Staying close

What my dog teaches me every day.

IMG_20160526_074014915John chapter 15 is a favourite chapter of mine.  In this passage, Jesus invites us to move in closer.  He invites us to abide.  The Greek word used here means living, staying, remaining.

There is nothing frantic here.

My Labrador, Buddy, sleeps all day under my husband’s desk.  If Buddy could be on his lap he would be.  He gets as close as he can to his master and then he just stays there.  However, when Buddy goes for a walk,  he does not stay.  He runs off, sniffing everything in sight, chasing squirrels and birds.  He is with my husband but he is not abiding.   If he hears his name he will come back, only to run off again.

I see myself in both these pictures.

But with all my heart I want what John 15 is offering me.  I want fruitfulness, not withered branches.

I want the kind of joy that fills me up, gives me strength and blesses those around me.

I want Jesus to call me his friend.  I want to know what He is up to.  I want to partner with Him in His plans for this earth.  I want to be right smack in the middle of everything He is doing.

But first, there is John 15 verse 5 where Jesus lovingly reminds me that without Him I can do nothing.

Perhaps the key to abiding is believing that is true. 

When I become convinced that without God’s presence, power and provision I cannot live this life, then I will seek Him. When I am desperate for wisdom I will go to His Word.  When I really need answers I will pray.  I will seek and knock and remain and there will be no time for chasing squirrels.

When I know that every single thing I need is found in Him I will spend time with Him. I will sit close and listen and love Him and let Him love me.

 

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Beautiful buildings

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It takes wisdom to build a house, and understanding to set it on a firm foundation; it takes knowledge to furnish its rooms with fine furniture and beautiful draperies.’ Prov. 24:3-4

I don’t know if you have ever worked on a building project.  It is all-consuming.

Eighteen years ago this month, my husband and I bought an ugly house on a pretty street.  It needed to be completely redone but we saw the potential for our growing family and so we took a leap and embarked on years of redecorating, building work, dust and dirt.

And, this summer my brother and his wife finished a monumental project.  For three years they managed the building of a new medical clinic in Mexico and it completely took over their lives.  They are incredibly proud of the end result but so happy to be finished!

Building a clinic can teach you a lot about life.

That is because there are so many darn decisions!  Some are really, really important and some are not and you have to know which is which.  Some decisions take a lot of thought and some just need to be made quickly so you can move on.  Sometimes those decisions have a knock-on effect that you didn’t anticipate. Building projects of any kind can have tricky junctures that need to be navigated and problems that block your forward motion until you solve them.

And so it is with our lives.

Proverbs 24.3-4 beautifully reminds us that we dare not built without God’s wisdom, knowledge and understanding.  It is above our pay grade.  

In Exodus 35.31 we see that the craftsmen working on the tabernacle needed supernatural wisdom, knowledge and understanding.

Proverbs 3.19-20 tells that creation was formed using wisdom, knowledge and understanding.

If you look up the meanings of wisdom, knowledge and understanding you will see definitions like skilful, shrewd, insightful, intelligent, cunning, aware of the facts, thoughtful, sensible, practical, well-fitted and stable.  

Like Proverbs 24.3-4 so beautifully describes, we are all building things. We are building marriages and families and ministries and careers.  We are helping our children build their futures and faith-walks.  We are constructing relationships and characters and legacies every minute of every day, either consciously or unconsciously.

These precious projects need insight, skill and thoughtfulness.  They cannot be thrown up or they will fall down.  Foundations need to be laid well, structures need careful planning and layouts have to practically work or they are no good.  There is so much to think about, how do we manage it all?

We read in Ecclesiastes 4.12 that there is a strength in the number three and I believe there is a durableness to our lives when we look for our wisdom, understanding and knowledge from three places –

God’s wonderful, perfect Word,

really great advice from good people

and the personal promptings of the Holy Spirit

Now, we all have our natural tendencies.  Some of us are quite independent and so we look to God’s Word and the leading of the Holy Spirit but we are not particularly interested in advice from others.

Others of us thrive on advice from books and friends but don’t take the time to seek God’s will for ourselves in His Word and in prayer.

And some of us read and follow the Bible but haven’t yet discovered the whispers of the Spirit that can help us apply Bible verses or advice for a specific situation in a really personal way.

I think that if we neglect any of these, it can make us weak and unbalanced.

Marriages and friendships, families and ministries all need a foundation of God’s way of doing things that we find in His Word.  You cannot scrimp here because it will determine the strength and stability of the finished product.  There is endless wisdom for every area of our lives found within the pages of the Bible, just waiting to be discovered and applied.

But our building projects also need inspiration.  Like the dozens of home decoration magazines I devoured when I was working on my house, we can be creatively stimulated by others.  New ways of doing things, different perspectives and clever insights are invaluable.  So, read good books and articles.  Listen to Godly advice and implement it. Ask questions of those around you who are building well.  Let wise counsel be a gift in your life that sparks solutions.

And then let the Holy Spirit breathe life into it all.  Listen to His sweet voice as He gives you insights that will transform situations with the resurrection power of God.  Allow Him to show you not just how to do things but when to do them.   Let His voice guide you personally.  Listen and follow.

Every day we are building things.

Don’t build alone.

Allow wise people to come alongside you and help you.  Let God’s Word inform the design so that every room looks like Him.  And, eagerly welcome the still small voice of the Spirit of God.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Opinionated wedding planning

 

DSC_1069In Ephesians 5.15-17 we see that living carefully is equated with wisdom.

No surprises here.  The dumbest thing I can do is waste my precious, God-given life on things that don’t matter, right?

Today, as I was thinking about wisdom, I read verse 17 in the Amplified Bible and this phrase jumped out at me, ‘do not be vague and thoughtless and foolish’.

In verse 15 we see the opposite of this when it says, ‘Live purposefully and worthily and accurately’.

If I want real wisdom, the ability to know what is the right thing to do and how to do it, then I have to overcome the barriers to wisdom, one of which is thoughtlessness.

I have written about thoughtlessness before and how a busy and fast-paced life can often cause it.  But I think there is another, perhaps more subtle contributor to my thoughtlessness and it is a strongly held opinion.

The problem is that if I have a strong opinion about something, I don’t feel the need to revisit it.  I just re-enforce my idea, occasionally sharing it on Facebook with others who agree with me.  There is no room for listening to another point of view or gaining fresh input or even recognizing when I am wrong.

Now, when I talk about opinions, I don’t mean Biblical beliefs.  I am not talking about something I have studied in the Bible and wrestled with and prayed about and then made part of my belief system.

I am talking about all the other stuff.

I am talking about the ‘I just really think…..’ stuff.

I am talking about my politics, denominational preferences, parenting style, cultural bias and personal choices.

I am talking about the way we I live my life and the way I think everyone else should live theirs.

I don’t think there is anything more humbling than actually doing something that you have theorized about for a long time.

Like for instance, parenting.

Or marriage.

Or church ministry.

Or really anything that is hard.

It is so much easier to be an armchair pundit than to actually play in the game.

Honestly, I feel like my forties have been one long journey of replacing my not-so-great ideas with God’s loving wisdom. It has been humbling, embarrassing and very painful.

And it has been so very freeing.

You see the danger is that when I form opinions about what I will never do or what I will always do, I run the risk of thoughtless behaviour.

I risk automatically living life in a certain way, without ever questioning it.

Being thoughtful means lifting my opinions to God and letting God’s Holy Spirit breathe on them.  Then the useless, papery chaff just blows away and the wheat remains.

God, in His great mercy and love, if I let Him, gently removes anything that has no value to my life and He leaves what does.  He blows away my foolish assumptions so that only truth remains.

And actually, I can’t have both anyway.  I can’t hold onto my opinions and also seek God’s way of doing things. That’s why the Bible tells me that the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord.  I can’t ever really be wise unless I value God’s perspective above my own.

I cannot ask for wisdom with a closed hand or a closed heart or a closed mind.

Here is a small example from my real life today.   I am planning a wedding for my daughter.  It has been exciting, fun, and hard.  And as I look back over the last 8 months I can see that my biggest problem has been my strong opinions about how weddings should be done.

I dread to think how many times over the years I have voiced my wedding theories, saying how things should be done, what I like and don’t like, how the day should go, how the service should be, etc.

Those words haunt me now because it just isn’t that simple.  Weddings are complicated and there are many people to please as well as budget limitations and practical considerations.

So, one by one, my ‘non-negotiables’ have gone out the window and compromises have been made.  And one by one my silly opinions, my judgements, my ideas have been replaced by God’s perfect wisdom for this wedding for this family on October 6, 2018.

And that is so much better, isn’t it?

Because I can’t have both.  I can’t have my way and God’s way.  I can’t have God’s answers if I worship my own.  There is no space for the whispers of the Holy Spirit in life that has it all figured out already.  

Living life carefully means even my strongly held opinions must not be off limits to my loving God who sifts and divides and replaces what is useless for what is true and good.

So I choose to let Him in today.  I will let Him walk around my life and touch and restore and replace all that is not of Him.  I will let my wonderful God show me how to raise kids, spend my money, love my spouse, plan a wedding and how He has uniquely designed me to change the world.  I will learn to let God guide my politics, my doctrines and my decisions.

And then, most powerfully of all,  I will learn to give others the freedom to do the same.

Instead of opinions, I want only the voice of the Shepherd saying, ‘Here is the way.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The life-changing power of a good question

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A few years ago, in the days between Christmas and New Years, I came across a blog post that changed my life.  The house was a mess, the chocolate had all been eaten and the weather was disappointingly grey but this article was doing the rounds on Social Media and it caught my eye.

It was written by Theologian and Seminary Professor, Don Whitney.  It was entitled, ‘Ten Questions to Ask at the Start of the New Year.’

The post began with the verse from Haggai 1.5 where God’s people have neglected their relationship with God.  God uses the prophet Haggai to challenge them to, ‘Consider your ways.’

Don then encouraged us, readers, to do the same as we faced a brand new year and he suggested 10 questions that could help us consider, think about, re-evaluate and recalibrate our priorities for the months ahead.

The questions were genius but very searching.  I printed them out and hung them on my fridge and they really impacted me as I discovered the life-changing power of the right question at the right time.

Here are Don’s New Year’s questions.

  1. What is one thing you could do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?
  2. What is the most humanly impossible thing you will ask God to do this year?
  3. What one thing could you do to improve the quality of your family life this year?
  4. In which spiritual discipline do you want to progress this year and what will you do about it?
  5. What is the single biggest time-waster in your life and what will you do about it?
  6. How is the most helpful way you can strengthen your church this year?
  7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year?
  8. What’s the most important way you will, by God’s grace, make this year different than last year?
  9. What is one thing you can do to improve your prayer life this year?
  10. What single things that you plan to do this year will matter most in 10 years?  In eternity

I took the time to answer the questions honestly and I was faced with some challenging truths.  It highlighted how often I waste my time, ignore the most important areas of my life and how utterly unfocused my spiritual life was.

So I made changes, many of which are still a part of my life.  The results were transforming.

One of the ways that we can generate wisdom in our lives is to learn how to ask ourselves the right questions and then asking God for the grace to give honest answers.  It is an incredibly powerful tool and it can produce the kind of truth that sets you free.

A good question cuts through nonsense, pretence and excuses.

Just think how many times Jesus used questions to provoke thought and change or to expose hypocrisy.

We can expose hypocrisy and double-mindedness in our own lives the same way, with a really good question and a truthful answer.

And as the years have passed, I have added some more questions to my repertoire.

Here are a few.

  1. What is the enemy’s number-one scheme in my life right now?
  2. What lies do I believe about God?  About myself?
  3. Is there any area of my thinking that is habitually unBiblical?
  4. Do I have the wrong perspective on a difficult situation in my life?
  5. Why did I just overreact?
  6. How do my own personal weakness most impact my relationships?
  7. What are my blind spots and how do I usually excuse them?

These are tough questions and the answers will not be immediately forthcoming.  These are questions that need to be regularly asked in God’s presence with a sincere and listening heart.  

They are questions most of us never ask ourselves but they are questions that will change how we live life for the better.

Don’t be afraid.

Draw close to the God who loves you, trust in His goodness and dare to ask some questions.  The answers, like everything from God, will be full of love and grace and power and life.