Thursday, February 4, 2016

Most of the time, I don't even know

I awoke in the predawn darkness Monday when all the shadows were still even asleep.  I looked at the clock and groaned not just because of the hour, but because I was simply awake, very awake.  My heart was troubled by something I could not identify.  I tried rolling over in an effort to fall back to sleep.  Nothing doing.   

I slipped out of bed, closed the bedroom door, and made a pot of coffee.  What was causing this uneasiness?  I had no idea.  I owned up to obvious sin in my life, speaking when I should have not, not saying anything when I should have, perhaps having missed a turn on my path that I should have taken.  LORD, have mercy on the "should have's" in my life.  O God, do not let regret dominate my life but Your redeeming.

Nothing obvious was coming to the surface, but as I prayed, I felt the tension in my heart loosening, like a tight knot being worked out.  I prayed for family and friends, each as they came to mind.

As I left for the clinic where I volunteer, I thought momentarily about checking traffic on Google maps.  No, I thought, turning left is always the quickest way, avoiding the early morning school traffic. But within a couple miles, all traffic came to a standstill, the cars forming a ribbon of red braking lights. I lamented not going the other way.  Getting to the first major intersection usually takes me about four minutes.  This morning, it took me twenty-two.  And I still had a long way to go.

I should have gone the other way.  I should have left earlier.  I should have checked traffic.  But before I could descend too far into my "should have's,"  I asked the LORD to redeem this time.  I turned off the radio.  I continued to pray for those who rose to the surface of my thoughts.  When I arrived at the clinic, I texted an encouragement to a friend who lives 500 miles away, "Praying for you this morning."

A few hours later, she texted back. "Thank you for your prayers, for following the Lord's leading in that...somehow I didn't connect it until right now."

In her text, she related that at 6 a.m. as she was passing through an intersection on her way to the train, both a semi truck and a car flew through a red light.  "Had I not paused," she said in her text, "I would have been killed...I saw what was happening and waited!" 

"You must have been praying then," she added.

I know that God is not restricted by time, nor by my mistakes, nor by my ignorance.  I know that God's hand is not powered by my praying nor limited by the puniness of my prayers, but God uses prayer in deeper ways than we can know.  I thought back to my uneasiness in the middle of the night.  Was my heart just being urged to pray?

Most of the time, I don't even know for how specifically I need to pray.  A good bit of the time, I don't even see the  visible outcome of God's hand when I pray.  All of the time, I have no idea God's deeper purposes.  But I do know, based on James 5. 16, "The prayer of the righteous has great power in its effects."  I don't have to know how prayer works, but just to know that God does.  God's power in this world is not limited by my understanding of what He is up to.

God brought my friend to mind. I prayed for her, not even knowing what I was praying for. I thanked God for her, for our friendship, for His mighty hand in bringing her to Christ, for her testimony in her job, for how sweetly she loves everyone God places on her path.

I had no idea what was about to happen.  Indeed, if I had not prayed nor texted her, I would have missed it all, not having known the shield God had ready and waiting, not realizing His power in the intricate details of an ordinary day, an ordinary winter's morning on the way to the train.

We are the ones who are missing out.

"If you lower the ambient noise of your life and listen expectantly for those whispers of God, your ears will hear them. And when you follow their lead, your world will be rocked."
-- author, pastor, and speaker Bill Hybels in his classic book Too Busy Not to Pray (1988).

Thursday, January 28, 2016

That which is not ordinary at all

In God's sight,
     in all of God's creation,
there are no ordinary days
   nor insignificant details.

This is the day
    which the LORD has made;
let us rejoice
          and be glad in it.

                 Psalm 118. 24

God is fulfilling His purposes.

He is before all things,
and in Him
   all things hold together.

                 Colossians 1. 17

All things.
Every day.
Even in ways invisible to us,
even in mystery,
    even in the dailyness.

Live that way.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The fourth plague of Pharoah and the worst run ever

I didn't see it coming.  It was an unseasonably warm late afternoon, a deep blue sky and all the trees of the forest still clung to the last leaves of the season.  I couldn't wait to run one of my all-time favorite routes.

My husband Bill dropped me off where the asphalt ended and the gravel road began, a way which meandered back to the trail head where he would be fishing and where we would meet up in a half hour or so.

That narrow primitive road trespasses through God's creation like a gallery of fine art, winding alongside a scenic mountain stream.  I rarely pay attention to the fact that it is a continual and gradual three miles uphill.  The ascent is negated by breathtaking views around every bend.

But this time, there was something else that was breathtaking in quite a different sense.

I had been running for maybe a mile, delighting in the warm air and the quietness of hearing only my shoes crunching the gravel underneath and the occasional song of a passing bird.  I felt something on my neck.  I brushed it away, not slackening my pace.  And then, I felt pinpricks on my upper left arm.  I turned to look, expecting to see the same pesky fly.  But I saw four creeping black flies, not just landing on my arm, but biting me.  I hit my arm with my other hand.  They fled.  Ewwwww, enough of that, I thought.

And then, I felt biting on my other arm.  Six attended a buffet there.  I looked down.  My running pants were crawling with flies.  My exposed lower legs had a party going on.  One buzzed my ear.  A fraternity had congregated on the brim of my cap.  I could see them lined up like a string of lights along the edge.

I slapped right and left.  For every one I hit, four took its place. Right arm, left arm, like an invasion. I ran faster, trying to outpace this cloud of flies.  I had no where to turn... or to turn back to.  There was nothing behind me for two miles.  There was no place to hide.  I had to run on. My arms were red from slapping at the flies.  My hands felt bruised.  And still, the siege continued.

And I thought, "This is what desperation looks like."  If the wildest-looking, weirdest stranger had come driving by, I would have jumped in his pick-up truck.  Desperate people do desperate things, I often say.  And I was living it.

This was no longer an idyllic place, but a nightmare happening in 3-D.  Run, run, run.  I focused on "God will get you through this."

And then when they began buzzing my ears and eyes, I repeated outloud, "The LORD will get you through this."

And for the last mile of that desperate run, as I drew closer to where our old truck was parked, God impressed on my heart, "I will get you through."

I rounded the last bend.  Our truck appeared, few other cars joined it in the primitive parking area.  Flies bombarded my legs like kamikaze pilots as I pulled out my heavy fleece shirt from the truck, something, anything to protect my arms.  I was sweating like a race horse, but my arms were covered.  I zipped it all the way up my neck.

I took off in a sprint, up the trail towards the fishing hole.  And by the time I reached my husband, there was nary a fly in sight.

He looked up, standing amidst an incredible place of beauty, water splashing over rocks in an idyllic mountain stream, an entirely different world than I had just experienced. 

 "How was your run?" he asked.

"Worst run ever," I cried out.

"Really?"  He raised one eyebrow.

Even worse than when you fell and had to get stitches in your knee?

Even worse than when you tripped, dislocated your finger and had to run 2 1/2 miles back to the car?

Even worse than when it was 36 degrees and sleeting and you had to run eight miles?

Yes, even worse than that.

And as I followed him downstream, greatly relieved that my plague of flies was over, I remembered that time in the sleet was when Bill most encouraged me, "If you can run in that, nothing in the marathon can throw you."
Everyone struggles with something in life.  Everyone.  There are tough places, there are hard places, there are dark places, there are biting flies, and all through the Bible, God says, "Look to Me.  Do not fear.  I am with you."

That is not positive thinking.  That is the reality of God.

What kept me going through that desperation
was realizing,
"There will be things in life
                         a lot harder than this."

And God says,
         "I will strengthen you in it, through it, from it."
Learn perseverance from this.

For runners who are training for a race, training programs include short sprints, long slow distance runs, days of rest or cross-training, and grueling hill workouts.

That, indeed, was one of those grueling hill workouts.

Whatever course you are on,
       keep running, my friend.
You are not running alone.

Things and circumstances may not be any different on the outside of what you face,  but the invisible made visible is the power of God.

...let us run with perseverance
the race that is set before us,
            looking to Jesus...

                 Hebrews 12. 1-2

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Not about me

This experience,
this opportunity,
this mystery,
this hard thing
     may be about me.
It may not be about me.
But it is always
      about the Gospel.

He is before all things,
and in Him
all things hold together.

                Colossians 1.17

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A little nudge

I was working on the computer yesterday.  I intended to be writing, but that is usually when neglected tasks push their way to the head of the line.  As I was clearing out some old email correspondence, a thought made its way across my mind.  Great idea, I surmised.

As I composed the email, God checked my heart and stayed my hand.  "Don't go there," I felt like He was impressing on my heart.  "Let Me take care of it."

I know when I want to respond "but....." that I am not trusting God.  But what if I don't do this?  What if I do?

Trusting God is always somehow blessed.  Not trusting Him always results in a mess.

"The only thing harder than waiting on God
is wishing that you did," says author and pastor Crawford Loritts.

I cannot dictate the outcome
           or even the path,
      but I can seek God in it,
to follow God
     and not get ahead of Him.

And sometimes that guidance from Him
    is just a little nudge.
"Let Me do this."

I deleted that email immediately.
And I felt like He said,
       "Now watch this....."

And your ears shall hear a word behind you,
"This is the way, walk in it,"
when you turn to the right
or when you turn to the left.

                      Isaiah 30.21

Can I trust Him in this?

That is what His nudge is all about.

When I am most anxious to DO SOMETHING,
that something means
              trusting Him more.
It is not that I lay this thing before Him,
   but letting Him
            lay His way before me.

Is God checking your heart in something today?
Follow Him into it. 

The One who calls you is faithful,
     and He will do it.

                   1 Thessalonians 5. 24