Everyday Awe

Wired for Praise

Psalm 92

Jesus once said  the Sabbath was created for man, not man for the Sabbath.

 

And so when I read the description of Psalm 92, and it says it is a Psalm written for the Sabbath, I see it is a Psalm written for us.

 

How is a Psalm of praise for us? Isn’t it for God? When we praise Him, isn’t it for Him?

 

There was a great video circulating awhile back about happiness. They invited people into a room, and asked them some questions that measured their happiness. Then, they had them call someone they cared about, and thank them for being in their lives. After that, they measured their happiness again.

 

People were noticeably happier after practicing gratitude and experiencing connection.

 

Could it be that it’s part of our wiring? That we are meant for praise, not because of what it does for God, but because of what it does for us? (Even if it pleases God as well?)

 

Praise has a way of re-orienting our hearts. It is good for us.

“It is good to praise the Lord
    and make music to your name, O Most High,
proclaiming your love in the morning
    and your faithfulness at night”

-       Psalm 92:1-2

 

Praise is good. And it leads to a brighter future for us.

 

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,
    they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
 planted in the house of the Lord,
    they will flourish in the courts of our God.

-Psalm 92:12-13

 

I don’t think the flourishing of the righteous is a reward for our praise, as if God restricts His gifts for those who have praised Him first.

 

I wonder if the reason the righteous flourish is because they are those who have hearts oriented towards seeing the gifts of God.

 

Something happens within us when we have a rhythm of Sabbath. When we stop to notice God, it is good for us.

 


That was my reflection on Psalm 92. Link up with yours below. Or come back next week with thoughts on Psalm 93.

Giving Up… My Filters

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Awhile back, I was at the science museum with my family. There was a station set up to learn about filtration systems. A guy was there with large pretend filters, one with large gaps, one with medium gaps, and one with small gaps. He was challenging kids to throw balls and try to make it through the holes. It was easy to see how each of the layers of the filter was important: one to catch large particles, one to catch medium, and one to catch small.

We all know what it’s like to be around someone with no filter. There can be a lot of unintentional relational damage from someone who always speaks their mind all the time.

Me? I veer too far in the other direction. I over-filter and over-edit myself. Even in writing this post, I have pressed the backspace button way too many times for the amount of words I have written.

Bear with me, for in the spirit of giving up this over-filtering, I’m going to write the rest of this post unedited. (Except for spelling mistakes. I will fix those. I don’t think I can take this “giving up” practice that far…)

I have had this awareness of myself before, but last night, I realized it in new ways. I had a difficult afternoon, and I called a friend to talk about it. While I was still crying. And I thought, “I don’t know if I’ve ever done this before.”

I talk pretty openly about my life, but not when I’m knee deep in the middle of things. I wait until it’s safe. I wait until I can edit and filter and present the version of myself that can handle it. That is ok. That trusts God in spite of life circumstances.

I edit the version of me I present to others.

And without realizing it, I also edit the version of myself I present to God.

Though I am the type of person who shouts from the rooftops about the importance of honesty in prayer, of coming to God as you are without concern for how you should be, about yelling your frustrations because after all, if he is God, he can handle it, I have only pretended to do that myself.

I have come honest, but only after pausing to edit my honesty first.

Yesterday, after this conversation, I prayed. And I prayed ugly. My words were more raw and messy and truthful than they have been for a long time. Maybe ever. And I realized how scared I really was to utter those things outloud, and how I had only faked rawness before that point.

I removed one layer, and thought that meant I was being raw. But  I wasn’t unfiltered, I was only less filtered.

It wasn’t intentional. I can think of only a few times I have hid on purpose. But with each layer that God pulls back, I am finally able to see the other layer that is behind it.

And I’m pushing my way through, one at a time.

It is a mix of discipline and trust to give up this editing practice. The discipline of saying: I’m going to write this without pressing backspace, I’m going to have this conversation when I can’t yet articulate what’s wrong, I’m going to pray my questions before they have answers. And the trust of saying: I can’t control this process, I believe I will still be loved regardless of how things sound, I understand that my mess is just as much the real me as my beauty.

The trusting part? That will take time and prayer and the movement of the Holy Spirit more than anything else. But the discipline part? I can do something about that. I can push my way into things that are painful and uncomfortable and ugly and unedited knowing that it’s worth it.

Christ is sitting on the other side of my filters with his hand reached out. He longs for greater intimacy than I’ve allowed. He is already holding my hand, but he wants more of me than that. He is waiting to embrace the whole of who I am, once these things blocking the way are removed. He is patient.

It’s up to me to admit that I need to give up my filters. Christ won’t force it. But He also won’t judge me for how long it takes. He is with me, pouring his grace through any of the cracks that will let it get through.


Giving Up… is a Lenten Series asking a question: What if we gave up more than external things for Lent? It’s not a belief that we can get rid of our baggage as easily as we can write a blog post. But, it is a belief that admitting those things that keep us from deeper intimacy with Christ is a good start. {Please note, this isn’t in any way meant to be a critique of those giving up something external. Often that is connected to the internal in a powerful way. In my case, though, I realized that the external sacrifice was hindering me from dealing with what was going on below the surface.}

Psalm 91

Question 1: How often do you read about the Bible?

Question 2: How often do you read the Bible?

I don’t know about you, but my time is more heavily weighted towards question 1 than question 2. So, instead of writing my own thoughts about Psalm 91 this week, I’d like to just leave you with the words of the Psalm itself, in the Message translation.

I particularly like the ending.

You who sit down in the High God’s presence,
spend the night in Shaddai’s shadow,
Say this: “God, you’re my refuge.
I trust in you and I’m safe!”
That’s right—he rescues you from hidden traps,
shields you from deadly hazards.

His huge outstretched arms protect you—
under them you’re perfectly safe;
his arms fend off all harm.
Fear nothing—not wild wolves in the night,
not flying arrows in the day,
Not disease that prowls through the darkness,
not disaster that erupts at high noon.
Even though others succumb all around,
drop like flies right and left,
no harm will even graze you.
You’ll stand untouched, watch it all from a distance,
watch the wicked turn into corpses.

Yes, because God’s your refuge,
the High God your very own home,
Evil can’t get close to you,
harm can’t get through the door.
He ordered his angels
to guard you wherever you go.
If you stumble, they’ll catch you;
their job is to keep you from falling.
You’ll walk unharmed among lions and snakes,
and kick young lions and serpents from the path.

“If you’ll hold on to me for dear life,” says God,
“I’ll get you out of any trouble.
I’ll give you the best of care
if you’ll only get to know and trust me.
Call me and I’ll answer, be at your side in bad times;
I’ll rescue you, then throw you a party.
I’ll give you a long life,
give you a long drink of salvation!”

 Psalm 91.jpg


That was my post on Psalm 91. Link up with your own below. And stop back next week to hear and share thoughts on Psalm 92.

Giving Up… A Series for Lent

I have often given up something for Lent. Usually sweets.

 

For me, often hidden behind the deep spiritual meaning of fasting was the desire to Just. Loose. Some. Weight. Please.

 

For many of us, that’s the case when it comes to this season of fasting and giving up. We want to do something that helps us sacrifice and center. And that desire comes from a good place of wanting to connect with Jesus more deeply. But mixed in with that healthy desire is all the rest of our baggage and ill-conceived desires that get in the way.

 

At least that’s what happens to me.

 

And so, I was thinking… what if for Lent, I tried to give up those things? What if I worked on giving up those under-the-surface desires and fears and burdens that are really behind me not committing more wholly to Jesus?

 

Giving up on caring how much I am liked, or giving up on holding it all together (or at least looking like I am), or giving up on being comfortable.

 

Is it possible to do something to give up those things for Lent?

 

These things are deep-seated fears and desires that can’t be unwedged from my hidden corners with any one simple action. Would it really help to try?

 

A simple action may not solve anything. But maybe writing could be a start.

 

And so, I’d like to introduce my new series, “Giving Up… A Series for Lent.”

 

This will not be much like the other Lenten series I have done. In keeping with my desire to learn to BE in 2014, this series is going to be a little more raw. A public confession of sorts. Maybe even with the accountability of an action to go along with it. And perhaps even with the vulnerability to receive suggestions in the comments.

 

Once a week, starting after Ash Wednesday, I will swallow hard and admit something I need to give up. Not in order to understand more about the unimaginable sacrifice of Jesus (because really, can we do that anyway?), but to understand more of His unconditional love.

 

Would you join with me on this (frightening) journey?

 

(P.S. Anyone interested in making this a link-up? I would love to hear what you want to give up too!)

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Numbering Our Days Aright

 

Time passes differently while walking about the Alpine cities of Europe.

Sure, everything is different on vacation anyway. No looming deadlines. No daily obligations. No frantic efforts to complete a to-do list. (At least, this is vacation as it should be…)

But even if it wasn’t vacation, my time spent in Europe would have felt different.

For I realized just how small I am.

My eyes were surrounded by buildings erected hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of years before I had come to stand in front to them. And behind those, mountains, erected before the foundations of the cities were even laid.

My ears were surrounded with the chatter of languages I did not speak, and could not understand. Person after person had a story I would never know. I may have brushed by people considered very important in their businesses and families and communities, but to me, they were simply one of the crowd.

I was humbled.

If there are so many people around us in the here and now who will never know who we are, is there any chance who we are and what we do will have any sort of lasting impact? Hundreds of years from now, will any of the things that consume our days have made any difference?

We could take that thought in the direction of the teacher in Ecclesiastes, and wonder in despair if everything is meaningless. But that’s not the effect it had on me.

The sights of history and foreignness brought a sense of relief. These things I juggle everyday, that I struggle to keep afloat, that cause me to ache with the tiredness of fear that they might drop, none of them are as important as I make them out to be.

{Deep sigh}

When I read Psalm 90, its words have the same effect. To be honest, it is a psalm with a mixed bag of words, with some verses about wrath and anger I wish weren’t there. But also? It is a Psalm that brings perspective.

I am not that important. Thanks be to God.

Psalm 90-1-2.jpg

psalm 90-4.jpgPsalm 90 12.jpgPsalm 90-17


That was my reflection on Psalm 90 (with some pictures from my amazing European vacation this past fall.) Link up with your reflection below. Or come back next week with thoughts on Psalm 91.

A Surprise Ending with An Important Lesson

Psalm 89

Sometimes in our cynicism, we make assumptions about people’s faith.

If we hear people say something like this

I will sing of the LORD’s unfailing love forever!
Young and old will hear of your faithfulness.
Your unfailing love will last forever.
Your faithfulness is as enduring as the heavens. – Psalm 89:1-2

We think they are probably the kind of people who are filled with platitudes and pat answers.

Or if we hear people say something like this

All heaven will praise your great wonders, LORD;
myriads of angels will praise you for your faithfulness.
For who in all of heaven can compare with the LORD?
What mightiest angel is anything like the LORD?
The highest angelic powers stand in awe of God.
He is far more awesome than all who surround his throne.
O LORD God of Heaven’s Armies!
Where is there anyone as mighty as you, O LORD?
You are entirely faithful. – Psalm 89:5-8

Or this

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne.
Unfailing love and truth walk before you as attendants.
Happy are those who hear the joyful call to worship,
for they will walk in the light of your presence, LORD.
They rejoice all day long in your wonderful reputation.
They exult in your righteousness. –Psalm 89:14-16

We think they are probably people who walk around with rose-colored glasses with blinders on the sides, always seeing God’s faithfulness and never noticing pain.

The second half of Psalm 89 blows those types of assumptions out of the water.

The Psalmist transitions from words like this

No, I will not break my covenant;
I will not take back a single word I said.
I have sworn an oath to David,
and in my holiness I cannot lie – Psalm 89:34-35

To words like this

But now you have rejected him and cast him off.
You are angry with your anointed king.
You have renounced your covenant with him;
you have thrown his crown in the dust. –Psalm 89:38-39

And we see that his faith is not easy after all.

The Psalmist moves from praising God to questioning Him, all in the same Psalm.

O LORD, how long will this go on?
Will you hide yourself forever?
How long will your anger burn like fire? – Psalm 89:46

So, what are we to do with a Psalm that seems to contradict itself, from one half to the next?

Stick with it. Read the whole thing. Don’t make assumptions about the person writing the words of either half without connecting them to one each other.

If we stay with this Psalm from beginning to end, if we read through both the overflowing praise that might makes us assume his life is easy, and the frustrated cries that might make us assume he has lost his faith, these seemingly contrasting postures come into focus.

The Psalmist knows God is faithful. He demonstrates with verse after verse how much this is his wholehearted belief. And so, when he experiences pain, he does not walk away from it. He moves right towards it. He picks up his frustration, confidently takes it to God. He knows there must be some way to reconcile it.

The Psalmist’s unwavering belief in God’s faithfulness is precisely what causes him to wrestle with the Lord.

Wrestling is not a sign of weak faith. It is a sign of a strong one.


That was my reflection on Psalm 89. Link up with your own below. Or come back next week with your thoughts on Psalm 90.

An Invitation to Jump

I have been thinking a lot lately about how much I think I know about God’s love. Yet my knowledge tends to rest in my head more than my heart. I felt God inviting me to more today. This is me putting to words what I have heard in my heart. I hope they serve as an invitation for your heart, as they did for mine.


My dear one,
Do you know how much I love you?
Do you really understand?

Would you pause
And make your heart listen today?
Instead of just your mind?

Do you know that the largest mountains on this planet
Are not found on the top of the earth?
They are found in the depths of the ocean.

From the surface,
The waters of the sea look flat.

It is only when you dive in
That you are able to understand
And experience
The width and depth,
The wonder and life,
Contained within it.

So it is with My love.

I know that sometimes
It feels like My love for you is not enough.

You are drifting along the surface.
You can’t comprehend what lies below.

And so you remain on your boat.
You hide.
You are afraid.
You work harder to stay your course.
You fill your vessel with other things.

Pause.

Do you hear me calling to you?

Jump in.

Come closer.

Know that I am not trying to trick you.
You can breath within
The waters of My love.

It will be different
Than the safe air
And known atmosphere of the surface.
But it will be better.

Plunge down deep.
Explore without fear.

There is depth and beauty waiting for you.

You do not need to do anything
Or be anything
Besides who you are right now.
I have made you for this.

Trust Me.
I love you.

depth of love

Depression is Biblical

Psalm 88Depression carries a stigma for those who suffer under its weight.

On top of the burden that already exists for those who live with it, we place shame and doubt and frustration. It’s cruel and unnecessary.

There is a particular stigma that exists within the Christian subculture that depression is somehow wrong. People are led to believe it is somehow a sign of not having enough faith or not being inside God’s will or having done something to displease God.

That idea is not biblical. Not in the slightest.

I challenge anyone who says that depression is outside of the experience of a person of faith to read Psalm 88. These are the words of someone who is in the midst of deep anguish. In fact, at the front end, the Psalm declares itself “A song to be sung to the tune ‘The Suffering of Affliction.’”

Listen to the words of Psalm 88 from the New Living Translation.

O LORD, God of my salvation,
     I cry out to you by day.
     I come to you at night.
Now hear my prayer;
     listen to my cry.
For my life is full of troubles,
     and death draws near.
I am as good as dead,
     like a strong man with no strength left.
They have left me among the dead,
     and I lie like a corpse in a grave.
I am forgotten,
     cut off from your care.
You have thrown me into the lowest pit,
     into the darkest depths.
Your anger weighs me down;
     with wave after wave you have engulfed me.      Interlude
You have driven my friends away
     by making me repulsive to them.
I am in a trap with no way of escape.
     My eyes are blinded by my tears.
Each day I beg for your help, O LORD;
     I lift my hands to you for mercy.
Are your wonderful deeds of any use to the dead?
     Do the dead rise up and praise you?      Interlude
Can those in the grave declare your unfailing love?
     Can they proclaim your faithfulness in the place of destruction?
Can the darkness speak of your wonderful deeds?
     Can anyone in the land of forgetfulness talk about your righteousness?
O LORD, I cry out to you.
     I will keep on pleading day by day.
O LORD, why do you reject me?
     Why do you turn your face from me?
I have been sick and close to death since my youth.
     I stand helpless and desperate before your terrors.
Your fierce anger has overwhelmed me.
     Your terrors have paralyzed me.
They swirl around me like floodwaters all day long.
     They have engulfed me completely.
You have taken away my companions and loved ones.
     Darkness is my closest friend. 

This is not a Psalm of easy answers. It is filled with brokenness and pain.

I think this Psalm teaches us an important lesson: let’s stop trying to fix people. This Psalm does not have platitudes. It does not pretend things are explainable. It does not fix. It does not resolve.

Psalm 88 sits in pain with its singer. Its words come alongside like a friend, offering the safety of honesty and presence.

Parker Palmer has written about his experience as a Christian suffering from depression and how people responded to him. Many people visited him during his darkest days, trying to help, but many of them just added to the hurt.

But one friend, one friend brought his presence in the most beautiful way.

“Blessedly, there were several people, family and friends, who had the courage to stand with me in a simple and healing way. One of them was a man who, having asked my permission to do so, stopped by late every afternoon, sat me down in a chair, knelt in front of me, removed my shoes and socks, and for half an hour simply massaged my feet. He found the only place in my body where I could still experience bodily feeling—and feel connected with the human race.

He rarely spoke a word, and when he did, he never gave advice but simply mirrored my condition. He would say, “I can sense your struggle today,” or, “It feels like you are getting stronger.” I could not always respond, but his words were deeply helpful: They reassured me that I could still be seen by at least on person, life-giving knowledge in the midst of an experience that makes one feel annihilated and invisible. It is almost impossible to put into words what my friend’s ministry meant to me.”

Let’s follow this example. Let’s enter with people in their pain and not try to fix them. Let’s give those who are suffering space to simply be without adding the burden of shame to their already heavy load.

Psalm 88 shows a God who wants to be present with us in the midst of it, without easy answers. Let’s provide that presence for one another.


That was my reflection on Psalm 88. Link up with your own reflection below. Or stop back next week with a reflection on Psalm 89.

A Prayer for Our Work

A Prayer for Our WorkI’ve been working in one form or another since I was 13 years old, first as a babysitter, than as a McDonald’s employee. I was one of the rare people who worked fast food for more than a week. I worked there 3 years. In my adult life, I have been an autism therapist, a children’s pastor,  a stay at home mom, and now, a leader in a different church community.

Work has been a big part of my life, just as I’m sure it has been for yours. Work is part of our shared experience as humans, however varied the form that work takes in our lives.

But what is God’s purpose for work? If it’s where we spend so much of our time, what does it look like to live out our faith in that setting?

Work was part of God’s plan from the beginning. It is not a result of a broken world. It is not a mistake. It is intrinsically good. It is part of the design of humanity to partner with God in creation.

God could have filled the earth himself, but he invited humanity to be co-creators with him; to build upon his foundation, and create cultures, societies, cities, art, and more.

Sadly, though, after the perfection and harmony of the beginning, Adam and Eve became convinced that God was holding out on them. They grasped for something they were meant to find in God alone. They ate the one fruit they were told not to have, sin entered the world, and the effects snowballed immediately.

Before long, God pronounced His judgment about what would happen to them and to the world as a result of their choice. One of the big consequences was the nature of work.

Today we know how often work is difficult. That’s why complaining about it is one of the most common topics of conversation between friends.

The thing is, the Bible talks about the frustration of work, too. I love that the Bible doesn’t pretend things are easier than they are.

As part of our church sermon series on work, I did a message about the toil of work, and how Christ meets us there to redeem it. The above words were part of that message, along with a few more. I  thought I would share a link to listen to that message if you are interested.

Click here and listen to the message called “The Reward of Work.”

And, as part of that message, I also wrote a prayer that I wanted to share with you. A prayer for how Christ might use our work to bring His redemption and grace. You can click on the picture above to print out a 5 by 7  graphic, or just read from the text below:

Christ, work through me today
To bring healing into hurt
To find potential in others
To shine light into darkness
To create beauty in ugliness
To bring order into chaos.
Christ, work in me today
To feel humility regardless of success
To be disciplined regardless of accountability
To find joy regardless of reward
To love regardless of how I am loved
To seek You regardless of what else pulls my attention.
Christ, work on my behalf today,
As I rest in my identity as Your beloved.

Whatever kind of work you find yourself in today, whether in or out of the home, that is my prayer for you.

Learning the Language of Authenticity

authenticity“Vulnerability will probably always be difficult for you.”

When my therapist said this to me, my first reaction was defensive. Surely that’s not true. If it’s something we seek to do and strive to be, isn’t genuine openness something we can accomplish?

My fear of my own weakness perhaps proved her point.

I’ve since been thinking about the way authenticity and vulnerability are languages. Some speak these languages fluently, as stories and words about weakness and struggle roll off their tongues easily, sounding smooth yet perfectly rough around the edges.

Others are like me. We sputter and hesitate as we search for the vocabulary of a language that for whatever reason is not natural to us. As hard as we try, we seem to communicate with a thick accent, never quite certain why we have it and others do not.

I want so desperately to be fluent in the language of authenticity. But it is a slow and difficult learning. It is a process in which I am faced with the reality that I will probably always have to work at it.

I have been labeled as inauthentic. It is a label that stings, because I value vulnerability so highly.

If you sat across the table from me and asked me a question about my life, I can’t think of any I wouldn’t answer with full disclosure. I am not afraid to be honest. Sometimes I have to swallow hard, but I have learned to be brave.

I promise you my hiding is not conscious. I doubt it is for most who have been thought of as inauthentic in one way or another.

For some, the walls we built in response to past hurts are buried so deeply within us that we don’t even realize how they have joined into the structure that holds us together.

I just recently discovered walls in me I thought I had torn down years ago.

For some, our gifts become so entwined with our weaknesses, that we don’t realize how and when they cross over and hurt instead of help.

I have been gifted with the ability to be verbally quick on my feet. I process meetings and interpersonal interactions at a rapid pace and can often put my thoughts to words without many “ums” or tangents distracting from the oral target.

But this same skill on the flipside can make me sound like someone who is always measuring my words. Who is trying too hard to sound like I have it all together. And maybe I am doing that and don’t realize it. But I’m not trying to. It’s an accent that I can’t seem to shake.

It’s hard to learn how to share and speak differently while still maintaining my own voice. If I try to imitate others who I admire for their sharing, I end up copying too much. And suddenly, instead of becoming more proficient in a language, I become a plagiarist of someone else’s voice, and it all comes off like some sort of bad SNL impression.

I don’t know how to speak more fluently and still be me. I’m trying, but it feels awkward. And I know I get it wrong just as often as I get it right.

And I often feel beat up for my efforts.

Our culture seems to value those who are already fluent in the language of authenticity. It does little to reward and encourage those of us who are sputtering along, searching for the vocabulary.

There’s an assumption what we are trying to conceal our true selves. That we are working hard to craft how you see us. Perceived inauthenticity is often judged as conscious hiding. But I don’t think that is often the case.

The truth is, we don’t know. We’re not afraid of vulnerability; we simply and truly don’t know when we are covering ourselves. Would you be patient with us as we learn to be ourselves?

Authenticity is a difficult language to learn. Let’s encourage each other not just for our fluency, but for our sputtered, sloppy, and thick-accented attempts at speaking it.

What do you think? Is vulnerability difficult for you? Is authenticity a language you struggle to speak? Have you felt beat up in your efforts?