Thursday, March 26, 2009

Response to Grief

Where do you put grief? Do you put it on and wear it like a garment? Do you put it on top your head and balance it there carefully? Do you put it on a shelf in the back corner of your heart? Or . . . Do you put it in your Father’s open, loving hands and let Him carry it for you? Yes, of course that’s what we want to do with our grief; who can carry it alone? It’s so heavy. The burden of carrying the weight of this grief is surely what leaves us so exhausted. Why else would we feel this way?—just tired all the time.

I am reminded of a passage from Hannah Whitall Smith’s book The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life. I was lucky to find the passage on the Internet just now, so I’ve copied and pasted it here for you:

I knew a Christian lady who had a very heavy temporal burden. It took away her sleep and her appetite, and there was danger of her health breaking down under it. One day, when it seemed especially heavy, she noticed lying on the table near her a little tract called "Hannah's Faith." Attracted by the title, she picked it up and began to read it, little knowing, however, that it was to create a revolution in her whole experience. The story was of a poor woman who had been carried triumphantly through a life of unusual sorrow.

She was giving the history of her life to a kind visitor on one occasion, and at the close the visitor said, feelingly, "O Hannah, I do not see how you could bear so much sorrow!"

"I did not bear it," was the quick reply; "the Lord bore it for me."

"Yes," said the visitor, "that is the right way. You must take your troubles to the Lord."

"Yes," replied Hannah, "but we must do more than that; we must leave them there. Most people," she continued, "take their burdens to Him, but they bring them away with them again, and are just as worried and unhappy as ever. But I take mine, and I leave them with Him, and come away and forget them. And if the worry comes back, I take it to Him again; I do this over and over, until at last I just forget that I have any worries, and am at perfect rest." [emphasis mine (Lisa’s)]

(This was not a column. It was a response to a family member dealing with grief.)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Praise Forevermore

Psalm 113:2-3; Blessed be the name of the Lord. From this time forth and forevermore! From the rising of the sun to its going down. The Lord’s name is to be praised.

For reasons other than the obvious (it was a long, cold winter), this was an especially long, cold winter. I’m exceedingly relieved to experience spring’s warmth, longer hours of daylight, and snow quickly dissipating into puddles of water.

It’s easy to be light hearted, joyful, and filled with thanksgiving when the earth is awakening from its frozen, death-like slumber, and new life is becoming evident all around us. This is a time of hope (yes, we survived another winter!) and excitement (have you seen your first robin yet?).

When things are good, when everything’s going my way, it’s very easy to break into spontaneous praise: Thank you, Lord! Life is wonderful! I’m so grateful for all you’ve done for me!

But what about during the hard times, the dark times? Can I still praise Him when the weather — and everything else in life — seems cold and awful?

Yes, I can — but only through an act of my will.

My circumstances do not determine God’s goodness. They certainly do not determine whether He is worthy of my praise. My emotions fluctuate from day-to-day and even moment-to-moment, but God remains the same. He is always worthy of all praise.

I once heard the definition of praise given as, “to boast about joyfully.” Our God gives us plenty to boast about in Him! If you’re not in the habit of practicing praise and don’t really feel equipped to do so, here are some passages you can read to see how it’s done in the Word: Psalm 113, Psalm 103:1-5, Psalm 145:1-3, Psalm 147:1-6, Revelations 5:9, 12, and 13b; Revelations 7:10-12.

You can also sing or recite lyrics from some of your favorite hymns or praise songs that express adoration for God: “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” “How Great Thou Art,” “Holy, Holy, Holy,” etc.

Try finishing these thoughts: “God, I praise you because you are my . . .” (comforter, healer, provider, etc.). “God, I praise you because you have . . .” (created the universe, loved me while I was a sinner, prepared a place for me, etc.). List adjectives that describe God, and use them in your adoration: holy, worthy, powerful, merciful, loving, etc.

The ways we can praise God are as varied as our personalities, and through our praise we enter into the Lord’s beautiful presence where things like long, cold winters don’t even exist!

Yada Yada

I hope that in addition to my column, you make time for other pleasurable reading. Just kidding.

I’ve been meaning to tell you about a series of books called the Yada Yada Prayer Group novels. I don’t make time often enough for fiction reading, but all my friends were reading these books and telling me I “had to” read them, so I finally gave in to peer pressure. I’m so glad I did, because the Yada Yada books turned out to be a wonderfully delightful and important reading experience.

In this series of seven novels, author Neta Jackson, introduces us to twelve women thrown together in a prayer group at a women’s conference. At the end of the conference, the women decide to continue meeting for prayer, and their lives become enmeshed in one another’s. With that many characters, readers are carried along through a multitude of experiences. There are few subjects not covered. You’ll read about homelessness, drug addiction, AIDs, spousal abuse, incarceration, racism, and death—just to name a few topics. But don’t let that list deceive you into thinking these books are depressing. No, throughout the novels, Jackson consistently keeps our focus on God’s redeeming love and His power to give us “beauty for ashes.” Jackson also has a wonderful sense of humor, and I know I laughed more often than I cried.

The audience appeal for these books is as varied as their characters. The adult women in my prayer group all loved reading them, so imagine my surprise when my teenage daughter polished off all seven books in a matter of days because she couldn’t put them down. Would men enjoy these books? I think they would, but I imagine most of the readers are women.

More than anything, the books made me aware of the importance of Christian fellowship. The characters in the books supported one another through many of life’s physical, emotional, and spiritual battles. They prayed together. They worshiped together. They loved one another. They show us a modern-day application of the early church in action and offer an example worth emulating.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Lamp Unto My Feet

“Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105).

Until recently, I used the same desk lamp I took with me to college in 1979. When that last bulb finally burned out, I was unable to replace it. Much to my sorrow, I had to retire my “vintage” lamp.

However, until I had an opportunity to go shopping, I worked awhile without a light directly illuminating my desk. I didn’t think it would be a problem; after all, I still had the ceiling light.

But it was a problem. You see, since my desk is situated in a corner of the room, the light from the ceiling fell behind me, casting a shadow over my work. I found myself straining to see well and frustrated by this lack of clarity.

I needed the light in its proper place—before me—to illuminate what I was doing.

This is what it’s like for me on days when I choose to put the Lord “on the back burner.” I think, I’ll make time for the Word later on, and I stumble through my day without clear direction, oftentimes accomplishing nothing or running into problems I might have avoided had I first sought His direction.

The Lord loves us, and He loves spending time with us, but He’s not like that screaming toddler at your knees demanding your attention. He’s not like your angry boss watching the clock to make sure you arrive on time. He’s not that unfinished project nagging you to finish it. He waits patiently, and if we choose to go on our way in darkness, tripping and falling over life’s obstacles, then I’m sure He’s sorry for us, but after all, we didn’t seek His advice. . . .

When I work, I like a well-lit workspace; I don’t like straining to see what I’m doing. To go through any day, I need to start first by being in God’s Word, which lights my way and helps me see clearly the path before me.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Am I Good Enough?

Remember when one sister named Martha was mad at her younger sister, Mary, for sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to Him teach instead of helping with all the work of serving their guests? (Luke 10:38–42)

If you’re familiar with this passage from Luke, are you as shocked as I am at how Martha bosses Jesus around, ordering Him to tell her sister to help her? Instead of the firm rebuke one might expect from the Lord, Jesus responded with compassion. He said, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” My paraphrase: “Oh, honey, I wish you wouldn’t get so upset over little things. All you need is to stay close to me; I’ll take care of everything.”

I’m afraid that too often we think God’s mad at us unless we do everything perfectly. We exert so much energy trying to make ourselves look good and trying to earn His approval when he already loves us unconditionally.

His gentle rebuke about only “one thing” being necessary isn’t to make us feel guilty if we’re not putting God first. It’s to help us understand that unless we do put Him first, we’re going to miss out on the best things: things like hearing His voice to receive direction for our lives so that He can give us His blessing and protection.

Stop beating up yourself because you can never be good enough. He loves you. He always wants the best for you. When you give Him first place in your life, His grace (His “good enough”) is what will make everything else work out in your life.

Taming the Tongue

I truly admire those of you who are gentle and kind and never criticize others. I want to be just like you when I grow up, but I’m not there yet. Too often I find myself saying, “I don’t mean to criticize, but . . .,” or “I don’t want to sound mean, but. . . .” And, BIG SURPRISE! The next thing out of my mouth is a critical statement. UGH! Why do I do that?

Ephesians 4:29 says, “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them” (NLT). Isn’t that beautiful? I want to be like that. I want everything I say to be filled with grace, love, and encouragement. What is it about criticism that’s so appealing, so hard to resist? Why this need to find fault, to tear down others, to point out their shortcomings?

In James 3:8-9 we are warned, “but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness” (NIV).

No man can tame the tongue, it’s true, but God can. I know that only His divine grace flowing through me can transform me into that person described in Ephesians 4. Each day as I get closer and closer to Him and trust Him to guide me through this life, I am changing. 2 Corinthians 5:17 promises, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

I can’t do something this big on my own. It’s a huge relief to know that God is at work, changing me from the inside out.