Friday, April 16, 2010

The Most Excellent Way

Because I love you,
     I give you all the time you need;
     I search for new ways to make you smile;
     I am thankful for every good thing in your life—even the ones I can't enjoy.

Because I love you,
     I am honest in our relationship;
     I can admit my mistakes and my shortcomings;
     I feel inspired to be the best version of myself—with you and with everyone else.

Because I love you,
     I share my belongings and my time;
     I focus on the big picture when problems arise;
     I am able to forgive you when you hurt me—as many times as it takes.

Because I love you,
     I choose right over easy;
     I have a foundation of joy that no hardships can destroy;
     I put up with all of your quirks and flaws—just like you put up with mine.

Because I love you,
     I have faith in you;
     I hope for a beautiful future filled with adventures and joy;
     I fight the darkness in this world with you by my side—and I'll never give up.

(I recently wrote this poem for some friends. It's loosely based on 1 Corinthians: 13, my favorite passage.)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Be Still

"God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble." (Psalm 46:1)

I frequently say that God is my refuge, but how often do I think about what they really mean? The concept of refuge goes beyond words and explanations. It is a feeling as deep as my soul's core, a truth as solid as the universe is broad. God is my refuge, my unshakable safe-haven, my constant companion, my boundless comforter.

I can try all day to explain the enormity and import of what this means and manage only to scratch the surface. So instead, I will take some good advice:

"Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth."

Today I will not write or reason or explain. Today I will be still and know that God is with me. I hope that you will take some time to do the same.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Chasing After the Wind

Sometimes I feel a lot like King Solomon must have felt when he wrote Ecclesiastes. " 'Meaningless! Meaningless!' says the Teacher. 'Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.' " (Ecclesiastes 1:2) Solomon complains that there is "nothing new under the sun." We receive no lasting benefit from our toil, and all of us—the righteous and the wicked, the wise and the foolish—will arrive at the same fate. All of us are subject to misfortune and all of us will die. We will not be remembered when we are gone, and nothing we've worked for will last. Everything we try to do for ourselves is merely "chasing after the wind."

King Solomon  had an amazing life. He was Israel's richest and wisest king, and he accomplished many things during his reign. Yet, he saw this work and even all of his pleasures as having no lasting meaning. I too have a comfortable life and a decent job, but I still feel like a hamster on a wheel. I go to work and I pay my bills, but what am I really achieving? What is the point? Is my life meaningless?

I think the answer is both yes and no. Solomon wrote that only God is capable of creating a lasting legacy. Our labors really are meaningless compared to God's. My life has no meaning on its own, but God can use His power to give it meaning. Solomon wrote that the best thing we can hope for is to eat and drink and enjoy our labor, even if it is meaningless, but only God can grant us that enjoyment. If we simply evaluate our own work, we will never be satisfied because everything we do is meaningless on the surface. If we consider our work as toil in service of God, however, then we can find enjoyment and peace in what we do. God will transform our work into something greater and weave it into His grand master plan. On our own, we can do nothing, but we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.

It's hard to understand how my boring life could have meaning. Sometimes it's easy to think that I am utterly replaceable, that nothing I do is unique or essential. Nothing new under the sun. Still, God endowed me with this personality and these skills and put me into this life for a reason. What I do may be meaningless to everyone else, but apparently it matters to God. Solomon was wise, but God is even wiser. Perhaps Solomon saw his work as meaningless, but his words on the page are still helping people like me today, thousands of years after he died. Likewise, I cannot know all the ways in which I make a difference in the world around me. I might have said or done things that people will carry with them for the rest of their lives. My job may seem mundane, but I might write an article someday that convinces a brilliant young person to come to my alma mater, receive a first-class education, and go on to change the world. No matter how wise I am, I cannot accurately rate the meaning of my own life. Only God can do that.

If the purpose of my life is to chase after the wind, so be it. Perhaps Solomon would call that meaningless because, after all, you can't catch the wind. I can't take anything I earn here on Earth with me to Heaven, but perhaps the value is in the toil itself, not the spoils. Perhaps the greatest meaning is to be found in doing the work we've been given to do simply out of the joy of serving God. If God means for me to be here doing this work with these people, then I will do it with all my heart. If chasing after the wind is my destiny, then let me do it with joy—that then will be the meaning.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Universal and Personal

One of the hardest things to understand about God is that He is simultaneously all-powerful and yet concerned with our well-being. Why would the most amazing entity in the universe care about us? How can God be so big and yet so close? We can't always confront this concept head-on, so we come up with lots of artistic ways to illustrate it. Some of my favorite hymns speak to the wonder that God is universal and yet personal.

Of the Father's love begotten
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega,
He the Source, the Ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see
Evermore and evermore.

All things were created through Jesus; He is our mighty king. Yet he was begotten out of love, and love is his purpose for existing. God's acts of creation are not simply about power or even brilliance—they are about love. God made everything so that He could love it, perhaps even because He loved it before it existed. The God who is powerful enough to create the universe is also capable of knowing all of us inside and out. He is not only the beginning and the end—He is our beginning and end. God made us, and we cannot exist without Him. 

Creator of the stars of night
Thy people's everlasting light
O Christ, redeemer of us all
We pray you hear us when we call

The amazing thing is that Christ will hear us. The one who has the power to help us actually does hear us and care about us! So often we simply cannot find any help on this Earth. We are invisible to those who have the means to help us, and the people who do love us are powerless to rescue us from our troubles. But God is different. Unlike people who often become hardened and uncaring as they amass power, God is both all-powerful and all-loving. The One who created the stars is our everlasting light, and He will hear us when we call.

This is frequently the most comforting truth that my faith has to offer. I rarely find love and power in the same place on Earth, so it is a huge relief to know that I have a personal God and Savior who has universal power—power to help me, and power to save me. God's power is not mine to demand at any time or manner of my choosing, but I trust Him to use it for my ultimate good. And that is why I can sleep at night.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Lord, I Believe; Help My Unbelief

My faith is the cornerstone of my life, but that doesn't mean that I don't have doubts. I can believe many things with my mind, but my heart is not always convinced. My heart embraces other ideas thatt my mind cannot understand. My faith is imperfect because I am imperfect. Every once in a while, though, everything clicks together and I have peace. I understand the truth about God in my heart and my mind simultaneously. Those moments are precious gifts, and I long for more of them.
  • Lord, I believe that You came to Earth in human form and died so that I could be cleansed of my sin and be made worthy to live with You in Heaven. I know that this is a good thing (the best thing possible, in fact), but sometimes when I think about Heaven I get scared. I get this lurching feeling in the pit of my stomach because I can't comprehend the idea of forever. I have no idea what's in store for me in Heaven, so it scares me a little. Help me trust in the promise even though I can't understand it.
  • Lord, I believe that my marriage is part of Your plan, but I sometimes doubt whether my husband and I are really the best fit for each other. I worry that we might not be compatible enough to see each other through the many years ahead. Still, I know that we love each other very much and I trust that You put us together for a reason. Because I believe that You intend for us to be together, I am counting on You to help make our marriage work. Help me be the wife I should be and give me peace and courage to persevere through the bumps.
  • Lord, I believe that I have a purpose on this Earth and that You will use my talents for Your own glory. I can't always see that happening, and sometimes it seems like all my efforts are thwarted. I can't find the time and energy to do everything that I feel I should do, and often when I try to act on my calling, my words and actions seem to have little or no effect. I often feel impotent and unsuccessful, and I don't want to be a waste of time and space. I long to do good work for You. Help me live up to the plan You have for my life, and give me the wisdom to see how what I do matters to You.
  • Lord, I believe that You endowed me with this personality for a reason, but sometimes I feel that I need to change who I am. I don't always fit in well with other people, and I have crazy dreams and a restless spirit that are often at odds with my rather pedestrian life. Should I try to temper that part of myself, or did You put it here for a reason? Did You intentionally create me this way, or have I warped what You made? I wish you would tell me so that I knew what, precisely, to believe about myself.
  • Lord, I believe that you have a plan for this world and for my life, but it's too great for me to see or comprehend. It's so hard to trust in Your unseen design, especially when things are going wrong around me. People ask me how there could be a loving God when so many terrible things are happening to good and innocent people. I try to explain, and while the logic makes sense in my head, sometimes it seems hollow even to me. I love You and trust You, but it's hard to bear the sight of all this suffering. I can only imagine how heartbroken You must be watching it all, and I don't want to add to Your pain by doubting You. I love You, and I know You love us. Fortify my heart to trust in You, no matter what I see and experience on this Earth. 
I believe, and I won't stop believing when I have doubts. Sometimes my faith is a bit rough around the edges, but it's strong at its core. The Holy Spirit will not leave me to struggle alone, and I have comfort in that.
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