Homework and a Psalm

1. Teachers need weekends to refocus and decompress. Until I started teaching, I never realized how important a weekend is. Especially Saturday. And this Saturday was especially lovely. In the morning, I had two private English lessons that went well. Then Ola called to say she couldn’t come to my place right away, but could she bring food now anyhow?

What sane person is going to refuse food brought to her?

So I ate her pumpkin soup and rested alone until Ola and her son came back. Then while he did his homework at the kitchen table, I helped her with her advanced grammar homework for university. Inversion and the passive voice. Fun, fun. It was a perfectly relaxing afternoon: drink tea, sit beside a friend, do grammar, and eat food she brought, plus brownies. Plus there was an extra hour with the time change. Yay!

2. During the week, reading Psalm 136, it occurred to me that it would fun to write a modern-day psalm like that. So this morning in my youth Sunday school class, we wrote one. First, we read Psalm 136 and talked about how it can sound boring and like a meaningless chant, OR it can be a tool used in poetry to emphasis something wonderful that we don’t want to forget. Probably no other line in the Bible is repeated quite like this, so it must mean that it’s worth remembering.

Then we collaborated and made our own and it was fun and true and beautiful. Here it is:

1. We saw a beautiful sunrise, for His mercy endures forever.

2. We played football and won, for His mercy endures forever.

3. We walked in the forest and saw beautiful colors, for His mercy endures forever.

4. We have hands to work and be creative with, for His mercy endures forever.

5. We studied hard and learned alot, for His mercy endures forever.

6. We had good times with friends and family, for His mercy endures forever.

7. We enjoyed wonderful warm sunshine, for His mercy endures forever.

8. We read good books and watched good films, for His mercy endures forever.

9. We ate delicious food, pizza, oatmeal, cakes, for His mercy endures forever.

10. We ran in the field, for His mercy endures forever.

11.We could sleep one hour longer, for His mercy endures forever.

Faith and Hope

We were discussing heroes of faith. Someone pointed out that Sarah actually laughed, didn’t believe God’s promise. And yet she’s listed in Hebrews 11. My friend leaned over to whisper something more to me, and was taken aback to see tears creeping out of my eyes. I wasn’t sad or grieving, just overwhelmed.

Sarah didn’t always have faith. Her idea of Hagar bearing the promised son was blatant unbelief. And yet she’s one of the faith heroes. That means I have a chance to be a hero of faith too. Amazing.

It doesn’t happen often, but now and then a new friend will say to me, “You surprise me–I thought you were one of those people who has it all together.”

So let me clarify here: I don’t have it all together. I have hangups, questions, gaping wounds. I don’t believe God when He says something. I keep arguing with Him. I stratify people and think some are less or more worthy of my love. I have issues, problems, flaws. I am a Sarah, puzzled at God’s words and laughing sarcastically when they don’t make sense.

Those issues don’t define who I am, but they shape how I look at and respond to things around me. And anyone who knows me well knows I don’t have it all together. That’s why I take such comfort in God’s love, because He knows me fully and loves me anyhow. On Sunday, Hebrews 11 let me peek at what can be possible for someone who doesn’t have it all together.

And it gave me hope.

Pentecost

This morning I woke up earlier than necessary, and obeyed the nudge to take a long walk and talk to God about a lot of my friends who were on my mind. Last night on the phone, I told one of them that I don’t understand how it works or helps, but I WILL pray for her.

God and I have this frequent discussion and we had it again this morning. It goes something like this:
Me: I don’t understand why talking to You about these people changes anything. Do You just beam them a shot of courage or strength or hope or inspiration or whatever it is that they need, when I ask You?
Him: I’m not telling you what I do or what I give them or how I answer. I’m just asking that you talk to Me.
Me: Sometimes when I’m feeling unsettled, peace comes to me in gentle ripples and washes over me. Is that because someone was praying for me?
Him: Maybe.
Me: And when I ask You for things on my behalf or others’, You never make me feel guilty or selfish. It’s as if You like hearing from me.
Him: I do.
Me: And then I feel better, calmer, more loved. Is that what prayer is about?
Him: Maybe.
Me: And it seems that when I bring neediness and brokeness to You, that is an act of worship or praise because it’s acknowledging that I can’t fix this, but You can, and I think You like hearing that.
Him: I do!
Me: Maybe it’s ok that I don’t understand how prayer works because You don’t want it to become formulaic, and You know how fond I am of solutions and plans to reduce problems.
Him: You’re getting close…

Then at church, the first hymn was a prayer and the 2nd verse was one of my very favourites: Oh, bring our dearest friends to God; remember those we love. Fit them on earth for Thy abode; fit them for joys above.
And the next hymn sang: Father-like, He tends and spares us; well our feeble frame He knows. In His hands He gently spares us, rescues us from all our foes…

In Sunday school, the ladies shared prayer needs and I was asked to pray. As earlier in the morning, it was the same verbalizing of neediness, the same thankfulness/worship for His strength and perfect wisdom. Tears dripped off my cheeks despite (maybe because of?) the confidence and gratitude deep in my spirit.

Pentecost. Why does the powerful, infinite Creator inhabit His dusty created? Why does the Spirit fill and guide and intercede on our behalf with groanings that can’t be put into words? It must be because of a love that is larger than anything anyone can know.

I’m learning that part of prayer is acknowledging that love, and that’s what changes me when I pray.

PS–Where Credit is Due

As an addendum to the last post: my inspiration about the power of story comes from speaker and author Donald Miller.

Also, a quote from Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands by Paul David Tripp helped to give guidance to my thoughts in the discussion about how much God is interested in our heart’s treasures:

What rules my heart will shape the way I deal with life’s saddest and sweetest moments.

The Rich Young Ruler and me

I approached teaching the ladies’ class Sunday school yesterday with trepidation because I didn’t want the discussion to degenerate into talking about money and selling all our possessions. Discussions about finances have their place, to be sure, but not in this place, at this time. We were looking at the account of the rich young ruler and the question he put to Jesus: What must I do to inherit eternal life?

Seeing this wasn’t a parable with a commentary, we approached the story as a story. I maintain that story is more powerful than doctrine. Story maps a grid, sets a compass for us, so that we can know what is truth and error, what is wise and good or foolish and reprehensible. An account by which we can make observations such as: this is what a foolish/wise man does, this is how Christ meets a seeker, these are Jesus’ life-giving words, this is how big God is.

So among the few phrases I under-lined as observations from the story were treasure in heaven and kingdom of heaven and with God all things are possible.

It seemed to me that these words were what Jesus really cared about when He spoke with the young man. He still does. He is concerned that our treasures are in heaven, that we focus on His kingdom, and that we never forget how He makes all things possible. In that light, money and selling all that we have are peripheral issues and not the crux of the matter.

I love Luke, and how He puts these human touches on Christ. Luke, the doctor and people-watcher, observed that the young man went away sad, and then Jesus became sad too. I wonder if our treasures sadden Him sometimes.

How quickly our treasures become tangibles like food and appearance. Or intangibles like ministry and people’s praise. He said “Your heart will be where your treasure is.” What is it that we feel we would die without? Is it Christ, who makes me His treasure? If He is my treasure, it will never be shaken or taken away.

We were fourteen ladies in the circle. What would happen if fourteen ladies met their world and went about their work with their highest treasure being their Redeemer and Lord?

For where your treasure is…

The SS lesson focused on various pieces in Proverbs that addressed intemperance, drunkenness, and the temptation of wine. I wasn’t into talking about alcoholism, and instead pursued a side trail that addressed issues of the heart that lead to intemperance of all kinds. It’s easy to think the drunk has it all wrong but what about our excesses that we justify easily?

One of the ladies explained that in her mother tongue, Portuguese, the word that sounds like our word ‘temperance’ means ‘seasoning.’ I like that. No one wants excessive seasoning. We can take anything to excess: work, sleep, relationships ( a biggy for us women), hobbies, on-line time, food, exercise, church. Paul wrote to the Galatians that the only things there are no laws against are the fruit of the Spirit. You can never love too much or have too much peace or joy.

Thus, the only way to avoid excess is to have Christ capture our hearts, and make Him our highest joy. Out of that comes fruit that is pleasant and never excessive or intemperate.

Whatever rules the heart will exercise inescapable influence over one’s life and behavior.

If something is your treasure, you will live to gain, maintain, and enjoy it.

The things we set our hearts on never remain under our control.

Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, Paul David Tripp

Slothfulness vs. Fervent in Spirit

I follow “Boundless,” Focus on the Family’s blog for singles, and this post was particularly thought-provoking. I have a lot of respect for Josh Harris, and his honesty here has potential to be life-changing.

It gave me something to go on when teaching the ladies’ SS class last Sunday. I mentioned, like Josh Harris did, that we probably don’t think about laziness in terms of wanting to sleep all day–at least I don’t. But the ladies started laughing self-consciously, and said it’s an issue for them. Then it emerged that one is prone to bad migranes, another is pregnant, another is recovering from serious ear/sinus infection, and so wanting to sleep is, for them, necessary, and not necessarily a sign of laziness.

It can be hard–if not impossible–to quantify laziness or lack of self-control in the physical realm. I’m not sure that working hard from dawn to dusk so as to keep up with the latest and preserve my reputation with the neighbors is the best kind of diligence. I tend to think that God is more interested in what is unseen, and whether my heart is intentional about seeking His face and His kingdom. That means being decisive about where my soul’s energies go. About doing the thing that needs to be done with a view of the future, and not only the convenience/pleasure of the present moment. It was the man without understanding and forsight whose house was covered in weeds and thorns. I think God is pleased when we live life with thought and intent. It is how He made us to operate, and it helps keep out the weeds from our souls.