Saturday, March 29, 2014

Presence...

     The days of the week all ran together in a blur. They felt hurried, long, full, overwhelming, and burdensome. The weight of what needed to be done had me feeling tired and ugly inside. Our family was tired and grumpy. My husband and I had no patience with each other and I felt like I had no space. I wanted to find a cave and hide in it so I could sit and listen to the quiet. I wasn't present in my life. I was racing through it full speed ahead, crossing things off of the endless to do list.

     Friday came and I had to go to a Care Team meeting at church. Normally, we meet in the board room but this time we met in the sanctuary. I arrived late and found a seat. The meeting had already started but I was distracted by something else. I was distracted by the calm, the quiet, the peace, and the weight that was instantly lifted from my shoulders. There were people around me talking, but I felt the quiet. I felt it to the core of my being. I believe that quiet was God's presence in the sanctuary.  I also believe He quieted me with His presence.

     Sometimes there is nothing I can do about what must be done each day and how full the days are. That week I couldn't reschedule anything. The things that I needed to get done were all things that were time sensitive. I may not have been able to do anything about the amount of things that needed to be done, but I recognize now that I could have done something about the burden and the weight of them. I could have chosen God's presence long before the Care Team meeting. I could have chosen to let Him quiet my soul sooner.  I could have chosen to trade my hurry and worry for His pace and His peace. How do you do that? I think I may have found some answers in the book of John.

     In John fifteen Jesus says, " Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me." He goes on to say later in the chapter, " My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love."  Abide means to dwell. When I think about dwelling, I think about where I live. Abiding is where I live. Do I live continually in His presence? Am I connected to Him like grapes to a vine, depending on Him for my very existence? Sure, I spend time with Him regularly throughout my days but somehow when I get busy there tends to be a disconnect. I suspect it comes from forgetting that He is just as much interested in spending time with me during my devotions as He is when I am running errands, doing laundry, or meeting deadlines. These are all things I feel capable of accomplishing on my own until they pile up and become overwhelming or burdensome. Maybe that wouldn't even happen if I were abiding in Him, seeking to draw from the Vine Himself even for the ability to do what I think I am already capable of, and welcoming....no, enjoying His presence throughout it all. Then there is that part of the verse about bearing much fruit and in doing so proving to be His disciples...

     Is my life marked distinctively by His presence? Is His presence evident in such a way that I am bearing much fruit, so much fruit in fact, that it proves that I am His? How can anyone see Him in me when I am grumpy, overwhelmed, and trying to do things in my own strength? They probably can't see Him at all because I can be pretty unbearable to be around in those moments! On the other hand, when we abide in Him I believe those around us will feel and see His presence through us, much like you can't help but notice a vine loaded with plump, juicy fruit!

     What does your presence say? When you walk in the room do people want to run and hide? Do they exhale a sigh of relief when you exit because a weight lifted when you left the room?  Or, are you abiding in Christ and when you walk in the room those around you feel His love and joy through you? Does your presence bring peace and comfort to those around you because you are constantly abiding in Him?

     I want to do better at abiding. The good news is that I won't have to try to do better at it on my own. In John fourteen Jesus says, " I will ask the Father and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you."   How about you? Are you dwelling in Christ, dependent on Him even in the things you feel capable of doing yourself?  Is His presence so evident in your life that others see it, sense it, and are drawn to Him?


   

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Hope...

  
     He asked me to pray about the word hope, this man who has no home wants me to pray about the word hope. How can I pray about hope with someone whose circumstances look hopeless? How can I offer hope to anyone when I came battle worn and weary. I came feeling like I had nothing to offer. I came feeling unworthy.

     He is tall. I squint up at him, the bright fluorescent gym lights shining down on us, and I say "Hope?" He nods yes. We close eyes, bow heads, and I stand there silently paralyzed with fear. What if God doesn't give me any words to pray?! My heart screams loudly, "God this man needs hope. Give me something to pray!"  More awkward silence. Then slowly the words come. I and the man are reminded that as long as we have Christ we have hope.  We have all we need. We may be weary and worn, but we are loved and because He loves us we have hope. Without Him we have nothing. I pray it, this prayer that is not my own. It's just as much for me as it is for the man. I see it clearly now. I and the man are the same. Our circumstances are different but we are the same.

     We both came empty and we both needed hope. He needed to know that there was hope for his life, hope for his circumstances, and that God loves him. I needed to know that when I am a mess, empty, worn, and feeling unworthy there is still hope that God can work through me. This is the beauty that is our God. He meets us in the gym that night and He sees us the same. He doesn't see a homeless man and a food pantry volunteer. He sees His children and He loves them both by showing up in their moment of need. He doesn't just have us pray about hope, He makes it clear that He is our only hope.

     Romans calls Him the God of hope. "Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Romans 15:13.  The Psalms say it too, " For you are my hope; O Lord God, You are my confidence from my youth." Psalms 71:5.  Hope is the expectation that God will show up. I have never known Him not to show up, especially in the midst of my hopelessness or my weakness.

     There are many times in ministering to others when Satan tries to discourage us. He whispers or shouts that we aren't worthy. He fills our minds with fear of failure. If those things don't work then he'll make us feel like we have nothing to offer. He likes to plant thoughts in our minds that no one listens to what we're sharing anyway, so why bother. He tries to keep us from praying with others by making us fear that we won't know what to pray. If all else fails, he gets us to compare ourselves to other brothers and sisters in Christ so that we will think that they are doing everything much better than we are. Perhaps, the biggest lie in all of this is that ministry or serving Christ, has anything to do with us at all.

     God uses empty vessels that He fills with Himself. God uses messes. I haven't met a person yet in all of Scripture who wasn't a mess in one way or another. Even David, who was called a man after God's own heart, was a mess. He was an adulterer and a murderer. God used him anyway. We don't need to have our ducks in a row to serve God.

     It doesn't matter if we have nothing to offer. The Bible already says that our righteousness is as filthy rags. We can never be worthy of what Christ did for us on the cross. We will all fail at something at some point in life. Failure is just another character builder. If there were no mistakes what would we learn from? What matters is that we show up and we make ourselves available to God. All we need to do is to be where He wants us to be and love Him. He'll do the rest.

     I never know what I will pray when I pray with the people at food pantry.  After praying with that man about the word hope, I do know that God will show up.  I'm not nervous anymore because it's not about me. It's about Him. It always was, I just didn't realize how much my insecurities got in the way.  How about you? What is getting in the way of you serving God? In what ways have you lost hope? How would expecting God to show up change the way you minister to others? How would it change the way you view yourself?  Take a load off. Put your hope in God.