Monday, October 27, 2008

Measuring Cup

1 Thessalonians 5:17 "Pray continuously."

Ruminating on prayer and the philosophical questions that sometimes follow ("If God knows my heart, why do I need to ask?" or "Do my prayers affect God's actions?" and "If so, why does the Almighty LORD of the universe need my cooperation?"), my mind settled on a simple, white measuring cup.

The cup I saw in my mind's eye is resting in a drawer in my kitchen, the baking drawer to be precise. This particular cup has been with me since my marriage began and has seen it's fair share of use; nine years of cakes, pies, stews, attempts at new recipes, and relative successes with favorites. Over the years, with the cup ever-ready, I have gotten better at cooking and baking. I make less of a mess; my mistakes are fewer and further between. I am now able to have fresh-baked cookies ready to eat in thirty minutes, from pulling out ingredients to dunking in milk.

That is, until recently. My children used to be content watching, eating a few chocolate chips here and there, and enjoying the fruits of my labor. But now, they want to be involved. So, my baking time waxes to an hour; there is flour all over the kitchen. And sometimes, the cookies don't turn out as expected.

When we bake, the worn, white measuring cup is now the favorite of my children. They excitedly determine who gets to hold it first, while Mom fills it; how many times they get to pour it's contents into the bowl. Their eyes are bright as we work together to create something; they chatter enthusiastically throughout the process. We laugh, we hug, and every so often, we throw flour at each other. If the mess is greater than usual or cookies don't turn out, it matters not, because we've spent time together.

Which brings me back to prayer. My Heavenly Father, Almighty God, certainly doesn't need my help to accomplish His will. In fact, when I do try, I will make a bigger mess, take longer, and sometimes spoil the recipe entirely. But because He loves me, He wants to spend time with me. He desires to make me feel like I'm helpful because that tells me I'm important to Him. And because I am uniquely important to Him, though He knows my heart better than I, He desires to hear directly from me how I feel.

So, my God hands me a measuring cup. And though I am inept and frequently messy, He lovingly tells me that we'll work together, to build our relationship. Which is the reason He gives me the cup in the first place.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Preparing to Go Out

Antsy. I feel like my legs are pumping in the air, just ready to hit the ground at full speed. But there is a reason I'm not yet touching the ground; some explanation for why I haven't been turned loose. The reason is simple, though I don't want to acknowledge it ~ I'm not ready. I want very much to be. And I am impatient at the thought of more waiting; more preparation.

However, God's word shows us that before we enter life-altering service to our King, we need preparation. Much like a slovenly peasant coming in out of the field, I am far too crass, too awkward, too dirty to be a representative of the King of kings. Please understand ~ I am worthy to enter into His courts, because I am His adopted daughter. He pursued me, relentlessly, in the muck and mire to which I had run. His son Jesus, brought me into this palace; He covered my with His pristine robes of royalty and presented me to His Father. And His Father said, "welcome back, little girl. How We've missed you! Now, Let's get to work."

I've found that before any redeemed children can jump directly into the roles for which our Father destined us, we need His divine preparation. Sometimes we know what our roles are, and even how to go about accomplishing them. Other times, we do not. In Genesis 6:13-22, God tells Noah exactly what he is do to (build the ark, get all the animals on board, get in the boat). "And Noah did everything just as God commanded him (Gen 6:22)." In those few lines of scripture, we see Noah's preparation. Where? Well, the ark took more than a day to build. So God was preparing Noah through his project. Noah hadn't ever seen rain; had no need for an ark. The act of getting up everyday and going back to the task that God had assigned him was a great act of faith. And Noah was going to need a whole lot of faith if he was going to get onto a boat, float for only-God-knew how long, land only-God-knew where, and start re-populating the world. In his daily obedience, God was growing Noah's faith to handle what would come next.

We see a different story in the book of Ester. Having been plucked from her family and carted off to potentially wed a king, Ester had no idea that she was being groomed by her God to save her people. In Ester 2:12, we read that before a girl could be presented to the king, she had to undergo a year of beauty treatments. While her "job" was to try to please the king, she needed a great deal of preparation in order to make this attempt. She would first have to be pleasing to his eyes, then his touch, before she could be close enough to his heart to gain his trust. And in order to do the job for which God was preparing her, she would have to be close enough to the king to have his ear even more than his most trusted advisers. And only a wife is that close.

In Daniel 1:5, we see that the youths who were entering the king's service had to undergo 3 years of training before they could test. In that time, Daniel also had to choose to be obedient to his God, as opposed to being swayed by the cultural norms. So Daniel had to learn about these cultures, but keep himself separate from them. Then, he could be the man God would use to influence kings. And through his service, only God would be glorified.

Please don't hear that women are only valued by their looks (Ester was only prepared with beauty treatments) and only guys are valued for their intellect and faith (Daniel was prepared with 3 years of teaching and Noah by building the ark). What's going on here is a specific preparation for God's specific purpose. Noah didn't need 6 months of oil baths to get him ready to sit in a boat with all the animals of creation. So, God didn't prepare him that way. Daniel didn't need 6 months of beauty treatments to prepare to serve the king in a God-honoring way. Look at the practical means of service ~ Noah needed a mode of transport for himself, his family, and a literal zoo. God prepared him for this by telling him to get to work on that vessel, though he'd never seen a drop of rain. Daniel needed to be steeped in the intellectual and cultural norms, so that he could serve as Nebuchadnezzar's advisor; but separated from these norms so all the glory would go to God. Ester needed to be closer to the king than an advisor. Who is the closest person to a man's heart? His wife. Therefore, in order to enter the innermost circle of the king's trust, Ester had to prepare to become the woman a king would desire.

Don't look at the preparation of another as necessarily appropriate or even needed for your specific service. Frankly, I would much prefer a year of beauty treatments to building an ark. But, if God wants me to be on the boat, oil baths and beauty treatments will do me no good in furthering His will.

For now, I will keep my zealous anticipation for my intended service with the understanding that I'm in a time of preparation. I feel like I'm being groomed, in a fashion, after each of these individuals. God's given me a ministry; so like Noah, I don't know where it's going to take me, but I'm out there daily, building my boat to God-only-knows where. I am, like Daniel, learning about the cultural and intellectual norms of our society; not to embrace them, but so that I may be separate from them and in this glorify my God. And I am in a way being treated like Ester. My speech is being refined to something more beautiful (not eloquent, but not harsh or cruel either). And I am enjoying baths of oil, not literal baths~figurative of course, so that I am a beautiful, softly glowing bride for when I meet my groom ~ Jesus Christ ~ in person!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Uniquely the same

We all suffer from moments of griping uncertainty; where we know that we are not capable of the task before us. We hold, without question, that whatever it is we are called to do is beyond us. And we believe that we are too small, too insignificant, to make a difference or do something that matters. We agree with ourselves that we can't have much to offer, so we settle for insignificance or mediocrity. But we have not been created to be mediocre ~ and not one of GOD's children is insignificant!

Regardless of the past sin, Jesus paid the same price for each of us. He paid the same price for abortion as He did for disobedience to parents. He shed the same blood for adultery as for coveting. Murder, idolatry, lust ~ each of these cost the same. And Christ paid, in full, the price for each.

Because of that payment, the very same Holy Spirit comes into the heart of every person who believes Christ died for their sins. The same Holy Spirit that resides in Beth Moore, resides in me. The same Holy Spirit that lives in Chuck Smith, or the Rev. Billy Graham, or even the apostle Paul, lives in me. Regardless of who you are or what you've done, if you have believed in Jesus and asked His forgiveness for your sins ~ you are indwelt by the Holy Spirit of the Lord God Almighty!

As you know, I'm no Beth Moore, nor Chuck Smith, nor the apostle Paul. What separates me from these venerable teachers is how I respond to this indwelling. How well I listen, obey, even seek Him. So it is not our sins, our maturity, or even our gender that determines our impact for God's kingdom. It is in our relationship with the Holy Spirit. If I choose to ignore Him, I will follow my own, however well-intentioned, path to futility. If I am in constant commune with Him, I will see my feet set upon the path laid out for me since before time began. And if I willingly submit my self to His design, I will be used greatly for His glory!

This does not mean that if I seek after Him with reckless abandon that I am destined to be the next Beth Moore. There is no "next" Beth Moore, Chuck Smith, or Paul the apostle. If I am listening intently to His stirrings in my heart, then I will become the Jennifer He intended me to be. And that, I am finding, is infinitely better than striving to be a shadow of someone else.

So while I am saved by the same grace, ministered to by the same spirit, and empowered by the same Almighty GOD ~ I am uniquely qualified, by His very design, to serve His kingdom and glorify Him as only I can! In this sameness, our uniqueness is fully realized; and His plan is completely glorious!