Be Still

POSTED for Joy of It ON November 15, 2018 IN FaithGuest Blogger

Eugene Peterson once said,

“Every once in awhile, when I get tired of living by faith, I…watch the Orioles play baseball. For a couple hours I am in a world that is defined by exactly measured lines and precise, geometric patterns…”

He goes on to describe a carefully controlled environment with understandable and known boundaries in which the rules are perfectly understood and everyone knows to abide by them. If they don’t, the consequences are clearly seen.

When I get tired of living by faith, I walk over to my bookshelf and pick up a novel.

And if it is a particularly trying time, it is a Jane Austen novel. When my husband finds me like this he knows better than to ask pertinent questions such as: “Where are the kids?” and “Have they been fed?” The trail of cracker crumbs and empty Capri Suns in the kitchen reveal that they have taken advantage of the rare opportunity to raid the pantry while Mom is otherwise occupied.

Meanwhile, I am immersed in 18th century England, where all the problems of the world can be wrapped up in a matter of hours. Everything you are hoping for comes true. Each character who you worried was untrustworthy is found to be so. Misunderstandings are resolved for the good of those who are good. And those you have come to love the most will find love themselves. It all works out, just as it should.

In day to day life, however, the untrustworthy can be a little harder to discover. Misunderstandings seem to linger. Not everyone is loved as they could be. And I believe our default mode is to numb this in whatever ways we can. We probably most often do this with our various forms of busyness and mindlessness and endless preoccupation with entertainment, information, or other people’s thoughts that are always waiting for us at our fingertips.

We’re all well practiced in nuanced forms of escape from the unresolved and complex world we live in.

Then, when we pause long enough to turn to God, it is easy to want Him to resolve all the conflicts just as quickly as we present them. Like, in the span of an afternoon…

Is not one of Our Lord’s most difficult words to us the admonition to “Be Still?” Obedience to that command requires deep submission.

When God says, “Be still and know that I am God” in Psalm 46:10 it is spoken even though the nations are raging and the mountains are trembling.

Eugene Peterson goes on to say that although we all appreciate a world with as clearly defined lines as a baseball game, there is clarity to be found in the life of faith. However, “faith invades the muddle, it does not eliminate it. Peace develops in the midst of chaos. Harmony is achieved slowly, quietly, unobtrusively-like the effects of salt and light…”

I think we all run so fervently away from being still before God though, because as long as we do, we can keep up our carefully crafted illusion that we are in control. Stillness helps us remember who actually is.

Sometimes the person I’m most afraid of meeting in the stillness is myself.

In the quiet, my failures, fears, and inabilities to think my way out of what I’m facing loom large. They can feel like the monstrous waves that threatened to capsize the disciples boat while Jesus was asleep at the stern. It forces me to remember yet again that the wind and the waves still obey His voice.

Sometimes the person I’m most afraid of meeting in the stillness is God, because I cannot control the Spirit. I cannot make God give me an answer to my questions the moment I ask them. I may ask them, but I do not know when I might hear an answer.

This is difficult for a production oriented person like myself who also likes to know what I’m getting. When I go the supermarket, I expect fruit to look a certain way. When I go to my favorite coffee shop, I know what the drink should taste like.

When I sit still before God, however, I have no idea what part of Himself is going to be revealed to me.

Is it His holiness, mercy, justice, grace, power, or provision? Or will I hear silence, or a rebuke, a correction, a pricking of conscience? I have no idea what part of myself is going to be exposed. This is not some tame exercise. I cannot predict it, nor can I control it. It is easier to resort to escapism or busyness, maintaining my hands on the wheel, attempting to steer towards immediate and tangible results. Trying desperately to create my own happy ending.

But my very inability to control God in the stillness, should be a very great assurance that I am actually meeting with the living God, and not some idol, made in my own image, willing to do whatever I say.

And even though I don’t know which part of Himself God will reveal to me in the quiet, I can know where I stand before Him, as one chosen and dearly loved, bought with the precious blood of His Son. Adopted. Redeemed. Secure. And so I need not fear His quiet, His rebuke, or His plan.

In that place, I can be still and know that He is God.

Living in the Tension Between Right and Wrong

A few months back, I accidentally walked my entire family through the front door of a complete stranger’s house, much to the residents’ surprise. Let me explain.

On that particular Sunday afternoon, my family and I were driving around neighborhoods looking at open houses. Fully absorbed in my own context, we drove up to this particular house. There was a For Sale sign in the yard, and even a realtor tent on the front porch with little bootie slippers in a basket. OBVIOUSLY this was another open house. I looked in the window and saw people of different generations and races. Naturally, I assumed, there were multiple families scoping it out. I had a moment of pause, but only a slight one, and decided to open the front door and escort my family right in.

This house, however, was not, how do you say… open. Oh no, this was simply a mixed-race family whose grandparents were visiting, attempting to have lunch after church, in their own home. They had had a showing earlier in the day, hence the booties on the front porch.

As if the breaking and entering were not bad enough, they insisted on showing us around, extending grace and smiles all the while. It was all I could do to humbly tiptoe through and then awkwardly slip out the front door without tripping in my hurry.

Embarrassed is too small a word to explain how I felt.  You see, I pride myself on being able to read situations accurately. I have a lot of experience, both professionally and personally, guiding and reading rooms and environments to assess what is really going on. I would even go so far as to say that I have the gift of discernment. And that is all well and good when I am actually being discerning and using the gifts God has given me. It is quite another when I am heading into a situation so full of my own story that I do not see it at all for what it is. It is in those moments when the truth may be staring me in the face, but I refuse to acknowledge it, so caught up am I in defending my side of it.

Realizing the truth of the situation in the stranger’s house, however, immediately set me free from the need to justify myself. Once I was out of the house and removed from the embarrassment, it was actually quite freeing to admit I was wrong. Most of the time when I leave a stressful situation that didn’t go my way, I retell the story over and over in a way that gathers people to my side and helps me feel vindicated.

In fact, spinning something over and over, is a sure sign that somewhere I’m still questioning whether or not I really was right. I do this when I leave jobs, when I pull away from certain relationships, or when I make any decision that seems to put me on a trajectory that I didn’t expect. Somewhere at the bottom of the question of, “Was I right?” is the belief that as long as I was right, I shouldn’t have to worry about it anymore. I should be able to live with the consequences, because I can hold onto my rightness.

I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, but simply defending yourself when you feel right, doesn’t seem to always make things right.

A few years back, I learned this the hard way. I walked through a circumstance in which I could clearly say that I was in the right, yet things most decidedly went against me. Not a person who witnessed it said otherwise. But that wasn’t enough to make those who could help me do so. They had their own reasons for why they let it occur. My rightness could not fix the situation, and it was devastating. In the months after, when reflecting on what happened, the phrase that kept tormenting me was, “but I was right.” Yet being right did not necessarily bring comfort.

When our highest priority is to be right, it becomes incredibly difficult to extend grace, and while the specks in our brother or sister’s eyes become magnified, the logs in our own eyes can either be very greatly minimized or flat out ignored, (Matthew 7:3-4).

And the reality is, far too often, my attempts to justify myself in order to prove how right I am are much more about me being understood than about acknowledging what is true.

And TRUTH is an entirely separate entity than being right.

Truth is not dependent on circumstances, contexts,or personal preferences. Truth just is.  When you walk into somebody’s home, it is either open or it isn’t.

Jesus says, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

And those are the truest words you will ever hear. Many people think they have an insight as to what is true, but they are really more concerned with their own ability to be right.

The fullest expression of truth is found in Jesus. He is the way, the truth, and the light, (John 14:6). Jesus shatters our false pretenses of self-justification. We cannot justify ourselves and make all things right, nor were we ever meant to.

When we lay down our love of being right to become lovers of truth, we become humble, because we will first see ourselves as we really are. Being able to acknowledge the truth helps us to do what the prophet Micah said that the Lord requires of you: “to act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God,” (Micah 6:8).

This is not a call against striving to live righteously. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Righteous living clears our lives from the sin that so easily entangles and ensnares us. It is the largest self-justification of all to think that we can keep harboring sin in our lives, live however we want, and not be deceived by it. Sinful living does not lead you closer to truth.

It is merely a reminder that righteous living, while admirable, will not make you always right.  Let your righteousness lead to humility, knowing the One who makes all things right.

And let your humility help you to acknowledge when you are wrong, so that your family can laugh and tell the story over and over about the time Mom walked them into the stranger’s house with bootie slippers on their feet.

New Creation

Today is my dad’s birthday, and his sixth one in heaven... although I’m pretty sure time looks completely different to him now.  I don’t think he’s marching along on our chronological clock, celebrating what would have been his 64th year.  I think he’s busy being a new creation, in the most complete sense.

Yes, in one sense, God’s work of making us new creations has already begun.

We are promised that,

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Cor. 5:17)

And this does mean that in Christ we have been made right with God. Christ has come and defeated the penalty of sin against us. But there is a day when those who have been made righteous will be made perfect, and I am hopeful for that day. I often need to be reminded that God is making all things new, even me.  And I need to be reminded that God has complete restoration in mind.

God gave me the briefest of glimpses a few months ago of a momentary restoration. I was hurrying home one afternoon from work, trying to catch my kids at the bus stop. I saw a video message on my phone as I got home and clicked on the feed.  There, in my sister’s kitchen were the faces and voices I was expecting to hear, her daughters and hers, but over the noise, in a background video, was my dad, giving advice, telling us what mattered in life, just as he always did.  My sister was showing her girls a video that Dad had made for her when she graduated high school. My feet froze in my tracks and my hand started shaking. Since I was experiencing both of them through video, it seemed as if he was really there... and, for just a second, it was a picture of what it could have looked like if he had been there all along.  

For just a moment, God took away what has been my greatest loss.  For an instant, there was nothing to mourn.  Instead, in a heart bursting rush, there was GREAT JOY.

 All too soon my mind reasoned it’s way out of the euphoria and the pain came searing back in.

In the days and weeks afterwards, I have come back often to that moment, and it has given me great hope and anticipation for the complete work of restoration that God is going to do.

I look forward to the day when we are fully new creations, and death has been swallowed up in victory.  I am also looking forward to when the sting of death, which is sin, is completely defeated in my life.  

As it stands now, I can’t make it through breakfast before I feel the weight of my sin. I can snap at my children as I read the bible, be jealous of someone I hardly know if I happen to check Facebook, start to feel the weight of my to do list before my first cup of coffee is finished, and take too long in front of the mirror trying to make my outward appearance give me enough confidence to get out the door.  And even if I start the day out well, I surely cannot get through mid-afternoon without snapping at traffic, becoming impatient at lines, silently criticizing a co-worker in my mind, or otherwise letting discontentment reign.  This doesn’t even begin to address all the things I’ve left undone. The people I did not reach out to, the emails and texts I’ve ignored, the places I haven’t served. Then, in the still moments, there are the unanswered prayers that weigh me down, the dreams unfulfilled, the unmet expectations, the doubt and confusion and worry that plague me.

But that is not my complete story, that is just my old self, forgetting that I have been made new.

There is a word that I left out the first time I mentioned the verse that says that we are new creations, and that is: “therefore.”  2 Corinthians 5:17 actually begins with “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ…” The ‘therefore’ is important. Every verse building towards this declaration of new reminds us that it is the trials and difficulties of this life that lead towards this new beginning. In order for the new, there must be a death.  It is into darkness, that the light of the gospel shines. And it is through cracked jars of clay, that the light shines through.

Though outwardly we are wasting away, internally we are being renewed. While in this physical body, we are groaning for a heavenly dwelling. Don’t be discouraged, though we all groan through the trials of this life, they are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

And, what is mortal has yet to be fully swallowed up in life.  Like in the small picture of the moment when my dad was restored to us, there can be no end to the imagining of what it will be like when God fully restores both his creation and us. I want to leave you with a picture of complete and lasting restoration. Dwell on it and let it give you great hope. Let it buoy you into the new year with GREAT JOY.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Revelation 21:1-5a