Hidden Treasures in Dark Places

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There’s much about God I don’t understand.

Sometimes the Bible just doesn’t make sense to me. God’s ways are mysterious, which can be frustrating to a perfectionist who prefers straightforward answers, clear direction, nothing ambiguous. Life is easier that way.

However, in God’s mysterious way, the most incomprehensible and unsettling passages often contain the deepest truths. Like John 11. When I recently heard a pastor preach on the raising of Lazarus, I remembered how that very passage, irritating and infuriating as it was at the time, had transformed me years ago.

John 11:1-6 reads:

“Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill.  So the sisters sent to him, saying, ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’  But when Jesus heard it he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.”

The passage made sense until verse 6. It seemed to me that if Jesus loved Mary, Martha and Lazarus, He would have gone when they needed Him. He would have rescued them. He would never have let Lazarus die.

I felt for Mary, Martha and Lazarus. When Jesus didn’t come, they must have felt devastated. They must have thought that their close relationship with Jesus would have meant something to Him. They must have assumed that He would come when they told Him that Lazarus lay dying.

He healed complete strangers; why wouldn’t He heal His friends?

But Jesus didn’t heal him. Jesus didn’t even show up.

I knew how His friends must have felt.

I was in the darkest period of my life and God had let me down. Though I had pleaded with God to deliver me, my circumstances were getting more twisted and painful each day. I had faithfully served Him and now that my life had fallen apart, God didn’t even seem to care.

It seemed that other people, young believers and even unbelievers, had their prayers answered more quickly than I did. Maybe God was using my life as some type of cosmic example, to bring about some greater good, even if it wasn’t good for me. I was trying to reconcile that in my mind.

At the same time, I understood that God had bigger purposes than my life alone. Lazarus’ illness was for the glory of God and His glory comes before all things. The raising of Lazarus brought God tremendous glory – it was the most loving thing to a world that desperately needed to understand who Jesus was. I knew that raising Lazarus was definitive proof that Jesus was no ordinary man. He indeed was the son of God.

But my question remained – how was Lazarus’ death loving to Lazarus and his family? The Bible says that it was. The Bible says that is precisely why Jesus didn’t go immediately. Because He loved THEM. Not just because He loved the world.

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How in the World Do I Savor Life?

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I drive by the gym and it’s teeming with people. Cars are spilling out of the parking lot into the street as I slow down to squeeze through the narrow lane.

It was quiet here a month ago. But at the start of the new year, everyone is anxious to get into shape. To change their ways. To start fresh.

I’m no different. I am desperate for change. Maybe not as much externally as on the inside, where I feel weary and hurried all too often. As I mentioned in my last post, I want to savor this year. To savor each moment. To savor my time with God.

This word SAVOR has echoed through my mind for weeks as I figure out how to live it.  It’s been popping up everywhere. My sister’s teabag had “savor” on the tag. My fiancé’s ‘word of the day’ was savor. My younger daughter keeps asking me if I am savoring life. She read my post and sees my need to embrace life.

I’m working on savoring. This one word is changing me. More than I expected.

Last week, my daughter sprained her ankle and I took her to physical therapy. While I brought work to do as I waited, I decided instead to talk to her and the physical therapist, which was incredibly fun. Though it was a small choice, it showed me how often I miss those moments. In my desire to get more things done, I often don’t savor the present.

According to the ‘word of the day’ screensaver, SAVOR can be defined as:  “to taste (good food or drink) and enjoy it completely.” Or to “enjoy or appreciate (something pleasant) completely, especially by dwelling on it.”

To savor something is to taste it. To enjoy it completely. To dwell on it.

I need to do all of those things.

To savor something, I must taste it first. I must experience it. I must be totally present to what’s in front of me.

Admittedly, I don’t do that well.  I often multitask, so when I’m on the phone I might be glancing at email or opening my mail. When I’m waiting in the doctor’s office, I bring books and papers to read. When I’m watching a movie, I’m working on other things. I’m rarely idle.

Therein lies the problem.

For years I have made productivity almost a god, trying to cram as much as I can into every minute till there are none to spare.  Sometimes it’s hard to breathe. It’s hard to enjoy the simple things in life because they aren’t “productive.” When productivity is the goal, those precious moments become almost a waste of time.

To savor also means to enjoy something completely.

Savoring involves delight. Pleasure. Relishing. There is no hint of duty in savoring.

My life tends to be much more focused on duty than on savoring. My schedule revolves around “ought to do” more than “want to do.” Duty looms large in the choices I make.

Of course, duty is important. But when life is all about duty, there is little room for delight. When a good day is defined by getting everything done on my to-do list, I leave little room for the important things – things that can’t be jotted down and crossed off a list.

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When There’s Too Much to Do

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I’ve been stressed for days.

Not only are a million things hanging over my head, but I’m also struggling to find a word to give the coming year a focus. A theme. Direction.

I’ve done this for years. My word will help guide me and symbolize what I want to accomplish. It will define my priorities in 2015.

I choose one word or phrase because there are so many things I want to do, to achieve, to become. If I tried to change them all, I would fail miserably. Especially because most of what I see are my failures.

The ways I fall short are legion.

I yearn to read more books. Have longer quiet times. Pray thoughtfully for everyone I committed to pray for. Declutter. Cook more family meals. Get less take-out. Share meaningful family devotions. Have family devotions at all. Be more organized. Spend more time with my daughters.

I imagine that if I just worked harder, managed my time better, disciplined myself more, then somehow everything would get done. And when it does, I’d finally be free to enjoy life.

But the truth is, I will never get to the bottom of my to-do list. So I choose a word to narrow my focus for the coming year. That way I can concentrate on one thing, and try to effect change, rather than write a long list of resolutions that  will overwhelm me by month’s end.

So my New Year’s word is important. It must encompass my vision for the year.

I had a short list of several words, yet none of them felt right. I always ask God to guide me, and I start by listing the things I want to do differently, the places I need to improve, the things that need to change. In short, I list my failures. (I know, it sounds like an encouraging process.)

As I sat with the Lord, I was struck by the busyness of my life, and how hard it was to narrow my focus to one thing. I wanted to write this post on my word, which added even more pressure to the process. Since I often don’t know what I think until I start writing, I started tapping out some ideas on my keyboard, hoping it would all come together.

As I started writing, the story of Mary and Martha came to mind. Martha too was busy, and with good reason.

In Luke 10, Jesus and His disciples were travelling around, and Martha graciously welcomed them into her home. And she was busy serving. After all, there were guests in her house AND THEY ALL NEEDED TO BE FED.

Of course Martha needed help. Who else was going to make dinner and serve it? It was Martha and Mary’s house. Why was Mary not helping? Didn’t she see the immediate need?

What could be more important than feeding Jesus? And serving His disciples?

Suddenly, to me, that question was more relevant than ever.Continue Reading

Mary Did You Know?

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Mary’s words have long haunted me: “I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.”

The angel’s word to her was that she was going to have a baby. The Son of God. A king who would reign over a kingdom that would never end.

That may have sounded wonderful to the wife of a king, but to an unmarried virgin, it must have been terrifying. I cannot imagine it felt like good news. She would have to explain it to her betrothed, Joseph. And to her parents. And if they didn’t believe her, the punishment could have been death. And even if they understood, her pregnancy would bring shame and scandal. To everyone.

And yet, despite it all, Mary joyfully accepted what God asked her to bear. But she had no idea what that would entail.

As the months went by, she might have expected some type of divine intervention. Even accolades. After all, she was carrying the Son of God. But nothing extraordinary happened. So as she and Joseph made the long trek to Bethlehem, she probably wondered, “God – when are you going to intervene? When will I live in the fullness of what you have promised? This cannot be what you meant.”

When an angel says you are going to have the Savior of the world, you don’t expect to give birth in a stable.

I’m guessing for Mary, life wasn’t unfolding the way she expected. She may have asked God, “Is all this pain part of Your plan?”

I have asked myself that question, undoubtedly many more times than Mary ever would. When nothing is turning out as I expect, I am encouraged when I look at Mary’s humble surrender, “Let it be to me according to your word.”

Mary shows me that surrender is born out of devotion, not obligation. Out of love and not duty. In perfect surrender, there are no strings attached and no expectation of having things turn out my way. It involves trusting the One to whom I am surrendering, not focusing on what I feel entitled to.

Surrender implies, “I don’t need to have it my way, Lord. I’ll accept Your plan even if it costs me my dreams.”

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