Throughout my adult life, I’ve moved along well in my career. I had most of the accolades I was looking for: a good job title, a solid reputation, and a comfortable bank account. They were all checkmarks that told of the progress I’d made in life thus far. Yet after fifteen years, I found myself hating my life so much that I was looking for ways to end it. My life looked successful and thriving from the outside. On the inside, however…
You Will Not Complete what You Don’t Start
“He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap.” Ecclesiastes 11:4. This certainly paints a picture. When we are trying to decide whether or not to take that job, have that conversation, move to that city, start that process, we can feel consumed with anxiety not knowing whether it is the right call or not.
Control I seek to have that ends up controlling me. That is how decision making feels sometimes. I don’t know all the variables involved so I circle around a decision trying to look at it from every possible angle, trying to guess the what ifs; to foresee the unforeseeable issues. Deep down inside, beyond discernment what you and I want is a guarantee of success.
Often what we are really thinking is I will move forward once I know the exact steps to an error-free outcome. Since we have not been given such agency, the activity can be exhausting and fruitless.
Sometimes as believers we struggle to see the Bible relevant and helpful in the nitty-gritty everyday worldly life we have to live. We may feel the Bible is an archaic book filled with spiritual things that have little to say about regular everyday life. This passage however, says otherwise.
Stewardship is a Call to Action.
The first two verses open with action verbs: cast and give. Interestingly both are outward driven actions. That is, both casting and giving imply parting from something; letting go. The call to cast..
The Christian faith is one where pain is a key component. And while most human beings find a natural aversion to pain, nowhere is this truer than in Western, and especially North American culture. For us, not just pain, but any semblance of discomfort, is deemed unacceptable. Our abundance and modernity have allowed for unprecedented comfort and convenience. Believe I’m as guilty/ delighted as anyone. With online grocery shopping and delivery service, my life has never been so easy, or convenient. I do 90% of my shopping from my laptop in my pj’s while sipping my morning coffee,and schedule the delivery for the day and time that most suits me. Convenient and predictable - yes please, thank you!
The other side of this predictable convenient existence though, is that it has harmed our ability to weather and welcome life unscheduled and unpredictable. We see it in our attitude when a page takes longer than 3 seconds to load on our browser, or when what we want and expect to find at the store, is not available. If these instances catch us on a particularly bad day, our reaction can put a damper on the hours left with our poor families, colleagues, or friends.
We don’t like being inconvenienced. But we especially strongly dislike the notion that we will go through hardship, and so we freeze upon the possibility that something will push us outside of the area where we excel, where the roads and shortcuts are familiar to us, and where we feel we have control.
I personally sit in the tension of the self I’m most familiar with, and the one I’m informed about in the Bible. Said tension is in essence what I write about in this blog. Hence its tagline “in the intersection of between everyday life and eternal perspective.”
That wrestling between the part of us that is asked to pick a heavy piece of wood and follow Someone; when all I want to do is sit irritated that no one is acting on my expert knowledge of how things are and ought to be, and everyone’s failure to follow suit.
What the Bible informs
Let's talk agriculture for a moment. The process of cultivating, to be more specific. First, the soil needs breaking. Being broken is what makes it ready for planting. Once seeds are placed, tending must follow. And then, a prolonged pause happens waiting for the harvest. During that prolonged pause where waiting seems to be the only thing taking up calendar days (instead of satisfying to-do’s we get to mark of) there actually is a lot of activity underneath all that dirt. It is during this last stage where growth takes place.
He prunes so that we can bear fruit. The first time I heard this passage preached and unpacked I did not know the word pruning. It was in the early 90’s during my first year of university. Thinking it was because English was my second language, I looked it up in Spanish only to realize I didn’t know it either. So, the issue was not language, but that I wasn’t familiar with plants at all.
More than 20 years later, doing my own inductive study of John’s gospel, I appreciated the details in John’s account. I took notice of the language and the intention. The cultural sensitivity revealed in the choice of analogy. Jesus often spoke in parables and used storytelling to illustrate important principles of the faith he came to live out for us.
He was speaking to an audience familiar with farming and agriculture. The people at that time derived their very livelihood from it. It was their day to day and means to make a living. Here he was, the Maker of everything using the very creation He had authored to paint a picture of how God parents us.
Pruned literally means to cut a part of a plant so that it will grow. The removal of a piece of its own composition will help the whole grow healthy. How interesting. I think of things that feel so close to me, so familiar and intimate, that its removal seems unbearable. Our reaction to the mere possibility ranges from irritation when something doesn’t go our way; to utter despair when we feel out of our depth and the deep sense of injustice to have been placed in a predicament without our doing.
God’s economy is as wide as it is generous. So He is constantly pruning out of us the self that wants to stay comfy and the same always. Because that self has no interest in Him and will not naturally draw near to Him. That self is often found holding what we think is the reins of our lives, when in reality it is our spiritual demise we are holding on to. And so committed is God to our sanctification that both the mundane traffic jam-like irritations, and the deep crisis will He use to prune the parts of us that impede our soil to be broken and good seed to take root in our lives. Because the end goal is not to makes us comfy, but to make us like His Son.
What are you wrestling with deep in your soul right now? Ask in your heart; Am I resisting God’s pruning? Because, remember, His purpose in removing something from our being is in order to help us grow and be whole.
[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.]
This is my first post as regular contributor for Women Encouraged. I’m delighted and honored to partner with them in the intention to put worthwhile words out there that point to the best ones. Wrote this piece desiring to remind us of the timeless hope we have!
There is a sense of wonder that comes with the new year. The first days of January show up filled with daring hope. A fresh, new page on your wall calendar feels inviting and pregnant with possibility. Plans beg to spring forth. This is the time when we declare New Year’s resolutions, before the rhythms of our everyday life trample over them.
These coming days will witness changes in ourselves and those around us. Children will grow a few inches. Students will finish another year, and some will graduate and go on to the next phase in their lives. For some of us, there will be a few more grey hairs, and each of us will celebrate another trip around the sun on one of those calendar pages.
There will also be unforeseen events: an endeavor that didn’t flourish as we’d hoped, a diagnosis we didn’t expect, a move we didn’t plan, or even good news that forces change. These will feel like an unwelcome invitation to walk down a path we don’t know - one that isn’t marked ahead of time on the calendar.
Yet this unknown is as much a gift as the wonder we feel on January 1st. It will hold an opportunity to walk by faith on ground we don’t know and can’t see, made possible because we are known by the God who knows and sees everything, holding all the days of our lives in the palm of His hand.
For a few days, the newness of the year takes our breath away before it quickly becomes old to us. And in the midst, there is a different new that is out of the ordinary. It happens within us,
I learned this truth in a personal way as I wrapped up a difficult endeavor that proved worth every moment, mental effort, and sacrifice it required to be completed. This is the first of a two-part post on my experience reading the whole Bible in chronological order.
As 2017 approached a few days away I was looking back and pondering on goals for the coming year. What needed to look different in 2017? I wanted my faith to take precedence over any other plan. It was clear that if anything else was to be planned and carried out, it would need to spring from a place of quiet mature faith. My mind was noisy, and my soul felt dry and spent. So, my first goal was to nurture my relationship with God.
In the 20+ years I’d been a believer, much of my knowledge of the Bible came from sermon notes and Bible studies. I had read a few of the books in their entirety and was acquainted with most through the instruction of pastors and respected writers. I was generally familiar with the overarching theme of the Word through these teachings but realized I did not have a personal grasp of the story. I had bits and pieces floating about in my heart, which I tried to grasp for comfort or counsel in moments of need. I wanted to have an anchor of understanding rather than ideas floating. It was time for me to go deeper in my relationship with God by way of His Word.
The same way we deliberately spend time with others when we want to get to know them better, I felt the need to be intentional in my reading and studying of Scripture. The goal was not to gain knowledge, but to get closer to God, to draw near to Him and let Him draw near to me. I wanted to take Scripture on face value and let it be the light unto my path it says it is.
I decided I would read the Bible in its entirety in chronological order. I wanted to look for the overarching theme of Scripture in the sequence of the events. This meant I would not be reading it in the order in which the books were printed. I looked online and found a plan that had the passages in chronological order.
Being a slow reader by nature I chose not to have a set deadline. The point wasn’t the time it would take, but the learning it would yield. The goal was to read Scripture and soak my mind in its message, one book and story at a time. Last week I finally finished reading all 66 books, cover to cover. The experience took my breath away.
A surprising thing happened, although I should not be surprised at all. I’m not the person I was when I started almost two years ago. The endeavor called for stick-to-it-ness I didn’t have when I started back in January of 2017. Often it looked like this: me showing up, tired, distracted, humble, broken, and prayerful. In that place God met me. And what wasn’t there at first would develop little by little, throughout the past year, nine months, and thirteen days.
I remember the first time I noticed this subtle change in my heart. My soul felt raw and my body tired during a particularly hard month. It was busier than foreseen and burdened by hard conversations with friends. One day I the midst of it all I found myself thinking out loud these words in front of my husband: “I just want to stay home by myself with my Bible and my journal!” After I said it, I realized amidst the whiny tone a real longing to just be with God in His Word. I was taken aback. My time with Him had become a place of comfort and safety. I sought it when tired and upset by others.
Interestingly, when I ran to Him for comfort, it was also the Lord who showed me through His Word, that I needed to embrace the hard in the season and the rough edges in others. Trusting He was as present there as He was in my private moments at home with my Bible and journal. This was an important lesson.
No, I am not the same person today. Reading the Bible with intention, expecting and praying to meet Him in those pages, changed me to the core. It deepened my dependence on God, my awe of His work, and gave me a taste and a lens for eternal perspective.
What we make room for, treat as important, and show up for open-handed and humbled, He will receive. Closing the last pages of Scripture’s last book, Revelation, my soul felt small and so whole. Deep sense of awe fills me even now typing these words. Without a doubt, God’s Word is the most worthwhile investment of my time, intellectual effort, and heart. Indeed, dwelling in His Word, wrestling with it, digging deep, praying through it, learning from it, abiding in the Truths uncovered; is a discipline worth cultivating.
Reading the Bible consistently has shown me that God works in the unseen quiet moments more often than the spectacular ones. This was understanding I did not have going in and now cherish looking back on the last year and half.
Reading the entire library that is the Bible took a lot of effort. At times the narrative was fast paced and fascinating as it took me through the sequence of events. Around the middle, at any given time, the text would take me through a psalm, a battle field, and a king’s court, all in one reading. But it also felt disruptive. There were parts that often meant jumping from one book to another, back and forth. I prayed through it all, asking for focus, discernment, and most of all a heart for His Word.
My favourite book, bar none, is Deuteronomy. It became my favourite when I completed the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). As I made my way through the rest of Scripture, it remained so. Its content, which most of us associate it with laws and regulations, reveal the heart of God and what is important to Him. I understood His tender care for His people in a way I hadn’t before. Those laws and rules were there to provide safety and Life for them. No wonder it is along with Psalms, the book most quoted by Jesus.
I do not have a natural bend for those things, like obedience and holiness, concepts that at best feel lofty and even cumbersome. But the more I read, the more I dug, the more the words changed my preference. I still don’t have a natural bend per se, but I have tasted how personal the beauty of God’s Word touches my soul, my life. I now have a taste for it that makes me long for it and go back to it.
I loved the practice and hope to take it up again in the future. For the next few weeks I am reading a devotional to reset and rest my brain. Afterwards I plan on choosing a book of the Bible to read. If you want to get to know God better, show up with your need, and a naked heart before Him. Open His Word and prayerfully dig in. Read and look for Him. I assure you the quest will be infinitely worth it.
In part 2 I share what were some of my favorite books of the Old Testament, my takeaway after reading the New Testament considering the Bible as a whole, and some resources that I found helpful to learn and to stay on track.
Till then, a lovely verse and some words I prayed over myself when I first read it last year-
Dear soul, take note. He is my praise, my song, my gratitude, my salvation. Boast in the cross!