Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.
1 Peter 5:7
Recently during one of our meal community gatherings, a friend was talking about the exhausting and often frustrating world of parenting little ones. As a parent of a newly walking toddler, she was expressing a reality that every single parent has felt at one time or another. She also happens to be a “hands talker” (I can relate to that), so as she shared her thoughts, she expressed them visually. In one of those moments, she just kind of threw her hands up in the air as a way of mentioning how everything was just. too. much.
Oh, friend. I understand. Parents, do you remember those days of having a kid whose entire goal in life was to grab every breakable and dirty thing in the house and drop it on the ground or put it in their mouth? It’s as if they’re briefed every morning that they have one task in life: absolute destruction, but with a silly smile on their face so no one knows the truth.
Anyway, back to the point. The moment my friend threw her hands up in the air, it struck me as eerily similar to a posture of worship. Some of us have those personalities where when you’re singing and you sense the joy of God, you've just got to throw your hands in the air. And in that moment, it looked like my friend was worshipping.
And then I thought, well maybe she is.
It struck me, as my friend threw her hands up in the air with a laugh and mentioned how sometimes she just feels done… that hands up in worship isn’t so much different. Worship (whatever posture we take) is simply admitting that we’re done, but not in a defeatist way. It’s admitting that we’re in need and that we’re so full of thanks that we do not have to bear everything on our own. We walk through experiences that we simply don’t feel equipped for. Parenting. New jobs. Relational problems. Figuring out finances. Health crises. And we are overcome with moments of feeling like it’s too much for us to be the ones calling all the shots.
That’s because it is.
It’s too much to have the weight of the word on our shoulders. It’s just too much. It’s overwhelming to constantly draw on our own strength. We need something more. Someone more. We need someone beyond us, so that we can remember that we’re not the top of the food chain, and rest gratefully in that amazing fact. It’s not all up to us. And that freeing knowledge moves us toward worship.
So, what do we do in the moments that we feel overwhelmed? We throw our hands up in the air! In frustration. In surrender. In praise. All of it. Maybe we even raise the roof a little and dance. Because it’s not all on us. There is grace. So much grace, friends. Grace upon grace upon grace.
You might have a moment of throwing your hands up this week. In exhaustion, in frustration, in being overwhelmed, in feeling like you’ve just got nothing left. Go ahead and throw them. Let those hands remind you that that you have Jesus with you, and you don’t always have to have strength. You don’t have to have it all together to be loved. You are allowed to be overwhelmed. You’re allowed to be broken and messed up. And you can cast your cares on a loving father, who meets us where we are, walks with us, and leaves us changed every time. Your world doesn’t have to be peaceful to be given the peace of God. What incredibly good news that is.
Jesus, when I am overwhelmed today, give me a reminder of your grace and presence.
Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
-1 Corinthians 13:12
Every Sunday morning during our LifePath gathering, we have a few unpredictable things that we do where we never know exactly what's going to happen. One of those elements is when we speak aloud something we call Common Prayer. Throughout the morning as we sing, people walk to the back of the auditorium and write down prayers of thanks, of hope, of heartache… it can be anything. Later, they are read aloud and after each one, we all say, “Lord, hear our prayer” together. It helps us be the Church together, and reminds us that these worship gatherings are real life with real people, never a prefabricated show.
I was captured by something that happened recently during this time. Embedded in the middle of the prayers read aloud from the front was this one:
"Lord, we thank you that you fulfill our hopes and prayers…. most of the time."
The prayer caught us all a little bit. There was a pause, and a few chuckles… and then we responded enthusiastically, “Lord, hear our prayer!”
It was a funny moment. But it was profound at the same time. Because we all knew there was truth there.
This is real life and faith, isn’t it? That simple-yet-complicated prayer exposed a challenging, wonderful, frustrating dirty little secret of ours. And that secret is this: our theology isn’t airtight. We don’t have everything figured out. There are times that we just don’t quite understand exactly how God works and what prayer does or doesn’t do. There are times that we’re not sure what is God’s will and movement, and what is just people being good or bad. There are times that the scriptures have gaps or diverse perspectives and we’re left wondering what we’re supposed to do with it all in order to be faithful.
There are times where prayers are answered, and then times that other prayers that we are sure would line up with God’s heart… remain shrouded in silence and mystery.
We can ignore it. Many do. We can try to explain it away with a nice little bumper sticker slogan like God answers every prayer, just not in the way we think. Or we can just lay it out there honestly.
There’s something freeing in being able to rejoice in the moments that we see it and get it… and chuckle at the moments that we have no idea what is going on. Because in those moments, we can actually reach new levels of faith.
First, they teach us honesty and mystery. There are times where Christians are tempted to be dishonest with God about their own feelings, doubts, or uncertainties because they think God gets upset at them for asking questions. This is not God’s posture. If God can’t handle your doubts and big questions, then God is not the loving and grace-filled Father that Jesus reveals.
Secondly, when we acknowledge that hopes are unmet and prayers feel unheard… we learn what it means to see Jesus as enough. I have no doubt that the Apostle Paul prayed for freedom and open doors during his imprisonments. Sometimes that happened. At other times, like when he was in jail writing to the Philippian church, he declared that he had learned the secret to a full life, and the circumstances didn’t matter. The secret to contentment was that Jesus was enough (Phil 4:12-13). Nothing else had to be answered. That’s where the joy was.
Yep, there’s mystery. Yes, sometimes we will find answers. Other times we won’t. But something continues to draw us to the truth of Jesus, even when when we don’t have everything packaged neatly. How beautiful that our hope comes from the grace of God, not our foolproof understanding of all questions in the universe.
When you don’t know, it’s ok to laugh. it’s ok to be grateful. It’s ok to be unsure. Just make sure you keep telling God about it all. One day, all will be understood.
Jesus, give me peace the mysteries, and joy in your presence with me today.
“Look, today I am giving you the choice between a blessing and a curse! You will be blessed if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today. But you will be cursed if you reject the commands of the Lord your God and turn away from him …”
- Deuteronomy 11:26-28
Earlier this winter I decided to go out for a run along the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal trail near my house. I like to think I'm a tough all weather runner, so I was confident. I felt a breeze as the sun was setting and decided to start by going against the wind before turning around later. It wasn’t until I had descended to the path along the river that I realized how powerful the bitter wind was that blew in my face. It whipped across the water and took my breath away. I ran for miles with my head down and shoulder slightly turned to brace myself, as if I was preparing to tackle an invisible opponent. Body parts began losing feeling. With no human within miles, I remember my frustration reaching a breaking point as I screamed at the top of my lungs to no one about nothing in particular. I was cursing the wind! Ah, how horrible that wind was.
However, after I got the screaming out of my system and began thinking about it for a little, I realized that it was actually the wind that was cursing me. It was making my path much more difficult, making my progress hard, and filling me with frustration. I felt cursed. It was exhausting.
But then! Then, I finally turned around. Almost miraculously, there was a sense of stillness as I ran in the opposite direction. My body warmed up slowly, and my movements became less forced. The wind was still blowing, but this time I was moving with it in the right direction, and the experience was completely different. The running was bearable because the wind was no longer my adversary. In fact, it strengthened me. The wind was blessing me.
The Bible speaks frequently of blessings and curses. In the Old Testament, God’s people understood life through what we call the Deuteronomic Code (because it was rooted in the book of Deuteronomy). The code is quite simple:
Obedience to God = Blessing
Disobedience to God = Curse
These blessings and curses were often portrayed in very physical ways. If people were obedient, they usually ended up happy, healthy and wealthy. This worldview was no different from every other ancient worldview at the time. If you pleased God, God would reward you. If not, you would be cursed. When Jesus comes onto the scene, he shifts perspectives by declaring blessing without reservation to even the most broken and marginalized. Yet he still warns those who are full of greed, pride, violence and selfishness. He says that “great sorrow awaits them” (Lk 6:24-26), for those things are passing away.
The more I journey with Jesus, the more I am convinced that the blessing and curse reality still exists today, but it's less like God getting angry and taking it out on us, and more like the windstorm I was running against recently.
God has formed the world to flourish in a certain way. Jesus reveals it to us through his life and teachings. If we choose to posture ourselves against the way of life that Jesus reveals, then we will find ourselves working against the wind. Our progress will be pushed to a halt. When things like anger, violence, pride, greed and selfishness are the direction we move in, there will be negative repercussions in our spirit and lives. And we will feel cursed. The curse isn’t sickness or poverty. It will be a hollowness of life, a constant discontentment, and an emptiness that even health, power, and money can never fill. That's the reality of moving against God’s vision for the world. I’ve seen it happen over and over again (and plenty of times in my own life).
But when we turn toward the Jesus way, we encounter a different story. Jesus teaches us what it looks like to love God and love others. We move in the direction of grace, generosity, patience, forgiveness, self-control, kindness, compassion, and love, to name a few. When we join with Jesus to receive these things within ourselves and express them to others, we experience the “abundant life” that Jesus talks about.
It may look different from Deuteronomy. But today we still face the same choice between walking with or against the grain of God’s world. I know it’s hard, moment by moment. But together, let’s choose blessing.
Jesus, help me to turn in your direction today and experience the blessing of life with you.
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.
-Paul (Romans 12:1 MSG)
Happy new year! A certain day has passed, which fills us with hope and expectation and resolve to tackle another year better than ever before. Good luck with that! Today, just two days into our new experiment, over 80% of people who have made rock-solid resolutions have already begun the slow slide to defeat, which will sputter out over the next month or so. Don't get me wrong, resolutions are great... but somebody has to ask the question:
If it's really worth doing, then why'd you wait til the new year to start?
We have all these big goals and lofty ideals. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, this coming Sunday I'll be encouraging our folks at LifePath Church to be bold and brave this coming year.
But as I've reflected on the self-improvement phenomenon of new year's resolutions, a thought began to stir in me. At the turn of a new year, Christians often (rightly so) ask Jesus to help them determine what those big tasks and priorities should be.
God, what enormous and amazing thing am I supposed to do in 2020???
Now, I'm not going to claim I heard God's voice. But I'm not going to deny the possibility either. Because I heard this simple phrase as I considered that question so many are asking...
Big things are great, but I really want folks to do the dishes.
So I've been thinking about this. And I think "doing the dishes" is about more than just doing the dishes. A heart and mind that is being transformed in Jesus looks at every person, moment, and task in a new way. Dishes and laundry around the house are completely thankless jobs that most people avoid. They never end. The moment you take care of them, another meal comes along, another day wears through clothing, and the pile comes back again.
IT WILL NEVER GO AWAY.
Am I inspiring you yet?
But that's just it. What if the biggest change we sought after this year was about inviting God to transform the smallest moments that repeat over and over again? What if we, as a entire group of people, submitted ourselves to being changed by God's love while doing dishes or while driving to work? What if we decided that the mundane moments of our lives that everyone complains about would become, in us, opportunities to serve in joy? Opportunities to show love? Opportunities to enjoy God, even? What if I willingly served my family or roommate by stepping up to do the dishes, and then took it a even further by seeing each dish as a metaphor for how Jesus continues to renew me every day in my ability to receive and express His love? Is it possible this would shift how we view those days that leave us feeling used up, broken down, or just plain dirty? What if each day we remembered that we are that dish, but grace is constantly renewing us?
Don't you think that would change your life? As a disciple of Jesus, this year's greatest fulfillment will not be found by reorganizing each of your closets, but by redeeming each of your moments.
I hope you look to the new year with resolve and expectation. I hope you have grand goals and I hope you achieve them. But might I encourage you to make one of those goals a willingness welcome the in-between moments of life with joy and intentionality, so that there would be no area of your life where Jesus is not Lord.
Because maybe this year, Jesus just wants to you to do the dishes really well.
Jesus, transform today's normal moments so that every minute might be an experience of your love and grace.