Saturday, October 10, 2009

Fit to serve

Hannah Whitall Smith was a practical mystic. She wrote about the mysterious transformation in a person's interior life that resulted in external changes. She claimed that love for God colored the perception of everything in life. Duty became a privilege, and drudgery turned to joyful service.

Hannah said there was no place for insecurity in God's work. He chose the right tool for the job: if he put us in place it was because we were a good fit for the task. He would give us the interest and the ability to accomplish his purposes. Our responsibility was to follow him with all our hearts and do the work at hand with all our might. As we heard his voice, he would move us into place.

The hardest work can be finding a fit. The lucky ones ease into a niche we love, like my husband who gathers information, sorts it, uses it, and passes it on. W teaches in all his fields of interest, from theology to technology to building. He loves to learn new skills. He revels in the classroom. But he has also crafted much of our home with his own hands and is building a cabin piece by piece. He reads the books, gathers the tools, processes the information into useful abilities, and shares his insights and resources with anyone who asks.

My brother is a musician. He played violin from age 5, but fell in love with band instruments in Grade 6. Anything he's done outside music seems like a chore and a bore. Hand him any instrument, a blank book of staff paper (or a computer composer program), a conductor's baton, and an upcoming concert, and he's energized. The arrangements in his head transfer into fabulous sounds as the orchestra or choir comes alive under his direction. The beauty of living in Europe and his interactions with people find expression in his music.

Life is uneven, and God made us as it pleased himself, tools for purposes he has chosen. Some have many gifts and interests. Others are narrowly focused. Billy Graham is often touted as a model of success because he did one and only one thing he was called to do. In contrast, some people touch many others in constant waves of activity, moving through many venues at different times and with multiple talents.

Whether we are good at one thing or many, some are instantly capable while others work laboriously toward competence. Watching someone "sail through life" with seeming ease while we are struggling for every breath may make us doubt ourselves. Watching others weigh every move when we are ready to spring into action can make us impatient or frustrated. Some people stay in a job for a lifetime. Others gets restless after a few years and need new challenges.

"Envy rots the bones," says a proverb. Another adviser counsels, "Be content with what you have." The quick pace of a person who moves from success to success may mask the creative struggle behind every win. The slow thoughtfulness of a perfectionist may blur the steady flow of accomplishments in everything they touch. Who can say which is better? We need all gifts and all voices to understand God moving through the world.

What are we good at? Where is God putting us to best use? Who needs our encouragement and applause, even though they are very different than we?

Read more:
*(Hannah Whitall Smith) "We are so utterly helpless that no matter how careful we were, our service would amount to nothing. What have we to do with thinking whether we are fit or not fit for service? The Master-workman surely has a right to use any tool He pleases for His own work, and it is plainly not the business of the tool to decide whether it is the right one to be used or not... If He chooses to use us, of course we must be fit... His strength is made perfect, not in our strength, but in our weakness. Our strength is only a hindrance."

*A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. Matthew 10:24-25 NIV

*Who are you to pass judgment on another’s servant? Before his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

One person regards one day holier than other days, and another regards them all alike. Each must be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day does it for the Lord. The one who eats, eats for the Lord because he gives thanks to God, and the one who abstains from eating abstains for the Lord, and he gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for himself and none dies for himself. If we live, we live for the Lord; if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. Romans 4:4-8 NET

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Letting go

Amputations are painful. The most curious and devastating effect is the "ghost limb" that continues to itch and irritate.

"That's the one!" my mentor had said, pointing to "Orchestra Pianist" on my checklist of possibilities. We were working through a ministry change, and Margaret insisted I drop activities to take on a leadership challenge.

My heart sank. The orchestra was a weekly family of 30-50 musicians. I had finally learned to sightread, dragged along the score by French horns, violins, and oboes. Now I was to give it up for a new direction.

It took two years of conscious effort to clap and sing with a congregation. I had played piano constantly as a teen and adult, so my fingers daydreamed runs and chords on my lap when we sat and tapped on the back of the pew ahead of me when we stood. My feet still conducted and pedaled the complexities that helped me keep the beat at the piano. But it was a phantom movement. No keyboard sat nearby and no metal feet braced mine for almost a decade.

Then another opportunity opened, and again I practiced (still disliked that as much as ever), played, and breathed music. I fell in love with the choir and looked forward to being part of their community.

Now, after two years, I'm reassigned. Pulling back. Putting aside this season of music to study and work. No more taping pages together because I'm a horrible page-turner. No Wednesday rehearsal and early Sunday run-through. No settling on the bench and letting my fingers decide the patterns for sounds streaming through my inner ear.

It is time to let go. To clap and sing. To tap and wait. To listen and write. To plan and create. To balance and rest.

Ah, but I dread the itch and the irritation of the amputated limb.

Read more:
So what do people get in this life for all their hard work and anxiety? Their days of labor are filled with pain and grief; even at night their minds cannot rest. It is all meaningless. Ecclesiastes 2:22–23

*And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, "This is the way, walk in it," when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. Isaiah 30:21

*So we don't look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. 2 Corinthians 4:18 NLT

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8 NIV

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Decluttering the terreplein

MW Word of the day terreplein: \TAIR-uh-playn\ noun

Meaning: the level space behind a parapet of a rampart where guns are mounted

"Share my yoke with me - it's bearable and we will pull it together," said Jesus.

We've all seen people staggering under stuff that had nothing to do with Jesus' yoke. Stressed, burdened down, stretched almost to breaking, we can't figure out why life is so hard. Where is the joyful abundance Jesus promises? The spiritual terreplein where our gifts and strengths reside is so cluttered with inessentials and obligations that we fear burnout. Sometimes we doubt that the Christian life is worth living. Stress and fatigue threaten to overtake God's offer of joy and peace.

"Does this belong to you?" I learned to ask when talking to people about their responsibilities. "Is this something people expect of you, or is this something God is asking of you?"

We all hope to serve well. But circumstances and seasons come and go: even things we did with great anticipation need to be reevaluated regularly. Ministers and "good" Christians seem to have the hardest time saying no or quitting when their time to serve ends.

For me, this season of life belongs to service at Northwest and study. I've gifted away craft supplies, cleared space for academics, and said no to many things. Yet I'm wearing down physically, spiritually, and emotionally. I'm crabby, stressed, and maxed out. Friendships, time for prayer and spiritual refreshment, and my academic writing have suffered. What's going on?

I recently read a wonderful article by Angela Craig about setting "the good" aside for "the best." Angela is a smart, funny, young minister who has many choices of service because of multiple gifts. She wrote about her intentionality for finding God's direction through the thrilling maze of possibilities.

Listening to God in prayer today, I heard the still small Voice giving me advice I have given others, "Evaluate each part of life. Is this what I am asking you to do? Are you willing to say 'no' or 'not now, sorry!' to everything else? (EVERYTHING else?!) Or are you stubbornly going to suffer by keeping a hand in everything you want to do?"

Sigh. What kind of answer can we give to such questions? God gives us fair warning in scripture that life belongs to him. He designates 24 hours to each person, with work, rest, and relationships in balance. When we're out of whack, it is our own doing.

"I wish I had 26 hours a day," someone said to me at the minister's retreat last week. EEEK. No thank you.

This week I'm in strict tandem training, learning what the easy yoke feels like. It feels so unfamiliar that it will take a while to rework my posture to accept it, but I'm game to try!

What do you need to shed in your life, maybe just for autumn, but maybe for good?

Read more:
*Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins.

A voice of one calling: "In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.

And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. Isaiah 40:1-5 NIV

*No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:13 NLT