Don’t be Like Usain Bolt, Be like Jesus.

The realities of how our world, and more specifically our American culture, is structured are such that the demands are never ending. What concerns me in this? The church has structured herself in the same sort of way.

It’s not uncommon to have a pastor who is planting a church, while sitting on the city council board, leading local outreaches, is working on his PhD, and raising half-a-dozen kids. It is not just one missionary who feels the pressures of both her local context and her supporters, trying to meet all the needs around her by working from sunup to sundown, babysitting kids, leading worship, discipling women, running English camps, working at homeless shelters, and doing street evangelism, only to come home and answer emails after dark. It is not just one person, one family who has left ministry, the mission field, or whatever it is they were doing because they found themselves tired, overwhelmed, burned out, and disillusioned.

The needs were great and at some point, the exhaustion becomes greater. I’m worried that the people of God are going to run themselves into the ground if we keep up this Usain-Bolt-type-pace.

We may not be sensitive to the biological and physiological issues caused by overworking (which in and of itself is concerning), but I find myself confused that we don’t seem overly concerned with Jesus’ model for it either. If we’re supposed to be “imitators of God” (John 13:13-16, 1 Corinthians 11:1, Ephesians 5:1-2, 1 Peter 2:20-22, 1 John 2:6), shouldn’t the primary basis for our action, response, and engagement in ministry be that of our Lord?

Even the Gospel of Matthew, which seems focused on thematically emphasizing the works and preaching of Christ (Matthew 9:35-38), still makes space to note the significance of solitude with the Father. In one chapter alone (14), Matthew mentions twice that Christ went to be alone and even sent people away to go “up into the hills by himself to pray” (14:22). Matthew is also the only Gospel who records Jesus saying the following about life in Him:

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear and the burden I give you is light” (11:28-30).

Even the writer who seems predominantly focused on the scope of what Christ is doing finds it necessary to record that He offers rest.

For all of that, Matthew has nothing on Mark and Luke when it comes to recording Jesus’ pace and emphasis on being alone with the Father. Mark’s description about the life and ministry of Jesus includes different details than Matthew, often recording the ways Christ not only pursues rest Himself but often calls out His disciples for neglecting self-care and having an improper orientation. We don’t get a chapter into Mark and we already see the city stirring for the presence of Jesus, the disciples eager to send Him out before the people. Christ’s first response is one of movement away: “We must go on to other towns as well, and I will preach to them too. That is why I came” (1:38).

Another example of this sort of pulling away, even from places of considerable stirring, is in Mark 6. The disciples come back to Jesus, excited about the ministry that they’ve just gone out and done (6:7-12). Yet, Jesus’ response is not one of enthusiasm, planning, or eagerness to send them back out. There seems to be little focus on the needs of the villages. Jesus calls out the apostle’s orientation and need for rest. Honestly, he seems more concerned with the fact that they haven’t eaten:

“’Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.’ He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat” (6:31).

IMG_6360

Are we comfortable with the idea that there are times in Scripture where Jesus moves away from places where we perceive potential fruitful ministry? That there are places where people need Him, need the Holy Spirit, and need healing, and we see Him walking away? This isn’t to say that Jesus ever moves or acts lightly; when He walks away from a city or a crowd, He’s not being neglectful, unloving, or unfaithful. Even in His humanity, He is still God. He knows the will of the Father because He’s making space to hear the Father. We see Christ underscore that in places like John 5:17-23 and John 8:28-29.

A missionary mentor in Asia wrote the following once: “The need is not the call. The call is the call.” A mom to some incredible, adopted children, she has constantly been bombarded with questions of why she closed the doors on taking in more children. After all, if anyone could do it, she could. The Lord could do it. And gosh, look at the need. But that has been exactly her point: We aren’t called to look at the need, we are called to look at Jesus. There’s always need, and until we reach eternity, there is always going to be need.

Our view of maximized efficiency and meeting the most needs aren’t the same as the Lord’s. We don’t see things like He does (Isaiah 55:8-9). The needs of the world orient us towards our calling and the heart of Christ, but if we keep our focus on them then it is no wonder why people don’t last more than two years when serving in ministry. Jesus was acutely aware of every need and we see Him stopping to meet needs when the Spirit, the same Spirit that lives inside of us, compels. He’s not afraid of interruptions. But it is always rooted in rhythms of rest and a nearness to the Father. He’s also not afraid to say “no” and pull away.

If Jesus, as a human, recognized his own needs and limits, where did we get the idea that we’re somehow being holy by ignoring ours?

An orientation towards calling, knowing what God is asking you specifically to do and operating from a place of intimacy with Him, makes it easier to say “no” to everything else, no matter how good or needed it seems. I’m not saying that’s easy or that I’ve figured it all out, but the more I read about the ministry of Christ, the more central it seems to become. Obedience and faithfulness may seem counterintuitive to modern principles of efficiency, but we know that God’s order is very different than ours (1 Corinthians 1:26-29). Knowing that comes from a deep and intimate knowledge of the Father and His voice.

I’m not saying that the needs aren’t important. I’m not saying that Christians should be content with laziness or apathy, or that it’s okay if our hearts don’t break at the places of brokenness in our world. Christians are not allowed to throw their hands up, shrug their shoulders, and live blind to the screams of a dying world. Our hearts should burn, leap, and weep for the world. If anyone modeled that, it’s Jesus. He felt and feels more deeply for the needs of the world and the “lostness” of the people than I ever will. His heart moves with compassion and He often welcomes the interruptions of those who call upon Him (i.e. Matthew 10:36, Matthew 14:14, Matthew 19:2, Mark 3:20, Mark 7:24-25, Luke 8:27,).

Yet, and this is what I’m concerned the church has lost, even in those interruptions, His focus is solely and unashamedly on the Father and what He is being instructed to do. There are an equal number of times where He dismisses the crowd or leaves what seems to be places of potentially fruitful ministry (i.e. Matthew 10:30, Mark 1:36, Mark 3:12, Mark 5:36, Mark 7:17, Mark 8:33, Luke 5:42).

We should pray with a fervency for all the things that are wrong in the world! We should learn to lament places of hurt and pain! We should be giving ourselves passionately and wholeheartedly to the things that God has called us to! But all of that must happen from a rootedness in the Holy Spirit, a dependence on Christ, and an intimacy with the Father. We only cultivate those things by having time and space for them. Give yourself wholeheartedly to what God has called you to do. I’m not you, but based on what I see in the life of Jesus, I find it hard to believe that He’s calling you to a-hundred-and-one-thousand things in this season, especially if it’s at the expense of your primary calling (and the place every other calling flows out of) to love and worship Him.

Christ knew the will of the Father because half of His time was spent listening for it. I see Him operating from a place of refreshment and rhythms of rest, by saying “yes” and “no” based on obedience and faithfulness, rather than the perceived needs around Him. The question for you and I then, is are we?

IMG_6330

 

summer updates

To those of you who are praying for me, planning on supporting me, or are just generally nosy, this is for you. I’m here to give you more than just the “my trip was great; it gave me lots of pieces of things to process” answer about what the Lord is doing and how the summer has been. Thank you for your patience in giving me space to do the emotional work of sifting, journaling, and verbalizing all that I needed to before being able to produce an update like this. Also, thank you for letting me do it over writing, because we all know I articulate myself better that way.

I appreciate your patience. I’m grateful for your prayers. And I literally couldn’t do this without your support. I’m going to try and move through this as systematically as possible.

First: I graduated college and moved back home.

DSC_0670

At the beginning of May, I officially checked “get a Bachelors” off my bucket list. While it was somewhat of an overwhelming time, finishing up undergraduate and graduate finals (I started an accelerated masters program in the Fall), saying goodbyes, and packing up a house where ten girls had accumulated stuff, it was also a sweet time of reflection on all the things the Lord did over the past four years. I’m so so grateful for the preparation, the growth, and the friendships that have come out of my time living at Wheaton. I can honestly say that I’m not the same person I was four years ago, for so much the better. It’s been neat (and sometimes strange) to watch my friendships transition into long-distance and to watch my friends move into new stages of life. But honestly, I’ve been ready for this movement for awhile. I started moving in a life outside of Wheaton when I began teaching with World Relief, working for the church, and meeting with sending agencies back in the Fall of 2016. My senior year was a wonderful time of sealing up that season of my life.

Despite the fact that I said I never wanted to move back home, it has been more of a seamless transition than I could have anticipated. It’s been a nice change to come home to open and empty spaces, something that rarely happened in a house full of ten girls. I’ll be living here for the next year while I finish up my masters, saving money on rent, and commuting 45-minutes to school. Part of me sees it as a time to honor my parents and all the sacrifices they’ve made over the past twenty-two years; a time to invest into my familial relationships, especially if I do end up moving overseas. One of my best friends from school will also be living here with me, so I’m pumped about that as well.

Second: we went on a family vacation.

For all the reasons this trip intended to be memorable, it was. The three siblings were reunited for two weeks, and more than that, I got to share a room with my sister and catch up on life. We got to hang out with our cousins and celebrate our grandparents. It was a meaningful time of being together. We’re fifteen years out from the first trip my grandparents took us all on and it was sweet to bring a level of closure to the season of being young, unattached, wide-eyed kids.

This trip was also significant in ways that weren’t the initial intent. This trip, though structured for leisure, was something of a mini-vision trip for me. My “spiritual senses” were heightened, as I moved through places prayerfully, aware of the work of God in them. Before going, I skyped with people working and serving in most of the cities we visited, so my radar was up in terms of where God could be leading me.

In all the years that I’ve prayed about going overseas, Europe never really jumped out on the map. After all, I’ve been willing to go just about anywhere and Europe isn’t the first place people talk about there being need. My heart has been predominately for Middle Eastern people groups. Yet, as I’ve prayed, listened, and processed the past few weeks, there’s definitely something going on when it comes to Europe. I’m not jumping to any conclusions here, but stay tuned.

Third: I “vision tripped” in Turkey.

After some retrospective reflection, these were the four goals my sending coach and I came up with for the trip:

  1. Draw me closer to the Lord and give me an increasing sense of what He’s doing.
  2. Help clarify the kind of work that I want to do/where I feel led to do it/the people groups I feel drawn to do it with.
  3. Answer questions specifically about work in Turkey and more generally about work overseas.
  4. Give me the opportunity to pray for the workers, the ministries, and the people in the city.

This trip far exceeded every one of those expectations. I could not have planned more holistic answers to every one of those questions and prayers if I had tried. It was amazing.

AF9B8BD0-D3C6-41F5-997B-D6F0FF4F409DHowever, if you heard some of my initial talk about the trip and it didn’t seem to match a sense of “fulfilling expectations,” that’s because I came back a little unsure that it had. I was viscerally aware of the “vision trip” nature of the trip, and subconsciously assumed that meant I needed to come back sure of whether or not Turkey would be right long-term. I was hoping it would be the more encouraging of the two options; how fun is it to talk about a vision trip that clarified where you’re not supposed to be?

I’m not saying that I’m never going back to Turkey or that it’ll never be “right.” I’m also not making plans right now to move over there in a year. I’m still discerning, still putting pieces together. And that’s where this vision comes up strong – it has given me more pieces, more deposits of the Lord than I even realized I needed. There is a practical side to “discerning the will of the Lord,” as well as a spiritual one. It’s been amazing to watch the Lord walk me through both.

Also, the trip was just generally really amazing. I’m summarizing a week of watching the Lord do really incredible things into a paragraph on discernment.

Fourth: I’m starting my year as a full-time M.A. student

As we head into August, I’ll be finishing up the program I started as an undergrad, graduating in May with my M.A. in TESOL/Intercultural Studies. During the year I’ll be continuing tutoring and teaching refugees through World Relief and working as the youth director for middle school/highschool ministries at my church. I’m also looking into another part-time teaching opportunity, working with kids from Chicago’s inner city.

The focus of the year, besides studying hard and finishing up the degree that makes me crazy excited, is preparation. The Lord is clearly moving and opening doors, I’m doing my best to be faithful in walking through them. I’ll spend the year, particularly the next few weeks/months, continuing to talk with agencies, skyping with more cross-cultural workers, filling out applications, and praying hard into all that God’s doing. It’s the year where the rubber will meet the road on things that I’ve been praying into for a decade.

I’m not here to presume on how it’s all going to look in six months, a year, or four years. If there’s one mantra that I’m comfortable living by it’s: “His glory is His prerogative.” I’m just here to love and serve the Lord, however He sees fit to best work that out is up to Him.

And I’d love for you to join me.

If you’re partnering with me in prayer, here’s a few points to guide you (but, as always, feel free to pray into whatever the Spirit leads):

  1. Processed with VSCO with t1 presetPray for my time with the Lord. It’s been incredibly sweet and deep to just be with Him and hear all the things He’s speaking. Pray that I would continue to prioritize my time with Him and that my ears, eyes, and heart are opened to all He’s saying and doing.
  2. Pray for my awareness of the Holy Spirit. Something the Lord has been highlighting is my need to cultivate an even deeper awareness of the Holy Spirit and dependance on His power. Pray that I would be increasingly filled with the Holy Spirit and would live my life from that place!
  3. Pray for my leadership of my youth kids. I love these students so much! There are six students moving up, which is a lot for a small group with one leader! Pray that I would be sensitive to their needs and that they would grow to love one another and the Lord in deeper ways!
  4. Pray for continued discernment and provision, in regards to the future. There are so many things that need to fall into places, things I can’t control, for me to ever end up overseas. Pray for God’s will to be done, for my faith to be stirred, and for His glory to be magnified!

how to navigate transition

I just fell down the stairs. I was walking downstairs to make a cup of coffee, my drug of choice for writing a month’s worth of Sunday School lessons, and I slipped. It’s been awhile since that happened and I forgot just how terrible it is. I slid my way down half the staircase until finally running into the closed door at the bottom. It was loud, it was ungraceful, my cloth pants only added to the speed at which I was tumbling, and more than anything it hurt.

Because drawing an analogy may give some meaning to the pain I’m currently experiencing . . .

. . . sometimes transition feels like suddenly slipping down half a flight of stairs.

You think it’s all going okay until a few steps down and suddenly you’ve spontaneously lost your footing. Once you start slipping, panic and frustration set in, as you find yourself seemingly unable to stop the fall. So you brace yourself for the crash.

Part of why I hate falling down the stairs, aside from the obvious things like throbbing pain and sacrificing my dignity, is that I know it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve done staircases enough to know they can be done with grace and poise. More than that, I’ve seen enough movies to know there’s nothing better than the feeling of walking down a spiral staircase in a ballgown and having the whole room freeze and turn to watch you descend. I may not have had that experience yet, but I’m convinced it exists and that I need a staircase for it. Not only does walking down stairs not have to be a bad experience, it can actually be a great one.

elevator-suitcaseTransitions don’t have to feel like falling down a flight of stairs. It doesn’t have to be such that you feel yourself bracing for the impact of all that is new, overwhelming, and intimidating. Transitions don’t have to be bad and rough; they can even be wonderful, if you’re watching your footing before you step.

That doesn’t necessarily mean all transitions are going to be flawless. Sometimes you slip on the stairs even when you’re paying attention. We would have much fewer funny videos if people never fell down the stairs. Sometimes a hard transition leads to the kinds of funny, transformative, growing stories that change our lives or lives later on.

Here are three principles that give my life a sense of meaning and stability. I, as a 22-year old with limited life experiences have found these things helpful, and hopefully they can help you or give words to things you should pursue in walking through your next or current life transition:

  • My relationship with the Lord and a sense of His nearness in my life is foundational and going to change.

The one thing that has provided the most stability and peace in any transition is my relationship with the Lord and sense of His nearness. When my life is oriented towards His glory, no matter what is going on, there’s a bigger sense of purpose. In that, there are two reasons that I’ve noticed my relationship with God changes during transition, regardless of how big or small the transition actually is.

One of them is harder to articulate because it’s inherently unseen. The Spirit of God often feels different in different places. That’s not to say that God is changing or that His relationship to us is different, but there are spiritual realities present in lives and places that we can’t see. Verses like 1 Peter 5:8 and Ephesians 6:12 give us a sense of these unseen realities. My relationship with God felt different in Georgia than it does in Illinois, which is different than it was at Wheaton College, which is different than it felt when I visited India, which is different than it felt in Costa Rica. The Spirit of God isn’t changing but the spiritual realities of these places changed my emotional and sensory experience of my spirituality. It’s hard to explain because so much of what’s going on we won’t know this side of Eternity, but even just knowing that my relationship with God is going to feel different in different places gives me a peace and an elasticity in being okay with those changes. He may feel closer or farther away in certain places; that doesn’t necessarily mean His proximity has changed or that I’m doing anything wrong. It means it’s okay if it feels or looks different.

The other reason my relationship with God changes in transition is more concrete: often during transition, my routine changes. A new job may mean that mornings with the Lord aren’t as viable as they used to be, or that a 6am quiet time may feel harder than an 8am one. Sharing a room with someone may mean that late night worship sessions aren’t exactly respectful or hospitable. Moving away from friends may mean that spontaneous Bible study conversations aren’t as readily available. When the places that I engage with the Lord change, my experience of Him innately changes. While we may not be able to change the spiritual realities with anything other than prayer and a pursuit of discernment, we have direct control over the patterns, practices, and rhythms of our lives. Knowing the things that consistently bring you life and revitalize your relationship with Jesus are critical in transitioning into new schedules and routines. It may look different – the time, location, and structure may change – but if you know what your soul needs, you’ll be better able to build it in during transition and keep the foundation that’ll help with your footing.

  • The people in my life and my interactions with others give my life inherent meaning, regardless of whether they’re deep or momentary.

970692_148035682052338_1915650864_n

I used to think that is was only the closest and deepest relationship that actually mattered and meant something to me, but as I’ve navigated transition, I’ve realized that it’s often whoever is standing in front of me that gives my life meaning. Things like doing work in a coffee shop so that I can interact with the barista, spreading out trips to the grocery store to talk to the clerk, working out in a popular gym, making small talk with people in the office, or listening to middle school student tell a joke make my life feel significant. These interactions don’t have to be profound; they often aren’t. They just have to be present. There’s something about standing face-to-face with another human being that gives life a sort of significance. Actively putting yourself in places where there are people naturally increases a sense of meaning, especially if you make the time and expend the energy to engage with them.

With that, taking the time to invest in deeper relationships is vital in navigating transition. Relationships take time, so take off the pressure and expectation that this needs to happen immediately. Beginning to develop meaningful relationships beyond a small talk conversation in the check-out line also gives life meaning. If this can happen before the throws and heat of the actual transition, it makes the process that much smoother. In that, don’t be afraid to let previous relationships change and shift. That doesn’t mean those relationships have to die – life-long friendships are an incredible blessing – but holding tightly to the relationships and connections of a previous season often hinders people from living into the new ones. Comparing the people of a new season to those of an old one only increases the challenge of stepping fully into what is new. Delve into new relationships with the understanding that they are not going to be the same as the people of your past, but they are critical in providing a sense of meaning and seeing what the Lord is doing in these new places.

  • An others-oriented perspective, direction, or projects shifts the focus off self and offers a sense of something bigger than just you.

Just because my relationship with God feels solid and I’m engaging with people doesn’t necessarily guarantee that a transition is going to feel smooth; both of those things can still be oriented towards me. In my experience, nothing offers a sense of meaning more holistically than focusing on others. It doesn’t have to be big and can literally be anything that orients you towards others. It can be something as simple as giving money towards something that you’re actively engaging the stories of – give towards a cause and then watch documentaries, videos, and talk with people about it. It can also look like volunteering or opening your home. Make it personal; let it be something that matters and something you enjoy. There’s lots of talk about doing things with a “savior” mentality or out of a sense of privilege, so guard yourself against that. But getting outside yourself and doing something that diverts your attention to someone or something other than you can return dividends in living with a sense of joy and purpose. Even just being aware of your co-workers, bringing them coffee because you noticed they had a hard day, or stopping to buy the homeless man on the corner a burger can offer a sense of life beyond your needs, wants, and hardships.

maddie

One more analogy for you. It’s too simplistic of a picture, since seasons, experiences, and relationships often overlap and affect one another, but it can be helpful in navigating transition: our lives are like a row of shelves and we get boxes for each season. Putting things in a new box is difficult when you haven’t completed the former one, capped it, and placed it on the shelf. If you keep looking through the old box or refusing to put it on the shelf, it only makes starting a new box that much harder. Begin a transition by giving yourself permission to sort through, celebrate, and lament that which is ending. Organize the box, label it, throw away that which doesn’t matter, and keep that which does – give yourself space to acknowledge what the Lord did beyond your expectations and that which went unfulfilled. It’ll make it easier to snap on the lid and focus your attention on what the Lord is giving you to put in the new box, whether the previous season was one of pain or blessing. Pulling out a new and empty box on the foundation of your relationship with Christ, knowing that it all may look and feel different, pressing into your interactions with people, and focusing on others and causes outside of yourself, will hopefully make it easier to begin filling and celebrating the new box and the work of the Lord in the new season.

Happy transitioning.

impatience.

This impatient heart inside me

yearning for answers . . . to know

unsatisfied with in-between,

spiteful of my need to grow.

• • •

The heart within me groans –

how I hate the call of waiting!

how I hate all that’s unknown!

• • •

He tells me His work is slow,

His process long and grinding,

but His providence will never fail

down these paths unwinding.

• • •

I have no cause for doubt,

nor reason to question His name,

yet my impatient heart is here again,

exchanging faithfulness for pain.

• • •

I do it to myself,

this wandering from grace.

“Oh my Jesus, take me back

to the place of resting in your pace.”

spring 2017 // maddie macmath

IMG_5698