“We as followers of Christ don’t have some kind of special super power. We are not the spiritually elite. We just have the authority to show up. To show up and proclaim the nearness of God that scatters the darkness. And we can show up for life and for each other and for the world because what we need for healing and sustenance is always the same as the simple, ordinary things right in front of us—that’s just the way God works.“ -Nadia Bolz Weber
Early this morning, I was reading the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 and already knowing the end, I started losing focus when surprisingly the story grabbed my imagination—as if to say, “don’t be so bored”—I have more to teach you. “Jesus then took the loaves and gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted.”
And I started thinking of Nadia’s quote in relation to being seated. Being seated is simple un-profound, and not hard to do. The people with Jesus that day simply had to show up, sit, and Jesus did the rest.
Daily I’m crying out to Jesus, where are you? What are you saying to me? Why can’t I find more answers? I want more assuredness from God, more peace, more answers, less doubt. I assume I must need to do more of “something” to gain access to God.
Sitting can be challenging. It feels unproductive, a little boring, vulnerable and uncomfortable. Yet I need not run, hide, or try to produce, but simply sit and take in what God puts right in front of me today.
Perhaps in the rootedness of staying put, we open ourselves to the possibility to receive from a God who wishes to give us as much goodness as we dare to want.
I’m learning about composting, and it’s reminding me about how God works with us to build spiritual maturity. The composter takes kitchen scraps, discarded hair, shredded newspaper, lawn clippings, (and more!), and lets them sit together, sometimes passively (which takes longer), and sometimes aggressively—using plenty of rotation and heat—to break down the discards (which most of us send to the dump) into soil-enriching organic matter that will make a garden thrive.
God does the same thing. He chooses “the lowly and despised things of this world” (1 Corinthians 1:28). He takes our weaknesses, our failures, the parts we want to hide, and transforms them into something precious. Sometimes, as in composting, it’s the “cold method”—our lives are proceeding smoothly with little interference. At other times (speeding up the process), heat and turbulence may make us feel like we’re living in the middle of a revolving compost bin. But it’s okay. Either way, we are being transformed into the likeness of Jesus, who is love, and, eventually, all around us will thrive.
I picked some zucchini from the garden this morning. As I decided which squash to pick and which to let grow for another day, I realized that God is the great gardener. Sometimes it’s best to pick zucchini small for the best flavor. But sometimes a larger squash is better for soup or bread. And sometimes it’s best not to pick one at all, so the seeds can mature for the next crop. For me, it’s a matter of trust. Do I trust God enough to believe that when I’m picked I’m ready? Or if I’m not picked, do I trust that he might have some other plan in mind?
When life hands you lemons, tread water. Presumptive lemonade could be a mistake. When I read the Psalms, I’m intrigued by the amount of waiting the writer describes. Usually, he’s made a mess of his life, lost his way, or been defeated in battle. Out of innovative ideas, he hides away and says to God, “Okay, it’s your turn. I’m ready for help.”
Now it isn’t easy to tread water, in fact, it’s hard work. Experts tell us to remain upright in a vertical position, head high, breathing slow and regulated, making use of all four limbs at once. We’re in a state of readiness, prepared for rescue, but not the one in charge.
Sometimes life is just about waiting. Waiting for answers, waiting for direction, waiting for God to gather the pieces and make us whole again.
Last week, I started a week-long conversation with the Lord. It began with me in my frustration, asking God how long it would take me to change. ( well, honestly, it really began with me asking the Lord how long it was going to take the person with whom I’d just had an argument to change!)
As I settled down and began to listen more, He began to teach me.
He told me I couldn’t change myself. He told me I couldn’t become like Him just by copying Him. That wasn’t enough.
I waited for Him to tell me more, but that is all I heard for that day.
The next day, I was talking to the Lord about some stress in my life and why He was allowing it. What good was there in it? As I listened, I heard Him say, “as you are pressured and press yourself against Me, my image is imprinted on you. All you have to do is throw yourself on Me.
As I went into our church a few days later, I looked at the bronze Adam & Eve on the doors. I realized the art form to make the doors, the Lost Wax process, is similar to what happens to us in Transfiguration – as we allow the pressure in our lives to push us towards Jesus, He impresses His image into us.
A few years ago, I tried writing a folk song recounting the story of Jonah. While my song had several (now forgotten) verses, I do remember the first one:
Old Jonah looking for a ship to sail,
Ended up in the belly of a whale.
When the wind blew, he drew a lot,
And a hungry fish was the best he got!
Jonah’s testimony is a fascinating one. His four brief chapters of fame are a case study in vacillation between faithlessness and faithfulness. The cowardly man who “fled from the presence of the Lord,” is the same who later insists that the sailors, to save themselves, throw him into the midst of the sea. Swallowed by a whale and incarcerated in an unknown environment, his earnest prayer is one of thanksgiving to God. His gratitude quickly turns to indignation when Ninevah is spared, and he’s inconsolable when a worm eats his shade tree. Perhaps the greatest thing about this story is God’s love for and infinite patience with His wayward child. He uses everything at His disposal — from a whale to a worm — to accomplish His will in both Jonah and 120,000 Ninevites.
I was listening at our Lauds service today. (I don’t always and am easily lured into thinking and re-thinking my own agenda.) But today, three phrases begged me to listen. From Luke 1, the Benedictus: to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins; the Lenten Reading for Wednesday: Is not our Lord just now ready to bless you?To increase your faith, and love, and patience, and gentleness? (Charles Wesley); and finally, the Collect for the Day: You crown the merits of the saints and pardon sinners when they repent. Lent is power-packed with hope. Salvation, forgiveness, and the freedom to repent, open a corridor to Easter’s joy.
Advent is a time to pause and consider, to wait with patience as action builds and events unfold: an angel’s visit, a young woman’s obedience, and a husband’s acceptance; a journey to a hostile city, unwelcome and unprotected; shepherds and choirs of angels, noble kings bearing gifts, and a treacherous king bearing destruction. It’s only Act I and we are witness as a child-king is born into the hands of all mankind.
It’s hard to be patient. I’ve been told that this gets better as you get older, but I’m not there, yet. There are a few specific things in my life I know God has initiated. Things I know he’s given me hope and vision for, but either they just haven’t happened yet, or they are happening in a way I can’t see or understand. In his steady way of writing, I find that these words of Oswald Chambers help re-assure my wavering faith.
God gives us a vision, and then He takes us down to the valley to batter us into the shape of that vision. It is in the valley that so many of us give up and faint. Every God-given vision will become real if we will only have patience. Ever since God gave us the vision, He has been at work. He is getting us into the shape of the goal He has for us, and yet over and over again we try to escape from the Sculptor’s hand in an effort to batter ourselves into the shape of our own goal . . .
Allow the Potter to put you on His wheel and whirl you around as He desires. Then as surely as God is God, and you are you, you will turn out as an exact likeness of the vision. But don’t lose heart in the process. If you have ever had a vision from God, you may try as you will to be satisfied on a lower level, but God will never allow it.
Perhaps I just need to be more patient and let God do what he does best — transform us.
I was working on a project the other morning — one that involved keeping careful count of an item, and therefore required my full concentration.
My dog was with me, quietly hovering just on the edge of my circle of focus . . . except for his insistent repetition of dropping his tennis ball on a box in front of me, or at my feet, and then backing up expectantly, waiting for me to catapult it into the air so he could give chase. He’d pull back and wait for a minute, then, if he did not get the desired response, he’d snatch it up again and drop it an inch away (as if maybe just a slightly different location would inspire a better result). We’d had our play time so I ignored him while I finished up.
But at some point he pulled my focus away from my task and onto his face, his ears alert, jaw twitching, and wide brown eyes full of confident and hopeful expectancy — truly believing if he just kept at it, eventually I’d turn his way and kick the ball — which I did.
And it hit me — here was an image of our relationship with God — or perhaps what it should be. Not that He ignores us, but sometimes the answer doesn’t come in the time I want it to. Too often I quit and simply walk away from the ball — or maybe snatch it back in frustration and sulk — or tear it to pieces. But maybe the point — and the work — is to stay in the constant state of hope and expectancy, believing that the answer WILL come — and poised and ready to spring after it with all joy.