Labor not in vain

Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord you labor is not in vain. ~1Corinthians 15:58 (NRSV)

One time my son and I volunteered at a food drive for a local food pantry. I will admit I had NO idea what I was getting myself into. I knew we would be standing outside Wal-Mart for two hours collecting food donations. This was all I knew. After we were briefly trained I realized that this was going to put me far outside my comfort zones.

When my son realized that we would need to go up to, speak to and hand every single person we saw, a shopping list and verbally encourage them to participate in donating food, he panicked. “I can’t do that”, he exclaimed.” Let’s just go shop and give them some food instead.” I will have to quickly admit I had the same feeling. Going up and initiating conversations with strangers is not my favorite past time. Although I felt the same way as my son, I began to tell him that yes this was hard for us to do. It would be easier to go  buy some groceries to donate than to stand there for two hours accosting people to donate food, but there was just so much food that he and I could donate. In the two hour time we were there asking people to donate we would be able to do more good than we could on our own.

While my son never developed the ability to go up and talk to people and inform them of our purpose that day, he did find that he was good at asking people when they came bringing food out to donate if they needed help unloading their items. Personally, I found that it got easier to go up to people the more I did it, especially if I did it with a smile. We saw many people that we had talked to just leave Wal-Mart without donating anything but the people who did donate were amazing. Some donated just a small bag others much much more. In the two hours we stood in the hot sun we saw at least 6 grocery carts fill up. The generosity of people will stick with me for a long time.

The amount of hungry people is staggering. The food bank that we volunteered with that day was not the only one in our county. Blount County Community Food Connections alone feed on average, 5,000 a month, several local churches have food pantries and Second Harvest serves as a distribution center offering donated and purchased food items to over 500 non-profit organizations in an 18 county service area.

It is easy to be overwhelmed with the needs of others. It is hard to listen to all the needs when they seem to be coming at us from all directions. There were a few people who just walked quickly by us during our two hours of service, not wanting to “hear” the needs. Yes, there is more than just one person can do. God doesn’t expect me to meet every need that I see, but there is enough needs in the world for each of us to do something. If I am steadfast in the work laid out before me, immoveable in the task I have been given, my labor will not be done in vain. Our bag of food combined with everyone’s bags that were donated added up to something beautiful. During the two days of that food drive we participated in, $16,00 in food and cash were collected.

Heavenly Father, help us to be aware of how we can give out of the abundance You have given us. Out of our thankfulness may we be quick to share with others so that Your grace and glory can be seen by all. Amen.

Who’s in the driver seat

I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the LORD; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me.~Jer 29:11-13 (CEB)While I was using the navigation app on my phone I missed an important turn. Right after I took  a right I didn’t realize my phone was telling me to stay right for another turn. When I realized what the app wanted me to do, it was too late to make the turn. My phone could have said, “Well that’s it. Since you are too stupid to understand what I am telling you, I am going to leave you to figure out what you need to do next.” No, my phone didn’t ridicule me or berate me for being confused. It simple recalculated the road to adjust to where I was at the  moment, leading me to other roads that ultimately got me to my intended destination.

I have seen the Holy Spirit working in my life in the same way. When I think I know the path that I am supposed to be on but then realize that I am lost and confused, I do not find myself abandoned by the Holy Spirit. No. I cannot mess up God’s plan for my life. When I take a wrong path the Holy Spirit simply  recalculates  to adjust to where I am at the moment, continuing to lead me in the way I need to go. Now I could be upset with the detour I have taken or I can sit back and calmly realize that God is still in control of my life. His plan for me includes those times that I take back over the direction I am headed.

There are no words to match the feelings that well up inside me when I realize that there is NOTHING I can do to mess up my God-given-destiny. Despite myself, God will get me where He plans for me to be. That’s kinda humbling.

Father  in heaven, thank You for never leaving me where I am at but taking me on to what You have planned for me. Amen.

Presence within

Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!
~Psalm 46:10 (ESV)

“What deadens us most to God’s presence within us, I think, is the inner dialogue that we are continuously engaged in with ourselves, the endless chatter of human thought. I suspect that there is nothing more crucial to true spiritual comfort . . .  than being able from time to time to stop that chatter including the chatter of spoken prayer. If we choose to seek the silence of the holy place, or to open ourselves to its seeking, I think there is not surer way than by keeping silent.

God knows I am no good at it, but I keep trying, and once or twice I have been lucky, graced. I have been conscious but not conscious of anything, not even of myself. I have been surrounded by the whiteness of snow. I have heard a stillness that encloses all colors stilled, the way wordlessness encloses all words stilled. I have sensed the presence of a presence. I have felt a promise promised.

I like to believe that once or twice, at times like those, I have bumbled my way into at least the outmost suburbs of the Truth that can never be told but only come upon, that can never be proved but only lived for and loved.” ~From Telling Secrets by Frederick Buechner

Almighty God, awaken me this day to be aware of Your presence alive in me. Quiet the world’s noise so that I may hear what You have to say to me. Help me to live seek Your love amidst the chaos. May I sense Your presence in all I do this day. Amen.

With imagination and a song

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint ~Isaiah 40:31 (KJV)

“Christian existence… involves a life or incredible rhythms, of highs and lows, whether in a concert hall hearing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony or in a Memphis dive trumpeting the blues. Its antinomies include a hunger for community, yet a taste for the silence of aloneness. The yearning is for intimacy, but the embrace occurs on a windswept hill called Golgatha. There is an emptying out of all thought and imagery in order to lose oneself in the Unknown and Unknowable. Yet there is an excitement over the playfulness of imagination and the intensity of mind. Christians are claimed by a past that hopes for the future by drinking deeply of the present. They are daring persons for whom belief is etched with faithful doubts. They hold tenaciously to what has been bequeathed, yet they gamble on the new being born. “~From The Art of Spiritual Direction by W. Paul Jones

Empty me O Lord so that I may be filled with Your thoughts and Your love. Help me to dream Your dreams and to dance to Your tunes. May I lose myself in the “Unknown” today and find myself in its possibilities. Amen.

A light for the darkness

We were saved in hope. If we see what we hope for, that isn’t hope. Who hopes for what they already see? But if we hope for what we don’t see, we wait for it with patience. In the same way, the Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans. ~Rom 8:24-26 (CEB)

“Religious energy is in the dark questions, seldom in the answers. Answers are the way out. Answers are not what we are here for. When we look for answers, we’re looking to change the pattern. When we look at the questions, we look for the opening to transformation.” ~From Everything Belongs by Richard Rohr.

It is in the questioning that we learn and grow. Sometimes we forget that it is okay to ask our questions. Sometimes we can be afraid to acknowledge the questions we have.  We can fear that questions show that we lack faith. It is ignoring the questions that can become stumbling blocks in our faith. But if time is taken to flush out the questions we have, we can realize a beginning of a much deeper faith than we had before.

Heavenly Father, help me to not be afraid to question. Send Your Holy Spirit to walk with me through the questions, guiding me to a stronger understand of Who You are and how You want me to live for You. Amen.

Smarter than me

Thomas asked, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” ~John 14:5 (CEB)

I have this neat function in my map app on my phone. It is called “Navigation”. I discovered this neat little application when I was lost in a big city stuck on a one way street going the wrong direction. Literally. By my own knowledge there was no way to turn around and go back the way I had just come. In my desperation I clicked on the map on my phone to use its GPS. I knew my phone was smarter than me. It was my hope that by using my phone I would be able to figure out the answers that I needed to get me going in the right direction. While pulling up the map I accidentally clicked on the “navigation” button. I discovered this function did more than just give me a map allowing me to see where I was at that exact moment. If I typed in the address of where I wanted to go the application would take me turn by turn from where I was to where I needed to be. By accepting my inabilities and searching for where I knew I could find the answers I was soon back on track. I not only made it to where I needed to be, I made it back home too.

This phone had been in my possession for a year. All along the phone had this application, but until I actually tried to figure out what it could do it was no good to me. No matter how smart my phone might be it is only as smart as its user. The Holy Spirit is like that. I have the Holy Spirit deep within me. If I don’t know how to utilize its capabilities I can find myself lost not knowing where I am going or how to get back to God when I have found myself a little turned around.

The Holy Spirit helps me to navigate through life (Psalm 143:10). I can rely on the Holy Spirit to give me speech when I don’t know what to say (Mark 13:11) and speak with confidence (Acts 4:31). I can rely on the Holy Spirit to guide me in my decisions (Acts 6:2-6). The Holy Spirit will give me encouragement (Acts 9:31) and fills me with happiness (Acts 13:52). The Holy Spirit will give me hope (Romans 15:13). Through the Holy Spirit I will be made holy and acceptable (Romans 15:16). I am washed clean and made right by the Holy Spirit (1 Colossians 6:11). These are all truths that exist whether I use them or not. With the Holy Spirit I am so much more than I am on my own. Reading my Bible gives me instruction on how to use the Holy Spirit to keep from getting too far off track.

Heavenly God, guide me with Your Holy Spirit through this day. May I utilize all its capabilities so that I may be smarter than I am on my own. Amen.