Monday, April 20, 2015

Wait Until You Say Go

 
If this line of our prayer had fallen on any month last year, I would have talked about waiting for the sale of our house and the purchase of a new one. Or I could have pulled up an article I wrote years ago about waiting for God to answer prayer. And I know that our prayer specifically speaks to waiting for God to give the ok, to open the doors, to allow us to get to where we can't wait to go. But I'm going to take a different angle on the topic of waiting because most of my waiting lately has been done in travel.

A friend described traveling as an experience of "hurry up and wait". We prepare, pack, load the vehicle, rush out the door, only to sit in traffic. We get to the airport, and then wait in the check-in line. We run down the hall, to wait in the security line. Then we wait to board the plane, then wait to take off. We wait for the plane to fly to its destination, then we wait to disembark, to have our passports stamped, for our luggage to appear, for the ride home and perhaps we wait once again in traffic.

While walking rather briskly through the airport to wait in yet another line, I saw an advertisement asking, "What are you waiting for?" Life is full of waiting. A quick google search revealed we spend approximately 45 minutes of every day waiting (except of course while traveling, which ends up being the entire trip). We wait for...
 
     the coffee to brew
     the casserole to cook
     the water to boil
     our children to get ready
     the light to turn green
     
our turn to check out
     the next vacation
     a visit with family
     the visa application to be accepted
     to get to the mission field
     the medication to work
     the test results
     the correct diagnosis
     our body to heal
     to start the ministry we dream of
     for a spouse
     a loved one to change
     a conflict to be resolved
     justice to be served
     the verdict to be decided
     God to fulfill his promise

While waiting on my trip, I looked around at others waiting. Most were gazing at cell phones but some just sat and some tried to sleep. While on the plane, I watched endless movies to pass the time. It helped that I had someone to wait with. Together we could talk and laugh. But mostly we just waited, just wanting it to be over with. We viewed it as a necessary means to an end, an annoyance that we had to endure. We just wanted to get on with it, get it out of the way. Truthfully, I only gave my wait some thought because I knew I had to write this devotional. Looking back, I think I wasted my wait.

Waiting feels hard because it delays that which I want so badly, but it is good for me. Waiting can teach me many things. For instance...

Waiting is about giving up control and letting go. Almost every part of my travel was dictated by someone else - the time of the flight, when it actually took off, when I was fed, who I sat by, at times even where I sat. My only choices were deciding to get on the plane, sometimes picking my seat, what movie to watch and when to go to the bathroom! Being at the mercy of others isn't easy but it is a good practice. It teaches me to trust others - the pilot, the ground crew, the mechanics, the attendants, even the one who will meet me at the other end. And more importantly, it increases my trust in my Heavenly Father because ultimately, the only one who can ensure that I will make it safely to my destination is my God.

Waiting forces me to slow down and live in the present. Waiting teaches me to not be in such a hurry. It makes me stop running at a thousand miles an hour and gives me the chance to look around and consider the present. I notice what is happening around me now. I see who else is here with me in the wait. I consider how I might be able to help another right now. I find something to enjoy about this current moment. I see things I would otherwise miss. I can either wait, staying in the present, appreciating now, or I can put life on hold while waiting for that thing I want in the future.

Waiting gives me an opportunity to listen. Sitting at the gate or on the plane left me alone with my thoughts. Mostly I filled them with movies and mindless distraction, but at times, I turned my attention to The Lord, prayed for loved ones, talked to God. Once while drifting off, I heard God's prompting of how to act in a difficult situation. It is in the quiet moments that we hear his still small voice. Waiting can be one of those precious times.

Waiting also reminds me that I don't have to fill every moment of every day with busyness or productivity. I sometimes feel that by waiting, I am doing nothing and thus not making a valuable contribution. Sitting on a plane for 14 hours seems like wasted time. But waiting can be very active since I still make choices. I can choose if I am going to be still and make the most of the wait, or if I am going to stew and be frustrated and waste even the waiting. Even in my seeming inactivity, I am resting, being still, giving God time to work, allowing time for events to fall into place, taking time to smell the roses, so to speak.

I now wonder why I was in such a hurry to get on with life, get to the next thing. Getting home meant house work, cooking meals, appointments, bills, responsibilities. Traveling meant a change of pace, the joy of seeing new places and meeting old and new friends, of having an excuse to put off some tasks and responsibilities. The house can wait, the cleaning can be put off, why deal with traffic? Slow down and enjoy.

I now also reflect on my heart attitude as I waited. At times, I was anxious to make sure we were at the gate in time. I worried when my husband disappeared without telling me where he was going. I felt annoyed when the woman, with child and elderly father in tow, boldly walked to the front of the passport line without taking her turn. I was discontented as I scanned the various lines to see which one moved faster, trying to strategically speed things up. Not always was I patient.

My example is Abraham who waited many, many years for God to fulfill his promise of an heir, a nation and a land. Hebrews 6:15 says "Abraham waited patiently, and he received what God had promised". Wow! The author of Hebrews considered that Abraham waited patiently. Even with the hiccup of Haggai and the birth of Ishmael, Abraham waited patiently! This gives me hope. I don't feel like I wait so patiently sometimes. I have been in a fetal position on the floor weeping at times. I have been frustrated and anxious. I have been dissatisfied with my present position. I have tried to take control. I have not appreciated the present. And yet, after times of tears, confession, journaling and crying out to God, I continue to wait. I think that is enough. That is waiting.

I find it interesting and comforting that God also waits. Isaiah 30:15 & 18 says, "This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it. (NIV) Therefore the Lord will wait, that He may be gracious to you; And therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you. For the Lord is a God of justice; Blessed are all those who wait for Him." (NKJV)

God waits...for us...to repent, to let go of the reins of our life, to trust him, to make the choice to do good, to be still and listen, to appreciate the present. As he waits for us, let us wait for him.

What are some things you are currently waiting for?
How can you let go of the control of your life?
What about your present can you notice and appreciate?
Have you taken time to listen to God during your wait? What is he saying to you?
How can your inactivity in waiting be valuable?
How is your heart attitude as you wait?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Rocks

The beach of Budva, Montenegro on the Adriatic Sea, left me breathless.


Not a coral beach with shells and crabs like I am used to, but a beach composed of and covered in rocks.

Rocks of such diversity and color. Black, brown, green, white, terra cotta, grey, lavender, and cream rocks. 


Lined, speckled, sparkly, rough, smooth, round, square, and odd shaped rocks, in all stages of the refining process.

Catching the light rays among the rocks were also man-made objects of discarded glass and old tile. Even these were were made beautiful and smooth by the tumbling of the waves.


I was drawn mostly to the smooth rocks. So smooth and soft they almost felt like cloth or velvet, certainly not like sharp stone. On these particular rocks, there were not one rough element. And to think that they were created by many months (years?) of tumbling in the waves and crashing against each other.


Every day, I spent some time with the rocks. They began to form, for me, a picture of the community of believers.

I asked God, "Give me eyes to always see the beauty of diversity, the perspective of another, the reason for their actions and opinions.

Help me to be a smooth rock. Not to shy away from saying hard things but to do it in a kind and non-abrasive manner.

I want to be a smooth rock, not because I want to just be liked by everyone, but because there is no need to be ugly and prickly. Please let the waves of life and the tumbling of pain and suffering rub off my rough edges and make me smooth."

Enjoy the beauty of the diverse rocks. Seek to be a smooth one. Together, create a beautiful beach - a community - of exquisite souls.

Living In the Midst

Today I feel like I'm in a fog. A fog of stuff hanging over me.

     Nagging back pain that doesn't seem to get better
     an unresolved family relationship
     house repairs that need attention
     work load beginning to pile up

And I know others who live daily

     with physical pain, with a terminal illness, with disorders and deficiencies
     who have yet to see a family member enter the Kingdom of God
     or dreams fulfilled
     or children turn back

I feel small and unable. I want to fix it quickly and resolve it. I want to make it go away, pretend it isn't there. But I can't do that. Life isn't that easy.

Do I put my life on hold while I give full energy to making this better? What if it never gets better? What if all my attempts to make it right are not enough? Does life end?

My heart feels like Psalm 42:5 Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?

I must learn to live "in the midst" - in the midst of pain, brokenness and the "to do" list.

The nagging stuff may never fully go away, but it does not need to control me
It does not need to dictate my actions and emotions
It does not need to rob me of my joy and peace because

All these troubles and nagging worries teach me to thirst for my God (Psalm 42:1-2). When I hear the taunt of others that my God is not the right God and that I don't have my beliefs right (v 3, 10),

I pour out my soul (v 4)

     I tell Him exactly how I feel
     I shed tears
     I write down my cares

I put my hope in Him, my Savior and My God (v 5).

     the one who gives me an eternal future with an inheritance
     the one whose power raised Christ from the dead
     the one who listens and answers my prayers

I praise Him (v 5). I choose to be grateful

     for my life
     for my home
     for the good things which are too numerous to count
     for the privilege of serving Him
     for loved ones
     for the precious memories of the past

And I receive the unfailing love that He pours on me (v 8)

     I am his treasured possession
     I am his beautiful masterpiece
     I am chosen and adopted as his child

and I sing the songs He gives me
and pray to Him. (v 8)
Precious Father, teach me to live in the midst of nagging stuff that I cannot make go away. Show me how to not let it control me or rob me of my joy and peace, because you are my Savior and My God, my hope.

Suffer What You Ordain

The thing about suffering is that we can always downplay our own by finding someone who suffers more than we do. I have four sisters and all of them can say more about this subject than I can. One endured years of separation from her husband in an attempt to heal her marriage. Another endures loneliness and isolation in a foreign country. Still another became a widow after only three years of a very happy marriage. And the last has suffered countless years of health struggles and dietary restrictions. And there are my two friends that epitomize the definition of suffering in my opinion. My Indonesian friend, Nella, was constantly sick and finally succumbed to her body's weakness in death. My Lancaster County friend continues to fight to keep ahead of the cancer that refuses to die despite several surgeries and endless treatment.

And me? Yes, I have suffered, to some degree. The early years of my marriage held much pain as my dear husband struggled to love me as the Scripture instructs due to his own brokenness. I desired to have one more member in our family, but a miscarriage and subsequent infertility prevented that. Going from one crisis to another in Indonesia was unpleasant and stressful. Losing my mother to heart failure was a huge loss. Living without a home for the last six months was inconvenient and tough. And more recently, my theology and inaction has been attacked by one I love deeply. But, is this suffering? Am I qualified to say anything on this topic?

While many know more about suffering than I do, I can point to some truths that have helped me over the years.

Normalize, not minimize.

1 Peter 4:12 says "Dont be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you!" Everyone suffers in varying degrees and ways. But bottom-line, we all suffer. Are you alive? Do you breathe? You will suffer. It is normal, but it also hurts. Don't compare your suffering with someone else's, either to minimize it or to exaggerate it. When Jesus gave the apostle Peter a glimpse into his future death in John 21:21-22, he blurted out, “What about him [John], Lord?” Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me.” Each of our journeys is handmade by God for our best, to produce the best results according to his will.

Joy, not complaint.

1 Peter 4:13 says "Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world." Complaining only reiterates the troubles and keeps them in the forefront of our minds. After a particularly difficult time, I picked up a devotional by Joy Ritterhof entitled "Are You Rejoicing?". Day after day, her challenge to me to rejoice gradually changed my perspective and brought relief.

Pray, not worry.

"Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray." (James 5:13) Some of my sweetest times of communion with the Lord come during times of suffering. Pouring out my heart to him gives me a place to take my concerns, my fears, my cyclical thoughts and lets me pull them up out of myself and give them to someone who can actually do something about them.

Participate, not avoid.

"But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you." (I Peter 4:13-14) My experiences are not new. My Lord too is often misunderstood. His words get twisted. He is blamed for everything. Folks reject him because he doesn't do what they want. All sorts of evil are done in his name. He is given ultimatums and attempts to control or manipulate his actions. He is slandered and insulted on a daily basis.

When this kind of suffering is directed my way, I put on the belt of truth, "But if [I] suffer for doing good and [I] endure it, this is commendable before God. To this [I was] called, because Christ suffered for [me], leaving [me] an example, that [I] should follow in his steps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly." (I Peter 2:20b-23) Though this may be one of the hardest kinds of suffering, it affords me the opportunity to identify with Christ in a new and deeply profound way. He gets it — he understands —and I begin to get him just a little bit more.

Journey, not leap.

1 Peter 1:7 says "These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world."

I have always wanted the easy way to maturity, the one without suffering. That is why I usually choose to do the right thing, not because I am especially good, but because I want to avoid suffering. As a "results-person", I want to hurry up and learn the lesson and get back to "normal" life. But the illustration of climbing always helps me here. A climber cannot magically leap to the top of the mountain. He must journey, sometimes painfully, inch by inch to the top. There is a reason for the journey, the process, the present. Through suffering, I am starting to appreciate the process, the small steps of growth, the journey, not shortcutting my lessons with a leap to the finish.

My wise husband once said, "I contend that suffering involves the inner turmoil of the process of becoming Christ-like. In this regard, the daily choice of dying to my own desires and choosing Christ's enacts God's will in my life through the path of suffering."

Heaven, not earth.

Romans 8:23 says "And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us." I love life. I enjoy living, laughing, feeling and creating. At times, I find it hard to believe there is something better. Without suffering, I would be so blind to the real reason I live—not for earth, but for eternity. This world is not my home, I'm just passing through.

I used to think that only those who were disobedient or rebellious or unwise would suffer. That suffering was the punishment or consequence of some kind of sin. WRONG. In John 9:1-3, Jesus saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parentssins?” “It was not because of his sins or his parentssins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him". So my attempt to live perfectly in order to avoid suffering is futile. God wants to show his power in me and one way is through suffering.

Like the apostle Peter, I want to suffer "in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust [my] life to the God who created [me], for he will never fail [me]. (I Peter 4:19) I frequently remind myself that: "God is always good, always on his throne, always working, always knows what he is doing and his love for me never stops." (Carolyn Custis James)

Which of these Biblical truths about suffering did you need to be reminded of today? Why?
How has that truth helped you in your present suffering?