Monthly Archives: January 2015

Concerning Guidance and Stationary Objects

Kind of funny, I keep finding myself asking God to guide me in all these different areas of my life. It’s become a rather common phrase in my prayers. Oh yes, I want God’s guidance in my life. I want to do His will and bring Him glory and use my talents for His kingdom and be a blessing. I want Him to show me the hows and the whens and the wheres so I don’t mess up.

But there’s maybe a teeny little problem with that. I like to be prepared. I like to know things ahead of time so I don’t look silly. And too often it translates into me wanting Him to show me everything ahead of time.

Maybe I’ve forgotten what guides do. They go *with* the travelers and show them the way *as they’re going*. Not usually ahead of time. They might give a brief overview beforehand, but usually the nuts and bolts only come out on the way. Because you don’t need most of them before then. Maybe a few, but not most of them. If you think about it, having to sit down and memorize all the specifics ahead of time would be exhausting. Kind of takes the fun out of the journey, doesn’t it?

If God is our Guide, then why in the world do we expect Him to tell us every last detail when guides don’t usually do that? (Aren’t we silly humans?) Why should we think that we have to know the future in order to trust Him and start walking? In reality, I think more the opposite is really true: if we knew the entire future, we wouldn’t need to trust Him.

But there’s nothing wrong with wanting God’s guidance. Of course we should seek it! We just need to be willing to get moving before we see all of it. See, that’s another kink in guiding someone: you can’t steer a ship that’s got its anchor down. A ship can sail in any direction (even the wrong one), and as long as its moving you can change its course; but once it drops anchor that rudder won’t be much good. God can’t lead us if we’ve got our backsides planted in a beanbag and a bowl of popcorn by our side. It doesn’t matter how willing mentally we are to be led if we’re still sitting there crunching away. We have to get up and do something, even if we’re not quite sure what that something is yet. If we’re seeking His guidance, then He’ll course-correct for us as we go along.

Sometimes God uses trial and error to guide us, and I think if we’re secure in Him the error part won’t be too terrifying. Maybe. It still scares me. But seriously, if you’ve prayed and gotten advice and sought God’s will and there aren’t any red flags, just try it. Jump in, even if you’re not sure how deep the water is. If it’s not your particular cup of tea, you’ll figure it out, and at worst it’ll be an excellent learning experience (learning that error isn’t so very bad and you don’t have to be scared the next time you jump, maybe). At best, it just might be that you’ll discover that amazing thing you’ve always wanted to do but never knew how to get there. You can’t know if you don’t start moving.

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Be Angry

I had a sudden piece of inspiration smack me the other day in the middle of filling out an application (which you may or may not hear about later, depending on what happens with that). So this morning I had an hour of free time while waiting for Sunday School to start and I sat down to tear the idea apart. Or put it together. (Actually, I mostly wrote it down as fast as I could before I could forget any of it.) It turned into a four-point, three-page somethingabob in my journal, so I figured that was a good enough indicator that I should share it here. *Wink* [note]Since this was me picking through a verse, you can be assured I’m preaching to myself all the way. I ain’t trying to pick on anybody other than myself.[/note]

Let’s start with the verse that sparked it. (Well, the idea sparked the memory of the verse which in turn sparked the rest. Kind of a chain reaction thing going there.)

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. ~ Ephesians 4:26-27

(Just so you know, I’m chopping this up into four numbered sections for my sanity and easy reference’s sake.) Okiedokie, here we go.

1. Be angry. I found this rather intriguing. Most people you meet would rather write “don’t be angry” or maybe “if you get angry” or even “when you get angry”, but goodness I’ve not yet met anyone who would tell me to be angry. That Paul would write this tells me that he understood emotions come and it’s normal. He’s not interested in quelching them, rather, he practically tells us to have them. Even the dangerous ones like anger. Yipes. Sounds kind of weird, but that’s why he didn’t end the sentence there. (Thank goodness, or we might be in trouble!)

2. And do not sin. First key word in this one: and. That ‘and’ is there to say that this one goes hand in hand with number 1. (See, I told you the numbers were for easy reference’s sake.) This is not an either/or option here. Paul just said we’re going to have emotions and it’s normal, and now he tells us not to sin while  in the midst of those emotions. I see it as a passive command – that is, he just wants us to not-do something here, not actually do anything yet. Just don’t sin. Your emotions are going to make you want to say or do hurtful, unhealthy things, and it is your responsibility to choose not to do them. “And do not sin.”

3. Do not let the sun go down on your anger. Aha, now here is our active command! Paul realized that not letting negative emotions lead you into sin isn’t enough in the long run. You have also have to actively seek to resolve the emotions, or the cause thereof. (Can I just call it resolving conflict? Thank you.) The part about the sun indicates that not only must this be active, but it must also be prompt. I have a feeling Paul probably knew first-hand what leaving emotions to fester does to a person. For example, anger left unresolved becomes a putrid-smelling root of bitterness which, unchecked, burrows deep into the heart where it proceeds to rot it from the inside out. Disgusting, yes? The only way to keep emotions from rotting out the heart is to resolve them actively and promptly.

4. And give no opportunity to the devil. Once again notice the ‘and’ connecting this point to that under the number three. Not only do we need to resolve negative emotions, and we must do so without giving the devil a foothold at the same time. What this indicated to me this morning is that resolving conflict can very easily degrade into worse. Bringing up something that someone did (in order to resolve your hurt/anger) can (and this is a slightly extreme example) turn into another screaming match if you don’t do it right. That’s a big platform for the devil, not just a little foothold. In other words, how you choose to resolve the conflict once you decide to actively and quickly take care of it is just as vital as choosing to do it at all. Communicated with all the anger and hurt the situation caused in the first place, it’s no good. (Remember, be angry, and do not sin. Venting your anger on the person who hurt you is not going to resolve this.) Yet, if you communicate with love, respect, and a willingness to understand the other person’s side of things, you’ll have quite a bit more success. And guess what? You won’t have to fall back to quickly quelching that anger. You can be angry and not sin.

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Believing “Hard Enough”

It’s kind of funny, I’ve had this subject thrust at me like three times this past week. People posting on Facebook. Thoughts that interrupt my attempt to fall asleep and result in me scrawling an illegible “believe” on my hand in total darkness. (Which same writing next morning got the line “I know that sounds like a cat poster, but it’s true” stuck in my head all. day. long.)

What is faith? You hear music artists singing all sorts of nice sunshiny things about faith and believing, but most of the time I wonder if they really know what they’re singing about. Because people make faith sound like some sort of mystical something you have to conjure up. If you can “just believe hard enough” it will come true. I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds like wishing on a star, not faith. Whups.

But really, what is faith? People always quote Hebrews 11:1 and it confused me for a long time because it didn’t really seem to give any kind of concrete answer:
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Then last year I heard someone defined faith simply as ‘dependance on God.’ “Now dependance on God is the assurance of things hoped for…” A little better, but it’s still not very clear. I think the problem is that whenever we read all these “something is something else” verses like they are definitions. Like “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” The definiton of the fear of the Lord isn’t “the beginning of wisdom” any more than “the assurance of things hoped for” is the definition of faith (or dependance on God).

Several months ago I started doing a little studying up on the fear of the Lord and in the process I sat down and looked at that verse about the beginning of wisdom. I discovered, you can replace the “is” with “produces”. Light bulb! The fear of the Lord produces the beginning of wisdom. In other words, wisdom starts with the fear of the Lord. I believe that Hebrews 11:1 is kind of the same concept. “Faith [dependance on God] produces the assurance of things hoped for…” In other words, the assurance comes *from* faith. Why? Because when you’re depending on God, you have that assurance that He will hear and answer and lead and protect and that He works all things for good.

That makes much more sense than this nebulous mental believe-really-hard-wishing-on-stars idea that we tend to have about faith. I already defined it as dependance on God, but I think there’s actually two parts to the definition of faith that you can’t quite see with that one. But let me back up a bit. That night that I scribbled “believe” on my hand in the dark; I wrote it because I had been thinking about how to define it. The definition I came up with was “to percieve something as truth and to act accordingly.” And I’m not talking about flippant ‘believing’ right now. This is believing that actually manifests itself in our lives. It’s very simple. You can tell what a person believes because of what they act on. If you percieve that the floor is sturdy enough to hold your weight, you walk across it. Now, it has nothing to do with whether or not the floor is actually strong enough – you might find out that what you “percieved as truth” was actually false…and fall through the floor. But we can still tell you believed it, because you acted on it.

Faith – dependance on God – is the same way. When you percieve His word as truth, you act on it. If you don’t act on it, you might think you believe it is truth but you actually don’t because it never resulted in action. Faith, like my amateur definition of ‘believe’ is two parts. You don’t just sit there and ‘believe hard enough’ and God will do something. Depending on God isn’t a passive thing. Yes, it is looking to Him to provide, but then it is acting on it. That’s why James wrote about faith without works being dead. Faith without works is dead (aka. nonexistent) because actions are an inherent part of dependance on God. It’s kind of like saying a campfire without smoke is dead. If you don’t have any smoke, you probably don’t have any camfire. Smoke is proof of a campfire. Actions are proof of dependance on God. If you depend on God, you will act like it.

So here’s a question. What do your actions say you are depending on?

Categories: Ponderizations | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Oh Be Careful

You can find the positive in ‘most anything if you try. I’ve been finding the positives in food allergies – they teach me stuff. (Who knew, right?) Giving up things like yummy-smelling “donettes” (I think they were cinnamon and ginger or something), artificial bacos (a rare thing in our house), apple crisp, literally dozens of Christmas cookies… That’s quite the lesson in self control right there. But I had a different lesson the other night, completely by accident. See, I’m now having to avoid tomatoes because they’ve started making me feel sick to my stomach. The other night we had lasagna for supper, and I was focused on picking out the noodles (because of the wheat) and totally overlooked the fact that lasagna has (surprise!) tomatoes in it. It wasn’t until about two hours later that it finally occurred to me why I wasn’t feeling that great.

Carelessness has consequences (as those sneaky tomatoes graciously reminded me), but not just carelessness regarding the food we eat. Careless words, careless actions, careless choices – they all have consequences. The Bible talks about the damage that careless words cause (quite a few verses on words in Proverbs), and also contrasts the fool, who is careless about life, with the wise or prudent, who is careful. Again and again God commands His people to be “very careful” that they obey Him.

I think that being careful must be important to Him. Maybe that’s why He lets us run into such obvious consequences to our carelessness, to remind us that it’s not worth it. It works, too. When we do things that make us uncomfortable, we remember the lesson. I’ll sure remember that lasagna has tomatoes in it from now on. But why is being careful so important to God?

I think there are several parts to the answer. One, is that God is not a God of chaos. The order of the universe from the planets in their orbits to the symbiotic relationships of the tiniest creatures are enough to tell me that He likes order. Carelessness, by very nature, eventually leads to chaos. (Take a look at my desk when I don’t bother to carefully put things away if you want proof of that one…)

Not only that, but the chaos that carelessness creates weighs us down and makes it harder for us to fulfill our greatest potential. For example, forgetting things you’re supposed to do until the last minute when you have to do them in a terrible hurry. You could have done them a lot better if you had been careful to remember. (And by the way, I just did this last night.)

Perhaps the most important reason is that it damages our character. Careless words, in a moment, can sweep away our trustworthiness at the same time as they hurt someone else. Careless choices and actions can destroy hard-earned integrity and discipline. And damage that can take only minutes to happen takes so much longer to repair again.

Something I’ve been seeing more and more in recent months is the need to be intentional about everything we do.

Luke 12:35-36 – “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks.

“Stay dressed for action” doesn’t sound haphazard or careless. In the next verse, Jesus says that blessed are those whom the Master finds awake when He comes. I don’t know about you, but at least for me staying awake late at night has to be an intentional thing. (Well, so does waking up in the first place.) Jesus told His disciples to be on guard, watch, stay awake, etc.

1 Peter 5:8 – Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

Our enemy is actively intentionally looking for ways to bring us down, and carelessness on our part destroys our initial defenses against him. We can’t afford not to be sober-minded and watchful. In Ephesians 4 Paul exhorted the believers to see that they did not give any opportunity to the devil. Some versions say “do not give the devil a foothold”. I picture it as a door and he’s outside with a crowbar trying to pry the door open. When we’re careless we don’t latch the door all the way, and that leaves a crack that he can fit his crowbar into.

Be careful, be watchful, be on guard, be intentional about what you do, what you fill your mind with, what you say. The consequences of not doing so can be ugly indeed, and it’s not worth it, not in the least.

I suppose that means no more lasagna for me.

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Of Plodding and Honor

Using my gifts to their fullest for my Maker – it’s a thrilling goal, and an exciting journey, especially now that I am done with college classes and have more time to put into my favorite activities. It’s an incredible thing when I find that I’m doing what God made me to do! I love feeling like I’ve found my place in His plan. To craft every picture and story as unto the Lord, and looking to Him to see just what He wants me to do with them. (I’ve considered an art business of some sort for quite a while now.) It’s exciting!

Unfortunately, the nuts and the bolts of daily living that goal out is a lot harder than I would have suspected at first. For Pete’s sake, how hard can it be to do my favorite things as a way to serve God? He’s given me so many confirmations that my writing and art are what He wants me to use, and He’s given me inspirations as to ways to use them – why in the world would that be hard? It’s not like I don’t want to do it. Sheesh, I’m totally excited (especially with a recent purchase of real watercolor paint)! So why in the world am I failing to make much progress on the projects at hand?

I think sometimes it’s because I get so caught up in the big picture of what I want to produce that I get too overwhelmed to start – or if I’ve already started, to finish. When you have this mental image of something beautiful you want to create, it gets hard to put those first hideous-looking sketches down on paper. Those first paint strokes are oddly intimidating, just because it always feels like I don’t know what I’m doing with those colors until halfway through the picture.

Writing isn’t any better, in spite of the fact that I’ve been writing for fun for I-don’t-know-how-many years. Now that I have several nonfiction book ideas writing has taken on a whole new level of intimidation. Those little words and starter sentences elude me, and I stare at a half-blank notebook page. I know the idea I want to get at, but the how-to-get-there eludes me. So I stare some more.

But the worst problem of all is probably the real reason why I’m not as productive as I’d like to be. It’s a little time-eating monster named Procrastination, and he’s the naughtiest little critter I’ve ever met. He sidles up beside me and whines, “This is too haaaaaaaard, and you already feel awful. You’re not up to iiiiiiiiit. Do it later.” Especially recently with not-that-great health and some emotional overload, I’ve been bad and listened to Procrastination. It’s so much easier to just sit and not be productive anyway… The nastiest part about this beastie is that the more I listen to him the harder it is to ignore him the next time he comes and whines in my ear. It’s sort of a vicious cycle. The more I procrastinate, the bigger and harder the project looks because I start to feel behind and overloaded with things I haven’t done and need to do. I end up procrastinating doing things that shouldn’t take fifteen minutes even, and that’s pretty silly.

Looking around at my half-done projects, I have to wonder…what happened to using my gifts to their fullest extent for God’s glory? As far as I can see, my measly progress is barely even using them at all, much less using them to their fullest extent. And honestly, that’s not God glorifying either. If I’m serious about wanting to glorify God with my gifts then I’d better get serious about using them. In spite of the intimidation factor. In spite of how I’m feeling at the time. In spite of the procrastination monster.

That means sitting myself down and sketching those first horrible sketches and taking the time and effort needed to slowly refine them and make them the beautiful pictures I envision. That means testing my paint colors and then plunging in and painting in spite of not knowing what I’m doing. After all, I can always try again if it doesn’t work the way I thought. (And who knows, it might even turn out better than I expected. You never know.) That means sitting down and writing my way out of writer’s block. In spite of the terrible writing. I can always change it later anyways. (This is why people are not allowed to read my first drafts. 😉 ) It means grinding away at my projects bit by bit until all the little bits turn into big bits and the big bits turn into finished projects.

Serving God with my gifts sometimes means trudging through the dirty work to get to the exciting goal on the other side. It’s not just about the wonderful amazing big things. More importantly, it’s about faithfulness in the little things. Learning to say a little ‘no’ to Procrastination (and slap him on the head if need be) and get on with things despite him tugging at my sleeve. It’s about praying my way through a horrific manuscript and then praying a lot more through all the editing that has to come later. It’s about plunging in anyways, no matter how I feel at the moment. It doesn’t always look very exciting. But the end results are sure a lot more exciting than the results of listening to Procrastination. It’s not easy. But if I can’t honor God by faithfully plodding on through the little things, how can I ever say I want to honor Him with the big ones? Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to spend my week painting and writing. *Grin*

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