Ever been frustrated by the tension of all that’s (wonderfully) true about the Christian life and actually trying to live it out among others?
A few months ago I had this humorous experience which seemed not unlike the experience of being a child of God still in this world.
Our church was blessed to have a special speaker and he was taking us on a whirlwind tour of the book of Hebrews. (You can hear the sermon here) It was so wonderful! Jesus was exalted. The Word came alive, and my heart and mind were literally thrilled with the truth.
My wonderful four oldest children were sitting with me (Paul was filling in elsewhere during that hour so unlike normal I was alone with the kids), and I guess their experience and interaction with the Word that morning wasn’t quite the same as mine. Exclude the oldest from that statement; she was not causing any problems. I’m too far removed from the scene to remember the particulars, but I had to deal with all sorts of nonsense during that sermon. Wiggles, questions, flipping pages, elbows… it went on and on even more than usual. Not all of it was bad! Of course I want the one just learning to read to ask for help to know where he is when reading Scripture, and of course I want to give a quick definition of an unfamiliar word to the four-year-old.
But I also want to just sit and listen!
See the pattern:
LISTEN: Wow! that is amazing! I cannot believe Christ would lower himself to suffer like we did. I want to love Him more! I want to go home and read the whole book of Hebrews! I am so thankful we have the Bible! God is so good!
DISTRACTION: ***addresses wiggling***
LISTEN: Wow! This is so wonderful! I’m so thankful my kids can be in church with me.
DISTRACTION: ***finds verse for child***
LISTEN: I hope I didn’t miss anything. Wow, that is so good.
DISTRACTION: ***warns child about wiggling***
TRYING TO LISTEN: I wish these kids would just let me listen to the Word!
GRACE: Wait! This is what it’s all about!
Being filled with the knowledge of Jesus and then lovingly coming alongside others to help them to know Him, too.
Why doesn’t God save us and take us out of this world? His image redeemed in us brings us back to a life of worshipping Him and displaying His glory to others.
But often displaying that glory doesn’t seem so glorious. Like reminding a child to listen to the preacher, or encouraging a sibling to be kind, or confronting someone in their sin, or forgiving someone for thoughtlessness, or doing that menial task for the hundredth time, but with joy.
It’s not enough for the pastor to sit in his study and feast on the truths of Scripture – he has to communicate it to the flock and then actively help them grow and mature in what has been said, as messy and hard as that may be.
It’s not enough to sit in your quiet time and be filled with a desire for righteousness – you have to take that into the workplace and shine the light through darkness and confusion.
It’s not enough for a mom to be thrilled with the truths of Scripture in the pew on Sunday morning. She has to translate that to the nitty-gritty lives of her children. Sometimes during the sermon.
The Christian life is both a deep well of knowledge and fellowship with Christ and also a cross-channel swim against the currents of sin, time, and limitations from ourselves and others. We both rest in our position in Christ and work tirelessly to become more like Him and to make Him known in the world around us.
Don’t be discouraged when it all happens at once. God is absolutely able to make all grace abound to you in every situation.
Even when you’re alone in church with little kids.
To say that candy is a lifelong weakness for me would be an understatement.
My father-in-law faithfully keeps me supplied with Skittles, keeps me up-to-date on the newest variations, and often throws in variety bags of chocolates just for good measure.
My sister and I once ran a rather black market operation smuggling junior church candy.
If you remember from this post it took me awhile to learn how you had to eat while pregnant. Oh yes, it also took me a long time to figure out how to keep a house stocked with the kinds of food you should eat while pregnant. I learned quickly that when I was hungry, I would eat whatever was near and easy.
So we have a scene that makes no sense: I’m pregnant, hungry, trying desperately to get dinner on the table. Why? Because I’m hungry! And so are the little people. However, I’m so hungry that I can barely concentrate on cooking. Is there anything in the pantry I can snack on? I’m so hungry!
Out would come the easiest thing to shake out in my hand and snack on.
Or some such other non-satisfying substitute for a good, hearty dinner.
Need I bore you more? The more Skittles I would eat the more I would want which would make dinner take longer and would also make me want them after dinner, for a snack…
After the birth of Zoe this past summer, friends from church were so kind to bring us meals. Good, delicious, well-balanced meals.
Of course, anytime you’re feeding a baby you will be hungry 24/7 so I would grab a spoonful of casserole or barbecue while putting everything out on the table. That’s so good! I would eat a helping for me and Zoe and still be eating out of the pan as I was putting it away.
I literally had chicken tortilla soup for breakfast several mornings because it was so good!
Brief digression: this was awhile after the uncontrollable Skittle snacking fiasco. I had improved a little.
It was funny to me that when I’m in that pregnancy or nursing-induced hunger cycle, I will eat whatever is there.
Sadly, it rather reminds me of myself spiritually.
My soul hungers for the God it was made to worship, yet I so often stuff myself with spiritual Skittles because I’ve failed to either prepare myself for God’s Word or cultivated an appetite for junk.
I might on a very good day fall out of bed wanting to read my Bible, but if I fail to get up before the girls, or get distracted with other things – the temptation to snack on less will persist the whole day. I won’t naturally take that five minute window when the girls are all happily occupied to be still and pray.
Hearing the Word faithfully taught or tasting it’s riches while reading alone is like taking a bite of a delicious casserole. This is what I need! I want more.
I’ve been working at learning to make those yummy casseroles (thanks everyone for the recipes!) and hunger-satisfying meals. It takes time to meal plan, grocery shop, put them together and even freeze for busy days. But oh the reward when you pull that meal out of the oven or find leftovers in the refrigerator. Yay for avoiding Skittles! (Not permanently, just as a meal substitute.) ; )
The work of preparing my heart for the Word has an even greater enemy than a sweet tooth. As I’ve already said my flesh so easily replaces the worship of God with distraction, busyness, laziness, indulgence.
May I work to prepare my heart to hear and savor the teaching of the Bible at church, to grow more desperate for it’s nourishment as I go through ordinary days here at home.
Psalm 107:8-9 Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! For he satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness.
I trust that at some point in my life being late to church on Sunday morning will be a thing of the past.
But with multiple small children and a husband who usually has responsibilities at church before the girls even get up, being late on a Sunday morning is a semi-regular part of my life. I will say for those who may be brand new mommies and are about to be completely discouraged, I have a way better chance of being on time now with four small kids and another on the way than I did when there was just one or two. Life really does get easier.
Because being late is now semi-regular instead of constant, I’ve started to see how much being late can influence your mindset going into corporate worship.
(This is not about how to NOT be late, it is about how I try to think WHEN I am late.)
For those who follow Christ, Sunday corporate worship is essential. It’s something we look forward to all week long. On a completely temporal level for moms with little kiddos, it can be a chance to drop them off in the nursery or Sunday school and fix your mind on eternal truths while briefly leaving behind the immediacy of diapers, feedings, discipline and endless questions.
Bottom line, we have every reason to want to be on time or even early for church.
But… sometimes we wake up late. Sometimes we’re completely unprepared from Saturday night. Sometimes a toddler chooses an inopportune time to decide he doesn’t like eggs. Sometimes fixing four heads of hair takes longer than you planned on. Sometimes you have to take a different route because of a bike race. It seems like every force in the universe is plotting to thwart your plans to be on time.
#1 – Being late happens.
The most discouraging mornings for me are the ones where I had everything completely prepared, where I got up ridiculously early, where nothing catastrophic happened… and still I was late. How many times I have complained in my mind, What’s the point of trying so hard if I’m still going to be late?
No, you’re not a failure. No, it will not be this way forever no matter what. No, it was not a waste to try hard. Easy to write on a Monday night, but very hard to tell yourself on a Sunday morning.
Which brings me to the next thought.
#2 – Every truth that you’re going to church to celebrate and rehearse is changed NOT AT ALL by the fact that you’re late.
Just recently I’ve learned to think about this as I get the girls ready and drive to church on a morning where I know we’ll be late. The glory of Christ’s work on the cross, the grace of God in forgiving and adopting His enemies, the comfort of the Spirit teaching us every day, the hope of an eternity with Jesus as King of Kings – all of these are steadfast truths that will never change. To imagine that somehow my little being-late escapade has any impact in eternal matters is laughable. I have to make a concentrated effort to think on things that are true and good.
To beat myself up over such a thing is really just an odd symptom of self-centeredness. Believe me, on many occasions through the singing or teaching at church, the Holy Spirit has gently shown me where I was wrong, or careless, or uninterested, which caused the circumstances around being late. But I have to let Him do that. Punishing myself over being late just clouds my mind from the One who can truly search my heart. And sometimes honestly, God just gives you a peace that it was just the way it was that day and it’s okay. See #1. = )
#3 – Being late is not an excuse to sin against your children.
To ask my three-year-old who is accustomed to thirty minutes for breakfast to hurry and eat in seven is just not wise. Ashamedly, I have been through so many Sunday morning breakfast’s where I have constantly been saying, “Girls, be quiet. We have to eat. Stop talking, we have to eat. Eat faster. We only have two minutes left!” (to finish three-quarters of a plate) Not going to happen.
Lately, the Lord has been teaching me to truly own when something is my fault and not to place the blame or the burden of hurrying in this case on my girls. I need to give them plenty of time to eat. Either that or have a really good back-up eat-in-the-car plan. (which usually doesn’t work anyway) Complete aside: Did you know my kids won’t even Pop-Tarts fast on a Sunday morning? Oh, the strategies I have tried to save time. Seriously! They didn’t even eat the Pop-Tarts. Like I’m giving you sugar you’re normally not allowed to have, but nope.
But I digress. When one of them comes to me crying and stomping because she can’t get her arm through her sleeve (and is not really even trying because of a bad attitude) I still have to respond with kindness and wisdom. Patience doesn’t get temporarily marked off the list from 7-10 on Sunday morning.
One of the biggest reasons I want to have everything ready for Sunday morning is so my girls can remember it as a time of joy, of looking forward to going to church together. I don’t want it to be a time of snapping and nagging, of empty stomachs and rumpled clothes all in the name of keeping up appearances for this weekly event.
When the mornings come where I know we’ll be late, I have to choose to still be like Christ. To still let the gospel adorn my speech and actions inside this house where only the little people see. I hope that His kindness and love is what they will remember.
#4 – Understand that others probably understand.
I have a particular problem with my pride where being late is concerned. I’m a pastor’s wife and I should be able to get there on time, right? I love to be early. I want to see people and talk to them and not have to slip in like a loser five minutes after everything has started. I don’t want people to think that I don’t care. But when I apologize all over myself or refuse to be consoled by people who assure me it was like that for them at this time of life, I’m really just revealing how concerned with my image I am.
Life will move on. Another chance to be on time will come in just seven more days. More than likely I’m a harder judge of myself than those around me. Get over it and keep going.
One of the biggest benefits of controlling your mind when you’re tempted to bottom out because of being late is that it helps you to enter into the worship service sooner. This is what I mean: when I (89% of the time) am so upset over being late, I have to spend a lot of the Sunday school or worship hour getting over the usual mental clutter that comes with being late. Which means I am completely deaf to the truths being sung or taught. I’m oblivious to the help and comfort that is right around me. However, when I set my mind to rejoice anyways, or maybe to be late rather than getting upset at my kids… I can sit down in the service and begin soaking it in immediately.
This in the long run is much more beneficial than being punctual but frazzled or grumpy.
Now, if you think I’m trying to just make excuses for being late, I’m not. There are so many reasons to be early, and I promise I try every single week to be early. In fact, it was one of my New Year’s Goals and there’s actually been a lot of improvement. Yay!
I could write an equally long post about what I do to try to be early; things that have worked and have not worked -like the Pop-Tarts. But one, there’s already posts out there like that, and two, I think it’s important to think through how we respond even when things don’t go according to our desires or plans.
This may seem like a tiny topic, but I have found it to have a huge impact on my Sunday’s, my family, and my week.
Thanks for reading my thoughts; I’d love to hear yours!
The top drawer is jam-packed with files all labeled with a particular sin problem. The file folders are filled with sheets of paper with applicable verses.
It’s where you go. Why you memorize Scripture.
I am struggling with this and I go find the matching solution. Bitterness? Eph. 4:31-32. Pride? James 4:5-7. Lack of contentment? I Tim. 6:6-7. Worry? Phil. 4:6-7 Lust? Matthew 5:27-28.
So here we go. Up to the file cabinet. I’m having trouble with pride; God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. That’s right! I don’t want God to resist me… I am so sorry for this sin of pride, Lord. I reject it and want to live humbly before you.
I go to the cabinet a lot. Work hard at adding more papers to fill the folders. Occasionally have to make a new folder for a new problem rearing an ugly head.
But something still isn’t quite right. Something is missing.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “The gospel is not just for salvation; it is for all of life”?
I don’t think I had until several years ago. When I began to hear it I thought, Yes! That sounds good. That’s right. It connected with me, but I really didn’t understand. There was nothing to attach it to in my brain. No way to fill it out or comprehend.
But thank God, little by little I am learning.
Salvation is not just forgiveness of sins, entrance to heaven, reconciliation to God, and a means of escaping hell; it is eternal life. A life that starts right at the moment of conversion. The gospel is the foundation for everything that will happen in this new life.
While it would be great to have a neat little set of rules to govern this new life by; there’s one little problem. I am still a rebel. Sin will remain in my body until it dies. A list of do’s and don’ts isn’t going to cut it.
If random commandments is all I have to keep me in line, there will be constant defeat and struggle.
Before you think I’m against rules and commandments, let me quickly say that I am all for rules and so thankful for the many clear commands to new covenant believers in the New Testament.
But when it comes to dealing with my sin, the cross is the only answer. The solitary solution, before and after conversion.
You see, I’ve discovered the bottom drawer of the cabinet. It only has one file, and that file is marked “Gospel.”
When I approach my sin with a problem/solution mentality, I’m leaving out the gospel.
So I failed to be kind to my neighbor? coveted something that wasn’t mine? invested time in a meaningless pursuit? became bitter at someone who slandered me? lied to make myself look better?
All this, yes. But more importantly, I failed to do what I was created to do. Instead of representing my Creator God in His goodness and glory, I took on the nature of His enemy representing his rebellion against God’s authority and my desire to rule myself in the way that pleases me.
I must see every sin as rebellion against God and allegiance to myself.
I must remember that Christ’s amazing sacrifice redeemed me from my sin and placed me in a position to once again glorify and fellowship with my Maker.
When I begin at the file marked “gospel” I see my sin for what it really is. Looking at the cross brings repentance in a way that nothing else can. From there, what a joy it is to see the good and wise teachings from Scripture on how to live this new life. To learn how a follower of Christ is to walk in this now-unfriendly and uncomfortable environment called the world.
What a wonderful comfort and challenge are the death and resurrection of Christ to those who believe in Him. We remember who we were, what we have been made, and what is our eternal hope.
This daily struggle of sin is not just a meaningless fight where only scattered weapons can be used in our defense. Rather it is a war that has been singularly conquered with a death blow that was promised and delivered.
We do find all of Scripture to be proftable as we are corrected and instructed in righteousness. But we use it with the big picture in mind.
Knowing the truth of that bottom file drawer causes us to hungrily search the Scriptures to find more of this amazing life we have been given. To know the Savior in every way we can; to long to be more like Him, hating our sin and fighting it to the death at all costs.
It’s taken me days before of trying to fight sin, trying to convict myself with all the “right” passages, praying for forgiveness… all this only to realize that never once had I pondered the gospel during that time. I had completely forgotten what is crucial. Once again I was wrapped up in the religion of self-effort towards my sin, desperately needing the cross.
I wish I could say that this was a one-and-done lesson, but it hasn’t been. Still I find myself running to the file cabinet searching frantically through the top folders as I try to fight my sin, completely forgetting that one crucial file below. But in grace God’s Holy Spirit reminds me of the gospel. And little by little I’m learning to take the burdens of sin to the cross and lay them down.
I suppose that this is quite an old idea, but I shall return to it anyway. We’ve had a great Thanksgiving, but I haven’t had much time to think specifically about things to be thankful for. So I will write it here and go to bed. (in the order they come) and…a friend suggested to say what you’re thankful for and then add a because. I made my list first and will add the because in italics.
1. The sacrifice of Christ and gift of salvation. because without this I would have no hope
2. A warm blanket to curl up under. because it feels so good
3. Food in the refrigerator. because I know it will last several days
4. Adorable children. because this makes it easier to love them when they are less than good
5. A husband who takes the Bible seriously…no really, seriously. because his example reproves me every day; I want to be like him
6. Health because it sure does make life less complicated
7. Heat because I don’t deserve this and so many people don’t have it
8. Books because I love them, because of the opportunity to learn
9. Blogs because they provide so much relaxation and inspiration
10. Church because as imperfect as we are, we can grow to be more like Christ together
11. Friends because this again, I don’t deserve
12. Hard times because they help me to be thankful for what’s really important
13. Forgiveness because I need it every second of the day
14. Mercy because I am such a great sinner
15. A laundry room with washer and dryer because I remember what it was like without them
16. A forgiving husband when I neglect to use the washer and dryer because this happens so often
17. Prayer because even though I continually neglect to use this amazing privilege, God doesn’t take it away from me
18. Soft, comfortable clothes because again, it feels so good
19. Most of all, mercy. because God is so good to me and I truly don’t deserve it
I feel awful about the day that just passed. Some days you just wait the whole day for it to be over. The sad thing is, someone who would have observed the goings-on from the outside wouldn’t have seen anything wrong.
The girls weren’t particularly bad. I accomplished a lot, maybe even more than on an average day. But some days your heart just isn’t in it.
Quite honestly, I just wanted to be doing other things today. Things that didn’t involve other people, little or big. Just me. At every point in the day I had to fight my desires and bring myself back to what was important, to what was now.
Looking back, I should be grateful that there was at least a struggle. I didn’t get upset with the girls, or neglect what I needed to be doing, give in to a poor-me attitude or check out.
It just didn’t feel good. Why couldn’t I be abundantly thankful? radiantly joyful? endlessly creative? The only answer I can find is that I’m just a mom. I have four little girls and the load is huge. No matter how many times I get alone and do things by myself, no matter how often my husband helps me out, no matter how many people come alongside, there will be days when mothering is just not fun. It doesn’t mean I’m having a bad attitude or giving in to discontentment with what God has given me; it just means I’m real.
So for tonight, I’m going to have to put aside what I feel and think through what I know.
*God is good; He loves me and blessed me with this job.
*My girls are invaluable; I know that they know I love them and by God’s grace I believe they saw that in what we did today.
*I am permanently flawed. The new nature God gave me at the moment of rebirth will still have to fight my depravity until I am changed perfectly into the image of Christ. This means that struggle will be a part of life until the day I die. Struggle is not a reason to weigh the heart down, but a sign that good is prevailing.
*God gave me abundant grace today to remember Him and continue on. God gave me endless mercy as I constantly demonstrated selfishness, ingratitude and discontentment.
So why talk about this in public?
I have a lot of good days. Actually, mostly good days. The days that aren’t good are great; except for the few, few, very few days that are difficult, bad or really hard. I don’t ever want anyone to think that my life is without struggle.
Sometimes it’s because of the girls, sometimes it’s because of other people, sometimes it’s because of uncontrollable circumstances, but sometimes my day becomes a struggle because of just me.