Saturday, January 19, 2013

Dogged Devotion: Part 1

     This is the first in an occasional series of blog postings that I have called: “Dogged Devotion”:

     I have a new puppy - a large breed, highly active dog. At time of writing he is a thirteen-week-old energy package wrapped in puppy exuberance. If he is awake, he is on the move! I am keeping one eye on him as I write this, because he has just woken from a nap and is even now about to trigger into action. This could well translate into two clumsy puppy paws suddenly landing on my laptop keyboard, producing a string of indecipherable messages and alerts never before encountered in the computing world!
     Jabulani (a Zulu word meaning “rejoice”) not only enhances my life with fun and affection, however. Raising and training him is opening my understanding to spiritual truths in freshly applicable ways!
     As is the case with toddlers, there are times when Jabulani seems to become increasingly frenzied in his activity, getting into more and more mischief, and becoming less and less responsive to commands. I have learned that he does this when he is over-tired, but unable to calm himself down. He needs a little help from me, so this is what I do:
     I face him away from me, and make him sit. Then I straddle him, sitting on my knees over him. In this position, I pull his front paws out gently, until he is lying down, and I squat over him, just enough that he can feel my body against his back. In this way any movement from him is contained. With the puppy under me, I then stroke him firmly, from his head to his shoulders, over and over. While I am doing this, I speak soothingly to him, telling him what a good boy he is.
     Within one minute I can feel his tense muscles relax under me, and his heartbeat slow. Finally he gives a deep sigh, then a yawn. Once he yawns, I know that he has calmed down, and I slowly release him. Almost inevitably, he goes straight to his bed, and falls asleep!
     Two things have happened here:
·         By placing him physically underneath me, I have established dominance over him.
·         Under my gentle, consistent authority, his tension is soothed, and he becomes quiet.

     In my previous blog, I expounded a little on Psalm 37. As explained, it provides us with a four positive commands and one negative, each of which comes with a promise:
Trust in the Lord…
Delight in the Lord…
Commit your way to the Lord…
Be still and wait for the Lord…
Do not fret and agitate…

     Verse 7 arrested my attention: “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him…” As I pondered how difficult it is for us to “be still and wait”, it struck me that every one of these commands emphasizes our position of submission and surrender under the Lordship – the authority - of Jesus Christ:

Our trust is in His authority
We delight in Him as sovereign over our lives
We commit our way to His kingly dominion

and then…

In this position of surrender to His Lordship, we are able to be at rest trustingly in Him, confident that He is at work.

     Just the way my puppy becomes calm and relaxed under my authority! I do not hurt him when I straddle and quiet him under me. My dominion over him is loving and gentle, and for his benefit.
     In the same way, the Lordship of Jesus Christ over our lives is not punishing – it is loving and gentle, and always has our good at heart!
     When we have a frantic need to be in control, it results in increasingly frenzied thoughts, and mental and emotional torment that often leads to ill-advised decisions and actions. We are limited in our ability to calm ourselves down. We need help from One who has greater wisdom, power and authority. As we submit and surrender ourselves to His Lordship, relinquishing control to Him, in our position under His authority, tension is soothed, and quiet seeps into the deepest recesses of our beings.
     Zephaniah 3:17 says, “The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”
     His Lordship over our lives is a loving lordship, always working for His highest good in our lives. The place of surrender is a place of peace and rest and refuge and relief!
     This is true at any time, but most especially when we are going through difficult and harrowing times. The book of Hosea presents a picture of a woman who has ended up in a place of personal wilderness, as a result of rebellion against the Lordship of Jesus Christ. But in the wilderness, God comes to her in His power and sovereignty, not dealing harshly with her, but instead saying: “Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will sing as in the days of her youth…” (Hosea 2:14, 15).
     “Achor” means “trouble”. Are you in a barren and desolate place of trouble, frantically trying to “make something happen” in an effort to “fix” yourself or “fix” someone else, or “fix” your circumstances?
     Can you just stop? Stop and consciously place all that you are, and all that your circumstances entail, under the sovereign, tender authority of Jesus Christ. In that place of quiet surrender, He will:

Give you His peace and rest
Make His voice heard, speaking tenderly to you
Give you back the fruitfulness of your life
Transform trouble into hope
Give you a new song
Restore what has been lost to you

     My puppy’s name, Jabulani, means “rejoice”. The Bible tells us that when we surrender ourselves to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the help that we find there is so profound, that we are able to “sing in the shadow of Your wings” (Ps, 63:7).
     Be at rest under His sovereignty – and reclaim your peace and joy!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Legacy of a Year


     Tradition dictates that seeing out the old year and ringing in the new is a time of celebration. A new year signifies new beginnings, fresh hope, new opportunities, and for many… new resolution to accomplish personal goals.
     However, I am acutely aware that not everybody feels this way. For some the old year may represent hardship or heartache – and the new year may be viewed with trepidation or blighted hope. For others the idea of working up the energy to tackle life with renewed vigor, may feel overwhelming as they find themselves spent at the close of the old year. There may be yet others for whom the new year seems to bring nothing but new problems to resolve and obstacles to overcome.
     On December 31st 2012, I woke up feeling particularly heavy-hearted. The last four months of the year had brought a personal sadness that seemed to have become woven into the very fabric of my heart, threading through all my waking and sleeping hours. As I looked back over the way I had invested my time and energies in 2012, and the places where I had poured myself out, I wondered what the past year had all been for – and how I was to approach the year to come.
     For those of us who have committed our way to the Lord and set our hearts to follow Him, it is only God’s assessment of how we spend our lives that counts. Our responsibility is to follow in obedience to Him – and trust Him with the results.
     I could not help but think that I sought something far more meaningful with which to approach 2013 than the superficial idea of attaining personal goals through the making of resolutions. I want to live my year - live my life - not to accomplish selfish ambition or personal dreams, but instead in such a way as to leave a legacy.
     The truth is, wittingly or unwittingly, and whether we have children and grandchildren or not, each of us does indeed leave a legacy from our lives, to those others – family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues – whose lives intersect ours. The question is: What kind of legacy are we leaving?
     Every decision we make, action we take, and word we speak, has a ripple effect in the lives of those around us, leaving deposits there. All these together comprise the total legacy we leave behind us as we go about our everyday living. The nature of the legacy we leave is a matter of our own choice:
·         A negative legacy of lack of faith, complaining, bitterness, unforgiveness, harsh and hasty words spoken, a critical spirit, selfish and self-absorbed decisions and actions, unkindness and rejection, dismissive disregard for anyone but ourselves, ungraciousness…
·         Or… a legacy of faith in face of trouble; worship in the face of hardship; trust in the God whose character is without defect; abandonment to His love, grace, mercy and forgiveness, allowing these to spill from our lives; encouragement and affirmation of the goodness of God we see in others; caring and compassion; gratitude for life’s everyday blessings that we so take for granted…

     Whichever we choose, every life that touches ours will be impacted by that choice. On this first day of January 2013, the Lord challenged me personally, to live a life of worship, no matter what the circumstances or my feelings. When we choose to live a life of worship of the majestic and glorious Lord who is always worthy of all worship, not only our hearts, thoughts and feelings, but also our circumstances begin to be transformed as they align with the Majestic One.
     On New Year’s Day, the Holy Spirit directed me to Psalm 37 as a guideline for how to live out my life in 2013 – and for all my years to come. This Psalm gives us four positive directives, and one negative. Each instruction is attached to a promise:
·         Instruction: Trust in the Lord – lean on Him, depend on Him, have confidence in Him – and do good to others…
Promise: God’s peace and protection in the place He has established us. Protection, peace.
·         Instruction: Take delight in the Lord – as our first delight above all others and all else…
Promise: He will give us desires that align with His will and purpose; He will fulfill the secret petitions of our hearts. Provision, abundance, purpose, answered prayer, hearts nurtured by His love.
·         Instruction: Commit your way trustingly to the Lord…
Promise: He will make your “righteousness shine like the dawn” and “the justice of your cause like the noonday sun”; He will make your steps firm. God’s righteousness and justice; vindication of your reputation in the face of opposition and attack; a sure and certain way forward.
·         Instruction: Be still and wait patiently for the Lord in an attitude of trust…
Promise: The Lord will uphold, sustain and bless you, continuing to work out His purposes in and through your circumstances. Strength, favor, Divine purpose.
·         Instruction: Do not harbor anger; do not get agitated
Promise: Assurance that the Lord is constantly at work in every situation – nothing is ever outside of His sovereignty; He is never not in control. The powerful outworking of God’s almighty, eternal purposes for good.

     Trust… delight… commit… be still and wait… don’t agitate…
     If we live 2013 this way - if we live our lives this way - this Psalm promises us that… we will leave behind us an eternal legacy! Verse 18 says, The days of the blameless are known to the Lord, and their inheritance will endure forever!
     So let us live to leave a legacy in 2013! Let us trust the Lord and intentionally do good to others, no matter how they treat us; let us make the Lord the first and most passionate delight of our hearts – in all circumstances choosing to worship Him and desiring to know Him more intimately; let us commit our every step along the way to Him; let us trustingly wait for Him to work out His sovereign purposes; let us not get agitated, trying to stage-manage people and circumstances in our own strength and according to our own reasoning.  
   In turn, God promises to faithfully take care of every aspect of our lives according to His supreme purposes.
     What will 2013 bring our way? Only God knows – and we can trust His supreme knowledge and almighty purposes. A quote by Oswald Chambers struck a chord when I read it on January 2: “God does not tell you what He is going to do – He reveals to you WHO HE IS. Believe God is always the God you know Him to be when you are nearest to Him. Then think how unnecessary and disrespectful worry is!”