Life happens, I'm sure everyone is aware of this, and because it's life, the crappy parts usually happen at the same time (or as my Nana would say, it all comes in threes). No one likes these parts of life even though we all know that in the long run it helps us grow as a person. We can argue the whole pain for glory concept as much as we want but it never makes the difficult times any less difficult. The worse part, we tend be oblivious to the fact that we are in the middle of a difficult time in life until we are... in the middle of it. There are usually signs that we are entering a rocky phase yet we never see these "signs" until we are looking back saying to ourselves... "seriously? I should have seen this coming"
So, when life throws us an unruly curve ball what do we want to do? Stop right in the middle of it, stopping right when we figure out where we are and what we might go through next... how about just not go any further? We don't think that this will fix anything (well most of us don't) but ultimately we just want everything to go away. We tend to use the logic that if we are going through pain, stop doing the things that are causing us pain. We probably get this from the whole 'don't touch the hot stove' lesson that every one of us has learnt. If you keep your hand on the burning stove then your hand will continue to burn... so just remove your hand and the pain will stop. So, in the midst of life we somehow convince ourselves that by stopping life we will stop the pain. Picture this:
You are standing at a cross walk waiting, happily knowing that the little man will tell us to make our way safely across the street. Once he appears you begin your journey, one foot in front of the other you walk boldly across... however, all of us know that by the time you get halfway across the street the stop hand begins to flash. Logic and experience would tell us that this is just warning us that soon you will not be able to continue to walk across the street anymore but to keep on walking until you get to the other side. But what if we just stopped right in the middle of the street once the hand appeared, sat down in the middle of the street with our legs crossed, arms folded and pouted at the fact that the hand is no longer flashing but is static....
Would this happen in real life? I'm hoping not but I don't necessarily put it past mankind (we've done some stupid things before). But by staying there in the middle of the road, not only are you not making it to the your destination but you are now in the middle of something much more dangerous, moving traffic.
So let's put this all into perspective.
Crossing the street = Going through life
The little man = When life is going smoothly
The Flashing Hand = When life gets hard
The Static Hand = When life gets downright miserable
Traffic.... well I'm sure you can use your imaginations
Too many times we stop in the middle of a tough time because it gets too hard but if you really think it through stopping does nothing but make things worse. It will draw the situation out much longer then it has to be. So why do we do this? Why do we prolong our own pain? Because the inevitable next step is the healing process... and healing always hurts more then the injury in the first place.
This may sound contradictory, I mean healing is supposed to lead you to the "not hurting anymore part"... however it ends up being the most painful part... Well, let's look at it this way, when you break your arm, the initial break is painful yes... but what comes to follow, is so much worse. Following the Doctors orders, you have to place your arm in a cast, that you cannot get it wet so there goes swimming, or worse yet... relaxing showers. If you hit it on something, the vibration moves throughout your whole arm, reminding you of the initial pain you felt. You will have a hard time dressing yourself and coordinating a cast with any outfit is close to a nightmare. For those of us who are independent all of the sudden need a helping hand every time you need to reach something. Above all, this isn't a one week situation... this is a multi-week sometimes MONTHS situation.
So far this just makes me want to never leave the house... nay, my couch, so that I shall never break a bone again. But we all know that that is not reality. I need to work, I need a social life and frankly if breaking a bone every now and then means I get to live life... it's not a bad trade off.
Bones aren't the only thing that needs to heal, what about our hearts? Have you ever had your heart broken before? Most of us have. What about having your spirit broken? You were on a roll in life and then one day, BAM! Your life as you knew it was swept out from under your feet. You feel deflated and sometimes abandoned. But it's during this healing time that God has to put us in a cast, he has to limit our abilities in order for us to heal properly! The key word is properly here, We can heal without God but we won't heal fully. And we will break a lot easier the next time we fall, run into a wall, or life finds a dead end. But like any doctor patient relationship, you have to agree to have the cast put on in the first place. You have to resist taking it off before you're fully healed. God isn't going to make you sit and listen to him, he doesn't want to strap you down while you swallow the bitter trust that you are heading down the road for further destruction if you don't sit and be still!
You have to want to get better...
You have to want to let him heal you...
You have to realize that not all healing comes in a miracle prayer
A few weeks ago, something in my lower back switched... in fact it was almost like someone flipped it. One moment I was fine, playing volleyball and before I knew it bending down or standing up became excruciatingly painful. I got through the rest of the game with minimal effort, being of zero use to the rest of my team, but there was only six of us so I had to finish it off. I figured the pain would just go away by itself in a few days so I didn't pay much attention to it. Two weeks later the pain was still there and I was moving slower than ever before. So, I caved and went to a chiropractor.
After tests and x-rays, it was determined that my sacrum, hips and lower vertebrae had twisted up and to the right. As a result, there is pressure on my sciatic nerve and my right leg became shorter than my left. My diagnosis became clear and my remedy? No activity... and seeing a chiropractor twice a week. So my whole life took a turn a 180 degree turn because of my back.
If I had only hurt my arm or my leg, broke a wrist or twisted an ankle. I mean don't get me wrong, those injuries would suck but at least I would be able to bend down, I could stand up from a sitting in a chair without taking 5 seconds to do so. At least I could work out the other half of my body, if I injured a leg I could work out my arms, etc. At least I would be able to walk around and not be afraid that my leg would give out. But no, I injured my core. The center that holds the rest of my body together. Your core affects every other part of your body and if it's not functioning properly nothing else functions properly.
This is like the house that makes up your life, your zone if you will. There are four main pillars that hold up your house; Family, Friends, Finances and Fork... the last one is really work but I wanted another word that starts with F. These are like your arms and legs, if one of them begins to crumble then the others are still standing. I mean life gets a little harder but you still have three pillars to hold up the roof. This of course all depends on your foundation... Your Faith. You see, regardless of how stable you think your pillars are if your foundation has cracks, as soon as one pillar goes down the other three pillars will start to crack, and piece by piece, crumble. So how do we avoid the catastrophe of our crumbling houses?
The Bible is very clear when it comes to building a firm foundation for your life. One passage that I'm sure you have all heard before is Jesus telling the story of a wise man, a foolish man, their houses and where they put them. This story is told in two books of the Bible, Matthew and Luke.
So exactly do we build a firm spiritual foundation? Heck, how do you mend a spiritual foundation when you already have pillars sitting on top of it? Or how do you even know that you HAVE a foundation laid?
1. Read your Bible, Pray everyday
But God's truth stands firm like a foundation stone...
What was the cause of my crumbling foundation? Lots of exercise + no stretching = compressed spine twisted into the volleyball spiking position. Now I will have to spend the time to heal and abstain from the things I love, like exercise and sports. But when the time comes where I can do all of these things again, I know I will be more mindful in taking care of my body, ensuring that my core is the strongest that it can be before I try and strengthen my other muscles.
Four and a Half F's
Okay... can we talk about something for a minute here? I want to talk about questions. I love questions, why? because they lead to answers, answers lead to growth, and growth leads to discovery, and discovery... leads to more questions. There are so many unanswered questions in life, why would you not ask questions!! But what gets me more than someone not asking questions is someone asking stupid questions.
That's right, I said stupid questions. Your momma lied when she said there is no such thing as a stupid question... there is. So many of you are now itching to find out, "JEN!!! Just what are these stupid questions and how can I prevent myself from such humiliation? I must know!!!" Well my friend, it is quite simple to be honest. There are two types of stupid questions, let's evaluate shall we?
1. THE PURPOSELESS QUESTION
Have you ever caught your self asking a question for no point but to just ask a question? Or the fact that it's purely by habit? Like shouting "Hey! How are you?" as you rush past someone in order to get somewhere else... the fact is that you aren't really listening for the answer, you may hear it, but it's not like you are going to carry on a conversation, I mean, you have to be somewhere! But we've gotten into the habit of asking questions for the sake of conversation. We stick to the questions that hold no personal
- How's life? - How's work? - How are you? - How's the family? - How are the kids? - What's new?
How many of those questions have you asked... all of them? I know, me too. That's right, I am my own worst enemy when it comes to this pet peeve of mine. On top of the fact that these questions hold no real value, the answers are about as boring as the questions.
- Life's good... - Works okay... - I'm fine... - The family's alive... - Kids are good... - Not much...
Case and point. You ask a stupid question and you get a stupid answer.
Now some of you might be offended at this point arguing that you are genuinely interested in peoples lives when you ask these questions. So here is my question for you... Do your questions strengthen your relationship with that person? Do they show that you are interested in them or just in conversation? I mean, if you were actually interested in that person you wouldn't ask "how's life?" you would ask "What were you up to this weekend?"; you wouldn't ask "How's work?" you would ask "How are you enjoying your job?" ... See the difference? You would want to know about their life, their opinions and what drives them!
If we take the time to ask a question instead of just rattling off the ol' faithfuls we open the gates to get to know the person on the other side of the conversation and not just a conversation.
2. THE UNASKED QUESTION
I've come up with a motto in my life, if it doesn't get out of your head it doesn't become a part of life. Until you say something out loud, even if it's just to yourself, it doesn't become reality. Saying something out loud allows us to really process what we are thinking, we no longer have the privilege of justifying something in our head, to the moon and back, just so we are guaranteed to hear the answer that we want to hear.
I think that sometimes we are too afraid to ask a question because the content of the answer may not be what we want to hear. In fact, I can assure you 9 times out of 10 it won't be. So why am I calling this a stupid question, especially when there is no question being asked? That's just it. By not asking those daunting questions we refuse to hear what we need to hear. We plug our ears, shake our heads, and fill the room with a booming "LA, LA, LA, LA, LA" in order to drown out the question until we can't hear it anymore. These questions vary, and to be honest, for me to give some examples wouldn't really do the unasked questions justice. In fact ,all I could think of were personal experiences. Experiences that I look back on and shake my head, knowing that life could have moved on a little quicker if I only bucked up and asked those questions. When I finally decided to confront the questions I found a close friend who I trusted and poured out my heart. I received the answers that I didn't want to hear, I made the changes that I needed to make, I stumbled through the healing and embraced the my life which led to so much more than I could have imagined.
If you are afraid to ask the question... then you already know the answer. The longer you wait for to ask, the harder the change will be, the longer the healing takes and the longer it will take you experience a way of life unknown... scary? yes.... worth it? absolutely.
I thought through this post as I was writing it, I briefly thought about it, but there is thought there. At the end of the day The Purposeless Question is something that really gets my goat... and believe me I hate it when people take my goat. In all fairness it was more of a rant, and possibly a message for some people out there... But the Unasked Questions, they are too often ignored and well, left to drown in your own thoughts and forgotten. Once I had finally come to the realization that ignoring the hard questions makes life harder, not easerie (and believe me, It took quite a while). I made the choice one day that from that moment on, I would ask ALL questions; the naive ones, the silly ones, the easy ones, the difficult ones, the challenging ones, and the questions I didn't want to ask. I would never again wait too long to ask a question that I needed to ask.
So here's my question to you:
Are you asking... or shall I say not asking... the hard questions?
Now I shall leave you with a wee bit of humor
Sometimes at work I have one of "those days"... You know, the day that never ends? Usually these days consist of everything that I have done wrong or forgotten or did but didn't give it to my boss, they all come colliding in mid air on that one day. It's the day when I'm afraid to leave my desk in case something explodes and evidently, would be my fault. At the peak of this day I will have forgotten my lunch, spilt something on myself and of course have been on the verge of crying all morning... cause I'm a girl... It's on days like these that I need to run away and hide, so where do I go, to the washroom. Yes you read that correctly. Our washroom at work has one stall, and it's a fairly small stall... but it is where I go when I need to get away, when I need to calm down and center myself. The women at my work have an unspoken rule of when someones in the one stall washroom we just walk to the other washroom downstairs, therefore I accomplish complete solitude from others. I know this sounds a bit weird and somewhat unsanitary but honestly, it's a safe place in there. No one will question why I'm in there for so long, because no one wants to know. No one will search for me or make me come out. I just get to sit in there for 5 peaceful minutes, knowing that I'm in my own little corner, with my own thoughts, and my own complete silence.
Throughout my life I have had different places of solitude.When I lived with roommates, my place of solitude was my room. It was the same when I was younger and lived with my parents and brother, my room was off limits to everyone (my mom of course had the full reign of the house, however she respected this). Living with my husband of 3 months, my place of solitude is... anywhere but home. In fact I'm in the middle of finding a new place of solitude, a place where I can close the door and just be with myself. Realizing that I did not have this place of escape really brought to light the importance of a place of solitude.
I cannot lay claim that this idea is my own. Throughout the years it had snuck into my mind by preachers, teachers, mentors and friends all telling me... "Get a space where you can just be!". Of course being my stubborn self it took me until I was 26 to understand the weight of what they were telling me. Get away from distractions, get away from your overcrowding thoughts, retreat from your duties and separate yourself from communication... just be.
Jesus used to do this all of the time and what better example can you think of than him? The most well known example would be in his final days where he went to the garden of Gethsemane, let's take a gander shall we?
Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.” He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”
Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!”
Then Jesus left them a second time and prayed, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done.” When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open.
So he went to pray a third time, saying the same things again.
Let us examine three key points that I see in this passage.
It wasn't a 5 minute ordeal...
While short prayers up to God aren't a bad thing, I think we can all agree they can't be considered as quality time. In order to strengthen any relationship the time invested needs to be quality. It is quite obvious that Jesus was praying for an hour if not more, because each time he came back to his disciples they had fallen asleep. Now I know few people in this world who can zonk out in 60 seconds... my husband is one of them... so it is only fair to assume that Jesus wasn't there and back in 5 minutes flat. Another thing to consider is the fact that he was in such a state of grief and pain, I don't think he was satisfied with a 5 minute conversation. He wanted to sort this out, he wanted his questions answered! He knew that to accomplish this, he wanted time with his Father.
He didn't do it once...
A lot of the time we tend to expect change right away. We know all too well the diet pill syndrome, the one pill trick to chase your unwanted fat away. Well just like there isn't a pill out there that can do that with long term effects, the same goes for prayer. Like any relationship, God just doesn't want to hear from you once and a while, he wants to hear from you on a regular basis. You cannot build a solid foundation for a ever lasting, deep relationship off of one visit every month, especially if that one visit consists of us just going on and on about what we want. Believe it or not, God wants to hear about our struggles and our pain, but He also wants to hear about the excitement in our life. What we are thankful for, what we cherish, what find joy in... If we truly see God as our "best friend" like so many children's salvation prayers state, we ought to go to Him with more than once and a while.
He was persistent in his prayer...
Jesus wasn't asking for something material, he was asking a question and awaiting an answer. He didn't get an answer the first time so he went back again... and again. If at first you don't succeed, try try again! God wants us to want to hear from Him. He wants us to pursue a relationship with Him as He pursues one with us. Jesus wanted to know if His fate could change, so he asked... a few times! But even when the answer came back, Jesus didn't kick the dirt cursing, going into a tantrum like state and pout giving God the silent treatment. He accepted God's answer, doesn't mean he was happy about it, but He accepted it and moved on. Maybe it's not that we don't want to hear an answer from God, but that we don't want to hear the "wrong" answer from God. Are you not persisting in your prayers because you are afraid of the answer?
Soon after his third time praying Jesus had his answer:
Then he came to the disciples and said, “Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. But look—the time has come. But look—the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Up, let’s be going. Look, my betrayer is here!
My best friend has even created a sanctuary in her home office, a corner that is blocked off by sheer fabric, with candles, speakers and a Bible. When she goes into that space it is sacred, it is her time with her Savior. She has purposely secluded an area for just her and God. For me? I'm discovering that I may have two places of solitude, our spare bedroom/office at home and when I go out for runs. More and more I am using my running time to eliminate my worries of the day and let God's words and inspiration enter my mind.
When you go into your place of Solitude or when you find a place of Solitude, what does it look like? What sets it apart?
I challenge you to find a place of solitude this week and if at first you don't succeed, try try again.
But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Available... what does it truly mean to be available to God. You surely have heard it in church before, the preacher booming from the platform with both hands in the air shaking with purpose and meaning "make yourself available to God and He will bless you with His presence" !!! One third of the congregation mimics what the pastor is doing in hopes of achieving availability, one third have their hands in the air then down by their sides then in the air again simply because they can't figure out if they even understand whats going on but they kind of want to be a part of it... while the other third just stand there staring at the crazy people they are surrounded by. We have all been there and you have either experienced one or all three stages of the congregation at hand. Yet after all that arm waving, belting out and and usually heartfelt yearning to feel God`s presence, has anyone ever answered the question "What does it mean to be available to God?" or even the follow up questions "How do I become available to God" and "What does being available to God look like"
Growing up in the church I have always been aware of the fact that I should be available to God because that is the only way that His will would work through my life (not necessarily but that is for another blog... let's stay on topic shall we?) So for years I became really awesome at pretending to know what the heck I was talking about, I "knew" what it meant to be available.... yeah I had absolutely no idea, but I sure looked Christian doing it! It wasn't until the past year or so that I decided to give up the know it all attitude and actually find out the answers to my questions. And while I was in the UK I believe that God pointed out which question to start with, what does being available to God really mean?
So, where did I start my journey of discovery and excitement? Etymology. Literally, what does available mean and where did it come from. According to the Etymology website linked above, the word available means "at one's disposal, capable of being made use of". However, let's not stop there, the word itself derives from the two other words avail + able. The word avail meaning "to be of worth" and the word able means "fit for a purpose". After looking at these three meanings I began to connect the dots which I have broken into three different areas that need to be considered when defining availability.
Avail to be of worth
"...God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us." Romans 5:5 NIV
“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool." Isaiah 1:18 NIV
The concept of being of worth is something that we so easily convey to our friends and family but rarely do we ever apply it to ourselves. Why? Because other than God we are the only ones who know the thoughts that go through our head, the actions that we make and sometimes wish we could actually make. We know how many times we lie, cheat, steal, judge, blame and curse in the span of an hour. I mean in the end we are all sinners, we know this, so God couldn`t ever want to use us because we can't go more than an hour without making a mistake. We see all those around us who seem better equipped to do God's work than we do, and we play the "they will be better at this than me" card. News Flash... They are thinking the exact same thing about you. So, why does this matter in the whole scheme of things? Because we need to get over the idea that we need to qualify by being worthy enough to do God's work when us being worthy was never a prerequisite. Our sin is not a measurement of how much God can use us it is an excuse we give ourselves for us not to be used. See Isaiah 1:18 quoted above; our sins are meaningless because Jesus has already dealt with them, though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow... and because they have already been dealt with they can no longer be used as an excuse. Know this, that through all those sins that constantly bombard your brain, reminding you that you are not worthy of being a child a God; God's love is so much greater. His love is what defines our worth.
This verse below has been my favorite verse for years because it sums up God`s love perfectly. Unstoppable.
"37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:37-39 NIV
Able Fit for a purpose
"But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted."
1 Peter 2:9-10 The Message
There is a massive misconception in the Christian world that if you don't fit the job description of Pastor, Worship Leader, Youth Pastor Master or any of the church staff positions, then you are not called to do God's work. Again, this is just another excuse for limiting what God is doing and how you can be a part of it. Some Christians believe this because they have never been taught otherwise while others believe this because they honestly believe that few are chosen to do God's work, and those few work in your local church. Let me set the record straight, I believe that some of the greatest "mission fields" are those that are everyday circumstances. For example, I have a friend who believes that her ministry is her business. That those who come in contact with her business are those that God wants her to minister to, whether that means taking them for coffee and just being that listening ear or whether that means inviting that person to church. That is her mission field. Another example would be a friend who believes that his love for sports is his mission field. God has gifted him with being athletic and a natural at sports, and he gets the opportunity through the different teams that he plays on to meet a variety of different people. Those are the people God has put there for him to minister to whether through a celebratory beer after a game or whether inviting people out for a pickup game at the church's hockey night. That is his mission field.
(Before I go on any further, you have probably noticed I have yet to use the word purpose but instead have used mission. You will understand why I have distinguished a difference a little later on.. Please continue)
Your mission in life may not be on the platform Sunday mornings, or maybe it is; but just because you don't fit into that mold doesn't mean that your mission is any less important. As you begin your search for what your mission in life might be consider what you enjoy doing? Where does your passion lie? Gary Snowzell defines Passion as ambition that is materialized into action and Passion is where you invest your focus. The things that you are passionate about and the activities that you love doing are not coincidental. God had a part to play in how you work and nothing pleases a Father more than watching their children be successful and enjoy what they are doing. "But what if I don't have what it takes???" One of my favorite sayings that has been passed around recently is "God does not call the equipped, He equips those He calls". God will give you the tools you will need to accomplish anything and everything you have been called to do, but you must have faith that He will be there.
Available at one's disposal
So here is where I explain the difference between mission and purpose that I spoke about earlier; our Purpose comes from the great commission, as Christians we are to go out and make disciples of all nations, while our mission is putting our purpose into action. The goal, if you choose to accept it, is to figure out what your mission will look like.
Being available isn't something that you do half heartedly because, in all honesty, it won't work. Does this mean that being available might mean moving across the country, changing jobs or even changing friends? Yes, that is a possibility. As much as it is sometimes untruthfully preached, being a follower of Christ is not a walk in the park, in fact many times in the New Testament it references the exact opposite of what I would say a walk in the park is (John 15:18-20 ; 2 Timothy 3:12 ; Matthew 10:16-20 and this is only a few examples). After reading those three verses, you are most likely wondering how I am going to turn this around to have a happy, go lucky, positively awesome upside... well here's one word, eternity. Yup, I just went there. On the Pro versus Con list, there is nothing that can outweigh eternity with our maker.
At the very end of it all I have come to the conclusion that what began as a very simple question turns out to be not so simple after all. It's something that you don't answer anxiously without putting thought or consideration into it, you must weigh out what it could look like for you and then ask yourself... do you want to be available to God?