Tag Archives: God

overseas.

I let the papers slide from my hand into the recycling bin and climbed onto my bed. Across the room I could still see the corner of the support letter papers I’d printed out, mocking me from the trash can. Pictures from previous trips lined the bottom of blank pages where I’d planned on writing heartfelt pleas for summer funding. If you didn’t want me overseas this summer, Lord, why not start with that? Why lead me to meeting after meeting, sorting through a dozen different opportunities and organizations, to find one that I was sure I sensed You moving in, only to have it all fall through?

I’ll spare you the details of my angered, and often one-sided, spats with the Lord and suffice it to say that those pleas of winter break 2015 led into what would become the transformative summer of 2016 – all without leaving Wheaton, Illinois.

You make me laugh, Jesus.

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A year ago, I couldn’t force my way overseas; I know because I tried. It was like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole – nothing fit, felt right, or worked out in the end. In typical, omniscient God fashion, He knew better. Little did I know that I needed both the refinement and redemption that would come from a summer working at World Relief in Wheaton. So, with initial begrudging, I let the Lord do what He wanted to do. I should’ve expected this, but as it turned out, the last year has been so clearly the Lord; way better than any plan I had tried to concoct for myself.

I could take you through the successive, crazy, it-has-to-be-the-Lord-because-otherwise-it-doesn’t-make-sense chain of events that has followed since the summer (but let’s be real, He’s been moving in those kinds of themes for a lot longer than the winter of 2015). I struggle to find a starting place and would you even believe me if I tried? Maybe later I’ll start writing down some of those individual stories. They aren’t necessarily grand or exciting, just lots of little moments and random connections that the Lord likes to break through in.

I’m looking at my calendar and three trips overseas sit in front of me – trips that I didn’t plan or go looking for. Trips that scream the name of Jesus and the continual call to simply trust what He’s doing. A trip to Europe with friends, better friends than my lonely and scared freshman year self could’ve dreamt up, exploring the countries where a missions organization that I’m considering works. A trip to the British Isles with family, an unexpected blessing that has opened the door to potentially meet missionaries working with refugees in a context that I’ve been praying about for awhile. And a vision trip, to a country in the Middle East, where I’ll get to experience what the Lord is doing in refugee camps up close, and tangibly discern further what He’s leading me into long term.

I say all of this for two reasons:

  1. because I would love your prayer as I go on these trips and take the next eight months to really press in, pray, and discern not only what the Lord is doing in the moment, but what He may be leading me into long term. It’s all the normal prayers for direction that anyone with an impending graduation date (although mine is a little extended because of a master’s program) needs, with a little extra tacked on because if He’s asking me to raise support and move halfway around the world, that can feel just a little daunting. (If you want a prayer card to tuck in your bible or stick on your fridge, let me know!)
  2. because every story, be it stories of the details or the overarching narrative of the past year, points directly back to the trustworthiness and faithfulness of Christ! I don’t know where you are at in terms of believing the Lord or what you need Him to do; I don’t know what He’s doing in your life or what situations of dependance He’s put you in (or perhaps you are running from). But I know this – He is more gracious, powerful, and wise than we often give Him credit for.

meeting Jesus in the quiet

I’ve become hesitant to talk so frequently about having “quiet time,” “devo time,” or “time with the Lord.” Not because I don’t think it’s one of the most important ways we can spend our time, but because it’s not the most important. In our individualistic, western view of Christianity, it’s easy to adapt a solely personal and isolated view of our faith and relationship with Jesus. We can lose a value for cooperate worship, fellowship, prayer, giving, and service when it becomes, albeit subconsciously, a me-centered emphasis. There’s a fine line, which isn’t to say that spending time alone with God isn’t imperative or universally commanded (Jesus Himself makes it clear that He needs time in solitude and seclusion with just the Father).

After all, my time alone with Jesus leads to some of the most necessary, precious, and life-giving moments of my day.

However, sometimes I believe a lie about my time alone with the Lord. I’ve been fed this idea, through a variety of often hidden means, that every time I sit down before Jesus and force myself to be aware of His Spirit, usually with Scripture open, that I should expect something profound. I’m sitting before the God of the universe and I’m told to approach with a sense of expectation. If I don’t walk away with some incredible spiritual revelation about my life or someone else, what was the point? What am I supposed to tell people about my “quiet time” when they ask?

The point of our time with the Lord isn’t anything more than our being. Stop. Period. It begins and ends with our willingness to simply show up and be. To still our hearts and minds, as best we can, and listen to Him, as best we can, because we not only affirm that He’s worth it but we prove it by our actions. We genuinely and wholeheartedly believe that He is worth our time, our attention, our hearts, our minds, and our response.

It’s less about what I walk away with and more about who I’m slowly becoming.

Ten minutes of alone time with Jesus doesn’t necessarily guarantee my spiritual rejuvenation.

What it does is remind my soul, whether I feel it or not, that I’m the Beloved. It reminds my spirit what His voice sounds like, whether or not I feel like I’m hearing it in the moment. It sensitizes my soul to His nearness. So that when His whispers and nudges come in the midst of the noise of my daily life, I’m more able to recognize it.

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known and loved.

I have this theory about life, which I’ve likely borrowed from any number of books or lectures I’ve heard over the past 21 years, and here it is:

our deepest longing as people is to be known and loved.

We live busy, rushed lives where these things often get pushed to the wayside. Meaningful connections and moments are replaced by a hurried pace and self-absorbed actions. Our deepest desires manifest themselves in other ways as we seek to be known by others – through what we post on social media, through the way we talk about ourselves, through self-promotion of the things that give us confidence. All of that stems out of a longing to be unconditionally loved; when we don’t feel that kind of love, we question whether or not all of us is worth loving, and we engage in subsequent image management. If we control what people know then by a strange association we can control their love. Thus, we continually seek approval, relationships (whether emotionally or physically intimate), and anything else that enables our desire to either run away from engaging in deep knowing/loving of others or to pursue it in ways where we still maintain control.

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So tonight, I find myself curled up in my Clemson blanket, next to a candle that I’m not technically supposed to have lit, in the sunroom, writing out a tentative plan for highschool small group tomorrow. I’m drawing from Bonhoeffer’s God is in the Manger for themes of waiting, hearing, and the season of Advent in general. I’m intentionally leaving space at the end of the time for the girls to reflect and develop a personal awareness to the movement of the Holy Spirit in the space we’ve allotted for that kind of thing. The tentativeness of the plan comes from a desire to the let these girls, on the precipice of adulthood, have some level of say in what their small group looks like. If they want to talk about something else for two hours, that’s fine. I’m flexible.

As I’m hitting a sweet spot in terms of typing out potential questions and spaces for their engagement, I realize there’s a foundational principle that I want to keep in mind, both in my planning and in the way I lead the time tomorrow. So, I scroll back to the top of my note and type: “remember, the goal is that these girls would leave knowing that they are both loved and known, not only by me but infinitely more so by the incarnate God of the universe.” It’s a principle that I want guiding not only this youth ministry but every action of my life. To do whatever I can in making people feel known and loved, whether thats intimate relationships or passing interactions, for the sake of reflecting but a shadow of the love and knowledge that our Creator has for us. He’s El Roi, the God who sees us. How can I choose to see others so that they might feel His presence?

Yet as I sat in the sunroom tonight, typing out that simple reminder, it was like a tidal wave of grace overcame me:

“you know that’s true for you too Maddie”

I can’t adequately explain when Jesus speaks in these kind of moments; I just know that I’m never the same. Because when He says things like this, it touches on the deepest parts of who I am. Everything else slips away as I sit in the presence of my incarnate Savior, the One who indwells my faithless, sinful, fragile being. And yet, it’s that being, every intricate part of it, that He knows more intimately than I can imagine and loves more deeply than I will ever understand.

Because when we spend our days focused on making others feel known and loved, it’s easy for our souls to forget just how deeply we are known and loved ourselves. While He demonstrates that love in a myriad of ways, not the least of which is lavishing love upon us in community, there is something fundamentally central and profound about the depth at which He, El Roi Himself, knows and loves us.

I don’t know about you, but that truth feels overwhelmingly enough for my soul. Now, for the grace to walk in it.

Tuesday Night Devotional on Community

One of the blessings (and honestly one of my favorite parts) of being a Christian Education major is the regularity with which we hear and plan class devotionals or lessons. For my Tuesday night Spiritual Theology class, I had to lead closing reflections and prayer this week. These passages from Bonhoeffer had been on my mind recently and as I prayed through them, I realized it was what I should share with the class. Wouldn’t you know, the topic of the class session was the church and Christian community. . .

“In the Christian community thankfulness is just what it is anywhere else in the Christian life. Only he who gives thanks for little things receives the big things. We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts He has in store for us, because we do not give thanks for daily gifts. We think we dare not be satisfied with the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience, and love that has been given to us, and that we must constantly looking forward eagerly for the highest good. Then we deplore the fact that we lack the deep certainty, the strong faith, and the rich experience that God has given to others, and we consider this lament to be pious. We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts. How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from Him the little things? If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we under God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for all of us in Jesus Christ.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

I am all about expecting God to do big things. I have a firm belief in the power of prayer and the call of believers to intercede for things that seem impossible. I think we often forget that the one we speak with is He “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20). 

That being said, Bonhoeffer is onto something here that I think is a real danger for Christians, especially those living in Christian community. Honestly, the more prominent and pervasive the community, the easier it can be to fall into. We formulate these expectations of what our community should look like and we are left disappointed and frustrated when it doesn’t happen. Or when we realize the people around us are messy, broken, sinful people that are capable of hurting us and letting us down. We start asking God to move in big ways, peering over to see what He will do like a kid on Christmas morning. But we miss what He’s doing right in front of us. In praying for the Red Seas to part, we miss the ways the Lord is loving us and moving in the midst of our everyday (whether that’s in Egypt or the Promise Land).

The people that the Lord has put around us are a blessing. They are a privilege. Christian community is not something we deserve, have earned, or are good enough for. There are hundreds of thousands of believers around the world who are lacking fellowship with brothers and sisters.

I get it – your community may not look the way you want. You may be living among broken people and in messy situations, situations where you are expecting God to move in mighty ways. God may not be bringing the relationships you want, whether that means He’s not bringing them at all or He’s bringing different ones than you wanted. Or maybe your community is amazing and you are in danger of elevating the people in your life on an unrealistic pedestal.

I’m convicted by Bonhoeffer’s words about receiving both the big and small things from God. The thing is, I often can’t see the small things with my own human vision (how often do I even miss the big things!). Which means that this growth is going to require the Lord’s grace and Spirit to open the eyes of my heart to see all that He is doing.

The good thing is, He loves to do that.

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