He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young
. {Isaiah 40:11}

17 February 2011

Yes, Lord. I hear you...

I've feel as though I've been hit over the head a few times over the past weeks.
I don't know if you've ever experienced God in this way, but sometimes it seems like He has set His mind on teaching me a lesson and, when He does, every aspect of my life circles around that lesson.
I  read "Created to Be His Help Meet" by Debi Pearl about a year ago {a somewhat controversial book for some} and out of all the good stuff, the meat, Debi shared, one quote stuck with me... "joy begins with thankfulness". The idea that, when I get into a rut of complaints, selfishness, and downright whining, I can just "appreciate my way out of it" was intriguing.
I know that often wallowing in my own self-pity can be satisfying... for a while. I also know that allowing myself to indulge in my own anxiety and anger is an awfully silly way to waste my time...my life...and that allowing myself to bathe in my own discontentment makes me an idol of my own creation and I miss out on the gifts the Lord has waiting for me {Jonah 2:8}.
I also have been reading about a book titled "One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are" by Ann Voskamp. I heard about it from Lindsay on Passionate Homemaking's blog. Lindsey seemed deeply moved by this book and the title, alone, sounded like something I could benefit from.
Yes, I have a cozy little home that stays warm in the winter, cool in the summer. Yes, I've been given two beautiful, healthy children who make me smile daily. Yes, my husband is a hard worker who goes above and beyond to care for me and our children. Yes! I have an easy comfortable life that is blessed by all I need and so much more... and yet... I complain about the small and silly. The constant flow of crumbs under the table. The piles of laundry that I have no interest in folding. The expectation of my husband and children to cook, clean, and keep the house running along with everything else I promised I'd do five years ago in front of family and friends.

So I bought the book.

I must admit... the writing style is a little more poetic than I like and yet each chapter has spoken to me.
Deeply.
I mean DEEPLY.
I know that the Lord places things in our lives at just the right moment.
Jerry Falwell Sr. used to say "God never puts more ON you than he puts IN you to bear it up". I always liked that saying and sometimes, when it counts, I manage to hear those words echo in my mind.
This book... this story of Ann's life was just what I needed and I didn't even know I needed it. I wish I could share with you every word that God has been speaking gently to my heart through this book but there's just too much. The over-arching message, though, is that we must learn and practice being thankful for each and every gift that God has given us. The definition of "gift" may not always be what we expect. It may be small and simple. It may be an ugly-beautiful thing. It may be a painful gift... but we must be willing to accept any and all gifts from the Lord to truly understand who He is and what His love looks like in our lives.
We must trust Him completely. Our inability to do so is like raising your arms for nourishment for God but keeping your hands balled in fists. You can't have it both ways. You can't half accept what He has to offer and reject the parts that don't feel good. That goes for the silly things like crumbs under the table and the crippling, painful things like the death of a child.
This book has, in the past week, taught me to slow down, take note of what is and what should be important in my life and look for God in everything.
Ann started her whole journey by creating a list of one-thousand things she was thankful for. Most of what she wrote seemed so silly to me and didn't make much sense... "22. Mail in the mailbox... 24. Old men looking for words just so."  {pg 48} As I read through her story, though, they started to make sense and as I started my own list I realized how silly my gifts sounded and yet that seemed to be the point. God is in the silly, mundane details of our lives. He's in the soap bubbles in the dish water. He's in the small, smudgy hand-prints on the kitchen window. It's our hearts that have to practice thanksgiving to see the blessing in those things.
{So anyway... yes, I think the book is good and yes, I recommend it.}
But as I said, the lesson that I have been learning isn't just in the books... it seems that God is showing me in all aspects of my life that I am missing thankfulness. I am far too prideful to be of any use to God outside of His grace.
Grace.
Maybe that's the lesson I'm learning.
In the weekly Bible study I attend we have been going through the prophets of the Old Testament. Recently it was Jonah.
I've heard this story a million times. That may be an accurate number since I was born and raised in the church.
Jonah: He runs from God's call to go to Ninevah and tell them to start behaving or God's gonna get'um. He ends up on a boat heading in the wrong direction. God sends a storm. Jonah goes over the edge of the boat. Get's swallowed by a big fish. {You may be picturing Veggie Tales or Pinocchio by now...} Stays there for three days. Gets puked out onto the shore. Goes to Ninevah. The people repent. Jonah's done his job. The end.

Um... yeah...

That may have been what I've read over the past twenty-plus years of my life but this time... this time it was different. The passage I've read a thousand times over was new to me. The detail. The great God in the small and silly.
First, God called Jonah to be a messenger to some seriously nasty people. Nahum three says that people were literally stumbling over the dead bodies in the streets.

Ew.

And yes, Jonah does run. He runs in the complete opposite direction. He was told to go northwest by land and, instead, he headed southeast by water. He actually thought he could run from God. And yet God, in His infinite mercy, was patient with Jonah. Numbers 14:18 says that "the Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression..." Granted, God's means of "gentle patience" with Jonah involved a tempest and a giant fish, which many believe to be a shark.
Subtle?
Not in my book.
BUT, rather than allowing Jonah to hit the water and drown in the waves, He saved him.
Despite him.
Whether or not it took the whole three days for Jonah to realize his need for repentance, I don't know.
I can just picture Jonah, all squished into the belly of a fish who was only slightly larger than him, wondering how he was going to get out, if at all, and then... after taking a stab at paralyzing fear, panic, and complaint... he submits in prayer.
And yes, it's then he's puked out onto the shore.
And it's then that he agrees to obey.

A dear friend recently told me that he has a habit of overdoing it and he's the type of guy who requires being hit in the head with a two-by-four before he sees his need to stop. listen. and change. 
Praise God that He doesn't use the "fishy-treatment" on us! 


So Jonah goes.

And he gives the warning to the mean and nasty Ninevites and passes on the message, from God, that they will encounter complete and total destruction if they don't repent and change their ways.
And what happens?
Immediately, the people "believed God" {Jonah 3:5}. They immediately changed. The heard the warning and they repented. And "when God saw what they did, how they turned from heir evil way, [He] relented of the disaster that He had said He would do to them...".
Did you catch that?
"God SAW what they did. He SAW how they turned from their evil way"...

They not only repented... they acted.
They stopped what they were doing.
They turned and changed.
And God spared them... those mean and nasty people.
It would seem most natural for Jonah to rejoice in the miraculous change he saw in the Ninevites. And yet... he pouted! He became angry with God for showing mercy on those mean and nasty people!
Jonah 4:5 says that Jonah actually went out of the city, made a cozy spot for himself, and sat back to watch the destruction of the city from a safe distance away!
He looked forward to the power of God being displayed in front of him in big, booming, fire-falling-from-heaven kind of ways. Yet, just as in I Kings 19, God wasn't in the fire and the mighty wind. God was in the whisper. In the story of Jonah, God power wasn't displayed through the destruction of an entire nation.

God power was in His grace.
His mercy.
His repentance.

How true is it of me to pout when God's justice isn't carried out the way I want. Even in my own home I hide under my super-spiritual-wifeness and warn and wait for the destruction of my husband's bad habits.
Am I alone in this?
Am I the only one who is deeply offended by my husband's momentary inconsideration and takes it upon myself to "set him straight" as if I'm any better? I wish I could say that I've never waited for God to deal quickly and "justly" with those I am hurt by. AND YET... I pray for mercy on myself and show minimal thankfulness when it's shown to me time and time again. I don't take stock, often enough, of how I pray for justice on others and try to keep God's mercy for myself.
Where's the justice in that?!
That line of thinking should cause me to shudder  because it means that I do not love those people.
Not truly.

Ugh.

If I follow that to it's conclusion I can't help but ask if I am loving my husband when I sit back and wait for God to deal with him and his bad moments.
As a believer, born and raised, I often forget how ugly my little child heart was before He saved me. While I was still in the acts of my sinful, mean and nasty heart... there, in that mess... God saved me.
Why is that so difficult to remember?
Why am I so quick to not only take note of other's sins but brand them into my mind so that when they fall I can quickly recall their past offenses as a record against them?

So how does this all connect?

Simply this... I have failed to see God in others.
I have failed to recognize Him in all things and all people.
I have failed to see Him in the "good" and the "bad".
I have been enthusiastic in complaining about things that I interpret as "bad", "unfair", "wrong", or "unjust".
I have been willing to take the good from God in any and all things but have been quick to pull back my eager arms and clench my fists when something ugly comes along.
And because of that, I miss out on who God is and in my refusal to trust Him completely.

I saw myself in Jonah much more than I'd like to admit.
I take my only solace in this... He's not done with me yet and, though my dark heart doesn't deserve a minute of His time or an ounce of His mercy... He gives it generously.


1 comment:

  1. Charissa GrincavitchFebruary 19, 2011 at 4:51 PM

    Love the part about how joy comes from thankfulness!!

    ReplyDelete

I always love a good comment.

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