Thursday, November 24, 2011

Suddenly Silent

My cold left as quickly as it had come, but it took my voice along with it in passing. It’s been a long time since my vocal chords have been that silent. Try as I might, I could produce only the smallest of sounds; a mere whisper that failed repeatedly to express my thoughts, my needs, and my increasing frustration over the situation. Obviously unable to call off work over the telephone, I dressed and showed up for duty, leaving it to management to decide if I could fulfill the requirements of my job in total silence. But common sense warned me that when you work in a grocery store and it’s just ten days before Thanksgiving, as long as there is breath in your body and you can stand and scan groceries, there is no going home for something as inconsequential as a bad case of laryngitis. Behind the register I stayed.

Throughout the long day I thought a lot about the situation that was a mere inconvenience for me, but for many is a way of life. There are multitudes of people around us who have no voice in society because they are too young or too old or too sick or too poor to capture its ear. In their frustration over their failure to make themselves heard they instead make choices that we condemn or commit acts of violence against themselves or others that leave us wondering what went wrong and where we failed to provide the help and the hope that was so desperately lacking in their lives. Surely God wants us to stand up for those who cannot speak for themselves, to right the wrongs we see and have the power to do something about when He tells us to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly before Him. (Micah 6:8)

We are all born with something to say and an entirely unique way of expressing our message, one that is refined when we are born again with a purpose to declare the works of the Lord through the gifts and talents He gives us to do so. Yet we have an enemy who works to steal away our voice and silence the message that God would have us bring forth. His attacks may be physical in nature, through sickness and disease, hoping that we become too weak and ill to pursue our callings. Some of us are defeated by discouragement over the effort it takes to get across what we are trying to say, causing us to simply give up. Or he may enter through a chink in our spiritual armor, a weakness in our faith that leads to sin and a fall from grace. Over and over again of late we’ve seen on the political stage, in the sports arena, and in celebrity circles how a wrong choice somewhere down the line resulted in a ruined reputation, a career brought to an abrupt close, and opportunities to influence brought to an end. While a tragedy on an individual level itself, there is a domino effect on those who might have been helped or touched in some way by our lives had our voices not been silenced and our opportunities to speak not been squandered by the mistakes we made.

Thankfully we serve a God of second chances. As I found out today, you can get your voice back. Mine has returned slowly but brings with it a new appreciation of an ability I previously took for granted and gratitude towards the people who helped me in its absence; those who made calls for me on the intercom, encouraged me to rest it when I had the chance and passed me water or cough drops. God used my minor physical affliction to remind me that in the kingdom realm we speak in many ways other than just those that involve vocal chords, not the least of which is the emotional, financial or spiritual support we offer to God’s actual mouthpieces. We see in God’s Word that the spoils of war go to all who took part in the victory, not just those fighting on the front lines.

My Day of Total Silence ended on a humorous note. A male customer brought his groceries through my line and was tickled to discover that I couldn’t verbally respond to him, saying, “How can you be a woman if you can’t talk?” I let his comment pass with a (silent!) laugh but was reminded on a spiritual level that I can’t be all that God created me to be without my ability to speak on His behalf.

A spiritual voice is truly a gift to be treasured. Use it, don’t abuse it, and be very careful not to lose it.

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.”
(Matthew 5:13)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Be Keepers

God can sometimes speak a message using no more than two letters placed side by side.

The first such combination to get my attention was one that most church-going Christians are familiar with…the P.K.‘s, or Preacher’s Kids, among us, a segment of society with unique characteristics and traits based on their experiences while growing up in a minister’s home. But in the 1990’s the P.K.’s I heard about all the time changed to the Promise Keepers, a movement aimed at encouraging men to be true to their promises to God, their wives, and their families. Then my kids turned into teenagers, and one in particular spoke nothing but the language of B.K., or Burger King…and it was in that period of my life that I very nearly became addicted to the Whopper Jr. with cheese. Maybe it was the promise that I could have it my way that drew me back again and again. But lately the King has been drawing me with another message using the letters B.K., one that has little to do with burgers and fries. Instead it centers on the importance of living life His way, specifically in the area of being my brother’s keeper.

It’s first in Genesis that the question of our responsibilities to our siblings arises, when God questions Cain concerning the whereabouts of his brother Able, and he responds with the query, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” It’s a question God is still answering in the affirmative today.

To tell the truth, the past thirty days have been pretty rough on many of my spiritual siblings, those likewise born into the family of God who are walking the road of faith beside me. Day after day has brought little but bad news in hospital rooms, doctor’s offices, emails on my computer and text messages on my phone.

Clearly there are some things God expects of us in response. To start with, He desires that we keep an eye on our brother, to know where he’s at, spiritually rather than physically. That means, of course, that we watch our brother’s heart, not so much his comings and goings. This can only happen if we communicate regularly and have built a relationship between us, so that we are able to talk freely and honestly about the difficulties we’re having and the struggles we face without fear of being judged or condemned.

The second expectation then is that we keep our brother’s confidences to ourselves, to be people who can be trusted not to divulge that which has been shared in private conversations and counseling sessions. We’re to help keep our brother on track, steering him back on course when he gets distracted or knocked about by the cares of this world. It might be up to us to just keep him moving, to pick him up and help him along when he feels like dropping out of the race or giving up on the Christian life completely. In order to do that, of course, we have to be keepers of our own spiritual lives, that we continually have something of value to share. All of the above can be summed up in Christ’s command that we simply keep loving one another as He has loved us.

In fact, the only way we can do as God expects is to keep our eye on the one Brother who taught us how to live a life of loving others. Just as He said He did nothing except that which He saw His Father doing, so should we keep our eyes focused on the Jesus we see in the Bible constantly loving, lifting, and leading others, and who now lives in our hearts to spur us on to lives of the same.

God’s purpose in this is two-fold. He wants us all to make it to the spiritual finish line, of course. But His heart is moved by those who have yet to even enter the race. It’s His hope that they will see Him in the love we have for one another (John 13:35) and be drawn by His Light on their own dark days.

Finally, God expects us to keep our brother in prayer. A lot of the people I love are in difficult places right now, and I approached my devotional time this morning with a heavy burden on my spirit as a result. Not surprisingly, God had the solution ready and waiting for me. He told me to list those whom I was most concerned about on the open page of my prayer journal. Obediently I wrote the names of four people whose needs were foremost on my heart, acknowledging again my complete inability to alter the life situations of any of them. On a post-it note I then was told to write out the words of my favorite verse: Be anxious for nothing, but in all things, through prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6,7) Next I was instructed to tape the note paper on top of the names I’d written moments earlier. When I did so, I noticed that I was unable to see the problems I’d put down earlier, covered as they were by God’s promise of peace through the simple acts of prayer and thanksgiving.

A couple of hours later, I stopped at the local Starbucks, noting that it was shortly before noon. I was surprised to see the store nearly empty, so used am I to the long lines of the early morning hours when people are looking for a hot pick-me-up on their way to work or school. But I believe that it’s never too late for a latte, especially when pumpkin spice is on the menu, and as I placed my order I soon realized that fewer people in line meant more time to chat with the brew master behind the counter. Nodding my acceptance to his offer of an extra shot of espresso, I asked how his day was going.

“Well, I’m standing up. And I know where I am. So I guess it’s a pretty good day,” came his somewhat surprising reply. My heart, so recently released from the weight of its worry about others, suddenly laughed in response. My “brothers” and I, despite the situations we’re facing together, are likewise still standing. And it doesn’t matter where we are, because we know Whose we are. Truly that makes all the difference, and any day, no matter how difficult, a good one indeed.

“…I am yours…“ (Psalm 119:94 NIV)
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