direction

A Ministry of Words

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What do a large stage in Alberta, a tiny francophone church in Montreal, and my neighborhood coffee shop have in common? A ministry of words to steward, that’s what.


After I left the corporate world although I did not know it at the time, I was leaving behind a whole way of seeing the world and myself. Definitions of success and meaningful work would take on new wording. Through long months of soul searching, prayer, digging deep in God’s Word, and talking with my husband, I realized words were deeply important to me. And what until now had been a necessary tool and a fun one even, to leverage for my team and clients; was now to become an offering.


I discovered my knack for speaking if you will, through the PowerPoint presentation. Yes, that mandatory rite of passage for most corporate careers. I quickly realized I was at ease speaking to a room full of clients and I felt deeply engaged with my stakeholders when delivering their findings for any given quarter. I was not a fan for all the hard work it took to prepare one, especially in market research where the work entails interacting with statistics but did it gladly to offer the insights that came from that work.


I remember when I first felt the Lord calling me to a ministry of words. I wasn’t sure what it all entailed, what it was supposed to look like. But I pressed on in prayer and around that time younger women from our church started to ask if we could meet up for coffee to chat about career, life, and faith. My husband and I, a couple in our 40s are among the “older folks”. We chuckle, as in our previous life we were among the younger couples. Now, given our age and life experience, in a young church, we are vessels. I knew He was asking me to make myself available to listen, to devote some of the open spaces on my calendar and receive the words of others. So I did.


Around the same time, I felt called to write. It would take another two years before I’d take very insecure steps toward stringing words together in my first blogging attempt before taking it offline to regroup. In the meantime, I had a lot of coffee, listened in, and replied to questions and shared about my own experiences, along with the insight gained from the Bible.

God had placed on my heart this exhortation: to be a good speaker you need to become a good listener. And the practice of listening had to start with God’s Word. To listen closely to what I was reading, to dig deeper into it and in the process let it dig deeper into my soul. These things would then blend into the conversations I engaged in as I learned to listen.

The art of receiving words and offering them is at the heart of learning to steward them. A quick search online for the definition of stewardship yields this: “the job of supervising or taking care of something, such as an organization or property.” How fitting that to steward means to take care of something, to supervise it.

In calling me to a ministry of words to steward, He is asking that I learn to care for and supervise how I am going to use the words I speak and write. How fitting that this should start with the quiet everyday practice of meeting Him in His Word. The act of reading it, learning it, wrestling with it, praying over the words I read, treasure them.


And how fitting that this would be accompanied by the call to make time for others’ words to reach my ears. To learn to create a space for them to share and ask and wrestle. How much, His Word, His people, and His call to serve are pivotal to my learning to steward the words He puts on my heart to share.


All of this reminds me how much we are not meant to do life on our own, or,  on our own terms. That our gifts aren’t going to be uncovered, invested, and, nor will they flourish if we don’t start with His voice giving the guiding steps, and don’t engage with others to sharpen and be sharpened. Lastly, it reminds me that healthy growth happens over time, not overnight. That small everyday obedience matters more than any big picture idea. And to have one you need the other.

As I continue to learn to steward the words that weigh on my heart, and continue to pray for opportunities to offer them where needed, I want to share two exhortations:

The first-

You may not be one called to a ministry of words per se. At least not in the specific form of speaking, teaching and writing, like me. But, if you believe in God and follow Jesus as your Savior, then you are called to season your words with His. And that starts with spending time to read and learn His Word. No other endeavour is more worthy of our time and effort, I promise! It’ll keep you coming back for more. And in the process, it will make you a good listener. Which in turn will give you a door to say timely words as the Spirit leads.


The second -

Beginnings are hard. They are also exciting. And they always start small. So whatever you hold in your heart and hope to see flourish, be encouraged and take heart! Small obedience counts for everything. Pray and seek the Lord, spend time with Him, read His Word, and ask for guidance. He will meet you and use your availability to teach you, bless you, and use you for the blessing of others.

 

[This is part of the “first-draft” series. If you want to know what it is and why I’m doing it you can read about it here.]  


Seeking, Telling, and Dwelling in the Truth

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A few weeks ago, I heard a speaker refer to "10% friends." He explained that most of us are willing to talk about 90% of how we are, and that we are willing to receive information about the same things we are willing to share. Topics that hover on the surface of everyday life and are generally safe. It might be a compliment we received on last night’s dinner, our upcoming vacation plans, or the details of a current project at work. This information is framed around content that is comfortable and affirming.

 But the remaining 10%, he explained, is comprised of the hard things we are not willing to share or hear others point out. He said we all need to have, and should aim to be, part of the 10% who speak and seek to hear the Truth. I turned around to my friend and smiling said, "You're welcome, for I am part of your 10%!" We both chuckled.

 My friend and I both acknowledge we need Truth from outside of ourselves to check our own version. Because there is Truth, and there is what we hold as truth. And they are not always the same. We are, after all, finite and fallible. Therefore, we need what is forever and infallible. Those attributes are not found in humanity, but in its Maker and the words recorded for us in the Bible.

  

Seeking the Truth

 There is something comforting about Truth. While it can be hard at times, it’s also stable. It is not contingent on my own agreement or emotions. What is True is true, with or without me. It does not need my endorsement or my permission to be true. When we lie, or when truth is absent from a situation, it does not cease being itself. It remains, well... Truth.

 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian who was martyred by the Nazis, wrote: "No man in the whole world can change the truth. One can only look for the truth, find it and serve it. The truth is in all places." That wording in the last part lingers in my mind, “One can only look for the truth, find it and serve it.” This means we submit to it.

 In a noisy world filled with competing perspectives on everything, whatever our truth is (that is, our go-to uncontested knowledge) will determine much of our emotions and thereby actions. The danger, then, is when we are holding onto our own version of truth. When we do that, we are in essence idolizing a part of ourselves. If the definition comes from our own reasoning, then we are really just serving ourselves.

 For me, this begs the question…

When We Think We Know the Answer, but haven’t understood the Question

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Watching Jesus interact with people is the most enlightening and confronting exercise I get from digging in Scripture. And sometimes you don’t have to dig too long before the narrative grabs your heart’s attention like a gentle hand raising your gaze from whatever is eating our minds and holds a mirror to see yourself in light of Truth. This is what I experience reading the first nine verses of John 5.

The apostle John who writes this account situates us right away in an area of Jerusalem where there was a pool called Bethesda. Nearby, we’re told, were many invalids who were blind, paralyzed, or lame. John points out a man who’d been invalid for thirty-eight years. With this information we read the following exchange:

“When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him,

- “Do you want to get well?” 

 -- Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” (John 5:6-7 NIV)

Jesus asked a yes / no question, which the man replies with a long explanation revealing the reason he thinks he’s not well, while never really answering the question. His words answered a different question altogether than the one asked; why he thought he wasn’t healed yet. I wonder, how often do we do the same?

Jesus asks an obvious question, for to ask a person who has not walked in more than thirty years if he wants to be well is a rhetorical question. Yet he asks it anyway. Why?

The seemingly misplaced answer serves to reveal the heart of the man. It evidences where his hope is and why it’s been disappointed time and again. His eyes are on the familiar and tangible. The pool was a place where the sick often went in hopes of being healed by its waters. Some manuscripts mention that an angel occasionally came to stir the water.

I think the gospel does the same thing. The gift of grace that is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, begs the question from us, ‘do you want to be well?’ A question we frequently answer with something like this: ‘I tried to make it happen but couldn’t, if only I was able to get there, then things would be much better.’

It might be that new job, a spouse, the house you really want, a child, or perhaps that issue that hasn’t yet resolved this year, and which you know once resolved, will make life fall into its proper place once again, filling you with peace and assured that you are going to be ok.

We don’t answer the question because we are impatiently bearing with the unfavourable circumstances, which according to us, keep us from being well. Amidst the noise of our own needs and wants, we miss the fact that the one asking the question is also the answer to it. “Do you want to get well?” is not rhetorical if we don’t know what well looks like. Our answer simply reveals what we think will make us feel well.

The things that occupy the hearts of most believers aren’t usually terrible in of themselves. A home, a better income, a child, or more favourable circumstances, are not bad things to hope for. The issue arises when anything, however good, becomes the reason we can be well.

The exchange between the invalid and Jesus ends swiftly with Jesus showing his deity and authority by simply commanding him to walk- therefore making him physically well:

-Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.” (John 5:8-9 NIV)

Did this solve the man’s problems? Surely, it improved his quality of life exponentially. He gained mobility, and with it, independence to move about freely. Yet a few paragraphs later, they see each other at the temple, and Jesus tells him to stop sinning lest something else happens to him.

This helps me see that although I may get the thing I most want and with it fill what I see as my greatest need, there is still a greater area of need. He no longer had a handicap, but he still had the ability and desire to sin. And so do we.

I love this passage because in it, Jesus shows off his power. Being truly human and truly God, we see him display humanity and compassion, while also divine authority that with mere words he is able to command a body back to health. John is intentional in how he places the reader right in the middle of it all. But I love this passage mostly because it subtly shows that while God is willing and more than able to do spectacular, His truth is usually profoundly simple and in plain sight. We are not well because even when healed from ailments and suffering that come with the broken human condition, our greatest ailment is within us.

And the One who has the authority to speak light into existence, order the raging waters to calm, or an invalid body to get up and walk, is the only One who can knows the areas in my life where I am not well and promises to do for me what no medicine, guru, self-help book, or treatment can do; change my heart. This, friends is the greatest wellness we can hope for and the greatest need we have.

Slow Is Good

A few months ago, a realization caught me off guard, only because my day slowed down enough for me to see it.

I was reading and taking notes. My work felt worthwhile and busy. A few hours in, feeling tired, I stretched my back and looked up. In that pause, seeing my tiny apartment cleaned and orderly, I remembered when I vacuumed and did laundry earlier that week. It’s work that feels tedious and that God had been teaching me to view as an offering. A way to love my household well and honour him. I realized how the Lord of the universe makes Himself just as present in the mundane, as in the extraordinary. All moments are lived in his presence. We may not feel it, but He sees us and hears us, always.

It’s not the sort of thought I would have had in the past, simply because I would have powered through the reading and studying as quickly as I could to move to the next thing. Same with laundry or cleaning. Furthermore, I would not have viewed folding laundry or cleaning as something to do for the Lord.

Slow is good. It creates a pause, which allows for quiet, unseen moments to be seen by us, and remember they are seen by God too.

Slowing down enough to stay still and hold a quiet pause is hard. It doesn’t come naturally, at least not to me.  I think we often feel we can’t afford it. After all, time is always running somewhere, and we are usually behind it. There is something rushed about our rhythm.

In this season of redefining worthy and successful in light of God’s Word rather than my own narratives, a gentler pace has been essential. It shifts me to a slower gear, facilitating that breathing room to exhale. In that breath, I lift my eyes from the ordinary and glimpse into the grace of the moment.

When you think of the word slow, what comes to mind? Give it a moment before reading on.

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These are the thoughts that come to my mind: not fast enough; two steps behind; a long wait; not efficient. Basically, all negative connotations that bring frustration to any given day. And I confess, in my mind, the list ended with “not first.” See my point? It evidences so much of the narratives that have in the past dominated my thought-life. It’s interesting that I did not equate it with steady, gradual or leisurely. All valid synonyms according to my thesaurus.

Over the past year and a half, I have been reading the Bible in chronological order. The experience has been deeply enriching, and eye-opening. I purposefully try to let my mind steep in one book and story at a time and look for how is God’s character revealed in the story. What is important to him, and his interaction with humanity. Throughout both the old and the new testaments, and especially the gospels, I’ve noticed that God is never in a rush.

There are plenty of messy situations where circumstances are hard. And they may call for swift action on the part of the people facing them. But a rushed existence is not the call, nor is it God’s pace. In fact, quite the opposite. Abraham had to wait fifteen years between receiving the promise of a child and Isaac’s birth. After the call by Jesus on the road to Damascus, it would be another three years before Paul would formally begin his ministry. Waiting is often part of the equation with God. And, in the waiting, we feel the narrative slow down. In the slower pace faith is tested and refined; the soul is trained for living.   

I often catch myself acting like life must be taken in big gulps at a certain speed to show it’s going somewhere. This familiar passage in Ecclesiastes shows in the very words a rhythm for living. The fact that there is a time for each activity marks a space between them. We’re not meant to live all moments at once. Or skip through them to get somewhere faster. There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens

The human experience happens in morsels and sound bites. And God can be invited into each one of these. There are new mercies for each day’s worth. When I’m in a hurry, I remember to invite God mainly because I need him to finish up quickly, not because I want him.

I’m so grateful for the gift of slowing down enough to find grace in each moment, especially in the unseen ordinary ones that are so easy to dismiss. He is working in my life through those, likely far more than the big events I look to as markers.

 

 

 

 

When I pray for Direction but what I mean is Control

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So much of my decisions are often stagnated because I am waiting for perfect circumstances to align so I can move forward. I think part of it is being a recovering perfectionist. But I see it goes deeper. An agonizing decision process, where we need to make a choice. Whether to take a job, move to another city, marry this person, or choose that school, we seek the comfort of the right answer.

Not knowing is hard. In an age where “information is power”, to not know feels powerless. And we certainly don’t like to feel unable, so we want to know.  Knowing puts us at ease, like we know what we are doing. As we pray, we look for very specific answers, so we will know exactly what to do when to do it, and how to do it. I’ve noticed that pattern in myself. I want the whole picture, the entire roadmap with signposts and all, to know the exact route from where I am standing to the desired outcome.

We want not only the confirmation of what steps to take but also a guarantee that we will get there successfully. The comfort we are after is the sense that we are in control. And so, we get frustrated with God when we pray, and things don’t become clearer. I wonder how often the clarity I am waiting for is really the ability to control the situation? And isn’t that me wanting to be in God’s seat? A job I am severely underqualified for.

The friction for most believers occurs because we are called to a life of faith. Not our natural bend. Paul wrote, “…the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God” (Galatians 2:20 ESV). So, the life I live here and now, in my flesh, subject to the allures of the flesh and the pain of the flesh, this life with its ups and downs, twists and turns, I now live by faith? Faith implying trusting Who I know with what I don’t know.

Often in my quest to know all the possible outcomes and details thereof, I ignore what is made known to me. The Bible is the primary place to know God and learn what He wants us to know. This, however, seems insufficient if not irrelevant when I am pressed for information. After all, it is of no use to me in terms of specific answers about who to marry, what job to accept, or how to get that outcome I want.

While it may not contain the details relevant to each personal situation, it contains the words God deemed relevant to record and make available. Interacting with it will usually do one of two things: either frustrate us or recalibrate our position. The purpose of the Bible is not to give us the answers we want; it’s to give us God.

So, it may not say what job to take, but it does say to work in all things as unto the Lord. It says to honour the Sabbath, thereby pointing to our need for rest and pause, and not making life all about the work of our hands. It does not say who to marry, but it does give instruction on how to foster a relationship. And the kind of person I should strive to be and the kind to look for.

I admit living by faith means taking risks in my decisions, where while I try to act on good faith and obedience, I know that the outcome and the actions of others may not follow suit. And yet I am told to not tire of doing good. I know that in this life I will be subject to unforeseen circumstances that will not fit neatly in a five-year plan. Illness, death, injustice, job loss, accidents, pain and conflict can and will affect our lives, and obedience and faith will not exempt us from these trials.

For me, I think a life lived by faith in the Son of God means learning to find comfort in the Son of God rather than in outcomes. Is stepping in faith and prayerfully making a choice with the information I do have from His Word and trusting God will meet me on the other side of that decision.

“Draw near to God and he will draw near to you…” (James 4:8a ESV).  Complete control over my circumstances will not draw me to God but away. After all, if I am in the driver’s seat, is there space or need for God?