Thursday, June 28, 2012

Questionable Thoughts

Now that the kids are grown, it’s the puppy in the household that is doing all the cute stuff and hogging all the camera time. I realized this anew as I sorted through the photos available to make a calendar for my husband for Father’s Day, a gift to fuel his obsession with his dog and help while away the hours at work each day until he can come home and spend some time in canine play. Finally I found my favorite; a shot of the pup trotting across the deck with his tail curling above him like a giant question mark he carries around with him everywhere he goes.

Surely that’s the way a puppy approaches life; curious about everything, constantly investigating every leaf, bug or blade of grass he comes across. A fur-covered bundle of energy, he bounces and tumbles and chews his way through the hours of the day till he collapses in an exhausted heap wherever it is that his batteries run out, closing his eyes and recharging his system so he can give it his all once more.

While most of us aren’t nearly as photogenic or energetic as my husband‘s dog, to our Father in Heaven it must look like we similarly travel through life with a giant question mark over our heads. In  thinking about the questions we ask God and our constant quest for answers, it occurs to me that when we don’t get the latter, perhaps the issue is with the former. All through school we were told there is no such thing as a stupid question, but it could very well be that we’re asking the wrong ones. And God sometimes uses our questions themselves to lead us to the answers we seek.

Perhaps the problem is with the sentence structure itself. Many of the questions we ask fit the following format: “God, when/how/why/what/where are You going to do ____ for me? We fill in the blank with all manner of requests. We want the doors of ministry to open up, the pews in our churches to fill up, or God to simply show up in our life situations, whatever they may be. And although our questions sound spiritual and God-centered, ministry related and Kingdom focused, perhaps there is an error in their structure that keeps us waiting. Meanwhile, maybe God is waiting for us to realize what that problem is and rephrase our requests so that He can respond appropriately.

I’m no whiz at grammar, but I know that when God is the subject of all our thoughts, actions and dreams, the very center of our days, all is well in our communication. We know from Jeremiah 29:11 that He has thoughts and plans for our lives, objectives that He wants to accomplish through us; thus He rules the verb, as well. The problem, then, must lie in the last word of the sentence, specifically the object of the preposition for.

Surely when we first began our lives of service all the results achieved were clearly for Him and for His Glory. But subtly and slowly over time, things sometimes begin to change. We understandably pour so much time and attention into our ministries that gradually they grow not just in size and scope, but in the space they occupy in our thoughts and devotion, as well, until they sometimes loom larger in our hearts than the God they are supposed to be about. We gradually take ownership of that which originally belonged to Him, and suddenly the last word in the sentence changes as well, from a God-centered You to that prideful and misconceived me.

While the situation was not intentional, neither is it without remedy once we realize that such a shift has occurred. Repeatedly we must release our hold on what we’re doing and focus anew on Him in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). Our sentence structure will then reflect our belief that God is the Alpha and the Omega in our lives, the Beginning and the End, and every word and thought in-between. When we re-center our requests on God rather than on ourselves and our concerns, suddenly we realize we have the very Answer that we we‘ve been searching for, as well as God’s “Yes and Amen“ response to the queries we pose concerning His promises (2 Corinthians 1:20). 

I shook myself from my reverie and refocused on the task at hand, selecting photos, uploading them to the calendar website and then hitting the submit button to send my order on its way. Previous experience with this same company assured me that that my gift would indeed arrive in time for our Father’s Day celebration. Similarly, many of us have testimonies to prove that when we shake ourselves loose from wrong thinking and submit our refocused requests to the Father, His response will come not a moment too soon nor a minute too late, but exactly at the appointed time to accomplish what He has in mind.

When I eventually hold that finished calendar in my hands, may it remind me anew that every day of my life and all the minutes within it are securely held in His.

“My times are in Your hand…”
(Psalm 31:15 MKJV)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Sometimes Silent

The morning was cool and new and fresh, and I was enjoying its beauty, sitting on a patio chair and sipping a cup of coffee, when the peace of the moment was broken by the blare of emergency vehicle sirens. The sheer number seemed to suggest a big accident, and as I listened to them approach and then abruptly stop there was no doubt that it had occurred in the streets near our home. Quickly I said a prayer for those involved and then went on with my early morning reverie.

Later in the day a dear friend who now lives far away put out a prayer request on face book for one of her husband’s relatives who had been involved in a motorcycle accident and was fighting for his life. It wasn’t until the next day that a story in the paper made me realize that the accident I had heard the life squads responding to and the one that had injured my friend’s relative were one and the same. Truly the situation was hitting a little closer to home than I originally thought.

Sadly the injured man died as a result of his injuries, and even as arrangements were being made for his funeral a makeshift memorial was quickly developing on the side of the road near the spot where the accident had occurred. Not one, but two wooden crosses, one an intricately carved affair, were quickly being surrounded by flowers and other personal mementoes that obviously meant something to the friends who left them there. Even as I drove by the site on my way to work that afternoon I saw a red pickup truck parked near the spot and a man standing in front of the crosses, head bowed and hand over his eyes, grieving a loss that was personally hitting way too close to home.

A week passed, and Mother’s Day was soon upon us. As part of my family’s celebration we watched the movie Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, the story of a young boy’s search for answers in the wake of his father’s death in the horror of 9/11. I loved the movie, but it was the title that captivated me. In an effort to more fully understand its meaning I came across an interview with the author, who simply said that there were things in the novel that were loud and close, and likewise many things that were silent and far away. 

I thought about that in relation to the accident that was weighing so heavily on my mind. As I sat on the patio that morning, the sirens were loud and the accident site was close. In the hearts of my friends in Florida, fear was loud and prayer was close. Surrounding the lives of the family and friends of the victim over the next several days, death was loud and memories were close. And to the sorrow of the wife left behind, her husband’s voice was silent and his touch was far away.

Too often we feel that way about God, that His voice is silent and His touch is far away. And yet we are surrounded by both on a daily and forever basis.

Oskar, the little boy in the movie, asks question s of his grandmother’s aged renter, a man who doesn’t speak but writes his answers on the pages of a small tablet he carries, or holds up one or the other of his hands for a “yes” or “no” response. His inability or refusal to vocalize his thoughts frustrates the little boy. We likewise bombard God with incessant questions, and although He always answer us, we get impatient when His response is not in our timing or doesn’t come in the way we expect.

Before his death, Oskar’s dad played a continual game of investigation with him, leaving him clues and encouraging him to look harder or in a different direction for answers to the questions he posed. Our Father does the same with us. Sometimes His silence is deliberate, to get us to dig a little deeper into a subject on our own or to look at the leadings He’s given us in a new way that causes us to see our life situations in a different light. Too often we rush the process, trying to make sense of a situation to which we haven’t yet accumulated all the information we need. Time is sometimes the missing puzzle piece that eventually causes all the others to suddenly fit together into a wonderful moment of discovery and revelation. God knows that the search for understanding cements His message in our minds and hearts in a way that a simple response on His part could never have done.

Many things are loud without being audible. Colors can be loud to get our attention, for instance, and actions speak even louder than words, so we‘ve heard. God uses both on a regular basis to communicate with us. When we feel that He is quiet and distant we need only consider that it was not by accident that His blood ran a brilliant red on our behalf, but rather His deliberate intent that it be shed to span the distance between us forever, an extremely loud expression of love from His heart to remind us that He is always incredibly close to His home in ours.

“But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your mind and in your heart…”
(Deuteronomy 30:14 AMP)

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Sound of Surrender

The bridegroom stood at the altar by the side of the minister, his eyes locked on the double doors that would soon open for his bride. The bridesmaids had sauntered down the aisle on the arms of the groomsmen minutes before, visions of pink with perfectly coifed hair, their faces wreathed in smiles. The twin ring bearers, dressed to the hilt in black tuxes with black and white stuffed pillows that hung carelessly at their sides, dutifully made it down together, mindless of the little flower girl who was slated to accompany her brothers down the white runner that stretched seemingly endlessly before her.

She started off bravely enough, concentrating on the instructions she‘d been given: step, reach into the basket, drop the petals. Step…basket…petals. But the stares of the crowd on either side of the aisle began to weigh on her, and as she looked nervously around, her steps slowed, then faltered. Suddenly she dropped her basket, turned and fled back from whence she’d come.

Quickly those in the back gathered her together, retrieved the abandoned basket and set her on her way once more. A little less sure of herself this time she yet resolutely gave it another try. Forgetting the petals this go-around, she concentrated on heading for the group smiling at her from the front and made it a few pews farther than the first time before again turning tail.

The guests laughed in sympathy at the little girl’s plight and thought surely the ceremony would simply proceed without her. But the bride remained out of sight, the wedding party up front stayed frozen in position, and so the guests sat silently, waiting expectantly for what would happen next.

With an incredible show of patience, her father knelt behind the little girl, whispering words of encouragement to her as he gently but firmly propelled her down the aisle once more. “Walk down to the front, Sis,” he urged. “Walk all the way down.”

A third time she started down the aisle. But in much the same spot as the first two attempts she finally stopped, threw her head back and slammed her hands down at her sides. “Daddy, I just can’t do this!” she cried, and ran weeping back into his open arms. He swept her up and held her close before carrying her around behind the seated guests to a spot where the family sat up front, even as the bridal march sounded and the doors were thrown open to admit the radiant bride.

I’ve heard the words of that father come out of the mouths of many a minister through the years, as time and again they’ve urged the lost to walk down an aisle to receive the gift of salvation at the end of a service. Sometimes it takes a lot of courage to leave the safety of one’s seat and travel down that impossibly long aisle while strangers stare. A drawing in their hearts pulls them forward even as fear holds them back. Some march down as effortlessly as the little boys in the bridal party. But others struggle through repeated attempts to respond to the love that calls them forward.

It’s this latter group that have captured the Father’s heart and likewise have held the march of endtime events captive until the list of all of those to be involved in the ceremony is complete. Surely all Heaven is standing at attention, the Bridegroom poised and eagerly awaiting His Bride, the trumpet even at the angel’s lips to call her forth…only to find that the Father holds up His hand and puts the show on hold while He gently works with the fearful and afraid. With endless patience He gently but purposefully urges them on until at last He hears the sound of surrender He’s been waiting for…”Daddy, I just can’t do this!” It’s when we realize that we can’t get to where we need to be on our own best intentions that we are swept up and carried in by a love that made a way for us Himself. We ride in on the arms of His sacrifice, His loss, His eternal solution to our sin problem.

Looking at my friend’s wedding pictures online recently I smiled to see that the little flower girl was very much a part of the party at the reception hall, smiling in the arms of other guests, dancing with the bride, and (at last!) standing in her spot in the bridal party photo at the start of the celebration. Her struggle didn’t disqualify her, even though some of us were ready to move on without her. Likewise God makes a way for us to be included when our own failures would have otherwise locked us out. In arms spread open on the cross He carries us from the hopelessness of our tearful inabilities to a spot right up front where all the action is, where our loved ones await us and the biggest party of all is just about to start.

“The Lord does not delay and is not tardy or slow about what He promises, according to some people‘s conception of slowness, but He is long-suffering (extraordinarily patient) toward you, not desiring that any should perish, but that all should turn to repentance.”
(2 Peter 3:9 AMP)
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