When God builds you a house

I had to smile when the Scripture was read last Sunday. Sometimes God isn’t subtle.
I’ve been confronting my limitations again lately—not just physical, but in every area of life. And I’ve sensed God inviting me to accept them. I’ve found myself asking the question, “Can I be okay with it if all I am ever able to do consistently is write a weekly blog post and listen with the few people who come to sit in the stillness with me and listen together for God’s voice in their lives?” I’m not saying that’s what will happen, only that I’m being invited to accept still more deeply this body, this personality, this small, good work entrusted to me as a gift from the One who created me and delights in me as I am. This time, I find myself able to  say, with freedom and joy (at least for this day!), “Yes. If that’s what you have for me, I can be fine with that.” Maybe I’m finally receiving more fully the rich gifts of being small—of being significant not because of what I do, but simply because God has created me and, because He treasures me, I matter.
Back to last Sunday. The reader ascended to the pulpit and began to read from 2 Samuel 7 the story of David asking to building a temple for God. Surely, David thought, after all God had done for him, it was time David gave something back. Surely it wasn’t right that David live in a palace of expensive cedar wood while the ark of God, the focal point of God’s presence, continued to live in a tent. At first the prophet Nathan, hearing David’s suggestion, agreed. “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the LORD is with you.”
But it was only a few hours before God spoke to Nathan correcting his assumption and telling Nathan to return to David with these words from God: “Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? . . .  The LORD himself will establish a house for you.” (v. 5, 11)
I’ll never be able to hear that passage again without my mind jumping back to a time in the tiny Afghan village I called home for four years. After my first year working as a doctor in the project, I was asked to take on the role of project leader. But it didn’t take long for me to discover that the weight of being project leader as well as doctor was too much for me. Three months into the project leader role, agonizing over the possibility of having to admit I couldn’t do it, I was journaling my prayer. Lunchtime came, and I left the prayer on pause, grabbing Eugene Peterson’s book, Leap Over a Wall to read while I ate. Peterson was speaking about David’s natural desire to build a temple for God who had done so much for him:

““[David] quite naturally wanted to do something for God, who had done so much for him. He decided to build God a sanctuary. . . . God had blessed him with a place of honor and repose; he would bless God with a place of honor and repose. . .
But there are times when our grand human plans to do something for God are. . . a huge human distraction from what God is doing for us. . .
God’s word to David through Nathan was essentially this: ‘You want to build me a house? Forget it—I’m going to build you a house. The kingdom that I’m shaping here isn’t what you do for me but what I do through you. I’m doing the building here, not you. . . .
‘Then King David went in and sat before the LORD . . .’ (2 Sam 7:18) David sat. This may be the single most critical act that David ever did, the action that put him out of action . . .
What we don’t do for God is often far more critical than what we in fact do. God is the beginning, center, and end of the world’s life—of existence itself. But we’re often unaware of God’s action except dimly and peripherally. Especially when we’re in full possession of our power—our education complete, our careers in full swing, people admiring us and prodding us onward . . . At these moments, we need prophetic interference. We need Nathan. We need to quit whatever we’re doing and sit down . . .” (Eugene Peterson, Leap Over a Wall: Earthy Spirituality for Everyday Christians (New York: Harper Collins, 1997), 157-164, bold mine.)

My body was my prophetic interference. Like Nathan it was confronting me. Like Balaam’s donkey, it was lying down in the road and refusing to go on, seeing the angel of the LORD blocking the path where I was trying to drive myself onward, too blind or too stubborn or proud to see him.

“When David sat down before God, it was the farthest thing from passivity or resignation; it was prayer. It was entering into the presence of God, becoming aware of God’s word, trading in his plans for God’s plans, letting his enthusiasm for being a king with the authority and strength to do something for God be replaced with the willingness to become a king who would represent truly the sovereignty of God the high King.” (164)

And then, a page later, Peterson writes these words about David’s response to God. I’ve underlined them in my journal.

“And courage it does take, immense courage, to relinquish control, to resign our so recently acquired prestigious positions, to ‘quit our jobs’ and simply to sit at Jesus’ feet.” (165)

God was guiding me as I’d asked, and affirming me at the same time, assuring me that once again he was calling, and that the willingness to let the role go was not failure but courage and obedience. He was turning things right-side-up again, reminding me, as he would remind me many more times, that he was God and I was not—and that he loved me.

“David sat down;” Peterson writes, and “the real action started: not David making God a house but God making David a house.” (165)

We are given small parts to play. We get to hammer in a few nails, a four-year-old working alongside his father. Peter takes the metaphor in a different direction, going so far as to say that we get to be part of the house—and the stones that make up the walls are clearly not able or responsible to put themselves in their right places to make a sound and solid house (1 Peter 2:4-10).
God is the one who builds us a home. It was God who created the world and placed us in it, our home for time, and it is Jesus who is preparing a place for us, our home for eternity (John 14:1-3). We can’t build God’s kingdom; that’s why we pray for Him to do it (Matt 6:9-10). And He is building it, and welcoming us into it—and will even someday hand it over to us, a rich gift of a safe and beautiful home forever and ever (Daniel 7:18, 22, 27; Luke 12:32).
But the news is better still. Since before God brought us into being, He has been making a home for us not just out there somewhere, in earth or in heaven, but in Himself, in that truest and safest of places, that loving heart at the centre of reality for which we were made and where we will always belong. Here our small, loved selves can rest.

“Your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” (Col 3:3)

The truth that can bring joy to every moment

I step out the back door. I can’t see him, but a robin is singing somewhere under the clouded sky. This moment is a gift from the One who loves me.
The wind pushes and presses against me as I run face-first into it. This moment is a gift from the One who loves me.
The reminder has been echoing through my days, inviting me to slow and savor the reality beneath the surface. This moment is a gift from the One who loves me.
As I drift off to sleep, this moment is a gift, a good gift from the One who delights to refresh me.
As I lie awake in the wee hours, this moment is a gift, a good gift from the One who is inviting me to snuggle closer, to know myself held, to share with him and let him lift whatever is weighing on me.
When the sun glints on crushed shells, flinging sparkles across the beach, this moment is a gift from the One who loves me.
When drips drop from the purple rim of my umbrella, soaking the knees of my jeans, this moment too is a gift from the One who loves me.
A grief—an invitation to let myself be held.
A joy—a call to laugh together.
A long, wondering wait for a response to an email—one more gift from the One who loves me and desires to bring me into his joy so is nudging me gently to turn again to him, to let go of fears, of outcomes, of control and savor his love in this moment.

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,

for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness.

I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;

Therefore I will wait for him.”

— Lamentations 3:22-23

Let grace be grace: Learning to see


I watch the widow place two tiny coins in the offering plate. Her neighbors’ noses are in the air as they let their handfuls of change drop in, noisily burying her pathetic gift. She is nothing, her gift nothing—1%, maybe, of an acceptable offering. What is that to their fine gifts, their fine selves?
Another woman breaks a vial of expensive perfume and pours it on Jesus’ head. The noses are in the air again: how could she be so wasteful? (Too much might be worse than too little for these impossible-to-please critics.)
But Jesus’ math is different. After the offering plate has finished making its rounds, he gathers his disciples and says to them, “Did you see that widow? Everyone else just gave change. She gave 100% of what she had.”
And to those hassling the woman who poured out the perfume, Jesus responds, “Back off. She has done a beautiful thing.” Her gift, too—her love, her self, her reputation—was exactly right.
Let grace be grace,” I sensed Jesus inviting me at the start of Lent. One piece of that seems to be, “Let me teach you how to see.” It’s impossible to see grace when we don’t know how to look.
Recently I happened across a health and productivity scale which ranked me from 0 (bedridden) to 100 (working full time without symptoms) and discovered that despite continued slow improvement over nine years, I’m still somewhere below 50. Until I saw the score, I’d been (most of the time) content. But all of a sudden, though I knew in my head the score wasn’t about failure, . . . let’s just say I’m not use to seeing 30 or 40% on anything related to me.
I’d thought I’d moved past it until I sat with the friend who helps me listen and found myself talking about it—with tears. Eventually she asked, “I wonder how Jesus sees the 30%?” Instantly I knew. “He doesn’t see me as 30%. He has all of me. 100% . . . There are places I hold back, but even those are his to work with as he wishes.”
Immediately I felt whole again, no longer 30% of a person. Only later did I realize that maybe the 50 or 60 or 70% that the world doesn’t see and thus declares missing are Jesus’ favorite bits (if he has favorite parts of me). Those limits, those places that keep me working limited hours from home and needing daily naps, the places that the world doesn’t score as valuable, are the places that are specially his, specially ours, pushing me deeper into trust and into receiving his love and giving mine back. Those are the places that keep us most deeply connected.
“Grant us the courage to delight in the life that is ours,” I’ve been praying again and again, the line from the SoulStream noon prayer becoming a refrain that echoes into the corners of my life. For me that prayer means first of all, “Grant me the courage to look at Your face, not the faces of the world around me, when I need to be reminded who I am.”
Now that I’ve been reminded how Jesus sees me, I’m free to be content once again, even while I continue to do all I can to be as healthy as I can be. Jesus meets me here, here in this particular life. Here we work together to bless others in ways that only he and I together can, and here we rest and enjoy each other. Remembering that, once again I can truly say I love this life that he has chosen to live with me.

The secret to being content

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The dread disease can keep me from settling in and enjoying the music I’ve chosen in the gym or the book I’ve selected to read over supper. (“Is there something I’d enjoy more?”)
It can make me sign up for activities that aren’t a good fit, and can keep me questioning whether I’ve found the best counselor (or friend, or publisher) rather than enjoying the many gifts in the relationship. (“Is there someone better out there?”)
It can fill my inbox with blog subscriptions and news feeds that are no longer helpful but which I haven’t dared to cancel. (“What if I miss something important?”)
It goes by the name FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out.
Behind it is the hiss of the snake, “God is holding out on you, keeping back his best.”
The snake hisses and the constant stream of information surges towards me, far more than I can ever chew and swallow, or would want to. When FOMO is active, I let it happen, the world force-feeding me through news feeds and facebook feeds. I am so afraid of missing something important, something good and nourishing, that I skim, nibbling and tasting, not slowing to savor, to chew and swallow and digest. And I die a little on the inside, because, despite my constant nibbling, when I don’t select and savor and swallow what really nourishes I end up like Colin, the man I met lying under the bridge yesterday, who is “always a little hungry.” Or maybe a lot hungry. Maybe, though we look bloated, we’re actually empty and starving to death.
Not like Paul. How, I’ve wondered, was Paul, in jail and sleepless and hungry, still so full—of peace, of joy, of contentment. I’ve been irritated, at times, that Paul told us he had learned the secret of being content in any and every situation and then didn’t go on in the next breath to spell out for us that secret. (“Come on, Paul!”)
Now I see he had already spelled it out:

  • “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)
  • “I want to know Christ. . .” (Phil 3:10)
  • “Rejoice in the Lord always. . . . The Lord is near.” (Phil 4:4-5)

Paul, like Peter, had learned to look away from the waves and onto Christ’s face, away from the prison cell and at the one singing with him in the dark dungeon. Paul had learned that the enemy of contentment is FOMO, and the surest way to conquer FOMO is to turn and see Christ with you. In the gym, eyes sparkling as he looks back at you and comments on the marvelous melody that the clarinet just played; at your desk, working through the impossible piles and puzzles with you; on the edge of your bed, sitting beside you and offering you his own quiet presence. Even, as Peter and martyr Matrona of Thessalonica and other saints throughout history have found, turning your prison cell into a bridal chamber.
The surest way to conquer FOMO is to turn and see Christ with you, because in the face of Christ we see God’s best already given, forever given, opening up in new ways in every moment and situation. With Christ beside us, with us, in us, all has been given.
(Exactly what was I afraid of missing out on? I can’t remember anymore.)

How to become lovely

 

She’s still unsteady on her feet, often stumbles as she walks. But she’s a big girl for her months, and strong, and a little frightening to the other babies when she tries (usually successfully!) to take their toy. At first she seemed to me rough and demanding and awkward in her anxious energy. Prickly and unlovely.

 

But she does it often now. Comes near as I sit cross-legged on the floor. Snuggles her body in next to mine, and rests her head on my shoulder while I hold her close. She stills, then, and rests long and contented. She has awakened love in me. She has become to me lovely.

 

I see myself in her, and let the little one lead me. I look at me and see the unloveliness: the sadness and frustration, the anger and fear and awkwardness. She shows me how to come close anyway. And His strong arms hold me gently and He makes me lovely by His love.

 

I learn it again today, the relief in not trying to push away the anger or fix the sadness, but lay the heart open before Jesus, the head on His shoulder. I find myself loved there, become quiet and gentle.

 

Once more I learn that we see differently. Where I see mess, Jesus sees places He can come closest.

 

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When you have nothing to give