Born to be restless

The next day John was standing again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus walking along he said, “Look! The Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard what he said, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he asked, “ What are you looking for?” They said, “Rabbi (which is translated Teacher), where are you staying?” He replied, “ Come and see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. ~John 1:35-30 (CEB)

If you look on the church calendar, you will find that we are in the middle of “ordinary time”. We are betwixt and between Easter and Christmas. It isn’t Lent or Advent or even Pentecost.  Ordinary every day life can sometimes be the hardest to live through. We aren’t looking forward to or celebrating an arrival.  Here can be much restlessness. Sometimes I find myself in this restlessness and I can’t help but wonder, “What am I looking for?” Nothing seems to really fill that space.

I think John’s disciples may have felt the same way. If they had found all they needed in John the Baptist they would have not looked up and seen Jesus and felt the need to follow him. John had said all along that he was not “The One,” so some of his disciples may have been feeling restless when they noticed Jesus walking by. When Jesus asked his question though, “What are you looking for” it must have been like a light coming on and they knew what they were looking for. They were looking for Jesus.

I wonder sometimes if we were all born with that restlessness to be on the look out for “something”. We may try to fill it with many things, success or addictions. Deep in our hearts we are all waiting for Jesus to ask us “What are you looking for.”

Heavenly Father, You planted deep within us a longing for you. Although I may try to fill my time and space with other things my heart needs to hear You ask “What are you looking for.” Call to my heart this day Lord so I may follow You. Amen.

Keeping it together

 

But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls. ~Luke 21:18-19 (CEB)

“How can we not lose our souls when everything and everybody pulls us in the most different directions?  How can we “keep it together” when we are constantly torn apart?

Jesus says:  “Not a hair of your head will be lost.  Your perseverance will win you your lives” (Luke 21:18-19).  We can only survive our world when we trust that God knows us more intimately than we know ourselves.  We can only keep it together when we believe that God holds us together.  We can only win our lives when we remain faithful to the truth that every little part of us, yes, every hair, is completely safe in the divine embrace of our Lord.  To say it differently:  When we keep living a spiritual life, we have nothing to be afraid of.” ~From Bread for the Journey by Henri Nouwen

Heavenly Father I thank You for the strength You daily give me to keep it all together. I know that because You love me that there is nothing I should fear. Give me courage just for this day. Amen.

Looking for the face of God

With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this: Our Father in heaven, Reveal who you are. Set the world right; Do what’s best– as above, so below. Keep us alive with three square meals. Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. You’re in charge! You can do anything you want! You’re ablaze in beauty! Yes. Yes. Yes. “In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part. Matthew 6:9-15 (Message)

Some final tough words on forgiveness for my heart when it feels that it has just has the right to hold on to that wrong for a little while longer because you know, “I have a right to be mad!”

“It may be infinitely less evil to murder a man then to refuse to forgive him. The former may be the act of a moment of passion: the latter is the heart’s choice. It is spiritual murder, the worst, to hate, to brood over the feeling that excluded, that kills the image, the idea of the hatred.” ~From Creation in Christ by George McDonaold

When I want to hold on to my “rightful hurt feelings”, it is sobering to remember that I do so much more harm to myself for holding on to hurts no matter how justified it might seem. Harboring such hurt makes it hard to find God’s face and therefore I feel even more alone. This anger though justified just isn’t worth my isolation from God. I want to feel His mercies toward me so I must extend mercy to others. And so I move on.

Heavenly Father, I don’t want to be separated from you any longer. Help me to wade through this junk and move on. It is time. Amen.

To forgive

Pray like this: Our Father who is in heaven, uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in your kingdom so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven. Give us the bread we need for today. Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, just as we also forgive those who have wronged us. And don’t lead us into temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. “If you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your sins. ~Matthew 6:9-15 (CEB)

The initial steps of forgiveness are hard for me because first I “feel”. It takes time for me to find words for what I am feeling. But I have to take that time to sort through what I am feeling or the words will never form. Sorrow just can’t be pushed away as if it doesn’t exist. It must be taken out and sorted through. If that time is not given to sort through my pain the pain turns into a deep deep sorrow with no name and no hope.

“Forgiveness can be the great cleansing action that allows one to begin again. Retribution or restitution is not enough. They serve as payback but they do not allow for the deep scouring that is necessary to truly start anew. The ancient Israelites knew the principle well for they instituted the practice of the Sabbath year. Each seventh year was set aside so that all could begin over again: fields lay and all debts were forgiven. This crucial period of rest was seen as necessary for the harmonious functioning of society and the fertility of the land. The earth can be depleted, our societies become imbalanced and unjust. Similarly, as individuals and as families we require a time of absolution so that we might truly begin again and become fertile fields that yield a rich harvest.

The prayer most identified with Christianity, the one taught to us by Jesus himself, incorporates the crucial insight that forgiveness is a key ingredient as we live into the promised kingdom.” ~From The Time Between by Wendy M Wright.

Forgiveness. It is what I must do to be strong and healthy so that I am able to continue on this journey called life. If I am unable to forgive others how can I begin to ask forgiveness for the wrongs I do? I cannot expect from others what I am not willing to do myself.

Lord, when my heart is breaking from real or perceived hurts, help me to take the time to sort through and find the truth. Help me to put words to the feelings I have. Give me the strength that I do not possess on my own, to forgive unconditionally. Amen.

Looking for a new dawn

Be tolerant with one another and forgive one another whenever any of you has a complaint against someone else. You must forgive one another just as the Lord has forgiven you. Colossians 3:12

Sometimes mercy is much easier to extend than forgiveness. When we refuse to let go the hurts we have received they begins to hold us captive. Our thinking becomes consumed with thoughts of the injury. We now are really victims not from the hurts we received but because unforgiveness has become our jailer. We are imprisoned by the hatred and malice we clutch in our hearts.

Forgiveness is not easy or even a swift process. When wrongs have been committed the last thing one wants, or even should do is claim that the transgression should be overlooked. It is so tempting to want to pretend that the hurt never even happened but the unavoidable feelings of betrayal, rage, hate, self-blame, flight, and fight bubble up from within. Until attention is given to the source of the pain healing cannot begin. The injury must be named and acknowledged that it happened to you, the pain must be allowed to work for you, the wrong must be named so that power and strength can return.

When pain has been acknowledged, claimed and overcome forgiveness can then come as a free act. When forgives comes we can look again with new eyes and a fresh heart. It’s not that we aren’t now wiser or that we haven’t learned from our experience but a new day dawns and hope returns.

Give me a new heart this day Lord, open my eyes to a new dawn. Part the clouds of my heart and let the sun shine in. Amen.

Best laid plan

But now, says the LORD— the one who created you, Jacob, the one who formed you, Israel: Don’t fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; when through the rivers, they won’t sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you won’t be scorched and flame won’t burn you. ~Isa. 43:1-2 (CEB)

I am a planner yet there are days where the best laid plans get interrupted. Once in a while those days turn into day after day of difficulties and darkness no matter how much I long for lighter loads and light paths. Then there are other times where everything is going just as I planned and I should feel on top of the world when suddenly I find myself hanging on by my fingernails over a cliff. It is good for me to realize in these moments that I am not the only person to find myself in the darkness, with difficulties, or disappointing surprises in the midst of faithful sunny days.

When I read Mark 6 I find that Jesus has encountered rejection in his hometown. This is the first missionary venture with his disciples. It comes after the death of John, the feeding of the five thousand, walking on water and the healing in Gennesaret. Just in chapter 6 alone do I witness one end of the emotional scale to the other, Jesus experiences great sadness, great miracles as well as great disappointments all in a short period of time. Talk about an emotional roller coaster!

Compared to Jesus and the disciples’ lives, my life may seem a bit steadier. The peaks and valleys a little more subdued than what they experienced. However, I do live through those periods when nothing seems to go my way, the winds of life are blowing against me and I am working hard but gaining no ground. This is the same place the disciples found themselves as they strained at the oars against adverse wind. Just as Jesus appeared to them he appears to me in the midst of my terrors: “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid” (Mark 6:50) My storm can be over the moment I choose to recognize Jesus.

Such experiences can be used to sharpen my ability to see God at work in the midst of my life if I will let it. I am not alone when things are not going my way, just as I was not alone when things were going my way. Everything I experience is an opportunity to pay attention to God’s presence and to call for God to work in my life.

Heavenly Father, help me to remember while I am in the midst of the storm to look up to find Your face for I know that once my eyes land on You the storm begins to settle. Take my hand this day as I walk along. May I hear Your voice nudge me this way or that as I pursue Your will for this day. Amen.

Hills… and mountain tops

I have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith. At last the champion’s wreath that is awarded for righteousness is waiting for me. The Lord, who is the righteous judge, is going to give it to me on that day. He’s giving it not only to me but also to all those who have set their heart on waiting for his appearance. ~2Timothy 4:7-8 (CEB)

Recently I was talking with someone about a 5K I was interested in. She told me that the route would be fast because there were not really any hills in the course that had been mapped out. This is unusual for East Tennessee! I thought, well this is good news!

Today when I was out running it occurred to me that without going up a hill there is no “down hills” to glide through on the other side. Yes running up a hill is hard work, but there is such elation when you make to the top, then you have the reward of being carried away with momentum down the other side.

I have not always felt this way about hills. When I first began to run I really dreaded those hills. I was too busy gasping for air to notice where I had been, what I had accomplished or even appreciate the fact that now I had the downside of the hill to enjoy.

As Christians we often talk about “mountain top experiences”. Those awesome moments when we just know God loves us and can feel His presence. The only way we can have these mountainous moments with God is by trekking up the mountain to be with Him.

Often I have found that the mountain top moments with God come after having gone through a really difficult time. The mountain top moment is when I realize I have not only survived the struggle but now at the top of that mountain I have clarity of where I have been and a glimpse of where I am going. On top of the mountain I can see how God has loved me through the moments up that mountain sometimes walking with me, sometimes carrying me, and sometimes dragging me.

I have decided I want hills and mountains in my path. Oh, I don’t wish hard times on myself, but growth and strength are gained by heading up those hills and mountains. Life is a full contact effort. Running circles in the valleys do not lead us to God. We must always tackle those mountains remembering at the top of each mountain, we find God.

Heavenly Father, when times get tough and I find that another mountain looms in front of me, please give me the courage and strength to tackle that uphill climb. May I not find myself running circles, avoiding the hard work or fearing injury. Instead, help me remember that at the top of that mountain I will find You! Amen.

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