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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Dust you are: a celebration

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There are still three weeks to go in Lent, three weeks more of intentionally exploring what it means to be fully human followers of Jesus, not living just in our heads but living full-bodied fellowship and followership.

Some days I feel like I’m still digging my way out of an ice-drifted driveway and already my heart is wondering when the journey will be over. (“Are we there yet?”)

Other days it seems right that our word “Lent” is derived from the Old English word meaning “springtime.” Spring fever is in my blood and I’m not just walking toward the cross but running toward resurrection.

Spring calls us to be part of her, draws us into her so we shake the rugs and clean the closets and run outside to feel the sun’s face turned toward us, warm and overflowing with blessing. Spring insists that we join in with our whole bodies. She doesn’t just call, she puts out a hand, two hands, smelling of fresh-turned earth and daffodils, and tugs so we ache to dig in the earth or wish we had a child’s small hand in ours so we could skip down the road without anyone looking at us funny.

The claim of spring on our bones doesn’t always wait for Easter. It can stir even on the way to the cross. I watch Jesus step firmly towards His death, eyes on His bride. A woman kneels and anoints Jesus for burial, their dance tugging her to bend and wipe His feet with her hair. Jesus Himself stoops and lifts the feet of his disciples and washes them clean.

 “All of these bodily postures were postures of risk. They were postures that relinquished the control of a planned response; they were authentic responses to the Spirit working and moving physically in their midst. These physical postures of response reveal a wild God, one who breaks boundaries, etiquette, and our preconceived ideas of responding.” (Celeste Snowber Schroeder, Embodied Prayer, 133)

The sign in my bathroom declares, “I get up. I walk. I fall down. Meanwhile, I keep dancing” (Hillel). It’s a reminder to this girl who clings to control: the point is not perfection but surrender and wholeness and Him.

I can’t help but grin as I remember this eighty-eight year old bopping her way down the front steps of her house. There are a host of ways to dance and mine won’t look like hers but this I know: I am body as well as soul and learning to let my body be part of my worship is one more step in surrendering my whole self to this wild and passionate Lord of the dance as He leads me out to wash feet, out through the cross and on toward resurrection.

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Photo by Tricia Herera

 

Taking it deeper:

Try it. Dance. (Yes, you. I dare you.)

If you’re itching to get started, please stop reading and go for it! If you have hesitations like I’ve had, maybe these few thoughts and practices that have helped me will help you ease into this practice too:

  • Too embarrassed? Close the blinds and give yourself space to dance alone. Or if that’s still too much, try dancing in your imagination. What posture might express what your whole self wants to say to God right now? The point is not to force ourselves into something unnatural but to stop shushing our bodies and learn to welcome them as they cry to be part of our worship.
  • Too down? Try dancing this lament. Let your body be part of expressing the cry of your soul.
  • Too sick? May I whisper a secret? This hard place might just be one of the best places to learn to dance as we let the impossible weight of our body surrender to the strength of Jesus’ arms and discover ourselves carried into the dance. And, as I discovered last week, sometimes joining in the dance doesn’t even mean moving from your chair but uncrossing your legs and opening your hands and listening to the music with your feet and knees as well as your ears.
  • No time? Who says I can’t wield that toilet brush or broom with a little rhythm as I surrender to the joy or longing of the worship music playing in the background and let my whole self open a little wider to God?
  • Guys—having seen you cheering for a goal, not just arms but whole bodies in the air, shouts erupting, I’m pretty sure your body is also eager to be part of worship. I’m also pretty sure you’ll have your own unique way of expressing it. Thoughts? What might it look like for you to let your body be part of worship?

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This is the fifth in a series of Lenten posts exploring what it might look like to live fully alive to God with our bodies as well as our souls. Click on the links to read the first four:

Dust you are: an invitation

Dust you are: a call to pay attention

Dust you are: love in the desert

Dust you are: Living the mystery together

When you don’t have much to offer

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I ran along the garden path, wishing I’d brought my camera. The grasses bowed, shimmered, almost glowed in the early morning light.

I moved slowly, my run half walk, each step dragging the weight of my heart. There are times it’s tempting to pull the covers over your head and skip the day.

I stopped to stretch and a tear slipped from my eye. I gave it to Jesus. It was all I had to give.

As I walked back past the grasses, almost other-worldly in their silvery shimmer, I sensed His nudge. “Look closer.”

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Sometimes you have strength to give, and sometimes willing weakness. And when your threadbare weakness has worn right through and all you have left is emptiness and tears, just bring Him those. But be warned: you might have to go for your camera. It’s nothing for this one who spoke the Milky Way out of empty space to string worlds of beauty from tears bent to his light.

Where joy finds you

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A favorite picture sits on my desk. The grey rock of a tomb dominates the background. On the right hand side a man is walking. But it’s the left side of the picture that draws my attention. A pottery jar lies on its side in the grass, its lid fallen separate, forgotten. A woman kneels—if you can call it that when she’s still in motion—with one leg in front of the other, her back foot scarcely touching the ground. Her face is radiant, arms upraised, stretched out; her whole body leans forward, garments still flying behind her as though she has been running toward the man and has fallen, mid-stride, into worship.

She wasn’t seeking joy; she was seeking Him. And so she came, bringing spices to anoint the body of the most precious person in her life. When the other disciples went home, she stood outside his tomb, crying her questions, speaking her grief. And now, in the midst of the being present and the letting go, the grieving and the not understanding and the staying there, she is met by the one she has been seeking, met and named. She finds him—or, rather, he finds her—and in him she finds herself. In that moment, her grief is gone. She was doing all she knew to do—staying close, coming to anoint his body. Now he gives her other work to do, and she goes gladly to spread the word, “I have seen the Lord!”

The real reason for theology

 

Turns out it’s one of his favorite lines: “Theology is for doxology.” I love this constant reminder from J.I. Packer that “the first thing to do with [theology] is to turn it into praise and thus honour the God who is its subject, the God in whose presence and by whose help it was worked out.” (J.I. Packer, “God Has Spoken,” p.7)

 

When theology becomes more about debate than worship, our focus more on knowledge than on love, it’s a good sign that we’ve gone wrong somewhere.

 

“Theologies that cannot be sung (or prayed for that matter) are certainly wrong a deep level, and such theologies leave me, in both senses, cold: cold-hearted and uninterested.” (Ibid)

 

I long for our lives to be places where understanding of God flows over into delight in him. Places where, together, we can enter into God’s invitation given through the apostle Paul, “Be glad in God! . . . Celebrate God all day, every day. I mean, revel in him!” (Phil 3:1, 4:4 The Message) 

 

It’s becoming my new favorite question: “What, today, have I learned of God that makes me revel in him?”

 

Today, it’s this. “Jesus Christ is alive and here to teach his people himself.” (Richard Foster, Sanctuary of the Soul, p. 9) Pastors and professors, the Church Fathers and writers from throughout the centuries, as precious a gift as they are in helping us hear God’s heartbeat more clearly, do not have a corner on the truth. The One who is Truth is here among us Himself, eager to speak His truth to every one of us. God himself is our teacher! As incredible as it sounds, God opens His heart and mind to us, daring to give each of us direct access to his innermost thoughts, as we, in turn, open our hearts to Him. But let me step back and let Him speak for Himself:

 

“It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me.” (John 6:45)

 

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth.” (John 14:16-17)

 

“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.” (Jn 16:13-15)

 

“As it is written:

“No eye has seen,

no ear has heard,

no mind has conceived

what God has prepared for those who love him”—

but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.  For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.  We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.  This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.  The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.  The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment:

“For who has known the mind of the Lord

that he may instruct him?”

But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:9-16)

 

So let’s not be afraid to enter this wonder and ask God to make clear to us the deep truths that He longs to share with us. Then dig into what’s being given and delight in God!

 

God of all truth

who has spoken yourself in your Son

open our hearts to receive today the Word that you still speak

that we may delight in you as you do in us.

Through Jesus Christ, who is the Truth.

Amen.

More desperate than the night-shift

 

There were quiet nights too, but the nights that stick out in my memory are the crazy ones. The labor and delivery ward overflowed, none of the babies willing to enter the world without a fuss. We ran from one emergency to another, sustained by occasional bites of a granola bar stashed in a white coat pocket. Never seeing the inside of the on call room. Only going to the bathroom when it couldn’t be delayed any longer. When we began the last of the cesarean sections at 7am, we were desperate for the day shift to arrive.

 

I think it’s that kind of desperation that the psalmist had in mind when he penned these words:

 

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,

and in his word I hope;

my soul waits for the Lord

more than those who watch for the morning;

indeed, more than those who watch for the morning.

 

In those moments when I’ve felt desperate, I haven’t always realized what I was desperate for.

 

Each day now I slow several times to worship. I step back from what I’m doing, let myself relax into strong, safe hands, give thanks that they (not I) hold the universe.  And I realize. This is what I’m longing for. His presence in my aloneness. His strength in my weakness.  It’s like turning off the kitchen fan: it’s only once it’s done that you realize how noisy it was. Or like taking off a heavy backpack: ahhhh. . . that feels better. As I become small in His presence, strong hands lifting from me the burden made for His shoulders, I realize how much weight I’ve picked up, me all unaware.

 

In my desperation, my longing has often spoken both truly and falsely. I was longing  for rest, yes, but for more than I knew; not for a rest but for rest, the kind that comes only in the arms of God.

 

It’s into that longing that the psalmist speaks again, reminding us to place our hope not in the gracious gifts of a loving Father who knows our need for respite, but in the One who gathers us close and rests us in His arms.

 

O Israel, [He speaks to us too, precious children of God!],

hope in the LORD!

For with the LORD there is steadfast love

And with him is great power to redeem.

(Psalm 130)

 

On earth as it is in heaven?

 

The line jumps out at me as I pray it tonight: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” What a startling prayer! I think of the angels and saints surrounding God the Father and the Son, utterly overcome with the magnificence of  creative power and sacrificial love, totally consumed in joyful worship. Theirs is no painful surrender to the commands of God. Theirs is . . . joy. . . fullness. This is what we’re made for.

 

What would it look like if God’s will was done in my life, here and now, as it is in heaven? If I was so full of delight in Him that each time He spoke it was pure joy to respond – an honor to be the one chosen to do his bidding, rather than work to which I drag my heels, responding hesitantly and fearfully?

 

I realized three weeks ago how grudgingly I respond. We were talking about the book I’m writing, discussing my desire that it be less about me than about Jesus, yet aware that God often uses stories of His faithfulness in the lives of others to draw us closer to Jesus. She wondered aloud whether I could perhaps think of the book as modern day flesh on the bones of Biblical truth – Jesus at the center. I groaned, “Yeah. My flesh.” It felt like a sort of death, letting my weaknesses be the backdrop against which God’s love shines bright.

 

I was sad to see in me that grudging “obedience” (if it even deserves the name). But I’m glad the words slipped past my lips. It got it out in the open, let me see another place I needed to cry to God to do in me what I can’t do in myself. And He is doing it as He usually does, bringing in His reign in me, slowly and patiently, often in ways I don’t see until later. The process of surrender still sometimes feels like death, but there’s resurrection power and joy in it now too, the joy of being with Him in it. I’m excited to see where this all leads. . .

 

Pray with me?

 

Father. . . your kingdom come, your will be done in our lives with as much passion and enthusiastic joy as it is done in heaven . . .

How to find your (small) place in something big

It’s just a week-long assignment, but it might become part of my life.

 

I’ve not grown up with liturgy, though in recent years the psalms have become my daily prayer companions. But this week, slowing four times a day to pray words penned by others, I find myself breathing deep release, letting go and becoming small, welcomed into a rhythm and a call and a Body much bigger than I. I take my place as one of many brothers and sisters, all unique and all deeply loved. I am surrounded and accompanied by a cloud of witnesses, and experience the church as a minister of grace in a way I have not often experienced in the past.

 

In becoming small, I become bigger too, drawn out of my self where I can live curved inwards. Not only am I led into prayer as part of the global body of Christ, I am asked to pray for this church and the world. My own small problems attain perspective as this larger call breaks into my self-centeredness. It helps me do what I intend but too often fail to do: embrace the privilege of bringing a needy world into the welcoming arms of Jesus. It gives context for this intercession, too, reminding me of God’s sovereignty and love, and helping me release the world’s burdens into the arms of God.

 

It’s not all smooth. Sometimes the disciplined slowing rubs up against my old way of being in the world and I find myself wanting to hurry through to get back to “real” work, even in the absence of truly pressing deadlines. What in me resists being still before God even when I love it and want it? Does my ego still need to find identity in accomplishing tasks rather than receiving identity as gift? I have seen that the fruitful life and the busy life are not always one and the same.

 

We read it together, the surprising description of the kingdom:

“This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain. . .” (Mark 4:26-29)

 

A fellow student speaks, reminds us that (thank God!) the coming of God’s kingdom does not depend on us. We are not able, nor are we asked, “to manage the mystery. . . . We have a role to play, but sometimes that role is a passive one: we are slowly grown in Christ. . . and then the true harvest will come.” (Lydia Cruttwell)

 

This is true grace. . . welcomed to be part, but not given responsibility for the whole. The kingdom is God’s; He alone makes it grow. I need to slow every few hours – even for a few moments – to remember that I am not God, and to bring to him the praises and burdens that fit His shoulders alone.

 

 

 

(A good resource for daily prayer, Celebrating Common Prayer, can be found here in pdf format. Click on each day of the week under the fourth main heading (“The office”) for suggested prayers and readings for each day which can be adapted as needed.)

When you’re waiting for your real life

 

Another wakeful night and unwell day, and I wonder how this all fits in with learning to really live. I thought things were improving. I was beginning to step out in new directions. Now this. Is life on hold again?

 

And I remember the truth. This is not an interruption to life. It is my life. This is not a waiting between times of wellness, times of “really living.” This day, whatever it holds, is the place where Jesus waits to walk with me.

 

And there’s this too. I always have choice. Maybe not about what the day holds, but about how to live in it. Somehow I keep forgetting, need to keep being reminded to choose again.

 

Right now, for this day, this moment, I choose love. Choose joy. Choose rest and stillness rather than fretting. Choose to live with my heart wide open to God, eyes open for how He will meet me in this place.

 

Care to join me? To see today, whatever your day holds, as your real life? To celebrate the wonder that He is our God, we are His people, and to surrender to love?

 

“O come, let us worship and bow down,

let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!

For he is our God

And we are the people of his pasture

And the sheep of his hand.

O that today you would listen to his voice!

Do not harden your hearts. . .” (Psalm 95:6-8a)

 

Giving thanks for endless gifts:

Weakness that keeps me clinging close

Pelting rain making things green

. . . and a place to come in out of it

A soft bed

Lemon-ginger tea

Friends

Meeting Him in gospel stories

Always held

 

Writing today in community:

When you don’t know how to pray


 

Everywhere, everywhere grace pours down.


 


 

 

In our struggles to pray, here too grace flows, not demanding from us what we cannot give, but giving to us what God demands. For Christian worship is . . . our participation through the Spirit in the Son’s communion with the Father, in his vicarious life of worship and intercession.” (James Torrance)

 


 

 

“. . . God comes to us in Jesus to stand in for us and bring to fulfillment his purposes of worship and communion. Jesus comes to be the Priest of creation to do for us, men and women, what we failed to do, to offer to the Father the worship and the praise we failed to offer, to glorify God by a life of perfect love and obedience. . . . Jesus comes as our brother to be our great High Priest, to carry on his loving heart the joys, the sorrows, the prayers, the conflicts of all his creatures, to reconcile all things to God, and to intercede for all nations as our eternal Mediator and advocate. He comes to stand in for us in the presence of the Father, when in our failure and bewilderment we do not know how to pray as we ought to, or forget to pray altogether. By his Spirit he helps us in our infirmities. . . . 

 

He calls us that we might be identified with him by the Spirit, not only in his communion with the Father, but also in his great priestly work and ministry of intercession, that our prayers on earth might be the echo of his prayers in heaven. Whatever else our worship is, it is our liturgical amen to the worship of Christ.

 

This is the ‘wonderful exchange’. . . by which Christ takes what is ours (our broken lives and unworthy prayers), sanctifies them, offers them without spot or wrinkle to the Father, and gives them back to us, that we might ‘feed’ upon him in thanksgiving. He takes our prayers and makes them his prayers, and he makes his prayers our prayers, and we know our prayers are heard ‘for Jesus’ sake’.”

(James B. Torrance, “Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace,” p.1-3)