Archives For spiritual growth

“Crosswicks is a typical New England farmhouse, built sometime in the middle of the eighteenth century, so it is well over two-hundred years old. Its square central section has been added to haphazardly over the years, white clapboard somehow tying it all together, so that the house rambles pleasantly and crookedly. A dropped ball will roll right to the central chimneys, and the bookcases we’ve build in are masterpieces of non-alignment.”

Madeleine L’Engle, A Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage

Madeleine might as well have been talking about our house. One of the oldest Denver proper houses built here, a farm that shrunk and squished until the the past fifty years, when new bungalows and cottages grew as the new farmland crop. Our bookcases lean slightly awaiting the carpentry that will fit them snugly into the next hundred years, I hope. No floor is level, no window the same. But we, like Madeleine, make a home here, fitting ourselves into a thing never finished.

Marriage, too, is a thing unfinished. Brimming with unresolved beauty, always coming round corners to find pleasant surprises, or more corners, but never finished.

I have never deluded myself into thinking marriage would bring all the resolve I longed for or the culmination of all joy. I have been the product of a broken marriage and understand the fragility of two sinners in close quarters till death them do part. Marriage has always been seen as another long walk hand in hand in the same direction, same as any other holy thing. But it is the constant unfinishedness of marriage that surprises me. The same conversations with small changes. We grow, we mature, we lean in to one another, we learn, but we are not there.

Someone says to cut myself some slack, we’re only two months in, but how many months in is it before you feel the creaks and groans of an unsettled house cease? Ten? Twenty five? Seven hundred?

Madeleine writes of practicing piano: “I was working on…the Bach Two-Part Inventions. One is never through with the Two-Part Inventions; they are the essential practice needed for the Well-Tempered Clavier.” And I understand her a bit better than I did when last I read her memoir. One is never through with the Two-Part Inventions, the marriage, the leaning in, and leaning toward. It is beautiful thing, but it is a thing unfinished.

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We woke in the 2am hour to catch our early flight home from Denver. We are bleary-eyed and bloodshot and learning as we prepare to leave this place, we will leave tired. Finishing well is a common idea in Christianity, but not oft practiced well. Every day I see more I’ve dropped, more people I’ve failed, more relationships I know I cannot give my bests or second bests to as my time here ends. This is a humbling time.

I’ve been reading Eugene Peterson’s The Contemplative Pastor. It’s not my first time through and yet it’s wrought with more meaning this time. Eugene is at his pastoral best as he teaches people to minister well—which means, sadly, some things do not end well. People are gifts but they are not presents. We cannot wrap them up with paper and bows and call them finished, not ever. This is a humbling realization for anyone in the work of people.

Faithfulness to the word of God and not an outcome is the mantra coursing through my being the past few months. I am an idealist and outcome is my operative word. I want to see a path and take it until a clearer path emerges. I do not fear the unknown, I fear the known. God’s word is the clearest directive we have and yet I trip myself up on good ideas, three points, and a clear plan. It is the wrestle of my soul these days as I watch the sand slip through the hourglass and my time in Dallas-Fort Worth ending.

I just didn’t expect to leave in media res. I didn’t expect the unknown would be leaving here, not necessary forging to Denver. And I didn’t expect to be so sad. So, so sad.

How do you be faithful when you know you’re leaving? It feels like a spiritual prenuptial agreement. I’ve married myself to this place and these people and this church and leaving her feels like tearing myself in two.

One of the elders at the church where I will covenant next said to me yesterday: “It would be a problem if you weren’t sad.” And I know he’s right. I just hadn’t counted on being so sad about leaving Texas.

This isn’t about much, I suppose, just some thoughts on a perfect overcast spring morning in Texas. I’m supposed to be writing a paper for school; I’m sitting in the coffeeshop I’ve sat in nearly every day for two years; I’m across the table from a man who loves and serves the Lord more than he loves and serves me, which is more than I thought possible; down the road from the local church who has discipled me in the richness of the gospel for five years; I’m known and loved here, and, which is more, I know and I love here. No matter how many balls I drop or relationships I inevitably fail—those things don’t change. God did not bring me here to leave me here, but neither did he bring me here to leave me unchanged by here.

The sad, unfinishedness of this season is good, I think. It would be arrogant to think my exit would be without either, as though my presence here would demand a simple extraction plan. My heart has found a home here and it took far longer than I wanted or expected, but I’m grateful for the gift of it as I make my way to a new home.

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Every spring my social media feed bursts with photos of children sitting in fields of bluebonnets, an annual tradition in Texas. It’s purported to be a crime to pick a bluebonnet, our state flower. (It’s not.) It’s definitely a crime that I’ve lived here for five years without ever coming close enough to a bluebonnet to be tempted to pick one.

In Texas, bluebonnets mean spring. With such little variation between seasons, we get stuck in a cycle of light green to dark green to brownish green to less green and back again. As a native of the Northeast, my soul craves the ebb and flow of nature’s clothing, the predictability of life and death, and the knowledge that within three months change is coming.

Similarly, Christian culture has groomed me to believe that as sure as spring, summer, autumn, and winter, my spiritual life operates in seasons. Elation. Joy. Discouragement. Fear. Worship. Obedience. Death. Life. During extended times of doubt, someone is always ready to tell me, “This is just a season; wait it out!”

But are they right? (Keep reading at Christianity Today…)

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A few ago my bible intake changed from broad to specific. Instead of reading a passage from the Old Testament, a Psalm or Proverb, and a New Testament selection daily, I began to just read the same book repeatedly for weeks. It has transformed my love for the Word. I always felt like I was drinking from a shallow well in every single Bible Reading Plan I picked. I’d lose steam and feel guilty that I wasn’t checking off my daily reading, I’d forget where I was reading, or forget the narrative line. I found myself spending more time trying to piece together things than actually reading and ingesting what I was reading. I loved the Word of God, but I mostly loved it because I knew there was life in it, not because I actually felt life in my reading.

After studying the book of Galatians with my church a few years ago, I realized my love for the Bible increased exponentially, I saw themes I hadn’t seen before, and I understood Paul as a person in a way I never had. It was as though my Bible reading went from watching a drama take place on a stage to actually being a part of the play.

If you struggle with your bible reading, if you battle constant guilt about not keeping up with your plans, or fight a checklist mentality when reading the Word, I cannot encourage you more to begin reading this way. Joe Carter at The Gospel Coalition has some tips about how to start reading this way, and I wanted to share a few areas I’ve seen fruit in my life from this reading method.

1. I memorize the word subconsciously. When I read the same verse forty or fifty times within the span of a few weeks, I can’t help it, it just gets in me. I’ve been reading James for the past three months and could outline the entire book from memory and unintentionally have memorized much of it. I might not be able to give you chapter and verse, but I know the meaning and hope in a way I never could before.

2. I understand context better. Reading the entire book helps me to understand the voice of the writer, the history of the situation, the issues at hand in a way I didn’t grasp when I just read a chapter or two out of context. I learn that I grow to love the audience of the epistle or the prophet speaking in a way I didn’t before. Context matters.

3. I no longer come at my bible reading with a nagging guilt, but a expectant hope. Not checking off a list or plan or even having a specific date tied to where I was “supposed” to be reading has been so good for me. I come ready to eat and drink, not to prove or even serve; it is not a task, but a gift.

If you want to learn to study the bible and don’t know where to start, I cannot recommend more highly (for men and women) Jen Wilkin’s short book, Women of the Word. I’m biased because everything I know about studying the bible I learned at her feet, but I don’t know anyone who teaches better by example than Jen. Spending months in a single book has been one of the best disciplines of my life, and learning to study it as I do has brought such life to me.

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“My faith, he said, is the same faith which is found in every believer. Try it for yourself and you will see the help of God, if you trust in Him.”

So ends the book George Muller: Delighted in God by Roger Steer.

This past week my pastor taught on active faith expressed in works. I don’t know that I would have had ears to hear his words quite so well had I not been soaking in the richness of George Muller’s biography for the past few weeks. Multiple times while reading a physical sob rose in my throat and tears filled my eyes. It was not wonder at the faith of Muller (though that was there), but wonder at the God in whom he trusted and the gift of faith on which he acted.

Many nights I would dog-ear my page, close the book, set it beside me, and lay my head on my pillow begging God for a shred of his faith. Just one bit of it, I asked. But why? Why only one bit? Why not be a detective for faith? Sniffing it out, finding it, and taking it captive, looking for it?

Muller said after receiving a gift of one thousand pounds, “I was as calm and quiet as if I had only received one shilling. For my heart was looking out for answers to my prayers.”

My heart was looking for answers to my prayers.

God, I’m praying, make me a looker and a finder. Make me a seer, a hunter, and gatherer of answers to my prayers. Let me not need to pick up every rock or look under every stone—make the answers to my prayers every small thing: breathing, seeing, trusting, believing, knowing.

. . .

I sat across from two friends today, on their back porch. As I shared the burdens and beauties of my heart, the careful complexities of life, they reminded me of where I was a year ago and how they shouldered different burdens with me then. For a moment I was acutely aware of the porch on which we sat, the sound of birds in the trees behind us, the stream trickling quietly below us, the blue sky above us, the water in my water glass, the friends across from me: it was as if every sense of mine was awakened in a split second and I could see.

I read in Chronicles last night, “He did it with all his heart and he prospered,” and I weep because it was right after reading George Muller’s response to man who asked if he had a reserve fund:

“That would be the greatest folly. How could I pray if I had reserves? God would say, “Bring them out; bring out those reserves, George Muller.” Oh no, I have never thought of such a thing! Our reserve fund is in Heaven. God the living God is our sufficiency. I have trusted Him for one sovereign; I have trusted him for thousands, and I have never trusted in vain. Blessed is the man who trusts in him.”

And I think of Jeremiah’s words about the man who trusts in man, who makes flesh his strength: he will not see prosperity when it comes.

God, make me a seer. Make me a looker. My reserve is in Heaven and not just my financial reserve, but my reserve of faith. Every measure of faith I do not have today, you have stored up for me, buckets and piles and mountains of it, ready to give it to those who ask in faith without doubt with all their hearts.

Make me a looker, a seer, and one who weeps for joy at the thousands of answers to prayer you give in every moment of life.

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My friend Paul Maxwell has some words to older men from a young man on Desiring God today. As I read through it, affirming so much of it, I thought about the mentors I’ve had in my life.

In my Christian life I have rarely been without a multitude of counselors to mentor and lend me wisdom. I know that is not the portion of every person and many men and women long for godly, older people to invest in and guide them. I do not take these gifts lightly. Here are few thoughts about mentoring that I’ve picked up along the way.

1. Above I used the words “these gifts” on purpose in reference to the many men and women who have walked with me.

So often when we seek a mentor what we have in mind is a unicorn. We want them to be tender and firm, gentle and wise, learned and simple—we want a man or woman who fully embodies the Christian ideal. The problem is: that man or woman doesn’t exist. That person is Jesus, our only Savior.

There has never been one person from whom I’ve received all of what we’d call ideal in a mentor. I have had a multitude of counselors—not a singular one. If you’re holding out on finding a mentor because you’re looking for a unicorn, stop, consider the strengths and weaknesses of the men and women in front of you, and gather yourself a multitude of counselors.

This will save the men and women from whom you seek wisdom from growing burnt out on trying to counsel every area of your life, and it will save you from future disappointment when they fail.

2. Whenever I have languished around wishing and hoping and dreaming for mentors, I have found myself lacking them. Yet when I have engaged in the ministry of mentorship myself, I find myself in an abundance of counselors.

Too often we disqualify ourselves from ministry until we’ve been given the go-ahead from older and wiser people, but one thing older and wiser people know is that pouring time and investment in a sieve is not ever wise. They’re going to invest in people who are investing in people. That’s wisdom. If you long to be mentored or discipled, begin mentoring and discipling. Go to the word of God as your guide, obey what it says, humble yourself, ask for the Holy Spirit, and go! You might be surprised at the older and wiser people who begin to invest in you.

3. No matter how old you are, you are both an older person and a younger person. There is no magic age when you suddenly have it together. Be an older person to a younger person, and be a younger person to an older person. Do it now. There’s no better time.

. . .

Your Father longs to give you good gifts, but sometimes you won’t spot the gift He’s giving because you haven’t feasted your eyes on what is good. Know what a godly man and godly woman looks like. Read the book of Titus. Again and again. And again and again. Be and do and seek those things, see what God does.

I.

I am not like those Israelites in the wilderness, the ones who handed over their riches to make the likes of a golden calf. I clutch to my idols in their original form. I do not trust a maker of any sorts with my valuables, I trust only myself. I adorn myself in them.

II.

I wonder sometimes if all the Israelites gave Aaron their jewelry on that day, or if there were some who held back because an idol in their hands was better than one melded with a hundred thousand other idols.

III.

Remember when Rachel hid the idols of her father’s household in her satchel? She carried them with her just in case. Just in case God failed her, just in case He didn’t come through, just in case the unseen God wasn’t as dependable as the seen gods. Just in case He didn’t give her what she wanted.

IV.

Sometimes the only way you can spot an idol is to have it wrenched from your hands. Empty hands can reveal idolatry.

V.

Sometimes idols in the ancient Near East were the big kind you envision in temples, massive stone or golden statues with people prostrate around them in every form. But common ones were small ones, pocketed bits of clay and wood and rock—things they could pull from their pockets at a moments notice, to fill the void, cure boredom, feel validated, and seek answers from.

VI.

The message to the idol worshipper is the same as to the law worshipper, the same to the younger son as to the elder, the same to the Gentile as to the Jew: that idol and that law will only reveal your need for a Savior and a Father.

VII.

Underneath the gold and silver plated idols was the stuff of the earth: clay, wood, rock. All that glitters is not gold. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Then you will defile your carved idols overlaid with silver and your gold-plated metal images. You will scatter them as unclean things. You will say to them, “Be gone!”
Isaiah 30:22

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A friend who knows my story of loving church and leaving it and then loving it more than I thought I could posed this question to me today on Facebook. I thought it was a good question and something many of you might be experiencing or know others who are. If you’re interested, I’ve copied an edited version of the question and answer below. If you’d like to join the discussion, here’s the link to the thread on Facebook.

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I’ve recently encountered a few believers who don’t participate in Sunday (weekly) worship services with a local church because they’re afraid that such participation can easily lead to legalism. Meaning, they recognize that some who go to a service on Sunday feel better about themselves, feel like they have better standing in the presence of God because of it, and maybe even think that such participation will ultimately play a part in their own salvation.

How could I help this group toward participation in Sunday services? Something that I believe would be equipping for them and allow them to more directly be involved in body life and Kingdom. I certainly don’t want to encourage them toward legalism, but I want to stir them to good works and practical ways for them to better serve other believers and the lost around us.

I’m asking you because I think you’ve wrestled with these ideas more than many (e.g. tithing and church membership), and I know that you’ve come to recognize that you’re able to walk in good works without incorrectly basing your justification/adoption upon them.

—Jamie

Jamie, I think like every discipline there is a matter of obedience and a matter of cheerfulness. And the question of which comes first is a chicken/egg question. Does cheerfulness in the discipline lead to obedience? Or does obedience in the discipline lead to cheerfulness? I think we can argue that almost always in the first, yes. And in the second, sometimes. We love to do what we love after all. But we do not always love what we have to do.

In the matter of any discipline there is the matter of obedience: the bible says to not neglect the gathering of the saints (Heb. 10:25); it commands obedience to church authorities (Heb. 13:17)—who are these authorities if we’re not gathering with the saints in a local and organized fashion? It only takes a cursory glance through Acts and the epistles to see that the description of a healthy believer is one who is gathered regularly with believers in a local and somewhat organized context. But it is also clear that the prescription for a healthy believer is one who is doing the same. That’s not legalism, that’s the pursuit of joy in submission to what scripture calls best.

Now, you know as well as I do, that one of the reasons you’re asking me this question is because there have been times when I’ve refrained from gathering (or tithing, or regular spiritual disciplines) and have no regrets about doing so. And it’s true. I have no regrets. But I would never build a theological case for it. An experienced testimony is not the same as a theological trajectory. The gospel that saves us is the gospel that sustains us, but the way we come to the knowledge of the gospel doesn’t necessarily need to be the lens through which we see the every increasing joy of the gospel.

I would say to the person who feels they are sinning in the experiencing of these things (either by feeling convicted about legalism, judgement of others, or anxiety, etc.), that their experience is real, but that a real experience or feeling doesn’t mean that our God is not good and sovereign—and that the cure for their experience is grace. First grace to themselves, grace to others who find joy in what they fear, grace in the process, but ultimately understanding the grace of God sets us free from all fear—including fear of legalism. We must understand that fear of legalism is just as much a sin as legalism—and the cure is the same: grace. In the pleasant boundary of grace (when we’re not hammering our heads or the heads of others about a particular discipline), there is freedom to exercise obedience that IS cheerful. In this case, we don’t want to be the ones hammering the head of a weaker brother or sister, but instead displaying our delight in a beautiful thing. Delight can beget obedience.

Behavior modification doesn’t lead to cheerfulness, it only leads to moralism—which has become somewhat of a curse word in some circles, and which we ought to recover. Morals are not wrong ever. Moralism rooted in fear of man or God is wrong. But morals are good virtues given from God who only gives good gifts. The only thing that leads to TRUE cheerful obedience is wonder and awe at the God who delivered us from legalism, behavior modification, and fear of man moralism. And sometimes the only way we get there is to stand still and behold the wonder apart from the things that lead us to fear (and others to joy). Abstention from the local church (tithing, fasting, etc.) for a season might be that place, but a person who is being honest with themselves and God will see quickly that they can’t stay there long.

I’m staying in the mountains of San Diego this week at over 4000 feet elevation. This morning I woke up and my skin felt so dry. I drink a lot of water usually and have been drinking my usual Dallas amount, but in this elevation I probably need to drink more. My skin was thirsting for it. I opened a bottle of water and drank the entire thing in one minute. And the strange thing is I was more thirsty after that bottle of water than before. My thirst had been whetted and I couldn’t get enough.

This is how the glory and grace of God works in every situation. It works that way in the smallest disciplines and in the smallest moments, and in the greatest. If we haven’t tasted true grace though, we don’t know what we’re missing by neglecting it. Covenant with local church is not so much a spiritual discipline, ultimately, but it is a good, good grace to a needy believer who knows their neediness and can’t wait to get more of one of God’s expressed graces to His children: the local church.

That’s just the starting point of the purpose of the local church, of course, and doesn’t cover all the purposes (and theological richness of the Church in the scope of the gospel), but hopefully it scratches the surfaces of my thoughts on this matter. Praying for your friend!

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I added up the meetings this week and they valued in the too many for any introvert. They happened in prayer rooms and offices, across coffee tables and over coffee, on our couch late at night and on my bed early in the morning. Listening, talking, walking.

We are in the work of long-suffering, of listening when it seems better to speak, of obeying when the odds suggest we not. We are submitting and silencing, seeking counsel from the wiser and counseling the weaker. It is a lasting joy, but a long-suffering one too. It is hard fought for, but sweet when it comes. It is not popular.

It is easy to create copycats. To say to say as I say and do as I do. To teach to follow me as I follow Christ. But I am not an Apostle or Christ and I quake to tell anyone to follow me. I cannot even trust me, please do not trust me. We ask for the Holy Spirit and we keep on asking, more and more, a helper and comforter, a keeper.

. . .

Today is the two-year anniversary of a little girl on my doorstep. She had a few suitcases, some guitars, no money, no car.

I have known her since she was 14, but really I have known her my whole life. We are different in many ways, but the same questions wrest our souls and tempt our hearts. Two years is not a very long time, but it can feel like an eternity when you are walking with someone who hates God and sometimes hates you too.

Then one day she was crafting a wooden baby Jesus for a nativity scene present and the God she’d crafted in her own image all her life became real. We joke about her blood on the lamb, but four hours in an emergency room on Christmas Eve was no joke. God became flesh and dwelt among her, in her, and through her. And she was changed.

I won’t deny I have been holding my breath for weeks, afraid to let it out. But today is the two-year anniversary of her coming to Texas and the two month anniversary of the day that everything changed for her.

God saved her. I got to watch the change, but I was powerless to save.

She is so much like me in so many ways, and so much like others in so many ways, but she is more and more like Jesus and the Spirit inside of her than anyone else.

I tell someone the other day that she is my letter, like Paul said of the Corinthians, “You are our letter, written on our hearts, known by all.” But not my letter, written by me for others, but “a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”

Her disciple-making is from and by Christ alone, I merely, as my pastor says, “got to play.”

Mini-me making is a passing fancy. Disciple making is a long-suffering joy.

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A few weeks back I sat across from one of my pastors while he delivered the news of my deficit. The words came in a halting tumble, the words of a messenger, not the accuser. “Do you see evidence of this in your life,” he asked. I let out my breath because no accuser is louder than the enemy in my own head. I am all those things and more, the list never stops, never ceases; pile on the claims and I will swallow every one.

“I have heard the claims,” I said, and I’ve been checking my heart and home and hearth to see if there is any wicked way in me.

He leaned in as I recounted the weeks leading up to this moment and when I finished he said, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t want to bother you,” I said, because it was the truth, but also because I was afraid.

. . .

I don’t remember when it was that I realized if God knit me together, with all my parts and pieces, then he knit me together with all my proclivities and purposes. That the same careful attention he gave to my shape and my size, he gave to my mind and my heart.

For the girl who had only ever known a deep and turning angst in her soul, this made a poem out of a pauper. I had always wrested with depression, anxiety, an unnerving panic at inopportune times. But I had also seen purpose and beauty and a haunting art to all of life too. The horrible badness about me cut me deep enough to let the piercing lightness all the way in.

Even the mundane moments, the 10,000 little moments, all of them little crosses, little funerals, the little concerns rising—these all turn me again and again to Him.

. . .

“There is an impulsivity to you,” he said. “It’s part of what makes you a treasure to us. You’re, what’s the word, bohemian? Never going to go with the flow, always on the fringe, an artist. As you submit your weaknesses to us, I don’t want you to lose the treasure of those perceived weaknesses. It’s what makes you you.”

. . .

It has taken me a very long time to learn—and I haven’t learned, but am learning—that the world is full of people to whom one way makes sense. Wrestle this way, no, not that way, this way. Be this way. Stand over here. Be this. Eat that. Don’t go there. Advice is a thousand times more common than real affirmation and real affirmation is so heavy laden with flattery we most times can’t see anything straight.

And this we know: in our weakness, He is glorified. In our weakness, He is made strong. In every way we cannot do, it is because He has done. In every “I don’t know,” or “I have failed,” He says, “Come to me all you who are heavy laden.” And in this we rejoice.

I did not rejoice, sitting there, across from a pastor who loves me, knows me, who is for me, and, which is more, who is for Christ formed in me. Who of us rejoices when we hear our accusation? But I rejoiced later and 10,000 times since. Every day a reminder that I have miles to go before I arrive at eternity’s door. Every day a reminder that God knew what He was doing when he knit me—just as I am and full of so much more.

As he passed by,
he saw a man blind from birth.
And his disciples asked him,
“Rabbi, who sinned,
this man or his parents,
that he was born blind?”

Jesus answered,
“It was not that this man sinned,
or his parents,
but that the works of God
might be displayed in him.
John 9:3

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The quietest voice in my life this time last year was God’s. He was saying, “I have more for you in your singleness,” but I didn’t trust Him. There were louder voices, more immediate voices, more pressing ones—even my own voice, certain that if I did not get married on March 16, I would lose my chance for marriage forever.

See how nagging the voice of doubt?

The belief that God won’t come through. That He will leave me without the thing I want. That He will give me less than what I desire. That He hasn’t heard my specific prayers and requests. That He doesn’t care about my proclivities and inclinations and desires. That everything I love and desire is simply an idol, with nothing good in it. The belief that He has gotten it wrong.

Tim Keller said, “Worry is not believing God will get it right, and bitterness is believing God got it wrong.”

This is the creeping doubt that festered in my mind most of 2014. The voices around me seemed louder and more persistent than God’s voice and I felt myself sinking under their demands to be heard. I was the wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind, unstable in all my ways (James 1:6).

But the small voice persisted: I have more for you in this.

I feared that His “more for me” would be a life of begrudging singleness, alone, fearful, unloved, unseen. I feared His “more for me” would mean pretending to enjoy something that wasn’t enjoyable, and felt eternal and long. I feared He would call me to a life of celibacy and I wouldn’t be able to say with the Apostle Paul that it was better.

. . .

It has been a strange seeing that has happened this year. Singleness ceased becoming the lens through which I viewed life, and it became the thing that I have found myself most grateful for this past year. I fear even saying that because it may sound like I have resigned myself to a life I still would not choose for myself. But the truth is I have seen the great gift—and goodness—of my singlehood.

I may have said before that marriage was an equal blessing to singleness, but I struggled to believe that in my heart of hearts. How could having less ever be equal to having more?

. . .

This morning I was sorting through emails—requests for writing, speaking, interviews, job offers—and one persistent theme in them all is that I am a woman and I am single. I have never thought my womanhood not a gift, why would I think my singleness not a gift? Just as God in His sovereignty made me a woman, He made me single today. The same attention and care that went into knitting me together in my mother’s womb, with brown hair and blue eyes, this mind, this heart, all five foot one inch of me that I would someday become, He put that same attention and care into making me who I am today, February 19th, 2015, unmarried.

If that is true, that He is just as attentive to my womanhood as He is to my singlehood, then I have to see it as a gift. One unique thing I bring to my local church is my womanhood—and all the proclivities and oddities that make me me, but I also bring to my church my singlehood.

Yesterday I had a meeting with one of my lead pastors to talk about how we can do better in caring for women at our church and as the meeting was coming to an end, he asked a question about singles and if any of our blind spots in regard to women might be related to our blind spots in regard to singles. I left that meeting thinking, “What a blessing to be able to be a woman and a single today!”

. . .

Whatever it is you’re afraid of today, whatever you’re holding on to, despite God saying, “I have more for you in your lack than in your envisioned plenty,” consider letting it slip through your grasp. Sometimes less is more. God’s equations and equality cannot compare to ours—think of Christ, who of all men deserved to be exalted and yet did not count equality as something to be grasped, but became obedient to death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:6).

Singleness is not a cross to bear. The final cross has already been born and because of it, we have been set free to count all things as loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Him (Phil 4:8). Whatever He is asking you to trust him with—job loss, singleness, barrenness, moving, your life—count it as loss, one tear, one painful pull, one crashing moment of grief at a time.

Knowing Him surpasses it all.

mydesign

I have always owned a Bible, scribbled and tattered, ignored or forgotten, but always one somewhere. For most of my life my Bibles were reminders of ways I’d fallen short, paged taskmasters holding the ruler of law over my head. I knew they were supposed to contain the words of life, but mostly they felt like death.

It was a surprising conundrum, then, when the words of the Bible that first preached the gospel to me came from the first verse of the first chapter of the first book. Genesis 1:1. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

And the girl who loved words suddenly loved the Word.

Whenever people ask me when I was saved, the easy answer is before the foundations of the earth I was known. The more difficult answer is that I don’t know. I don’t have a calendar date, a circled number to celebrate. I do know I did not understand the character of God until a hot night in September of 2010, on the front row seat at my church’s old campus. And, which is perhaps more, it was the first night I understood that I would never understand the character of God. That His character was as limitless as His creation, as limitless as the “beginning.”

In the time it took to read those ten words, words I had known almost the entirety of my life, I knew my life would never be the same. Through the most rudimentary verse, the one every Christian and most non-Christians can quote, the one we have all read on January first a thousand times over, the Lord opened the eyes of my heart and gave me the slightest glimpse of Him.

I cannot explain it. I cannot explain what I was before—someone who had much knowledge and practice of faith—and what I became after that night. But I was changed.

Since then my thirst for the word, not as a map or guide, nor a dictionary or textbook, but as life has never stopped growing. It is the method, the joy, the comfort, the truth, and so much more. In its pages contain the truest things ever existing: the character of God communicated to his people through every generation. Every verse tells of the gospel if we look hard enough, every book shouts of the plan of a master storyteller.

From the beginning until the amen, it gifts God to us and us to God.

And it will change us.

Tonight my church is beginning a series in the book of James and I cannot wait. The book of James is what my parents would make me write, in its entirety, every time my mouth ran away with itself (which was nearly every day for two years of my childhood). Those composition books were filled with angry scribbled transcriptions and I resented my parents for taming my tongue in this way. But now, twenty years later, those words have become life, the discipline of faith and works, patience and action, words and quiet, they point to a more true thing than a curbed tongue. They point to the sanctifying work of a God who takes a very, very long time to grow us up, make things clear, and bring us into paths of life, to Himself.

His word is a lamp to our feet, no matter how far they have to travel. His word is a light to our path, no matter how long it seems to ramble on.

“To be feminine is to nurture, not merely respond.”

I read this quote in a book and was warmed by its presence. In a complementarian culture it can be tempting to tout the party line, “Men initiate, women respond,” as though the complexities of human nature and God-ordained orders can be summed up in pithy four word statements.

What about all the women we see in scripture who initiated and the men who responded? “Yes, but order!” the dogmatic pounds his fist and says with the full authority of Paul and the early church behind him. But what about Eve, the mother of all living, the nurturer of life (Gen 3:20)? Adam may have planted the seed, but it was Eve who did all the work. Isn’t this the nature of nurturing? And isn’t that also an initiating, sustaining work?

The real work of a woman is to be long-suffering. To see what is—but also what can be, and then to nurture it every step along the way (Prov 31). This is an initiating work if there is one because all around us the message is to stop when the going gets tough, make time for me, to treat ourselves, to omit or abort what is inconvenient. The real work of the feminine woman is to work and to keep and to tend and to pioneer forward in the face of risk and uncertainty and what is frightening (I Pet 3:6).

The real work of the feminine woman is to initiate kingdom work on earthly soil, to sleep by the seeds deep under the dirt, and to burst with anticipation and then at last joy when her work is born (Rom 8:22).

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Galatians 6:9

Today is her first day of school. Orientation, really, but I have learned to count the small blessings. She crawled into my bed last night and we talked about everything until I was falling asleep and she was too giddy to sleep. “Thank you for bearing with me,” she said. And of course it’s okay, I said, it’s my joy, but what I was thinking was how long the paths to life are and how very thorny along the way.

This morning I woke up to make her breakfast, toast and eggs, runny like she likes them, and I thought of the person who made me go to college orientation a dozen years ago. I was a wounded bird in those years and the thought of a classroom frightened and intimidated me, but at her urging I went. I was out of place, older than all my classmates, wildly unprepared for the liberal atmosphere, and I thrived. I sent her a message this morning: thank you for making me go to school, for sticking with me.

. . .

Some friends and I talked late last night about discipleship and long-sufferingness. The long road is, as I said, thorny along the way and we are too often softened by psychology and words like “healthy boundaries” and “my time.” To disciple is to make and to mature, but it often seems a far more glorious thing to make than to mature. We grow lazy and pass people off, as if they were the baton we pass instead of the message we ought to be passing.

This morning I think about how Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and how desperately we all long for that. But he did it at home, in his father’s house, sweeping the sawdust, listening to his mother, caring for his siblings, learning to craft furniture and construct buildings, learning Torah. He did it for years and years and years and years and years, in faithful discipleship from those around him. And others did it with him—even those who knew his true nature as Messiah.

Haven’t we grown weary though? In doing good? Doesn’t our good so often seem to fall on deaf or dumb or fear-filled ears? How long, oh Lord, until we see wisdom and stature from train-wrecked marriages and wayward children and unrepentant friends and, God, my own heart? How long?

Love is long-suffering, though, suffering long. The way is thorny and marked with setbacks plenty. We will administer correction or challenge or wisdom, or walk so long with someone through darkness it feels like the end is never coming.

. . .

I sit with someone yesterday and talk about how a seed can’t grow to maturity if we keep digging it up and replanting it. It has to bed itself deep in the dark earth, it needs the musky darkness to break open and grow, and then it needs light and water and time to grow into maturity and we cannot rush that process—no matter how difficult it is to stay, to be long-suffering, to enter in, to do the difficult work of people.

We need stayers in the kingdom, those who will do the difficult work of discipleship, who walk with the weak as they grow in wisdom and stature, in spiritual things and physical things, in intangible ways and tangible ways. Long-suffering makers and maturers.

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