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Listen for the Music!

31 Dec

You love righteousness and hate wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
by anointing you with the oil of joy.
All your robes are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia;
from palaces adorned with ivory
the music of the strings makes you glad.
Daughters of kings are among your honored women;
at your right hand is the royal bride in gold of Ophir.  Psalm 45:7-9

I was at my grandparent’s house one day long ago when a terrible thunderstorm passed through.  My grandma was cooking in the kitchen and my grandpa was smoking his pipe and working on a crossword puzzle in the living room.  I climbed in his lap with my book even though I was a pretty leggy 10-year-old at the time.

He sensed my fear and said, “Susie, just listen to the music in the storm.”  I didn’t get it and so he took out his record of Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite. First he had me listen to the movement called On the Trail until I could hear the mules going down the trail.  Then he put on Sunrise and had me listen to the sun quietly peek up over the horizon and blast into its full glory.  Finally, he put on Cloudburst and had me listen to the wonder of the instruments recreating pouring rain and the drama of thunder and lightning.  I loved the part when the storm rumbled off into the distance.

From that moment on I loved the drama of storms because I listened for the music.

Is it possible to hear the music in other areas of life?  Do we need the contrast of minor keys and silent beats to feel the joy of the music at other times?  My mom was a music teacher and she always had a soundtrack going in her mind for her life.  Try thinking of your life as a symphony today.  What music would be playing right now?

Lessons in Prayer

27 Dec

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

We spent last week at the beach.  Yes, the week before Christmas.  Since Christmas fell on a Saturday this year, our church related duties (for lack of a better word) were completed early and so five days at the beach was our Christmas present to each other.

It was the best pre-Christmas week ever.  I spent most of my time reading in the hammock under the gazebo.  We walked the beach, prayed, listened to messages, and watched some movies.

The most important lesson that I got was a lesson in prayer.  From a bird.  A flock of green parakeets of some sort came often to the clumps of beach roses surrounding our cottage.  I watched them while relaxing in the hammock, alternating between prayer and frustration due to how easily distracted I am when I pray when one of the parakeets left the group to perch near me and sang and sang and sang.  Her song wasn’t beautiful, and although distracted occasionally by the appearance of a hawk or a friend, she returned to her perch at various times throughout the day and sang some more.  I love object lessons and that’s what this was for me.  An object lesson in prayer and praise.  Prayer is a choice that we make as we go through our days.  It does not have to be perfect to “count”.  On the way home from the beach on Christmas Eve, I read this quote which is the grace message on prayer in a nutshell:

A father is delighted when his little one, leaving off her toys and friends, runs to him and climbs into his arms.  As he holds his little one close to him, he cares little whether the child is looking around, her attention flitting from one thing to another, or just settling down to sleep.  Essentially the child is choosing to be with her father, confident of the love, the care, the security that is hers in those arms.  Our prayer is much like that.  We settle down in our Father’s arms, in his loving hands.  Our mind, our thoughts, our imagination may flit about here and there; we might even fall asleep; but essentially we are choosing for this time to remain intimately with our Father, giving ourselves to him, receiving his love and care, letting him enjoy us as he will.  It is very simple prayer.  It is very childlike prayer.  It is prayer that opens us out to all the delights of the kingdom. — M. Basil Pennington

The Anxiety-Producing List

5 Dec

I was reading a book for upper elementary students last night called Becoming Naomi León by one of my favorite authors, Pam Muños Ryan, when I came across this quote which made me laugh out loud because it sounds so much like me:

Chewing on the end of my pencil, I got back to my list, which Gram said was one of the things I did best.  I had all kinds of lists in my notebook, the shortest being “Things I Am Good At” which consisted of 1) Soap carving, 2) Worrying, and 3) Making lists.

There was my “Regular and Everyday Worries” list, which included 1) Gram was going to die because she was old, 2) Owen would never be right, 3) I will forget something if I don’t make a list, 4) I will lose my lists, and 5) Abominations.

I am the kind of person who takes the Scripture about redeeming the time so seriously that my to-do lists tend to have tyrannical rule over my life.  I have always taken the Scripture to mean that I should use each minute well.  I haven’t been so careful to distinguish what “using well” actually means.  I make my lists and categorize them, either under area (church, school, family, personal) or importance (imperative & important; not imperative, but important; imperative & not important; or not imperative & not important). 

I tend to put everything I can think of on lists and so I am overburdened before I even begin.  My lists can not be completed in any reasonable amount of time.  I’ve done two things to ease the pressure.  1) I started using http://teuxdeux.com to keep my lists.  Not only can I access it at any computer (which, of course, makes me want a Smartphone) but when I don’t complete a task the computer automatically rolls it over to the next day.  Thus, I no longer look at my list through the eyes of failing, but with a brand new start each day.  2) I pray each day for God to set my priorities within me.  Thus when I finish the day, I figure I’ve done just what God wants me to.  I HAVE redeemed the time. 

To redeem the time is to to make wise and sacred use of every opportunity for doing good, so that zeal and well doing are as it were the purchase money by which we make the time our own. –Online Bible Greek Lexicon 

Wise and sacred use of every opportunity for doing good means that I’m going downstairs to watch football with Mike rather than cross more items off my list.  What does redeeming the time mean to you today?

3 Stages of Faith: Stage 1 — Faith in Faith

27 Nov

A while back I mentioned that I was reading the book, The Jesus of Suburbia by Mike Erre.  I set it down for awhile and picked it back up yesterday.  I love the premise of this book:  that God is HUGE, mysterious, and paradoxically knowable–although far from predictable.

As I’ve studied the subject of fear, I’ve come to believe that the antidote for fear is faith.  Mr. Erre proposes three stages of faith as illustrated in the book of Job.  The first stage is demonstrated in Job 1:1-5:

1 In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. 2 He had seven sons and three daughters, 3 and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East.  4 His sons used to take turns holding feasts in their homes, and they would invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. 5 When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would send and have them purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, “Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular custom.

We see several important points in these verses:

1.  Job was blameless and upright, fearing God and shunning evil,

2.  Job was rich,

3.  Job offered sacrifices for his children just in case they had sinned.

“We see throughout the book that the predominant paradign for understanding God was this:  If you do good things, God will reward and protect you.  If you do bad things, you will suffer and be punished. . . . [Job’s] faith wasn’t in God yet; it was in his own ability to please God through his religious activity.  His faith rested in his religious his religious performance.  That was why he sacrificed to God on behalf of his children. . . .There is no joy or peace in this kind of faith because whether or not we receive God’s blessing ultimately rests on us.  We have to get everything just right.” — The God of Suburbia p. 125, 126

Bartering faith.  Erre calls it having faith in faith.  If I do this, God will do that. For this to function, we have to be always scanning our behavior.  Am I praying enough?  Reading my Bible enough?  Am I loving my neighbor as myself?  The whole thing comes down to a question of motive:  Am I praying because I want to communicate with my Lord or because I want blessings?  Am I reading my Bible because I have a vital need to hear from Jesus or because I want to be rewarded for my faithfulness?  Am I bringing my neighbor cookies because I want to be seen as loving or because the love of God is flowing through me?  Sometimes we don’t even know our own motives.  Faith in faith will not deliver us from fear, worry, or anxiety.  In the end it makes us more anxious because it’s all about us!

When Tumulated, Pant for The Lord

27 Oct

As a bee pants for the nectar...

We looked the other day at Psalm 42: 5,7,8 and discovered the amazing word tumulated, the literal meaning of having a disturbance in our souls.  Tumulated is related to the turbulance, tumult, and tossing of the sea.  When tumulated we often develop a thirst for God, a thirst we don’t quench.

A white-tailed deer drinks from the creek;
I want to drink God,
deep draughts of God.
I’m thirsty for God-alive.–Ps. 42:1-2 Msg.

You know how when you are super-thirsty and you finally get a drink you guzzle it like there’s no tomorrow?  Sometimes I’ve felt that thirst build up through my school day and I don’t take the time to respond to it.  Don’t we get just that thirsty for God sometimes?  Even though it is easy to slake the thirst–because God is always there–sometimes we just let ourselves get thirstier and thirstier until we finally turn to Him and gulp down the living water of His Word and of His presence.

Have you been running through your life lately as a deer runs through the woods?  Are you building up a thirst?  Open up to the Psalms and guzzle.  That’s what I’m doing today.

Fear Stagnation

15 Oct

stag·nate

 1. to cease to run or flow, as water, air, etc.

2. to be or become stale or foul from standing, as a pool of water.

3. to stop developing, growing, progressing, or advancing.

4. to be or become sluggish and dull.  (Dictionary.com)

The other day I was having my morning time with the Lord and I smelled something terrible.  I sniffed around a bit and finally determined that it was from the vase of flowers on the table.  The flowers were beautiful, but the water was foul and stagnant.  I fear that I occasionally am that vase of flowers:  from the outside I look fine, but on the inside I am stagnating. 

Jesus gives us living water; water that bubbles up from the spring of life.  But springs can become blocked and become stagnant, and we need to clean them out to allow the fresh clean water to flow again.  If you are stagnating, what junk is blocking the healthy flow of living water?  For me it can be worry, lack of conversation with God, lack of mercy toward others, or focus on the temporal things of life.  For instance, lately I’ve become so aggravated with some problems at my school that I am allowing those issues to crowd out truly important things from my life. 

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  John 4:13-14

Paralyzed Prayers

30 Aug

I received a super-lousy report this week about someone I love very much.  Heart stopping news that threw hope of a new beginning out the window.  I had the oddest reaction to the news.  My prayer life is paralyzed.  All I can do is kind of aim my thoughts toward God, but I can’t seem to form words.  The most I’ve been able to blurt out is, “What can I say that I haven’t said a gazillion times before, Lord?”

I thought to look in Richard Foster’s book, Prayer, and this is what I found:

In the Prayer of the Heart we have come to the end of our tether.  We are trying to use words, but words fail us.  We struggle to express our heart and are painfully aware of how far the expression is from the reality.  It is here that the Holy Spirit steps in with “sighs too deep for words.”  We receive from the Spirit the spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba!  Father!” (Romans 8:17-26)  In the Prayer of the Heart we experience “friendship held in reverence,” to use the phrase of George Buttrick.”

I think that is what I’m experiencing.  Friendship held in reverence.  I’m certainly not mad at God.  I know my paralysis is related to the many fears I have for this loved one.  Perhaps just turning my heart toward Him without words is a form of prayer.  What do you think?  How have you gotten over prayer paralysis in the past?