Grace Under Pressure

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“Learn to… be what you are, and learn to resign with a good grace all that you are not.”

 – Henri Frederic Amiel –

Sometimes everyone needs you to be everything, and the to-do list is dragging on the floor. Expectations are rising, and the chances of you having enough energy to meet them are dwindling every moment.

These are the moments when it feels like my hair is standing on end, my nerves are strung out to their utmost length, and my spirit is about to crack at any moment.

In the last week, one of the jobs I had to do loomed over me like a flash flood. I was nearly incapacitated in the face of it. I didn’t know what to do, what to say. I didn’t even know where I would find the right words, or enough strength to open my mouth. My sickness of heart was so great that I didn’t really know what emotion dominated the mix of feelings. Anger, dread, fear, helplessness, uncertainty, the desire to overcome, a protective instinct–all of these swelled inside me and warred among themselves. I sat at my piano and played soft, melodic chords, trying to still my raging soul. All I could do was pray.

And I wasn’t particularly eloquent.

“Lord, help me.”

It was the prayer that I breathed again and again, because He had to come through. I was too unraveled. He would have to come up under me if I was going to make it.

And He did.

Honestly, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, to keep moving toward the moment when I would have to confront the job that defied every emotion in me. I wanted to run away. I wanted to say I couldn’t do it. I wanted to hide from the uncertainty and pretend it didn’t exist.

But I moved forward, even though I was nearly incapacitated.

And that, my friend, is where He met me. 

Yes, He came to me when I silently cried for help. But His power rained down grace in the moments I needed it most. My anger slipped away, and I was able to deal with my task with a clear mind and a loving heart. The words came in the moments I needed them, words that I hadn’t even imagined speaking–just the right words.

These situations are becoming more common in my life as I face unprecedented struggles and emotions. Wonderfully, His grace is shining all the clearer in the face of new circumstances and unexplored chapters.

In the middle of all this, I am learning about myself. As I drove home from the grocery store recently, I found myself getting worked up over all the tasks that I still had to complete in the day. Then I smiled to myself.

“You have all the time necessary to do what God wants you to do today,” I told myself.

What a comforting thought!

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I push myself to do certain things, to complete them in a certain way, to meet self-determined deadlines. I can drive my heart ahead of me in fear, whipping it in line with reminders of expectations and reminders of what other people are capable of.  And I forget to breathe.

But all my hours are enough.

They are enough for uplifting moments, the responsibilities that cannot be postponed, and the unexpected storms. My hours are enough to care for all the hearts that I love, at least as much as I’m meant to love them in one day.

I suppose I’m slowly accepting the fact that I am not superhuman. I can agonize over what isn’t getting done…but why? If I am doing my best, if I am loving as well as I can, if I am not neglecting the main priorities of my life, why can’t I let up on myself?

Is it possible that I expect more of myself than God created me to be?

Do I expect to satisfy the people in my life, when only Jesus can do that? Do I expect to solve all the problems, when I am not equipped with omnipotence or omnipresence? Do I expect a broken world to function perfectly if I can only push hard enough?

Please understand, I do not mean neglecting responsibilities, casting off priorities, or embracing laziness.

I mean that our anxiety and 90-mile-an-hour pace are not making us more like Jesus. Frantic scurrying does not help those around us. When our spirits or our bodies break down under the strain, we are not doing anyone any good.

There is a woman who joyfully and calmly embraces each moment as a gift from God, knowing that He gives perfect gifts. She is not perfect, but she knows that God has a plan even in her fight against sin. When she faces the day, the number of tasks overwhelms her less and less, because she is learning that God will give her every moment she needs. If she doesn’t have enough moments to do necessary things, maybe some unnecessary things need to be moved out of the way.

She realizes that life comes in seasons, and all things do not fit in all seasons. There may be a season for “survival mode” in house cleaning, while she engages in recreation so she can be a better daughter, sister, student, mom, friend, or wife. There may be a season when an “extra” activity like a restful or energizing hobby may be very necessary, and something usually considered necessary should be scaled back. This woman is balanced, recognizing what things are Biblical priorities (taking care of herself mentally, physically and spiritually, nurturing her family, keeping reasonable order) and what things are self-created pressures that really have little Biblical basis or balance.

God gives me enough strength and time for everything necessary today. He never makes it impossible to obey Him.

That is very freeing.

So when I wake up and the to-do list items begins to single-file through my mind, I don’t have to panic. I can use wisdom to “thin down the ranks” to the most vital responsibilities. After that, I can choose what other things would be nice to accomplish. I don’t have to drive myself until I collapse. I don’t have to get frustrated over “running out of day.” I don’t have to put in a prayer request for the Lord to add 10 extra hours to a day.

If you are a daughter of God, you are already accepted in the perfectly-finished work of Jesus. Today is a gift of grace, to be lived in grace.

Do your priorities today reflect this grace?


“May the God of hope fill you with joy and peace in your faith, that by the power of the Holy Spirit, your whole life and outlook may be radiant with hope.”

– Romans 15:13, PHILLIPS –

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Treasuring Me

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“Then, as the sun was setting, all those who had friends suffering from every kind of disease brought them to Jesus and he laid his hands on each one of them separately and healed them.”

 – Luke 4:40, Phillips –

Healing was more than a job for Jesus.

He healed very few people en masse, although He did heal the ten lepers with only a word (Luke 17:11-19). But ten isn’t a very large crowd for a God who spoke a galaxy into motion.

“Our God is at home with the rolling spheres, And at home with broken hearts.”

– M. P. Ferguson –

He could have very easily said the word and healed everyone at once.

But He didn’t.

When He called a rag-tag group of disciples to follow Him across the countryside, He could have used supernatural revelation to reveal His vast knowledge to them in an instant. Instead, He spent three years walking and talking with them. He didn’t infuse their minds automatically with Himself–He let them slowly soak in and learn of Him.

He lived in moments and worked in the context of time. More importantly, centering His will on His Father’s plan, He concentrated on whoever was in front of Him.

Not to say that Jesus had a people-centric view of life. He was always God-centric.

But that divine fellowship daily overflowed into moments focused on loving others. Complete in His triune nature, God, in His great grace, overflows to those who could never repay it. We are poor companions, yet He delights to know us. We are unfaithful partners, yet He is pleased to wash us and bring us back home.

I was listening to the Daily Audio Bible this week and heard a passage from Luke 4. Eager crowds flooded Jesus with friends in need of healing, and the passage takes great care to record His response: “Then, as the sun was setting, all those who had friends suffering from every kind of disease brought them to Jesus and he laid his hands on each one of them separately and healed them” (Luke 4:40, Phillips).

He put his hands on them.

Separately.

Each and everyone one of them.

And they were healed.

This is how my God does business. He works in subtle moments and cultivated relationships. He moves in compassion, not just addressing a problem with a general, one-size-fits-all solution, but with a wise plan tailored just for me, just for you.

He stopped and poured Himself into each precious moment with whoever stood before Him.

He paused in a crowd to search out the woman who had grasped His robe in faith. He stopped His sermon for the lame man being let down from the ceiling. On the roads, He paused for cripples, the blind, and lepers who called out for His mercy.

And when we are stumbling along in our own confusion, He is there, also. The God of galaxies smiles upon us and puts His hand on us.

Separately. Individually. Specially.

The Church is the Bride of Christ, all the members together making one body. But individually, we still matter to our Father. We are not faceless appendages in the body. We are treasured children.

“See what an incredible quality of love the Father has shown to us, that we would [be permitted to] be named and called and counted the children of God! And so we are!

 – 1 John 3:1, AMP –

The gospel is not people-centered. God’s love doesn’t revolve around me. I am not the center of the universe or the focal point of heaven. And I was never meant to be.

But oh, what grace is mine! What have I done that He would stop and look upon me?

We should not be surprised to hear that heaven and earth does not wait for our beck and call.

But we should be surprised, eternally surprised, that God would ever stoop to look at the specks upon this planet–specks that, somehow, He has seen, and loved, and filled with the image of Himself.

Take courage.

We serve the same Jesus that lovingly attended to each person He met. He has not changed.

Sometimes God is silent. Sometimes He does not move when we think it is time for something to happen. Sometimes He says no.

But He comes when we call. He places His hand upon our heads when we cry out in need. He cares about our cries.

Always.

 

“Be strong and courageous; don’t be terrified or afraid of them. For it is the Lord your God who goes with you; He will not leave you or forsake you.”

 – Deuteronomy 31:6, HCSB –

The Story of the Trees

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“Spring shows what God can do with a drab and dirty world.”

– Virgil A. Kraft –


 

Winter is over, because the trees say so.

Driving the Arkansas hills this weekend, I saw the proof. Budding fruit trees—pink cherries, the snowy-white of the pears, the deep magenta of the red bud tree and flagrantly-golden forsythia—line side roads and dot the valleys and farm houses with splashes of color.

Spring is here. All is new.

I didn’t know how much I wanted the spring until it arrived. The hay bales lie sodden brown in the rain-soaked, brown and gray fields. Rain has greened up some of the grass on either side of the yellow-lined road. Cows speckle the mottled hills, finding the first tender blades of springtime between the straw stubble.

But my favorites are the trees.

Wordlessly momentous, they wear the wedding colors of spring.

It means something just out of reach. The brilliant simplicity of the trees carries a weight that I feel, but cannot yet quite grasp.

Maybe it is the abundant life sprouting up in the middle of the bare groves sticking their splintery branches into the sky.

Maybe it is the insistent return of joy.

Maybe it is the trees dressing up for no reason, just because it is a good day to be alive under the blue, blue dome of heaven.

Spring is springing, and my heart springs along with it.

Is life perfect? No. But His times and seasons are, whether sunshine or inclement weather, drought or abundant rain. Struggles are real, longings deep, battles hard.

But all is well. Spring is here. All is new.

It is a promise to the world, once again. “As long as the earth remains, there will be planting and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night…” (Genesis 8:22, NLT.)

God says, “Do it again,” and again the celestial orbs take their places in line, to reenact the elliptical dance they know so well.

The renewal of spring reminds us of the refreshing He can always bring to the souls of His children.

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” – Romans 12:2, NLT

And the bright budding of spring tells a tale for which we wait:

“And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”“Behold, I am making all things new!’ ” – Revelation 21:5, ESV

Even as we wait for the world’s crowning day, daily He brings us newness, springtime in our hearts. “Your mercies are new every morning.” “There is therefore now no condemnation.” “The old has gone, the new has come.” (Lamentations 3:22-23; Romans 8:1; 2 Corinthians 5:17.)

Maybe that is why “my heart with pleasure fills” when I look out the car window at the triumphant white of the pears springing up in the fields.

Spring is the world going on, birthing life out of death.

Spring is God’s metaphor for what He does in our lives everyday. Refreshing. Renewing. Filling our bare branches with living color.

Today, again, He is declaring Springtime over our longing hearts.


 

“Spring is when life’s alive in everything.”

 – Christina Rossetti –

The God Who is Near

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“I bless the holy name of God with all my heart. Yes, I will bless the Lord and not forget the glorious things he does for me.”

 – Psalm 103:1-2 TLB –

This week, a friend gave me a pink remembrance journal. She explained, “It is so you can remember all the things that God does for us.”

Ever since, I’ve been on a treasure hunt for God’s fingerprints all around me. I finally sat down this morning and wrote down some of the moments that I’ve been saving up all week.

It is a little bit like a thankfulness journal, but not quite. Instead of writing down the things themselves (“I’m thankful for…daffodils sprouting up, family movie nights, pumpkin seed dark chocolate…”–all of which I adore), I am homing in on the roots of the blessings. “God, you came when I prayed that sleepy-brained prayer for help in the middle of the night. You answered me right away! Thank you!”

Don’t get me wrong…I dearly love thankfulness journals. It is so nice to make lists of wonders that God gives, and to recognize all the blessings around us as His beautiful gifts.

But it is extra nice, at least this week, to meditate on His nearness.

It is extra nice to pick up my spiritual magnifying glass and search for the ways He is faithful.

There’s something special about that wonder that rushes over you, and you whisper, “That wasn’t me…that was You.”

“God created us for this: to live our lives in a way that makes him look more like the greatness and the beauty and the infinite worth that he really is.”
– John Piper –

When I take the time to search out God’s amazing behind-the-scenes work, something happens in my heart. It wakes up. Writing down His goodness takes the focus off me.

I can no longer say, “Wow, look what I did! Aren’t I amazing?” Instead, my eyes turn to Jesus and how incredible He is. Even though His future plans are not mine to know, thinking about how He has been faithful today or this past week strengthens me and gives me the boldness to trust Him with my tomorrows too.

As I go through this next week, I will approach it with an even greater sense of expectation because I have “tasted and seen” what my God is capable of. There is no reason for me to miss seeing Him…no good reason, anyway.

I already knew my God is good.

But practicing the presence of that knowledge is something a little different.

It is a little like stepping out into the sunlight and being blinded by the light, until gradually your eyes adjust to the splendor of a bright world.

His brightness thrills me, excites me, and inspires me. But more than anything, it comforts me.

How can I fear, when I have a Father like this?

“An infinite God can give all of Himself to each of His children. He does not distribute Himself that each may have a part, but to each one He gives all of Himself as full as if there were no others.”

– A. W. Tozer –

My Father’s Arms

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“Father! — to God himself we cannot give a holier name.”

~William Wordsworth~

Waiting in the local Walmart parking lot, I felt the wind swaying our 2-ton vehicle. It whistled around the building corners and practically blew shoppers in and out of the automatic doors.

I watched a couple get out of the car, the man pulling his coat tight around his chest. When I looked closely, I saw he carried something in his arms, wrapped beneath his coat.

A child.

A tiny pink-socked foot stuck out beneath the coat. The couple fought the wind as they approached the store’s entrance. I was entranced by the baby hidden away from sight.

I smiled to myself. In an instant, that father painted a picture of God for me. Baring himself to the elements without a concern, putting his head down into the wind without hesitation, shouldering through the storm without blinking–but his baby girl was safe and warm against his chest. He might be blasted by the wind, but not his girl. She was protected in his arms.

“I have found a place where I can hide. It’s safe inside Your arms of love. Like a child who’s held throughout a storm, You keep me warm in Your arms of love.”

 – Grant, Smith, and Chapman, “Arms of Love” –

Thinking recently about God’s powerful kindness, I wrote, “You carry the cosmos like a lamb between Your shoulders.”

I face storms. We all do. In many ways, we face the wind and waves and must stand up to them in courage. We seem them crashing down over our heads and wonder if there is a place of shelter from the wind after all.

In the middle of our questions and in the midst of our fears, how refreshing it is to remember the Father, to whom we are “worth more than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:31).

Chris Tomlin’s new song “Good, Good Father” has run through my head so often lately. The concept of God’s fatherhood expressed in this song has become a frequent meditation. “He’s a good, good Father,” I find myself saying to others.

Isn’t He, though? Life is hard, certainly. The path is rocky and the wind rips with cold ferocity.

But He is there, too. He is with us, carrying us in His power, bearing us in His arms, wrapping His coat of love around us to shelter us from the storm.

Life isn’t perfect.

But still, He’s a good, good Father. And He is making all things new.

“In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

 – Luke 10:21-22, ESV –