Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Spontaneity amid structure

Sitting here trying to come up with something for my weekly blog post, I'm sharply reminded why I no longer write for a living. I had some ideas for this post before I sat down, but they are stuck behind a roadblock in my mind.

Among the thoughts was something about how my life seems to require a balance of spontaneity and structure. I definitely need structure (discipline) to even get out of bed each day, much less get anything done. But if everything is structured, life becomes routine and can seem dull or boring. I almost wrote that God is in the spontaneity (surprises) rather than the structure. But I realized I don't believe that. I strongly believe He is in the structure as well as the spontaneity. And why not? The God of my understanding is in all things!

Which brings me to a point (yea!): I need structure and spontaneity in my life each day, but above all, I need God. And when I seek Him first, all the other things are taken care of, to His glory.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Rationalization? Or faith?

There are no words. Yes, these are words, but they are nothing.

What is it about mid-April? So much sadness. I am grateful to see goodness and blessings amidst this week's tragedies (Officer Chad Peery's death, Boston bombing, West fertilizer plant, among the big ones that come readily to mind) and remembrances of those in past years (Waco, Oklahoma City, baby Ryan in Arkansas).

But still: Why? Why? Why?

Even my prayers seem inadequate, especially since they have resulted in no action on my part.

I continue to pray and to trust God, including that He will guide my actions, in His time. The guidance I seem to be receiving from Him is to keep it simple. Keep praying. If all I can do right now is pray, then maybe that's all I'm supposed to do. I trust God that, when it is time for me to do more, whether in the next moment, hour, day, week, month, year, decade or hereafter, He will lead me.

But, honestly, right now, that seems more like rationalization than faith.

(Composed Friday, April 19, 2013, but not posted until Tuesday, April 23.)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Simple prayers and other acts of faith

For a few years now, I've been trying to be more disciplined in my prayers and Bible reading as I seek to better know, honor, obey, serve, love and glorify God. I'm still inconsistent, at best. And I feel very inadequate.

In recent weeks, I've been participating in the Monday morning prayer gathering at church. I believe God has called me to do this, and I am grateful that I didn't make excuses when He clearly laid out the way for me to be involved. It is an overwhelming and humbling experience. It exposes my inadequacies: how little I know about praying in spirit, in words and in actions. But even in this short time, it has become a very important part of my week. Showing up feels like an act of obedience and faith, and I trust God to teach me and use me and grow me as He sees fit, to His glory.

Along that line, an opportunity came up at work for me to write the daily prayers for the newspaper for a few weeks. I knew when I was asked that this would not be easy for me -- the prayers are supposed to be short, and God (and anyone who has read my writing) knows I am wordy! How would I know which words to write? How can I come up with daily prayers a week in advance? But I could not say no, even as I had no clear idea of where to begin.

A praying friend suggested that I write prayers from the Psalms. I've heard of this before, but when I sat down to try it last week, I couldn't even get started. The friend offered an example and I tried again. I finally came up with seven days. Simple but not easy. I'm still second-guessing what I wrote as I see the words on the front page of the newspaper. I just have to keep trusting that God knows what He is doing in putting this in my hands for these few weeks.

These are what I came up with for the first week, meditating on the Psalm number of the date (such as Psalm 14 for April 14).

April 14: Lord, grant us Your wisdom and save us from foolish thoughts, words and actions. Amen.

April 15: Lord, please help us when troubles arise, and let us honor You in all we do. Amen.

April 16: Preserve us, gracious God, for in You we put our trust. In You, we find goodness. Amen.

April 17: Gracious Lord, keep our steps on Your path, so that we will not slip and fall into trouble or despair. Amen.

April 18: Holy Lord, you give us strength. May we trust You to guide us to use it wisely. Amen.

April 19: Lord, Your creation declares Your glory. We are part of that creation; may we likewise glorify You. Amen.

April 20: Lord, You know the desires of our hearts. Help us to trust You to transform them to the desires of Your heart. Amen.

And now it's time for another round, due when I get to work Thursday afternoon. I have set aside time earlier in the day to sit with open Bible and prayerful heart. I pray that God will fill me with His spirit and give me His clear guidance, to His glory.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Lessons in humility, wisdom and expression

Once again, the best I can come up with is a sampling of items I've read in the past day or two that I saved and have revisited for insight and inspiration. And maybe that's not so bad.

From April 10 Denison Forum (denisonforum.org), about how more information than ever is available to people today, but it doesn't seem to translate to more wisdom:

What's the solution? The man who was "wiser than any other man" (1 Kings 4:31) knew: "The fear of the Lord teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honor" (Proverbs 15:33). Jesus, the One who is the very "wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:24), testified: "The Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing" (John 5:19). Here's the equation: Humility + submission = wisdom.

From a 12 Step meeting on Wednesday, reading from Chapter 7, about the seventh step -- "Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings" -- in the Alcoholics Anonymous "Twelve Steps and Twelve Tradition," on Page 76:

"Each of us would like to live at peace with himself and his fellows. We would like to be assured that the grace of God can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. We have seen that character defects based upon shortsighted or unworthy desires are the obstacles that block our path toward these objectives. ... The chief activator of our defects has been self-centered fear -- primarily fear that we would lose something we already possessed or would fail to get something we demanded. ... Therefore, no peace was to be had unless we could find a means of reducing these demands. ... The Seventh Step is where we make the change in our attitude which permits us, with humility as our guide, to move out from ourselves toward others and toward God."

(I do have to remind myself that the steps are in order, and this may or may not make sense without the context of the rest of the 12 Steps.)

This was from April 3 in the daily readings I do from Bible Gateway (after reading Numbers 7:89):

We often wish God would speak to us more clearly. Sometimes, though, we have to obey what we have already heard from God. Doing so may put us in a place to better hear from God. Is there a place in your life where you need to listen by obeying first? If you feel stuck, maybe God is calling you to step out. If you feel scared by that, talk about it with someone. It may be the area of faith God wants to build in you!

From My Utmost for His Highest, March 29 (Luke 12:40):

"A Christian worker’s greatest need is a readiness to face Jesus Christ at any and every turn. ... The greatest need is not facing our beliefs or doctrines, or even facing the question of whether or not we are of any use to Him, but the need is to face Him. ... He appears where we least expect Him, and always in the most illogical situations. The only way a servant can remain true to God is to be ready for the Lord’s surprise visits. This readiness will not be brought about by service, but through intense spiritual reality, expecting Jesus Christ at every turn. This sense of expectation will give our life the attitude of childlike wonder He wants it to have."

And finally, this one is from a Wall Street Journal article about classic rock and blues guitarist Eric Clapton, who mentioned that his current tour may be his last. (The whole article is worth reading; it's at http://on.wsj.com/10NSBUC.)

"There's a desire in me to express something -- to match what I hear in my head. As long as I can come close to it, I'll continue."

That quote says better than I can why I keep trying to do this blog each week. The desire to express something -- something inside of my head or heart or soul. I seldom come anywhere close to succeeding, but so far, I can't help but continue. And somehow, even as I fall short in expressing what's inside, I often stumble on some insight that helps me, and for that I am grateful.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Reflections on Easter

I was unable to attend Holy Week services and also failed to find any focused substitute activities. I worried Sunday might seem less like Easter without that kind of spiritual preparation. But Easter was rich, glorious and meaningful.

-- I felt the presence of the Risen Christ in worship and in fellowship with my church family. Easter lilies, butterfly decorations and bright banners fit the themes of resurrection and new life. Singing a duet with a friend from the choir, which we just practiced together twice, demonstrated our faith that God would bless our individual preparation and our hearts united to worship and proclaim Him. And I believe God did bless it, taking our humble offering of song -- that grew from a shared sense that the early service needed special music for Easter -- and using it to help convey the message and spirit of the day.

-- Two worship services and fellowship in between, plus eating out with my husband in the evening, were my in-person interactions for the day. But I also felt very much connected to family and other friends through the power of social media. Facebook brought me adorable pictures of great-nieces and great-nephews and their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents and aunts and uncles enjoying egg hunts and other activities in their Easter finery, highlighted with bright colors and precious smiles. Among my favorites were 8-year-old and 4-year-old sisters with their newborn brother amid the lilies at the front of their church, and three sisters, ages 14 to 25, honoring their brother, born 15 years ago but here on Earth only five months. Life and eternal life, gifts of our Lord and Creator.

-- Some of the richness of Easter continued Monday, when God helped me overcome temptations and excuses that would have kept me from being part of the Monday morning prayer group. Afterward, I ended up delivering Easter lilies to a couple of church members who are in nursing homes. I did not think I had time to do any of this, but I just could not say no. As I am sure those who do such acts of kindness more regularly than me can guess, the lift to my spirit was more than I could have imagined.

-- And then there is the weather. Saturday was a vibrant spring day with sunshine and warmth, perfect for running from store to store with the convertible top down while shopping for something new to wear for Easter. The night brought hail that included damage too cars, buildings and trees in some parts of town. But since then, it's just been glorious rain that continues to fall! Usually rain, especially when accompanied by temperatures in the 30s and low 40s, frustrates, stresses and depresses me. But the combination of the timing at Easter and the desperate need for precipitation to relieve the drought-plagued earth makes the rain falling from the heavens bring continued smiles to my face.