Clarity and obscurity mingle on the horizon. Oh, we need wisdom and understanding, Lord! Sometimes the words sound right, but the spirit feels wrong. Sometimes the spirit feels right but the words sound wrong. Sometimes your greatest gifts arrive in packages easily rejected, and sometimes we delight so much in the wrapping we fail to notice the gift box contains a mere peanut. Help us, Lord!
O Lord, listen to my cry; give me the discerning mind you promised. Listen to my prayer; rescue me as you promised. Let praise flow from my lips, for you have taught me your decrees.
“I can’t pray about my problems. I was taught that it is selfish to pray for myself.”
I understood my friend when she told me this. I was also taught that asking anything for yourself was self-centered and we need to be other-centered. But at the heart of the message we were taught is the fear of not having enough to go around. Self-sacrifice can also be self-centered in a way, as bizarre as that sounds, because it is based on a fear that we will have to cover for God’s short-comings.
God is not on a budget.
While praying for ourselves and our needs can be a sign of self-focus, I am reminded of the airline stewardess’ lecture about affixing your own oxygen mask before helping anyone else. If our own love tanks are running on empty, if we don’t know how much God loves us and who we are in him, we tend to either ignore or sacrifice ourselves to meet other people’s needs, and eventually we will run out, burn out, and die out.
The problem is that we view prayer as a one-way conversation asking for things. I have learned prayer is seeking a closer relationship with the Lover of my soul. We give out of the abundance of his love. As one of my friends said “Invest heavily in worshipping God and soaking up his love, then give the interest and not the capital and you won’t run dry.” When I find myself feeling resentful of other people’s neediness and their expectations of me it is usually because I am running on empty. I need, like Jesus did, to go away and spend more time with the Lord.
As I look at the immensity of the sky I am reminded of the immensity of his love. How much sky do you need? How much love do you need? Ask. He’s got more for you than you ever imagined or dared to think. Then give freely what you have freely received. There’s more where that came from.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20, 21)
You may not have noticed but there was a shift in the world the day my mother died. It was all very well and good for her; she wanted to go be with Jesus. She sat in a lounge chair and Dad held her hand as he read a book. After a while he looked up to check on her. She had a smile and a wide-eyed look of excitement on her face as if someone special had just come through the door. But she didn’t answer when Dad spoke to her. She was gone.
There was a shift in the world that day for me because I had never known a world without my mom in it. It felt like descending the stairs in the dark, expecting the last step onto solid floor, but it was missing, and my foot dropped suddenly. Someone who had always been there suddenly was not.
Mom suffered poor health most of her life, but she did what she could and prayed for her family and nine grandchildren every day. She was a super-efficient woman with high standards. I was used to her doing all the thinking and planning. When she died I had to grow up.
I’m the grandma now, but I am not my mother, nor are my grandkids her grandkids. I learned from her and am very thankful for the heritage she gave me, but I do some things differently with her great-grandchildren. I have access to a lot of things she didn’t via internet and since the Lord has granted me health and a vehicle (in mom’s day a lot of women never learned to drive) I can go visit them and help care for them when their parents need help.
A couple of weeks ago as I drove home from my Dad’s place I passed through a forest that burned down when I was a child. Trees cover the mountains now, but only to half the height of the old burned trunks. Further down the road another devastating fire took out miles and miles of forest on either side of the road a few years ago. I cringe when I go through there now. I used to love to roll down the windows and breathe deeply the scent of pine and fir and spruce and cedar as I drove in flickering sunlight. The road cut like a narrow canyon between giants trees. It used to be such a wonderful place.
On this last trip the wonderful smell was again replaced by the acrid smoky scent of the death of more forest. I rolled up the windows and popped a stick of peppermint gum in my mouth. Another fire in the back country sent its gray harbinger of loss into my beautiful valley. I drove grimly homeward.
This week the forestry department announced intent to do prescribed burns. As much as we hate them forest fires are a natural part of a healthy ecology in this part of the world. Fire releases seeds from hard-shelled cones. It allows light to penetrate down to the earth and encourages new growth and species. Old growth forests are magnificent, but if the dead wood and debris on the forest floor is not cleared out regularly, fuel for mega-fires builds up. Younger trees growing in the shade of giants stay small and burn easily. Dry dead or diseased trees can actually explode in high intensity wildfires. They contribute to the dreaded crown fires with their own whirlwinds of flame and intense heat that jump rivers and leave scorched earth. Intense fires can go underground and smoulder for months.
Sometimes a forest needs to die in order to live. For a tree-hugger like me seeing a tall lush tree that sheltered birds and animals replaced by a branchless pole is like mourning the death of a loved one. I don’t like this kind of change being thrust upon me. I want to be able to choose when I will open the gate to change. I know I procrastinate clearing out the deadwood, but I plan to get around to it eventually.
Procrastination, alas, permits fuel to build up for major conflagrations. Some ways of doing things, like dead branches on the forest floor, no longer serve a purpose. Some unhealthy things, ignored too long, can suddenly burst into flame and bring down entire institutions we thought would last forever.
Letting go of habits and traditions and rules and regulations that inhibit growth can feel devastating. We want to protest, “But we’ve never done it this way before.” Ideally some of the big trees in the forest survive a low intensity fire and continue to give shelter, but sometimes, in the course of renewal, we face loss of the familiar. We can no longer rely on the way we’ve always done things before.
It’s called shift.
But when the light reaches the forest floor again something new springs to life. We mourn, we let go, we move on, we grow.
The Lord takes away, but in time, he always restores, and it’s always good.
Behold, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth
I tell you of them.” (Isaiah 42:9)
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:19a)
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.
The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2Corinthians 5:17)
And he who was seated on the throne said,
“Behold, I am making all things new.”
Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:5)
“We need a baptism of clear seeing. We desperately need seers who can see through the mist–Christian leaders with prophetic vision. Unless they come soon it will be too late for this generation. And if they do come we will no doubt crucify a few of them in the name of our worldly orthodoxy.” -A.W. Tozer
This has been a week of severe testing. I got a new computer.
I had to hot-wire my old one to get it started and the speaker jack only worked if I spoke to it very kindly reinserting the plug, honestly, up to fifty times to find the magic connection, then taping it there quickly before it disconnected again. Like an old person who complains you never come to visit them (when you just spent the whole day sorting their mail) and who speaks only of the past, its memory was not accepting new information or keep up with the times. It took frequent naps in the middle of our conversations.
My husband bought me a new one. Together with his nephew they worked all summer to put together a super-duper package with graphics boards and memory capacity beyond anything I’ve known before. It’s fantastic.
I just don’t know how to use it.
The new updated programs they put on don’t look anything like the old ones. I don’t recognize this Photoshop. My songs written in Finale have pretty little hearts all over the clefs instead of notes. My poetry and articles and collection of quotes and blog ideas are all on a drive in the country somewhere and my photos open in a window with a strange vista I’ve never seen before. Apparently my email is disavowing all knowledge of me as well. My bookmarks have disappeared, my iTunes is gone and I am forced to recall all my passwords. For a technophobe this week has been a nightmare. I feel so incompetent.
I lost my peace there for a while. I tend to take it out on my poor husband and blame him for inventing the computer, but he loves me and has my best interest at heart. He sees greater potential for the things I have been using a computer for than I do sometimes. (His generosity is astounding. He also bought me a new camera this summer after I dropped my old one.) I keep having to ask for his help, and sometimes, like the good teacher he is, he just tells me to go away and play around with it until I figure it out myself. (Grrr)
I was belly-aching to my daughter (who is a professional photographer and who promised to teach me how to use the professional level Photoshop) and she reminded me, “Give thanks in everything, Mom. It’s the way back to peace.”
She gives good advice. As I adjust my attitude to thankfulness and rejoicing I am beginning to see how this new computer is going to be such a blessing. But it’s like getting a promotion that requires a period of adjustment and leaves me feeling vulnerable. The panic has started to subside, and I’m becoming a little more reasonable and able to figure things out a bit.
God uses our weaknesses better than our strengths, sometimes, because when we feel most incompetent we are most willing to ask for and listen to his advice. It’s a good thing.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.
Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-17)
And I figured out how to process a photo I took down by the river this week into a black and white version using the new computer and a new program. God is good.