Not Alone

Look to my coming on the first light of the fifth day, at dawn look to the east.

Gandalf – Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers J.R.R. Tolkien

In The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, the battle of Helms Deep looked grim as the enemy surrounded the only entrance and there seemed no hope for victory. It was a long night, but at dawn, Gandalf arrives with reinforcements just as he promised. The Bible is full of God’s promises to His children, but sometimes we have to wait for it to be fulfilled. The waiting time can see like an eternity, but if we keep our eyes focused on God, we will always have hope.

When we are waiting, it is easy to get distracted by the world around us. For example, in 1 Kings we find the story of Elijah who has just prayed down fire from Heaven and wiped out the prophets of Baal. When he hears of Jezebel’s threats, Elijah feels like he is alone in a battle he cannot win and he hides in despair.

14 And he said, I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away…18 Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.

1 Kings 19:14, 18

After some rest and nourishment, God tells Elijah that he has seven thousand who are still loyal to Him and that he is not alone in the fight. From our vantage point, we might wonder how Elijah could go from boldly confronting the prophets of Baal to hiding and whining, but it is often after great victories that the enemy will attack us with doubts. Winning a tough victory takes a lot of energy: physical, spiritual and mental. We need to remember that like Elijah we are not alone.

The Lord gave the word: great was the company of those that published it.

Psalm 68:11

Being a writer is often solitary work, but I am not the only one writing the word God has given. He has many other writers, each with their own message to share. Writing groups allow writers to share and encourage one another so that we know that there other people who have been through some of the same issues and some who have had success. By sharing our stories, we build each other up. The trick is to find the right community for you.

Besides finding a like-minded community to offer support and accountability, we also need to ensure that we also take care of ourselves. First, we need to rest because we are more vulnerable if we are tired. Also, we need to make sure we have proper nourishment because hunger is another point of attack. Finally, or maybe firstly, we need to pray so that we are connected to our true source of energy.

Once you have strengthened yourself, then it is time to get back to work. If we sit idle too long, we are subject to remaining idle, which can lend itself to wallowing. This weekend I battled another round with those pesky fleas, which included wrangling two angry cats into carriers and to the vet followed by a thorough cleaning of the house. I took Friday and Saturday off from writing this blog as a result, but I rested, I ate, and I went to church. Now, I am finishing my assignment. So eat, rest, and pray, but don’t wallow. If you lay down with dogs, or cats, and wallow you just wake up with fleas. So, get up and get back to work. It’ll make you feel better.

Stretching While You Wait

 “He who is best prepared can best serve his moment of inspiration.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.”

C.S. Lewis

I have often heard that God answers prayers in one of three ways: yes, no, and wait. I get the answer “wait”… a lot. There are times that I wish those answers came in an 8-ball so that I could just keep shaking it until I got the answer I wanted. God, however, is not an 8-ball, so when He says wait, it is best to obey.

For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him… And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking.

Genesis 21:2, 9

Sarah had to wait 25 years for the promised son. She grew a little impatient, so she took it upon herself to make it happen by giving her handmaid to her husband so that she could gain a child through Hagar. Now that Sarah finally had what God had promised her, she had to deal with the consequences of her actions: Hagar and Ishmael. She should have waited, but it is hard to sit idly by while the world moves on. So,what do you do while you are waiting?

When God says wait on Him, he doesn’t mean to just sit in front of the television binge watching or endlessly scrolling through social media. Maybe what you are waiting on requires a little preparation. So, maybe it’s time to get up off the couch and stretch.

13 Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, 14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:13-14

I recently bought a copy of The Joy Box Journal by Adria Wilkins. I ordered the book online and it took the scenic route to get to my house, so I was waiting [not so patiently] on it. Then, I was busy dealing with the flea incident [see earlier posts], causing me to wait another week to actually open it. I was excited to finally sit down and open the book. The first entry was about how the author had to wait a while to adopt a child, referencing Luke 1 about Elizabeth and Zechariah waiting for a child. It caught my attention because the Sunday before the pastor preached a sermon on the Genesis 21 text I referenced above. I had been praying about a couple of things, so the book had actually come at the right time to confirm God’s answer to wait.

A couple of days later, an entry referenced Philippians 3 and the idea of stretching yourself. I had been planning to start a 21-day plan to help me focus on discerning God’s will for my writing, and part of that plan is a focus on eating and exercising in a more mindful way. Maybe I needed to stretch my mind, body, and spirit while I wait.

Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.

1 Corinthians 9:24

If you want to finish the race and win the prize, you have to grow. As Christians we grow by renewing our minds in the scriptures, praying, and obeying God’s known will. Take the waiting time to study to show yourself approved. Digging into the Word of God prepares our hearts and minds. Then, pray for guidance, but also purpose to pray for others. It is easy to get caught up in our own little world, but when we focus on the needs of others, it gives us a clearer perspective. Finally, If you want to be considered for bigger jobs, then you should do your current job to the best of your ability. If God tells you to mop the floor, then make that floor shine. None of these things is easy, but stretching isn’t about easy; it’s about growth. Usually growing has its share of pain, but it’s worth the end results. I will keep telling myself that every time I pass the ice cream shop. Maybe I’ll just change my route to work.

While You Wait…

Boat Dock

I was putting the finishing touches on an article about waiting on the Lord when my own words came back to haunt me. I was discussing Psalms 27:13-14, and one of my points was that God often has us wait for an answer to prayer because we need to prepare to receive it. I once read a saying that if you want your ship to come in, then you better build a dock. If you pray for God to do big things, then you should prepare so that you are ready when He does it.

Look at King David, for example. In Psalms 27 he is probably still running from Saul, hiding in caves and rocks. He was chosen at the age of 16 to replace Saul as king, but he didn’t take the throne until he was 30. However, I doubt the 16-year-old David was truly ready to lead Israel as their king. Being out in the wilderness, leading a group of men, gave him practice in leadership, taught him to rely on God’s leadership in his own life, and taught him humility. He became one of the greatest kings in history and a man after God’s own heart, partially due to what he learned in the wilderness.

Another example is Joseph (Genesis 37-41). At 17 years of age, he had a vision that one day his brothers and even his father would bow down to him. Before he saw the vision come to pass, he was sold into slavery by his brothers, thrown into prison by Potiphar, and forgotten by fellow servant for 2 years before Pharaoh promoted him as his second in command. In those chapters, we see that Joseph was busy doing his best at each job he was given. He learned how to run a household under Potiphar and was even given command inside of prison. When he finally came before Pharaoh, he had the skills he would need to lead the people through the coming famine and save his own people in the process.

As I pondered these stories, I wondered what I should be doing while I waited. I looked around and realized there were several projects of varying kinds that needed my attention. Some of the preparation involved studying and writing, which I was already doing, but God pointed out some spiritual muscles as well as physical muscles that needed stretching. Even on a practical level, I saw some projects that needed finishing, tasks I had procrastinated doing, and general cleaning out and de-cluttering.

That all sounds overwhelming, but in the same week that I was contemplating what needed doing, I ran across several different posts that spoke to that very subject:

Rick Barry – Encouragement (click link for full post)

Image may contain: text that says 'No matter how slow you progress, you're still way ahead of everyone who isn't trying.'

Denise George posted this tidbit of wisdom:

But I’ve discovered that writing steadily, bit by bit every day, also produces an abundance of good material. It’s “tortoise writing”—one tiny focused step at a time in the right direction, instead of “hurry-up-hare writing” in all directions. To win the race, the secret is to write steadily, consistently, and orderly, bit by bit by little bit. It also helps to immerse yourself in prayer as you write. One of my favorite people, Desmond Tutu, recommends: “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

Image may contain: text that says '"know your limits and do a little each and EVERY DAY. before you know it YOUR HOME WILL BE DE-CLUTTERED and you will have your life BACK. ~FLYLADY UNUN flyladynet'

The FlyLady (Check out her page if you need help with clutter.)

So, while I wait, I still have things to do besides whine. I have a dock to build.

 

Stay

Goldie

Probably one of the hardest tricks to teach any animal is “stay.” With cats it is nearly an impossible command to teach because they are independent and stubborn. To stay means to wait for something. When Goldie was young, he finally figured out that if he waited patiently, when I finished with my cereal, I would let him have the remaining milk in the bowl. Meep, on the other hand, has no patience at all. She keeps reaching out and tapping me on the shoulder, pawing at my knee, or even trying to pull the plate or bowl with her paw. It makes mealtimes rather frustrating to say the least.2011-09-26 21.31.06

Psalms 40:1 says, “I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry.” Verse six says, “Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required.” Verse 8 goes on to say “I delight to do they will.” God wants our obedience, and sometimes that means waiting instead of doing. For humans, that’s tougher than being asked to go into battle. We only feel like we are making progress if we are moving forward. Standing still and waiting seems like a waste of time, but God isn’t interested in our works; He is interested in our obedience.

In I Samuel 15:22 we find that King Saul did not fully obey God’s command of destroying the Amalekites, including their animals. Saul used the excuse that the people kept the animals so that they could sacrifice them to God. Samuel replies, “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” God told him to destroy the animals not to bring them home because they looked good. They destroyed anything that was weak or sick but took the healthy flocks as spoils of the battle. The excuse that they kept them to use as a sacrifice was just a cover for their greed.

Like cats, we want what we want and we want it now. When the command is to wait, we find it hard to be obedient. Like Meep we try to paw or manipulate circumstances to achieve our desire; however, our desire should be to be obedient. When we finally learn to wait in obedience to His Will, then the Lord hears from us and answers our prayer in His time and His way. In the meantime, we can know that God is at work and is present in our lives. If He tells us to wait, then we can know that He means it for our good (Romans 8:28).

So, while you wait, praise the Lord now for what He is going to do in your life. Listen to to this song and maybe it will minister to you as it did me:

Take Courage by Kristene DiMarco

Advent: The Discipline of Waiting

Advent Candles

Waiting…it seems to be a theme lately. At the moment, I am waiting on a FedEx delivery that should have been here on Monday and it is now Friday. I have a text saying it is out for delivery, but I got one saying the same thing yesterday, which was redYoung Manacted later saying it was rescheduled. Young Man is also waiting on this particular delivery since it contains his food and his food bowl is currently empty. He doesn’t like waiting any more than I do and has been very vocal about the situation. I can only imagine what it was like for Elizabeth and Zacharias who had been waiting their whole lives for a child, and the children of Israel who had been waiting for The Messiah for centuries. My wait time is substantially shorter, but some things really are worth the wait.

Growing up, my church didn’t participate in advent, so I don’t know much about it. However, this year I wanted to find out the purpose behind the practice, so I did a little research. One article discussed the discipline of waiting and why advent has been pushed aside by many Christians (Read Article). The gist of it is that we don’t like waiting, so we start talking about Christmas the day after Halloween and some people start even before Halloween is over. You have probably heard the expression “killing time,” which is what most people think waiting is: a waste of time. Yet, there is something to be learned in any situation, including waiting.  In a previous blog (Postponed) I talked about the benefits of looking forward to something, and while the wait for The Messiah is long past, the wait for His return is not and there is something to be gained from the waiting process. God often speaks more clearly in the waiting than He does in the answer to our prayers.

Advent is observed during the four weeks prior to Christmas with a candle being lit on each Sunday. The first candle, which is purple, represents hope. It is also called the prophecy candle in remembrance of the prophets, like Isaiah, who foretold of The Messiah’s coming. Isaiah 9:2 says, “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” The Messiah was to be a light in the darkness, a beacon of hope. He still is today. Even now we wait for His return so that He can shed light in a world of darkness and renew all of creation. In the meantime, we can be “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14) by letting Christ shine through us while we wait for His return.

Even if you don’t have an advent wreath with candles to light, take a moment from the hectic bustle to remember what we are waiting for…The Messiah. Because of Him we have hope, hope for a better future. So, be a candle that shines the light of hope in a dark world this Christmas season and all year long.

 

Rest

In today’s society REST is a four-letter word. Everybody, and every body, needs it, but no one wants to admit they took it. People almost feel the need to apologize for taking time off. My students use a resource in class, an article titled “Toxic Work World” by Anne Marie Slaughter in The New York Times, which speaks to this issue. It talks about a work culture that requires more and more time at work even if it is not quality work in order to not only succeed, but sometimes to even keep your job. It is a culture that frowns on taking vacation days. If there is a family emergency, many people are afraid to take off time to take care of things in fear of losing their jobs. We have taken competition to an extreme level to the point stress and anxiety are at epidemic levels. What is to be done?

Isaiah 30:15 says, “For thus saith the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel; in returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength: and ye would not.”

A writer pointed out that people have written sermons and devotionals by the thousands on the subject of returning or repentance, but very few talk about the second part: “In returning and rest shall ye be saved.”Even God took a day off. On the seventh day he rested. We even take the Sabbath as a day to be busy, running from one thing to another.

We need to take time to rest at the feet of Jesus, like Mary, and just soak up His presence. We need to draw from the power of the Holy Spirit. We need to reflect on Our Father’s blessings.

The Christian walk is a journey, not a competition. Everyone who completes the race is a winner, but, like any journey, we need to take breaks along the way to sleep, to eat, and to rest. Otherwise, we will run out of fuel and be forced to stand still. So, take time to rest…mentally, physically, and spiritually. Ask God and he will give you rest for your soul. Then, you will be prepared to be his example in a world of people who long for what He has to offer.

 

Postponed Pleasure

I received a book for Christmas titled A Book That Takes Its Time. In it there is an article on postponed pleasure which discusses the current need for instant gratification and its effects on people. Because of their need for instant gratification, people are missing out on a sense of anticipation, like waiting for Christmas morning to arrive. Not only that, but also people don’t appreciate what they have when they do get it. They are soon distracted by a new toy that they don’t have that someone told them they should have and the joy quickly evaporates.

People also aren’t willing to work at something. They want to be able to do it perfectly immediately, or they don’t want to do it at all. For example, when I started taking martial arts classes in high school in the 80’s, you had to work for 3 months before testing for your first belt, and then 6 months for the next belt and another 6 months for the next belt. Now schools are testing every few months to give students that sense of instant gratification because 6 months seems too far away and they lose interest. They need constant reinforcement in order to maintain interest in something. So, schools developed curriculum that required more belts over shorter periods of time so that students would want to go to the next level of the game, so to speak, and it gave the schools more income for more testing as well. Everybody wins! Except, they don’t really.

There is something to be said about working toward a goal and anticipating seeing it fulfilled that has been lost in a society of instant gratification. When we quickly get something, we just as quickly want to move on to a new thing. Our joy is short-lived and requires more and more to meet that ever-growing need. We are never happy. It is never enough. If we take the time to just enjoy the moment, like quietly watching the sunrise over the ocean (or even through your window at home), it gives the moment more…well just more. More joy and satisfaction for a goal achieved through time and dedication and sometimes through blood, sweat, and tears. The more we put into a goal, the more we will appreciate it when we reach that goal.

So, take the time to enjoy your life. Instant gratification is not all it’s cracked up to be. Take up a new hobby, like knitting, even if it means taking the time to learn new skills and practice. Your first project may look like a 5-year-old did it, but it is all about learning and enjoying the process. When you finally complete that project that made you pick up knitting as a goal, you will look back and laugh about the good times and the frustrating times and realize you enjoyed the ride. Life is the same. It’s not about the destination, but about the journey. Enjoy each day of the journey and each stop along the way; otherwise, who knows what you are missing out on.

On Hold

Recently, due to my own forgetfulness, I was on hold waiting to pay a bill for an hour. You might say, why didn’t you just hang up and try again later? The problem was that it was the last day of the month, and if I didn’t get the payment posted, it was going to be even worse the next day. So, I put my cell phone on speaker and waited….and waited…and waited. Every so often a voice would interrupt the annoying music to tell me how much longer, but it kept changing in an inconsistent manner. One time it jumped from an hour and fifteen minutes to fifty minutes. The next time it went up ten minutes. There was no gauging how long the wait would actually be.

Life is often like that. We want something to happen, or we fear something will happen, but we have no idea when it will or will not happen. However, our whole lives don’t have to be on hold. There are things we can do in the interim. Worrying or pining for what we fear or crave will only make us miserable and waste time. We need to make the most of the time that we are given. For instance, while I was on the phone, I took care of paying some bills on line and went through some mail on the table. I checked the cats’ food and water and put a load of clothes on to wash. I tried not to waste the entire hour staring at the phone and willing someone to answer.

The same idea applies to the bigger things in life, but the truth is that life is about a conglomeration of small moments. Make the most of each moment. If one area has you on hold, then work on another area in the meantime. Don’t put your whole life on hold for one part, especially for something you are not sure will even happen, good or bad. Live in the moment and do the things you want instead of putting them off. We have to do the daily tasks, even the ones we don’t like, and work our jobs, but we also have the option to make the most of the time, letting go of things that aren’t necessary and making time for the important ones.

Today I am hoping the electrician comes, but if he doesn’t, I still got other things done. Do what you can do and leave the rest to God for He is the one in control. When He answers, it will be His will and His timing, and that is as it should be for He knows what we need and when we need it.