Best of Community: When Your “Yes” Holds You Back

Positive Thoughts, Mr Glen

Several years ago a mentor told me, “Potential does not equal calling.”

“It doesn’t?” I replied, puzzled. Because if I’m not supposed to take on a new task, why did God give me the ability? Why all these golden opportunities if I’m just supposed to say no?

She then gave Jesus as an example . . .

——–

This week marks the last week for many editors at The High Calling. Many thanks to them for their excellent work in making community and connections over the years. I am honored that they chose one of my articles as part of their “Best of Community” highlights. Read the full article at The High Calling: When Your “Yes” Holds You Back.

Photo credit: Glen Scott, via Flickr Creative Commons

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Running Uphill

For The High Calling community link-up topic: How do you pursue God? One way I pursue God is by obeying Him—and when I pursue Him this way, His blessings pursue me!

How about you? Submit your own story on pursuing God by October 4!

UPDATE: This post was featured at The High Calling. Join me there.

pursuegodlinkup

Over the 2009 holidays I fed my belly with lumpia, atole, chocolate cake—everything that came out of my kitchen.

I overindulged. Something had to change.

Two days after Christmas, I started running every day. We live on a hill, so those first days I ran half a block (downhill) and walked half a block (uphill), three times. Three times around the block wasn’t much.

Still, each day built on the one before. Eventually, I worked up from almost-negligible to three miles a day. I still go slowly, but I go.

A couple of years after I started running, someone close to me had hurt me. That Wednesday and Thursday, I was raging. I fed my heart with too much bitterness, resentment, hatred—everything I allowed to come out of my heart.

I overindulged in anger. Something had to change.

As I jogged that angry Wednesday I asked God my standard question that works for any circumstance: “Father, how do You want me to respond?” When I pray like this, I often get no neon sign, no immediate answer.

But this time it was immediate, in big, flashing neon:
Love her.

Impossible, I thought, feeling my upper lip wrinkle. IM-POSS-I-BLE.

Yet I chose to remember God’s works in my past. (The remembering was crucial.) I prayed out loud in faith: God, I remember years ago when I thought it was impossible to forgive Ben. But you did the impossible and helped me forgive in that relationship. I believe you can do it again, in this relationship. (I spoke these words with my vocal cords, but inside I thought, Yeah, right.)

I turned left, up Centennial Blvd (the steepest part of my running route). God brought to mind the run with endurance verses. I felt my leg muscles pushing off the pavement, steadily. There was a time, though, when I refused even to attempt that route, turning right instead of left because there was no way I could run up that hill.

extreme uphill portion
But one day I tried it, and it was hard. I repeated it every day, and the hill became not only possible but no longer difficult.

This brought new meaning to the phrase “run with endurance.” If I would try loving her just once, and build up my endurance by repeating loving acts, then rather than seeming impossible, it would actually no longer be difficult. It would eventually become easy—as Jesus said His yoke would be.

In order to “run with endurance,” I first had to … start running.

The biblical “run with endurance” doesn’t happen at the first attempt; it happens over time, when I run over and over. Running with endurance doesn’t mean I can wake up in the morning and, if I set my jaw firmly enough, I can finish any race, whether marathon or hundred-meter dash. Endurance doesn’t come instantly. Endurance has to be built up.

The transformative process is always done little by little, small obediences over and over.
– Jean Fleming

I turned to do the steep uphill in this relationship. My first act of obedience was to call her on the phone. A little later, I called her again simply to ask, “How are you?” I kept running up the hill, showing her acts of love, because my Father told me to love her.

Now, I don’t consider this a hard path. Not anymore.

———-

Photo credit: djfrantic, via Flickr Creative Commons

A Theory on Rest

How does Tim Keller conclude his book on work? With a section on rest, in a chapter called “New Power for Work.” Brilliant. Perfect.

For The High Calling book club on
Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work
by Timothy Keller
Join us this week as Byron Borger leads us in discussing Part Three: The Gospel and Work.

TheHighCalling.org Christian Blog Network

“Spring Break” comes too late for my liking, so every year we take a week off in the winter. A winter break helps to avert the annual spring almost-burnout I used to experience.

Every Febrary or March, we spend a week at Grandma and Grandpa’s. It’s the ideal vacation spot: free lodging; the boys get grandparent time (one highlight is getting to do the horse-poop chores with Grandpa); I get to cook without having to do dishes; and they live near The Black Canyon of the Gunnison, one of my favorite cross-country skiing places. On top of that, Ouray with its Hot Springs pool is only forty minutes away.

On day four of vacation I awoke in my in-laws’ guest bed, always warm with heavy blankets. The grandfather clock ding-donged seven o’clock in the morning. Grandma was making sourdough waffles (I could tell just by the sounds) while our boys played with Lincoln Logs and Legos (again, I could tell by the sounds). Yet in spite of these things, my spirit felt stressed.

This was not supposed to happen. More than halfway through my longed-for winter break, I still felt an inner unrest and stress. Why this restlessness in an ideal setting for rest?

I first went to what is probably the most commonly quoted New Testament passage on rest for the weary:

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

(Matthew 11:28-30)

This seems counterintuitive. Jesus said to take His burden and yoke, and then I will find rest? The result of a burden is rest?

Still in mental process, I noticed that my copy of the New American Standard Bible gives a footnote indicating that Jesus was quoting “and you will find rest for your souls” from Jeremiah 6:16.

Thus says the LORD,
“Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths,
Where the good way is, and walk in it;
And you shall find rest for your souls.”

The promise is that I will find rest for my soul if I walk in the right and good way. That is, obedience results in soul-rest. And Jesus’ said His yoke is easy, His burden light. “His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3).

This explains the paradox that taking Jesus’ burden results in rest (from Matthew 11) and that walking results in rest (from Jeremiah 6:16).

I do notice that neither of these passages gives a formula or recipe for rest. Jesus didn’t say, “To get rest, take my burden” but “Take my burden, and you will find rest.” The Lord, through Jeremiah, didn’t say, “To get rest, walk in the good way” but “Walk in the good way, and you shall find rest.” The difference is a world of difference.

If I make rest a goal that I need to work for, then the rest will never come. If I simply follow Jesus without worrying about rest at all, true rest will follow—because the work was already finished.

In chapter 12, Keller brilliantly speaks of “the rest under the rest.”

The very definition of a Christian is someone who not only admires Jesus, emulates Jesus, and obeys Jesus, but who “rests in the finished work of Christ” instead of his or her own. Remember, God was able to rest in Genesis 2, verses 1-3 only because his creative work was finished. And a Christian is able to rest only because God’s redemptive work is likewise finished in Christ.

– Keller, page 238

Just as our insecurity and desire to chase away (work away) our insignificance is “the work under the work,” driving us to prove ourselves through performance and turning work into an idol, so redemption is “the rest under the rest” which makes healthy work satisfying and true rest possible.

Here are my favorite quotes from the book about Sabbath:

Exodus 20 ties the observance of a Sabbath day to God’s creation. . . . Sabbath is therefore a celebration of our design. (235)

Deuteronomy 5 goes on to tie the observance of Sabbath to God’s redemption. Verse 15 says, “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.” . . . Anyone who cannot obey God’s command to observe the Sabbath is a slave, even a self-imposed one. . . . Sabbath is therefore a declaration of our freedom. (236)

We are also to think of Sabbath as an act of trust. . . . To practice Sabbath is a disciplined and faithful way to remember that you are not the one who keeps the world running, who provides for your family, not even the one who keeps your work projects moving forward. (236)

And, to finish off our book club on this book, I’ll share my favorite song about rest. The words are straight out of Matthew 11:28-30. (You’ll find rest just listening!)

Turning Back

We are eastbound on Woodmen Road, barely on time for piano lessons. Touching both ends of the city, the straight road hypnotizes me into dull mind-wandering. The left turn to the piano teacher’s house is easy to miss.

And I miss it.

But I don’t realize it yet. My brain is barely alert enough to stop at red lights, but the light still stares green. The next light is green, too, and my foot remains unmoved on the gas pedal. One hand mechanically keeps the wheel steady. A mile passes, and another, and two more…

I missed the turn! The realization jerks me into frustration just after I pass a convenient turn-around. Eyes and ears now at full attention, my brain does the math: we will be ten minutes late for piano, which is worth how many dollars? Blood pressure rising, I drive to the next possible U-turn and immediately turn back…

…immediately turn back…

Jeremiah, say to the people, “This is what the LORD says:

‘When people fall down, don’t they get up again?
When they discover they’re on the wrong road, don’t they turn back?

Then why do these people stay on their self-destructive path?
Why do the people of Jerusalem refuse to turn back?
They cling tightly to their lies
and will not turn around.’ ”
(Jeremiah 8:4-5 NLT)

To keep doing something I know is wrong is like continuing on the wrong road, even after I realize I missed the turn.

Father, I turn—immediately, I turn back. Thank you for this part of Your Word which helps me turn away from sin. Help me, Father. I immediately turn back…

(Slightly modified from the original post here.)

How Eternity-Hunger Helped Me

I find “the things of the world”
attractive. If sin didn’t allure,
we wouldn’t call it temptation.
But I also found a litte trick
that takes away the world’s
pull on me—just a switch
of some words that made me see
the world and grimace. It left
a bad taste in my mouth, and
the world became a little
more repulsive, a little
less attractive.

Want to try it?

The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.
(1 John 17)

The world is passing away.
The world = what is passing away.

The previous verses say:

Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.
(1 John 2:15-16)

So, I replace “the world” with “[what is passing away]” in those verses and get:

Do not love [what is passing away] nor the things in [what is passing away]. If anyone loves [what is passing away], the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in [what is passing away], the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from [what is passing away].

The constant reminder that the world is passing away—not eternal—is a big turn-off to everything in me that longs for the eternal. The pull of forever with God, when I think of the world this way, helps me obey these verses.

The world is passing away. And I’m falling out of love with it.

Fruitfulness—Guaranteed

I could stand in front of the mirror with arms outstretched, elbows and wrists and all joints bent at fractal-like angles to simulate tree branches, but no mangoes or oranges or bananas hang from my arms. A branch abiding in Christ WILL bear fruit, he said, but this is not the kind of fruit I can slice and artistically arrange on a platter. It’s not fruit I can sink my teeth into or cut up and serve to my children at breakfast.

So, I wonder and I question: Am I fruitful?

A good tree is supposed to bear good fruit. Am I really doing any good during my life on earth? Am I bearing any fruit at all? Then the questions turn into an odd, whining prayer: … ’cause if You’re going to leave me down here, Lord, then you might as well make me fruitful. And if I’m not doing any good here, Lord, then You might as well take me Home (yadda yadda whaa whaa).

It was time for Bible study with my son, so I printed out Matthew 7 and marked it up, as is my habit. Jesus was talking about fruit again:

“So then, you will know them by their fruits.”
(Matthew 7:20)

… and the old questions came nagging back. Am I fruitful? What is the fruit in my life? Am I of any use at all? When my eyes are off Jesus, confusion creeps in, and the meaning of fruitfulness eludes, evades, and becomes vague to my mind that wants all the answers in advance and in detail. What is this fruitfulness? Sure, I can sweep through the Scriptures and figure out something about hundred-fold harvests and love and patience and self-control, but I know that after that study, I will wonder again.

Lord, am I being fruitful for You?

And then, in the very next verse …

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.”
(Matthew 7:21)

He who does the will of My Father, Jesus said. You will know them by their fruits. Obedience.

Obedience, all by itself, without regard to any result or consequence, IS fruit. To do God’s will is to ensure fruitfulness. No need to question. No need to wonder.

It would make a great tagline, wouldn’t it?
Obedience. It’s fruitfulness—GUARANTEED.

Father, I do desire to bear fruit for You, and I often don’t know what that looks like in my life. So I thank You for Jesus’ words which give me solid assurance that, at least in obedience, I know I am fruitful. Help me walk by the Holy Spirit, abiding in You and bearing much fruit.

Running with Endurance (How Jogging Helped Me Love)

Two days after Christmas, 2009. I fed my belly with too much lumpia, atole, chocolate cake…

I overindulged. Something had to change. That’s when I started running every day.

We live at the top of the hill, so those first days I ran half a block (downhill) and walked half a block (uphill), three times. Three times around the block wasn’t much. Still, each day built on the one before. Eventually I started running all the way to Oak Valley Ranch Park (a whopping quarter-mile—downhill), around the park some, and then back home (walking).

The momentous day I tried running uphill, I think I was “running” as fast as I walk. But I did it and did it the next day, too.

I’ve been running daily for more than two years now, working up from almost-negligible, to three miles a day. I still go slowly, but I go.

Earlier this year, someone close to me had hurt me. I was angry like a mad dog. That Wednesday and Thursday were the most raging days I could remember. I fed my heart with too much bitterness, resentment, near-hatred (or, if I dare to admit, just plain straight-out hatred)…

I overindulged in anger. Something had to change.

When I jog, it’s always a pray-run. As I jogged that angry Wednesday I asked God my standard question that works for any circumstance. It is a standing prayer: “Father, how do You want me to respond?” When I pray like this, I often get no neon sign, no immediate answer.

But this time it was immediate, in big, flashing neon:
Love her.

Impossible, I thought, feeling my upper lip wrinkle. IM-POSS-I-BLE.

Yet I chose to remember God’s works in my past, and the remembering was crucial. Though I felt the opposite inside, I prayed out loud in faith: God, I remember years ago when I thought it was impossible to forgive Daly. But you did the impossible and helped me forgive in that relationship. I believe you can do it again, in this relationship. (I spoke these words with my vocal cords, but inside I thought, yeah, right.)

I turned left, up Centennial Blvd (the steepest part of my running route). God brought to mind the run with endurance verses. I felt my leg muscles pushing off the pavement, steadily, and I realized I no longer consider that steep part difficult. There was a time, though, when I refused even to attempt that route, turning right instead of left because there was no way I could run up that hill.

But one day I tried it, and it was hard. After doing it every time it was not only possible but, beyond that, no longer difficult.

This brought new meaning to the phrase “run with endurance.” If I would try loving her just once, then, as I build up my endurance, repeating loving acts, then rather than seeming impossible, it would actually no longer be difficult. It would eventually become easy (the yoke of Jesus is like that).

In order to “run with endurance,” I first had to … start running.

Run a little now, and a little more tomorrow, and the endurance will keep building. The biblical run with endurance doesn’t happen at the first attempt; it happens over time, when I run over and over. It doesn’t mean I can wake up in the morning and, if I set my jaw firmly enough with a bullet between my teeth, I can finish any race, whether marathon or hundred-meter dash. Endurance is built up, not instant.

The transformative process is always done little by little, small obediences over and over.
Jean Fleming

I turned left to do the steep uphill in this relationship. My first act of obedience was to call her on the phone. A little later, I called her again simply to ask, “How are you?” I kept running up the hill, showing her acts of love, because my Father told me to love her.

It occurs to me that, now, I don’t consider this a hard path. Not anymore.

Father, thank you for teaching me how to run with endurance. Get me started in the areas I still haven’t tried the hill. Keep me going in the areas I have.

…and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…
(Hebrews 12:1-2)

(Linking with Ann Voskamp, who hosts a community of those who share about Love. Click on the Holy Experience badge below to read more posts on Love!)

Know and Do

Wise and Otherwise is one of my favorite board games. It’s similar to the “dictionary game” (you’re given an obscure word, then you make up a definition that you think others will vote for), except instead of being given a word, you’re given the first half of an ancient proverb from a different country. Then you invent the rest of the proverb, hoping others will vote for yours.

An example:
Continue reading

Like a Boy and His Rat

Tear stains on a Bible tell us that someone in grief fled to the God of all comfort.

Coffee stains on a Bible tell us that she sat with the Word over morning coffee—a date with God.

Rat-urine stains on a Bible tell us that . . .

Well, this is a story that tells how I find spiritual rest.


A fifth-grade boy arrived to Sunday School early, so we had time to chat.

“My rat peed on my Bible again,” he shared.

My first thought: Again? I imagined the scenario: he took the rat from its cage to play with and pet it. The rat, free to roam, then wandered onto the bookshelf and had an accident on the Bible.

Trying to be helpful, I suggested, “Maybe you shouldn’t let your rat on your Bible anymore.” (That just made sense to me.)

“Yeah, I guess I need to quit having quiet times with my rat.”

In my spirit, party-noisemakers rattled in loud celebration! Internal fireworks brought a joyful rush to my heart rate, for I thought not of the rank odor nor of the defaced, unsanitary reading material. I thought of the fact that this boy has quiet times! This boy feeds his hunger for God’s Word!

Rat urine on a Bible. I never knew the thought could thrill me so, but I was thrilled! That boy is well on his way, for even now he is getting to know God better through His Word.

(Don’t worry, he said the rat thing won’t happen again.)

I come to God every afternoon, sitting at His feet, eager for His Word in the Book open before me. This is how I find spiritual rest (just like the boy—minus the rat).


Fast-forward to several weeks later. I remembered this conversation again but this time wondered: What if this happened not with another person’s child in a church classroom, but with my own child in my own home? Would I have rejoiced?

I live with myself, and I know how it would have been. I would have been angry. I would have been annoyed at the mess. I would have been in a rage at the ruined Bible, the very special one that we presented to him upon entering first grade.

Thank God—truth hurts, but it also makes aware and, perhaps surprisingly, is another way to find rest for my soul. When I’m on the wrong path and God shows me the right one (and I follow), I go from inner tension and angst to peacefull stillness and rest. Obedience leads to rest.

Father, help me as I want to be the parent you want me to be. Help me rejoice in the blessings and to see the causes for celebration, even in the midst of ugly messes. Thank you for your mercy on me. Help me to see with Christlike vision.

And Father, thank You for the blessing of Your Word revealed to me, and for the fact that I can own and read the Bible openly and without fear. Thank you for the ways You give me rest.

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