Posted in Christian Living

The Knowledge of Trees

Ancient_Olive_Tree_in_Pelion,_Greece

Our Bible is rife with stories of heroes who become great because they understand that anything they have or do, they owe to the power of God–and these heroes are very vocal in their praise of God as the author of all good things in their lives.

Gideon is a fine example.  A farmer at a time when the Israelites were under the harsh rule of a stronger people, the Midianites, Gideon came from the weakest family of the weakest clan of his entire people.  But when the angel of the LORD comes to Gideon and tells him that God Himself will lead the Israelites to victory, Gideon eventually believes.  In fact, he believes with such conviction, he trusts God to take only 300 men against thousands of his enemy.

Reading stories of these heroes makes me ask myself, do I honor God for His supremacy in my life, or am I always fighting God to be my own “king?”

When Gideon is gone, his concubine’s son, Abimelech, convinces the people at Shechem to make him King, travels to where his 70 “brothers” are located and slaughters all his competition for the position on one stone.  However, his youngest brother, Jotham, escapes and tells a parable of trees to show the Israelites the fallacy of wishing for an earthly king when they already have a heavenly one.

Once upon a time, Jotham explains, the trees decided to choose a king.  First they said to the olive tree, ‘Be our king!’  But the olive tree refused, saying, ‘Should I quit producing the olive oil that blesses both God and people, just to wave back and forth over the trees?’ (Judges 9: 8-9 NLV)

The fig tree and grapevine likewise refuse.  The thornbush advises to take shelter in his shade if he is to become king.  Otherwise, the thornbush will shoot a fire to “devour the cedars of Lebanon.”  In other words, nature understands that the greatest glory to be had is to thrive in the function for which God created us.  And, though He gives us the free will to choose to follow Him, He does not mean for our function to be seeing ourselves as the masters of our own destinies.  Even Jesus said, “Father, Thy will be done.”

So, am I smart enough to be an olive tree?  Can I listen to my own self-talk when I am trying to decide things without first acknowledging God’s right to make those decisions for me?  How do I let Him make those decisions?  I have to continue in my study of His word to know what is truth, to test what is told me, as Paul instructs us to do, and I have to spend time talking to God and being still to hear Him.  The latter is perhaps the most difficult skill of all.  We barely listen to our family members or friends half the time.  How much more practiced must we be to become better listeners of the Maker of the Universe!

Jotham’s parable is not the first time in the Bible we are encouraged to look to nature to learn how to have an even stronger relationship with God, and it certainly isn’t the last.  Remember Christ’s declaration:

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples.”  But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” (Luke 19:39-40 NIV)

So, whether I am a tree or a stone, may I always be ready to put God first in all things, which means I will become a more loving servant who knows better than to reach for the auspices of King.

Advertisements
Posted in Christian Living, Faith

Do You Have The Guts To Pray This Prayer?

Find Your Daily Sacred Space
Find Your Daily Sacred Space

One of the phrases that Benedictine monks regularly use to help them stay in a meditative state begins, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner….”  The first few times I used it for myself, I finished it with phrases like, and help me shine Your Light or and help me be like Christ.  

When you first start to say those first words over and over, you are reminding yourself of your own human-ness.  We are all sinners.  We have no rights to judge other people for their actions because we have taken actions that are equally horrible in the eyes of a perfect God.  Luckily, that same God forgives us, so that the phrase, have mercy on me, a sinner, also means we can grasp that mercy and find peace.

In my perpetual quest to learn to give up the control of my life to Jesus so that I experience His peace, I am discovering some not so pleasant truths about myself.  I am always helping people out, it seems like to me.  So, I could pat myself on the back and say I’m doing pretty well.  I have a servant’s heart.

Here’s the problem.  Whenever I get stressed, I can get really angry about all this “helping out” that I am doing.  That reaction seems more like a martyr’s heart to me than a servant’s heart.  In other words, many times when I am doing things for others, am I doing it deep down because it feeds my feelings of self-worth instead of because of my unselfish love for others?

So, as I processed these thoughts lately, it came to me that I would probably be a lot happier, calmer, more peaceful in life if I could tame the beast that is my pride.

But, do I really have the guts to say the prayer that gets me help with that one?

I’ve prayed for humility before, usually by hedging.  Give me more humility, please God, but please don’t make the lesson painful.  That was usually the gist of my prayers.

This morning, as I began my phrase, God, have mercy on me a sinner, I knew what the ending needed to be.  But, I had to take several deep breaths before I could finish the statement.

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner, and make me humble.

Praying for humility with no qualifiers and really wanting it means I have to be willing to experience pain.  The Bible teaches that through perseverance we learn patience and through patience we build character.

I am not looking forward to the lessons I am going to be facing as I continue to pray to God to remove my pride.  But I believe in His blessings for the humble enough to know that this is one prayer I must have the guts to pray if I expect to allow God to work to the good what He has planned for my life.

His will, not mine.  His omnipotence, my humility.

What prayer have you not had the guts to pray?  Get on your knees now and pray it.  God will bless you for it, even if the initial answer seems truly painful.

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity

Who Carries Your Burdens?

20130112-224056.jpg

I’ll warn you up front that my title is a trick question. The obvious thing for me to write about when it comes to burden carrying is the way Christ will carry our burdens for us, if we’ll just ask Him. So, I’m not going to talk about the obvious. Let’s get real about burdens and how most of us unenlightened creatures cope with the day-to-day ones.

It’s more likely that we go down on our knees and offer up to God the things that knock us off our feet–death, major illness, total disasters–but what do you do with the burdens that you face every day, the burdens that we carry like a backpack every moment, from making sure food is on the table to helping out a neighbor in need?

We’re being honest here, so we have to honestly say what happens with the things we carry. Some of us swallow our burdens, trying to do everything on our list without asking for or even knowing when we actually need help. We fail often, and we subconsciously hate ourselves for failing. But we continue to stuff our backpacks to overflowing with our to-do lists and “shoulds” and guilt burdens.

Or maybe you’re of the variety who likes to share your burdens, not in a healthy, “we’re all in this together” kind of way, but in a defeatist or entitled posture that posits that you are either incapable of managing your own life or else the world at large somehow owes you homage. Your backpack is heavy with the manipulations and self-delusions that enable you to put yourself above others by getting them to do things for you that you really are capable of doing for yourself.

Because you are human and must work at living a life that bears fruit, you are bound to stumble. So, your burdens include all the emotions that go with being human–anger, lust, jealousy, judgment–all roiling around in your backpack like a pot perilously close to boiling over. Whenever your backpack becomes too heavy, if you aren’t doing your Spirit work, you’ll unzip your closure just enough to expel some of those roiling emotions, weighing down the backs of those closest to you with your excess. Or perhaps you’ll just dump it on an unsuspecting stranger.

Christ said that His yoke was light because when you grasp the concept that every morning is new with Him, you throw off the weight of legalism and look straight into your heart. Taking on the burden of the fruit of the Spirit means a lighter backpack. Love, joy, peace, faithfulness–these qualities are much lighter than the pain and crazy that we carry when we don’t let Jesus’ hand hold up our burdens.

So, how do we lighten the loads that we carry? Through prayer. Through knowing what the Bible says. Through observing our daily existence. When we feel the things we carry weighing us down, we have to practice taking them to the One who can truly carry them for us. Only through communication with Christ and His word do we really realize the fruitful existence we can enjoy with fellow believers.

No matter the things you carry, you can lighten the load starting today. Instead of barking at your spouse or kids, pray for patience. And if you must scream, scream at Jesus. He has the broad shoulders to carry your doubt and worry and fear. If you doubt it, read your Psalms for examples of other believers that brought everything to God, and were better for it.

Posted in Christian Living, Living

Don’t Let Time Get Away From You

20130104-205704.jpg

Have you heard the phrase, “self-fulfilling prophecy?” When I was a child, my dad explained it to me with an example. Once, in junior high school, he was transferring a science project that involved him carrying a liquid-filled jar up a set of stairs. A tiny voice in the back of his mind kept saying, “You’re going to end up spilling this.” Well, sure enough, he wound up tripping on a stair and sending the jar flying.

I’ve always approached the self-fulfilling prophecy from the negative, so to speak, stopping myself from dwelling on bad things that might happen as much as I can to keep from actually subconsciously making those bad things happen. Sheepishly, I admit that I am just now getting around to the empowering idea of thinking about positive things so that I might be able to take advantage of the self-fulfilling prophecy rather than being hurt by it.

I’m not talking about the kind of positive thinking that some people use to try to become rich or be famous. I’m talking about creating self-talk that is in alignment with God’s will for a Christian life. I’m talking about taking advantage of two of the most powerful words on the planet: I AM.

The first powerful use of I AM occurred by the Almighty Himself, when He introduced Himself to Abraham as I AM. In those two words, He declared His omnipotence and purpose. As children of God, we should pay particular attention to our use of these two words ourselves.

For example, if we go around saying to ourselves, “I am tired; I am depressed; I am unhappy with my marriage; I am unworthy,” how can we hope to be anything except exactly what we have declared ourselves to be? When we say something about ourselves enough to ourselves, we really start to believe it. Then, we start to say it to other people. Finally, those people start to believe this about us as well.

On the other hand, what if we started self-talk that is what we hope to be, even if we don’t feel it in the moment? For Christians trying to live the life God intends for us, phrases like: “I am open; I am love; I am kind; I am happy; I am thankful; I am peaceful” make powerful mantras.

Using self-fulfilling prophecy to our advantage also involves really being observant, but not judgmental, of ourselves. I realized this as I thought about my New Year’s resolutions this year. At first, I resolved to tell myself “I am strong,” as often as possible, especially when I was feeling most weak or sad or depressed.

Then, I had a sort of revelation one morning as I was doing my Bible study. On a recent trip, my husband had asked me, “Why do you say OK when I tell you to let me carry something (like the luggage), but then you just keep carrying it yourself?” He’s right. I do do that sort of thing all the time. Why? I think it is because I need to be in control or something. So, do I really need to be telling myself, “I am strong,” when trying to be the strong one all the time keeps me from letting others lift the load every once in a while? No wonder I am always tired!

If I don’t let my husband help with the luggage, can you imagine how I fail to let God help me with the day-to-day challenges I face? When I realized how often I fail to lean on God for the tiny things (He’s too busy for the little stuff, right?), I realized that my mantra for 2013 should be something like, “I am leaning on Jesus,” instead of “I am strong.”

Do you realize how strong I will really be when I master leaning on the One who can handle everything, even the tiny stuff?

So, what’s your self-fulfilling prophecy for 2013? Remember to observe your life, not judge it. Remember to pray about your conclusions. Remember the power of I AM.