Psalm 23

 

IMG_1390

I cannot remember the words.
Though I walk through the valley of death.
Your rod and your, oh I can’t think of the word!
Fear no evil.

My body shakes and sweats.
I can’t control any of it, the
way it wails, stuck in this
one single minute that will not pass.

I cannot remember the words.
You anoint my head and there is
a table with my enemies.
Green pastures.

My hands grab my head.
The throbbing pain threatens
to overtake me completely
with the strain of coughing out my guts.

I cannot remember the words!
Psalm 22, Jesus cries out.
Psalm 24, lift up your head.
Shadow of death.

My head rests on the cold toilet.
Tears are running down and
no one is here. No one is coming.
Quiet waters.

Help me, Lord!
Jesus. Lord Jesus.
Help me, stop this, heal me!
Comfort me.

My eyes open to the sun
Settling in squares on the floor.
The pain is quiet, the throbbing still.
He makes me lie down in goodness and love.

 

Opened

IMG_0069.JPG

No one ever walks around in my neighborhood. Especially when it’s raining. We have cars to get us where we need to go, you see. Until the day I read Jesus’ words about the good Samaritan and decided to take his command to “go and do likewise” seriously. Then suddenly, I see that there is at least one person, a woman, who walks to work, carrying a heavy bag and sheltering herself from the cold rain with a flowered umbrella. When she gets in my car, God’s presence rushes in with her, stronger than the stormy breeze outside and she says she speak only a little English. I feel like I’ve known her, Maria, all my life and when I drop her off at the home where she works, I feel a loss. Tears trace the corners of my smiling mouth, the fullness of God there in that breath of a moment. Oh, what the eyes see and the soul experiences when they are opened.

Return to Your Rest

IMG_1718

The clock ticks,
each moment a reminder
of the uncertainty of now.

The wind rattles,
each bang an interruption
of an idea never born.

The rain pounds,
each drop a harbinger
of the coming storm.

A child cries.
A dog barks.
A siren blares.

Silence seems but a symphony of noises,
and I am gasping for air.

Oh, return to your rest, my soul,
for the LORD has been good to you.

 

Being Transformed

IMG_2162

The deep pain it is to be molded,
fingers pressing in and around,
kneading the spots that are sensitive
and sore to the touch.

The potter shapes and forms,
coaxing his subject and speaking softly
as he works this would-be treasure
into a new creation.

The outside begins to reveal its purpose
and the potter could stop,
but he pushes on and the clay’s
insides scream to be let alone.

The fire is too hot and too much
of the old self seeps out,
leaving a seemingly empty vessel
for which there is no going back.

The potter eyes his formation,
stronger now because of his hands,
but still unsure and resistant
of this being transformed.

Open My Eyes!

IMG_2106

Oh, Father, open my eyes to the beauty that fills this life! It is all around, ever-present, but I am so prone to miss it. I am seemingly surrounded with the end-of-winter browns and grays, low-hanging clouds, and chilly winds. My mind wanders to old hurts and unfulfilled dreams, then onto daily tasks, momentary disappointments. And suddenly, your goodness springs from the deep call of a red tulip! So mysterious it is, given that there is no purpose for this particular flower over any other. Your sheer delight in its every detail compels its existence.  May my soul reach for you and open to receive your grace like rain. Open my eyes and expand my soul!

IMG_2104

How to Hear God (Part 3)

IMG_0459

Over the last few weeks, I have been writing this series called How to Hear God. I’m not professing to have many answers, but just want to explore what Scripture says about this topic and what my learning has been over the last several years from others and my own experience. Still using Jesus’ words recorded in John 10:27 (“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me”), this week, I’m focused on “my voice.”

If you’re like me, you have voices talking in your head all the time. Wait, that sounds weird. You know what I mean. You have your own voice that reminds you to do stuff, or that you’ve forgotten something. Sometimes that voice soothes you (“everything is going to be okay,” “I’m okay,” “I’ll get through this.”) You have the shaming voice that points out stuff you have done wrong or pretends to tell you truth about yourself even though it’s not truth at all (“that person would never like you;” “you’re a failure”). Sometimes that voice is a parent’s voice, or a teacher’s voice.

Then, there is this other voice. God’s voice. I believe there are ways to distinguish God’s voice from the other voices bouncing around inside. Here are a few of the identifiers for me:

God’s voice leads me to glorify only him.  Any voice that glorifies me or another person, or deifies a problem I am having, is not God’s voice. (Is 45)

God’s voice is consistent with Scripture. When Scripture speaks to a particular issue and I hear a voice that contradicts what Scripture says, it is not God’s voice. (John 14:26)

God’s voice aligns with his character.  God is holy, merciful, loving, present, faithful, great and awesome, mighty, grace-giving, and good. (Psalm 99; Deut. 4-7; John 3:16; 2 Th 2:16; Psalm 100) A voice that is inconsistent with these character traits is not God’s voice.

I cannot generate God’s voice. There are times when I need or want to hear from God and I don’t. I have tried really hard to generate God’s voice so I would be comforted or guided. But, I cannot generate his voice. If I have generated it, it is my voice, not his.

God’s voice does not use words I use.  Any of the times I have heard God’s voice in my heart or spirit (not sure where it actually touches in), the words are not my words. If someone else heard them, they would not claim, “That sounds like something you would say.”

God’s voice points me toward love and servanthood. God’s voice has always pointed me to him or others in love and in service. He does not ask me to seek revenge, hold a grudge, turn my back, or judge. (1 John 4:7-21)  He corrects me, yes, but he does not shame or condemn me.

Why does knowing God’s voice matter? Because I want to follow him. Knowing his voice is the first step. Next week: how do I follow?

Have you heard God’s voice?

How do you distinguish it from other voices?

How to Hear God (Part 2)

IMG_1609

Based on John 10:27, we know that those who hear God:

  1. Have a relationship with Jesus. (My sheep; I know them)
  2. Are receptive to hearing from him. (listen to my voice)
  3. Are willing to walk in faith to follow him. (they follow me)

Last week I explored having a relationship with Jesus and this week, I’m exploring what it means to be receptive to hearing from him. The best way for me to understand this is to think about conversations with my daughter. What comes to mind is the difference between trying to have a conversation with her at the airport as we are about to get on a plane and trying to have a conversation with her at the beach while we are on vacation.

At the airport, I am pulling my suitcase and carrying a backpack and my purse. There are people rushing all around us to catch their flights. I’m trying to find our flight number on the big electronic board so we can get to the right gate. We arrived at the airport a little late and so we are in a hurry to make it in time for our seating area to board. The flight is a couple hours and we don’t have anything to eat. My daughter’s hand is in mine, but I’m practically dragging her, forcing her little legs to keep pace. If, in the midst of all this, she were to start a conversation with me, I would be distracted, half-listening and looking away, as I continued to chart our course to the gate, perhaps missing a word here and there, and asking her to speak louder so I could hear her over the noise coming from every direction.

On the beach, we are alone. The sun is rising and we can hear every step on the damp sand. We carry nothing, simply walking hand-in-hand, breathing deeply, with nowhere to be. I can feel the shape and temperature of her hand. When she lets go to throw a rock into the water, I feel the last touch and sudden emptiness. I notice she has a tiny scratch on her cheek and that she has grown taller. When I hug her, I flash back to the moment I held her first. If she were to say something, it would be effortless for me to listen, I have been so in tune with her already. I could look at her full-on and there would be nothing pulling me away. I would absorb every word and all the feeling behind each one. I would be able to respond with love and the fullest attention.

So much of hearing God is about getting out of the airport. Most of us live there – metaphorically, I mean. We rush around, distracted, fists wrapped around our baggage. I most often hear God when I’m in the busyness of life, but only because I have been with him in the slowness of time. Here are some things I do to be receptive to hearing God no matter where I am:

  • Set aside time to be with him. Alone. Where I feel every movement and notice his presence. Otherwise, I’m always in the airport.
  • Read Scripture every day. Not like it’s the newspaper or my Facebook news feed. My goal isn’t to get through it as fast as possible, but to read it and then just be quiet. I don’t have a major revelation every day and there are days when I am distracted, don’t understand, or feel disconnected from what I’m reading.
  • Pray. This looks more like a conversation than a grocery list. Sometimes I use a Psalm and just read it aloud slowly. Sometimes I just say, “Father in heaven,” and nothing more. Things that most often keep me from praying: unbelief, fear, pride, busyness.
  • Walk with expectation. I expect to hear from God every day. And I do, through Scripture, through other people, through circumstances, and through whispers in my soul.

Have you heard from God? What were you doing?

Is there something you could take out of your schedule so you can make time and space to hear God?

How to Hear God (Part 1)

photo 1

I started hearing God about a month after I committed my life to Jesus in December 2008. Yes, I do realize how that sounds, but there are things in my life that have happened that leave no room for doubt that this is true. Just read about me and the Marine. When I say I hear from God, I don’t mean that an out-loud voice comes down from heaven. I mean there is a whisper in my soul and, to me, it is often as distinct and loud as a voice from heaven would be. Entire books have been written on this subject (see Dallas Willard, Hearing God) and so I don’t mean to cover it once and for all here.

In John 10:27, we are told that Jesus said: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” Based on this verse, it is clear that those who hear from God:

          1.    Have a relationship with Jesus. (My sheep; I know them)

          2.    Are receptive to hearing from him. (listen to my voice)

          3.    Are willing to walk in faith to follow him. (they follow me)

None of these is easy to simply check off your list. Each requires effort, openness, and attentiveness. I want to explore the first one today and the others over the next two weeks.

So, how do you have a relationship with Jesus? Bob Goff, in his book Love Does, says that he realized at some point during his Christian life that he didn’t have a relationship with Jesus, he was a stalker of Jesus. “I collected pictures and gathered artifacts and bumper stickers about Christianity, and I talked about knowing Jesus like we were best friends, when actually we really hardly knew each other at all. And I memorized Bible verses and the names of the books of the Bible in order and the sequence of a bunch of events as well as who was there. At some point I had to confess that I was stalking Jesus. I was actually creeping myself out a little and I realized I was probably creeping God out too.”

Ouch. I get it. I don’t want to be a Jesus stalker. I want to be a Jesus knower. And to know him, I have to be with him and commune with him. Now, let’s just be upfront about this: He is not physically present on earth with us and so this is no small task. This is what I try to do (I stress “try”):

  • I intentionally put myself in the places I have met with him before.  When I am in creation (near the water or watching a sunset) I am overwhelmed by his presence.
  • I spend time with other people who know him.  I have developed friendships with people who have loved Jesus much longer than me. I study them, listen to them, learn from them.
  • I spend time with people who are dying to know him.  I have developed friendships with people who are searching and asking about Jesus. God uses me (and you) to show them who he is.
  • I ask him to reveal himself to me in my day.  This is a simple prayer that I have seen God answer every time I make it.

How do you commune with Jesus?

How to Pray with Someone

IMG_0305

My step-father is a quadriplegic and cannot move a muscle in his body other than those in his neck. What this means is that someone has had to feed him every bite he eats. Someone must put him into bed and get him out of bed. Someone has to brush his hair and brush his teeth. Every single thing he needs to do in his life, someone else has to do it for him.

But, my step-father does something that is really remarkable. He races sailboats. He is the skipper, the director, if you will, on a sailboat during regattas. The way this works is that he has a chair fastened to the back of the boat and he gets strapped into that chair for the duration of a particular race. The interesting part comes when he is put onto the boat. Four grown men lift him out of his wheelchair, one guy under one arm, one under the other, one guy under one leg, and one under the other. They carry him this way down a very narrow dock, with water on both sides, and then they transfer him to a couple other guys who are on the boat. During the transfer, my step-father is over the water being moved from one set of arms to another while these men carefully step aboard the boat. The boat is in the water, don’t forget, so when you step on, it moves. Eventually, the men maneuver my step-father to his chair. By the end, these men are sweating and out of breath.

I have watched this process on and off since I was 10 years old. Shirts come up, people lose their footing, sunglasses fall into the water. And every time, no matter how many times I have seen it, I cringe, watching through half-closed eyes, thinking, “They’re going to drop him!” But, they never have.

I wonder if my description reminds you of a story we read in Luke 5 when some men carry their friend, a paralyzed man, to where Jesus was teaching in a home. The problem was that it was too crowded and they couldn’t get their friend into the presence of Jesus. So, they climbed up the roof and lowered him down to the floor. Can you picture what this must have looked like? I picture four men who pick up their friend, one man under one arm, another under the other, one man under one leg, another under the other. While carrying him, instead of walking down a narrow dock with water on both sides, they climb up a roof. They are sweating and out of breath. They lose their footing, and their sunglasses. When they finally get their friend up onto the roof, they begin the process of lowering him to the floor below. I imagine some kind of harness and pulley system. I imagine them breathing heavily, worried. I imagine others watching and thinking: “They’re going to drop him!” But they don’t.

When the man lands at the feet of Jesus, Scripture says: “When Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’” And later, he heals the man completely so he can walk again.

So, what does this have to do with prayer? I read something not long ago about a man dying of cancer who said that the the pain from his cancer overwhelmed him so much that he lost the ability to pray. When friends came to visit and asked what he needed, his answer was prayer. Some people in our lives have lost the ability to pray. They are in too much pain. They are overwhelmed by suffering caused by financial, relational, or emotional stress, by poverty, by joblessness, or by hunger. Or, maybe they don’t know how to pray and they are stuck. Often, though, we decide not to pray with people (preferring to do it in our head or alone) because we are worried about our words. We think we are not eloquent enough. We don’t pray as well as some other person we know. We don’t know enough Scripture. We fumble for words when put on the spot. We will be clumsy and awkward and embarrassed.

Have you ever seen four men carry a paralyzed man onto a boat? Or up onto a roof? It is the most awkward, clumsiest thing you will ever see in your life. In the story told in Luke 5, when the men carried their friend up onto a roof so that they could place him in the presence of Jesus, Jesus did not compliment their technique. He did not say, “Wow, what a pulley system you have put together!” or “You are strong and graceful men!” What Scripture tells us is that “[w]hen Jesus saw their faith, he said ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’”

It’s not our words. It’s our faith. It’s not the words we say in prayer. It is our faith to bring people into the presence of Jesus. There are people who have lost the ability to pray and they need not our words, but our faith. Our most powerful prayers are not necessarily the most eloquent, where all the words are right. Our most powerful prayers are the ones where we use the full measure of our faith even if it is clumsy and awkward, in order to present someone at the feet of Jesus for the help only he can give.

How do you do this when Jesus is no longer physically present on this earth? You don’t have to pick anybody up, but you could:

  • Hold their hand.
  • Put your arm around their shoulder.
  • Describe Jesus to them based on what you know from Scripture.
  • Say, “Lord Jesus, we are in your presence. Thank you for life. Forgive us for the ways we fall short. We need your help, healing, and peace as we struggle with [insert whatever the need is]. Deliver us.”

Is there someone you could help carry or walk with into Jesus’ presence?

Picture source: Mary Warren, The Lame Man Who Walked Again (Concordia, 1966)