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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“You’ve got a problem, God.”

“You’ve got a problem, God. What are you going to do about it? I’m available to help if you want my help.” Several years ago, a friend told me of hearing the leader of a large and flourishing ministry in India say that when a problem arose, this was how he responded. I haven’t forgotten it. In a way that I’ve seldom seen, he modeled boundaries even in his relationship with God. He didn’t forget that the ministry was God’s work, not his. He was available to do whatever part God gave him to do, and he worked hard and with great love, but he refused to carry weight that was not his to carry.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this kind of fearless directness with God as I’ve been reading Ruth Haley Barton’s wonderful book, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry. In it, she weaves profound insights from the life of Moses with modern day stories and prayer practices, helping us learn to live the truth that genuine Christian leadership can only be sustained by a life deeply rooted in God.

As I’ve read her book, I’ve been struck by the many remarkably honest conversations between Moses and God. One of those conversations was in Numbers 11 when the people of Israel whom Moses had been leading for so long were yet again complaining.

“The burden of leadership had become too much, and Moses did what he always did: he went marching into God’s presence to tell him that he just could not go on this way.

At first he blustered, accusing God of giving him more than he could bear. He even resorted to throwing out cynical rhetorical questions. ‘Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child?’” (v. 12). But cynicism and anger were just a cover for the more tender emotions of sadness, despair and loneliness. Eventually Moses got to the heart of his frustration and despair and said, I give up. ‘I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once’ (vv. 14-15).

This was an extreme statement, to be sure, but it brims with such unedited honesty and truth that one has to at least admire Moses for saying it. And it definitely took the conversation where it needed to go. Moses’ ability to be honest about his desolation brought him to the end of his self-reliance, which in turn opened up space for God to be at work.” (Ruth Haley Barton, Strengthening. . ., 169-170)

At first this kind of “talking back” to God, in addition to feeling somehow freeing, felt jarring, almost rude. (Okay, more than almost.) How, I wondered, does arguing with God fit with abiding in the vine, or with submission and obedience and taking up your cross? How do we live the truth of our oneness with God through Jesus while wrestling openly with God?

Well, there’s this:

Deepening intimacy invites deepening honesty, and the deepest of honesty doesn’t stop to ponder how to word things politely. It trusts enough to pour out the pain.

And maybe the truth of our oneness with him is part of what holds open space for this kind of honesty. If we already know we are safely and eternally welcomed and held, maybe we can stop fearing the aloneness that for many of us is a reason we avoid conflict, and dare to be honest with God. (Or, to say it another way, surrendering to God is first of all about surrendering to love, stepping deeper and deeper into relationship and the honesty that entails, and accepting a call to a particular task flows out of that.)

And maybe, in Jacob and Job, the Psalmists and Jesus, we’ve been given plenty of examples of wrestling with God because God knew it would be hard for some of us to go there, and wanted us to know it is not only safe, but a (perhaps essential?) part of the journey into deeper trust and the freedom to get on with living our calling at each stage of life.

“Jesus himself used his solitude in the Garden of Gethsemane to wrestle with God about whether there was another way for him to fulfill his calling than the hard road of the cross. All of his life he had known what he was on earth to do, but when it was time to walk all the way into it, he had a few things he needed to say to God about it. He stayed in that garden until he knew for sure that this was God’s way for him—until he had really come to terms with it—and then he emerged to walk the path that was laid out for him. Perhaps this kind of passage is characteristic of all true calls. There is a difference between knowing your path and walking your path.” (Ibid, 82)

 

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Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

The green meadow of God’s heart

The sun is warm and the slight breeze cool on my bare arms as I run along the treed streets a few blocks from my new neighborhood. I’m slowly starting to learn my way along the curved streets, but even this morning I found myself back at a corner I didn’t expect. Still, the trees were lovely and the scent of some flower that I couldn’t see hung in the air and I savored the gifts in the midst of my mild confusion. I didn’t know how I’d reached this corner again, but I did at least know where to turn to get home.

A similar thing happened in my soulcare group last week. Someone had asked the question at the table, “Where have you heard God’s still, small voice this week?” And as I pondered, I was surprised to find that I’d heard it most clearly in the midst of my anger. At him. He didn’t turn away. Didn’t shout back. Just quietly waited until I’d said what I needed to say—even helped me discover what I was angry about through a dream. Then slowly and gently began to lead me into a deeper trust of his love.

As we moved from our shared meal and the table question to the living room and our prayer reflection—this time Steve Garnaas-Holmes’ meditation on Psalm 23—God’s still, small voice followed me. The friend leading the reflection read the meditation through once, twice, as we noticed what drew our attention. My attention was caught by the plea, “Lead me to the green meadow of your heart.” I could feel my heart burning with the longing to come closer, to be drawn in, to rest there forever in that beauty.

But I also noticed myself pulling away as she read the lines,

“Lead me in your way,

not mine,

even through darkest canyons

shadowed by death,

for your presence is my safety,

your will my comfort.”

Your will my comfort? Even when it leads through death? Even when it means letting go of my own will and trusting Jesus to lead me through places I don’t want to go? I felt fear and anger rising in me again, and the desire to pull away and protect myself. I couldn’t change my desire to pull away. But I could notice it and bring it—bring myself—to Jesus.

Our friend read the reflection again, asking us this time to notice feelings or body sensations, images or memories evoked by the lines that drew us. And as I began to think in pictures, it seemed the whole prayer was turned upside down. For a few moments, the green meadow I’d been drawn to felt too wide open, and I felt lonely and frightened. And the lines that had frightened me on our first reading now invited as I found in them the picture of being safely accompanied and held. Then, as I settled into that safety, I was drawn back to the first line again, and its final words came to life, tying firmly together the spaciousness and rest I long for with the security of God’s presence. “Lead me to the green meadow of your heart.

I’ve long loved David’s words from Psalm 18, “He brought me out into a spacious place; He rescued me because He delighted in me.” They echoed once more in my head as all of a sudden I realized, God doesn’t just want to bring me out into a spacious place, He wants to be for me that spacious place. His heart, a place safe enough and spacious enough to welcome and hold all of me, my joy and my anger, memories and hopes, stillness and activity. Yes, lead me to the green meadow of Your heart, Lord, the only place I can be refreshed and nourished and set free to love and to enjoy You and others and myself and life and all of Your good gifts.

 

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Photo by Tanguy Sauvin on Unsplash

For the moments you feel disconnected from God

Moving week do-list:

  • arrange for hydro
  • finish packing
  • clean bathroom, windows, fridge
  • pick up key
  • buy microwave

The list continues. Most of it can’t be put off. Time and energy run short, and though I try to pray, in the busyness I feel disconnected from God and from what’s going on in my own heart.

I don’t like it. It feels like I’m missing the richest part of life. I don’t want to live this way for long.

Friends help move, unpack, clean. I receive God’s care through them.

And in the midst of it all, there is gift in this reminder, and in the invitation to rest here: My security does not depend on my holding onto God, but on His holding onto me.

 

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Photo by Juliane Liebermann on Unsplash

His love endures forever

The refrain echoes through Psalm 136: His love endures forever. As I read the Psalm on Friday morning, several hours before I signed a lease, I realized something. In the past, when I’ve read this Psalm, I’ve read the refrain the first few times it appears, and then become lulled into impatient laziness by the repetition and unthinkingly begun to tune the refrain out and focus on the unfolding of the story in the lines in between.

As a writer, I should know the danger of doing that. If an author (at least one who has taken the time to carefully edit) chooses to repeat something, it’s meant to highlight something important. I should have been paying extra attention to that line, hearing that line as the center, and all the other lines as illustration of this key truth experienced in the painfully difficult and wonderfully miraculous bits of the Israelites’ story: God’s love endures forever, always holding his people, providing, protecting, and sustaining them. (As an aside, isn’t it interesting that it’s usually through the most difficult times of life that we also learn most deeply that God’s love endures forever?)

I dare to think there’s an invitation implied, a summons to pay attention to our own lives and continue the song with our own verses as we let this refrain become the grounding certainty of our lives: His love endures forever.

One species of cherry tree behind my old place has just finished blooming, and the other is starting to burst. It feels so kind that God would give me one more spring with this dozen trees that feel like friends before moving me to a new neighbourhood and introducing me to new beauty there.

As I prepare to move into the new home God has provided for me, I look back over these past difficult five months and add a few new verses of my own to the Psalm, giving thanks as I see ways God’s love has held me through this time and is going before me into this new place.

And this time I’m lingering over the refrain.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good.

            His love endures forever.

Give thanks to the God of gods.

            His love endures forever.

Give thanks to the Lord of lords:

            His love endures forever. . .

 

to him who provided an interim home during the months I had none of my own,

            His love endures forever.

who gave two months of free rent in the midst of moving expenses,

            His love endures forever.

who brought friends to help pack and clean and move,

            His love endures forever.

who guided me to a good home, closing dozens of doors along the way,

            His love endures forever.

and taught me that I couldn’t assume I’d be accepted elsewhere so I’d step through the door he finally opened,

            His love endures forever.

who helped me learn what matters to me,

            His love endures forever.

and provided a home that fits who I am,

            His love endures forever.

whispering that my needs and desires are important to him,

            His love endures forever.

 

to the One who remembered me in my low estate,

            His love endures forever.

and has been freeing me from clinging to security that is not in him,

            His love endures forever.

who gives food and shelter to every creature,

            His love endures forever.

teaching me that it’s safe to trust,

            His love endures forever.

 

Give thanks to the God of heaven.

            His love endures forever.

 

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I won’t be writing next Monday as I’ll be finishing up a course and preparing to move. See you back here in two weeks!