Posted in Wildflower Thoughts

Making the Most of This Brief Life

"You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." -James 4:14

I had the strangest dream the other night. My husband and I were packing as fast as we could to move out of a temporary home. The landlord kept calling and banging on the door, telling us to hurry and get out, that the next tenants were ready to move in, that we’d been there too long.

Note: My husband just retired from the military, and we’ve been living in our current home for almost three years. We’re programmed to move and we’re not, so my subconscious is complaining. I am not. As Alice said in Once Upon a Time (Season 7, Episode 18: The Guardian), “Yeah, well, as much fun as traveling realms is, I’m starting to learn you can have a lot of other adventures just staying put; good ones, too.” Having time to find things we haven’t had time to find in just three years, to dig more deeply into our community and get to know its people – really know them – is one of those good, new adventures of staying put.

But back to my dream: We were trying so hard to cooperate with the landlord, but the house was full of clutter. [I didn’t recognize any of it from my real, wide-awake life.] Every time we opened a closet or drawer, we found more clutter. We were throwing things in boxes as fast as we could, but there was no end to it!

Then suddenly we both paused and looked at each other. Mike said, “What are we doing? Where we’re going we don’t need any of this stuff!”

I said, “You’re right! Let’s go!” We ran out of the house, jumped into a waiting vehicle, and told the driver to go, go, go . . .

The dream got really crazy after that, but I won’t go into details. I’ve told you the part that matters, the part that stuck with me.

The dream reminded me that life is short. We’re “a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14). So why do we spend what time we have collecting clutter, both physical and mental, that we can’t take with us when we go? It’s so easy to get bogged down in distractions, but it’s important to learn, with the Spirit’s help, to keep our eyes focused on what matters and move on.

Father, please “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). Help us to focus on what really matters as we journey through this temporary life toward eternity with You. Help us to “throw off everything that hinders . . . and run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1). Teach us to let go of clutter, to leave it behind and not look back.  Help us live wisely for You. Amen


  • What is clutter in your life?
  • What might letting go of it give you more time, money, or energy to do?
Posted in Parachute Prayers, This Morning's Message

Whatever Your Hand Finds to Do

My name is Janet. I am a perfectionist. I wish I could say I were a recovering perfectionist, but that would only be wishful thinking. It isn’t for lack of trying, though. I’ve read many books on the subject. Perhaps you have too? If so, you know escape from this, um, malady is quite elusive.

God’s been talking to me about this today, though. Bombarding me with thoughts from every source. I think maybe I’m starting to catch on. Perhaps if I share some of these thoughts with you, one or two will stick with me . . . so someday I can be perfect! (You see how defeating this tendency is?!) But someday I will be because God is perfecting me. He just isn’t done yet, and I keep trying to hurry Him up.

Today’s barrage began with these verses:

“The Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them, and you will be changed into a different person. Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you.” -1 Samuel 10:6-7

These were Samuel’s words to Saul as he prepared to crown him Israel’s new king. Saul wasn’t anybody, and he was far from perfect, but God chose him, and God’s Spirit changed him. Had Saul embraced this change, God’s Spirit within him – God’s guiding Presence all around him, he would have done no wrong by doing whatever his hand found to do! Unfortunately, he let being a king go to his head and chose to go his own way. Things went badly for him after that. But for a longing-to-recover-perfectionist, these words are quite freeing. So long as God is with me, His Spirit within me, my heart devoted to Him, I don’t have to fear making mistakes. I can do whatever my hand finds to do for Him, and God will use it somehow. In fact, I trust that even if my attempt is misguided, He’ll recognize my heart in the right place, redeem the intent, and use it anyway! He is able to do that because He is God.

After reading that passage in Samuel’s first book, I found these words in a devotional:

“God’s grace changed me, so over time I stopped thinking about all the things that were wrong with me and I started thinking more about all the things that were right with Jesus. I have since discovered that we become what we behold, and as I beheld Jesus, I started to become more like Him because God’s Spirit was at work in me.” -Christine Caine, Unshakeable, p. 46

God’s Spirit changed Saul. God’s grace changed Christine. God changes you and me, too! But when grace changed Christine, it taught her to refocus her thoughts. I love that she learned to stop thinking about all the things that were wrong with her, thinking about all the things that are right with Jesus instead. To me, this sounded like a new Parachute Prayer. Let’s call it the Parachute Prayer for the Perfectionist! Whenever we catch ourselves trying to fix ourselves, we can praise God for Who He Is instead. In time, He’ll do the fixing. Our job is to behold Him and wait.

Next, I came across this verse:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” -Ephesians 2:8-9

I gave myself this lecture in my journal:

“Get off the performance treadmill and embrace grace! Focus on Who God Is and all He has done. Worship Him instead of berating yourself. He will gently change you. Let Him do the work while you wait and worship and do whatever He leads you to do. ‘Wax on. Wax off.’ Some day it will all make sense.”

For those who don’t understand the waxy reference, it’s from the movie, The Karate Kid. The kid wanted to learn karate. His teacher had him wax his car. He didn’t understand, but he obeyed. Later, it proved to be a valuable part of his training. Sometimes God works with us in the same way. We do whatever he leads us to do; He does His mysterious work in us.

And finally, our pastor preached from this verse as he wrapped up his Trust Issues series from Psalm 23:

“Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” -Psalm 23:6

Now I’ve really enjoyed this series and took careful notes all the way through, even today! But God was still talking to me about perfectionism, so I got two messages this morning at church. I’m mostly going to write about what God was saying to me. To illustrate his message, our pastor chose a picture of a girl hiking up a mountain. The photographer focused on the back of her head, shoulders, and backpack, so it felt as if we were following her. All morning, God had been telling me to focus on Him instead of my imperfections, to do whatever he led me to do. That picture and verse made everything clear to me in a unique way.

Because my husband is in the military, we’ve moved many times. This means there have been many times that I have gotten into a fully loaded car, pulled out behind my husband driving a fully loaded truck, and followed him across the country, always with a child or two or three, and sometimes a dog in the seats surrounding me. And when we started doing this more than twenty years ago, we didn’t have phones with GPS’s on them to tell us where to go. My husband had the map; I followed him. In fact, because I wanted to get where we were going and have a terrible fear of getting lost, I followed closely. I matched his speed. I stayed in the same lane. I got off the road if he got off the road. I focused on the back of his vehicle, knowing it would lead me where I wanted to go.

When we follow Jesus, our Shepherd, this way, His goodness and love follow us. In fact, our pastor said the Hebrew word means they literally chase us. In my mind, being perfect is being Christlike which is being perfectly loving and good in every circumstance. Therefore, instead of me pursuing perfection, I follow Christ – with the intensity of one who does not want to get lost! – and then the very thing that’s been eluding me all of my life will begin to chase me – as Jesus leads me home.

If I try to be perfect, I will fail. If I follow Jesus wherever He leads, God will eventually perfect me. And I will dwell in His Presence forever. You can, too!

My name is Janet. I’m a child of God. I want to be whatever He wants me to be, so I’m watching to see what He’s doing and where He will lead. I know He’s working through all things for good, to benefit His Kingdom and glorify His Name. I am thankful He’s invited me – just as I am – to be part of His work.

Father, You’ve given us so many reasons to take our eyes off of ourselves and to put them on You. You are worthy of our worship and of all of our thoughts. Please help me to remember today’s lessons. Expand on them as You will. And use them to help others who struggle as I do. I thank You, Lord. Amen.


You can read more lessons I learned from moving in my book, Home Is Where God Sends You, available from Amazon. My book on Parachute Prayer is available there as well.

 

Posted in Lingering with the Word

When God Chooses Not to Rescue You

psalm-20-4

Moses had it good. He had a wife, a couple of kids, and a steady job that gave him plenty of time to enjoy the great outdoors—alone. It gave him time to ponder, reflect, and pray. Moses was content, I’m sure.

Then God showed up in a most flamboyant way. “Moses, I’ve got a mission for you. I want you to go to Egypt and rescue my people. They are suffering.”

Moses didn’t say no, but he offered every excuse he could think up as to why God should go away and choose someone else. God said, “Moses, I chose you. Go!” (This is my simple summation. You can read the Bible words for yourself in Exodus 3:1-4:17.)

Fast forward a bit. (See Numbers 11.)

Moses is now leading God’s rescued people through the desert to the Promised Land. The people are tired and cranky. They are especially unhappy with the food, so they start to complain. Moses decides he’s had enough. In fact, he has a meltdown. A mo-ment. (You know the kind.) In utter exasperation He goes to God, not with a polite request, but with a bold demand for relief:

“Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their ancestors? Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’  I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me.  If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.” -Numbers 11:11-15

His prayer made me laugh. My interpretation: “Lord, I don’t know what I did to make you angry, but surely it doesn’t deserve this slow and tortuous sentence of death by whiny toddler-adults whose lives I am not responsible for. I’m done. Kill me now.”

God chose to ignore that request. Instead he sent Moses some help.

I find that comforting. Sometimes God gives us hard assignments, missions that will push us to our limits and then some. We may be tempted to quit. If we choose to continue on though, knowing it’s what God wants us to do, we may start giving God all the reasons we can think of as to why He should choose to pass the assignment on to someone else. Then we may start begging for rescue, and if that rescue doesn’t come, we may start feeling picked on and betrayed.

But God doesn’t rescue us from the assignments He’s given us. He hears. He sees. He knows how we’re feeling and how deep the struggle is. But He wants us to finish the work, and He knows that deep inside, we really want to finish, too. (Come on. Admit it. You know it’s true.) We want to end triumphantly, hearing our God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21). And so, instead of rescue, God sends some kind of relief.

Psalm 20:1-2, a psalm David wrote for facing battle, says, “May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you. May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion.”

God answers. He protects. He helps. He supports. He gives us all we need to carry on. There’s no rescue required. We don’t need rescue from the missions He gives. We just need some God relief. We need to remember that when He sends us out on assignment, He helps us complete the task. Instead of pulling us out of the distress of it, He helps us through to victory.

Psalm 20 continues along this theme. Verse 4 says, “May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed.” When our plan is to complete the mission, to help others and honor His name, He’ll give all the help we need for that plan to succeed.

Lord, victory is the desire of my heart, for their good—and mine—and for the glory of Your name. Thank You for seeing my struggle and for sending all the support and strength I need. I will carry on for You. You are my God and I love You. Amen.

Posted in Random Reflections

When Life Changes Your Plans

Life Happens When You Plan“Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” –John Lennon

I found this quote in a book I was reading last week. It made me laugh because it’s just so true. Just the other night, my husband and I were marveling over all we’ve encountered so far in our 27 years of marriage:

“How’d we get here, Janet?” Mike asked.

I smirked. “Well, we started in San Diego . . .”

He laughed. But we did start in San Diego, then we moved to Kansas City for school, then we were offered a pastorate in Maine . . . who could resist that adventure? . . . and life has offered one surprise after another since then. Starting out, we never could have imagined even half of it – and might have been tempted to bypass some of the adventures had God warned us in advance. It’s a good thing He didn’t do that.

“We may throw the dice, but the Lord determines how they fall.” –Proverbs 16:33, NLT

We keep trying to figure out what will be next, well, after this coming assignment . . . that we know . . . maybe . . . we’re in the military, after all. More significantly, we’re following God. I don’t think with either you really know where you’re going until you get there. And then you might be needed somewhere else. We make our plans using the information we have, but circumstances tend to change. We’ve learned, or maybe we’re still learning, to roll with that.

Proverbs 16-9As Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”

Or, in King Solomon’s words, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” –Proverbs 16:9

God is the One in control when it comes to life.

I recently stumbled upon a translation of Philippians 4:11-14 that helped me understand this idea of rolling with life in a new way:

“I have learned how to manage on whatever I have. I know how to be poor and I know how to be rich too. I have been through my initiation and now I am ready for anything anywhere: full stomach or empty stomach, poverty or plenty. There is nothing I cannot master with the help of the One who gives me strength.” –Philippians 4:11-14, The Jerusalem Bible

The translation I’m most familiar with says, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (NIV). Another translation says, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have” (NLT). These put the focus on learning to be content in any situation which prompts the question, “How do I do that?”

The Jerusalem Bible tells us. In this translation, Paul says, “I have learned how to manage on whatever I have.” This tells me that being content is managing to do what you need to do with whatever you have, whatever God has provided, for whatever situation. And it’s not a matter of deciding to be content. Instead, it’s a matter of trust.

Which is why we have to learn it. Trust comes with experience.

When I look back on each circumstance of my life: each home, each state, each country, each financial state, each stage of marriage, of parenting, each new ministry or career— I can see God’s hand at work. There were times when we didn’t know how we would manage.

But we always did. God always provided enough. He always helped us to manage on what we had.

Therefore . . .

As I face new unknowns, as life happens to me while I make other plans, I can trust my God. He’s proven Himself faithful. All will eventually be well. I can be content knowing that.

Father, thank You for Your faithfulness and wisdom. Thank You for this life and all of its adventures, for meaningful work, for family, for surprises around every bend. Thank You for providing all we need to manage in whatever circumstance and for making us ready for it. Thank You most of all for Your presence. You are with us. That is all we really need. We love You, Lord. Amen.

If you struggle to find contentment in changing circumstances, my first book, Home Is Where God Sends You: Lessons in Contentment from Nearby and Faraway, may encourage you. Available at Amazon.com.

Posted in Wildflower Thoughts

Learning to Obey

“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.’”Exodus 16:4

Sometimes children challenge their parents. When given an instruction, they ask, “Why?” If the child is capable of understanding, the parent may patiently explain. But sometimes the answer just has to be, “Because I said so.” Parents train their children to obey whether they understand why or not because that obedience can save their lives. If a child is headed for danger and the parent says, “Stop,” the child must stop to stay safe, not keep going until he understands, “Why.”

It’s the same with soldiers. They are trained to follow orders. This is why boot camp is notoriously difficult–all right, miserable. Physical exhaustion, discipline of action and thought, repetitive training, and emphasis on high standards are meant to train the soldiers to follow orders, so their missions will be accomplished and fewer lives will be lost.

Just as a parent who has taught a child to stop on command without question has saved that child’s life if the child wanders too near a quickly oncoming car and a commander who trains his soldiers to obey will likely bring more home from battle heat and in victory, God trains His children, soldiers in a spiritual battle, in order to keep them safe.

The rules for gathering manna didn’t make sense to the Israelites, yet God established those rules to test them, to see whether they would follow His instructions. Some did. Some didn’t. Those learned.

Likewise, we may not always understand God’s instructions. But He is God. We respect His authority and do things His way, knowing He’s averting disaster we may not be able to see. When the rules don’t make sense, we must remember who we are and Who God is. We are His beloved children. He is the Creator Father Who loves us dearly. We serve as soldiers in our Lord’s army. He is the Commander Whose orders we follow for the good of all.

Thank You, Lord, for training us, for testing us, for teaching us to obey. You are the Father we love, the Commander we respect. Help us serve You well, trusting whenever we don’t understand. For You are God; that’s all we need to know. Amen.

Posted in Words Aptly Spoken

Liking Having to Get Along

Words Aptly Spoken“I actually liked having to get along with people I didn’t particularly care for and finding ways to work together. Because in the army it can’t be all about me, it has to be about we.” –Emma, The Merciful Scar, p. 209

I had an “Aha!” moment when I read this sentence. Something about the way it’s worded really appeals to me.

Why? It challenges me.

Getting along with all people all the time is difficult, perhaps impossible. Yet this is what God commands us to do, Jesus prayed for us to do, and we, in fact, must do, if we’re to glorify God through His church.

My favorite way of getting along with people who test me, however, is to avoid them. I let them do their thing while I do mine. I pray for them from a distance and figure that’s the best that the situation can be.

I find a sadness in this, though. Emma, the character who made the above statement, is talking about getting along with people she doesn’t really care for. Truthfully, there aren’t too many people I don’t really care for. I may be quiet, but I adore people. I find them fascinating. I want to learn their stories and invite them to know mine. I want to listen to them, pray for them, encourage them, and share joyous discoveries to build them up in Christ. I like being a friend.

The people I try to avoid, therefore, are the ones who’ve made it clear (at least from my point of view) that they don’t care for me. In a sense, I figure I’m doing them a favor, while protecting myself from the pain of rejection.

Yet I sense defeat in this.

The Merciful ScarEmma’s statement challenges me to work a little harder at this working together thing. It also tells me how.

First, I have to set aside the assumption that the other person doesn’t like me. I have to ignore and overcome my insecurities. This has to be my choice.

Second, I have to identify the mission and keep my mind on that. If God has given me something to do and people to do it with, completing the task is the most important thing. I must get to work.

I stumbled across a few Bible verses this morning that added to my thoughts on this getting-along subject:

In Philippians 1, Paul addresses the issue of motive. There is a concern that some people are preaching the Gospel for selfish reasons. Paul says, “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice” (verse 18).

If we’re working together to build God’s Kingdom, we’re not sitting around analyzing each other’s reasons for doing so. Only God can accurately judge what’s in another person’s heart. We can and must let go of this concern, work together, and rejoice when God’s Spirit brings results. (This is true even if our own motives are off. We continue to do the work, and trust God to fix our hearts.)

In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul addresses the issue of credit for work done. There is a concern about the wrong people getting credit for conversions and baptisms. Paul says it doesn’t matter who gets the credit, so long as the work gets done. Verse 9 says, “For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.” God is building His Kingdom; ultimately it’s His work. We’re privileged to take part in it. We’re working together for God’s glory and His creation’s good.

Father, thank You for Emma’s insight. Help us all accept the challenge to find ways to work together—whether or not we naturally get along. We’re working for Your glory, for the honor of Your name. Achieving the objective isn’t about us. It’s about You. Please give us willing hearts and wisdom to accomplish Your purpose. Amen.

Posted in Finding Home

Moving According to God’s Kingdom Purposes

Finding Home“Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.'”James 4:15, NIV

I’ve mentioned in a previous post that my Protestant Women of the Chapel (PWOC) Bible study class is currently studying the Book of James. We’re using Greg Gilbert’s book, James, a 12-Week Study. This week I’ve been doing my homework for Week 9, and our class will meet later today. But I just had to share one insight with you now.

On page 69, Gilbert asks this question regarding James 4:15:

Do you think you should actually say the phrase “if the Lord wills’ when you talk about the future? Even if it’s not necessary to say it every time, how can you work to cultivate that kind of dependence on God in your own life and thinking?”

The first time I read that, I laughed right out loud. I startled the dog, who was lying by my feet. He looked up, annoyed, then went back to sleep.

Why does that question tickle my funny bone so? Because I live the analogy that answers the question! I am an Army wife!

Every two or three years, my husband gets a new assignment. Up to a year out, the Army-powers-that-be start discussing where my husband will go. We fill out a dream sheet, stating where we hope to go. We tell family members, “We’d like to go here next. We think this is where God wants us. We feel really good about it. If the Army agrees (as God directs it–something we firmly believe He does as far as assignments for Christians go), we’ll be moving to this place next year.”

(In the early years of our military ministry, family members took this statement very seriously. So much so that they ignored the whole “if the Army agrees” bit and became confused whenever all plans changed. Now they just raise one eyebrow and say that they’ll believe us when the movers unload the truck.)

A few months or so later, we’ll get official word from someone in the know about where Mike’s next assignment will be. We tell family members, “The Army is planning to send us here. If all goes as planned, we’ll be moving to this place next year.” (Notice, we don’t say, “If the Army agrees” or “If the Lord wills.” At this point, that is clearly understood. Our families skeptically wait for news of Plan C.)

After this we eventually get an RFO (Request for Orders) which makes the new assignment mostly official. When the actual orders come, we start to get excited about our next move. Even then, however, we know–and our families know–the needs of the Army may change. If so, Mike’s assignment will change. We go where the Army most needs us and, as servants of God called to military ministry, know this is where God wants us to be.

DSC01439eSo to answer Gilbert’s questions:

No. We don’t always have to say, “If it is the Lord’s Will,” so long as we and the people to whom we are talking all understand that we know God is the one who is ultimately in control. We make plans according to His leading, yet keep our hearts prepared for last-minute change. Personally, I rarely state plans in definite terms. I guess I’ve gotten used to everything changing; my language naturally reflects this.

We cultivate this attitude by living in close communion with God every day. We talk with Him often. We rely on Him for every little thing. We remember where we stand before Him: we are His children, His heirs, invested in the good of His Kingdom. Just as Mike and I go where the Army most needs us, Christians do whatever God calls them to–for the good of His Kingdom, for the glory of His name. When we’re aware of our place and our purpose while enjoying a close relationship with God, uncertain plans and last-minute changes in plans won’t rattle us so much. We live on-call and ready to serve, wherever God’s Will leads.

  • What other occupations lead people to live an analogy of James 4:15?
  • What life events have helped you understand the truth of this verse?

Father, we live for you. Thank You for giving us dreams and for allowing us to make plans, but thank You also for guiding us elsewhere in light of Kingdom needs. We know that, ultimately, what’s best for Your Kingdom is best for us, too, and so we gladly live in submission to You. Amen.

Note: If this devotional spoke to you, you might enjoy my book, Home Is Where God Sends You: Lessons in Contentment from Nearby and Faraway, a daily devotional written to encourage women throughout the process of moving. Click here to purchase it at Amazon.com.

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Posted in Parachute Prayers

Praying for Families Apart for the Holidays

Once upon a time, when my husband was deployed over Christmas, I remember being reduced to a puddle of tears right in the middle of the baking goods aisle at the grocery story by Karen Carpenter’s beloved song, Merry Christmas, Darling, playing throughout the store.

You remember the one. Merry Christmas, Darling. We’re apart, that’s true . . .

Bah. Humbug.

I didn’t fare much better with Elvis’s, Blue Christmas, or the ever-popular, I’ll Be Home for Christmas, playing at the mall.

I remember thinking at the time that it was a bit cruel. I’d like to formally request that all merchants nationwide stick to playing cheerful Christmas music in public places this year. No offense meant to Karen, Elvis, or any other Christmas crooners.

Alas, I don’t have much faith in the power of one blog to change the playlists of shopping centers across the country. So I’d like to suggest a more positive twist:

When we hear these songs while Christmas shopping, let’s pray for military families who can’t be together for the holidays this year. Who knows? The lady one aisle over may be frantically trying to bury her tears in a bag of brown sugar. Ask God to cheer her heart, keep her husband safe, and happily reunite them soon.

Lord, it’s nice to be together at Christmas, but sometimes it just isn’t possible. Please encourage families who have to be apart. Remind them of their purpose. Assure them their sacrifice is not in vain. And help them to find creative and meaningful ways to celebrate together by heart, if not by locale. Comfort them, Lord, as only You can. Thank You, Jesus! Amen.