Practice

piano player

 

My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves.

And friends, once that’s taken care of and we’re no longer accusing or condemning ourselves, we’re bold and free before God! We’re able to stretch our hands out and receive what we asked for because we’re doing what he said, doing what pleases him. Again, this is God’s command: to believe in his personally named Son, Jesus Christ. He told us to love each other, in line with the original command. As we keep his commands, we live deeply and surely in him, and he lives in us. And this is how we experience his deep and abiding presence in us: by the Spirit he gave us. (1 John 3:18 -24 The Message)

I’ve had the privilege of teaching some very gifted students over the years. I noticed that the most successful – those who developed and maintained a love of music and who sang or played both skilfully and from the heart – had something in common. They learned from their mistakes. They did not ignore them, neither were they overwhelmed by them.

The hardest ones to teach were the ones who, although equally gifted, couldn’t accept correction, no matter how carefully I phrased it. Some always had an excuse: “The sun was glaring on the page. You played a wrong note and it threw me. My parents woke me up too early and I’m tired….”

Some fully acknowledged their mistakes, but broke down in episodes of self-flagellation and dire prediction: “I’m so stupid. I’ll never get this right. I just can’t do it. I’m not smart enough. I haven’t got talent like the girl you were teaching before me. It will never happen!” (I may have been one of these.)

Some had plenty of talent. They swam in oceans of potential. They dreamed of accolades and standing ovations – but they didn’t dream of stopping to fix mistakes. They ignored them, or practised them over and over so that they were set in concrete after a few weeks, or they just plain never practised at all, as if the potential of being a star was close enough.

Someone told me the quality of being teachable is called meekness. On this last day of the year I have been doing a review of what I learned. It would be easy to ignore evidences of change and focus on failures, making excuses for my mistakes. There are hundreds to pick from. It would also be easy to fall into despair, and spout off my frustrations with my lack of love and self-discipline and tendency to repeat the same wrong note twenty times in a row. But self-criticism that condemns is debilitating. It removes hope and makes me want to quit and wallow in shame.

“God is greater than our worried hearts,” John the Beloved wrote. He knew our Great Teacher sees our potential. His corrections are directed at bringing out the talent he has already placed in us. He chooses the music that will challenge enough to stretch us, but not exasperate us. He urges us to practise, because he knows the joy and freedom we will experience when that which once seemed impossible flows naturally and beautifully.

The teacher smiles and says, “Well done!”

Then we grin, ask for our next new piece of music, and rush home to practise.

Let the Fire and Cloudy Pillar Lead

IMG_5809 sunset south sept 27

 

Have you ever wished God would show up in a pillar of cloud by day or a pillar of fire by night to show you which direction to go? We like to say, “Just tell me what you want me to do and I will do it.”

Have you ever heard God’s promises through scripture verses that stand out, practically in neon, and are repeated by every book you pick up or every podcast you listen to or in casual conversation with friends you haven’t seen in ten years or on advertisements on the sides of a bus or even in dreams or visions or an audible voice?

Wow! You say “Yes, Lord! I will follow you to the Promised Land!”

And then he leads you in the opposite direction.

“What?” you say.

The thing about clear direction from heaven is that it takes you in directions your mind can’t follow – otherwise you would not need it. I’ve seen this so often now, I’m finally beginning to see that it’s a pretty normal in the Christian life when the opposite of a promise shows up first.

The cloudy/fiery pillar led the Children of Israel back out into the desert – not their expected destination. But the Lord had some work to do on them before they were ready to leave slavery behind. Not all shackles are on the outside of a person. Some of them are in the mind.

I feel like I’ve had a promise of seeing a restoration/revival/reformation whatever you want to call it, in church as we know it. I keep hearing and seeing pictures of a reconciled, united Body of Christ, a joining of streams, a habitation of God made of living stones, a place where love is more than a theory and entire cultures change as result of its influence. I keep hearing the “one another” passages that talk about identifying followers of Jesus by their love for each other and not for the walls they have built around their “distinctives.” I see the promise. I know it is coming. I have said, “Yes, Lord.” I have followed his voice.

Then he led me in the opposite direction.

So here I am, a lover of the saints, not attending a church, following a cloud in the desert. One temporary camping spot at a time. Amazingly I’m meeting a different kind of church out here, one based more on spirit connection than proximity of pews. I’m not without fellow travellers with discernment willing to offer much-needed encouragement and correction; in fact there are a few people in my life now with whom I have a deeper, more honest, more faith-building relationship than I’ve had in years. I am learning to feed on the bread Jesus provides, but sometimes I miss the savoury familiar and predictable flavours I have known.

I think that’s why I don’t have permission to go back, nor am I seeing the promise fulfilled yet. I still have shackles around my mind. I have expectations that are defined and limited by my experiences in the old country. What God has planned operates on complete dependence on his ways, not mine.

Guide me, oh thou great Yhwh, I’m a pilgrim in this barren land. I am weak but Thou art mighty. Hold me with Thy powerful hand.

For Freedom!

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For freedom Christ has set us free;

stand firm therefore,

and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

There is a scene in Chariots of Fire where the trainer shows his runner where another man lost the race. It was when he looked back to check the progress of someone else.

So often we lose ground in this race when we try to measure our progress by comparing ourselves to others. Spiritual competitiveness can be a giant speed bump we will trip over if we are paying attention to the wrong things. You can’t love someone and desire to beat them at the same time, nor can you run the race with all your heart if you let the slowest person on the track set the pace. Our eyes need to be fixed on Jesus, the one who never fails to love us, and can love others through us, wherever we are on this journey.

For you were called to freedom, brothers.

Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh,

but through love serve one another. 

For the whole law is fulfilled in one word:

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

(Galatians 5)

Evergreen

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Those who are devoted to God will flourish like budding date-palm trees;
they will grow strong and tall like cedars in Lebanon.

Those planted in the house of the Eternal
will thrive in the courts of our God.

They will bear fruit into old age;
even in winter, they will be green and full of sap
To display that the Eternal is righteous.

He is my rock, and there is no shadow of evil in Him.

(Psalm 92:12-15)

Creating Space

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Discipline means to prevent everything in your life from being filled up.
Discipline means that somewhere you’re not occupied,
and certainly not preoccupied.
In the spiritual life,
discipline means to create that space in which something can happen
that you hadn’t planned or counted on.

Henri Nouwen

Tiny Tiny Faith

McGyver up the Christmas tree ch

 

It was twenty years ago. I told the counselor I didn’t know what I believed anymore, or even if I believed anything anymore.

“I just don’t have enough faith,” I said.

Is there one thing you can still hold on to?”

The traffic in the street below whizzed by and the warm air blew quietly through the heat register in the floor as I squirmed in my chair. Finally I said, “This much. A children’s song. ‘Jesus loves me, this I know.'”

“That’s all you need.”

“But I don’t have faith in church, or prayer, or eschatology, or Calvinism, or Arminianism, or Catholicism or any of that stuff…”

“I’ll have faith for you,” he said. “You just hold on to that one piece in your hand and enjoy it.”

This is a photo of my grandson’s cat McGyver. He loves to climb into the tree and bat the baubles. He loves it so much that nobody who loves him even tries to convince him to come down anymore. He has no understanding of Christmas trees or traditions or the meaning of carols playing in the background. He just sees an opportunity for a moment of joy and seizes it.

Sometimes the only faith we have is that momentary sense that peace and joy and love exist somewhere in the universe. All that is required of us is that we enjoy the glimpse that one tiny seed of faith gives us. It’s about God’s faithfulness, not how much we can try to talk ourselves into something. It’s about learning on a deeper and deeper level that Jesus loves us and taking the opportunity to enjoy him -a little bit at a time, being grateful for the sun on our face in the day or seeing the twinkling stars at night.

Twenty years later his kindness and goodness and gentleness amazes me.

Twenty years later I can say with a degree of faith I never knew could be mine: Jesus loves me. This I know. This is all I really need to know.

Have a blessed Christmas. Jesus absolutely adores you, you know — big faith or tiny, tiny faith.