Just Ask

jars-of-clay

Reaching into my back pocket, panic set in.  “Where was it?  It was just there!  I can’t believe it’s gone.” Just hours before, my husband had given me our last $20.  Busy with something else, and not near my purse, I shoved it into my pocket, the same pocket I keep my phone in.  Apparently, as I pulled out my phone multiple times, the bill fell out.  Now I was thinking about the days ahead until pay day, how the bread was dwindling, the lunch meat was gone, we had nothing left for breakfast, and the only money was the $5 that had previously been in my wallet. I started to pray that I would find the money or that the bread would be multiplied.  I could go without eating, but I needed to feed my kids. It certainly was not way out there.  After all, the disciples found what they needed to pay taxes in the mouth of a fish and Jesus multiplied a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread until it fed 5,000 men with leftovers.

I had done everything right, filled out the proper paper work, seemingly signed my life away on the countless papers that would complete the school of choice process so that my kids could attend school in the area where I am going to pastor (church planting…I bet I can write multiple posts about that in the future), and yet there was a problem.  The two districts, the new one and the one they previously attended, were playing the blame game about some missing paperwork and my son was in the middle, a threat that he would not get the services he needed or even a possibility of being turned away from the new district despite their prior acceptance and the face that he had already attended for two weeks. I started to pray.  I prayed that God would guide me to the loophole that would force the hand of somebody to stop refusing to sign the necessary paper.  I prayed that God would move the hands of those involved so that they would put money (there’s a lot of that involved when it comes to a student who receives special services) aside and think about Jeremiah’s best interests.

Two very different situations led to the same response, prayer.  Not long ago though, only the latter would have led to prayer while the first led to fretting and self-condemnation.  Why?  In the second instance, I had done everything right, but the first was my fault.  In my rush, maybe even carelessness, I put our last $20 somewhere unsafe and now there were going to be consequences.

We all view God through the lens of our culture—nationality, family of origin, past experience, etc.  Despite the knowledge we may have, we respond out of long-held assumptions.  Those of us who have grown up in America bring into our relationship with God a lifting up of individualism, the belief that attitude and drive will get you anywhere in the land of opportunity, and that we should only help those who deserve it and will not misuse it, especially if we’ve been burned.  Knowing we should be generous, we do so within bounds that make us comfortable.  We offer food to beggars on corners, keeping our cash for ourselves out of fear that they might use it to buy drugs and alcohol.  We determine our giving based on how people got themselves into situations, holding them accountable for the past.  Years ago I started to undergo a transformation, one that confronted some of these attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors.  I changed.  I no longer saw my response to those in need as one between me and them, but between me and God. I base my response on obedience to Him.  If He tells me to give then I do so, not worrying about whether a person deserves it or how they will use the gift.  That is between them and God.

Recently, I realized that while I had changed my attitude about others when it came to need, I had missed something.  I had not changed my response toward my own need.  Instead, I was going through life categorizing, choosing the things God might like to help me with.  If something stemmed from a previous choice, some even years and years ago, I would not ask for God to intervene.  I would make the decision for God that I deserved whatever life was throwing at me.  If I was struggling with something that for whatever skewed criteria I used, I thought that I should be able to handle myself, I would try to do just that, not taking the situation to God.  Really, I was playing God, taking the control over what He would and would not answer into my own hands by not talking to Him about it at all.

I am currently in a season of transition.  There is a lot of new.  I mentioned above that I was now involved in church planting, which is simply beginning a new work with new people in a new place.  I have gone from having a year off to being busy once again.  I am having to relearn, or maybe learn for the first time maybe (I was a workaholic before), how to manage my time well.  I am challenged with prioritizing, not giving into the tyranny of the urgent and keeping my focus on what is important.  In addition, the work itself is different from what I have done before and definitely a journey of faith as we (I am not alone) go into unknown territory.  All three of my kids are going to school in the community God has called us to, which brings its own set of challenges as we have not yet moved there.  The time commitment to get them to and from school each day is draining, as is the impact on our checking account.  I am now filling up my gas tank every 2-3 days, resulting in spending just as much on fuel as we do our mortgage, all without an increase in income (church planters have to raise their own support much like missionaries overseas).  I could go on and on I am sure.  I have not even touched on the many things I learned during my year off in which I experience a lot of healing that I am now beginning to put into practice, being intentional about not reverting to my default, but moving forward so that new ways become the natural ways.  With all going on, I can hardly remember what need I had that was causing anxiety, but I think it had something to do with desperately needing a computer for work and not having the means to get one.  People were praying about it, but I was not.  Instead I was beating myself up for not being able to contribute in that way, leading me down a road of self-condemnation for a laundry list of things, many even unrelated, when the words to an old song came to mind.

What a Friend we have in Jesus,

All our sins and griefs to bear!

What a privilege to carry

Everything to God in prayer!

O what peace we often forfeit,

O what needless pain we bear,

All because we do not carry

Everything to God in prayer!

 

Have we trials and temptations?

Is there trouble anywhere?

We should never be discouraged,

Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Can we find a friend so faithful

Who will all our sorrows share?

Jesus knows our every weakness,

Take it to the Lord in prayer.

 

Are we weak and heavy-laden,

Cumbered with a load of care?

Precious Savior, still our refuge—

Take it to the Lord in prayer;

Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?

Take it to the Lord in prayer;

In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,

Thou wilt find a solace there.

One might think these words pierced my soul and I immediately sought God to provide on my behalf.  No, I began to argue, to tell God why I should not ask and He should not answer.  Gracious as He is, instead of letting me go, He reminded me of the account of Jesus’ first miracle recorded in the gospel of John.

Three days later there was a wedding in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there. Jesus and his disciples were guests also. When they started running low on wine at the wedding banquet, Jesus’ mother told him, “They’re just about out of wine.”

 Jesus said, “Is that any of our business, Mother—yours or mine? This isn’t my time. Don’t push me.”

 She went ahead anyway, telling the servants, “Whatever he tells you, do it.”

Six stoneware water pots were there, used by the Jews for ritual washings. Each held twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus ordered the servants, “Fill the pots with water.” And they filled them to the brim.

“Now fill your pitchers and take them to the host,” Jesus said, and they did.

When the host tasted the water that had become wine (he didn’t know what had just happened but the servants, of course, knew), he called out to the bridegroom, “Everybody I know begins with their finest wines and after the guests have had their fill brings in the cheap stuff. But you’ve saved the best till now!”

This act in Cana of Galilee was the first sign Jesus gave, the first glimpse of his glory. And his disciples believed in him (2:1-11, The Message).

As I pondered this story, I began to focus not on the included details, but those that were missing.  Why did the wedding hosts run out of wine?  Did they not prepare well?  Did they miscalculate the amount of wine necessary for the number of guests they anticipated?  Could they not afford more wine? Could they have afforded it if they had worked harder?  Did somebody fail to set appropriate boundaries and the guests stayed past their welcome?  Did guests fail to RSVP?  Did their responses get lost in the mail?  How good was the Donkey Express anyways?

There are so many unknowns, but this we know; Mary asked and Jesus delivered. A miracle was witnessed, Jesus’ glory was revealed, His disciples believed, and the celebration went on!  What if Mary had chosen not to ask? What am I missing when I choose not to ask?

Since this time, I have continued to study different encounters with Jesus recorded in the Bible.  I find that as is the case with His very first miracle, we do not always know many details, but we know that Jesus responds to need.  Even when we are given some background, we might find ourselves surprised (though we shouldn’t be) as He gives grace, as He looks past the cause of need and operates out of compassion—revealing truth to the Samaritan woman, scattering the accusers of the woman caught in adultery, dining with a tax collector.  As Jesus responds His character and glory are revealed, people believe, and celebration ensues.  It is fun to celebrate what God has done!

I haven’t mastered the art of taking EVERYTHING to Jesus (it is a process to change long time behavior), but I am getting better of letting go of control, letting Him decide how He wants to intervene in my life, and enjoy watching how He works things out.  I didn’t find my $20 right away, but I took the measly $5 I had and was able to purchase a box of cereal and some cheap lunch meat and the bread lasted for the kids until pay day.  I didn’t go hungry either because God provided me with a friend who can see right through me and would not let me go without.  After researching, arming myself with information, and decisions being made regarding funding that are out of the ordinary, all of the paperwork needed for Jeremiah to receive speech therapy came through.

I do not know where you find yourself today.  Maybe you are right where I was at—forfeiting peace, needlessly bearing pain, weighed down by a load of care, discouraged.  Let me encourage you, friend, it doesn’t matter why you find yourself where you are, you can approach Jesus, the one who looks past the reason for our need, who looks past the choices we have made, who doesn’t categorize our needs by what we should and should not be able to handle, or what we do and do not deserve, but sees with eyes of grace and mercy, always having our best interest at heart (sometimes our prayers aren’t answered the way we might like), reaches out with compassion, and lovingly takes care of us in ways only He can do.

Love Me Again…

As the music played, voices sweetly singing of God’s love, my shoulders slumped and my eyes closed, hands gripping the chair in front of me.  I believed the words, but I couldn’t sing them that morning without tears stinging the corners of my eyes, so I prayed.   It had been a hard few days and I just needed a fresh reminder of God’s love. I needed to feel, needed to experience, what I already knew.  No sooner had I started praying when I felt a hand slip onto my back.  Sometimes Jesus works through others and that’s exactly what was happening in that moment.  I knew the hand on my back, its presence a gesture of care and reassurance, belonged to my precious friend, but what I felt was the presence of Jesus, a sweet reminder that He was there, He was listening, He was providing what I asked for and needed.

One might think this reminder of God’s love would fill me to overflowing.  Unfortunately, it was overshadowed by a feeling a guilt.  How could I possibly ask God to let me feel His love yet again?  Wasn’t sending His Son to die, the ultimate display of love, enough?  How dare I ask for more?  I came by these thoughts quite honestly.  We live in a world where one good is supposed to negate all the bad.  Parents, children, spouses, and friends if approached about a hurt or a lack of meeting needs respond, “but I did do…” or “but that one time I…” as if that is to fix the rest.  Societies ignore bad parts of their history and expect others to as well because of all they have done right, often coming to a standstill instead of continuing to progress especially in areas of justice. Even the church has tended to overlook and sometimes cover up the bad (made up of sinful people, after all), focusing only on success.  Consequently, projecting human character onto God, some of us have become wired to think that we can never ask for more, that we must settle for enough, and I was one of them.

This simply is not true.  God is not a “one and done” god.  Instead, He graciously has shown His love throughout history.  We can see examples of this all throughout the Bible.

In Genesis, God’s love is on display in His creation, in His covenant making, and His covenant keeping.

In the Books of the Law God’s love is shown in His freeing of His people from the hands of Pharaoh, His giving of the law, His providing a way to have relationship with Him through sacrifice when people had messed up.

In the Books of History, we see God’s love in the accounts of His  people.

In the Books of Poetry, God’s love shines through the words of the authors that reveal His character.

In the Prophets, God’s love is on display through His warnings and in His messages of a coming Messiah.

In the Gospels, God’s love is shown in the coming of Jesus, His life, His death and His resurrection.

In Acts, we see God’s love in the formation of His Church.

In the Epistles, God’s love shines through the spreading of the gospel, not just for the Jews, but for the Gentiles, grafting them into God’s family.

In Revelation, God love is on display in His promise that Jesus will return and reign.

Not only has God graciously expressed His love throughout history, I am convinced that He gets great joy from giving it to each of us today, and is not at all bothered by our asking for it.

“We all need a hug in the morning and one at the end of the day,

And as many as possible squeezed in between to keep life’s troubles at bay, 

No matter, wherever you ramble, your problems be great or be small,

It is my belief – for instant relief – a hug is the best cure of all.”

An old Irish folksong now turned Huggies (diapers) advertisement jingle, this could be my son’s life song.  His love language is, without a doubt, physical touch.  He craves hugs, kisses, cuddles, back rubs, pats on the leg, high fives, etc.  He doesn’t sit beside people, he sits against them, or better yet, right on top of them—he appreciates a good lap.  Physical touch is not my top love language.  In fact, it is probably at the very bottom of my list.  There was a time where a hug was downright uncomfortable for me (I’ve come a long way, I don’t totally stiffen up when given one in greeting, and I even appreciate a good one from a few people these days).  At the bottom of my list, almost unnatural to me, it would seem difficult for me to give Jeremiah love in the way he receives it best.  On the contrary, it has become quite easy.  See, one thing I appreciate about Jeremiah is that he knows what he needs and he asks for it.  Instead of going through life feeling unloved because his mom is missing the mark, he just comes and gets what he needs.  “Mom, kiss me.”  “I haven’t had a hug yet today.”  “Mommy, can we snuggle?”  And he never approaches me with guilt or fear.  He trusts my love for him and assumes that I want to give it to him as he asks. He is absolutely right!  Almost (cut me some slack, all moms appreciate the privacy of the bathroom and not many of us like somebody constantly underfoot in the kitchen) never do I feel inconvenienced by his need for another hug.  I don’t breathe a sigh and think, “Really?!  Another one?”  I squeeze him tight, no wimpy hugs for him, kiss the top of his head, and feel good about it. He is my child; it gives me satisfaction to meet his needs. God is oftentimes compared to a loving parent (check it out, not just a father, but a mother too).  How much more joy must He get from expressing his love to me, to you, His child, not begrudgingly, inconvenienced by being asked yet again, but generously and freely, as we trust Him enough to come.

God’s history with humanity and relational comparisons between parent and child have helped me to approach God without guilt for a fresh experience of His love.  In addition, I have been encouraged by Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians.

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:16-19, NIV, emphasis mine).

Paul’s letters have always been some of my favorites, perhaps because I became so familiar with them at a young age thanks to Bible Quizzing, so these verses are not new to me.  I have been encouraged by the description of the enormity of God’s love—wide, long, high, deep.  Recently, I have come to appreciate what Paul said just before he described the love of God, he addressed the Ephesian believers (he was writing to the church in Ephesus) as those “being rooted and established in love.”  These people were not strangers to the love of God.  No, they were rooted in it, established in it, and yet Paul prayed that they would grasp it.  Neither am I stranger, but sometimes I need a reminder, a fresh experience, so that I can continue to grasp just how incredible it is.

Presently, I once again needed a reminder.  The last few weeks have brought conflict, transition, exhaustion, and sometimes overwhelming circumstances and I have longed for a hug, so to speak, from Jesus.  So, I asked.  This morning, sitting with my Bible, and sipping tea I was struck by a hymn playing quietly in the background.

“Before the throne of God above

I have a strong, a perfect plea;

a great High Priest, whose name is Love,

who ever lives and pleads for me.

My name is graven on his hands,

my name is written on his heart;

I know that while in heaven he stands

no tongue can bid me thence depart,

no tongue can bid me thence depart.

 

When Satan tempts me to despair

and tells me of the guilt within,

upward I look, and see him there

who made an end of all my sin.

Because the sinless Savior died,

my sinful soul is counted free;

for God the Just is satisfied

to look on him and pardon me,

to look on him and pardon me.

 

Behold him there! the risen Lamb,

my perfect, spotless righteousness;

the great unchangeable “I AM,”

the King of glory and of grace!

One with himself, I cannot die,

my soul is purchased by his blood;

my life is hid with Christ on high,

with Christ my Savior and my God,

with Christ my Savior and my God.”

As I mentally replayed a particular phrase, “My name is written on His heart,” over and over, a vision filled my mind.  I saw a notebook with my name written all over it, much like a teenager writes the name of their latest crush, so infatuated that they can think of little else, the name scribbled over and over where they should be recording their science and math notes.  And I heard Jesus, “I love you. You are on my mind.”

He gave me what I needed.

Do you need a fresh filling of the love of God?  Do you long to experience His love in a personal way? Ask.  He’s waiting. He’s willing. He loves to love you.