Monday, March 22, 2010

Seeking refuge

There's a video of me as a child (I was probably around 3), in which I'm playing and having a great time, then something upsets me... and I immediately begin to cry and run for Mom, who was holding the camera. Watching it can be humorous because I quickly go from the focus of the frame, to running straight at the camera, until you can no longer see me, but still making my presence known- by causing the picture to shake as I cling to my Mother's leg and cry.

What do you run to when you're upset? How do you cope when things don't go your way?

"Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress." Psalm 71:3

I recently opened up in a discussion with a friend and found myself speaking thoughts as they came to me regarding a particular difficult time in my life. It's not often that I "drop my guard" and actually let someone in... or even that I allow myself to be so transparent in the presence of another. I talked about the difficulties I faced: self-doubt, frustration, and dissatisfaction. More importantly I talked about how I dealt with these feelings: I suppressed and ignored them (not unusual for me), and found refuge in TV and media entertainment. Basically, I ran from actually addressing the problem. I'm sure I'm not the first to call it this, but I went into "survival mode"- just getting through each day until I could again see "my shows."

In doing this, I shut out both the people that love me and God. In survival mode, I set myself up as an old city under siege- walls up, doors closed, and nothing coming in or out. Truly a lonely feeling.

As a book that I've recently read states, the beauty of the Psalms is their transparency. The author says what they want to say and for the most part doesn't beat around the bush about how their feeling, especially in troubled times. The Psalms show that it is permissible to be angry- with God, with others. The Psalms show that we are allowed to cry out for help.

So again I ask- what is your refuge? Don't shut yourself in- speak up in your prayers and allow God's word to work as your comforter...not TV or other forms of distraction.

(I owe much of the thoughts in this particular entry to discussions with classmates, a recently read book, a group of guys that meet weekly to study Scripture, and a lecture that challenged me enough to re-examine some difficult times. Thank you, you know who you are.)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Fitting in

Have you ever caught yourself envying someone else's gifts or talents? I know it's a constant struggle for me. For as long as I can remember sports have been important to me. I love to play for fun, for competition, and I enjoy watching great athletes perform. I've always wished I were taller...thinking, "If I were just a few inches taller, I could..." But comparisons don't stop there: they exist in school, work, hobbies, etc. It seems I'm always comparing myself to others and rarely satisfied with myself.

"So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, 'You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.' " - 1 Samuel 8: 4 - 6 (bold added)

Israel struggled with a similar problem. The people searched for an identity and desired what they did not have (and thought would make them better...more legitimate): a king. This desire consumed the people and caused them to forget the blessings of their uniqueness. Instead, they became self-conscious and viewed their special relationship as an hindrance and an embarrassment. In haste, Israel asks for a king to rule over them, forgetting that (as the Lord tells Samuel in verse 7) they are not rejecting Samuel as their leader, but instead are rejecting God as their king.

Comparing your gifts with others can be a dangerous thing. It can lead to forgetting your own gifts and blessings. Instead, celebrate the gifts of others and rejoice that you are unique!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

...and Thank You.

Some time ago I posted a devotional about presenting requests to God. I argued that you should pray confidently (almost demandingly). If you'd like to read that post, click here. While I still stand by my original advice, I would like to post an addition to it.

Recently I began reading a book that made me realize this approach may be more flawed than I originally realized. I don't think it's the action itself that makes it what would call "selfish" but the lack of discussion of how to react when the prayer is answered. I failed to include this important part of the post.

Too often I feel that many of my prayers are more like the wish lists that we come up with as children- lots of requests...then, when the gifts come, we are usually too swept up in the moment to really express proper gratitude for them. Sometimes I focus too much on what I want (or need) from God and fail to recognize the things I'm being given. And if I do receive what I am asking for, I'm afraid to say that I feel that my reaction is often underwhelming to God.

God, more than any giver of gifts, deserves to see your joy upon receiving what you requested. God deserves praise for delivering. God desires to share in your joy/relief/contentment. Don't deny this portion of your prayer life- allow your prayers to express the gratitude more than usual this week and in the future.

"I will praise the LORD, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me." Psalm 16:7

Monday, March 1, 2010

Preventing progress

"When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." Matthew 6: 16-18

Fasting seems to be a popular topic during Lent as Christians search for ways of drawing nearer to God through an intentional devotional practice for a 46-day period. I was recently reading through this passage and I got something new out of it that I wanted to share:
Why does Christ encourage people who fast to do so in secrecy? Keeping fasting a secret seems especially hard in societies that seem to revolve around food and meals. But I think that there is a lot to be gained from not allowing your practice to be the topic of your conversation or be "written on your face." Perhaps the benefit to not revealing your fasting (or whatever discipline you've taken up) is not just to keep from coming across as pompous, but perhaps it serves a greater purpose- for the benefit of the one practicing the discipline.

Jesus describes ways that people might make themselves appear hungry during their fast to draw attention to themselves. This is their reward- getting the attention of others. But disciplines are meant to focus attention to increase the opportunity to be shaped by our Creator, "formed" if you will. When we disfigure ourselves as Christ describes, we do the work of transformation in a physical way, preventing any spiritual transformation to take place...we are essentially preempting God's role by taking care of God's work in transforming through the practice.

I find that bringing too many others into a spiritual discipline seems to hinder it from being about God and me. Now, remember, there are people that you should be able to share things with: spouse, family, close friends, etc. The purpose is not to keep your spiritual life and disciplines from people, it is to keep it intimate enough so that God may transform you. Practice, and let God do the work of reshaping.