Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Pathetic prayers

The prayer life of a Monk is not one I can claim to practice. I don't spend my days on bended knee and I don't even have a designated "prayer closet" where I go to find solitude with the Lord. To be quite honest, my prayer life is often quite pitiful. It ranges from practically non-existent to self-seeking to tearful distress calls. Picture an SOS written in sand and you have a pretty clear picture of my prayer life.
I used to pray for healing. Oh, how I prayed for healing and relief from my physical ailments. I prayed so long and hard for that and it didn't come. So then I gave up. I stopped praying and embraced that Beatles hit, "Let it Be."
Then I decided to pray for companionship. I prayed so long and hard that God would relieve me of my loneliness and send me a mate. I prayed and still the mate hasn't come. I've had rejection after rejection and never an answer to my prayer.
So, you guess it, I've given up on that prayer, too. I've decided to stop praying for healing and stop praying for companionship. But even more than that, I've decided to stop praying self-seeking prayers. The laments and cries to the Lord on behalf of my own lot in life have left me feeling empty and pathetic. I get discouraged when I don't get the outcome I'm looking for. And all along I'm missing the point of prayer. It isn't to serve the self, it is to serve the Lord. By taking my precious prayer time to focus on my own desires, wants and complaints I am denying God the prayers He longs to hear.
So I'm changing my prayer life. The new prayer on my lips is this: "Lord, make me your reflection."
What does that look like? What does that mean for my life? What does that do for my healing or my loneliness?
Quite frankly, I don't know. But I do know this. Jesus was alone. Jesus was rejected. Jesus was beaten. Jesus didn't have an easy life full of the "stuff" of prayer lists. He encountered push back from His followers and isolation. He was hunted down and taken to the Cross to be killed. And all the while He was the only truly innocent man to ever live, the only perfect man to ever walk this earth and the only man who was and is God in flesh.
When I ask God to make me a reflection of Jesus I'm not guaranteeing easy street. Just the opposite is more likely. To reflect Jesus I must understand Jesus and to understand Jesus I must suffer. My suffering probably won't lead to a cross with nails and mocking but the struggle will still be unpleasant, painful and trying. But how can I reflect Jesus if I don't know Jesus intimately and partake in what He endured in this life?
Self-seeking prayers aren't what the Lord desires. He wants our lives to be a mirror of His Son. I don't want to be caught up in anything other than being more like Jesus. Not even desires that seem harmless and maybe even good - after all isn't health good? It may be good and who knows, it may be what God has for me in the future. That is for Him to know and for me to find out in His time.
My focus and the cry of my heart is to be a reflection of Jesus and His love. I want to be so fixated on my Savior that I completely forget about the desires of my heart and become surrendered, sold out and committed to being a mirror of the image of Christ.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

We've all got bruises

I remember falling off my bike. It happened on the road right in front of my house when I was in elementary school. It was painful and bloody and it stung like you wouldn't believe.  I don't know if I was trying to do a fancy trick or just cruise up and down the road, but somehow I ended up knee to  ground, hands outstretched with my bike on top of me. I cried...a lot. And my knee bled... a lot. But, of course, I survived. The pain subsided, I got some neosporone and a dose of comforting from my  mother. Now I have a scar to remind me of that fateful day.
Every scar we wear provides a good, "Oh, wait till you hear this!" story. And lets be honest, who hasn't recounted an intense, edge-of-your-seat account of a situation gone wrong, a painful wound and the resulting scar it has left behind. We've all told the stories. We've all heard the stories. Living has given us these scars and has given us these tales to recount years after the pain of the fall has long ago subsided.
As we travel this road called life we are bound to get nicked up along the way - both physically and emotionally. We'll accumulate our fair share of bruises. Life pushes us around and knocks us down and when we pick ourselves up again we realize that we are a little black and blue and there are cuts and scraps that weren't there before.
In life we are going to fall off our bikes, so to speak. Our cuts heal and leave us with scars that remind us that even the most painful of wounds won't be open forever and suffering will end. The pain subsides but the story lives on as a reminder that suffering is not perpetual. No matter how much the cut may sting today it will not go on forever. Someday, probably not so very far away, our pain will be nothing more than a memory, only to be remembered when our stories are retold in great detail and we will marvel at the healing that has taken place.
I think God lets us have scars as a physical, observable reminder of the promise of healing. As we walk this road of life we can look to our bruised and scared knees and remember that God heals in good time. Whether it is physical or emotional we need to be reminded that it is not going to last forever and ever amen. It may sting and hurt like hell but it won't be that way forever.
Some days I need to look at that scar on my knee, or the one on my ankle, or the one on my ring finger and remember, this pain won't last forever. Whatever pain I'm dealing with today will be a scar in the future. Maybe it will take a few days to heal, maybe it will take a few years but the physical scars of my childhood are my ever present reminder that even the most punishing of falls ends up being a good story in the end.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Holding lightly

A wise woman once said that if you hold a bird too tightly you will crush its wings (V.C. Andrews). Of course anyone reading those words knows that the truth of the statement applies to more than just flying fowl but to human beings, love, dreams, wishes, aspirations...the wings of life that cause us to soar will inevitably be crushed if held with a fierce grip.
The trouble is that a light grip is often hard to manage. You and I are always so afraid we'll lose what it is we want most, what we cherish. So we grab hold of that something special and squeeze. What will happen if we loosen up just a bit? The thought is too devastating to even consider. Best hold onto it with everything we've got so that we never have to face a day without it.
In our desire to keep hold of that something we lose sight of the life of the something. Just like that bird with its delicate wings we too will crush the life out of anything we hold too tightly. The wings won't work. The bird won't fly. Our dreams, love, wishes they can all die, too, when held with a vise like force.
When we grasp too tightly at the things of this world we not only cause harm to that something but we cause harm to ourselves. You may ask, how can love be harmful? How can the dream of success be harmful? How can wanting to have a thriving ministry or a happy family or a fruitful career be harmful? The truth is that anything that we hold too tightly, apart from the Lord himself, will cause harm. A death grip will cause the loss of circulation and a severing of our direct line God. The free flowing communion with the Holy Spirit can't reside in a heart that has an unrelenting grip on the things of this world.
In all things, with all things and through all things we must be willing to keep our hand open and our grip relaxed. God may have another "thing" or "person" or "dream" He wants to place in our hand and to receive it we must be willing to have the old plucked away. Or maybe God wants us to continue having that love, dream or wish but just don't want us to hold it so tightly that we crush its wings!
By keeping a loose grip we are not showing indifference or complacency but submission and obedience to God. To follow God wholeheartedly we cannot be attached to anything apart from Him. We must be willing to deny every desire of our human heart so that we can pursue the desires of God's heart without competition for our attention or distraction from the ultimate purpose of our existence, furthering the Kingdom of God.
Jesus told His disciples in Luke 9 that when they went out to proclaim the Kingdom of God and do miraculous works in the name of God that they should, "...take nothing for the journey--no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt." (v. 3). 
To be effective for the Kingdom the disciples couldn't be gripping anything that they had come to know, depend upon and value. They had to give it all up for the sake of Christ. A tight grip on their livelihood, their money and even their family would have made them useless to Jesus' great mission of soul saving. They had to abandon it all to be abandoned to God. 
If God asks us to drop the thing in the palm of our hand will we do it? Or are we holding on to it so tightly that our fingers are locked in that white-knuckled, death-grip position? Dear Reader, hold loosely to the things of this world. No matter how much you may love that person, value that possession or crave to see the reality of that dream, hold it with a palm wide open. Allow God to give and take away that which He sees fit. It is much less painful to drop that dream than to have it pried out of your locked fist.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

If it makes you happy...

The 90's saw its fair share of hits that a brief decade later remind me that pop singers make very poor philosophers." The 1996 melody belted out by countless driving divas, "If it Makes You Happy," is one of those songs.
The whole premise of Sheryl Crow's Billboard Top 100 single is completely off base. "If it makes you happy it can't be that bad," is a terrible philosophy. Just because something makes us happy does not make it good. Things that make people happy can actually be downright harmful, sinful, corrupt, detrimental...pick your troubled adjective of choice. What produces happiness does not necessarily equate with goodness. The two are entirely separate entities and they don't always coexist in blissful harmony.
This morning as I struggled with another flareup, this time producing vertigo (aka a constantly spinning room), this song and its flawed message popped in my mind as clear as a bell. There I was lying on my bedroom floor in front of my electric fireplace begging my internal thermometer to rise even if only a degree when all of the sudden Sheryl Crow began to sing in my head, "if it makes you happy it can't be that bad."
The word, "huh?" might have audibly been spoken in that strange moment. Why would that song come to mind? MS flareups and vertigo were not making me happy. What the symptoms of this latest exacerbation have been doing to my physical body and energy level are certainly not making me happy. And MS in that moment didn't look at all good. So where on earth was Sheryl Crow coming from? Not from my stereo I can tell you that much and certainly not from the experiences of my day thus far.
And then it hit me....
As I lay there on the floor feeling exhausted, beaten, defeated and utterly useless satan was having a field day. My condition and what it was doing to my spirit was making him ridiculously happy.  If being defeated was making satan happy then being defeated was indeed very bad, not very good.
In that moment of revelation a new thought dawned on me, "get up." As tired as I felt I knew that to trample the happiness of the devil I had to pick myself up off of the floor and make myself useful. Satan wanted to keep me down. My defeat was his pleasure and his happiness. But his happiness is always bad news for me. If the devil is happy than there is something seriously wrong with my attitude and spirit. No matter what my physical condition may be or how beat I feel I never want to let that be an excuse to be spiritually deflated. That only brings a smile to the face of my enemy. Instead I want to rise above my struggle and crush the devil underfoot.
I don't think I will ever be able to hear Sheryl Crow's 1996 hit without reliving that decisive moment that occurred this morning on my bedroom floor. God brought me to a decision point in my spiritual life and taught me a lesson I don't want to forget and it is this: If my circumstances, attitude and feelings are making the devil happy than they are bad, very bad and in no way good. The only good is the good that pleases God and makes Him happy. The Lord doesn't smile upon the same things as the devil, they are in direct opposition to each other. If I want to make the Lord happy I must stomp on the happiness of the devil by choosing to be filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit. His is the true good and it will fill me with something better than human happiness. When I am living to please the Lord I will be filled with abundant joy, peace and love. Now that is what make God happy.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The story of my life

"I just want to know how the story ends."
Have you ever read a book, watched a movie or heard a story and as the plot drags on, thought to yourself, "Just tell me how it ends! Assure me that everything turns out alright in the end!" The anticipation of how there will ever be resolution is so great that we want to jump right over the climax and the turning point so we can get to the happily ever after.
Unfortunately, stuck in the seat of a movie theater we have no control over the projector. We can't skip over scenes or fast forward to the resolution of the character's dilemma. When we read a book we'll miss the whole point of the story and key elements of the plot if we skip over chapters. The ending won't mean anything to us if we don't take the time to see how the author of the story arrived at a harmonious ending to a tumultuous journey.
In life the same dilemma often presents itself. We want to know the ending of our story without having to sit through the previews, the dull scenes and the "edge of your seat" moments. We don't want to have to read every line of every chapter. We want the ending. We want to know that everything will turn out okay in the end.
All the while there is an Author who has written a compelling story with clever twists and turns, shocking revelations and surprises along the way and more than anything He wants our full attention throughout every scene and every turn of the page. While we are trying to skip ahead He is trying to pull us back to the place where we left off so that we don't miss a moment of the story He has so carefully imagined and penned especially for us. This story He has written is written for us in His hand, with His blood.
There are days I am tempted to want to jump over chapters of God's story for my life. The pages full of sadness and struggle leave me worried that maybe the story won't have a happy ending. And then I turn the page and see that God is the master of the unexpected. He can take the story in a direction I never saw coming. It is a joy and a thrill for Him to surprise His readers.
On days when I am tired of reading every line and ready to skip scenes God reminds me that the whole story is worthy of my attention because every syllable was written especially for me. By jumping to another page I'm missing the beauty of the story in its entirety. In the end I won't be able to appreciate what God brought forth in the final chapter if I didn't see the struggle and miracles it took to bring the story to its fortunate end.
Today God is writing my ending and taking me on a journey to my happily ever after. The plot He penned just for me is being acted out before my very eyes. God is begging me to never skip ahead; never press fast forward lest I miss the greatness of what the greatest Author of all times has recorded just for me. This is the story of my life and I'm going to read every line, watch every scene and love every minute of it.