Tag Archives: Christianity

We Are Weak Together

You know, I appreciate the idea that in my weakness I most see God’s strength manifested. I do. I appreciate the notion that I am completely dependent on God, totally reliant on Him to accomplish anything worthwhile. Those are good thoughts. They come straight from the Bible. I know those principles are true. Set against a lovely sunset and worded in sing-song verse, they make the perfect To Encourage You greeting cards.

But honestly, the reality of living those thoughts pretty much stinks. It’s not fun to feel weak. I don’t particularly enjoy feeling utterly dependent on God. Do you?

No, I prefer the times God seems to say, Hey, Jenn, I made you naturally talented in this area, so I’m plugging you in here. Now shine! And there are times God works like that. I LOVE it when He works like that! When I’m doing those things I believe I was born to do, I feel confident and grateful and so alive!

Sometimes, though, God intentionally puts us in a place of dependence on Him. He makes it so obvious that I need Him. And, of course, I know I do need Him. I just prefer not to feel so desperately dependent on Him. I prefer that underlying theoretical I need Him because He’s God and I know any strength I have is because He gave it to me, now watch me keep these plates spinning on my own! 

I was talking with some friends about this the other day. We have all been stretched beyond ourselves this year doing a ministry that seems so much bigger and harder than anything we should be leading. So many times we have raised our eyebrows and looked at each other, laughing, like  Can you believe anyone let us be in charge of this?! Shouldn’t they have picked the real grown-ups?! And other times, we have floundered and cried and felt foolish and frustrated because Really, God? Really? Did we misunderstand You? Was this really Your idea? Because we don’t want to insult you, God, but we would have thought You could plan this all out better and find someone capable of actually doing these jobs well! You know, seeing as how You are God and all. 

And I’m not going to tie this all up with a pretty little Christianese ribbon. I just can’t. I’m not in that place. I just want you to know, friends, if you are feeling weak and bucking against that, you are not alone. If you are struggling to lean into God and give in to that feeling of full reliance on Him, I’m right there with you. I’m here, acknowledging that you are doing a hard thing. It’s hard to own your weakness and trust that God is strong. We are doing this hard thing together, friends. We are holding on to Him, hedging all our bets that He is Who He claims to be and that He won’t let us down.

I’m here, holding on with you, weakly grasping onto His hand and your hand. We are weak together. And somehow, it’s going to be OK.

holdingon

 

 

 

 

If they’d had Facebook, would Paul have unfriended Barnabas? (or Disagreements Among Christians)

Are you ready for the understatement of the year? Here it is — Sometimes Christians disagree with each other. As if you could spend any time on the internet and not realize that! Right?

We can read the exact same passage of scripture and pray over it and wrestle with it and come away with two (or three or four . . .) very different meanings. And I don’t claim to know how that happens. And the peacemaker middle children everywhere would probably much rather have God spell everything out exactly so there is nothing gray anywhere, then we’d all just get along already.

It’s not only our understanding of scripture that differs but our perspective and preferences and approach to life can also be quite diverse. Some of that can be chalked up to being at various points along the path of spiritual maturity, but some of it is simply because God doesn’t have one specific mold he presses His people from. We come from different places. We have different personalities. We have different passions and interests. We come at scripture from different backgrounds and with different mindsets.

Disagreements among Christians aren’t new. Believers have disagreed with each other ever since being a Christian became a thing. In the book of Acts in the Bible we can read about the very first followers of Jesus disagreeing with each other. You know, I love that the Bible isn’t a PR-spin for God showing the good and hiding the bad, but a book about real people with real quirks and warts and three-dimensional personalities. Sometimes those real people didn’t see eye to eye – which is refreshing and encouraging because I don’t always see eye to eye with every other Christian.

Early on, the first followers of Jesus were Jewish, and they thought the Church should reflect the Jewishness of Jesus (and themselves). These believers wanted new converts to be circumcised. Other believers reminded them that God was more concerned with a person’s heart than with his . . . you know. Some early believers wanted everyone to follow Jewish dietary laws. Others believed all food was fair game, so to speak, and people could eat what they wanted with freedom and a clear conscience.

Two early Christian leaders, Paul and Barnabas, even had a big argument about whether Mark could come with them on a mission trip. Paul thought Mark was an unreliable quitter; Barnabas wanted to show him mercy and give him a second chance. They had such a “sharp disagreement” that Paul took Silas and went one direction and Barnabas took Mark and went another. And the Bible doesn’t say who was right and who was wrong. It really doesn’t even seem to matter to God. He used Paul and his team and Barnabas and his team and got twice the work done in the same amount of time. Because God has that amazing way of using everything to bring good.

Sometimes, like in the case of the dietary laws and the circumcision issue, the early Church leaders met and talked it out and prayed it out and formed a compromise so as to protect and honor everyone’s backgrounds and preferences as much as possible. Sometimes God used men like Paul to encourage the people not to worry about who is right and who is wrong, but to focus on respecting each other and loving each other. He even advised the early believers who were right to give up their rights in order to better love others. It seems that being right about the nonessentials isn’t nearly as important to God as loving each other.

Paul, on authority from God, instructed those first Christians to stop judging each other in matters nonessential to the faith, to make every effort to get along, to be patient with the weaknesses and failures of others. He encouraged the believers to accept each other just as Christ accepted each of them. (Read Romans, chapters 13, 14, 15 for more on this.)

I’ll be honest with you. Sometimes I get caught up in debates. I want to be right, and I want to convince you that I am right. But when I read how those early Church leaders handled conflict and I read Paul’s advice, I want to do better. I want to be better. I want to remember that just as I am living out my beliefs to God, other Christians are living out their beliefs to God. We will all stand before God and answer for ourselves.

In the meantime, my job is to love my neighbor as myself and dress myself with Jesus — put on Jesus every day so it’s like I’m wearing Jesus, completely encapsulated in Jesus.

My job is to love, doing no harm to my neighbor. God’s job is to be God – to judge and to shake it all out for good.

Failure, Success, My Over-Critical Brain, and God

realsuccess

Today I have been thinking about success.

I tend to be a bit critical. Sometimes of others. But I am most critical of myself. At the risk of sounding like a complete loon I will tell you — after I lead a small group or speak to a large group or participate in a Bible study or lead a children’s program or attend a meeting or (for the LOVE!) have a normal, everyday conversation, I replay every detail in my mind and analyze it all. I chastise myself for wording this thought the wrong way or for blurting out something without thinking it through. I beat myself up for talking too much, for saying that sarcastic comment, for making that joke that someone could have taken the wrong way.

I have a pretty finite idea of what success looks like. Success = top performance. Success = perfection. Imperfections, mistakes, putting my foot in my mouth — all of that = failure. And as I drive home from wherever or lie down to sleep at night, my brain whirs with the replay of failures. I don’t want to be a satan-behind-every-rock kinda girl, but I really believe this is part of what he does to debilitate us. The Bible calls him our accuser. He shoots fiery darts of accusations at us. Some of those whispers in my head telling me how I came up short again, how I flubbed this one up — some of those whispers are from my own overanalytical, neurotic self. But some of those whispers certainly come from the enemy who wants to paralyze me with fear of more failure.

And so I must recognize those whisper-thoughts as the lies and hatefulness that they are. The Bible calls this taking thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ. 

In the quiet moments, in the aftermath of my interactions with others, when those whisper-thoughts are attacking me, I have to breathe a deep breath. Then when my brain has enough oxygen to fully function, I have to remember that my definition of success is just plain wrong.

My math is a bit fuzzy. You see, real success does not equal perfection. Real success allows for failure and growth and authenticity and vulnerability. Real success allows for merciful moments of redemption amidst the flaws and failure — because that is when we often see God’s hand at work. Real success is not about my saying all the right things and being in control. Real success isn’t about me at all. Real success is all about allowing for God’s plan to prevail. 

God’s kingdom is a sort of upside-down kingdom. His math isn’t exactly like our math. The definitions in His language aren’t the same as our definitions. God’s kingdom is a kingdom in which the first are last and the last are first. The lowly are exalted and the high and mighty are humbled and made low. Our weaknesses are exactly the best places for His strengths to show up and show off.

You see, when we’re doing life with God, our failures don’t negate success; our failures become opportunities for God to work. His speciality is making good from everything. He promises He will! When we love Him, He works everything out for our good and His glory.

So I don’t have to do the slow-motion replay after every conversation and interaction. When the critical whispers in my head start aiming their fiery dart-words at me, I can capture those thoughts and breathe truth onto them, extinguishing them. True success is about God’s working in every situation to bring good for us and glory for Himself. And any failure of mine isn’t big enough to stop God from doing His thing. That’s the truth!

The Grace Microwave ~ remix

When we moved to FL and crammed our 8-person family into an apartment surrounded by a bunch of other missionary families who were sometimes all up in our business, I quickly realized the beauty and humiliating pain of grace. In 2011, I wrote about it. 

notpretending

You know what’s the fast track for learning to live in grace? The microwave cooking version of learning grace? Living in an apartment building with a bunch of other missionaries. No, wait. Living in an apartment building with your children and a bunch of other missionaries.

Yeah, there’s no pretending. No putting on a show. It is what it is. You are what you are. And everyone sees. Or hears.

Shortly after we moved here, my girls were leaving their bedroom window open just a little. With no screen. It didn’t take long for the boys to discover this. And it took even less time for the boys to find great sport in tossing things from our third floor window to the bushes below. Legos, hair brushes, paperwads, Polly Pockets, the sisters’ panties.

I didn’t realize the boys were doing this until the girls looked out their window one day and spied their stuff, their embarrassing stuff, in the bushes. I don’t even know how many times I traipsed down three flights of stairs and around the building to retrieve army men and K’nex creations and American Girl doll shoes and embarrassing little girl underthings.

The boys also discovered tiny bubbles in the paint in the hallways of the building. Self-control is not the most natural character trait in most little boys — and certainly not in my boys. So they picked at the bubbles and peeled at the paint until we had a spot strangely resembling the state of Texas in our hallway. Yeah, there’s no hiding that.

When the fire alarm screams at midnight, there’s no pretense. We stand around outside with all of our co-workers in whatever we happen to be wearing at midnight.

If the children are asleep, I can hear my downstairs neighbor’s surround sound television. If my apartment is completely quiet, I can hear him sneeze. And you know what that means? He and his family can hear us. (Shudder!) Because I’m sure it’s quiet in their apartment a lot more often than it’s quiet in mine!

So when my boys run and jump and turn cartwheels and thump on the floor, the people downstairs hear them. And that very next second, when I shout, “Hey! No jumping! The people downstairs will think you’re falling through the ceiling!” Yeah, they hear that too.

When I completely lose it and go all DragonMomma and start breathing fire and smoking at the ears, the neighbors can hear that. People who don’t know me well often think I’m so patient and one of those have-it-all-together mothers. After living here for four years, I’m pretty sure nobody in my building believes those illusions of me.

When you live in a building like this, there’s no putting on the mask and playing perfect Christian family. There’s no way to pretend or act every hour of every day. Children behave like children; they make messes and noise and mistakes. And sometimes I am exhausted and out of patience and I react with lots of myself and very little Jesus.

And so I fall into grace. And there is something really freeing about not being able to pretend. I’ve had imperfect children and been an imperfect mother right in front of God and everyone, and the world hasn’t crashed down around us. Instead, grace abounds.

This living arrangement has been an intense tutor in my need for grace and in learning to give grace to others. (Because they aren’t perfect Christians either.)

We’ve also learned to fix windows so boys can’t throw their sisters’ panties into the bushes.

How about you? Have you ever been in the Grace Microwave? 

Illuminating and Transforming The Darkness

Darkness and light. Wounded healers. Compassion. Forgiveness. These are all thoughts rolling around in my brain and echoing through my soul today.

I’ve started reading Brennan Manning’s book, Abba’s Child. You know how it is when you don’t even realize you’re thirsty, but then you take a drink of water, and it’s so cold and refreshing and satisfying and you suddenly can’t get enough water? That’s how I feel reading this book. I didn’t even realize my soul was thirsty for these truths.

In Chapter One, Manning writes, “God not only forgives and forgets our shameful deeds but even turns their darkness into light.” He goes on to write, “Christians who remain in hiding continue to live the lie. We deny the reality of our sin. In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.” Referencing Henri Nouwen’s work, Manning goes on, “The Wounded Healer implies that grace and healing are communicated through the vulnerability of men and women who have been fractured and heartbroken by life.” 

Really, I could read and re-read those words all day long. “If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.” In order to truly light the way for others, we must be vulnerable.

Earlier in Chapter One, Manning writes of how we Christians, especially in the American church, are so hard on ourselves, that we actually have an “intense dislike” for ourselves. We beat ourselves up over our shortcomings. I think this is why so many of us within the church carefully hide what we consider to be our darkest sins, our hardest battles. Manning’s answer to this self-hatred or, at the least, self-dislike — “We learn to be gentle with ourselves by experiencing the intimate, heartfelt compassion of Jesus.”

I think it’s hard for us to experience that heartfelt compassion. Many of us believe that Jesus can be compassionate about some of our sins, but the darkest, blackest ones just make Him angry or disgusted or repelled. I read recently “Nothing about you repulses Jesus.” And the truth of that statement was like a giant spotlight on a little notion my brain has held onto forever. I didn’t even realize I’d thought it. But yeah, a little part of me thought that certain bits of me repulse Jesus. Have you ever thought that too? Well, we should stop with that thinking because it’s not true. As Brennan Manning says at the beginning of Chapter One, “God is relentlessly tender and compassionate toward us just as we are – not in spite of our sins and faults (that would not be total acceptance), but with them.” God is not repelled by us. He is compassionate – intimately compassionate – toward us.

Once we begin to experience that heartfelt compassion, that relentless tenderness of Jesus, we can begin to open up the darkest places of ourselves for His light to shine on. And as His light shines on those places, the darkness is not only exposed but transformed into light.

The more we hide our sins and weaknesses and struggles in the darkest corners of ourselves, the more we hold onto shame and self-hatred, the less light there is in us. And not only that – we are not effective in communicating grace and healing. Of course not! We haven’t fully experienced grace and healing if we’re hiding bits of ourselves in the deep, dark closets of our souls. And we cannot communicate a grace and healing we ourselves have not fully embraced.

In God’s economy the best healers, the most effective healers, are the ones who have most fully experienced healing themselves and who then communicate that compassion and grace through their own vulnerability and brokenness.

I don’t think we have to broadcast all of our sin and brokenness for all the world to see. That is not always wise. But we can begin by being real with God Himself, by letting light shine on some of our darkness and transform it to light. We can wisely choose some people with whom we can be vulnerable. We can trust that truly all things do work together for good, including our sin and weakness.

And then, as we experience the relentless compassion of our Father God, we can share that compassion and grace with others by telling them how He transforms our darkness to light.

Isn’t it exhausting to work so hard to conceal our wounds out of fear and shame? Maybe 2014 is the year that the darkness of fear and shame will be chased out by the light of compassion and forgiveness.

In The Boat

I really think the story of Jesus walking on the water (Matthew 14) is one of my favorite passages of scripture. Every time I read it, it’s like I’m mining new truths out of it. Seriously, I could camp out at that chapter and read it (and the same story in Mark 6 and John 6) for a month and get more and more insight each day.

I love that the disciples got into the boat and started rowing because Jesus told them to. They hadn’t completely understood what Jesus had been doing earlier that day, when Jesus fed thousands of people. They weren’t having a gold-star disciple moment. Mark 6:52 straight up says their hearts were hardened at that moment. These guys were tired from a short-term mission trip. They hadn’t even had time to eat because everywhere they went, people wanted something from them. When they finally were going on a little retreat with Jesus, gobs of people followed them. And instead of sending the crowds away, Jesus healed the people and had a little church service right there in the boondocks! And when it got late, the disciples wanted Jesus to at least send the crowds away to get some food and find a place to stay. But Jesus told the disciples they should feed the people. And so they searched around for food or money or something, and then Jesus did that miracle and fed everyone. But the disciples were tired. And so they clearly didn’t fully appreciate the lesson Jesus had for them in that miracle. But even so, when Jesus told them to get in a boat and row, they did. (I love this, but this isn’t my point right now, so I won’t pitch my tent here like I’m tempted to.) 

And after they got in the boat when Jesus told them to, they rowed right out to the middle of the lake and along came a windstorm. It was awful. They rowed and rowed against the wind, but the boat wasn’t making any progress. The wind howled; the waves crashed; and they were stuck. Exhausted. Frustrated. Hearts hardened. Exactly where Jesus had told them to be.

Why would Jesus have told them to row into a windstorm?

Well, I don’t know that I have all the answers for that. I surely don’t understand the mind of God. But I see some hints, some possible reasons, as I dig into this chapter of Matthew. I won’t outline all the possible reasons here and now because I want to focus on only one. Maybe, just maybe, Jesus put them on the boat, knowing full well the winds were picking up, and then waited until the disciples were extremely frustrated and the winds were awful before he came to them because the conditions had to be just right for him to demonstrate himself as God.

They needed to know Jesus was really the Son of God. These guys knew for sure he was a great prophet. They knew he was the best rabbi ever. But they needed to know he was God. And so Jesus sent them out in the boat, knowing a mighty windstorm was a-brewin’. And the winds came. And the boat rocked. And the disciples rowed and rowed and rowed, not getting anywhere. The waves crashed up against the sides of the boat. It was dark and ominous. And just in that awful moment, Jesus came walking on the water. Defying gravity. Overpowering even the laws of nature. Demonstrating his power and glory. He was God. He was truly the Son of God. And, seeing Jesus walk on top the water and help Peter walk on top the water too, hearing Jesus say, “Don’t be afraid. I Am,” — for the first time, they knew. They knew. Jesus was truly (is truly) the Son of God. And they worshipped him.

Sometimes it takes a scary windstorm – sometimes it takes ominous darkness, crashing waves, fear so gripping we think we’re seeing ghosts — sometimes it takes being stuck, rowing in circles, making no progress, feeling confused and exhausted and a little bit hardened — sometimes it takes all that in order for God to really demonstrate His power and glory in our lives. Because we miss it otherwise. Because when things are going well, we get caught up in our own expectations, our own dreams of power, our own fitting Jesus into our box. So the scary winds get our attention. The frustrating, frightening waves tossing us around are the backdrop for Him to show up and overpower everything else and encourage our faith and calm the waters and help us. The storm is so we will see and know that he truly is God.

Jesus had big plans for those disciples. They needed to understand who he was! And the temporary fear and frustration of the windstorm was so worth it because they saw God’s power. They saw Jesus for who he is.

I have seen this in my own life. I’ve been in some pretty big windstorms. My boat has rocked, and I have been afraid. But always, if I look up, Jesus is there showing his deity to me. Always, if I look up, there is God being God, wanting me to see and worship him. I’ll be honest, I’ve missed it from time to time. I’ve been so focused on rowing, so focused on keeping myself afloat, so focused on the wind and the waves that I have not looked for him. But every time I’ve looked for him, I’ve found him walking out to be with me, encouraging me to have a brave, bold faith in him, calming the winds and being God.

Rowing Against The Wind

From the archives —- I wrote this 8 years ago, when my youngest was a newborn and my oldest wasn’t quite 8. As I study this story in Matthew chapter 14 again this week, I am thinking about how I still often feel like I’m rowing against the wind. 

 

Do you ever feel like you’re running in place? Spinning your wheels? Going against the flow?

I feel like that pretty often. I have six children under age eight. Many days I consider it a success if we all have our clothes on by the time my husband comes home from work. Some days it is difficult to feel like I have accomplished much. I clean up the living room only to have toys scattered around five minutes later. I do laundry only to find three days’ worth of outfits hidden under my daughter’s bed. I change my son’s diaper only to smell that my other son needs changed too. I am running in place.

Even more frustrating are the times when I feel like I’m running in place in more important matters. We teach and train our children yet encounter the same discipline issues over and over again. I face the same self-discipline struggles time and again – having my quiet time or not saving a week’s worth of Bible study homework for the last night.

Some of my struggles are the result of my own sins – covetousness, materialism, gluttony, laziness. Some, though, are the result of my circumstances. One income can only stretch so far. Six small children will behave like . . . well, like six small children. This can be difficult to understand because my husband and I believe God has called me to be a stay-at-home mom, and we believe it is God’s plan for us to have all these children. Yet it is because of these very circumstances that I sometimes feel like I’m spinning my wheels or running in place.

Recently I learned that the Bible calls this rowing against the wind. In Mark 6:45-52 is the story of Jesus walking on water. I had read this story many times and focused on the great miracle of Jesus walking on water, but recently I studied this and saw something new. Mark 6:45 says, “Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side . . .” And down in verse 48 it says, “Then He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them.” The disciples were straining, rowing against the wind, spinning their wheels, running in place — whatever you want to call it — because they obeyed. They were doing exactly what Jesus made them do, and they were rowing against the wind because of it.

How encouraging that was! My struggles are not always because of disobedience and sin; sometimes I’ll have struggles because of my obedience to God. It’s right there in the Bible! The disciples strained because they were obeying Jesus. Maybe you feel like you’re rowing against the wind yet you know you are doing exactly what God has called you to do. Maybe you are facing persecution on the mission field. Maybe your extended family opposes the decisions you are making, decisions you know have been God-led. Maybe you find yourself in the same arguments with your child over and over again – what clothes she can wear, what movies she can watch, what friends she can hang out with. You know you are obeying God, but you are definitely rowing against the wind.

If so, then watch what Jesus does in Mark chapter 6. Verse 48 says “He saw them straining at rowing.” Jesus saw them straining. And He sees me straining. And He sees you straining. Just knowing that Jesus sees me trying to obey Him encourages me. He sees me as I discipline my four year old for the fifth time in the past hour for yanking on the dog and making her growl. He sees me at 10:00 p.m. when I sit down to finish the Bible study I wanted to do at 6:00 that morning. He sees me when I cry out to Him, begging for either a little sleep or His energy at 2:00 a.m. and again at 2:30 and again at 3:00.

Later in verse 48 Mark writes, “Now about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea . . .” Not only did Jesus see them, He came to them. In verse 51, we learn that “He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased.” The book of John recounts this same story in chapter 6. Verse 21 says it this way, “Then they willingly received Him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land where they were going.” Jesus will see us and come to us and help us make progress.

That is wonderfully encouraging to me! I may be rowing against the wind, but it’s not a permanent thing and it’s not futile. Jesus has a plan for me, a plan that will rescue me and glorify Him. I am not sure how much time passed between when Jesus saw the disciples straining and when He walked out to help them; but I do know that He rescued them.

After He saw them, He walked out on the water to them. What an amazing way to show His power! What a wonderful way to glorify Himself! He walked on those billowing waves, and then He calmed them. Immediately, the disciples reached their destination. When Jesus gave the disciples their instructions back in verse 45, He knew the wind would be against them. He knew they would strain to row. He also knew this would be the perfect opportunity to show His glory and power and increase the disciples’ faith in Him. Jesus had a plan.

He has a plan for me too. I may be running in place, spinning my wheels, rowing against the wind; but Jesus has not put me in this place and left me alone. He sees and He comes.

Morning Whack-a-Mole (or Morning Devotions — tomayto, tomahto)

photo-53Morning devotions is one of my favorite family traditions. Because my older three leave the house at 6:45, we don’t read a devotion together any more. I want to, but this is definitely a case of my spirit is willing, but my not-a-morning-person flesh is very weak. It’s on my list of things I want to do, but I’m giving myself grace on this one. Anyway, my three little guys catch the bus much later, so we read from Jesus Calling for kids together each morning. And I love it.

I love that they have scripture and thoughts of God fresh in their minds before they hop on the school bus. I love that we pray together each morning before they leave — even if we’re running late and the bus is about to come and all I can say is God, please fill these boys up with You today and help them to love You with all their heart, soul, strength and mind and to love other people too. Amen. 

When it seems I mess up a lot as a mom (Hello! Like last night when I completely went grouchy-crazy and lost it over absolutely nothing important. And had to tearfully apologize to Lauren.) — so when it seems I mess up a lot, I know I am doing this one thing well. And, you know, sometimes we hang onto whatever little thread we have. Right?

Reading some Bible verses and thoughts about God together each morning gets our heads on right for the day. It sets our focus a little bit, puts us in the right frame of mind to take on the day. It’s a habit I hope my kids develop on their own because we’re establishing it now. And I trust that these truths we’re planting each morning in their hearts will take root. That just when they need a thought or bit of truth the most, the words of our morning devotions will spring to mind.

Most mornings, our time together is sweet. I read (sometimes Daddy is still here and he reads) and they listen, then one of us prays. It takes three or four minutes, maybe five if we have a lot to pray about. But I was recently thinking about the days when we first started. The children were younger. Some of them had the attention span of a gnat. They weren’t in love with the idea of sitting down and listening to a devotional reading. It took a while to get them to all come to the table. And just when the last one finally meandered in, another would remember he only had one sock and jump up to search for the missing one. A giant game of whack-a-mole does not put a momma in a deep spiritual mood for reading from the Bible.

In those early days, I would start to read, get four words out, then a child would interrupt with some extremely urgent thing to say, like I hope we play dodgeball in PE today. Then just when I’d get us back on-track and re-read those four words and add on another three words, somebody would accidentally kick someone else’s chair while putting on a shoe. Drama would ensue. I would douse that flame and start reading again. After a few more words, someone would burp or make a face or whisper something important about LEGOs to someone else. And our three minute devotional reading would take fifteen minutes.

Many mornings I’d start our devotion time with a prayer. You know, one of those prayers that is really more toward my children than to God. Dear God, please let us all hear Your words to us this morning. And help us not to touch each other or whisper or burp or interrupt while Momma’s reading. Please help us remember that You are God Almighty and we have to treat You with respect and honor, like being perfectly silent during devotion time. Amen. And then my children would go ahead and burp and whisper and touch each other and play with army men and drum on the table. And I would wonder if this was really such a good idea after all.

But gradually the time between interruptions grew. They came to the table more quickly. They began to accept this as part of the routine.  They got older; their attention spans increased. Little by little, they got with the program. Now, many mornings nobody interrupts at all. Not every morning, mind you. My children are still very much children. Last night during Advent readings, my oldest and youngest were whispering about rubber band bracelets instead of, you know, listening to the promise of Messiah’s coming. Because deciding colors for rubber band bracelets is pretty important. So we still have our moments of gnat-like attention spans and distractions. But we press on. And, really, in this tradition, the sweet moments now outnumber the frustrating ones.

So, Mommas (or Daddies) of little ones, if you’re considering reading a morning devotion together, I want to encourage you – Do it! Even when it’s frustrating and distractions abound, even when it seems they don’t want to listen, Do it! Choose something short and age-appropriate. (I do love, love, love Jesus Calling for kids!) Pray that you’ll be gentle and kind and loving when the children interrupt — because they WILL interrupt. Expect it to take longer than it should. Maybe try reading to them while they’re eating. Their mouths will be busy with food and maybe less likely to interrupt with the important announcement of I hope we have Asian chicken for lunch today! 

I can’t even stress enough how glad I am we pushed through the thoughts of giving it up, the thoughts of how it seemed a futile exercise in getting everyone’s attention at once. This will be one of my favorite memories of my children’s growing-up years — sitting around the breakfast table and reading reminders of God’s love and faithfulness and praying for the new day together.

Giving With Gratefulness

Throwback Thursday - I wrote this in April of 2009. A little more than a year earlier, we had uprooted our lives to serve as support staff missionaries in the home office of a large international mission organization. 

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Did you know we’re supposed to be thanking God when we make our offerings to Him?  (I know, some of you are saying, Duh, everyone knows that and I just spent 30 seconds of my life clicking on this blog, and I won’t get that 30 seconds back.  Sorry.  I’ve told you all along that I’m a little slow on the uptake sometimes.)

I was reading Deuteronomy 26 the other day and noticed God’s instructions for the Israelites after they harvested their first crops in the Promised Land.  As they gave the priest the basketful of the firstfruits, they were supposed to recite the stories of God’s faithfulness to them.  They were supposed to give a brief history of how God had delivered their nation from Egypt and kept His promises.  Then they were supposed to bow down and rejoice in all the good things the Lord had given them ( Deut. 26:11).

God wanted the Israelites to give Him their best and to do it out of hearts full of thankfulness.  As they gave Him their offerings, they rejoiced and expressed their gratefulness to God.

You know what suddenly struck me as I read that?  The Israelites were not supposed to gather the best and first of their crops and take them to the Lord and stand expectantly to hear God thank them for their offering.

I know, you’re thinking, Of course the Israelites wouldn’t expect God to thank THEM.  They were giving in order to show thanks to God!

Yeah, I know that. I really do.  But I realized that I do often, at least on some level, expect God to be grateful to me for what I offer to Him.  Do you ever do that?

There are days when I count the cost, but not in a good way.  My mind goes down the list of all the things I have offered to God.  I gave up everything — my home, having friends nearby, the church I loved, going to the grocery store and seeing people I knew, belonging, money, our trampoline, our grill.  I gave it all up to come here — where I have to walk up three flights of stairs, where getting groceries from the car to the apartment is a pain, where I don’t have many friends, where getting preschoolers to and from the car is really hard, where I don’t have privacy, where everything seems harder.  

And some days my list goes on and on and on.  I remind God of all the things I sacrificed for Him.  And it’s as if I am expecting the God of Heaven to declare,“Thank you, Jennifer.  I am rejoicing in all the good things you have given up for me.”  

Just so you know, that is the wrong attitude!

I should be going down a mental list of all the things God has given to me, all the things He sacrificed for me.  And then I should declare, “Thank you, Father.  I am rejoicing in all the good things you have given me and my household.”

Because really, when you compare the list of what I’ve offered to Him and the list of what He offers me — well, my list is pretty shabby.

Do you ever give your time, your talents, your money to God and expect God to be grateful to you? Or maybe you let God totally interrupt your life and you find yourself sorta, kinda thinking, “God better appreciate this! I’m giving up a lot for him!”  Or maybe I’m the only one. In which case, I’ll be in the corner self-medicating with chocolate.

My Hands, God’s Hands

Psalm 143:6 — “I spread out my hands to You; my soul longs for You like a thirsty land.”

Psalm 145:16 — “You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.”

Do you notice the difference between my hands and God’s hands?

My hands are empty. I stand before God and hold out my hands, showing Him that I’ve got nothing. Nothing. On my own, I have nothing that satisfies, nothing of eternal significance. I long for more. I long for God like a dry, thirsty, barren land longs for steady, drenching rain.

Then there are God’s hands. He has everything. He opens one hand — singular. He opens one hand and He can satisify the true desire of every living thing. His hands are filled with life, with everything we need, everything we want. Every good and perfect gift. Exceedingly, abundantly more than we can even imagine.

Built into my being is a desire for eternity, for perfect love, for God. I want to stand before Him and confess my emptiness, my longing. I want to acknowledge His ability to satisfy. Then I want to stand still and watch Him open His hand over me and pour out Himself upon me. I want to be still and know He is God.

I want Him to satisfy my desire for wholeness. Because He can. Because He wants to. Because He has compassion on me. Because He is good. Always.