“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
10-16 Sing to God a brand-new song, sing his praises all over the world! Let the sea and its fish give a round of applause, with all the far-flung islands joining in. Let the desert and its camps raise a tune, calling the Kedar nomads to join in. Let the villagers in Sela round up a choir and perform from the tops of the mountains. Make God’s glory resound; echo his praises from coast to coast. God steps out like he means business. You can see he’s primed for action. He shouts, announcing his arrival; he takes charge and his enemies fall into line:
“I’ve been quiet long enough. I’ve held back, biting my tongue. But now I’m letting loose, letting go, like a woman who’s having a baby— Stripping the hills bare, withering the wildflowers, Drying up the rivers, turning lakes into mudflats. But I’ll take the hand of those who don’t know the way, who can’t see where they’re going. I’ll be a personal guide to them, directing them through unknown country. I’ll be right there to show them what roads to take, make sure they don’t fall into the ditch. These are the things I’ll be doing for them— sticking with them, not leaving them for a minute.”
Movies, books, it doesn’t matter—I LOVE a great story.
Think about all of your favorite stories. They all have certain things in common, don’t they? Good guys and bad guys, disasters with all kinds of potential (if not actual) hazards. Twists and turns in the plot with questions, questions, questions. What will happen next?
Yes. To have a good story, one that really captures your imagination, you must have all the elements of risk and uncertainty, plus truckloads of unanswered questions that lead up to that suspense-filled finish.
Now, think about your story.
The one you and God are in the process of writing.
The story you call: My Life.
If you’ve been on this planet any length of time I’m guessing your story has had its share of ups-n-downs. Perhaps there’s already a good pile of debris with many well-intentioned-risks that DID NOT turn out the way you had originally planned, yes?
But isn’t that the thing about a good story?
Doesn’t a GOOD story need a few spectacular disasters here or there with a few unexpected cliff-hangers thrown in for good measure? Wouldn’t a story with everything predictable and nothing spectacular be, well, boring?
Now, shall I tell you something really strange?
This seems to be what most Christians want, a nice safe, predictable, boring life, with “certainty” being the rule rather than the exception! And, when they don’t get what they want? This is the point in the story where “the experts” (whoever “they” are) tell us that most Christians give up! Yep, they bail out. Abandon ship. God didn’t come through so, “See yah.”
There seems to be a growing trend for “the faithful” to bail out on their faith. Especially when everything they thought was going to happen, didn’t.
Right where the risks tanked, and all seems lost, and God did not come through like they prayed and believed He would so, “See yah God.”
Apparently yonder hills are scattered with former “sheep” wandering disillusioned, disappointed and discouraged; let down by themselves, others, and yes, even God.
Or, so they think.
Can I confess something? That was me once-upon-a-time.
Thrown into my own (much unwanted) holocaust, beat up, and left for dead. Angry, disappointed, and disillusioned, this is the point in my own story where I was sorely tempted to give it all up and walk away. In the Shadowlands of confusion, pain, and yes, even anger and disgust, where contradiction seemed to rule my every thought and emotion, right there in those dark shadows, where dreams and hopes had withered and died. Where people had lied, disappointed, and disappeared. Right there, in the middle of my story, I was reading, “The End.”
Mighty powerful temptation—giving up.
It’s a wide road. Well populated. Well traveled. Dark and shadowed.
We look at our story’s “first draft” and wad it up, intending to pitch it out, and say, “No good thing can come out of this mess.”
I was watching a great movie over the holidays called, The Shadowlands. It’s the love story of C. S. Lewis and Joy Gresham. Lewis is an Oxford professor, published and successful writer, a sought-after lecturer, living at the heights of his career. Smugly sure of his beliefs, sounding off to others with lofty phrases about God and His ways, until… everything crashes. Everything he believes about God gets shattered by brutal reality. Suddenly he finds himself out in The Shadow Lands with a God he does not recognize and does not want to know. He’s caught in the grip of darkness and pain with no miracle or escape on his horizon.
Enter Joy with his answer!
Not an answer he wants to hear but the answer he needs. She tells him that “The pain now is part of the joy then.” She is speaking of heaven but I started thinking about her statement.
Isn’t that the answer for all of us who find ourselves stumbling through the dark pages of our own story? We imagine and plan a storyline that doesn’t involve pain or disappointment. We want to write happily ever after’s only. No dark disappointments, please. I’ll take bliss and certainty every time.
But aren’t the dark pages an essential part of the greatest stories?
What if that’s an essential part that turns a good story into a GREAT story? Isn’t it at least possible?
And, if God is the one writing the story of our lives, isn’t the temporary part of our journey through the shadowlands, the last place where we should give up? What about the end of the story?
What about the end of yours?
Isn’t the pain we experience now, out in the murky-middle, part of the joy to yet be revealed at the end?
David was chased and threatened by Saul, hiding in caves. Joseph was hated and sold by his brothers, ending up cooling his heels in a dungeon. Joshua was faithful and believing, yet made to wander for forty long years with all the carping-complaining unbelieving. Gideon was at the bottom of a deep hole wondering how did this happen to God’s “chosen” ones?
All of them—destined for great endings—yet walking through The Shadowlands of their own stories.
Knowing ourselves, our world, our task so great,
Our time so brief, ’tis clear if we refuse
The means so limited, the looks so rude
To execute our purpose,
Life will fleet,
And we shall fade,
And leave our task undone.
A young blogger, one I admire greatly for her quirky posts and deep thoughts, has me thinking. Perhaps those inner musings that ordinarily never see the light of day might be of benefit to others.
So, Rae, I dedicate this set of posts to you. The inventor of interesting questions that make me THINK rather than drift. I hope I inspire as you have inspired. To that end may we both aspire to represent a blend of humor, plus faith, sprinkled with honest doubts, in hopes of equaling a life transparent.
“Ah-hem,” so to begin.
I’ve been thinkingas I’ve spent the last ten days in bed with another miserable cold, how much I dislike it when I am put in another cycle of WAIT on ME. All fine speeches of patience set aside for the moment, “Will I ever learn?”
This is decade numero six for Pete’s sake!
Perhaps it’s my strange dreams that get me going. Fever plus Grief Leftovers makes for strange mind journeys. I see the “what” but not so much the “why” except that the past is finally releasing it’s hold on me.
That’s good, for I am longing to step into something newbut without all the baggage, or at least—not so much.
Is it possible I have one last grand adventure in me?
A Dream Splendid yet undreamed?
This cold reminds me that the spirit is willing but the flesh is indeed weak. But, I am also reminding me that Elijah did some of his best work at the last, after dark days in dim and distant cave.
For that matter, so did Moses, and Abraham, my heroes!
I don’t pray much these days because I am waiting. I don’t know what or how to pray—so even my prayers are “on hold.”
Still, I am strangely content in my dislike.
Is that even possible?
I don’t feel restive or as if I am pacing in my soul. “Thank you God!” It is indeed possible to enter into His rest.
I wonder how many there are? No I really wonder if you counted, “Would the numbers be staggering?” I’m talking about scattered “sheep.” Those who wanted to be a part of a vibrant and thriving Church, but for one sad reason or more took the back door, left the Church. Said a sad and brokenhearted, “Adios.”
I wonder if the Church is aware… or are they simply clueless?
(Do they even care?)
I saw a man come into the service one winter Sunday. Clothes rather shabby and more than a little soiled, no coat, hair long; matted. He sat on the end of the row, across the aisle. I watched to see what would happen. There had just been a sermon series about “loving others and reaching out” to the community. I wondered, “Would anyone actually reach out this man?” Had any of those high-sounding-sermons made the slightest difference?
No one approached. No one came near him. He left just as he had come, alone.
I thought, “So this is what you call loving outreach?”
Isn’t it tragic that such a large group of people who say LOVE is their highest aim, are so rude and ungracious, and dare I say it? Just downright, mean at times.
(Don’t they get it?)
I want to ask them: Do you think people don’t feel your rejection? Your condemnation? Do you actually believe that your haughty looks, and cold shoulders, don’t matter?
(Not to mention the really mean things I often hear said.)
I’m just one sheep. And I know, I’m probably going to get plenty of flack from Christians for saying these things, but I suppose that’s the point. Isn’t it?
I’m just weary of it. I’m a sheep, too, but doggone it. I don’t want to sit in a room full of people anymore with that mean-spirited “clubhouse” mentality!
(You know the one I mean.)
“Us four… and no more!”
The Super-Saints who regularly meet to show all the other lowly mortals and disgusting sinners, The So-Called-Soiled Outcasts or Lepers, just how super-undesireable, unloved, and unwelcome they are.
Dear Lord, please save us from the Super-Pious who say they are Lovers of Jesus, but who are so obviously Haters of those they consider “the great unwashed.” People who for one reason or another, fail to come up to their moral highground of superior faith and “genuine” Christ-likeness.
And you think you are going to evangelize the world?
With your loveless ultra-superior stony-stares of disapproving-disapproval?
Is that your idea of the kind of love the bible speaks about?
No wonder people are taking the back door of our churches in record numbers!
Why would they not?
“Are we really so clueless?”
(Or, …is the truth a whole lot uglier.)
Those to whom you turn up your noses? The despised? Are people Jesus laid down His life for, too. The scattered. The unwanted. The ignored. The broken. The messy ones.
(You know, the ones you are so disgusted by?)
Scattered sheep matter to God!
You may turn your backs… but my bible says God will not.
…”Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock. The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost; but with force and cruelty you have ruled them. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd; and they became food for all the beasts of the field when they were scattered. My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and on every high hill; yes, My flock was scattered over the whole face of the earth, and no one was seeking or searching for them… For the LORD God says: I will search and find My sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for his flock. I will find My sheep and rescue them from all the places they were scattered…”
Ezekiel 34:2-6, 11Ezekiel 34:2-6, 11 English: World English Bible - WEB 2 Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and tell them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord Yahweh: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Shouldn’t the shepherds feed the sheep?
3 You eat the fat, and you clothe you with the wool, you kill the fatlings; but you don’t feed the sheep.
4 You haven’t strengthened the diseased, neither have you healed that which was sick, neither have you bound up that which was broken, neither have you brought back that which was driven away, neither have you sought that which was lost; but with force and with rigor have you ruled over them.
5 They were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and they became food to all the animals of the field, and were scattered.
6 My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and on every high hill: yes, my sheep were scattered on all the surface of the earth; and there was none who searched or sought.
11 For thus says the Lord Yahweh: Behold, I myself, even I, will search for my sheep, and will seek them out.
Prayer is simply choosing to walk and talk with God in the unseen quiet places of the heart—the way it was in the garden in the very beginning.
I have always believed that God has every intention of making a garden of Eden out of our hearts, then walking with us there each day, the way He did in the beginning with Adam and Eve.
Becoming a “Christian” is NEVER about being better than anyone else, or doing all kinds of “good” things and avoiding all the “bad” things. It is about choosing each day to let God restore the garden of our heart, transforming it into what our Creator originally intended it to be—a place where love and joy, peace and gentleness, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, patience and self-control—thrive.
It’s intended to be a place where we can come out from our hiding places and walk and talk with Him, face-to-face, and heart-to-heart.
I believe this is what He always intended for us.
I am to plant the seeds by sowing my prayers. He pulls the weeds by removing my fears and unbelief. Then His Love makes a path for my feet to run home; to return and rest dwelling safe in His arms.
Now, faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
I used to call them, “the lost years.” because that is what I first believed them to be.
They were my calledaside years.
In the beginning I couldn’t see any value in them at all.
You see, I had had an important job. A job I loved. I had been serving on the staff of a large church… and I had plans. Big plans. Plans for doing BIG things for God.
Imagine my shock and dismay when God announced that was not His plan. Instead of my great plan, to do GREAT things, God spoke clearly to my heart one night that He simply wanted me to: “Go back.”
Just two little words.
(Oh, but I knew instantly the BIG thing God was asking.)
Hot tears sprang from my eyes.
“Noooooooooooo!” I shouted. (Inside my heart.) “Not that!”
God was sending me back to the place I had said I would never return to. Back to my family. Back, to care for my mother. A mother who had had little use for me as I grew up. A mother I had never understood, and who certainly had never understood me! My mother. Who was always angry. Always difficult. Always ready to bicker and fight at the slightest provocation. Me? The peace-lover? I was the one to care for her?
All I could think was, “Pleeeeeeez LORD. Not this!”
(My heart sunk to my shoes as I contemplated everything “going back” actually meant.)
Let me just say, I believe there is a day like this that comes to all disciples who say they want to follow Jesus. Jesus said, “If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give it up for Me, you will save it.” [Matthew 10:39Matthew 10:39 English: World English Bible - WEB 39 He who finds his life will lose it; and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.
WP-Bible plugin TLB] Yes, I believe there is a day for all of us, when He asks for all your shining hopes and plans to be laid down. A day when you are called to choose, obedience to Christ, above all else.
I did go back.
Spent ten years caring for my very contrary mother.
Ten years, that in the beginning, seemed to be nothing but wasted and squandered years. (Oh, but they weren’t!) I learned so many things in those seemingly lost years.
I laid my life down. My dreams. The life I had so neatly planned out.
But I found the life God had been planning for me since I was a young girl. I found the dream I had long ago abandoned.
You see, in my lonliness and desperation during those first lost years, I began to journal. Filled pages and pages to start with, with dismal tears, and blind frustrations. But as time went by my writing changed. I changed. Until one day I realized. In my seemingly wasted years… I had found myself.
I discovered her. The woman God had been creating during those wilderness years…
And, a short time after. I wrote my first book manuscript.
I actually became the dream. The dream that was God’s plan for me all along…
Not my best thing!
I am a “do-er, a planner, a list-maker”…
Action is my favorite thing!
Motion, movement, progress…
I love it!
So when God whispers to my heart, “wait…”
My heart sinks.
My fists clench.
My feet shuffle.
Why is waiting so dog-gone hard?
(Want my big list or my little one?)
When God says “wait” I get restless.
When God says “wait” my mind starts circling, pacing, looking for signals, signposts… anything!
Waiting times feel like wilderness times to me.
Deserts, where there is nothing to do but count sand dunes.
Is waiting time wasted time?
(I don’t think so.)
My waiting times have taught me some very valuable lessons.
The most important one is that: God never wastes time, He uses it.
Waiting times can be times for rest, renewal, and revival.
Waiting times can prepare us for what’s ahead.
They can, and usually are, a teaching time…
Times when God, and God alone, has my full attention.
So, right now, if God has you in a holding pattern…
If for the present you are sequestered in a quiet place…
Instead of feeling abandoned or stuck…
Instead of impatiently pacing…
Chances are that’s what God has been doing.
So He can come near.
So He can be heard.
He has been waiting.
Giving thanks, especially for washing feet is definitely not very popular—not in Jesus day and not in ours.
When I became a member of the staff of a large Evangelical Church in the Seattle area, one of the pastors I was to work with explained the 80/20 principle to me. “Basically,” he said. “Eighty percent of the work of the church is done by Twenty percent of the church membership.”
Bummer! Oh, and thanks for the pep talk!
It was going to be one of my responsibilities to staff all the church nurseries and preschool Sunday school rooms with volunteers.
Have you ever worked in a nursery of a large church? It’s changing a mountain poopy diapers, and rocking cranky babies, for the longest hour and a half of your life. It’s pure foot-washing!
I learned a lot in that job about servanthood, both from what I was lucky enough to observe and also from the assignments I was able to participate in. I was convinced “angels” walked the halls of that Early Childhood wing every single week. Some of the most beautiful people it has ever been my privilege to serve with, both women and pre-teen girls, who showed up week after week to serve some of the most helpless and needy people in our congregation. Little people, who couldn’t say, “Thank you for the excellent and loving care.”
Then there were the parents who could have expressed their thanks but rarely did. One parent stands out in my memory.
I was subbing for one of my preschool teachers who called in sick that Sunday morning when a mom came up to me at the end of the class to pick up her three-year-old. She began lambasting me about “how I didn’t deserve” to have the job I had been given on staff. I was just “a newcomer” to the church after all, and she felt there were “…so many other women who were better qualified and more deserving of the job.” certainly more than little ‘ole me! In her opinion,”I didn’t merit a job with so much prestige, and who did I think I was, anyway?”
I just smiled and let her have her say but I kept wondering,
“Should I tell her about how I have to work late into the night each Saturday to get all the rooms ready for Sunday morning? Should I tell her I’m the one that cleans the bathrooms and scrubs the toilets, because the janitorial staff is overworked and exhausted, and they too, have to work late into the night each Saturday prepping the building? Should I tell her I’m the one who takes any kid that won’t stop crying, calms, and comforts them by walking them through the building, explaining where mom and dad are, and that they haven’t been abandoned forever to these strangers? Should I tell her about all the Sunday night nurseries I take because no one is willing to work them? Perhaps I should keep track of all the poopy diapers I had personally changed that week; the rooms I painted; the hours of sewing; the extra cleaning?” You know, all that really prestigious stuff.
No, maybe not. I’ll just let her hang onto her illusions about prestige a little while longer. Instead, I prayed, “LORD, please show this dear lady that in Your Kingdom—the higher you go the lower you must stoop—even if it means patiently taking clueless-guff from a thankless mom.”