Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Does this woman never stop??? Elisabeth Elliot to the rescue again! And today I am so thankful to be rescued. Actually, that was my exact prayer yesterday: O Lord, please rescue me. I left the house around 5:00 in the afternoon for no reason but to be alone for a minute and "blow the stink off," as my mother used to say. I drove to the gas station to buy a pop just for something to do, but really, really, something more sinister was brooding in my soul.

Some people are chronically unhappy – they seem to make a hobby of it. It seems like they complain just to have something to talk about. Worse, maybe they complain just to have something to think about. Although I've only known a few people like that over the years, they got my attention: at some point it became a tacit ambition of mine to NOT be one of those people.

But yesterday I was depressed. I guess I wasn't chronically depressed – that would be tricky to do all in one day. But I was deeply depressed, and I realize now it had been sneaking up on me for quite a while, nibbling at the edges of my consciousness, moving in little by little, until yesterday it announced its presence undeniably.

Actually, speaking of being chronically unhappy, I'm embarrassed to realize that I've blogged about this before…even more than once. Maybe that answers the question of why some people seem to make a hobby out of unhappiness and maybe I fall into that mold more than I care to admit. Because maybe it isn't a matter of being chronically unhappy; maybe it's more just that we are such DUMB SHEEP, and learn SO SLOWLY!!! We have to have the same lesson repeated over and over and over again, with a slightly different emphasis each time, because the same weakness in our understanding and character and faith keeps rising to the surface. I don't think I'm chronically unhappy by anyone's definition. But in my inner world, this issue does pester me on and off quite regularly.

The great advantage I have is that the Lord is always there to reorient my thinking when I get off-kilter. What do folks do who don't have Him to point the way?

So, I've talked before about my fear of becoming useless. Yesterday, BOREDOM was mixed into the equation. Every day I am imprisoned in the house because I have to drag my crabby youngest daughter through her schoolwork, a tedious chore because she wants nothing to do with me…until she needs my help. Even then she wants nothing to do with me and snippily shoos me away the moment the light bulb of understanding goes on. Not fun. I'm way beyond taking her prickliness personally – I've already raised one teenage daughter, and I've been one myself. But yesterday, rather than being afraid of being useless, I felt like I actually was useless, and my imagination could conceive no end in sight. The only things I had to occupy my vacant mind were a dirty kitchen floor and a broken dryer. My creativity was engaged only in finding new places to hang wet towels. And as much as I love the work of 7th grade math, the thrill of finding the prime factors of two disparate denominators in order to determine their lowest common denominator, the awe of how easily the fractions can be added when the process is followed – as exciting as all that is (especially compared to washing the kitchen floor), it's no fun with a hormonal 12 year old.

So, emboldened by David in the Psalms, I asked God, "Have You forgotten me?" Noooooo, He hasn't forgotten me. And I said, "Please rescue me."

Well, He rescued me through E.E. this morning. What she says in the devotional below is true: my problem is that I fall into greediness! I begin to want more than what God has ordained for my life. And that greed of doing more and being more stifles my thanksgiving. Not only that, like E.E. says, if we take the bait of feeling like we need to constantly be doing more, being more, if we try to accomplish that long list the world would hand us (even the Christian world), we neglect God's short list for us, "Do this [boring, tedious, unrecognized task] for My sake." Satan tempted Jesus with the lust of doing more than the Father meant for Him to do, and Satan tempted Eve with the idea that she could be more than the Father intended for her to be. Elisabeth Elliot says, "When there is a deep restlessness for which we find no explanation, it may be due to the greed of being – what our loving Father never meant us to be. Peace lies in the trusting acceptance of His design, His gifts, His appointment of place, position, capacity." Oh, it's so true! Thank You, Lord, and thank you, E. E.!

And in retrospect, yesterday, albeit tedious, was fruitful. I had the privilege of being a part of resolving crises in each of my older childrens' lives. (Well, to be technical, I helped resolve a crisis in one's life, and avert a crisis in the other's.) Youngest daughter got through her schoolwork well yesterday, and, happily, is improving daily in both the quality of her work and in her independence in doing it. I gave #3 son an awesome book to read, which he devoured. I put a good dinner on the table at night, and began another awesome book myself that I'll be able to discuss with #2 daughter. The only one who suffered from my internal disquiet was poor T, who didn't get the attention he deserved after a long day's work. Oh dear. Well, today is a new day, isn't it?

I better get to draping more wet clothes around the house and put away the ones from last night. (Repairman can't come until tomorrow, and we were completely out of bath towels!) But I hope you do take the time to read E.E.'s devotional below. She has such wonderful insights and writes so beautifully!


Author: Elisabeth Elliot
Source: Keep A Quiet Heart
Scripture Reference:
Numbers 11:4 Colossians 1:24 

A New Thanksgiving

Those who call Thanksgiving "Turkey Day," I suppose, take some such view as this: Unless we have Someone to thank and something to thank Him for, what's the point of using a name that calls up pictures of religious people in funny hats and Indians bringing corn and squash?

Christians, I hope, focus on something other than a roasted bird. We do have Someone to thank and a long list of things to thank Him for, but sometimes we limit our thanksgiving merely to things that look good to us. As our faith in the character of God grows deeper we see that heavenly light is shed on everything--even on suffering--so that we are enabled to thank Him for things we would never have thought of before. The apostle Paul, for example, saw even suffering itself as a happiness (Colossians 1:24, NEB).

I have been thinking of something that stifles thanksgiving. It is the spirit of greed--the greed of doing, being, and having.

When Satan came to tempt Jesus in the wilderness, his bait was intended to inspire the lust to do more than the Father meant for Him to do--to go farther, demonstrate more power, act more dramatically. So the enemy comes to us in these days of frantic doing. We are ceaselessly summoned to activities: social, political, educational, athletic, and--yes--spiritual. Our "self-image" (deplorable word!) is dependent not on the quiet and hidden "Do this for My sake," but on the list the world hands us of what is "important." It is a long list, and it is both foolish and impossible. If we fall for it, we neglect the short list.

Only a few things are really important, and for those we have the promise of divine help: sitting in silence with the Master in order to hear His word and obey it in the ordinary line of duty--for example, in being a good husband, wife, father, mother, son, daughter, or spiritual father or mother to those nearby who need protection and care--humble work which is never on the world's list because it leads to nothing impressive on one's resume. As Washington Gladden wrote in 1879, "O Master, let me walk with Thee/In lowly paths of service free...."

Temptation comes also in the form of being. The snake in the garden struck at Eve with the promise of being something which had not been given. If she would eat the fruit forbidden to her, she could "upgrade her lifestyle" and become like God. She inferred that this was her right, and that God meant to cheat her of this. The way to get her rights was to disobey Him.

No new temptation ever comes to any of us. Satan needs no new tricks. The old ones have worked well ever since the Garden of Eden, although sometimes under different guises. When there is a deep restlessness for which we find no explanation, it may be due to the greed of being--what our loving Father never meant us to be. Peace lies in the trusting acceptance of His design, His gifts, His appointment of place, position, capacity. It was thus that the Son of Man came to earth--embracing all that the Father willed Him to be, usurping nothing--no work, not even a word--that the Father had not given Him.

Then there is the greed of having. When "a mixed company of strangers" joined the Israelites, the people began to be greedy for better things (Numbers 11:4, NEB). God had given them exactly what they needed in the wilderness: manna. It was always enough, always fresh, always good (sounds good to me, anyway, "like butter-cakes"). But the people lusted for variety. These strangers put ideas into their heads. "There's more to life than this stuff. Is this all you've got? You can have more. You gotta live a little!"

So the insistence to have it all took hold on God's people and they began to wail, "all of them in their families at the opening of their tents." There is no end to the spending, getting, having. We are insatiable consumers, dead set on competing, upgrading, showing off ("If you've got it, flaunt it"). We simply cannot bear to miss something others deem necessary. So the world ruins the peace and simplicity God would give us. Contentment with what He has chosen for us dissolves, along with godliness, while, instead of giving thanks, we lust and wail, teaching our children to lust and wail too. (Children of the jungle tribe I knew years ago did not complain because they had not been taught to.)

Lord, we give You thanks for all that You in Your mercy have given us to be and to do and to have. Deliver us, Lord, from all greed to be and to do and to have anything not in accord with Your holy purposes. Teach us to rest quietly in Your promise to supply, recognizing that if we don't have it we don't need it. Teach us to desire Your will--nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else. For Jesus' sake. Amen.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

John Piper, The Pleasures of God

I do not like poetry. Bleck. My philosophy is why be scrimping with words when we have so many good ones to choose from? And they're free! Why not use as many as possible? (Actually, I'm most committed to this philosophy when I'm doing the writing. I adhere to a much more moderate stance when someone else is writing.)

In addition, poetry requires no end of trouble to ferret out any semblance of meaning. If you've got something to say, by all means, make yourself clear! Get to your point and use as many words as necessary! Spare us the painful puzzles and symbols and guessing games.

The past month or so, however, I have been ever-so-slowly making my way through a book recommended by my older son, John Piper's The Pleasures of God. In chapter 3 he talks about the pleasure of God in His creation. He quotes a stanza from a poem written in 1751 by Thomas Gray called, "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard." It is pithy, not too difficult to understand, and I must admit, I love the thought so much that my antipathy toward verse is, for the time being anyway, somewhat mitigated.

Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear;
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

I get that, and I love its meaning. Actually, John Piper expounded further upon the meaning:

Gray had been moved by the thought that on the bottom of the ocean there
were beautiful gems that no human eye would ever see, and that in distant
deserts millions of flowers would bloom, blush with vivid colors, give off a
sweet fragrance, and never be touched or seen or smelled by anybody but

This is what moves the psalmist in Psalm 148:7, "Praise the Lord you sea monsters and all deeps!" He doesn't even know what is in all the deeps of the sea! So the praise of the deeps is not merely what they can testify to man. Creation praises God by simply being what it was created to be in all its incredible variety. And since most of the creation is beyond the awareness of mankind (in the reaches of space, and in the
heights of mountains and at the bottom of the sea) it wasn't created merely to
serve purposes that have to do with us. It was created for the enjoyment
of God! (p. 89, The Pleasures of God)
Of course I love that verse because I am, undoubtedly, the flower that blushes unseen. I'm not sure how much sweetness is getting wasted exactly, and I prefer to see myself on a hidden mountaintop than the desert, but the sentiment still applies. Even I do not exist for any reason but to please God.

My worth is in no way connected to that rousing chorus of adoring masses constantly badgering me, as flattering as that has always been. =)

Thank you, John Piper!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Abide in Christ

I find myself with a little more time on my hands these days now that #2 is off to school. Odd, really. I never would've thought she took up that much of my time during her years of high school, but her absence is noticeable. So now it's just the younger two kids. They keep me busy, but for the first time in I can't say how long, I don't feel like a ping-pong ball.

I remember days before #3 and #4 came along that I ran a pretty organized little house. I made to-do lists every day, organized my shopping around a meal plan and put time into our dinners, cleaned semi-regularly, took pride in doing a scrupulous job with their school.

Then things began to ramp up. It got really chaotic there for awhile; to-do lists and meal plans were long forgotten. Total survival mode.

Now I'm back to just two kids to care for and to-do lists are slowly creeping back into the picture. But what has happened to me? I don't want to plan meals and cook and clean. I've gotten a little spoiled with all the running around I've done over the years. Being a ping-pong ball is a lot more fun than cleaning and cooking, that's one thing. In my heart I'm resisting the discipline of it, the plain, tedious, never-ending, repetitiveness and thanklessness of it all. 

When the kids were little, there were lots of hugs and kisses and giggles and surprises to go along with all the work; I was the center of their universe, and they were the center of mine. Now it's just work, with two teenagers and a husband.

On the upside, however, I have more time to be deliberate in my walk with the Lord, and I've come to be impressed yet again with my need to ABIDE in CHRIST. Andrew Murray, through his book by that name, has come to be my best friend. No kidding, and I'm not the weepy type, but more than once I've melted into tears as I've read his book in the morning. Morning after morning, it's like Andrew Murray himself has been privy to the private musings of my heart, and through his book he whispers into my ear strength and encouragement to keep on keeping on in my quest to abide in Christ. 

Of course I know in reality it's the Lord Himself who has been privy to the private musings of my heart, and uses A.M.'s book to point me in the right direction and correct my faulty thinking.
It has been a thrilling journey so far, and I feel like I've barely crossed the starting line. But I'll tell you right now, it has completely decimated any idea I ever had that I love God. Very sobering, this is. 

It's never easier to imagine that you love God than when you're too busy to pay any attention to your thoughts or affections. You just whirl through your day like you're the ball on the end of a string being swung over a little boy's head, collapse into bed at the end of the day and wake up the next morning only to start spinning again. Slow down for a few weeks and I challenge you to look at what's growing inside your heart. I won't speak for you, but I know I've got a regular garden of stink growing there. The flowers look bad, smell bad, have deep roots and poisonous fruit.

One answer to that is to just keep spinning. Don't stop to look! And if life does slow down on you like it has for me, by all means, keep the radio or TV on to block out any internal rumblings! Put that iPod into your ears and join more committees, for heaven's sake! Prayer groups, Bible studies, the PTA, it's all good.

Honestly, and sadly, I do know that some Christians would advocate that path. They say, "Why should I introspect? I know that everything in me is bad, and Christ has died for all that sin. So let's ignore all the yuck and just get on with the work of the Kingdom." Sorry, but the stink does manage to permeate all the layers of nice clothes and make-up. Besides, only as we're connected to the Vine are we fruitful. And our desire is to be fruitful, right?

I want to be fruitful. And I also want to know Him. Do you mind if I wax romantic here for a moment? I want to feel His breath on my face, smell its sweetness, and see the love in His eyes as they look into mine. I know He loves me, but I want to experience it. I want my whole being to be consumed with His presence, and I want my every motivation to spring from undistracted devotion to Him.

I understand the danger of unchecked introspection, because there is no healing for sin within myself. No point in dwelling on it and self-flagellating, but there is also great danger in throwing a blanket over it and pretending it isn't there. There is only one thing to do for it, and it is very important that it be done: I must humbly present the sludge of my soul to Him, and say, Lord, please help! I cannot even conjure up a desire to repent from the sin on my own! Even that comes from Him.

So, Andrew Murray has helped me. As I walk this path and every day through his book he has an answer to the trouble of the day before, I know he walked this path before me and he arrived at the place I want to be. I don't say he "achieved" it because Jesus did all the achieving for us; I say he "obtained" it: he reached out and successfully took hold of the same thing I want. He was a person with a sickly soul just like mine, and he found Christ to be true, not just by faith, but by faith and experience.

Over the years I have agonized over many books with this same message of abiding in Christ, of experiencing the joy of walking more closely with Him. It was only a few weeks ago though, that I was rereading a book called They Found the Secret, by V. Raymond Edman, and stumbled upon this passage in the chapter about Andrew Murray. (p. 115-116) 

"Though all around thought me one of the most earnest of men, my life was one of deep dissatisfaction. I struggled and prayed as best I could. … One day I was talking to a missionary…he said, 'Brother, remember that when God puts a desire into your heart, He will fulfill it.' That helped me; I thought of it a hundred times. I want to say the same to you, who are plunging about and struggling in the quagmire of helplessness and doubt. The desire that God puts into your heart He will fulfill. … I have learned to place myself before God every day as a vessel to be filled with His Holy Spirit. He has filled me with His blessed assurance that He, as the everlasting God, has guaranteed his work in me. … With the deepest feeling of my soul I can say that I am satisfied with Jesus now..."

Andrew Murray's words were a salve to my anguished soul that day. The book, They Found the Secret, is a compilation of the spectacular encounters with the Holy Spirit of many Christian giants, like John Bunyan, Amy Carmichael, Hudson Taylor and more. It's a bit of a double-edged sword. They confirmed what I suspected, that my life with Jesus could be more than it was, but it also set up the (quasi-) expectation that I could have an encounter like that, or that an encounter like that necessarily preceded a deeper walk with Christ. 

But Andrew Murray's experience was not spectacular; it was a story of daily presenting himself before God, and seeking moment by moment to be conscious of His presence and to be pleasing to Him. And yet, as his book, Abiding in Christ, has helped me understand, it's not my effort to obey that will draw me into closer fellowship; somehow it's about focusing my thoughts and affections on Him moment by moment, and giving my consent for the Holy Spirit to do His work in my life. What He has begun, He will bring to perfection. He doesn't need my effort as much as my consent, my submission. A concentrated focus on Him and letting go of myself at the same time.

Here are a few excerpts from Abide in Christ that have encouraged me in the past few weeks. They barely scratch the surface of the wealth in the book, of course! But it's a taste anyway.

(p. 31) First fix your eyes on that for which He has apprehended you. It is nothing less than a life of abiding, unbroken fellowship with Himself to which He is seeking to lift you up. All that you have already received – pardon and peace, the Spirit and His grace – are but preliminary to this. And all that you see promised to you in the future – holiness and fruitfulness and glory everlasting – are but its natural outcome. Union with Himself, and so with the Father, is His highest object. Fix your eyes on this, and gaze until it stands out clear and unmistakable: Christ's aim is to have me abiding in Him.

(p. 32) I dare not speak to you about abiding in Him for the mere sake of calling forth a pleasing religious sentiment. God's truth must at once be acted on. Oh, yield yourself this very day to the blessed Savior in the surrender of the one thing He asks of you: give up yourself to abide in Him. He Himself will work it in you. You can trust Him to keep you trusting and abiding.

(p. 44) And if you ask exactly what it is that you now have to believe so that you may abide in Him, the answer is not difficult. Believe first of all what He said: I am the vine. (John 15:5) The safety and the fruitfulness of the branch depend on the strength of the vine. Do not think so much of yourself as a branch, nor of the abiding as your duty, until you have first had your soul filled with the faith of what Christ as the Vine is. He really will be to you all that a vine can be – holding you fast, nourishing you, and making Himself every moment responsible for your growth and your fruit. … Ask the Father by the Holy Spirit to reveal to me what a glorious, loving, mighty Christ this is, in whom you have your place and your life; it is the faith in what Christ is, more than anything else, that will keep you abiding in Him. A soul filled with large thoughts of the Vine will be astrong branch and will abide confidently in Him. Be much occupied with Jesus, and believe much in Him as the true Vine.

(p. 45) And then, when faith can well say, "He is my Vine," let it further say, "I am His branch; I am in Him." I speak to those who say they are Christ's disciples, and on them, I cannot too earnestly press the importance of exercising their faith in saying, "I am in Him." It makes the abiding so simple. If I realize clearly as I meditate that now I am in Him, I see at once that there is nothing lacking except just my consent to be what He has made me, to remain where He has placed me. I am in Christ.

(p. 114) Let each day have its value from your calling to abide in Christ. As its light opens on your waking eyes, accept it on these terms: a day, just one day only but still a day, given to abide and grow up in Jesus Christ. Whether it be a day of health of sickness, joy or sorrow, rest or work, struggle or victory, let the chief thought with which you receive it in the morning thanksgiving be this: "This is a day that the Father has given; in it I may, I must, become more closely united to Jesus." As the Father asks, "Can you trust Me just for this one day to keep you abiding in Jesus, and Jesus to keep you fruitful?" you cannot help but give the joyful response: "I will trust and not be afraid."

(p. 121) Believer, when striving to find the way to abide in Christ from moment to moment, remember that the gateway is to abide in Him at this present moment. Instead of wasting effort in trying to get into a state that will last, just remember that it is Christ Himself, the living, loving Lord, who alone can keep you and is waiting to do so. Begin at once, and act by faith in Him for the present moment: this is the only way to be kept the next. To attain the life of permanent and perfect abiding is not ordinarily given at once as a possession for the future; it comes mostly step by step. Avail yourself, therefore, of every opportunity of exercising the trust of the present moment.

I am greatly encouraged by Andrew Murray's words. But you see why I say that I have come to know how little I love Christ. You start paying attention, and you too might discover many moments in the day that you don't especially want to focus your attentions on Him. For me it's toward the end of the day when I want to chill, just decompress from the day's exigencies. I do not want to think about what He wants – only what I want! I want to eat (lots), watch TV, play computer games, just "turn off" for awhile. Or sometimes I get my mind set on about 8000 calories of pizza and ginger cookies, and I don't want to think about Him then either.

But I am upheld by the knowledge that He loves me. My fellowship with Him is grounded in His love for me, not my love for Him, so I will not despair. And He will bring to completion the work He has begun in me (Philippians 1:6). Besides, it was His effort that saved me in the first place; will it be my effort now that allows me to grow in Him? Not likely. (Galatians 3:3-4)

So every day I will present my garden of stink to Him, the Master Gardener. I will open the gate, walk Him through it, and ask Him to clean it up. And then I will turn from the sin, lock my eyes with His, and abide in Him.