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.