Friday, January 29, 2016

Living Out the Quiet Spirit ("Study," Part 4)

Heaving with nearly uncontrollable sobs, the young girl stormily sat, unsettled in spirit and far from placid in demeanor.  The cause?  A toy, torn from her hands by a younger sibling, now broken in pieces on the floor, never to touch her hands again.  Growing up.  Part of life.  Pain.  Challenge.  Difficulty.  Frustration.  But the time comes that similar toys hold no sway over us and function merely as a memory of the past, whimsical reminders of days gone by in that period which seemed to stretch a century--childhood.  King David spoke of such a quiet stillness that had descended upon him.
“Surely,” he writes in Psalm 131:2, “I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: my soul is even as a weaned child.”  How could this man retain a quiet heart when he knew the secret?  That mesmerizing, unique, incredible secret, hidden to others but known to only a few others and himself?
Years before, when Samuel had arrived in Bethlehem to anoint one of Jesse’s sons king, seven young men had passed before the priest.  But David missed the action:  he was busy watching his dad’s sheep. None of these sons, however, was God’s choice.  Let us look in on that scene, recorded for us in I Samuel 16:11-13--
And Samuel said unto Jesse, Are here all thy children? And he said, There remaineth yet the youngest, and, behold, he keepeth the sheep. And Samuel said unto Jesse, Send and fetch him: for we will not sit down till he come hither.  And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to. And the LORD said, Arise, anoint him: for this is he.
What delightful words to Samuel’s elderly ear!  He had at last found the Lord’s anointed.  “Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward . . . (I Samuel 16:12).
Throughout his teen years and into his twenties, David knew the secret that lay shrouded from others: he would become Israel’s next king.  For years, David battled for Saul and the nation of Israel, winning victories, defeating Philistines, and standing valiantly for truth.  While he never forgot his anointing, he also sought never to behave himself in an untoward way because of it.  Instead, he kept a quiet heart with internal trust in an unchanging God.  No wonder he bears the title “the sweet singer of Israel.”  His praise songs echo throughout the inspired songbook of Scripture.  Implicit dependence upon an omnipotent God—this theme rings through time and again as David, his heart weaned and quieted, could write about his rock-solid relationship with the omniscient God.
We too find that our inward spirits of either quietness or worry are often formed, not in balmy seasons or pleasant days, but when we are placed in the pressure cooker of affliction or rebuke, waiting or activity, living out a reality we never dreamed.  And then we must respond with a quiet heart.  This is the place that theory meets practicality, idea meets daily living.  And how does one actually live out a quiet spirit? 
With her husband and five school-aged children, my friend Tina is a missionary to Kenya, East Africa. Most American Christians would consider the slum region, where she and her family ministered at the beginning of their time on the Dark Continent, “no place to raise children. “  A hotbed of illness, especially AIDS and tuberculosis, this area boasted an array of dirty and diseased Africans, who would often ask to hold Tina’s little ones.  
 “Here you go,” she'd say with a smile, giving her babies to the nationals for a few moments. Tina relates, “I wanted these people to see that I love them.  If I refused to allow them to hold my children, they would look at me as someone who thought she was better than them.” 

When asked to sit on the floor of a mud hut to enjoy Chai in these regions, she would kindly accept.  Ironically, her only cases of food poisoning occurred while dining with the rich elites in  downtown Nairobi.  By keeping a quiet heart, my friend learned to see the peace of God envelop her in time of physical need, when the challenge to keep a quiet heart was especially great.  And God protected both her and her children in return. 
As we yield to God’s Spirit of peace, we too can evidence that quiet spirit blossoming forth from our lives, allowing us to live the reality of a quiet spirit every day!  Like David, we will be able to sing that our souls are rested, still, quiet.  Satisfied.  Like a weaned child.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Word "Study", Part 3: Worry, an Enemy to a Quiet Spirit

"Why worry, when you can pray? / Trust Jesus, He'll be Your stay / Don't be a "doubting Thomas"; / Rest fully on His promise / Why worry, worry, worry, worry / When you can pray?"
It's a simple song that I sang dozens of times as a child.  In my child-like naiveté, I often wondered how anyone could walk a path besides that of faith.  But sure enough, as I sought to pursue a quiet spirit, I found myself stumbling down a treacherous walkway named Worry.   Following this trail, I learned just how far removed I was from that unbothered spirit so highly praised in I Peter 3.
Advertisements from a reprint of a 1910 Sears and Roebuck catalog are transfixed in my memory as I consider a unique treasure from my childhood.  Sometimes I'd settle onto the carpet in our living room, the reprinted catalog before me, imagining life as it had been and would be no more.  Now imagine with me for a moment a catalog entitled Worry.  Page 21 contains the section entitled "Desire for Others' Good Opinion" (even though God says "favor is deceitful").  Here, advertisements abound, luring the potential buyer to partake in some appealing brand of worry.  Pages 25-35 alphabetically list stresses caused by unforeseen circumstances.  The last quarter of the book pictures all sorts of possibilities that may occur in trying times.  While no such physical catalog exists, we often live as if we know pages of the worry catalog far better than the rock-solid promises of the Word of God! 
Consider the words of Romans 6:6— “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey, whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?”  In life, we may feel the muscle of circumstance becoming strained as we  immediately respond to some curve ball or change up—and expect to win the game to follow.  No matter the circumstance, Peter’s message to women--and Paul’s message to the Thessalonians-- encourages us to walk the way of quiet surrender.
In all reality, the One who is acquainted with all our ways has gone before us this day!  His Word tells us in Psalm 139 that He has beset our path both before and behind! In embracing this phenomenal truth, I found that worry is an enemy to biblical meditation.  That circumstance, which I had turned over in the video department of my mind, could rest in His care.  I could replace systematized meditation upon that unfortunate event (worry) with biblical meditation upon God's truth.  I could "meditate day and night" upon the promises of Scripture.  Instead of picturing possible problems, I could consider Christ walking into that situation ahead of me.  Perhaps it was a strained relationship.  I could imagine our Lord there at that moment, calming the heart of that one, supplying grace and love in abundance.  I could view Christ the Victor leading me into that turbulent place—wherever it was, at home, at work, with others, or alone—and putting my fretful heart at rest.  The billows might enter the bark, but He could still calm the storm!  
What a blessed thought!  Our heavenly Father knows our needs even before we even ask Him.  In all reality, the very hairs of our head are all numbered!  The Good Shepherd has put His hand upon us and is acquainted with all our ways (Psalm 139).  As incredible as it seems, there is not a word in our tongues but—lo! He knoweth it altogether!  His loving ear hears those words that no one else discerns coming from the cry of an aching heart; He, mercifully and pitifully, extends His hands—those nail-pierced ones—and longs for us to take consolation in the truth that Christ Jesus was in all points “tempted like as we are, yet without sin”!
Is it possible, in this day of ministry burnout, panic attacks, and the like, that we as Christian women have failed to recognize the sinfulness of worry?  Worry threatens the path of victorious Christian living--and that pursuit of quietness commanded in I Thessalonians 4.  In embracing worry, we essentially commit idolatry, placing the god of our own opinion above the God of the Scripture.  In essence, we become practical atheists in our Christianity, fretting about little things, failing to cast into His lap the whole lot.  Though we know all is from Him and orchestrated by His hand, we continue the daily, miserable cycle of anxiety.  Instead of being anxious for nothing, we can worry about almost everything.  Instead of being stayed upon Jehovah, we can so easily focus upon the problems about us.  Then, instead of finding perfect peace, we find instead emptiness, hopelessness, vanity, and a lot of inner turmoil--a far cry from the place of quiet rest so commended in I Peter 3 and commanded in I Thessalonians 4:11a.
Eight times in the book of Psalms we read the prayer “quicken me.”  Quicken has changed somewhat in meaning from the way it was used in 1611, but noting other uses of the word in Scripture will help us discern its intent.  Elsewhere it is translated “live, life, alive, revive, recover.”  When God says He will judge the quick and the dead (I Peter 4:5; 2 Tim. 4:1), for example, we understand that He will judge the living and the dead. How desperately we need God’s perspective to transform our worried hearts; we need His quickening. When we are made aware of a sin’s enormity, repentance demands that we turn from that sin, thinking differently about it.  In the texts below, note how the psalmist cries out for God’s awakening in his own spirit: 
Behold, I have longed after thy precepts: quicken me in thy righteousness (Ps. 119:40).
Quicken me after thy lovingkindness; so shall I keep the testimony of thy mouth (Ps. 119:88).
“I am afflicted very much: quicken me, O LORD, according unto thy word” (Ps. 119:107).
Hear my voice according unto thy lovingkindness: O LORD, quicken me according to thy judgment “ (Ps. 119:149).
“Plead my cause, and deliver me: quicken me according to thy word” (Ps. 119:154)
“Great are thy tender mercies, O LORD: quicken me according to thy judgments (Ps. 119:156).
“Consider how I love thy precepts: quicken me, O LORD, according to thy lovingkindness” (Ps. 119:159).
Quicken me, O LORD, for thy name’s sake: for thy righteousness’ sake bring my soul out of trouble” (Ps. 143:11).
We would do well, when turning from any sin, to pray such prayers with the psalmist, to beg God for his quickening in our hearts, which have been spiritually deadened by our failure to yield to Him from the time we open our eyes in the morning until we close them again at night.  This cry of desperation often softens the soils of our hearts so hardened by sin and allows the Master Plower to begin his furrows anew, ever deepening our fellowship with Him.  In this soil, the Spirit’s fruit flourishes and grows. 
That continual yieldedness to His way, the bowing of our hearts to His Word—these our Lord does not despise. At every juncture, yield. Certainly deliverance from any sin involves, not only a yielding, but also an embracing of God’s commands. 
My first I-pad was a bargain.  Not incredibly concerned about having the latest technology, a young man in our church, who had recently upgraded his I-pad, was looking for a buyer for his older model.  This device had a bit of wear—the screen had been replaced.  But it cost me a mere $100.  My laptop was slowly dying (the screen would black out on me several times a day) and, being a teacher, I felt the I-pad would assist me when my computer was not cooperating.  I purchased the I-pad and received an essentially new device.  Any Apps I wanted I would need to acquire for myself. 
In a similar way, our hearts need a switch to occur.  For us, that change may mean deleting “old programs” with worry data and reinstalling the lasting Apps which have as their description “God’s thoughts.”  Reformat the hard drive.  Reprogram the device.  That device is our mind, the place of continual spiritual warfare.  I’ve listed a few files that need to be placed on the computer, a few Apps that need to be installed and daily accessed:
 “In everything give thanks” (I Thess. 5:18).
“Rejoice evermore” (I Thess. 5:16).
“Pray without ceasing” (I Thess. 5:17).
“Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might” (Ecc. 9:10). 
“I will praise thee, O LORD, with my whole heart; I will shew forth all thy marvellous works.  I will be glad and rejoice in thee: I will sing praise to thy name, O thou most High” (Psalm 9:1-2).

Let these words be your meditation as you learn to respond, not as a worried, fretting creature, but as the King’s daughter, all glorious within!

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Word "Study," Part 2, and How I Was Checked at my Own Game

“Check!”  I said, looking across the chess board at my twelve-year-old nephew last New Year’s Eve.
Our game of chess had been long and now, my nephew’s king, double-checked by both a knight and a bishop, rendered him unable to move.  David had tired of the long game and actually welcomed the opportunity to lose. 
Life, however, is not a game of chess.  But some similarities exist.  If, for example, we were playing against “Life’s future,” believing that God controls every future moment as He has our past, we might plan our moves based on what we believe God will do next in our lives, having seen many other lives “played out” before us.  But when God checks us at our own game, we usually don’t feel too overjoyed to have our ideas come to completion.  Perplexed, we wonder why He’s moved thus in our lives.  And we often doubt His goodness. 
Quietness.  That was what I was to pursue, according to I Thessalonians 4:11.  That is what I was to follow and vie for and compete for in life.  But when I was checked in my own game of life by none other than the hand of God, I found a quiet heart eluding me.  I found worry becoming my normative reality instead of walking the quiet way that God had intended.  This check on my spirit revealed itself in numerous ways.  I saw, for instance, my own internal spirit chafing:  that was not a quiet heart.  I found myself wearing a cloak of fear:  that was not a quiet heart.  And as I mulled over my unsettled spirit, I realized it all had to do with the fact that my idea of God’s will for my life and God’s idea for His will for my life were polar opposites.
Indeed, God hadn’t worked in my life the way I thought He would.  After getting saved as a young child, I had dedicated my life to the Lord at the age of six.  I wasn’t quite sure how God would use me, but I had a list of desires; at the top of that list was to be in full-time Christian ministry.  In my elementary years, I was enamored by the thought of being an evangelist’s wife.  Later, I thought a pastor’s wife would be ideal; come high school, I was convinced God had me designated to the high calling of missionary on some remote corner of the globe, translating Bibles, teaching my children at home, watching them develop inquisitive minds, and excel in music and linguistics.  These were all beautiful desires and, I was convinced, the best possible plan for a person in my shoes.  I’d read oodles of missionary biographies as a child and, with a world shaped by the deeds of others, I thought surely I, too, would have a book to write of my own one day, for I would have lived and walked with Christ and been a role model for people of the ages to follow, like William Carey and Mary Slessor and Adoniram Judson, and so many more.
But reality did not turn out as my dreams imagined it would.  My notion of surrender was passing before my eyes as vapor rising from a pond in autumn.  And these lovely ideals continued to alter as I progressed through life, so that by the time I was 29, my life looked nothing like my imagined picture of it.  This was the age David Brainerd had died—and had left a legacy, too.  John and Betty Stam had been martyred at this age, but what did I have to show for my 29 years?  I was enjoying my life, but my dreams lay buried in the sand. 
I knew the Lord and wanted to be used of God—but so often felt that I was missing out on something and, deep down, wondered if God had somehow made a mistake.  When I went to pick up a young girl for church, who lived in a ramshackle house with dilapidated furniture, I considered her plight and that of her big sister, who had just run off and gotten pregnant and wondered. . . . why do those who refuse God get the privilege of raising children when their hearts aren’t even surrendered to God and they don’t even have as their primary desire to raise little ones for His glory?
Boiling it all down, I really wanted be a mom.  My life focus and energy had been steered that direction.  My college major had always been with the intention of, “until I’m married and have children.”  At 29, I was biding my time at a Christian school, working in ministry every day of my life but waiting for the big moment when I would meet that missionary, marry, and head to the foreign field.  The next year, I met the man who would be my husband and soon we were married.  Finally!  I thought, I would be able to settle down and have children, a husband in full-time ministry, and a home of my own, where I would be able to raise children for God, the occupation I felt was God’s highest calling for women.
Year after year passed and although doctors were visited, money was spent, and an unborn child awaits me in heaven, I have, as yet, no living earthly children.  This reality stared me in the face every time my husband and I visited somewhere and were asked, “Do you have any children?”  It became especially raw when other mothers at church were expecting “another child” yet again.  And, try as I might to let it not happen, this reality began to eat my heart away.  That heart I had given to God to do “whatever He wanted with” began to really struggle with a lack of joy.  I saw families where the kids left home and went into sin or others where the parents did not view their children as the priceless treasures to be raised for God that He intended.  I became discontent as I looked out and imagined life as it was not.
Early last year, however, God confronted me head-on with my lack of contentment.  I was struggling to be joyful at family gatherings, seeing every other married sibling embracing their own children and having that wonderful parental bond that I’d always imagined would be mine.  But when I heard a message with two words describing a meek and quiet spirit as “not bothered,” something inside of me jolted upright.  The words stuck with me.  They came back to me like a boomerang on days when I felt dejected.  Within weeks, I had read another truth in the word of God:  “The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way.”  And then, one night in the car, driving home from an out-of-state visit, I surrendered—really and truly surrendered.  I’ve never stopped hoping for children or for that fictitious family that exists on the pages of the biography of my mind. But suddenly I surrendered—not to my idea of God’s will for my life, but of God’s idea of His will for me. 
Words that had coursed through my mind, echoing there as in a hollow chamber for weeks before that ultimate surrender were:  “He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30).  Believe me, I would love to have that beautiful family.  But I am far more interested in God’s fulfilling His will in me than in my getting my own way. 
Lamentations 3:26 states, “It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.”   That surrender to God’s way in my life—really, truly, His way and not my own labeled as His—showed me in just how many endeavors of life I had worn a cloak of worry instead of one of waiting and how that vying for quietness had eluded me, like the golden pot at the end of a rainbow.  As I began to emerge from my darkness, embracing the joyous reality of this God who is my continual helper, who commands me to “be content with such things as [I] have, for [He] will never leave [me] nor forsake [me],” I began to see that my lack of surrender was at the crux of my worried, unquiet spirit.
 The word study on quietness yielded many rich dividends, but the reality of embracing quietness for myself lay in my implicit trust that God’s way is better.  Always.  No matter if I can see His reality or no.  Thus I learned that to meet with quietness, surrender is absolutely necessary.   My next article will deal with the concept of worry and understanding just how worry blocks us in our pursuit of a quiet heart.  Recognizing worry as sin is often the first step in realizing we are not living out the unbothered spirit which God intends for us to have.

“Check!”  When we feel blocked by the hand of Almighty God, it is time to consider:  have I fully surrendered?  Today, I would plead with you, if you are living in the storm-like conditions of a billowing soul, failing to “rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him” (Psalm 37:7), you may find buried somewhere a lack of surrender that triggers such a worried spirit.   May I urge you to study, strive, and vie for the quietness only Christ can bring by entirely surrendering your will to Him and thus casting your worry into the lap of our dear Savior!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Traversing the Testaments: The Word STUDY, Part 1

One hot evening this past summer, I felt an incredible sense of accomplishment the moment I got off my bike in downtown Milwaukee.  My husband and I had started earlier that Saturday morning, trekking across country highways and pedaling across bike paths, to make my longest bike trip so far--from our home in Mukwonago to his workplace in downtown Milwaukee.  Moving forward through city after city and county after county, we rode.  Arriving at our destination, I felt a surge of strength and energy from the cardio-vascular activity, almost as if I had conquered something.  To top it off, we had ridden for hours on pretty standard Walmart mountain bikes--not the best selection for on-road cycling--and had that day completed more of a challenge than many of the cyclists who pedaled portions of the same trails with us.
Completing a worthwhile task always has its share of blessings.  "Desire accomplished is sweet to the soul," was one of my mother's favorite verses as we worked together in the kitchen canning beans, in the garden picking corn, or in the house preparing for guests.  But Heaven, that final destination for believers, will be alive with wonder and gratitude as we embrace the kinds of challenges for which God intends us to vie on this side of eternity.  
In a very real way, my first word study and my first trek to Milwaukee parallel, for they illustrate a kind of attainment for which we are to reach in our Christian experience.
                          Studying the Word “Study”
Responding to my husband’s prompting to more closely investigate God’s Word for myself, I decided my very first question to pursue would be, “What does the Bible say about studying?”  To discover this answer, I popped open the lid of my six-year-old laptop and began searching, using my handy Bible software, to discover instances where the word study was used and noting its underlying original language definitions. 
            I’d taught piano since I was fourteen, had majored in education in Bible college, had been employed as a Christian school teacher for nearly a decade, and had engaged in countless discussions concerning correct study techniques. I’d even read books on increasing memory ability and written papers about how best to study, but never before had I searched out what God had to say concerning this topic!  Isn’t that a most typical response? To learn what “experts” say about an issue or to view it from many perspectives except the one inspired by God?
My doctrinal statement, though never written out as a man’s who is presenting his call before a board of pastors at an ordination council, would have indicated that I believe in the verbal, plenary inspiration of Scripture.  I would say that God has preserved His words and that His Book is my only guide in life.  As a Baptist, I would affirm that His Word is my “only rule of faith and practice.”  And yet, I could go for years without even considering that the Bible should be my sourcebook not merely for devotional reading but also for personal study in every area of life!  As I began to study out this word, I realized how sorely I lacked biblical study habits.  But, as time went on, my view of personal devotional time became revolutionized as I was introduced to the depth with which God desires to cut into the pride of our hearts as we experience the sharpened sword of His Word.
A word of caution:  While studying the Scripture is certainly commendable and something commanded by God, our time in the Bible ought be continually coupled with an attitude of deep humility and contrition.  Proverbs 2 indicates the kind of attitude with which God’s Word is to be approached: 
My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding;
Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; Then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.
A heart cry that desires God’s Word above our own way, that longs for His wisdom, that searches out His truth—these characteristics allow us to discover the fear of God and perceive His knowledge.  A will to obey whatever God says will outflow from such a heart cry.  Second Peter explains, “Add to your faith virtue, and to virtue, knowledge” (2 Peter 1:5).  Thus, learning God’s Word is another layer of the building a believer’s life.  The basement is that initial faith and the first floor is made up of the lasting material, virtue—a will to obey it.  Certainly, study without application or without proper motivation produces only pride:  “Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth” (I Cor. 8:1).  With a driving motivation, then, to live by God’s every word, understanding that “man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God,” let us begin our journey and consider how we can better understand the words which God has preserved for us.
Study:  An Introduction to the Word Itself

In my first investigation of this word, I learned that study in our English Bibles is used only twice in the New Testament—first in I Thessalonians 4:11 and again in 2 Timothy 2:15. However, the Greek word translated study in 1 Thessalonians 4:11 is translated strive in Romans 15:20, where Paul writes, “Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation” and as labor in 2 Corinthians 5:9— “Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.”  Thus, these two very picturesque English verbs, labor and strive, blend to connote this verb, study.  I hadn’t before realized there was such force behind this word!
First Thessalonians 4:11, the initial instance of this word in the Greek New Testament, sees Paul commanding the Thessalonians, “ And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you.”  I will be dealing with each of the study habits described in this verse (quietness, doing one’s own business, and working with one’s own hands) and will be applying them to the lives of Christian women.  First, however, it is important to realize that the Greek word here used is philotimeomai, which has as its definition, “to vie for, to aspire to.”  BDAG rounds out the semantic scope of the word this way:  “having as one’s ambition, considering it an honor.”
The primal New Testament command to study, then, concerns one vying for and aspiring to, among other traits, the habit of quietness.  Now that concept struck my interest immediately, for linking itself in my mind to Paul’s direction to these believers was Peter’s clear admonition that women specifically adorn themselves with the trait of quietness.  How exactly does one study to be quiet? I wondered.  Having grown up in a pastor’s family with nine siblings, I knew quietness may not exist in my circumstances.  And yet, while it may be far removed from our physical condition, with all our striving and labor and diligence, we are to labor to “be quiet. . .”   
And I began to wonder….how does one vie for quietness?  It seemed paradoxical and well nigh impossible, as I observed various Christian women around me disturbed by a worried spirit, on the verge of emotional breakdowns, and even dealing with panic attacks.  As I considered these things more deeply, I discovered areas in my life that I, too, had become plagued by worry.  I hadn’t meant for it to happen.  But it had crept in, slowly and surely, since those first days of marital bliss, to wrap about me as a kudzu vine wraps about the redwoods in California.  
In my next article, I will explain how I realized that my aspiration for quietness was an ongoing endeavor and not something that could be solved immediately forever. I will demonstrate how easily we fall from this worthwhile pursuit and commit the sins of worry and fear, which hinder our ability to truly embrace the quiet spirit for which we are to vie. Because of the constant vigilance required to study quietness, I have not always succeeded in achieving the kind of demeanor for which Peter calls or which Paul here commends.  Like any worthwhile pursuit, our study to be quiet must initially be viewed as the serious endeavor that it is.  In my next entry, I will discuss how this investigation for quietness has truly begun to transform my Christian walk and demeanor of life in many practical ways.