Flying lessons: Why we can dare to live fully

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I receive an invitation to participate in the final week of a group that has been working through Rational Worship, the Bible study that I started writing almost ten years ago when I was back at my parents’ home, too sick to be out of bed for more than a couple of hours a day. I wrote it because I needed to be reminded why it made sense to give myself to God again when I’d already done that and everything—health, career, ministry, life as I knew it—seemed to have fallen apart.
I’m excited that the group is using it. I will delight to be present during their final session, to witness their engagement, their joys and struggles, discoveries and hopes. But on my way to the excitement, I encountered another, more timid part of me, first. The little voice that can be so loud in my head started telling me I’ll disappoint the group. That I should stay safely hidden on the other side of written words rather than step out into the open. That I’m really not good enough, spiritual enough, strong enough, prepared enough to engage.
That’s when I realized it was time for me to turn back to the truths in Rational Worship again myself, to be reminded once more that my offering myself to God only ever makes sense not because of who I am, but because of who God is.
I recalled the heron I watched as I prepared to share the Rational Worship study.

He sits long, watching amidst the grid of stone and steel.
He doesn’t dip for food and I wonder what he’s waiting for. Does he even know?
I wait with him, glad for the quiet moments.
In the stillness a longing rises in me. I have begun to take wings, to fly beyond the steel grid of fear that pins me to earth. But I long to fly higher still, farther and deeper into the wide spaces of God’s love.
The bird has wings, made for the air. I have feet and a soul and I’m made to be filled with God Himself. My choice not to step into this is as irrational as a bird who refuses to fly.
This alone is true living, this alone is true worship, this offering of my body each moment to be filled with God.

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It has been five and a half years since I shared the study here, and that longing to fly higher and deeper into the wide spaces of God’s love is with me still, though sometimes I need to dig through layers of fear to find it.
As I turned back to the beginning of the study, my soul began to breathe like I’d been swimming underwater and had finally surfaced to gasp in once more the same life-sustaining truth: I don’t have to be strong, or “enough” in any other way, to offer myself to God. He is enough, and when I offer myself to God, I gain Him and all of His enoughness. That’s why the invitation to offer myself as a living sacrifice to God is placed where it is—at the end of eleven chapters celebrating God’s wisdom and grace, sovereignty and love, and immediately following four verses of overflowing praise for God’s more-than-enoughness:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgements, and his paths beyond tracing out!
Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?
Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.
Therefore, I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy,
to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God –
this is your spiritual act of worship. . .” (Romans 11:33-12:1)

Therefore. Could there be a more comforting way to begin this verse than with the reminder that my ability to be an acceptable sacrifice is far less about my own ability than about God’s incomprehensible wisdom, his holy “otherness,” his lavish generosity, and his centrality in the universe, all of which, in his unfathomable mercy, he offers to us? His job is to be God in all his sufficiency. Mine is to show up, bringing myself as I am—fear and all—to this One who loves me, and who is and will always be enough. To him be the glory forever! Amen.

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If you’re interested in revisiting with me the truth of God’s character, and why it makes sense to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God even when life seems to have fallen apart, click on the images below to download your free copy of the six week Bible study, “Rational Worship: Offering Ourselves to the God of Mercy” and the accompanying Leader’s Guide. (You may wish to right-click and choose “download linked file” to save the pdfs to your computer.) Or go here for more about what it offers and how it came to be written.
It might just be the perfect summer encouragement, a chance to soak again in the joy of who God is.
And if you’d like company on the journey, slip your email into the box in the right side-bar for weekly grace delivered straight to your inbox. I won’t be writing directly about the study in these coming posts, but I pray that all my posts offer encouragement and practical help as we keep learning to fly higher and deeper into the wide-open spaces of God’s love together. It’s a grace to journey with you!
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How to turn self-pity to joy

DSCN5842Last week was a gift. I was attending a course, and on my arrival, I was greeted with the surprise of the beautiful Treetop Hideaway room with my own little deck and windows that looked out into lush green leaves. Relationships were rich, with lots of laughter and plenty of vulnerability. The teaching was drawing me deeper into the truth of who God is and who I am and I was slowly settling and resting in those truths.
And still, the third day in, I found myself slipping into self-pity. A dog—one of those big black ones with huge laser-sharp teeth and a fenced-in yard with signs saying “Beware of Dog”—had jumped the fence and chased me on my first morning’s run, and each morning after that the run took extra energy as I fought to stay calm. I loved the community and wanted to be out playing Frisbee during our afternoon free time, but I was tired and needed to spend it lying down.
I didn’t like the self pity. I wanted to fix it. I didn’t know how.
Until evening prayers. I’m not sure exactly how it happened, but somehow, then, God got through to me. I’d asked him earlier how he saw me and my self-pity, but hadn’t received an answer. But in evening prayers I understood: God sees more deeply than I do. While I was quick to label and condemn my self-pity, God looked beneath it and saw longing: longing to be outside in his creation, to play, to engage in deep relationship, to be drawn closer to God and enabled to receive his love more deeply. He saw my longing for fullness of life, for health and right-relationship with God and self, others and creation. All of those longings echo God’s longings for me. All of them are good and God-given, placed in me by God when he made me in his image and deepened by him as he is drawing me closer to himself.
Tears began to slip down my cheeks as I felt understood and loved. And then I noticed: the self-pity had disappeared, replaced with the joy of being loved and accompanied in the hard places. I’ve checked it out a couple more times since, and I’m convinced of this: what turns sadness or disappointment into self-pity is the sense that I don’t matter. Then guilt descends with the conviction that I should just be able to be get over it. But the harder I try to “just get over it,” the more self-pity digs in its heels and clings to my soul, because my attempts to shake it off are just more deeply ingraining the sense that what I feel doesn’t matter.
I am remembering once more: Every situation and every emotion—even self-pity—contains an invitation to come closer and open more deeply to God as he longs to love me in that place. Real transformation only ever comes in finding myself loved.

“May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” (Eph 3:19 NLT)

“Make your home in my love,” Jesus invites. “Let me be your home.” This Home is a place where there’s room to express sadness and disappointment, anger and fear, and find myself loved in it and not alone, accompanied, and reminded by God’s gentle presence that I, and what I feel and long for, matter.

Made to sail

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I wander down among the boats at sunrise. There’s a beauty here, and a peace, but a longing, too, that stirs my deepest places. The boats in Heritage Harbour are here to rest after years of faithful sailing. As I wander among their quiet bodies, I see the backbone, still tall and strong, that has supported their life on the waters.
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Boats are made to sail, the longing in me whispers, and if they spend their whole life tied to the dock—even if they obey all the rules of the marina and look lovely in the morning mist—they’ve missed their calling.
The cross was never meant to stand naked, our God-given dreams rolled up and tied tight while we sit safely in harbour. The cross was made to host a sail stretched wide and alive to Spirit wind. It calls us to come close, to dance, to sail, to risk, to become fully alive and fully ourselves, living the tides and the breath of the life of God.

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As children of God, freedom is our birthright.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” (Gal 5:1, c.f. 5:13)

Unqualified acceptance is our heritage.

“You are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” (Gal 4:7)

Love and life and the joy of God are our inheritance.
The cross, and all it represents—a limitless welcome into the whole vibrant life of God!—is ours. (Eph 1:3-6)
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To what then will I tie my life?  (Looking at our heritage, I wonder that the question even needs to be asked, yet I find myself faced with it daily.)
Will I pack away the sails of my dreams and passion and tie myself to the dock of predictably-laid rules and expectations? Paul has strong words for me. If I tie my hope of approval to rules and regulations and people’s expectations, Paul says, “then Christ will be of no value to you at all.” (Galatians 5:2)
Or will I tie my hope instead to the cross and to the One who stands beside it, alive again, and eager to share His life with me? Will I let Jesus cut the ropes that tie me to any other attempt at security and take me out into deep water where I can really live?
The cross, thankfully, stands right at the center of our freedom. It guides the shape of our freedom’s expression, and it gives me the security I need to be willing to hoist the sail. My dreams are not blowing unanchored in the wind. I am free to move with the wind only when my hope is tied to the cross, to that Love who is my life, my hope and my stability.
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Related post:
What Jesus does with chains

The truth your heart is hungry for

IMG_3234It is Mother’s Day and Baby Dedication Day and on this sixth Sunday of Eastertide we’re still calling out the good news:

“Christ is risen!”
“He is risen indeed!”

Pastor Justin stands at the front with three sets of parents, each accepting the holy joys and responsibilities of parenthood, the gifts of pain and delight.
The parents promise and the congregation promises and then Justin takes little Elliott in his arms. “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.” The child is happy enough, looking all around, content in the safety of arms. “The LORD lift the light of His countenance upon you and give you peace, this day and always.” Baby Elliott gazes straight up into Justin’s face as though drawn by the light, turning like ivy leaves or the whole rosy bloom of a tulip toward the nearest window.
I smile. And I watch little River lift her face to Justin’s at the same words—”The LORD lift the light of His countenance upon you”—turning to face the light as though reaching for it, called by it. The curtain has been pulled back and for a moment I’ve glimpsed again the truth at the center of the universe, God’s heart always pouring itself out in blessing, His face shining on us the purest of love. His delight, His longing, awakening in us a responsive seeking of His face.
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“Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion.” (Isaiah 30:18)

Baby Arthur sleeps right through the blessing, at peace in the light of the face turned toward his.
 
Taking it deeper:
What difference might it make in your day to know that the LORD’s face is turned toward you in blessing?

When your heart aches empty

Do you feel it too, this longing that creeps up and stretches you thin over the vast emptiness inside until you wonder if you might split for the longing?

Sometimes it gets buried in busyness. Sometimes it fades in the joy of being brought close and rooted in the never changing love of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But sometimes the ache takes hold and won’t let go, an ache for the fulfillment of the promise, for that final consummation. An ache to be brought closer still, to feel Him and see Him and know Him whom I love as He knows me.

Sometimes I wonder how this ache can still be so great, so painful, when those of us who belong to Christ live in Him and He in us and when we have been given fullness in Christ (Col 2:9-10). Why do I still, sometimes, feel so desperately, painfully, empty?

He whispers truth. The ache does not bespeak ill health. The great void of longing is not even emptiness. It is, rather, the first aching stretchings of greater fullness. True emptiness is greedy, drawing all things into itself; a vacuum seal, released, hungrily sucks air. But this longing stretches us outward, drawing us hard toward God. It is not empty but full, less like a vacuum, sucking everything into itself, than like a balloon, stretched out over that within it, silent witness to the one whose breath fills it. This longing is the Spirit of Jesus at work within us, stretching us to create more space for that for which we most deeply long – Himself.

The same Spirit who brooded over the natal waters of the earth broods over us still, in love’s creative power, silently shaping order out of chaos and breathing life into these priceless hand-molded reflections of God.

As He shapes and stretches and breathes, what used to fill us – things and people, achievements and entertainments – rattle around in the larger space, proven too small to satisfy our center. We feel empty. We ache, longing for final union with Him by whom and for whom we were made, who alone is expansive enough to fill us.

The ache is a gift, a witness that we are longed for. We only long for Him when He is drawing us, calling to our hearts, “Please come close, for I desire you.”

“. . . Father who dances and sings
over me
who lavishes on me
incomparable riches
Your own Son
most precious gift
and everything else as well

Oh, how I want to know You
in Your fullness
in Your enormity

as much of You as I can see
and not be utterly destroyed
as much as You can pour into
little me

The edges of adequacy
are not enough

Bring me further into You
Center of all beauty

opening my eyes
stretching my heart
awakening me to Your lavishness
and enabling me to
receive and respond
in extravagance.”

(Carolyn Watts, Extravagance)

Related posts:

When you long for fullness

Extravagance