I love living life with a team. I do better when I have a couple of people weighing in on decisions I need to make--giving thoughtful advice, bringing fresh perspectives. I have a long history of employing coaches and counselors in addition to the unpaid team of experts I have surrounded myself with. The Bible encourages this kind of wisdom-seeking. But it can be a problem when I simply add God to my advisory team.
A good coach.
Sometimes I think of God as a coach. He's got a game plan. He's got experience. He knows how to bring out the best in me.
He's on the sidelines and we huddle up during the time outs and sometimes he introduces a play that I don't think is going to work but he believes in me so I try it.
In this innocuous analogy, God is a coach that doesn't need to yell. Sure, he's sometimes disappointed in my performance, but he always puts his arm around me after the game and tells me we'll get 'em next time.
Yes. No. Renegotiate.
I was an athlete. I played team sports. I'm not too pious to understand the coaching analogy. It's just incomplete. Or maybe my idea of coaching has shifted now that I'm an adult. On a sports team, the coach calls the plays, but now, my coach is my employee. I hire her. I decide whether or not to go with her ideas. My current business coach has a phrase she uses when she gives me a suggestion. I can say 'yes', 'no', or 'renegotiate'. Which is why personal coaching falls short as an analogy for my relationship with God.
A different picture.
Apparently, Jesus is not interested in having an advisory role in my life. In a culture that bristles at authority, this seems a bit bold.
Recently, after reading in Phillipians and praying, I spent some time just sitting in silence. During this time I'm not looking for God to say anything to me and I'm not talking to him. I'm sitting in his presence. Most mornings I don't get any ephiphanies or big 'aha's'. It's just good to be still and be together.
This day was different. Not long into the silence the word 'king' popped into my head. I felt compelled to tell God that he was my king. It kept coming. Stronger and stronger. I wanted to get down on the floor and bow down, but I feared the dog would be all over me so I decided to keep this sacred moment protected.
Taken under advisement...
should not be in my vocabulary when responding to divine instruction. Sure, sometimes I need to discern whether instruction is from God or not, but honestly, I'd rather obey without question, trusting that God sees my motive, than be found guilty of wavering in my obedience. If God says "go", I want to go. If he says "remain", I want to remain. So obvious and so radical at the same time. So far to go.
How about you? What is your response to the idea of Christ as King? How does that play out practically in your life?
"Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm."
How inspiring! Only I don't believe it. Intellectually, yes. But if true belief is marked by action, then absolutely not.
Mary DeMuth (a favorite author of mine) tweeted this question earlier this week: How has failure shaped you?
I don't usually engage in these conversations but this one got me thinking. I am terrified of failure. Sadly, the fear of failure has probably shaped me more than any actual failure. How lame!
That is not to say I've never failed. (You can't spend time in treatment without acknowledging some failure.) It's just that I often don't allow failure to make me better.
Here are some of the growth-limiting behaviors I've been known to engage in:
The Shallow Pool
The worst part of all of this is what it reveals about my relationship with God. Apparently I'm still trying to prove that I'm good enough for him to love. And that I'm playing around in the shallow end of the pool, only engaging in activities I believe I can accomplish in my own strength. Worst of all, that godliness=success.
And now for the epiphany (this what happens when I write): I have taken the necessary tension of "being" and "doing" and used it to spiritualize my fear. As I learned to bask in the presence of God absent the pressure of performance, I grew comfortable and lazy. Instead of using his love and mercy to propel me into fearless action, I've hoarded it; afraid of disappointing God or experiencing loss.
Oh crap! I'm the useless servant in the parable of the talents!!
Well, all this has been very enlightening. Thanks for coming along for the ride. Thanks, Mary DeMuth, for your thought provoking question. And thank you, Holy Spirit for your timely and clear conviction.
Looks like 2013 may be the time for some productive failure!
I helped lead singing at church yesterday, but my best worship occurred outside the walls of church. I set out on a run late Sunday afternoon and as soon as I reached West Cliff I noticed something different.
There were people lining the cliff, waiting for the sun to set. Because we live on a bay, the sun doesn't always disappear over the ocean, but when it does...WOW!
Most of these observers would not acknowledge the God who created the sun or keeps it's light burning. But they were all worshiping.
Surfers and stoners. Young and old. Americans and Europeans. Wealthy and homeless. Sane and crazy. Gay and straight. Republican and Democrat. All invited into the kingdom of God and all enjoying God's boundless creativity and love of beauty. I couldn't help but recite Philippians 2 in my head as I paused to take it in with the rest of the crowd.
9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Fleeting, Imperfect Pictures
For one fleeting moment, we all worshiped together. United by our experience of something bigger than us; more beautiful than we could imagine.
And it was fleeting. After taking the above picture, I continued on my run, pausing to spit into some grass (it's what runners do!). A woman about 10 yards away stared at me and yelled, "Yeah, that's what I think of you too, b___!" What? Later I saw her at Safeway, muttering under her breath about people who were following her and laughing. She is obviously tormented by paranoia, but it was quite unsettling.
And this is life on our planet. Flashes of God in the midst of suffering and evil and pain and mess.
So, what's the point?
All this got me thinking about why we gather as a church. How there must be a component of worshiping together. Of standing in communal awe as we watch the sun set or a flower bloom or a new birth. There is something holy and transforming that occurs when we experience this together and corporately acknowledge the God who makes it happen.
I've grown so weary of church hopping and church competition and anti-church movements and church strategy and church bashing. We're just so broken.
Which makes me want to come together with my fellow mess makers and watch God do something only He can do.
Maybe we can stop making our gatherings about us and simply come to be reminded of God's greatness and goodness. Perhaps, together we can sit in awe as we hear again of the great love of Jesus--his perfect life and torturous death that led to new life for us.
May our eyes be opened afresh as we fall in love with this Jesus and we say with his disciples, "who is this that even the wind and waves obey him?????"
My encouragement to you this week is to engage in the weekly gathering of your community with a fresh perspective. Looking to share with those around you the wonder and worship of God.
Last week I was talking with an acquaintance. We are both mothers of Seniors and she commented that she just wanted her son to have a happy life. I disagreed. I let her know that I had much higher aspirations than happiness for my son (I'm nothing if not masochistically pious). I went on to describe that I wanted him to thrive in both difficulty and success and to follow God wholeheartedly and to have the highest character and integrity.
Dang, I'm spiritual!
Words from Ecclesiastes (a decidedly depressing book)
I've long feared that experiencing happiness made me selfish. But I read this today:
Seize life! Eat bread with gusto,
Drink wine with a robust heart.
Oh yes—God takes pleasure in your pleasure!
Dress festively every morning.
Don’t skimp on colors and scarves.
Relish life with the spouse you love
Each and every day of your precarious life.
Each day is God’s gift. It’s all you get in exchange
For the hard work of staying alive.
Make the most of each one!
Whatever turns up, grab it and do it. And heartily!
Ecc. 9:7-9 (MSG)
Is it possible I've missed something? Does God really enjoy it when I'm happy? Trust me, I've analyzed this one quite thoroughly. I am convinced that God's end goal for me is not happiness. But does that make the converse true. Is his end goal for me to be unhappy? I think not.
Is it spiritual to be happy?
It's okay if you're way ahead of me on this one. But bear with me as I process on paper.
From the early days of my faith I've been hearing about the difference between happiness and joy. Joy being the superior experience. Frankly, I'm still a bit confused by the distinction at an emotional level, but I'm happy to spiritualize my happiness by calling it joy.
In my twisted mind, I formed a connection between joy and suffering (see James 1). The spiritual virtue of joy became the kind of happiness you had when life was falling apart. So...obviously I would be more spiritual when my life was falling apart. Do see how twisted I am?
Enjoying the pleasure of God
But what if God finds pleasure in my happiness? Even the fleeting happiness of temporal realities. If that's true, I gave God a lot of pleasure this week.
On Sunday I found myself nearly bursting with happiness. I was biking home from the ocean with Caleb and we were discussing the amazing day we'd had. I started it with a walk to the beach with Richard, then to church, lunch with friends, standup paddle boarding on the ocean, biking from our house to the lighthouse where about 7500 people were watching the best surfers in the world. The weather was perfect, my family was happy, and my heart was full. Later that night we headed to UC Berkeley with 40 college students to hear a brilliant follower of Jesus talk about how to live out our faith more responsibly.
I felt guilty for so much happiness even as I thanked God over and over. So undeserved. So abundant. So uniquely kind. And something I don't take for granted. As a woman who struggles with depression, I know that on any given day I could be experiencing these same circumstances and yet be unable to enjoy them.
So what does this mean? Here are a couple of thoughts:
1. Yes, it's good to be able to give thanks in difficulty. To experience joy in the midst of suffering. But it is holy and right to fully enter into moments of happiness when they occur--because they are fleeting and precious and gifts from God.
2. And, since happiness is not the central value of the Christian life, we have to avoid making it such.
3. Lastly, we must recognize that fully entering into happiness means that future pain at its loss may be great.
“The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That's the deal.” C.S. Lewis
Which of these three things is most difficult for you? Simply enjoying happiness? Making happiness an idol? Or, muting happiness in an attempt to stave off pain?
Kelli is a writer, speaker and consultant equipping leaders for a deepening intimacy with Christ, greater impact in ministry and more effective intentionality in all of life.
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