Closed for Remodeling

I never imagined when I began writing this blog during my tenure as editor of Pray! magazine that it would still be going seven years later. But, by God’s grace, it is.

At the beginning of each new year, I’ve asked God if He wanted me to continue writing. The answer has always been “Yes”—until now. I’d been sensing recently that perhaps it was time to slow down, pause, or even stop. When I asked God a month ago, the first thought that came was “sabbatical.”

I’ve never had a ministry sabbatical. So I pondered that idea. And that’s when I realized that I’d been at it for seven years—seven, the biblical number that signals it’s time to rest, to let the earth go fallow so it can replenish.

Shortly after hearing about a “sabbatical,” I had a dream. I have lots of dreams. Most of them are not significant. But I can tell when there’s one that I need to pay attention to, and this was one of those.

I dreamed that I had inherited an old house—it reminded me of my grandmother’s, which was probably built in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s. The house seemed to be in nice condition, good order, and in unremarkable, but pleasing style. At least on the first floor. But when I went upstairs and opened the door to the master bedroom, I gasped. The room was a complete wreck. It looked like a cyclone had swept through. Furniture toppled. Paper bags, and boxes scattered. Clothes shoved into corners. Broken and useless stuff strewn everywhere.

Dismayed, I gingerly started picking through the rubble. To my surprise, I found a jewelry box overflowing with beautiful precious and semi-precious stones in gold and silver settings. I discovered some breathtaking wood carvings made from exotic woods. Against a wall, a shelf full of rare, vintage Steuben glass. I don’t remember anything after that, probably because I woke up.

When I asked the Lord about my dream, He responded not exactly with words, but with a distinct impression. I’d been pondering recently what it really means for God to abide in me, to dwell in my heart by faith, to live in me, hope of glory. It seemed to me that He was showing me that there are parts of my “house” that are messy, cluttered, and scattered. But amidst the disarray, there are treasures He has hidden there. Treasures He wants to uncover and display. But first the clutter—the distractions that take too much of my time and attention—needs to go.

So, there was the answer to my question. It seems that 2017 for me includes a sabbatical from blogging. I’ll be closed for remodeling so the Lord clean out the clutter and find the valuables that have been hidden under too much stuff.

I don’t know at this point if this is a pause or a full stop. I suppose that is something that I’ll ask God as 2018 draws near. But that’s a ways off. For now, He and I have some deep cleaning to do.

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The Twelve Calls of Christmas

I think God told me to make a bunch of phone and Skype calls over the holidays. I can’t say for certain that the idea came from God, but it bears signs of His style of communicating (see below: “Signs That It’s God and Not Just My Imagination”).

The idea was simple: There are 12 days of Christmas—so make a list of 12 people you haven’t talked to in a long time and give one a call each day. There doesn’t need to be an agenda—just listen, affirm, and bless people.

At first I wasn’t even sure I knew 12 people who would appreciate a call like that. But I asked God for a list, and started jotting down names. Pretty soon I had the list.

My next challenge was figuring out when the 12 Days of Christmas actually are. Turns out they are the period between Christmas Day and Epiphany (January 6). Well, that wasn’t going to work too well for me, as I headed back to work on the 27th and had commitments many evenings. I needed to start before Christmas and probably I won’t be finished until after Epiphany. But I was pretty sure God wasn’t trying to hold me to the letter of His idea—just the spirit of it. So I went ahead with it anyhow.

I tracked down phone numbers, Skype handles, and WhatsApp addresses. I started checking to see when folks with super-busy schedules could talk—or if they even wanted to (one didn’t, and that’s fine). But then the fun began. And, even for phone-averse me, it has been fun!

I called my seventh-grade Sunday school teacher. I “WhatApped”* an international college student I knew from my late husband’s teaching days. I phoned a friend from high school. I Skyped a former colleague who moved cross country. I rang up my old fifth-grade school teacher. And there are still more to go.

It’s been meaningful to catch up with these old friends and mentors. I’m pretty sure they enjoyed the contact, too. And it seems to me that God is smiling on the whole thing because it was His idea, after all.

*WhatsApp is a nifty way to make free phone calls to just about anywhere in the world using WiFi and a smart phone.

***

Signs That It’s God and Not Just My Imagination

Sign one: The idea came from left field. I was just having my regular morning quiet time. I wasn’t thinking of a project. I wasn’t thinking about people I haven’t talked to in a long time. I was just reading my Bible and praying through the needs that were closest to my heart. But there, out of the blue, came this idea.

Sign two: It wasn’t my own wishful thinking. On the face of it, it didn’t sound very appealing to me. I often worry that I’m mistaking my own little pipe dreams for God’s voice. But trust me, this is not the kind of thing I long for in my dreams. I’m not a fan of the phone. I call my mother once a week—and often that’s the only phone call I make all week. So I don’t think I made this one up.

Sign three: It was an answer to prayer. Christmas as a widow is always hard. I’d been asking God to make my holiday meaningful this year. And this was part of His answer—even though I didn’t recognize it at first.

Sign four: It had great fruit-bearing potential. I realized that if I were to follow through on God’s idea, others would be blessed. I could be a conduit of God’s love to them.

Sign five: It aligned with Scripture. The New Testament is full of verses about loving one another, listening to one another, and remembering and honoring those who have had impact on our lives.

Sign six: It lined up with God’s character. God is all about reaching out to people, pursuing them, taking time for them.

Sign seven: It was much better and more creative than the ideas I typically come up with.

 

What Do You Want for Christmas?

This piece is a re-post from December 18, 2013. As I re-read it today  it was as inspiring to me now as it was when I wrote it. I hope it is good for your heart, too. 

It’s not real unusual for God to ask me questions. But I really wasn’t expecting the one that came the other day. True, I was talking to Him, but about something else. He abruptly changed the subject with this out-of-the-blue question: What do you want for Christmas?

“Excuse me? Did I hear that right?”

Yes, child, what would you like for Me to do for you for Christmas?

I was surprised, of course. In spite of the fact that prayer is, at its most basic level, about talking to God about what we need, I really wasn’t thinking about giving Him a Christmas wish list. But here He was, inviting me to ask.

I knew right away that the gift He had in mind wasn’t on the “Top Gifts for 2013” lists—stuff like Keurig brewers, iPads, and anything with the North Face® insignia. No, God is into giving gifts of the more imperishable kind. He also likes to give gifts that we could never buy (or make happen) for ourselves. And, because He’s such a good Father, He likes to give us gifts that He knows will fit and serves us well.

It didn’t take me long to decide what I really wanted. It is something that I cannot buy for myself and I cannot make it happen—I know because I’ve tried! Humanly speaking, it is pretty much impossible. Because it’s so impossible, I have all but stopped praying about it. Instead, I pray a kind of “help me endure, help me cope, build my character in this disappointing situation.”

But it would be easy for God to give me this particular gift. What I want is right and good. It would please Him to give it to me, I have no doubt about that. In fact, He would have as much pleasure watching me enjoy this gift as I would have enjoying it.

Nevertheless, I have no idea how He might accomplish it. I cannot begin to imagine how He could pull this off. But the Christmas story is all about impossible. God becomes Man? A virgin bears a child? Angels announce the news to shepherds? Wise men follow a star to Bethlehem? Christmas is all about impossible.

So I asked. I said, “Father, what I’d really like for Christmas is . . .”  and I told Him the longing of my heart. Of course He already knew . . . and I think maybe that’s why He asked me in the first place.

How about you? What do you want from God for Christmas this year? Will you ask Him for it?

A Heart Like Simeon’s

As I re-read this post from December 11, 2013, I realized it is even more true for me now than it was when I wrote it three years ago. May you, dear readers, also long for a heart like Simeon’s. 

I want to be more like Simeon. He knew his priorities, he had a ton of faith, and he knew how to wait. Luke says that he was “waiting for the consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25). In other words, he was waiting for Israel’s promised Messiah. He was an old man. I get the idea that his main reason to get out of bed every morning was the hope that this might be the day Messiah would come—the day he had prayed for all his life.

Simeon hung in there. It had been more than 400 years since the last promise about Israel’s consolation had been given. It’s questionable just how many people were still holding onto that hope. I mean, four centuries is a long time. For me, if something I’m waiting for doesn’t happen after a few weeks or months, I’m prone to give up and move on to Plan B. But Simeon never stopped hoping and waiting for what God had promised.

I am sure that Simeon’s faith pleased God. Why? For one thing, when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus at the temple, Simeon was the first person to whom God revealed the incredible news. The Holy Spirit personally revealed to Simeon that this little Baby was the One, the Messiah, the child on whom the hope of the entire world hinged. We can’t help but sense his joy when he holds God’s Promise—all seven or eight pounds or so of Him—in his arms.

“Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel” (Luke 2:28-32).

We, too, are waiting for the Messiah. It’s been a long time—centuries—for us, too. I have to admit that waiting and praying for His coming are not usually on my front burner. I’m not at the temple every day (as it were) straining my eyes and begging heaven for His return. I haven’t actually given up on His coming—I know that someday He will come back—but it’s all too easy for me to busy myself with other things, to settle down and try to make the best of things here in this broken world. I definitely don’t think about His coming all the time like Simeon apparently did.

God probably wishes I would, though. After all, Paul says that there is even a special crown–the crown of righteousness—that the Lord will give to all who have eagerly waited and longed for Jesus’ appearing (2 Timothy 4:8).

But what might that hoping and praying and longing look like?

I think it might involve a deep longing to be with Jesus. Sure, He is present with us now, though the Holy Spirit. He is near. He speaks to us. We see Him working. But still, it’s not the same as seeing Him face to face. It might be the difference between a Skype conversation and sitting next to a loved one on the couch. I want to be with Jesus up close like that.

I also think it is a deep longing to have His kingdom come fully and His will be done fully here on earth as it is in heaven. We get glimpses of that from time to time, but the full realization of it will only happen when He comes the second time.

And I think it is a deep longing to be like Him. Yes, bit by bit, we are being transformed into His likeness. But it is only when He appears that “we will be like Him because we will see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).

There’s probably a lot more reasons to long for His appearing, but those are enough for me to get me started. Thinking about what it will be like when He comes again really does stir my heart. And so a good Advent prayer for me has become “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20). That, and “Lord, give me a heart like Simeon’s, that won’t be content until I see You face to face.”

That Explains Everything

As we continue into this Advent season, I offer another oldie but goodie–a piece I posted on December 10, 2014. If you ever feel as if you need God to explain it all, this post is for you.

I like to have answers to everything. If I can get an explanation that makes sense, I can usually accept things, even things I don’t like. But if I don’t understand, it’s hard for me to get on with the program. It’s just the way I am wired. I need to understand.

At least I thought I did. But my Advent readings this week have caused me to reconsider.

“‘How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

Fair question, right? And Gabriel’s answer?

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. … For nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:34-37).

I tried to put myself in Mary’s shoes. What would I have thought if the angel gave me that response? I imagine my first reaction would be, Yeah, but how? That doesn’t exactly explain everything, you know!

But that wasn’t her response. Instead, she humbly accepted the angel’s reply. With no further questions, she submitted herself to the mysteries of God.

As I’ve been pondering this amazing scene over the past few days, God has quietly been reframing my thinking.

The answer to your “How?” questions is always the same, Child. I will do it by the power of My Spirit. Just as the Holy Spirit hovered over the formless, empty darkness to bring forth creation, and just as He hovered over Mary to make My Word become flesh, so He hovers over the concerns you pray about. You can’t begin to understand the details of how I work—but if you trust that My Spirit is working, that will be enough. It was enough for Mary. It can be enough for you, too.

I thought about the different situations and people I pray for. As I brought them before God this time, I pictured the Holy Spirit hovering over them. In my mind’s eye I saw Him hovering over certain cities, homes, people, projects, and problems. I realized that when He is involved, anything is possible. I don’t need to understand the mechanics of how He operates. It is enough to know that nothing will stop Him from carrying out God’s good purposes for me and the ones I pray for.

And actually, that does explain everything.

The Story Ends Well

During this Advent season I plan to re-post pieces I’ve written in over the years. I first published this one on December 5, 2012.

“How can You be so content when things are so broken and messy?” I asked the Lord one day last week.

As I was praying that morning, I was picturing myself “seated …with him in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 2:6). Scripture tells me that I am currently there with Him, in these “heavenly realms,” in these “heavenly places”; it encourages me to set my mind “on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:2). So, as I prayed, I tried to do that. I tried to be with Him where He is and to see things from His point of view.

His answer was simple: “I know the end from the beginning, Child. You only see what is going on right now, in this moment. But I know how the story turns out. It has a good ending. That is why I can be so content.”

I pondered His words for a few days. Then on Sunday I went to church where we lit the first Advent candle—the candle of Hope.  We sang “O come, O come, Emmanuel , and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.” I thought of the broken situations I am praying about, trying to view them in the context of Emmanuel who will come and make them all right. In the context of God who sees the end from the beginning and tells me it ends well. Hope.

That evening I read in my prayer book (Seeking God’s Face: Praying with the Bible through the Year) the advent prayer for the week: “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope” (Psalm 130:5).

“Okay, Lord, I get it, I think. You are at work. You are redeeming and restoring. That’s what your coming is all about! My part is to wait. And trust. And, instead of letting the darkness take me out, to hope.  So, Jesus, as much as Israel needed  You 2,000 years ago, I need You, we need You! Now!  “Disperse the gloomy clouds of night and death’s dark shadows put to flight!”

And somewhere in my spirit, I heard God’s answer: “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Child of Mine. That is how I can be so content. Rest in Me, little one. Wait on Me. Hope in Me. I am coming to you.”

And my soul replied, “Come Lord Jesus!”

We’ll Be Sure to Thank You

A popular prayer sign off at the midweek prayer services I used to attend as a kid went something like this: “We’ll be sure to thank You, God, and give You all the glory.” To my childish mind, it sounded sort of like a spiritual-sounding bribe—basically, God, if You’ll answer the prayer I just prayed, I promise to do some good PR for You. I never knew if people actually fulfilled their part of the bargain or not.

I don’t believe I’ve ever used the phrase in my own prayers. And I hadn’t even thought about it for years, probably decades. But, out of nowhere, it came back to me the other day as I was getting ready for Thanksgiving.

It occurred to me that God had answered tons of my prayers this year. But I hadn’t really paused very long to thank Him. Instead, with maybe just a quick “thanks, God,” I’ve returned my focus to the prayers that I’m still waiting for His response on—the “perseverance required” kinds of prayers.

But God deserves more than that. So I’ve been taking some time to intentionally call to mind all the different ways God has answered prayer this year. For instance, He . . .

. . . worked out a life situation for a friend’s daughter . . . protected me from a really close call while traveling overseas . . . husbanded me countless times when the single life was overwhelming . . . brought anointed partners to do ministry with . . . inspired countless writing projects . . . gave wisdom in decision making . . . put a friend’s son back onto a straight path . . . started a church in a city I care about. . . worked in friends’ marriages . . . revealed Jesus to a refugee family . . . provided meaningful work to an unemployed friend . . . gave me faith to trust Him in a new spiritual challenge . . . sold a co-worker’s home in record time . . .

These are just a few. If I were to make a regular practice of intentionally noticing and acknowledging God for all the prayers of mine He’s answered, I am pretty sure that every day would be Thanksgiving Day. And I imagine doing that would indeed bless Him and give Him glory. And I know it would bless me! So here’s a prayer I hope He will answer:

Father, give me an attentive heart that sees You at work and notices every time You answer. Make me truly grateful. And as I seek to intentionally thank You for the many ways You hear and answer, may You indeed receive all the glory!