The Persistence of Discipleship

68c6f121d80085251ee6a3da3699b6acThen Peter replied to Him, “Explain this parable to us.”

“Are even you still lacking in understanding?,” (Jesus) asked. (Matthew 15:15-16)

Even Jesus got frustrated and exhausted with discipleship. It’s a persistent process. Of course, Jesus stayed engaged. He worked through the difficult moments, because He knew how important the process was.

How committed are we to discipleship? How often do we walk away because of disinterest, misunderstandings, or frustrations? How ready and willing are we to explain, wrestle with, and listen to people as they grow?

It takes effort, patience, and humility.

And it is necessary and worthwhile.

 

To Give Up or Go With

a907a4a6bb70515f92929de481b04a52Perseverance, patience, hope, and faith is important, but we can also inch into the stubborn zone. We don’t want to give up, but accepting God’s will for a specific situation or season isn’t giving up: It’s giving in and going with Him.

But it’s so hard.

On the seventh day the baby died. But David’s servants were afraid to tell him the baby was dead. They said, “Look, while the baby was alive, we spoke to him, and he wouldn’t listen to us. So how can we tell him the baby is dead? He may do something desperate.”

When David saw that his servants were whispering to each other, he guessed that the baby was dead. So he asked his servants, “Is the baby dead?”

“He is dead,” they replied.

Then David got up from the ground. He washed, anointed himself, changed his clothes, went to the Lord’s house, and worshiped. Then he went home and requested something to eat. So they served him food, and he ate.

His servants asked him, “What did you just do? While the baby was alive, you fasted and wept, but when he died, you got up and ate food.”

He answered, “While the baby was alive, I fasted and wept because I thought, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let him live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I’ll go to him, but he will never return to me.” (2 Samuel 12:18-23)

Don’t give up, but don’t refuse to give in either. Follow well even when you don’t understand. Let hope take you closer to God instead of driving a wedge of frustration or disillusion between you and Him. Go with Him. He’s the best partner to walk through anything and everything with you.

I Would Rather…

We often use the phrase, “I would rather…” with a wistful tone, wishing for something we don’t have. Sometimes we say it with irritation to express what we’d rather be doing. But what if we flipped our perspectives to claim we’d rather be where we are, doing what we’re doing, instead of our other options?

For example, maybe you’d like a newer car, but there are other things that take priority, such as an education, dance lessons for your daughter, or a thrifty vacation experience with friends or family to make memories together. Would you rather be driving a new car or doing those other things that you’ve prioritized? Despite feelings of being in out-of-control situations at times, we have more choices than we might care to admit because of the responsibilities that come with them. When we get down to the basics, we will admit that we indeed have chosen what we’d rather do.

Instead of complaining, what if you took the high road and began to see the choices you have in front of you?

What if you accepted the responsibility of responding well, so that you make the best choice and move on instead of what focusing on what could have been? Maybe your situation isn’t ideal, but you can still prioritize relationships, faith, and so many other choices. You get to choose how you react to what’s going on around you.

When you say “I’d rather,” do you focus on what you don’t have and what you can’t do, or do you take responsibility for choices to set aside some things for a season in order to prioritize other things? Your approach and perspective matter. Contentment requires you to focus and choose well.

I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13)

Little-Girl-Looking-over-Fence

A Lesson in Selfishness: Trees and Roses

What does selfishness have to do with trees and roses?

I learned when I recently spent the night in a hospital.

I wasn’t the patient. I simply wanted to be available for someone close to me. Nighttime hours are busy for nurses, and sometimes it’s difficult to get their attention and care. (Although we pretty much had the best nurses…in our opinion.) Plus, doctors start rounds super early in the morning…too early for me to get up and make the drive to the hospital with any certainty of hearing their updates.

So, I stayed in a waiting room that served several wings on the same floor of the hospital. I learned not everyone in the room had family members on that floor. Some had commuted from other floors. The first time I stayed in the waiting room, there were only a few of us who spent the night. But this time was a different story. Every (semi-comfortable) chair and couch was taken. Every tv was set to a different channel with scattered remote controls. But the lights were automatically dimmed at 11 p.m. and raised at 7 a.m., so that was promising.

roses treeMy “neighbor” seemed friendly as I struck up a conversation with her before the lights were dimmed. She also seemed quiet…until the lights were dimmed. I quickly dozed off after a long day, but it soon woke up in a groggy fog. As I remembered where I was, I wondered, “Why is someone talking about trees?” I didn’t open my eyes until I was fully convinced I wasn’t hearing things or dreaming. Then, I looked around and found my neighbor having a phone conversation while browsing the internet in the corner of the room. And she was talking about trees. I couldn’t put all the pieces together, but I learned a lot about trees…for an hour. The conversation stopped, but not before she said, “Okay, but if you have time later, give me a call.” I thought she meant later in the day. I was wrong.

Her phone rang one hour later and lasted an hour. She returned to the computer for more research. This time, the focus was roses. I got to learn about a lot of different kinds of roses, where they can grow, what soil they need, and…I won’t bore you with the details. At the end of the hour, she said, “Well, I need to get up at 7. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

I hated to break the news to her, but it was already tomorrow.

I didn’t sleep as well as I had hoped I would. But I wasn’t as irritated as I was perplexed.

I just couldn’t figure out how or why she thought it was okay to talk through the night with a roomful of tired people who had experienced who-knows-what that day. And the topics of choice were trees and roses?

I laughed as I recalled the story to several people the following day. It still seems ridiculous when I think about it. But I’m sure it didn’t seem ridiculous to her. Like so many of us, when something makes sense to us, we can’t imagine it doesn’t make sense to someone else. We might declare, “Well, that’s just me!” to justify what we do, yet say, “She has no right!” or “What was she thinking?” about someone else. One thing is for sure: we can have very different perspectives and values from others.

We don’t have to completely understand others’ behavior or perspectives, but it’s important to call ourselves out on the similarities. While we might not do exactly what “they” are doing (nor would we, we declare with arrogance), we can always find selfish tendencies. That’s really what most of our issues boil down to: selfishness. If we don’t see any selfishness in us, pride (otherwise known as selfishness) is the cause of our blindness.

I’m not saying we’re always selfish, but it’s a huge reason for the chasms we create between ourselves and others. If you follow my blog at all, you know I take a stand on my faith in and the truth of Jesus Christ and His teachings. I believe there are absolutes. There’s a difference between truth and Truth. Could my belief be seen as a selfish perspective? Sure…if I let it divide me from others. But differences in beliefs, opinions, values, faith, priorities…and the list goes on…doesn’t have to bring out the selfishness in me. In fact, it can do quite the opposite. I can choose to dismiss others because they are different from me, or I can stand firm on the truth of God’s Word while having conversations with others, learning their perspectives. I can disagree with someone without dismissing him or her.

After all, there are a lot of trees and roses out there. If I listen, I might just learn something.

My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. (James 1:19-20)

While You’re Waiting

waitingWaiting isn’t my favorite pastime, but I’m learning to appreciate it.

I could blame the culture in which I was raised and now live. After all, we’re all told we shouldn’t have to wait. We live in the “now” times. But no matter what my experiences and education, I don’t have an excuse. I know better.

God tells me I’m going to have to wait. In fact, waiting is rewarded.

But the people who trust the Lord will become strong again. They will rise up as an eagle in the sky; they will run and not need rest; they will walk and not become tired. (Isaiah 40:31)

I truly believe I will live to see the Lord’s goodness. Wait for the Lord’s help. Be strong and brave, and wait for the Lord’s help. (Psalm 27:13-14)

I’m learning to ask a few questions when I’m waiting.

  • Why am I frustrated with the wait?
  • How does God prefer I respond in the wait?
  • What can I learn from and about God while waiting?

Waits can be frustrating regardless of the length of wait. Whether I’m waiting for God to provide some clear direction or relief from a struggle or I’m waiting for an exorbitantly long line at the store or wait time for a customer service call, I can tap my toe, sigh, and get irritable. I can even justify my irritable response and demand I have a right to improved response time. But when I pause to ask myself the above questions, my perspective changes.

  • Why am I frustrated? Because of my own expectations. I think I deserve prompt attention or response. Or sometimes I’m frustrated because of simple impatience. I feel pressured to be somewhere else or to do something else, and I’m being held back from those things. In reality, I’ve created the pressure by over-scheduling, not allowing enough time, or infusing expectations on myself or others that just aren’t accurate or fair.
  • How does God prefer I respond in the wait? This is a fun one. The simple answer is usually “with patience,” but what’s fun is that he provides some amazing opportunities in the wait. Sometimes it’s simply looking around and noticing what’s going on around me. I might learn something about myself because of what I see in someone else or remember something I had forgotten. Sometimes he places a need right in front of me, and I have the opportunity to serve during the wait. Service comes in all sizes and time frames, and I love to be a part of the weaving of each other’s lives even in the least expected places.
  • What can I learn from and about God while waiting? He’s dependable. He’s present. He knows. He cares. I can learn from and about God in every single situation in my life; it just depends on if I’m actually watching and listening. When I’m in a hurry, when I’m impatient, I’m less likely to be watching and listening. When I’m waiting, I can choose to be frustrated or I can choose to be patient. It is in those patient times that I often learn the most. God confirms what he says about himself in his Word. He repeatedly reveals the truth of who he is. I just have to be willing to receive it.

Whether it’s a season or a moment of waiting, you will not go long without waiting. How will you respond? Tell me what you learn. Let’s wait together.

Fit Faith: Capacity: Just One More

I often count as I’m working out. Sometimes I’ll count forward and sometimes backward. Forward counting gives me a sense of accomplishment. It also seems to pass the time and take my mind off the effort. I usually find myself backward counting when I am close to a goal and want the satisfaction of the remaining time and repetitions diminishing. I think we all have a “one more” mentality. The question is whether we focus on one more sit-up or one more potato chip!

Consider what you’d prioritize as needing “one more.”

Shift your focus a bit and consider what you’d prioritize as wanting “one more.”

Is there a difference?

What about in your spiritual life? It’s easy to get overwhelmed with what’s not getting done, the areas in which you feel you fall short. Just like physical challenges, you might assess you don’t work out enough. You’re not active enough. You don’t have enough motivation and stamina. And just like physical challenges, the answer is usually “take it one step at a time.” Just one more.

Do you feel you’re falling short in prayer? You don’t have to stay on your knees for an hour. Just talk to God. Share what’s going on. Start somewhere.

Do you feel you’re falling short in service? You don’t have to build a house for someone or give away a thousand dollars. Just do something for someone else. Bake cookies for someone. Buy the person’s lunch next to you in the fast food line. Open the door for someone. Let someone ahead of you in the grocery line. Live generously with your time, energy and resources. Start somewhere.

Do you feel you’re falling short in Bible study? You don’t have to read through the Bible in a year. You don’t have to diagram the life of Christ or the journeys of Paul. You don’t have to memorize Old Testament genealogy. Sign up for an online daily devotional. Join a six-week small group study at church. Ask a friend to join you at your house for a weekly study and connection time. Invite accountability. Start somewhere.

Do you feel you’re falling short in living out your faith on a daily basis? We can all grow! Challenge yourself to keep a journal of your God-encounters every day. It doesn’t have to be award-winning writing. You don’t even have to write in full sentences. Jot the date along with a phrase, word, or location to remind you of the moments you sensed God’s presence, relied on him, asked him, or in any way engaged him in your life. The more you encounter him, the more you’ll look for him. The more you look for him, the more you’ll recognize his presence in your life. Start somewhere.

When you count forward in your spiritual life, you can get frustrated, because you easily get into the comparison game with others. You just finished your first Bible study; then you talk to someone who has been regularly studying for years. You’ve started a daily devotional and brief time of prayer journaling; someone else writes her own devotionals and distributes them to hundreds of women. You spend an hour at the hospital reading to and encouraging a friend; someone else just returned from the Dominican Republic to feed hungry orphans. Counting forward will only cause you to play a numbers game with yourself and others.

Counting backward can be equally deceptive, because we have no idea how many days, hours, and opportunities we have remaining. Only God knows the timing of our lives. However, you can always give “just one more.” You can pray just one more time. You can study just one more Scripture. You can give one more dollar. You can sacrifice one more hour. You can share God’s love with one more person.

God wants your obedience. You can choose to give it to him one step at a time.

Mama Bear Claws

You can mess with me, but don’t mess with my daughters!

I have Mama Bear claws. I don’t like to be threatened, but threaten or harm my girls, and I’m ready to attack. I can restrain myself (most of the time), because I don’t want to fight my girls’ battles. Well, I might want to fight them, but I know it’s better for them to exercise their own skills in confrontation, problem-solving and personality conflicts. I know they have to learn how to deal with demanding teachers, territorial friends, unreasonable employers, and well-intentioned but sometimes misguided family members.

My Mama Bear claws came out when a daughter was unjustly treated by a teacher who seemingly wanted to flex her authority muscles.

My Mama Bear claws came out when a friend consistently talked to my daughter with disrespect.

My Mama Bear claws came out when I felt my daughter’s employers were taking advantage of her work ethic.

Few people have seen my Mama Bear claws, because I don’t call the teacher, friend, or employer and intervene. I want to equip my daughters to discern what the best course of action is. It’s not easy, because it’s not about retaliation (which is what my Mama Claws often seem to be all about). We have to balance respect for authority with the timing, reasons behind the confrontation, and future of the relationship. I don’t want to bad-mouth those in authority in my daughters’ lives, because they have to learn the balance, and they (usually) have to continue the relationship in some way.

My Mama Bear claws pop out quickly on the inside but (thankfully) rarely show their ugly, unmanicured daggers on the outside. Ironically, my daughters see them the most often and not in the way you might expect. In talking them through the possible solutions of dealing with the issues, my passion to protect my daughters often comes out in a bossiness to instruct my daughters (in loud tones of frustration). I’m not frustrated with my daughters, but that’s how my Mama Bear claws often show.

I’ve even scratched my husband with them. While discussing an important issue about our now nearly-grown daughters, he needs only to make one brief statement, suggesting something I think wouldn’t be beneficial to one of the girls in a critical area, and – I growl and swat (figuratively, of course). It’s not his fault. He’s simply trying to interact with me, which might not be a great idea when I’m in protect-my-cubs mode.

It’s not my intention to growl at and attack the ones I love. They’re the ones I’m trying to protect. My intentions and my actions don’t always match. I’m not trying to be hypocritical. I’m doing life the best I can, but sometimes I’m caught offguard. And in some of those offguard moments, my reaction might be to attack.

The times of crises are rarely times we can learn new coping strategies. We need to establish our habits in everyday life in preparation for times of crises. We know they’ll come – rarely when or in the way we expect them.

I’ve tried to using my Mama Bear claw moments as teaching times for my daughters as they wade through conflict, but also I’ve learned a lot about myself. It hasn’t always been pretty. God gave me my Mama Bear claws. They’re a gift for those times I, as the mama caregiver, need them for serious protection. But I can’t rationalize when I should (or shouldn’t) use them. That’s up to God.

It’s the same with everything God has given me. He created me uniquely…and in his image. In return, my responsibility is to steward everything he’s given me with intent purpose of fulfilling his will, not mine. That means I need to be familiar with his will. I need to know enough about God and draw close to him so in those times of quick response, I will stand up, sit down, speak up, or shut up…whatever he’s requiring of me for that moment.

Are you using what God gave you for his intended purpose?

Are you rationalizing or miscontruing any behaviors or relationships in your life?

We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. James 3:3-5