What Does My Calendar Say About The Condition Of My Heart? (Jesus pt. 105)

I was talking with an acquaintance in ministry a few years ago.  A very high energy, dynamic leader with great capacity, a lot on his resume and at the time, a lot on his calendar and metaphorical “plate”.  He was ‘crushing’ it in ministry, with quite a few ‘trophies’ on the shelf to show for years of hardthat's just dumb and dedicated work.  I am confident that his desire was absolutely to do God’s will, to advance the kingdom, and to bless others. By any reasonable standard, he is a success at what he does.  Yet, in the course of our conversation, I heard him, while not in these words exactly, pray this idea, “Oh God, help me sustain an unsustainable pace.”

I was so sad.  And a little angry.  Because this prayer crystallized for me so much of what is wrong with us, with our ministries, with our spirituality, with our culture.  Busyness replacing relationship. The arrogance of thinking one is the exception to the limits we all have.  Basing one’s worth on the product produced, the effort offered, the “trophy” to show for it all. Falling into the comparison trap with others.  I know this from personal experience.  Our calendars offer a remarkable window into the condition of our hearts. Into our thoughts about who we think God is.  Into our thoughts about who we think we are. 

Years ago, I was trying to find a way to juggle the responsibilities of full time ministry while living overseas, being a wife, and a mother of 3 under the age of 8, with one of them under a year old.  I recognized the uniqueness of that particular season of life…and I was terrified of failing.  FYI – whenever you are afraid, pay attention, because often, fear is telling you something on the inside of you needs attention.  Another FYI – most of us do not operate from a place of freedom and security, in the knowledge that God’s grace is enough and we do not have to earn His approval.  Instead, we do the tasks in our lives because we are afraid of something: failing, the disapproval of others, not being enough, being alone, of being still and quiet, of empty time on the calendar, rejection, insignificance, etc.  My fear was/is failing.

So when I ended up at a conference with other women who were in the same field as me, I looked around for someone who was doing it well.  Balancing the demands of the work, faith and family, staying sane, both cultivating a spirituality and depth that was not only healthy, but looked like something I might want to emulate.  When I found her, (a very cool 50-something with a nose ring, by the way) I asked for a bit of time, to pick her brain about this: How can I do all that God has asked me to do? Because honestly, if I think about all the needs, all the possibilities, all the people out there who need Jesus and me…I’m a little overwhelmed.  I was looking for some type of strategy to help me manage it all.

You know, Jesus was asked the same question.  In Mark 12, a religious leader came to Him and asked, ““Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”.  Here was a teacher of the law, very aware that, in his paradigm of the faith, he had well over 600 laws to obey each and every day. Imagine! I’m actually tired and overwhelmed just thinking about what his life and religious practice must have looked like.  The guilt.  The fear of failure. Of comparison to others. Of not being good enough. I suspect his internal monologue and mine, bear a striking resemblance, emphasizing inadequacy and judgment. Because…while I don’t have a quantified list of 600+ things-to-do-today-to-make-Jesus-happy-with-me…I kind of do.

And then there is the phrase “most important”.  In Greek, it is the word “protos”, where we get our English word, “priority”. I think that part of what the teacher of the law is asking is, “Jesus, what I have to do is so much, I’m pretty sure I’m going to fail somewhere. So tell me, if I only get one or two things done, what is the most important? What should my “protos” be? What should get the first of my energy and effort, so that my priorities are not mis-ordered?”

Jesus answered Him with a surprisingly short to-do list.  In fact, Jesus pretty much said, “Oh busy one, you are asking the wrong question. Instead of asking about task, you should be asking about relationship.” Jesus answered with, “The most important one…is to love Me…”  Our protos, our most important task, above all others, that which should get the first and best of our time, energy and attention,  is to be in a healthy relationship with God. That’s pretty much it. He isn’t the one asking us to get a lot done for Him. We are.  His to-do list for us is a one item-er.  Healthy relationship.  With Him. And by extension, with others.

Flash forward to the women’s conference I was at, and the older woman’s response to my question, “How do I do it all?” She simply said, “I just figured out years ago, that what God wants me to do is almost always less than what I think it is.” She was gently telling me that I was asking the wrong question.  Rather than asking how I could get it all done, she said, “Why don’t you ask God what He wants you to do. And then ask Him how He wants you to do that.”

I left that conversation changed.   I’ve been attempting to purse better questions about my spiritual life ever since.  Jesus seems to love a really good question, by the way.  Right now, He and I are discussing this one:

What does my calendar say about the condition of my heart? 

(Or if I really wanted to get brave, I could ask my family what they think my calendar says about how I feel about them.)

Because, how we choose to use our time, energy and resources says an awful lot about what is going on inside of us.



Letting God Lead, Reading Thematically and Being Brave (Reading Well – pt. 2)

Reading for me is a deeply spiritual thing. How could it not be? The ideas and topics I choose to allow into my heart and brain stay with and shape me long after I put the book down. So, as a follower of Jesus, I sometimes pray about what I should read. Not all the time. I sometimes read things for no other reason than I am interested in a topic -and I often read just for pleasure. (Rachel Ray’s magazine is my guilty pleasure)

But I have also learned to listen for a bump in my heart when I come across certain titles and topics. I recognize that during different seasons of life, I am more tender and open towards certain topics. Therefore, I let Jesus have some say in what I choose to read, as it becomes a very important place of spiritual interaction for me. As I interact with powerful ideas and new vocabulary, of course they work their way into my prayer life. I don’t want to be the person who goes to the nutritionist for help and then tells them what I am going to eat, regardless of their advice. I want Jesus to have a place to speak into those things that speak into my life. How could the books I read not be included in this?

In light of this,

4. I tend to read thematically. I get interested in a topic that captures my imagination and will often read several related books in a row. In fact, my bookshelves are arranged thematically, because that is how I tend to read.  Sometimes the author is the theme and I’ll read several by a particular writer. When this happens, I am learning to recognize it as God’s way of getting my attention and asking me to focus for a while. Maybe the topic is prayer, or a biography, or missions, or marriage or a particular spiritual theme related to something in my life. Maybe it is a topic way way outside of my comfort zone or knowledge base – and I need to be aware of it. Either way, sometimes, though not all the time, I will spend a few months (or longer) exploring a particular topic. It is like my intellect itches – and I read till the itch is scratched.

This does a few things for me. One, it allows me to interact with a topic for a while, and some topics need time to be properly absorbed. Second, I don’t read books that just say the same thing. I read different authors on a topic, different sides of a discussion, different views and perspectives. This means that…

5. I am willing to read authors I don’t completely agree with. A while back, I hosted a party where a guy I didn’t know (he came with a friend) walked over to my (beloved) bookshelves and said, and I quote, “I wonder what sort of heresy you have over here.” I sort of hope he got his undies all in a bundle over some of the titles I own because he was a jerk. How is one expected to have any intellectual heft if one only reads one side of an argument? How can one come to their own deep-set theological convictions if they never have to defend them or think deeply about them? Just because one reads authors from the metaphorical other side of the fence doesn’t mean I agree with them. It just means I want to know what they know, to be open to discussion, because it helps me figure out truth in a deeper way, owning it in my heart in a deeper place. And who knows – I am open to the fact that I may be wrong. One thing I know is that I don’t know everything. Heck, I am willing to admit that I don’t know much. So while I definitely weight my reading within the stream of Christianity in which I comfortably swim, I don’t live in an intellectual ghetto because I am afraid of what others may think of me . Or alter my reading because I am afraid I am not smart enough to recognize truth when I read it. Or live in fear that God won’t speak to me about the truth of a topic if I explore alternate explanations. If iron sharpens iron, I think reading across the spectrum, carefully and with wisdom, can do the same thing. But it requires a willingness to be brave. As I discuss books with others, unfortunately, I often find folks who read from fear rather than courage.

Permission To Come Undone (Being Human pt. 6)

I was talking with a friend of mine recently and she is one of ‘those’ kinds of friends. You know the type. She knows how to ask the right question, how to listen intently and wait as long as it takes to get the real answer, the right answer and to make you feel safe enough that if you wanted to…you could cry with her. And it would totally be ok.

Unfortunately, those sorts of people are few and far between.

At the start of our conversation I decided to throw out a test question, to see if I had read her correctly and if she was indeed as safe as I thought. I asked it with some context that isn’t important here and also in a genuinely light-hearted manner, so it wasn’t quite as awkward as it will seem. “So… if I come undone today during our time together, that’s ok, right?” Without batting an eye,  with a smile and gentle chuckle even, she replied, “You have complete permission to come undone.”

As I reflected on our conversation that day, I wondered why her words stuck with me. Could it have been her comfort with whatever form of emotion I chose to express? Her invitation for me to be as real or as vulnerable as I wanted? Maybe it was how she managed to create a safe place for us to talk and exchange more than just information. And I thought about how few places there are in my life where I have permission to come undone.

I found it sort of sad that somehow our emotions aren’t always as welcome into a conversation as our intellect or humor. What does it say about my normal conversational style and rhythms that I felt I needed permission from another person to express how I felt? Aren’t my emotions a valid and important part of who I am? And why is it that I am not always comfortable with this part of me or this part of others when it is their turn to come undone?

Jesus meets us in our humanity. This is the main thesis of the series entitled Being Human. There are things in our most fleshly, most earthly, most human parts that Jesus loves to inhabit, to speak to, to heal, to change, to redeem, to restore, to love. Jesus made us humans and He made us human. This includes our tears.

There are times we come undone and it is very much ok. Natural. Healthy. Those times when emotion bubbles and pours out of us. And while I can’t fully explain it, sometimes part of the undoing process must involve others – being with those who know how to guide us into and out of our undoing. Then we learn, when it is our turn, to walk others into and out of their undoing. While there is certainly a time for crying alone, I’m not sure that is how God planned it. It seems to me that when we learn to weep together, and this part of our humanity becomes ok in community, something powerful happens.

We connect. We learn to trust someone else with our pain. Shame dissipates. We humble ourselves with each other, cracking the door to greater relational depth. We learn to open our hearts in the presence of others, making peace with who God has made us to be, even when it is a bit messy. Or a lot messy. Jesus shows up and inhabits those moments, using us in each others lives to begin the process of ‘undoing’ what sin has done – and to begin the process of ‘re-doing’ us in His image.

So I’ve been wondering, when people are talking with me, am I a safe person? Am I comfortable enough in my own skin and with my own emotional health to invite others to be as real as they choose, to express whatever they feel with no fear of rejection or shame? Am I a good enough conversationalist that I can lead and/or follow people to talk about things that are important enough, where we get beyond just the head and maybe, just maybe, delve into the arena of the heart?

And am I willing to go first when appropriate?

Why Nationality Is Important

(Part one of the Culture series)

Genesis 11:8-9 So the Lord scattered them from there over the whole earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel – because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

(About heaven) Revelation 21:24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it.

Revelation 21:26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.

God loves the nations. He created them (Gen. 10:32) and sent them into the world. He called Abraham and used him to found the nation of Israel, through which He would bless all nations. (Gen. 12:1-3) Jesus will not return to judge the world till all nations have had a chance to hear the Gospel. (Matt. 24:14) He sent his disciples out to tell the world about the forgiveness of sins and how to be reconciled to God. (Matt. 28:19-20, Acts 1:8) Heaven is the ultimate multicultural celebration (Rev. 7:9) with all nations represented. And there is something so special to God about our nationality that we bring something of it into heaven with us. (Rev. 21:24, 26)

No doubt, we must lose something of our nationality as we grow in Christ. The scripture is clear that our citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20) and that He has our highest loyalty. Each culture also has inherent weaknesses within it that make it more difficult for its people to relate to God. But there is something about the cultures we’ve created that brings glory to Him. That somehow, He transcends language, culture, history, socio-economic status, education levels and geographical location. The things that divide humans in this world will help unite us in the next as they bring praise to God. Only He could do something so beautiful.

With that knowledge, it seems to me that it’s important for believers now to learn languages, to travel and to know people of different nationalities. God isn’t white, suburban or American. English isn’t His first language. It’s an amazing experience the first time you hear another believer praying in their heart language and you realize that the same God you know and love, is the same God they know and love.

Our nationality is an important spiritual trigger for us. Some things about where we were born draw us nearer to the heart of God. They are meant to be a blessing to the other nations. They bring glory to God. At the same time, some things about where we were born are like millstones hung around our neck. Worse than that, they are like millstones hung around our necks that most people aren’t even aware of. In the next series of posts, I’d like to explore some of these ideas about culture and how it affects how we relate to God a bit further.