Tag Archives: God

I’m Glad Jesus is Okay with the Journey

David’s obedience didn’t start with being King of Israel.

Abraham’s faithfulness didn’t start by carrying Isaac up the mountain.

Their stories are more than just peaks and valleys. When we limit them to such, we miss the progressive nature of it all; we miss the emotional process that were their lives and walks with God. In any given description, Abraham is either “faithful father of our faith” or “weak, doubting father of Ishmael.” David is “King of Israel after God’s own heart” or “adulterous murderer.” Their process of trusting God was so much more than that.

The problem isn’t necessarily that we limit their stories to the peaks and valleys, but the ways that that narrowness distorts a view of our own stories. It allows for illegitimate comparison, where we can be someone with “more” faith than Abraham when he sleeps with Hagar, “as much” faith as Gideon when he puts the fleece out twice, or “less” faith than David standing before Goliath. It doesn’t do justice to the fact that our incredible God is one of patience, grace, and commitment to our human processes. It makes it about us.

The kingdom of God isn’t comparative. It’s not about how “big” of a jump we’ve made into trusting and obedience. Because, ultimately that “bigness” is relative anyway. Jesus offers us grace for the moment.

The reality is that human faith is never perfect. Abraham and David have valleys because there’s a lot of humanity mixed into our divine obedience. Lest we ever think that our trust in the Lord has anything to do with the righteousness in us or that we’re too committed to obedience to screw it up. Let me reiterate to my own heart: it. is. not. about. me.

So, when we put the stories in the context of the journey, we see growth. And growth is encouraging because it reflects our own walk with Jesus.

David’s faith began back in the field, when he trusts God to help him watch over the sheep in his care. It grows again when he is anointed by Samuel, while Saul is still on the throne. It grows, yet again, when he stands before Goliath. And again, when Saul is threatening his life and David is on the run. He didn’t start with the faith of a king after God’s heart. David started by being obedient to the thing that required the biggest amount of faith in front of him, whether it was sheep, a warrior, a king, or a kingdom. By the time David gets to the death of his child or the death threats of his other child, his eyes are so oriented towards the Lord that the outcome of the faith matters less than the Object of it. He’s intimately acquainted with God and that’s what matters.

It’s the same thing with Abraham. We hail Abraham for his unquestioned willingness to sacrifice Isaac, but that action is the result of decades of putting all his hope and trust in the Lord, not the promises themselves. He’s willing to leave all that he knows in his homeland to follow God, which was the biggest act of faith that he could probably envision at the time. His faith is tested again when God promises him a child – with a twenty-five year waiting period attached.

It’s not just the stories of Scripture that encourage me in this, either.

There’s a missionary whose example, story, and unquestioned dependance on Jesus have, quite literally, changed my life. She’s seen God move in powerful ways through her wholehearted commitment to Him. She believes that Jesus really is who He says He is and that He moves when we’re in positions to need Him to. I see the ways she doesn’t question the promises of God and the ways she walks in bold expectancy for impossible things. I’ve seen the outcomes of that faith (and they’re incredible). When I’m doing the comparison thing, my faith feels pretty weak next to hers. My current walk of trusting feels less like a peaceful stroll and more like a jungle. The vines and thickets are barricading doubts, questions, or anxieties that seem to keep popping up in my heart. Somebody hand me a machete, please.

But, the Kingdom of God isn’t comparative. He’s asking me to depend on Him in the places that feel the biggest, for me, right now. Right now, I don’t need the faith of Abraham on the mountain, David on the throne, or a missionary before a whole system of injustice; I need the faith of a twenty-three year old before future-deciding applications and a faithful, gracious God.

Trusting Jesus in the decision to go to Wheaton five years ago felt like a crazy leap of faith. It was far, expensive, cold, and I had no first-hand experience with the campus or anyone who’d been. Deciding to go was all about obedience to Jesus, not my plan. None of it made conventional sense and people didn’t hesitate in telling me so. I knew that for God to get the glory, I couldn’t be in control – but, at the time, it felt like I was jumping off a pretty intimidating ledge. At the time, I would have been hard pressed to envision a decision that required more faith. Signing that deposit was a wholeheartedly peaceful and uncomfortable surrender.

My seventeen-year-old self was not ready for the rhythms of trust that I’m walking in right now. This feels a little deeper, a little harder, a little more; the jump feels that much higher. It makes me smile to think of my trust five years ago. I couldn’t have known Christ’s trustworthiness like this or what leap would be next.

Hopefully, my thirty year old self will read back on this and smile too. I hope that this step of trust feels small someday, in light of new dependance on God and obedience for His glory. I’m just glad I don’t know what that is yet.

I’m grateful that Jesus is big enough to handle the biggest thing He’s calling me to, whatever that is today and ten years from now. I’m grateful that he doesn’t compare my faith like I do. I’m grateful that the “I believe but help my unbelief” prayer was included in Scripture and isn’t unfamiliar to Christ. I’m grateful that He’s committed to the journey, even when I resent it. I’m grateful that a mustard seed is enough.

Walking with Jesus isn’t passive. It’s an active, daily dying to self and choosing obedience to the things that He calls us to, the things that feel crazy, overwhelming, or impossible. It doesn’t have to be Abraham’s mountain or David’s kingship. At least, not yet. It’s less about the “stage” of trusting that we’re in or how big the thing He’s leading us into feels. What matters is that, for whatever it is, we’re all in with Jesus.

It’s the “further up and further in” process of trusting. It’s a faithfulness that isn’t ours but that of an infinitely good, kind, and faithful God.

He can be trusted with all we are, all we have, and all we hope for, until the day when He is all of those things in us. The goal is to be one day closer to that day.

A Season of Socks?

I got a lot of socks this Christmas.

Socks are one of those Christmas gifts that get a lot of attention because of their disappointing nature. With the exception of something like a plunger, socks are one of the most lackluster, practical gifts you can get. When they’re in competition with literally any other gift, socks seem to lose every time. The younger the recipient, the more likely the loss.

In fact, the only reason that my privileged self was excited about getting socks this Christmas is because, at twenty-three and living in the Midwest, I see the value of keeping my feet warm. And when you work part-time for a church, socks can quickly become a luxury item that eats away at your budget.

What do socks have to do with anything? I think, and stay with me on this, that these next two months are season of getting “socks” from the Lord.

If you know me or are following the story, you know that I submitted an application that, at least at this point, the current plan for my future is dependent on. By early November, I had confirmation, on all sides, about specific, future missions work. Not only was it confirmation from the missions organization and the city’s current team, but it seemed like consistent confirmation Lord. Believe me when I say I’m ready to go. Perhaps even more than just “going,” I’m ready for clarity. I’m ready to move forward in the plans of the Lord, regardless of what they end up looking like.

But I can’t.

My hands are tied until at least the end of January, more likely the beginning of March.

There’s nothing else to process or pray about. The search for confirmation and discernment has been called off. There’s nothing else for me to do but wait. I’m living the epitome of “it’s out of my hands and all up to Jesus.”

I was praying, admittedly from a place of impatience, the other night. I found myself a little disoriented, fumbling around my Scripture reading and worship, in light of the question-heavy nature of my relationship with Jesus these past few months. All the sudden there was nothing to ask, no specific thread that needed pressing into.

This time is a gift, Maddie.

“Okay, sure. All my time with you is a gift, Lord. Times of waiting are always a gift.” I brushed it off. Believe me when I say that I’ve done seasons of waiting with the Lord before. But then again:

This time is a gift, Maddie.

Since the summer, my prayers have revolved around questions of missions and calling.

Come March 2, regardless of the outcome of the application, the reality of my life will resurface that.

But for two months, there aren’t questions driving my spiritual life. Everything is in a rhythm (or out of my hand). And here is Jesus, saying that this time is a gift.

 

It was only after a Holy-Spirit-inspired revelation, after I heard my answer to a friend’s “how are you doing” inquisition, that I got it. That I realized that He’s giving me a season of socks – and how simple that may seem, but how necessary it really is.

My answer to a simple “how are you doing” revolved around the future, my waiting, the application, and missions. It seems innocent enough but, without realizing it, I had linked what I may be doing with how I actually am. Those are two very different things, and they are both grasping for control of my soul and identity.

The reality of who I am in Christ had become dangerously muddled with what He’s leading me into. Season that force me to ask questions about work, calling, vocation, and ability run that risk. It is so easy for my identity to get tied up in my circumstances when, realistically, those are the things that I need the Lord to speak into. I know that in March the temptation will return to sync my identity with what I’m doing and what God is calling me to.

But, for two months, He’s all but removed that temptation.

He’s giving me a gift that is practical and necessary, however lackluster it may appear. I need a season, regardless of how short, of re-learning what it means to just be Jesus’. Because He loves me, is for me, and is good. Full stop.

I need to be reminded of what God thinks of me and what it means to be with Him, irrespective of anything else.

I’m not saying that I’m 100% sold on this “gift of socks season.” It’s a hard sell that waiting is the greatest thing in the world. Like with socks, I appreciate them a little more than I might have five years ago, but there are other gifts that I think I’d prefer. But that’s why He’s the Giver, and I’m not.

Because what could be better, what could be more necessary, than the gift of just being His?

Stop complaining and put on the socks, Maddie. Enjoy this time of learning what it means to just be with me. To be loved by me. If my love for you never went beyond this, right here, knowing that I love you, it would be enough. I want this to be a time that you look back on when the demands are a lot, when you forget that I don’t see you as “faithful servant” first. There’s nothing that you can do these next two months, nothing you have answers to, no spectacular story to share, nothing that makes you look spiritual. So find me when you feel like you have little to give, when your faith feels small. I’ve wired your for things and set about my plans in your life, which you follow in costly obedience, but Maddie, what you were ultimately built for was just to be mine. I want to teach you about the consistency of my nature in a season where I’ve given you little else to hold onto. You may not know what I’m doing, but you know who I am. You may not know what you are doing, but know who you are. Let me remind you of exactly who you are. 

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.

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.

img_5728

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… Read more. . .

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… Read more. . .

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… Read more. . .

The Power of Prayer

I hate to admit it, but I sometimes go through waves when it comes to prayer. I wish I could say I am 100% prayer warrior all the time, but if I’m honest, I have to say I go through seasons. Sometimes I believe prayer has the power to change the world and the idea… Read more. . .

So It Begins Again

It’s so good to see people in the dining hall. To bump into people between classes. To have familiar voices filling our apartment stairwell. To listen to my friend’s stories. To give big, lingering hugs to people I’ve come to know as family. The boxes have been unpacked. The textbooks have been purchased. The dekes… Read more. . .

In the Stillness of Summer, He is God

My journal is sitting on the table beside our guest bed. It’s been mostly unopened all summer. My Bible sits next to it. It’s not much better. And there’s this tension, because it’s not that I’m running away from Jesus. But am I actually running toward Him? There was something soothing about the busyness of… Read more. . .