What I Learned About Obedience…from an Accidental Email

A few days ago, I re-read the account in Exodus 16 of the Israelites receiving manna in the desert. Moses had just led his people, through the power of God, out of bondage in Egypt. God promised the Israelites their own land and He was leading them to it.  But along the way, as people tend to do, they seemed to forget how much God had already done on their behalf and decided that – in this transitional journey – they were bound to starve to death.

God assured Moses that this would not happen. Instead, He said “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions…” (Exodus 16:4)

It seems, to me, that God is building a relationship with His people. He has shown who He is – the Great I Am – and now He is teaching the Israelites how to obey Him. In the end, I believe that true and heart-felt obedience is based on trust…and God wanted His people, then and now, to know Him and to trust Him with their lives.

He proved Himself.  Manna daily satisfied the needs of those who listened and acted in obedience to His words. In fact, God’s day-by-day bread sustained the Israelites for the forty years that it took to reach the Promised Land.

They couldn’t gather extra, except to prepare for the Sabbath day. They couldn’t choose where the bread would fall or control any part of the bread-making or the bread-flavor or the bread-timing.

They had to simply trust that each new morning would bring what was most vital and most needed for their lives. They could go to bed each night in peace and hope for the future because their God was faithful and good.

I needed the reminder.

I’m kind of in a transitional season. I just turned thirty, which feels like standing on the edge of a diving board over the deepest part of the pool (some people like that feeling. I do not care for it!). My oldest kid is going into his last elementary school year and my youngest is going into kindergarten. My middle child is going to a brand new school, to which the others may follow him next year…and there’s a few other things in the mix that are day-by-day trips into uncertain destinations.

There’s a lot of new. A lot of unknowns going on.

So the manna-story showed up with good timing. Because it made me remember that, even when all we can see is the very next step, the bread falling on this morning, we can trust that God will give exactly what we need to get through until tomorrow.  And when tomorrow comes, He is faithful and good to provide for the new day – even if we can’t see how He will work or what He will do.

I have kept this close to my heart and every time I feel nervous about the coming weeks and all the changes at hand, I think of the Israelites gathering manna from a faithful God. I think of Jesus saying that we should not worry.  And, to top it all off, the message at church this past Sunday was about Peter putting his eyes on Jesus and walking on water away from the safety of a boat. The speaker reminded us that we must ‘let go of the rail’ and walk a Spirit-led life of trust in Jesus…because, in His power and in His love, we are secure.

I was overwhelmed with the love of God…once again, He was reassuring me. He was letting me know that, no matter the uncertainty – no matter whether we are in the desert, the dark ocean waves, or a plain Monday morning with a car full of kids on the way to school – He is taking care of us. We can trust Him to give what we need, when we need it. We trust Him and we obey…so we walk into the unknown with faith-steps. We do not have to fear, we do not have to worry. We just have to hold His hand and put one foot in front of the other.

These faith-steps include what I write on this blog. Because I am a planner…a researcher, a take-months-to-write-a-draft kind of writer. And sometimes, sure, that’s okay. Sometimes a subject takes careful consideration and prayer. Sometimes a second pair of eyes and edits are necessary to make things the best they can be for God’s glory. I do believe that we should study and show ourselves approved, making sure we rightly divide God’s Word. (2 Tim. 2:15)  Wisdom sometimes calls for preparation, for listening and waiting on God’s timing.

But on the other hand…sometimes dragging my feet to hit that publish button is a matter of wanting things to sound a certain way for my own preferences….which makes it about my ‘brain’ and not about His Word. Sometimes procrastination is my default mode. Sometimes fear of things not being good enough keeps me from doing anything at all. Sometimes I think that writing a few sentences isn’t smart enough or helpful enough.

Bottom line?

Sometimes I make it alllllll about me and not about Him.

So I had a talk with Jesus about all of this.  I felt, clearly, that – for this particular season – I need to show up and sit down at this keyboard without my own plan…I need to trust Him to lead. I need to wake up with an empty basket, knowing He will fill it. I need to ‘let go of the rail’ like Peter.

I need to trust that His Word is always, always more than enough and His Word only can bring life and hope. I am blessed, beyond what I can comprehend, to ever be a part of delivering this Bread of Life to others…and so I must obey and trust Him in how to deliver His good news.

So all of these things were in my thoughts this morning, after I returned from a 5:45 am trip to finish getting school supplies for my middle child. I had a few extra minutes before I needed to sound the wake-up calls and it occurred to me that I could sit down and blog about the manna and about Peter’s wave-walking. For everyone facing a new season, new school, new life-matters, I could share the hope of step-by-step obedience and trust into the unknown.

I considered it, felt like I should definitely write it all out, but I also wanted a bowl of oatmeal. And how could I really get anything written in such a short amount of time, anyway? I decided to write later, when I could really take the time to focus. Basically, I said – yes, God, I will write it. But not now.

So I made oatmeal, flipped through my blog reader, and read a little more of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer biography I’ve been toting around.

With my last bite of breakfast, it was time to turn on more lights and get everyone going for the day.

I picked up my phone and checked my email as I walked away from the kitchen.

Lo and behold, there was an email from…my blog?

I froze. For a strange and surreal second, I second-guessed myself. I hadn’t written that post, right?

Reality – and then panic – set in.

How could I have accidentally posted something? I hadn’t even opened the blogging site!

I clicked the email, worried that I’d been hacked and something dreadful had been sent out.

Instead, this was the title I saw: Preparing For The Unknown.

Somehow, without even realizing it…without even seeing this post from the Christian Blessings site as I flipped through the blog reader, I’d re-blogged someone’s post. Someone’s post which was written on exactly the same subject I’d felt compelled to write this morning…the same subject and kind of post I’d decided to postpone until later.

And I felt like God said, very quietly and kindly – “Now do you get it?”

It isn’t about what I think I have time to do. It isn’t about my limitations. It isn’t about my mood.

It’s about Him. His power, His glory, His purpose.

It’s about His Word and it’s about His people.

If there is someone who needs to hear encouragement from His Word, He is going to make sure that the Word is delivered to them…whether or not I get to be a part of that process is my choice. It was my choice to miss the blessing of being obedient to my Father this morning. It was my choice to choose myself instead of choosing Him.

If I were an Israelite this morning, I would have been the one to go out with my empty basket. I would have seen the manna on the ground…and I would have stood still, not gathering any. I would have gone back into my tent, basket still empty.

I would have missed the blessing that He was willing to provide.

He wants to give to us. He wants to guide us, day by day…and He will…because He loves us. Because He is faithful.

Yet – we can still worry, we can still cling to the rail, we can still go hungry for His presence because we choose that option. It’s about obedience…stepping out in faith when and how He tells us to move. It’s about trust.

I choose whether or not I follow the Spirit’s leading when He beckons.

In our lives, we walk in joy and peace when we follow Him. He works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28)…He provides His own strength as we take each step. He never leaves us alone.

And guess what? Your life – walked by faith-steps – is a testimony to everyone around you. When we trust in the faithfulness of God, our joy shows who He is to a world that needs Him…our peace points to the Savior, our all-sufficient portion in this life and the next.

When it comes to the specific opportunity to serve in His name? Those chances won’t always be lost when we drag our feet, but sometimes we are called for such a time as this…not later today, not tomorrow, not next year. Now. He has a plan and He uses willing servants to build His kingdom.

And since it’s not about us, but about His glory and His love reaching out to this world, we have to understand that our indecision and procrastination does not only affect us. It affects those people who need whatever He wants to use us to give.

We may not always say or do things perfectly…but we can always trust that, in His perfect love, He uses our imperfections. If we are acting in obedience and love for Him, He can handle the rest.

What can we say but thank You?

So here’s the end-point to this mish-mash of thoughts. Don’t be afraid of tomorrow. Don’t worry about the unknown. He goes before us and with us. Trust Him and obey Him…He will provide. He will sustain us and He will bless us so that we can stand witness to His love and to His (always) amazing grace.

“Know this: God, your God, is God indeed, a God you can depend upon. He keeps his covenant of loyal love with those who love him and observe his commandments for a thousand generations.”  (from Deut.7)

“Trust Me in your times of trouble, and I will rescue you, and you will give Me glory.” -Psalm 50:15

 
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The (Non)Pursuit of Happiness

If you google ‘how to be happy’, you’ll get 1, 870, 000, 000 answers in .20 seconds. At least, that’s how many results just appeared at 9:19 this morning. You’ll find ‘secrets’, ‘7 easy steps’, and ‘look within yourself’. You’ll read suggestions about changing your lifestyle, your eating habits, your friends, your job.   

In our culture, happiness is it. It’s what we’re after. It’s what we work for. If we’re not happy, then what’s the point of it all? If we’re not having fun, not feeling good in our circumstances…then something must be wrong with what we’re doing, who we’re around, or maybe how we look. So we keep trying, keep changing, keep hoping to wake up feeling content and peaceful…and, hey, maybe we get there for a moment. But then, inevitably, something goes wrong. Someone we love is sick or even dies…we lose our job or that promotion we’d been aiming for…our husband or wife is unfaithful…and our unhappiness takes control of us. Or maybe, in the routine of all that is supposed to give us what we want…on those days we should feel happy…we still feel empty.

What is it that we’re missing?

I think we’ve been misled. I think the object of our pursuit is way off the mark.

If you go back to the roots of ‘happy’, you’ll find that its root (hap-) means luck. An occuring, an accident, chance. Developing into the word we know today, happy implies favorable circumstances.

I’m not saying that we don’t all like favorable circumstances. I feel absolutely wonderful when the house is quiet, I’m cuddled up with a hot cup of coffee and I have a new book to read. Or when my kids are being sweet and funny and we’re outside pretending to fight dragons. Or when I’m lying on a beach with a warm sun beaming down.  We all have our favorite moments. We all appreciate favorable circumstances.

But we can’t always have the favorable circumstance. We can’t always feel good. And if we focus all of our attention on getting to that next good moment, hoping for that good ‘chance’….I’m afraid we’ll end up disappointed, frustrated, and on unsteady ground. The first big storm that comes our way will knock us right over…and we end up crying to our friends–“I used to be so happy!” (I know this because I have totally said that before.)

And then there’s this talk that Jesus gave to His disciples in Matthew 5, when He gives them advice that is totally contrary to everything we are told by our world. He talks about being blessed…and the blessing comes with words like ‘poor’, ‘mourn’, meek’, and ‘persecution’.  Words that did NOT come up when I googled ‘how to be happy’.

So…what are we looking for? What are we supposed to obtain?

First things first. Is blessed different than happy?

I think so. I know some translations use ‘happy’ in the chapter of ‘beatitudes’, but with no disrespect toward those versions, I feel like that just misses the meaning.

Because ‘blessed’ brings ‘approval’. Blessed means ‘deep inner joy’. Blessed means having the fullness and favor of God.

It has nothing to do with happenstance, accidents, or luck.

If you are blessed by God, your external circumstances can be the best or the worst —they can change with the new day or flip-flop in an instant…and it won’t make a difference to your internal circumstances.

 Because His joy is the kind that doesn’t shift with the weather.  Yes, you will be sad. Yes, you will feel angry, lonely, frustrated…all of those emotions don’t just disappear. But in the midst of those overwhelming feelings, you have the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. And through the Holy Spirit, you can have peace that you don’t understand. Strength to deal with the heart-ache. Faith that this season will pass and all things will work together for your good. With blessing comes hope, and when hard times come along, you have to have hope. Hopeless people just get by. They survive by numbing their pain. Hopeless people end up in heart-breaking crisis.

On the other hand, I’m sure you can think of people who keep their smiles…their light shining….even when circumstances are terribly difficult.  Those are the people who have their foundation on the rock….those are the people who find their joy and gladness in the love of God. Those are the people who know that ‘weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.’ Those are the people who have faith–they are sure of what they hope for and certain of what they can’t see…they believe that God is faithful and that nothing is impossible with Him. No matter what happens in this present life, they are free to rejoice. They are free.

Read what Paul says about our hope in Chapter 8 of Romans (the Message)…

15-17This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!

 18-21That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens.

 22-25All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.

 26-28Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

 29-30God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun.

 31-39So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:

   They kill us in cold blood because they hate you.
   We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.

 
None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

Oh, how He loves us! In and out of every situation!

And this is what I want us to get a hold of even before we start looking at the Beatitudes…because I don’t want us to think of it as instructions on how to gain the blessing. I want us to keep these verses in mind for our lives and our hope as we pursue the One who gives the blessing.

It’s not about the pursuit of happiness or the pursuit of blessing.

It’s about the pursuit of Jesus.

It’s about loving Him with all that we are, in every moment of our lives, and finding that His love is sufficient. It’s about being filled with His mind and His purpose so that we shine His light for a broken world to see…so that when others pursue happiness, we can offer them the love of Jesus. And all of their longing, emptiness, and need will be filled in Him.

Ash Wednesday: Living in the Light

 A Franciscan blessing to you on Ash Wednesday (as seen on World Vision ACT:S)~~

May God bless you with discomfort. Discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart. Amen
May God bless you with anger. Anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace. Amen
May God bless you with tears. Tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain into joy. Amen
May God bless you with foolishness. Enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done. Amen 
And the blessing of God, who creates, redeems and sanctifies, be upon you and all you love and pray for this day, and forever more. Amen 

 Here’s the thing about truly loving Jesus Christ — it changes you. It transforms the way you look at the world, at other people, at your family, and yourself. Spending time in His presence will cause you to step out in small ways — maybe you’ll ponder the expression on the face of a person next to you at the grocery store and make you offer them an extra smile and warm greeting just in case they’re hurting. Maybe you’ll take an extra few minutes to really cherish your child snuggling with you on the couch. Maybe you’ll buy extra food to donate to someone in need.  Maybe you’ll be absolutely stunned at the wide blue expanse of sky that is a constant show of His glory and stand still, lifting praise up to Him.  When your eyes are opened to grace, every day contains multitudes of moments to love.

  But knowing the love of Jesus and then seeing the sorrow of sin in our world is going to change your life in big ways, too.  Because you have the answer so many people need. You have hope. You have peace. You have freedom. You know the Savior who redeems us with His own blood! — and when you fully realize what you have and Who you know, you will want your life transformed to be a reflection of Him. You will want to give everything. You will not mind being called radical or extreme or even crazy, because you’ll know that Jesus gave His everything and we, His servants, are not above Him. If He suffered, then it goes without saying that His followers will suffer.  May we, like Paul, say: I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead! (Phil. 3:10)

So maybe you’ll go to another country to share the gospel. Maybe you’ll quit your job to work for a non-profit. Maybe you’ll volunteer your time to reach those who are hurting. Maybe you’ll give your hours to study and teach others about the Word of God…the specifics are different for everyone. But each and every one of us are called to do something big for the Kingdom of God—we are commissioned to tell this world about the death, resurrection, and return of Jesus Christ. When we love our Savior with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength, we will spread His name through our neighborhoods, through our counties, through our nation and world — no matter the cost, no matter the sacrifices to our comfort, no matter what He asks of us.

On this Ash Wednesday, I’m thinking of how short our lives here on earth really are…and I’m reminded that I want to make my life glorify God in the small ways, in the big ways…in every way.

Let us be like Noah, in Genesis 6, who surely cast aside everything in his life – his reputation, his own agenda, his own day-to-day comforts — to tell his world that God had given a way to escape the coming judgment…that He had provided a way of redemption and life!   

We know our Savior. We know our hope.  So by the power of the Holy Spirit and through the grace of Jesus Christ, may we tell our message- boldly and in love. May we live our message-  in merciful actions and others-first relationships. May we reflect the light of Jesus Christ, beautifully and brightly.