Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Growing Season

It has been a while since I've written, but it hasn't been because of any extraordinary event. Instead, it's been a series of life moments.

Coping, resting, struggling,
exerting, enjoying, recovering,
praying, escaping,
working, worshiping,
crying, surviving.

Wash, Rinse, Repeat.

It's a struggle to maintain my faith sometimes when I face so many physical and circumstantial challenges. The simple act of sleeping is a huge problem for me, and just getting myself out of bed when I wake up can be a big achievement. I find my hope waning when I am eroded by challenges that never seem to end, and I cry out for God to help me endure, to help me to get through these trials in a manner pleasing to him.

A couple days ago, I read about Jesus describing the slow growing nature of the kingdom of heaven by comparing it to the earthly concept of farming. He said:

"The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest had come." ~Mark 4:26-29

Each night and day, I sleep and rise, waiting and watching for God to move and act. I wait like a farmer patiently waits for his crops, realizing that the control is not in my hands.

I think that there is not much excitement or prestige in seasons of waiting. It's a quiet time if you are just a casual observer. Not much happens on the surface. But tiny blades of grain popping up from the soil attest to the fact that there is powerful life at work beneath the surface.

As God uses painful circumstances in my life to shape me and grow me, I'm finding two things:
1) I don't know how to make this process happen on my own. It is God who labors to change and grow my faith through these trials that he allows.
2) The process of growing and waiting is so painfully slow at times as to seem almost stagnant, but there is something powerful happening in my soul as time passes.

It's easy to think of "big faith" in terms of famous evangelists like Billy Graham in a stadium shouting profound words of wisdom, changing lives of thousands at a time. It's natural to think of "active faith" as missionaries traveling the globe, reaching out to touch the poorest of the poor, helping in the far corners of the earth. And those are indeed exciting times of harvest.

But there is so much more to walking with Christ than the "big" moments of harvest. The quiet daily times in his Word - one chapter of scripture each day, one by one by one. One paragraph of sharing my heart in my prayer journal, adding up over the months to fill a book. It's the times of tending to family through encouraging words, caring touch, and helpful deeds that aren't public or glamorous but add up in God's sight. The days when nothing "happens" or "gets done" except determining to hang on to faith, to keep going through another day of discomfort, and to make tomorrow better if possible - those days can easily be regarded as "wasteful," but they make up a very important growing season.

I encourage you today, especially if you are someone struggling with chronic illness like I am, to relax your expectations and not to try to make every day a "harvest" day. It is so easy to overlook the quiet glory of the growing grain.

"Patient endurance" is a powerful phrase that a friend of mine uses when she asks for prayer. Suffering long-term with disability is not easy, and it's natural to just want total relief, but when I read the Bible, I find more and more that "patient endurance" is a quality that God values most highly (and rewards!) in his people. The only way to acquire it, however, is (sadly) not through being hit with God's wand-o'-instant-patience but instead to experience adversity and determine to cling to Christ through it. We build up powerful strength like weightlifters do - one rep at a time. Each setback is another weight on the barbell. We ask God why? He responds with the heaviness of silence. Meanwhile, we keep on lifting as our muscles of faith are growing imperceptibly stronger each and every day.

"If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;"
2 Timothy 2:11-12

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Choose Life

I've been thinking a lot lately about a quote that my mom forwarded to me. It said:

"Almost every trial increases our love for others. So even if we don't see any other good, we know of at least one--more love."

I really liked the quote at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it only applied to people who "choose life." I have seen trials crush my father but grow my mom and me. It really is interesting how "choosing" plays such an important role in faith and how our trials turn out. We literally can choose the bitter and angry route or the love route, and whichever way we choose comes flowing over into our lives and bodies.

I have been mulling that over lately - how each daily choice seems insignificant - each thought we dwell on, each image we take in, each emotion we allow power over us, yet these choices aren't insignificant at all - they are the most significant choices we make. Because each thought I think builds upon the others to influence who I am, how I think, and where I am headed.

I think it's misleading to think of the Christian life as only one single choice for Christ. Granted, it begins that way, but each day after that is a series of choices for either life or death - obedience or rebellion.

This has really come to my attention during the last few years of trials because of how many times I have to consciously decide with my will to continue to believe and wait and have faith, sometimes when I feel very negative emotion...sorrow, fear, grief, discouragement, confusion. Battling these feelings has really highlighted the importance of choosing and exerting my will forcefully in the direction of Christ. Sometimes I think about it as being a boat tied loosely to the dock, and each day I have to make an effort to re-tighten the rope so I don't let the current of this trial gradually pull me away from the shore and into the rapids.

I think choosing life ultimately means choosing to obey in those nitty-gritty moments of pain. Resisting death, for me, can be as simple as singing praise to God from the heart, repeating a promise from scripture, or even harder - a quiet surrender of the will. Not what I will, Lord, but what you will.

This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.
Deuteronomy 30:19-20