Ask and Wait

prairie dawn

I had a dream a few weeks ago.  I went to an A & W restaurant and ordered food for myself and friends at the counter. The girl said they would bring it to me when it was ready. Instead of tables and chairs, the restaurant had beds (hey, it was a dream). Since I felt tired I lay down and took a nap. It seemed like a long nap, but when my order was ready I got up and went to pay for it with a credit card. That’s when I discovered a $50 bill in my wallet I didn’t realize I had. It easily covered the cost.

An ordinary kind of dream, but I felt like I should pay attention, so I wrote it down in my dream journal. As I did I remembered that when I was a teenager, with a brand new driver’s license, my friends and I would borrow Daddy’s car and go to the drive-in where the car-hops wore brown and orange parkas – the A & W. We jokingly called it “The Ask and Wait,” although the service was probably faster than most other places. I made a note in my journal and promptly forgot about it, until a few days ago.

Right after this dream my dear friend suddenly became critically ill with a perforated ulcer (a hole in her stomach). She said it was the most painful thing she had ever experienced. I rushed back from Alberta to be with her. The first emergency surgery looked like a success, but it wasn’t. Instead of being released from hospital after a few days, she landed in ICU with complications and then found out, when she tried to eat some apple sauce, that the hole was still there. After several unpleasant invasive procedures the plan was to wait. So she waited. We prayed and she waited some more.

The hole was still there.  I felt so badly for her laying in bed, unable to eat, hooked up to I.V.s and various uncomfortable tubes, watching room mates arrive, recover and leave. Then I remembered the dream -ask and wait, and you might as well get a good rest while you’re waiting. So her friends and husband and I prayed and  asked the Lord for healing, and waited together, and learned to rest in God’s love. (She was better at it than I was, but I wasn’t sedated.)

Finally doctors proposed a more drastic surgery that would remove part of her stomach and intestine and scheduled another surgery. After it was postponed due to other emergencies with priority for the O.R., one of the specialists ordered another test to check on the size of the hole. This time the message was good: no hole found. It had closed “on its own.”

I think finding the $50 in my wallet was about finding unearned provision -God’s grace when we needed it.

Learning to rest in the middle of trouble is not a natural response for me -nor is shouting for joy. My upbringing valued decorum more highly than emotional expression. I’m more likely to fold my program into smaller and smaller squares at an exciting sports event than I am to actually cheer out loud. My friend’s Norwegian reserve is even greater than my Anglo/Germanic decorum (although I have seen her dance in the aisles on occasion) but we celebrated with shouts of joy that would not disturb the patient in the next bed -and gave thanks on American Thanksgiving with a feast of blue jello.

Thank you, Lord!

Permit me some joyful cyber-shouting: GOD IS GOOD!!!!!

One generation commends your works to another;

they tell of your mighty acts.

They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—

and I will meditate on your wonderful works.

They tell of the power of your awesome works—

and I will proclaim your great deeds.

They celebrate your abundant goodness

and joyfully sing of your righteousness.

(Psalm 145:4-7)

Ask and wait. He is faithful.

Some Thorns Come With Roses

Some Thorns Have Roses
Some Thorns Come With Roses

IMG_3088 red rose

The very quality of your life, whether you love it or hate it, is based upon how thankful you are toward God. It is one’s attitude that determines whether life unfolds into a place of blessedness or wretchedness. Indeed, looking at the same rose bush, some people complain that the roses have thorns while others rejoice that some thorns come with roses. It all depends on your perspective. -Francis Frangipane

Thanks for What?

plants ice 046

I’ll be honest, winter has always been a tough time for me. It’s like I feel grief for the flowers and trees that drop their dying leaves and petals. It seems, especially on overcast days, that all the colour has been sucked out of the world. I tend to stay inside on days like this, trying not to be envious of places that know perpetual summer. I know the winter is an essential part of the ecosystem, and snow can be pretty, but my flowers are dead, and I am sad.

When I was a kid I was taught to recite the verse that says, “In everything gives thanks for this is the will of God concerning you.” They told me that every bad thing that happened was God’s will for me. For many years I tried to bear pain and shame because I thought this is the life God chose for me, this is my cross to bear. Frankly it left me feeling more like God’s victim than his beloved child.

There are religious systems in the world that teach that everything that happens is fate doled out by god or gods, or is the result of punishment earned by sins in a former life. Some go so far as to teach that trying to raise yourself out of poverty by getting a better education, for example, is wrong because it does not accept fate. How can we pray for ourselves, or for others, when we call illness and poverty and broken hearts “God’s will?” How can we risk change or compassion when it appears God himself lacks compassion?IMG_5835 winter flower 2

I have found that when something seems like an insurmountable obstacle, it is wise to back up and see the bigger picture. In this case I needed to back up and see the bigger context of the passage this verse came from. I looked it up in several translations. Many made it clearer that “this” referred to more than “everything.” The Phillips version:

Live together in peace, and our instruction to this end is to reprimand the unruly, encourage the timid, help the weak and be very patient with all men. Be sure that no one repays a bad turn by a bad turn; good should be your objective always, among yourselves and in the world at large. Be happy in your faith at all times. Never stop praying. Be thankful, whatever the circumstances may be. If you follow this advice you will be working out the will of God expressed to you in Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:13b-18)

So what is the will of God?

Live together in peace

Reprimand the unruly (patiently)

Encourage the timid

Help the weak

Be very patient with all people

Help each other not to return a bad turn for a bad turn

Make goodness your objective

Be happy in your faith

Never stop praying

Be thankful whatever your circumstance (there is always something to be thankful for)

So the will of God is not degenerative bone disease, or rebellious children, or financial devastation, but a way of life that brings about change from the inside out.

See the bigger picture. Back up and look at scripture in context. If some verses appear to contradict the character of God, and who he has revealed himself to be through Christ Jesus (who said “If you have seen me you have seen the Father,) then it is worth searching the scriptures for their setting. In this case it is inconsistent with the character of God to ask his beloved children to thank him for everything evil thing that happens to them. He says we can be thankful in every circumstance though.

There is something about being in Christ Jesus that gives us the strength to have a thankful attitude and look for hope in the middle of a mess, knowing God has a solution for every problem, and invites us to ask him for it.

Thankfulness is a mindfulness of the love and goodness of God, even when our circumstances are dismal, even when winter hides the dormant flowers.

Thankfulness allows us to walk by faith and not by sight. Thankfulness facilitates change; it reminds us that Jesus said he came to destroy the works of the devil, not glorify them.

day lilies pink rain drops flowers DSC_0094

See the Big Picture

 

IMG_5692 Black Diamond hay mtnThere is something about this area on the Cowboy Trail in Southern Alberta that seems to catch my attention every time I drive through it. This photo was taken in the area between Longview and Black Diamond. So many times the sun burst through the clouds in a dramatic eye-catching display just as I approached Longview that one day I jokingly said to the Lord, “Are you saying something here?”  Immediately I got that “pay attention” feeling. Then it came to me -Longview -long view. Take the l-o-n-g view. See the big picture.

Sometimes we are so swamped in the dailiness of life it is difficult to see the big picture. Many of us, like so many high school and university students, still complain that we don’t see the point of learning a lesson that seems annoying and time consuming. “I want to be a film-maker. What good is algebra going to do me?”

When I was a child learning to play scales on the piano to the slave ship drumming of a metronome, I yelled at my mother that I saw no purpose to such a pointless exercise. I wanted to be a singer! I could see no possible application for this time-waster in my adult life. I knew even then I did not have the fine motor control it took to be a good pianist. Piano playing was not my gift. Too many accidental accidentals. It was utterly frustrating.

Eventually I became a singing teacher. I may have played a million scales and vocal exercises in my career. I never did develop good piano playing technique. I hired good accompanists for my students for exams and competitions, but in my studio I actually played the piano a lot more than piano teachers do.

Sometimes we go through lessons and testing that seems like a frustrating waste of time. I get the feeling the lesson I have been complaining about lately is a unit on perseverance and endurance. It’s not my favourite, but I hear the great teacher say, “Trust me. This will come in handy. I have a purpose in all this. Longview…long view…get it? See the big picture.”

 This is what the Lord says—Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies:

“I am the First and the Last;

there is no other God.

Who is like me?

Let him step forward and prove to you his power.

Let him do as I have done since ancient times

when I established a people and explained its future.

 Do not tremble; do not be afraid.

Did I not proclaim my purposes for you long ago?

You are my witnesses—is there any other God?

No! There is no other Rock—not one!”

(Isaiah 44:6-8 NLT)

Shaping the Future

 

3Mt. Baker form WildhorseJesus leads us into a place of radical grace where we are able to celebrate the hope of experiencing God’s glory.

And that’s not all. We also celebrate in seasons of suffering because we know that when we suffer we develop endurance,  which shapes our characters.

When our characters are refined, we learn what it means to hope and anticipate God’s goodness.

And hope will never fail to satisfy our deepest need because the Holy Spirit that was given to us has flooded our hearts with God’s love.

(Romans 5:2-5 The Voice)

But Not for Me

Not For Me

I was surprised when I first dared to tell people about some of the answers to prayer I have seen. I expected a negative reaction from people whose worldview doesn’t give them a grid for things that don’t fit into an observable/measurable/repeatable frame. Frankly most people who demand evidence will usually dismiss or ignore it when you do go to the trouble of fetching documentation anyway. At best they may grudgingly offer a “not-yet-explained.” Fine. Not my job.

The people who surprised me were the church-type folk or nominal Christians who accepted the possibility of miracles, in theory, but became suddenly angry when told of something way beyond the norm that happened — to someone else. They  brought up  examples, either personal or involving poor children elsewhere, which ended tragically. One person said, “What kind of God would heal a sick, rich Canadian kid when thousands of poor kids die in third world countries every day?” Then the real issue, “Why did he answer your prayer and not mine? I guess God shows love -but not for me.”

The temptation at this point is to jump in and try to defend God’s reputation.

Not my job.

Who knew God’s love could be so offensive? Millions of words, written by thousands of people more credentialed than I, attempt to address this topic of disappointment with God. I have only three words: I don’t know.

We can say, “It doesn’t hurt to ask,” but yes, sometimes it does. Asking raises the possibility of risking hope and even the Bible says that hope deferred makes the heart sick. One of our greatest fears is the fear of disappointment.

For some reason this week I met several people whose hearts long for a soul mate. Some suffered enormous disappointment when the one who swore to love them abandoned them. Others are tired of being overlooked because they don’t fit society’s ideal standards of beauty, or status, or the mystery “it” factor.  A lot of great people can relate to the classic Gershwin song, sung by Eileen Farrell, “They’re playing songs of love -but not for me.”

Now there are some obvious factors that could be blocking romantic love, but when lovely unmarried friends ask, “Why am I still alone when I have prayed and prayed?” I have to say — I don’t know.

I do think God cares more about our character than our comfort, but he is not opposed to giving his children good gifts like health and loving embraces by someone with skin on. To say someone is not receiving an answer because they haven’t cooked up enough faith, or because they have some character flaw he can only fix by throwing something nasty at them, is just cruel, in my opinion. On the other hand, it doesn’t take much faith or hope, or perseverance to look around and see pain or suffering or loneliness or poverty. When I talk about the good things I have seen I am not oblivious to pain and suffering. It does require effort to look at God’s marvelous actions and not be offended by them. It would be easy to sing, “They’re playing songs of miracles –but not for me,” but those kind of thoughts focus only on our pain. They keep us from raising our hopes.

All I can say is that I know God is good and that I have noticed that people who doggedly pursue a relationship with him, believing he is good, who are not offended when he answers someone’s pleas and not their own -but rather who genuinely thank God for his goodness to them, see more of his active intervention in their worlds than those who don’t pick up the broken bits of hope and push through the pain of disappointment to find the treasure beyond the valley of trouble. I realize that talking about things I have seen and experienced may cause some people pain, but I have to give glory to God for what he has done. My intent is to offer hope.

I was struck by Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3 this week.

I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. (vs. 17-19 NLT)

Jesus admitted he was a stone of offense to some people. It takes strength and power to be able to perceive and receive his love and not be offended by it. He doesn’t play by our rules. He wants relationship. He wants us to ask him the hard questions. We can pound on his chest in our pain and frustration and he won’t love us any less -or any more.

God is still love. May your roots go deep.