Work Out Hard

photo-1520774779505-a7782b3fb733Sometimes I need a hard workout. I am typically more of a “settle in with a good pace and relax” workout person. I get many benefits from the length and pace of my workout. I typically push in duration and stamina more than power and speed.

But there are days I simply need to work something out, not just just physically but spiritually. There are times the most motivating sound piping through my earbuds is a sermon or worship music. Sometimes a wholehearted worship pours out of me with an intensity that spurs me forward. Other times, I’m wrestling with God with an intensity that prompts bursts of power.

It amazes me at times how worship can be powerful in such different ways. Sometimes it is a settling into, calming and reassuring me. Other times it is a leaning forward in anticipation and readiness. Still other times, worship is full of power that can push me in uncomfortable but all the right strength and directions. I feel sore and bruised for days but thankful for the preparation I know is happening.

Working out can be worship, and worship often involves a working out of something. And that working out can be hard at times.

Lace up those shoes and lean into the wind as it tries to blow you back. Push a little bit more than your comfort zone allows. Fill your lungs and sweat it out. You might be sore the next morning, but being spiritually sore is better than being spiritually lazy.

A Night of Worship

photo-1542338102-6fdde209ec31My home church planned a night of worship – only it wasn’t just a night of worship. It was so much more. I anticipated it and helped with preparation in small ways. Mainly, God prepared me in the days leading up to it. I began to lean forward. I anticipated serving. I prayed for those involved in leadership as well as those who would be in the room. I also prayed for people who might need an attitude check about the evening, whether they experienced it personally or not. (Because, you know, even we church people can get judgy and temperamental and throw little fits when things aren’t the way we expect or prefer. )

I peeked into practice. I ordered food to help people volunteering their time feel cared for. I greeted people as they arrived and chatted as I hung up their coats. I got to see people I hadn’t seen in months and met others who had come with friends.

And that was all before the evening technically began.

But the night of worship wasn’t about a night; it was about worship. And worship seeps outside of the expected time frame. It becomes its own time frame. As I stood in the dimly lit room that night, I felt cleansing tears roll down my cheeks, purging me of stuff inside me that I needed to release. I felt a heaviness fill the room – a wonderful, freeing heaviness as if God was soaking into every space. I felt connected to people in the room, prompted by compassion, burdens, and joy even when I had no idea what someone might be thinking about or processing at the time.

There are moments I experienced through singing, teaching, prayer, and communion that I can’t capture with words, but “abundant” seems to capture it all best.

Following the service, worship continued. I tried to connect with several people God seemed to be placing in my foreground. I expressed gratitude to several people who had sacrificed significant time to lead and serve. I asked several people to help rearrange some things in preparation for the upcoming Sunday. And I stood back for a moment and watched. People were connecting with each other, hanging out just a bit longer than usual, soaking in the experience of spending the evening together with God. A small group of us closed the door of the prayer room to support a friend. And worship continued. It continued as three of us turned off the lights and left the building. God had coated everything in a sparkling, soft snow. It was as if every glimmer of snow danced in worship. And more flakes added to the dance.

The man who had coordinated the night of worship cleaned off our remaining three cars before we all drove away that night. Yet another act of worship.

A drove home with a deep sigh in my soul.

Adult for Me

photo-1532629345422-7515f3d16bb6I read a tweet from an author who mentioned having to reach out to her assistant for help with several basic tasks. She concluded her assistant was basically adulting for her. It was humorous even if it wasn’t completely true.

It’s okay to reach out for help even regarding the basic stuff. This person’s assistant is doing things she’s knowledgable about and good at, which frees up her boss to do the things she can do best.

The same applies in marriages, friendships, and so on. When we partner well, we don’t have to worry about our differences, because we complement each other. We don’t have to be offended or on guard because someone does something better than us. Doing life with people who know more than we do and are better than us at some things is a good thing. We don’t have to be offended or defensive. Give and take is what doing life with others is all about. But we sometimes want to gauge and guide the give and take. We withhold some sacrifice and humility or blame someone when he or she doesn’t meet our perception or expectations of their sacrifice and humility. Our pride gets in the way. We begin to define our relationship with someone based on what they give us, and we become discontent. But no one person can satisfy everything within us or know everything that we don’t know (or don’t want to apply).

We want everyone to bring their best, but do we always bring ours? Or do we get complacent, comfortable, or selfish? When we catch ourselves either having to prove ourselves or tearing down the other person, something is wrong. And it is often something within ourselves that is awry.

You don’t need to adult on your own, and no one needs to adult for you. You were intended to do life well with others. God knew what he was doing when he created community.

Don’t Do It For God

photo-1495302075642-6f890b162813How often do we do things for God when he simply wants us to do things with him? It sounds the same, but the motivation is slightly different. The process might look similar from the outside, but our motivation affects what’s happening on the inside. Doing things with God focuses on our relationship. Doing things for God might start with our relationship, as we want to get to know him and do life the way he intends, but we can get off track. We can make it about our performance and behavior instead of our attitude toward and interaction with him.

Sure, we sometimes go through the motions out of obedience. We do something because we committed to do something for him, but are we also doing it with him, or have we separated ourselves? When we separate ourselves, even when we’re doing a good thing, even when it’s something we are confident God led us to do at some point, we’ve lost the orientation God wants us to have. It becomes more about what we’re doing (even if we believe it is for God) than our interaction and relationship with God.

No wonder we get discombobulated and confused. We distort our motivation and end up making so much about ourselves. It even sneaks into our language as we talk about “my relationship with God” instead of “God’s relationship with me” or “me and God’s relationship.” We say “I’m in a good place with God” instead of “God has me in a good place with him right now.” I’m not saying we have to rephrase everything we say or rework everything we do. But let’s keep ourselves in check. Better yet, let’s let God keep us in check. He wants to do life with you. Focus on being with God. Being with God is not comfortable or easy at times, but you will never be sorry when you spend moments – and a lifetime of moments – with him.

Are You Churching?

photo-1529070538774-1843cb3265dfJust because you’re at work doesn’t mean you’re working.

Just because you’re at church doesn’t mean you’re churching.

And what is churching?

I don’t want to make a list that people think they have to check off in order to do church well. It’s not about settling into a legalistic rut. It’s about constant growth, reflection, and change. It’s a commitment that yields. It’s flexibility throughout the process; there is an ebb and flow, give and take. And that is the opposite of legalism.

Let this list become an evaluation of sorts, but instead of standing on your answers as irrefutable, trust God to let you know whether your answers are accurate or simply what you want them to become.

  • Do I engage with others? Do I make eye contact, converse, greet, and meet?
  • Do I stay within my comfort zone? Am I willing to sit in new places with new faces?
  • Do I connect with a variety of people? Do I avoid the routine of “my” group or reaching new people. Am I flexible to connect with people in front of me and out of my way, making an effort to build relationships with people of different generations, routines, and preferences?
  • How do I respond when something isn’t my preference or style? How do I filter what’s important, how to let go of what isn’t, and how to address what is?
  • Do I get involved, even when it’s inconvenient? Do I only do the things I’ve always done?
  • How often do I catch myself going through the motions? Do I sense change in my life, and do others notice?
  • Do I compartmentalize my life? If people from a variety of areas of my life got together and shared the experiences they’ve had with me, would there be some consistency?
  • Do I see church as being primarily about me and what I can get from it? How often do I try to see church from others’ perspectives?
  • How uncomfortable am I willing to be in order to see others thrive in their relationships with God?
  • How completely and authentically am I willing to share my everyday life with others, both within and outside the church?
  • Do I make an effort to help people have healthy relationships with God and within the church even when it’s easier to stay quiet, take control, or let others complain?
  • Am I becoming the person God wants me to become?

To do church well is to follow God well – to seek him, know him, yield to him, whether you’re in church or at work or throughout the community. Churching doesn’t just happen once a week during a worship service. If you tend to be legalistic, you might need to loosen your grip on the reins of control you think you might have. If you are more likely to go-with-the-flow, you might need to determine the next step and commit to going deeper more consistently. Do something.

And doing something with God always involves trusting him to lead.

My Worst

photo-1519963759188-0e9264cd7992My worst isn’t always my lowest. Neither is yours.

We often see our lowest as that point at which we’ve lost the most, or when we’re most desperate or empty. But our worst can also be the higher moments and seasons, when we begin to get everything we think we want. We might have a lot, including a lot of pride. The highest can be the lowest. God doesn’t just scoop people out of their brokenness. Sometimes he meets us in our seems-to-us-successes. Think about Paul – well, Saul. By his standards, by the society’s standards, he was doing pretty well. He had climbed the ladder, but that ladder had some costs, especially on his relationship with God. God might scoop some people out of the mud, and being rescued is an amazing feeling. But he also meets us at the top of the ladder – and knocks out some of the rungs. While it might not be an amazing feeling at first, it is one of the best places to be – humbled by God.

I’ve learned through the years that any place I am without God, no matter how great of a place it seems to be, eventually becomes a pit. It has a loneliness and darkness to it that chills me. Oh, I can get used to it and even be comforted by it over time, but that doesn’t take away the stank darkness of the place. It just means I’ve made a home where I was never meant to stay.

You know the kind of place, where someone gets comfortable to the filth around them. Or perhaps it’s the comfort of creating something bigger, better, grander, flashier. It’s a place of more, of greed, of self-centeredness.

God gets crowded out. We prioritize ourselves as better and more important than him. We revere ourselves with our attitudes and preferences. Our expectations and excuses reveal our motives.

It’s time to humble yourself. No matter how humble you are, there is more to give up. Today is the best time to start.

Pursue Joy

photo-1540542608259-5be832201790To choose joy seems like a simple choice, but it’s a bit more pervasive. Choosing joy isn’t just what we want to step into but also what we want to step away from or what we need to step through. Sometimes our choose of joy means some difficult conversations, accountability, and always humility.

Choosing joy is not a moment. It is a process. We might see joy as what will help or what we want in a specific moment. But it is a much more lengthy process that requires a deep commitment. When we are short-sighted with our choices, we might find temporary relief from some turmoil but end up creating much more in the long run. And often, our lack of commitment to choosing joy over time affects not only us but also the people around us on a regular basis.

Choosing joy is a lengthy process, and that’s okay, because with it comes a deeper commitment to joy, a recognition of joy, and a cultivation of joy that seeps into us and nourishes us much more completely than a momentary choice of what feels good to us. When we commit to a pursuit of joy, it begins to consume us, even in moments we wouldn’t have necessarily seen in a context of joy.

So maybe instead of choosing joy, we need to pursue it. Because it is never a static place where we can simultaneously stay and keep it.