Wednesday, June 22, 2011

About that....

Every now and then I get a wild hair and I clean out closets, rearrange my office shelves, or just generally go through stuff and de-clutter. Amazing the things I find buried in my back rooms and upon shelves, pushed far into the back unreachable spaces. I have often re-found something that I had been missing for quite some time and determined to make a place for it at the edge of the shelf instead of the dusty back.

Come to think of it, I do that with God. It's natural, I suppose, that when things are clicking along and doing well I tend to keep God up in His space on the shelf. I can handle these little things, I think. I keep Him up there until it gets dire and I feel strangled, arms tied to my sides, afraid to move at all, lest the binding get even tighter. Then, and only then, do I reach up to that shelf and bring my Lord down to where I am, begging Him to free me from the mess I have created.

Is that really how God wants me to be? Keeping my Christianity compartmentalized and tidy, only bringing Him out when it's convenient or when I deem it necessarily urgent enough? I know that is not true. God wants to be in my life continually. He wants to sit at my side, not be locked away on a shelf somewhere. He created me to be a companion to Him, to walk with Him, to share my desires, my needs and my thoughts with Him. God rejoices in the times I ask for Him to guide me and to complete the tasks I know I cannot. He desires my fellowship and He celebrates in earnest when I choose Him as my confidante and companion.

So how then do I take action and remove God from the dark and dusty closet to the foreground of my everyday life? This is where the rubber meets the road, and that road can get pretty darned bumpy so you might want to buckle up!

I think you know what to insert here... Prayer. Yup, broken record here, but it is a very valid point. Prayer is the first thing I can immediately insert into my day in order to keep God in the foreground. I don't mean that I walk around with my eyes in continuous closure, or mumbling to myself. I mean I pray in my thoughts. I attempt to keep an ongoing dialog with my Father as if I were talking to myself about all the things I have to do today. I find that God chooses at times to rearrange my schedule around His purposes if I do that. He gets the things done on His agenda and His timeline, not necessarily my own. Sometimes they coincide and I too get to check off items from my to-do list.

Second, resist the urge to reserve certain instances for conference with God and keep other things firmly in the realm of the World. The instant I do that, I am reaching up to shelve my Savior and tie His hands. God will not intrude upon me to force me to listen to Him. He has his ways of rattling that shelf, but if I choose not to open the door and take Him down, He will not force me. As I have said before, God wants me to CHOOSE Him. In making that choice I am telling Jesus that I trust Him.

Thirdly, I have to remember to take at least three deep breaths when I am upset before I respond to anything. During those three deep breaths I can ask the Father to guide me, the Holy Spirit to give me words and Jesus to give me compassion for the other person. Even when I am not upset that would be an awesome practice to get into... Can you imagine how many careless words would go unspoken if only we could do that simple exercise? Remember, simple, not easy!

Last, I have to constantly picture God sitting patiently in my living room waiting on my return. I mean no disrespect in this manner. What I am trying to visualize is the fact that the Father WANTS my company. He doesn't need me, He is God, after all. He WANTS me. That is a powerful picture and concept to get my mind around. If I truly had a physical representation of Christ sitting in my living room, would I really ask Him to leave the room while I dealt with some stuff? I don't think so! Would I keep God waiting if I knew he was sitting in my living room, wanting to talk with me? Absolutely not! However, when I don't pray, when I compartmentalize my Christianity, when I respond in haste I am passing by my Lord who is waiting on me to choose to come to Him. He holds every answer to every question I could think to ask. Whether He will indulge me enough to answer any given inquiry is His prerogative, it's my simple job to be available and open to listening to what He has to say.

Monday, June 13, 2011

God's Shelf

A man was worshipping in church one morning when suddenly he was carried away. The surrounding music and atmosphere faded imperceptibly into the background of his mind as he was swept along a long hallway, following a man robed in white before him leading the way. Not so much from the way he looked as the way he carried himself, the man could identify that this was his Lord, Jesus Christ.

The Son of Man was beckoning to him now, eager to reach the end of the hall where a well populated knick knack shelf hung, full of many figurines. it seemed to stretch on for as far as the man could see. Once they reached the shelf, Christ began taking down each figurine, presenting it to him with immense joy and pride. There was a small woman, dressed very obviously as Mother Theresa, her blue and white habit settled about her wiry frame and an eternal look of peace upon her wrinkled little face. A tall, thin man had to have been the representation of one Billy Graham, poised mid-sermon, his shock of wild hair belying his passion for the Lord. There were many more as Christ shared with the man, putting them back in their places carefully but not before he had turned each over to reveal an inscription he lovingly stroked. From where the man stood, it looked like each inscription was the same, though he couldn't quite make it out.

Walking the length of the shelf the man came upon a misshapen glob of clay. He couldn't tell but it seemed that the work had been abandoned, left unfinished in the dimly lit hallway and it had begun to take on an unpleasant odor. While the other figurines had glistened and shone in the darkness of the hallway, this one was dull and lifeless and not at all a work that the man wanted to reach out and touch - in fact, he was repulsed by it. Before he could walk away, however, Jesus put his hand upon the figurine and lifted it just as gently as he'd done with all of the other works he was so proud of. In disbelief, the man watched as Jesus caressed the nasty, odorous glob of unfired clay. His expression was one of absolute adoration, as if only Christ could see the beauty within this vessel.

It was then that the man realized with a sudden clarity that the misshapen, ugly, unfinished work the Lord held so tenderly in his palm was indeed a representation of himself. HE was the unfinished work, reeking of his own sin and willfulness, his pride and his hardened heart. Yet Jesus didn't shy away as he found himself doing. He caressed and looked lovingly upon it, as if it too was as pristine and beautiful as the others they had marveled upon together. Christ reached forward with the figurine's bottom held forth, the inscription clearly readable now. "Cost me everything," was delicately scratched into the surface like a potter's mark. As the man began to weep, Christ placed the unfinished figurine back in its place on the shelf among many other recognizable saints.

In a moments time the man returned from his vision to the worship service, still engaged and yet fully consumed by what he'd just seen. The revelation rang a clear message to his heart: It didn't matter what he had done or what contributions he'd made, Christ saw him as an invaluable part of the family of God. No one person was more valuable than the next, no matter what their lives had produced, how famous they were or how pious they seemed.

You are just as valuable as the man in the story. I know that is terribly hard to believe, but God sees you, not with the eyes of man, but with the eyes of a doting Father. I know, I know, "But you have no idea what I've done!" I don't have to. God knows everything about all of us, and if he can still love me, I know he will love you too.

Each of us has a special place on God's shelf and we must remember that comparing ourselves to other members of the Body is not productive or admirable. We each have talents and works of our own that no one else can complete for us. Remember, when you are tempted to compare yourself to others or even when you are tempted to look upon someone else as unworthy of God's love and grace that Christ looks with unfathomable, unconditional love and tenderness upon you and wants you to do the same for yourself and others. We are all a vital part of his family and we all have value, whether we see it or not. And really, what we see doesn't matter - Only that He sees us and loves us in spite of it. Thank Christ today for loving you no matter what you fall into. I know I will...

(Story related with permission.)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

When Yes becomes Yikes!

We've all been there, haven't we? Said "yes" one too many times and found ourselves overwhelmed and frustrated because nothing is turning out as we expected... I know I have. In fact, it is something I struggle with daily because working from home seems such an innocuous situation. I talk myself into thinking that I have so much time that I can do all kinds of things, often many more than I can actually accomplish in a 24 hour day, forgetting that all of us must schedule in sleeping... oh, and eating... and potty breaks... Ugh. See how it happens?

Time is a precious commodity. One that none of us will ever have enough of, it seems. In American society, you are considered a slacker if you aren't somehow busy 24-7. If you take time out during the day to nap, you are looked at as if there is a physical ailment you must have acquired. If you have only one job during the day, you must also have hobbies that keep you running from place to place with much ado during the evenings and weekends. Time wasters are bad, bad things and we must continually keep an eye out for their ugly little heads to rear up when we least expect them to, when some of the best time wasters relieve so much of the stress we have saddled ourselves with.

Time is only one part of the "Yikes" factor, however... I have also found myself stuck in the position of doing things that are definitely not mine to do. I am often easily manipulated by guilt, the needs of others or again, that pesky inference that because I work from home, I can do all manner of "extras". There are things that I get added to my plate because God asks me to step out of my comfort zone and stretch, but that isn't what I am talking about here. I am talking about doing things that are definitely NOT a God given employ.

For example, I once decided that since the pastor of our church had often announced a need in the church nursery and since I had given birth (twice), I would fill that void. I reported to the nursery, I watched the children, I played and I read stories. I held adorable babies and rocked in the rocking chair - and I was absolutely miserable! I had no heart for ministering in this way. I wasn't negligent, I wasn't unqualified, I simply wasn't gifted for that type of ministry. I had to admit to myself after a few weeks that I was simply filling a void with my body that my soul had no joy in. It was hard to leave that post because I was afraid I was letting so many down, but ultimately God spoke to my heart that I was in the wrong spot. I had tried to say "Yes" where God did not give me permission to do so.

So what do I do when I feel that pull to do more in the day than I have time for? What do I do when I see a need I think I can fill with my body because I have skills to complete the task? How do I protect myself, my family and my heart from the "Yikes" factor before I am knee deep in a situation?

First, I pray. This is of course, easier said than done and it is a habit that isn't fully formed in me as yet. I have to remind myself that when I feel a time crunch coming on I need to stop, drop and pray! I immediately ask God to stretch my time, so that I might get done those things that I have committed to do. I ask that His will be done when my will seems to be so muddled and confused. Then I make a list. I list out the details of the task and pray for God to reveal things that I might delegate to others, if any, and places where I might consolidate two tasks to one. After I have completed the list, I get to work! Prayer is necessary, lists are helpful, but putting rubber to the road is paramount to finishing what I started. (That is, if God doesn't answer the prayer by providing someone else to take the reins.) Once I have completed the task, or failed miserably at it - depending on how big the "yikes" is, I sit myself down and I pray once more. "Lord, how do I not do this to myself again? Was this a task I planned poorly or was this something I did in my own flesh, by my own will and not something You would have chosen for me?"

Depending on His answer I have some choices to make. I can choose to listen to God's answer and be obedient, or I can continue on in my own way, figuring that I will eventually find myself right back in the position of "Yikes" once more. The next thing I get to choose is my response to the situation. There will always be others who try to foist their own "yikes" upon you. A friend of mine uses her list here. She simply checks it in light of the current request, and if it isn't on the list, she politely declines to add it. This keeps her "yes" a "yes" and keeps "yikes" politely on someone else's plate.

Let's face it, saying "no" is hard and not something most folks are comfortable with. It is so much easier (and somehow more acceptable) to say yes and suffer rather than face someone and say no. I try to keep in mind that God has special things that only I can complete for Him. He has special things that he wants to give others. If I am continually doing those things that I am not called to do, I am in effect stealing someone else's thunder at a task that they are better suited for than I could ever be! I miss the opportunity to see God glorified in the most wonderful ways when I allow myself to wallow in the "Yikes."

Enjoy your "yes's" so much more once you learn to say no to the "Yikes" factor.