Taking Heart, Truth & Orthodoxy

When You Don’t Know What You Need

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I lay in bed too tired to think, not knowing where to start — children, church, marriage, friends, my own soul? It had been a long time since I had talked to God about it all and I was at a loss at what to ask. The words came to mind as I struggled to pray:

Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

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“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matt. 6:7-8)

Once, during a particularly long kid-induced stretch of sleep deprivation, I stood in front of a store counter and had to stop myself mid-sentence to tell the associate, “Sorry…I have no idea what I’m saying.” Even with a clear mind, I dread calling customer service most days. I dislike having to think on my feet during the unpredictable exchange. Is the person on the line going to be rude? Pushy? Honest? Competent?

If you’re like me, you might script what you’ll say before calling customer service so you’re not bumbling when the person picks up. But imagine if the person we’re calling already knows what our problem is and how to fix it. Imagine they are glad we called, speak kindly as we make our requests, and patiently offer help.

“Pray even though God knows what you need,” some may say, apologetically even and on the defense. Because, why bother talking to God about what he already knows I need? It’s a fair question and with good answers, my mind is less troubled than it used to be about it. Providence makes prayer effective, and God’s sovereignty has become the bedrock I stand on as I make my petitions. Still, I have often failed to consider that this truth— that God knows what I need before I offer a word in prayer— is more than a prompt for questions about divine paradoxes. It is even more than just rebuke against the babblers Jesus speaks of in Matthew 6.

What I am experiencing these days is not pray “even though” God knows. No, no, not as a concession. Pray because he does.

God’s knowledge, I am finding, is my assurance and sweet comfort for all his children.

Because when you’re young and think you know what you need, you can only see it as redundant to speak to God about it. But then, you live longer. And as life’s complications and sorrows and hard lessons come, we begin to see that maybe we don’t know what’s best like we thought we did.

And what do you ask God for then? What happens when your feelings can’t be trusted? When your mind is unable to make sense of things to form a coherent request? When your foresight has failed and your problems outweigh your wisdom? When you’ve run out of solutions and suggestions to offer to God?

Where do you start when you don’t even know what you need?

There are so many good things we can pray, much is modeled in Scripture for us. For deeper knowledge of God, for deliverance from trial, for perseverance through it, for greater joy, for more love. But never is the call to prayer a request for information from God.

I think of kids. How readily they go to mom and dad for help, and how often their needs aren’t even known to them. Babies just cry. Older children may carry their complaints, tears, calls for justice. Still, usually parents can tell if they’re just tired and hangry, or truly sad and discouraged, or hiding jealousy and wanting revenge. If we, imperfect parents, know our kids enough to give them what they truly need, how much more the Father whose parenting every good mom or dad faintly shadows?

Our Father, says our Elder Brother, knows what you need before you utter a word. Therefore, you are not heard because of your flowing eloquence, the strength of your passion, or the might of your wisdom. You are heard because you are known completely and loved deeply. You are known because through Christ, you belong to God. And you are invited to God’s throne room, not to offer him tidbits he doesn’t know, but to receive mercy and find grace to help you in time of need (Heb. 4:16). The nature of the help may vary, but always it comes from one who knows exactly what you need.

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Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Thus beloved, we pray. And when we don’t even know what to ask? It’s okay. My children don’t need to know much to get my help, only that they’re not doing so great and that Mom can do something about it. So it is that as we walk with Jesus we will come to times when we can only be sure of two things: One, our need is great and two, there is only one Person who can help. And as it turns out, in these moments, that may be all we really need to know.

Motherhood & Family, Taking Heart

Of Mice And Men And God Whose Purpose Stands

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The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’, or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life – the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination. -C.S. Lewis

Him: Can I go run in the leaves?

Me: No…Why?

Him: So I can jump in them and be happy!

“The best-laid schemes of mice and men / often go awry,” goes the poem, and the incidence of things going “awry” seems unusually high lately. Sickness, unexpected calls, frustrating inefficiencies (making a wrong turn and watching the time to destination jump up exponentially, anyone?), kids being kids.

So I’ve been walking around, muttering to myself, of mice and men, of mice and men.

I say I’ve been muttering, but a better word for it would be grumbling. I have been grumbling about interruptions from people, my circumstances, and the general state of being human which guarantees my making mistakes. But I am fighting, and failing but by grace still in the fight, to pivot my perspective around Proverbs 19:21.

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. 

Few things show my sinful desire to be God, and my inability to be him, like my plans do. More specifically, the interruption of them. Again and again in the Scriptures God challenges those who pridefully make our plans apart from him, confident in our own ability to carry them out. God frustrates the plans of persons and nations and in doing so shatters our illusions. We thought we were more than we are, surely we were deluded. Truly, truly, he alone is God.

And this is a good thing. The firmness of his plans and sureness of his purposes.

Because it means that even when our best-laid plans are toppled, we are not left alone to be tossed to and fro by circumstances. And instead of a resigned shoulder shrug, “well, of mice and men,” we have resounding truth. God’s purpose stands. Our lives are not dependent on our own limited vision and meticulous planning. Nor are we ultimately at the whims of other people, sickness, traffic, and our own mistakes. Rather, our steps are determined by God who created and redeemed us.

Our God is mighty and there is none like him, dwelling in the high and lofty places. Yet in his mercy he bends his power to help us and sets his wisdom toward planning our lives. Now our loving Shepherd who willingly gave his life for us, tenderly leads his sheep along the paths laid out for us. And the good news is that though we may grumble at the frustration of our plans and the One who ordains interruptions, circumstances, limitations, he still is determined to do us good. He continually works all things for our knowledge and love of him, our Christlikeness and fruitfulness, our joy and his glory.

Thus, I am hoping to grow in receiving the interruptions that seem to mark my days as God-ordained invitations.

A mistake, something I overlooked that I feel like I shouldn’t have—

He is helping me to put to death the perfectionism which suffocates grace.

Tasks taking longer than expected—

He is challenging my lifeless idol of productivity. “Can you do what I do? Do you really have power? Can you give life?”

A fussy baby on my hip, a hungry 3-year old by my side, as I stand in a how-did-it-get-so-messy-again-already home—

He is making me more like Christ, and giving me a chance to choose to believe these words even as I type them.

Cries of “MOOOOMMM” from the other room—

He is nudging me on, giving a chance to join him as he works in the lives of others. (How often the interruptions come in the form of the precious little people living in my house who I profess to serve!)

A boy wanting to jump in leaves and be happy—

He is beckoning me to stop and rest, to not miss his gifts, and to trust the One who gives good gifts I did not even know to want.

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand—

He is building my life. Bringing it to me day by day, moment by moment, interruption by interruption.

The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands. – Psalm 138:8

Taking Heart

Some Questions On Being

IMG_4511.jpgI prepped to teach on Titus last Sunday. I thought long the week before about the relationship between life and doctrine, and personally, about my calling as a woman and mom in the home a la Titus 2. I was reminded about the goodness of my work in loving my family.

It turns out Sunday morning had us waking up to sick kids and me texting that I’d have to forgo church responsibilities to stay home. Funny how God did that.

See, if you ever want evidence of my feeble faith, send me a sick baby. Give it a few nights and you’ll hear my sleep-deprived, “For what purpose God??” (Read: “Whyyyyyy?”) And it isn’t wholly my grumpiness speaking here. I actually feel justifiably upset about the seeming meaninglessness and inefficiency of these small trials.

I’ve been sitting in Ephesians 1 all week, savoring glorious truths a few words at a time. (Which, incidentally may be partly due to the fact that, in my sleepy haze, I can only hold a few words at a time.) After a night of little faith, as I wondered what practical good could come out of my sleep-deprivation, God answered through these words— that we should be holy and blameless before him.

He spoke to me of my being chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world for this reason (Eph. 1:3-4). He reminded me of his commitment to work all things to my good and his purposes— to my conformity into the image of his Son. I had forgotten about that.

So I’ve been thinking about this being made more into Christlikeness. And I’ve been seeing that my why’s and search for productivity and purpose and usefulness in glorifying God often miss this vital ingredient, the aspect of what God is doing in me and the call to be like Christ.

In the (possibly false but sometimes helpful) “being” vs. “doing” dichotomy, I gravitate to the latter. I’ve always had the desire to be helpful. The fear of being useless and the desire to hear “well done” on something truly well-done and most of all from God, are deeply rooted in me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always thought of “being” as important, and I thought I had the relationship between who we are and what we do pretty well sorted out. We act out of who we are. (Which is true.) God cares about the heart behind what we do. (Which is also true.) Therefore, (this is where I start veering), I need to be who I’m supposed to be so I can do what I’m supposed to do to God’s glory without being disingenuous. I’ve never doubted the importance of being made more like Christ, but the fundamental orientation, the driving heart motive, usually leans “so I can do more, or right, or better.”

Years ago, as a teenager, I remember telling a mentor about my deep fear that God won’t use me. He gently push backed, with grace I didn’t understand at the time, maybe that isn’t the main thing. Evidently, I still need this pushback, and received it in part last week through a powerful article on mental health by Alan Noble. In it he writes,

Usefulness is the sole criterion for the World, the Flesh, or the Devil. But you have no use value to God. You can’t. There is nothing He needs. You can’t cease being useful to God because you were never useful to begin with. That’s simply not why He created you and why He continues to sustain your being in the world. It was gratuitous, prodigal. He made us just because He loves us and for His own good pleasure. Every other reason to live demands that you remain useful, and one day your use will run out. But not so with God. To God, your existence in His universe is an act of creation, and it remains good as creation even in its fallen state.

We were made for God’s pleasure, not his use. He made us because he loves us, because he is good, because it pleased him. Even more, according to Ephesians 1:12, he redeems us and makes us his “that we who were the first to hope in Christ might to the praise of his glory.” Here Paul doesn’t write that we might do things to the praise of his glory (though certainly we do). More fundamentally, we are made to be to the praise of his glory. And this isn’t a command, but a statement here. God has come through great lengths to make us his because his intent is to glorify himself through what he does for and in us.

As image-bearers, we give evidence to his “prodigal love”, his powerful sustenance, his wonderful creativity, and more. As those being recreated into Christ’s image, we give evidence to his wondrous grace, his redeeming love, his infinite patience, his holy nature, and more. Who we are brings glory to him because what he is doing in us is glorious.

Ephesians 1, along with thoughts about our lack of use value to God, is simmering in my heart. God’s truths are an elixir for my anxious doing and as the Spirit continues to stir, I am catching the waft of healing soul-questions. Questions arising from the suspicion that I have often headed in the wrong direction with my “why’s”. Questions that reorient and help my heart to rest, that comfort, that have me praising God for his other-worldly wisdom.

For others who seek God’s glory but have trouble working from a place of peace, other restless doers like me, perhaps some of these questions would serve you as well.

Dear beloved, chosen in Christ from before the foundations of the world, redeemed for the praise of his glorious grace.

…What if you glorify God not just by what you do, but by virtue of who you are?

…What if the most glorious display of his goodness is not in our works, but his workmanship— us (Eph. 2:10)?

…What if we believed that just as Adam and Eve were the glorious apex of creation, we believe our being remade into the image of Christ (us, the church) is the glorious apex of the new heavens and earth?

…What if, when the day of Christ comes, the most God-glorifying work done in the world is not done by man, but God himself? What if the most God-glorifying work done in our lives is that which is being done in us?

…What if we believed with God that this work was good? (Phil. 1:6)

…What if God desires to draw attention to his wisdom, power, grace, and kindness most chiefly in Christ’s work done for us? (Eph. 1:4-10, 2:7)

…What if the biggest question isn’t what you would do for God but who he himself is making you to be to the praise of his glory?

Motherhood & Family, Taking Heart, Truth & Orthodoxy

Existential Angst, Baby’s Breath, & The Preacher

IMG_4370She would’ve napped for longer if I put her down in the crib, but I let her fall asleep on me because I love the feel of her in my arms. “You love this age,” my sister said to me recently— I really do. I love the way she still fits, her chubby thighs, and her soft baby breaths.

Baby snuggles are one of God’s answers lately to my existential angst.

“There is godly way to pursue things in the world and sinful ways to pursue spiritual things,” one of my professors said once. His words worked to shift something in my foundations, my concrete paradigms of the Christian life. They also point a finger at the vestiges of sin in me. In particular, a sinful way I try to pursue the Kingdom is to demand direct ties between my good works— whether through writing, at church, or in my home— and visible fruit. This is part of my bent as a big picture person (NF, for you Myerrs-Brigg-ers) who is always looking for connections. It’s why I write, and read, and think. But in the everyday, it means I often try to find peace and purpose through productivity. The measures are ostensibly spiritual— but the trap is that in seeking to justify my work through results, I am seeking to do sacred work while still walking by sight.

This desire to know without a doubt that I am accomplishing all I should do, and in everything doing things of eternal consequence, bears bad fruit. I’m prone to fretfulness over my own effectiveness, to perfectionism in what I do, to anxiety over wasted time, and an overall inability to rest. It also leads to, “Why-do-I-feel-so-tired-and-like-I-didn’t-do-all-I-should-but-it’s-not-like-I-wasted-time-today-so-did-I-make-the-right-choices?” and the aforementioned existential angst.

Motherhood has been sanctifying here. In part, it has limited my ability to spend time on explicitly “spiritual” work so that I need to trust God’s words on the sacredness of secular work. It has led to more exhaustingly “unproductive” days than one. But it also has been the sphere of life I’ve received gracious correction through the comfort of God’s good gifts.

As a seeker of meaning, I find myself circling back to Ecclesiastes every so often, and I have been camping here recently. Here the Old Testament Preacher grapples with the question of life’s purpose. He cannot find it in pleasure, wealth, wisdom, or toil and so again and again speaks of life feeling meaningless, “a chasing after the wind.” His answer ultimately though, is not to deny pleasure, wealth, wisdom, or work. Rather, he declares:

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man. I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man. (Eccl. 3:11-12)

The reason the Preacher cannot find meaning in the temporal is not because it is bad, but because on every side he pushes against mystery. As eternal beings, our hearts grasp at the strings to connect all we do to the eternal. But in our finitude, we cannot begin to trace them all. Thus, the Preacher’s answer for my longing to find my security and justify my life through my works is worship. God alone, he says, does work that endures forever. We cannot add or take away from it, we cannot even fathom the sum of it. And so, we fear him who does eternal things. And our role here? We are called to “be joyful and do good” as long as we live, and to receive from God the gifts he gives.

Eric Liddell, missionary and Olympian running, said once that when he did, he felt God’s pleasure. In contrast, his competitor is depicted in the movie Chariots of Fire as describing his races as “10 lonely seconds to justify my existence.” The Christian, justified by Christ and delighted by the Father, does not need to justify her own existence. We work, yes, but as a gift. And we receive all he has to give during our few days under the sun, trusting that he who is over the sun is building something that lasts through the good we do.

As we surrender our self-justification, God gives us contentment and the ability to enjoy his gifts and our toil:

Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink andfind enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions  and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.

Through the Scriptures, God dismantles my idolatry of productivity and success, silencing the voices of accusation and judgement of a twisted conscience that does not allow for rest or mistakes or a sense of God’s pleasure. I can delight in the things of this world— my work, my children— and receive the contentment I feel in loving and serving them as good. As I learn to walk by faith, to surrender my need to understand and justify my own existence on my own terms, I rest with the little one snuggling in my arms. I receive this rest— and her— as given out of an overflow of God’s love.

We celebrated a birthday in our family this week, it flew by like a highway mile marker, giving testimony that the years indeed are a breath. We each shared why we were thankful for the birthday girl. We enjoyed a meal at one of her favorite restaurants. We delighted in each other. Food and drink, family, presents, and a sudden declaration of “BEST DAY OF THE YEAR!” by one being honored— all gifts. All from God who “keeps us occupied with joy in our hearts.”

Yes, the years are a but a breath, but they are so filled lavishly with good things by the unspeakably good God of infinite worth, power, and wisdom. Knowing this, I will work and rest today, and in worship, breathe it in.

Taking Heart

Continually

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I need Thee, O I need Thee,
Every hour I need Thee!
O bless me now, Savior, I come to Thee.
– I Need Thee Every Hour

The girls are in school and we are in a new season. While I’m not exactly swimming in free time, I’ve been afforded a bit of mental space and time (albeit with toddler and baby). But with this gift of margin, I have found myself anxious, even paralyzed at times. There’s so much I want to do but not enough time to do it all. How do I choose what gets done and what doesn’t? Where should start?

This anxiety isn’t new for me. A refrain in my tenure as a stay-at-home mom has been the struggle of feeling like I’m not accomplishing all I should. Some of my problem is practical— I need more realistic goals and expectations. Some of it is spiritual— the ongoing struggle against perfectionism and asceticism.

God is speaking to these things even now. I have been coming to “aha!” moments with gladness, then stopping and realizing I’ve had these “revelations” before and have either forgotten or not thought to apply them this time.

In Psalm 71:3, the singer cries out: Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.

The continually is a comfort for forgetters like me.

In education, there are different types of curriculum. The “mastery” ones stay on one topic and move one once the learner has “mastered” it. “Spiral” ones spread out one topic over time, progressively bringing the learner to a different level each time a topic is repeated. I am hoping that the reiterations of truth God is speaking to me now are going deeper than before. That God is patiently weaving multi-spiral lessons into my life and I’m just seeing one strand of color resurface for now. Or maybe I’m just giving a chance to learn what I never mastered. Whatever the case, I am glad that God is not upset that I need him to repeat himself. Again.

Continually.

Do you need him to speak to you words of grace and truth today? Are you frustrated that you still need help? Still need comfort? Still need healing? Still need correction?  Do you imagine he is as frustrated as you are? Picture the most patient and kind teacher you know. Times that by 1000 and you’ll start to get a clearer picture of what God is like.

Beloved, take refuge in your infinitely gracious God today. Our fleeing to God for help is not a one and done thing. As our Father, he delights in our coming to him. As Lord, he receives glory as he gives the command to save. He does not tire of repeating himself and will not rebuke you as you come to him once more.