Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Key to the Psalm (and maybe life with God)

Life with God can seem very complicated. Indeed, a life of faith has never been accused of being easy and much of our world combats the reality of God.

But life with God can also be simple.

Psalm 89:15 says, “Blessed are those who learn to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, LORD.” My Psalms mentor, Jim, says that this verse boils the Christian life down into a simple form. Life with God must be one that acclaims Him, one that praises Him with applause and shouts of joy. We don’t start out wanting to do this – we begin life bent to sin, bent on ourselves, and so we must learn to acclaim God as God.

And life with God is one where we walk with Him, where our trust in His presence begins to define each and every moment.

In fact, the book of Psalms is a book which trains us to acclaim God, trains us to know His presence, and ends up in Psalm 150 with shouts of joy and praise, every breath celebrating the Person of God. Psalm 89:15 falls right in the middle of the Psalter (not in terms of chapters but in terms of total verses, it’s right around the center), and it could be seen as the keystone to the book and to a life lived with the Lord.

I’ve been trying to practice God’s presence by wearing a digital watch that beeps on the hour, and when it beeps, I pause to remember the Lord and His presence. Psalm 89:15 has become my refrain after that beep, that my life might be one that is learning to acclaim God and one that lives in the reality of His presence. At the end of my days, if my life lines up more and more with this verse, I think it will be very good indeed.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Not a Map or an App

In recent years Apple has coined the term “there’s an app for that,” and there seems to be a smartphone app for most any problem in life. Trying to follow Google Maps written directions recently, I was confused by “head Northeast on Such and Such Street.” Which way is Northeast? Within 30 seconds I had compass app on my Droid and Northeast was no longer a problem.

In his translation of Psalm 43:3, Eugene Peterson writes, “Give me your lantern and compass, give me a map so I can find my way to the sacred mountain, to the place of your presence.” In even more modern language, the psalmist is asking for an app to guide him into the presence of God. Clear directions, an easy-to-follow guide. A map and an app.

But my Psalms mentor, Jim, has wisely noted that God doesn’t do apps. His goal is not the quick fix or the easy understanding. He’d rather give us Himself than the Answer.

Not a map. Not an app. But a shepherd.

In the myriad of decisions and life stages and competing calls for our time and attention, we long for God to spell out what exactly we ought to do next. And He mostly gives us Himself. A shepherd who guides, who comforts, who calls us by name. And teaches us to learn His voice. There’s not an app for that. There’s not quick way to relationship, to trust, to knowing that God is INDEED my shepherd and that I shall not be in want.

As I ponder some major rumblings in my heart and significant life decisions, I’m learning to seek the presence and voice of God.

Not a map. Not an app. But a shepherd.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Learning to pray for my children

In December we went through a really hard time of Jacob waking up many times during the night saying he had a bad dream and wanting to get in bed with us. This pattern of waking up at 1, 3, and 5 was taking a toll on me and Diane, and finally I decided to begin praying over Jacob. The main motivation behind these prayers was because I wanted and needed sleep. I was pretty much begging God to keep him asleep so that I didn’t have to be tired all the time.

But as I prayed for him to sleep, God began to stir in me to pray about other things. Things like his heart to be stirred towards knowing the Lord; like his future wife; like his heart being freed from fear and awakened to adventure. And then I began going up to the loft and praying over each of my girls.

Because my desire for sleep was so desperate, I was praying over him every night, and thus praying over my girls every night as well. And in time, my prayers spent less and less time asking God for sleep and more time blessing my children and speaking truth over them and into their lives.

While slight sleep deprivation is very slight on the overall scale of suffering, God did use that discomfort to lead me to my knees and to teach me to pray for my children. And because the wakefulness did not go away after the first night of prayer (or the fifth), God developed a habit in me that has remained (more or less) even after Jacob has begun sleeping again, and therefore his wakefulness has been a great gift.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The Freedom and Joy of Obedience

One staff member at our  church teases me a lot about my distaste for the word “obedience".” My perfectionistic side has long found that the concept of obedience brings up all sorts of “earning God’s love” theology in me, and I run from that. It’s not that I don’t want/need to obey, it’s that I have been in a season where grace was my primary lense of relating to God, because I had obeyed for so long out of fear.

Recently I was offered some tickets to see the UNC-Clemson game at the Dean Dome, and I had the chance to go with two of my favorite people in the world. Parking pass. Row-N. Lower level. Pregame meal in the Bowles Room.

The problem was I had a board meeting that night for Housing Greensboro, a non-profit which provides major and minor home repairs for low-income families. Having missed our November meeting and not meeting again until March, if I missed this meeting in January it would have put me out 6 months from attending a board meeting.

I knew that the right thing, the obedient thing, the God-honoring thing, was to stay and honor my commitment to the board. But there are few things I love more than lower level seats in the Dean Dome, and so the internal war was on. I tried every way that I could to justify going to the game. And all the while I knew that having to work so hard to justify my decision was simply pointing to the fact that something was amiss.

So I decided to stay, and not with a glad heart, I might add. But the morning of the meeting (and the game), I woke up with peace. I knew that I was honoring God, and there was deep joy in that knowledge. When I went to the board meeting, I went freely, not out of compulsion, and I found a renewed excitement about our mission. God was giving me joy and life, the very things I thought I was giving up by not going to the game.

God showed me the importance of obedience out of love for Him, and that the fruit of obedience is wholeness, life, and peace. I had to remind my flesh and my will that there are more important things in life than basketball and that my allegiance is to God first. Bringing my life and my will into alignment with God’s, which seemed like a constricting thing, actually brought great freedom. The freedom of obedience.