one I usually give), "I want to have spiritual sight. I want to accept my blindness. I want to learn all I can from my blindness." No, he didn't spiritualize this. He was gut level honest. And he could be, because Jesus was compassionate! I also love that Jesus simply granted what Bartimaeus asked for, quickly and directly. And Bartimaeus received! Again, he didn't say, "Oh, no, I don't deserve to see. I haven't earned it. What about the other beggars? They will hate me and I'm no better than they are. This gift is too rich, too much. Just give me spiritual sight and the ability to accept my blindness." He received his gift with praise and proved it by following Jesus.

Now, consider the parable of the landowner who hired workers at intervals during the day - 6 am, 9 am, noon, 3 pm and 5 pm – to work in his vineyard. He told them he would pay them whatever is right. Then at the end of the day, he gave everyone the same pay, no matter when they had started to work.

"The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didnt you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Dont I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?" (Matt 20:9-15)

I can relate to these workers. Jesus has said to me, "I will give you what is right" but I complain about what I receive. This story reveals more attitudes toward receiving. We expect to receive more or we don't want to take what is given. Jesus is telling us, "Take what is yours and go" and "God can do what he wants with what belongs to him."

When my sons were small, I noticed a pattern similar to these vineyard workers. Whenever I started to dish out dessert to one child, the other one would quickly interrupt, "Where's my piece? I want one too!". Without even giving me time to get to it, the one "without" would assume that he wasn't going to get any. It amazed me because I had never given them cause to believe they would not be served a piece of dessert. I always gave a portion to both children. I never withhold what was good for them. Why then did they doubt or beg or whine to not be passed over?

Matthew 7:11 says “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!“ And Romans 8:32 says “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” God is a loving and compassionate Father. He will give what is good for us. Sometimes, blessings are good, anniversary trips are good. Sometimes, discipline is what is good, waiting is good, withheld answers are good. Let him decide what is good. Because our Father is compassionate and loves us, we can receive whatever he gives.

I am learning to put myself in a posture to receive. I sit at the Lord's feet (like Mary did), silently, listening, taking time and creating a space to receive. Stephen Macchia says that "When we press the pause button and stop long enough to enter and enjoy his presence, we receive more and more of God."

What do you want God to do for you? Tell him honestly and openly. Then receive what he giveswithout guilt and without complaint.

I want to receive whatever you give, Lord, good or bad, joyful or painful. To receive the good without guilt. To receive assistance or infirmity or pain or money or gifts or grandchildrenwhatever. I want to open up, to not grasp or control, but rather to release and receive. I want to be satisfied with much or with little, to trust that you are all good, compassionate and loving.

*Acts 26:18, Rom 5:17, Heb 4:16, 1 Cor 3:14, Col 3:24, Jam 1:12, John 20:22, Matt 19:29, Matt 21:22, Matt 7:11

Thursday, September 11, 2014

I Am Willing

In 2013, I took a class on spiritual practices. One thing I was encouraged to do was to ask God to give me one word to describe what he wanted to do in me in the New Year—this year2014. God gave me my word as I was on the plane flying down to Dallas in January for an interview with Christar. My word for 2014 is "RECEIVE".

In the weeks following this, the word RECEIVE popped up everywhere I turned. After returning from Texas, my husband and I spent a few days trying to discern if we should join Christar. In one of the books I was working through, I found this prayer...

Each month I am going to focus on one phrase of this prayer. So I begin with Lord, I am willing to...

I started my study of this phrase by looking up the word willing. Willing is an adjective. It means ready, eager, or prepared to do something, quick to act or respond, inclined to, not refusing to do something. It has the idea of given or done readily, volunteered, given by choice or volition, without reluctance, ungrudgingly or being persuaded.

Next, I turned to scripture and did a word search on willing. I found that willing is always followed by something. In most cases, it is followed by “to” and a verb, such as willing to give.

In Exodus 35, Moses is following God's instructions and building the Tabernacle. He is collecting materials and workers to get the job done. Verses 21-22 say everyone who was willing and whose heart moved them came and brought an offering to the Lord for the work on the tent of meeting, for all its service, and for the sacred garments. All who were willing, men and women alike, came and brought gold jewelry of all kinds: brooches, earrings, rings and ornaments.

The Israelites were willing to give an offering of material wealth. God did not coerce or persuade the people to build his tabernacle. He wanted only those who were willing, ready, eager and were moved to act of their own choice and volition.

Then in 1 Chronicles 29, the Israelites are building again. This time it is the permanent house of worshipthe Temple. Again we see the people willing to give, without coercion. Verses 17 reads All these things I have given willingly and with honest intent. And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you.

In Isaiah 1:19, we are asked to be willing to obey. In Daniel 3:28, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are willing to give up their lives. And Joseph, in Matthew 1:19, is not willing to make a public example of his pregnant fiancĂ©. 

Paul's letters also command us to be willing to associate with people of low position (Romans 12:16), to share, (1 Timothy 6:18), to serve, (1 Peter 5:2), and to preach (Romans 1:15).

And then, sometimes willing is also followed by a noun—a willing mind (1 Chronicles 28:9), a willing spirit (Psalm 51:12) and willing praise (Psalm 119:108).

And lastly, I found that God also is willing. He is willing to heal a man with leprosy (Matthew 8:2-3). He is willing to save (Matthew 18:14). And he is not willing for anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9).

I completed my study with a google search to see what articles I could find on being willing and all I found were sermons and devotionals about the action, the thing we must be willing to do. I think this is Biblical. Jesus told his disciples to watch and pray because the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41). This verse seems to imply that willingness must be followed up by action. 2 Corinthians 8:11 echoes this thought. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it. These scriptures tell us that we cannot look at being willing in isolation. We will get to the follow through in coming months, but for now, let's focus simply on the willingnessthe volition, the choice, the readiness, the eagernessthe attitude behind our actions.

How is your attitude? Are you willing? What have you felt coerced or persuaded to do that was not done with a willing heart? Maybe you are obeying, not eagerly and quickly but rather reluctantly and grudgingly.

I was convicted as I studied this that I have not been willing to be unsettled with no home. I have been accepting it, but I have accepted it reluctantly. I don't think this means I have to willingly live this way forever. I can pray for a permanent residence. But since this is all I have right now, I am trying to work on my attitude of being willing to accept, eagerly and readily.
As I struggled with this, I prayed two prayers. First, I simply asked God for a willing spirit as King David did in Psalm 51. Secondly, I prayed the Prayer of Indifference. This doesn’t mean I am apathetic or careless, like a teen who answers, "Whatever!" Rather, the intent of this prayer is that I am indifferent to everything but God’s will. This is the prayer that says, “Not my will be done, but yours”. This means that at the core of my being, I am indifferent to what house I live in, where it is, when I get it, what it looks like, whether it promotes my comfort or makes me look good. I want only the home that is God’s will for me.

I want to be like Gladys Aylward, a missionary to China,
I wasn't God's first choice for what I've done for China. ...I don't know who was. ...It must have been a man...a well-educated man. I don't know what happened. Perhaps he died. Perhaps he wasn't willing. ...And God looked down...and saw Gladys Aylward...and God said"Well, she's willing!"

Take a few minutes of quiet prayer alone with God. Ask him for a willing spirit. Then pray the Prayer of Indifference. "Lord, make me indifferent to anything but your will." Then close by saying aloud Jesus' words, “Not my will, but yours, be done.”