prayer

What We Water Will Grow (part 1)

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.

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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-

He is your praise. He is your God...
— Deuteronomy 10:21a ESV
 

Dear soul, take note. He is my praise, my song, my gratitude, my salvation. Boast in the cross!

 

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Small life, Big God

A few years ago, I heard a podcast interview with Ann Voskamp. The podcast was hosted by hope*writers, a writing community I had just joined. I had recently read One Thousand Gifts, so I eagerly listened in to learn more about her. Unexpectedly, about 35 minutes in, the episode found me weeping like a child on my couch.

As she talked about a book tour, her take on celebrity gripped me. Ann expressed, “I want to stay small,” and shared that while in New York City, “I was on a book tour and all I wanted to do was be home and do the dishes.” Her words winded me. They punched the hunger for large right out of me. The hot tears rolled down my face faster than I was able to process the reason why. That word, small, confronted me.

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We don’t like to be small. Small feels so not enough, so insignificant. Small is so close to nothing. Small is not a lot and is not strong. It often goes unnoticed. We will go to great lengths to enlarge, hide, and dress up what is small. Yet being small is our most natural state.

Small is how we came into the world. Our smallness puts us in the right context with God. His magnificence and all-sufficiency become visible when I’m not in the way. Less of me, more of Jesus, my soul whispers.

His size overwhelms and comforts all at once. It is a frightening thing to be in the presence of His Might, and at the same time, also utterly comforting to find yourself covered and protected by it. This is why I wept.  

Kingdom logic is not at all consistent with our own. Because the Kingdom we belong to is not of this world. Scripture shows the small favoured in ways that prove foreign to our way of thinking. For years I walked the halls of corporate culture where the cult to the powerful was the rule of the day.

God’s Word puts the lowliest at the level of Jesus, His Son, when it says “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’  Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers, you did for me” (Matthew 25:35-40 ESV).

Achieving status that sets above the rest is of the utmost importance today. It certainly was for me. Again, the Bible’s standards stand opposite to this saying “The last will be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:6 ESV).

After wanting so much to have a big life, full of accolades I could show as shiny trophies for my strength and smarts, my current life feels very simple. It is small, slow, and lived one moment and prayer at a time. The empty space left after removing the busy from my calendar and the relentless pursuit is now filled with a deep awareness of my need for Him who loved me enough to give up His throne to wash feet and die on a cross. The smallness I so badly want to cover, even now, is safely held by Him who holds all things together. My life is small, and my God is big. That’s eternal perspective I cling to.

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A prayer for you and me, dear reader:

Jesus would you teach us how to measure our lives the way heaven does? Where small is the way, great is the price, and greater still the joy and reward? Would you open our eyes that we might see others as You do?

Remind our hearts, Lord, that the least and the last ought to be our first concern and standard. Show them to us, in our churches, in our office, in our communities. In our mirrors as well. That we might see ourselves in Light of Your Son, of His life -

Lord Jesus thank you, that having held the sun and the moon in your fingers, you came as a baby and experienced our smallness. Lord thank you for showing us with your life how things are measured in heaven.

 Thank you for showing a King kneeling on the floor to wash dirty feet, that we might learn the beauty of small and lowly.  Thank you for living a small life at huge incalculable cost. Thank you that it was five loaves that fed thousands because kingdom economics multiplies and completes the small, not the grandiose.

Thank you, Lord, for speaking of the small mustard seed as the size of faith strong enough to move mountains, showing small is all we need to get started, to follow, to believe. Give us a heart for your things Lord, eyes for the small, and a life where large is our desire for obedience; for You.

We love you Lord, and we need you. In Jesus’ name

Amen!

 

 

 

 

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?