Like a Weaned Child

IMG_1803O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; nor do I involve myself in great matters, or in things too difficult for me.

Surely, I have composed and quieted my soul; like a weaned child rests against his mother, my soul is like a weaned child within me. Psalm 131:1, 2

This is where I have been “marinating” for a few days now. Every time I have started reading the next Psalm or digging into other portions of my not-so-structured Bible reading plan, I have felt a tug back to these words. This morning the tug was stronger than ever. So I did what any self-respecting Bible teacher does when God has her sit and soak in one place for a while – I read, re-read, contemplated the words, and prayed. Then, I went and got Spurgeon.

Here’s a portion of what I read (and underlined, and highlighted, and starred, and read again) from Spurgeon’s Treasury of David this morning on what it means to quiet your soul “as a child that is weaned.” What a powerful metaphor and a much needed reminder that my battle against selfish desires can only be won as I seek and savor my all-sufficient, all-satisfying Savior:

The task [of weaning] to the mother is trying and troublesome. The infant cries and seems to sob out his heart. He thinks it very hard in her and knows not what she means by her seeming cruelty, and the mother’s fondness renders all her firmness necessary to keep her at the process; and sometimes she also weeps for the importunity of his dear looks, and big tears, and stretched-out hands. But it must be done, and therefore, though she pities, she perseveres; and after awhile he is soothed and satisfied, forgets the breast, and no longer feels even a hankering after his former pleasure.

But how is this weaning accomplished? By embittering the member to his lips; by the removal of the object in the absence and concealment of the mother; by the substitution of other food; by the influence of time.

So it is with us. We love the world, and it deceives us. We depend on creatures, and they fail us, and pierce us through with many sorrows. We enter forbidden paths, and follow after our lovers, and our way is hedged up with thorns; and then we say, “Return unto thy rest, O my soul; and now, Lord, what wait I for? My hope is in Thee.”

The enjoyment of a greater good subdues the relish of a less. What are the indulgences of sin, or the dissipations of the world to one who is abundantly satisfied with the goodness of God’s house, and is made to drink of the river of His pleasures? (words by William Jay, quoted in Spurgeon’s Treasury of David, Volume 2)

With mouth wide open, heart bowed down, and hands lifted high this is the cry of my heart today:

“Satisfy us, Lord Jesus!”

 

If You Were Loved “Even When,” You Are Loved Even Now

 “It’s pretty bad when you cancel on your housekeeper because your house is in such disarray that it doesn’t deserve cleaning.”

That gem of a status update from a lovely high school friend showed up on my Facebook newsfeed a few months ago. Before you peg me as a creepy Facebook stalker who keeps a personal log of every interesting post that she sees, let me explain why this one still stands out in my mind.

First, I had a housekeeper once so I can relate. Kathy came every other week for a couple of years – wonderful, glorious years! The night before her scheduled arrival my husband would stand in utter disbelief as I stormed through the house making sure it was clean enough to be cleaned the next day.

Greg: Don’t we have a housekeeper?

Me: [spoken in a somewhat sassy tone as I am wiping down the toilet] Um, yeah.

Greg: Don’t we pay her to do that?

Me: Yes, but I don’t want her to think we’re a bunch of disgusting pigs!

Greg: That makes no sense at all.

Me: It’s called a “pre-cleaning cleaning.” Everyone who has a housekeeper does it. I can’t believe you don’t know this.

[Cue husband eye roll now.]

The second reason this Facebook post is etched in my mind is because it clearly communicates how I sometimes feel in my relationship with God. I have a really solid grasp of the gospel. I understand the oh-so-precious concepts of redemption, justification, propitiation, grace, and God’s unconditional forgiveness. But there are still times when I struggle to take them personally – times when I feel like my life is in such disarray that I don’t deserve God’s presence, His grace, or His cleansing. Sometimes when  I stand back and look at myself all I see is a lazy, fearful,  uncreative, underwhelmed, irritable, emotionally unstable woman who has utterly failed to live up to the expectations of every single person she loves, especially God. Here’s how things often look from my perspective: As a wife, I’m not exciting enough, as a mommy I’m not engaged or patient enough, as a homemaker I’m not efficient enough, as a friend I’m not invested enough, as a church member I’m not involved enough, as a Bible teacher I’m not prepared enough, as a Christ-follower I’m not in the Word enough, as a witness I’m not bold enough . . .

Whether real or perceived, it doesn’t take much for these “not enoughs” to morph into “not wanted”, “not worthy,”  “not useful,” and even “not loved”  – four things a blood-bought child of God can never be. Left to itself, this heart of mine will actually begin to believe it. The result?  Instead of running to Jesus and His fountain of all-sufficient grace, I switch into self-help mode, try really really hard to do better, and then beat myself up when my self-improvement project inevitably fails.  Instead of welcoming God’s redemptive activity in my life, I stubbornly continue to resist His help and cleansing until I start to feel I’ve earned it. Days, weeks, and maybe even months go by without any meaningful interaction with the Lord. Sadly, my resistance doesn’t make me feel any cleaner, just dryer . . . and more ashamed.

Here’s why: I may be able to pre-clean my house before my housekeeper, but I can’t pre-clean myself before Holy God.  (see Is. 64:6, Rom. 3:20)

Here’s the good news: I DON’T NEED TO!

Ephesians 2: 4 and 5 says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, EVEN WHEN we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).” (also see Rom. 5:6-11 and Col. 2:13, 14; emphasis added)

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Every single word of those verses is worth “marinating” in, but the two words I want to focus on are “even when.”

Even when you were dead in sin . . . He loved you.

Even when you were His enemy . . .  He purposed to save you.

Even when the only god you worshiped was yourself . . . He desired to make you a vessel of HIS glory.

If He loved us even when we were dead, rebellious, idolatrous sinners then it stands to reason that He loves us even when we are lazy, irritable, disengaged moms . . . even when we are moody, selfish, entitled wives . . . even when we are weak, half-hearted, undisciplined Christ-followers . . . even when_________________________ (fill in the blank with your most recent failure).

Knowing that God loved us “even when” does not free us to keep on sinning (see Romans 6). We can’t stay moody, selfish, entitled wives! Rather, it frees us to swing the doors of our sin-soaked hearts wide open to the cleansing, renewing, restoring presence of God. It frees us to take all of our “not enoughs” to the one and only place where they cannot bind us in shackles of shame – the cross of Jesus Christ. It frees us to face our failures with the confidence that not a single one of them has the power to undo what God has already done for us by grace alone.

Your life is never too messy, your heart is never too dirty, your hands are never too lazy, your steps are never too clumsy, and your emotions are never too crazy for a God who loved you even when” to love you even now.

No “pre-cleaning cleaning” required. Ever.

 

 

 

How to Ruin a Perfectly Good Day All By Yourself

A lot of things can ruin an otherwise perfecly good day. There are those small annoyances – heavy traffic, lost keys, hair that won’t cooperate, an acne break-out, out-of-whack hormones that make you feel like a crazy person, a favorite shoe that your dog thinks is a chew toy, jeans that won’t button, spilled coffee (that you paid over $4.00 for), an empty gas tank, and a less-than-encouraging conversation with your insurance company (who put you on hold for 45 minutes before vividly reminding you why you hate your insurance company).

There are also times when a day is derailed by something major – a car accident, a sick child, a miscarriage, a layoff, a foreclosure, a scary diagnosis, or a heart-wrenching breakup. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly life can change. In a matter of seconds, a good day can become your worst day. Though we like to pretend otherwise, life is incredibly unpredictable. Needless to say, I am deeply thankful that mine is in the tight grip of a sovereign, all-wise God who is never taken by surprise.

But if I’m honest, most of the bad days I have aren’t caused by those little annoyances, major trials, or anything in between. Most of my bad days are my own fault. Regrettably, I am quite good at ruining an otherwise fabulous day all by myself – no outside influences necessary. Here’s how to do it:

1)    Foster feelings of entitlement.

By feelings of entitlement, I mean that attitude that produces thoughts such as, “I’m better than this” . . . “He/She owes me” . . . “After all I do, this is the thanks I get?” . . . and the biggest one of all – “I DESERVE ________________.”

Such thoughts are usually easy to justify. I mean, I work hard to take care of my family. I do the stuff that nobody else wants to do. I work 14+ hour days, 365 days a year – no sick days. I spend most of my time playing little boy games and having little boy conversations. I wipe mouths, noses, bottoms, bathtubs, floors, and toilets. I make sure the bills are paid on time and that there is money left in the bank account afterwards. I brave the strange smells, bad lighting and dilapidated carts at Wal-mart instead of enjoying my beloved Publix in order to spend less of my hubby’s hard-earned dollars on food. (If that’s not sacrifice, I don’t know what is!) I could go on, but you get the idea. Not a day goes by that I don’t set aside my own interests and desires for the sake of my family. I know the same can be said of you!

I wish I could say that the sacrifices I make always produce an abundance of joy in my heart as I watch them bear fruit in the lives of those I love. But all-to-often, I play the “woe-is-me” card and allow them to produce a sense of entitlement that causes me to fixate on the praise I don’t receive, the privileges I don’t possess, and the personal ambitions I am unable to pursue.

“Don’t I deserve a big fat ‘thank you,’ and shouldn’t it come in the form of gorgeous flowers and my favorite chocolates? After all I do, don’t I have the right to splurge on a designer purse regardless of whether or not we can really afford it? In light of what I feel called, trained, and gifted to do, don’t I deserve several hours a week of uninterrupted time to write Bible studies while someone else cleans my house?” When my heart answers “yes” to such questions, it automatically says “no” to joy.

Joy simply cannot flourish in the life of someone who thinks she has the right to demand what her heart selfishly craves. That kind of woman is impossible to satisfy. I know because I’ve been that woman . . .way too often.

The only person who has ever had the right to act entitled is Jesus. Interestingly enough, he never did. In fact, He is the embodiment of humble and joyful self-sacrifice. Philippians 2:5-8 makes this ever so clear: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross!”

If you ever want to suck all the joy out of your own heart, just foster feelings of entitlement. Instead of emptying yourself for the sake of others, demand that others fill you up. Whine and pout when they don’t. Post something depressing or nasty on Facebook about it. Make sure all the thankless, uncooperative people in your life know how you feel. Then, go buy yourself a new outfit, splurge on a spa pedicure, and treat yourself to a big slice of cheesecake. Just know that as you run hard after what you “deserve,” you are bound to ruin any chance of enjoying what you already have.

2)    Fixate on the “greener grass”.

Let me explain this one with a little story. There once was a wife who had an amazing, thoughtful, and generous husband. One Valentine’s Day, this husband planned to take her out to a fabulous restaurant, give her a beautiful necklace, write her a sweet love note, and spend the evening catching up on season 1 of Downton Abbey. The wife looked forward to her Valentine’s date for weeks. She got an overnight baby sitter. She picked out a great outfit. She even shaved her legs! The day started out great, but by the time the date actually started she was a dissatisfied, pouty, irritated woman. You see, all day she had been bombarded with pictures on Facebook of other wives’ flowers, chocolates, homemade breakfasts, and adorable lunch dates. As she looked at these pictures, she began to wonder, “Why didn’t I get my card this morning? Why don’t I have a box of chocolates to enjoy throughout the day? Why doesn’t my husband ever cook for me?” And when her husband was a little late picking her up, she convinced herself that it was because he didn’t care as much as she did, that he didn’t really want to take her out, and that all the women who were being treated to made-from-scratch romantic dinners at home were much better off. None of that was true, of course. But her eyes were so blinded by the highly edited, seemingly perfect “greener grass” of her friend’s lives that she was incapable of enjoying the beauty of her own.

I may or may not know that wife. But I can tell you that I have ruined so many days, weeks, and even months by fixating on what others have (or what I THINK they have) that I don’t. I once heard a Christian comedian say that the grass is greenest where it’s been pooped on. In other words, nobody’s life is as good as it looks on the surface. And even if it was, I shouldn’t be looking over there anyway. God has planted enough blessings on my own side of the fence to keep me occupied (and grateful!) for a lifetime. “Be content with what you have” (Heb. 13:5), “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18), and rest in knowing that “those who seek the Lord lack no good thing” (Ps. 34:10). Otherwise, you might end up ruining a perfectly good Valentine’s Day. Not that I know anything about that . . .

3)    Cultivate unrealistic expectations.

I’ve already explored this one in another post, but it’s a big obstacle for me, so it bears mentioning again. I once heard that the gap between our expectations and our reality is our “misery factor.” We have a picture in our minds of what our lives – and the people in them – ought to look like and act like. When that doesn’t happen, things can get ugly. Days can be ruined.

Why is it that a husband coming home late from work, a toddler throwing a tantrum at the grocery store, or a coworker acting like a total jerk can send a perfectly good day spiraling downhill so quickly? Because our selfish hearts expect that husband to do whatever it takes –  short of getting fired or breaking any major laws – to get home when he said he would. That child is supposed to always reflect what an awesome, godly parent you are trying to be. And considering how many times you’ve covered for that coworker, you expect a little bit of respect!

Ninety percent of my bad days are rooted in my own unrealistic expectations of the people around me – expectations that are manufactured in the factory of my own selfish heart. They are naturally byproducts of how Aprile wants Aprile’s life to be – often with little regard for others or God’s will for my life. When people don’t measure up or things don’t work out like I had planned, I get frustrated, defensive, and even more self-focused. The result? Yet another good-day-gone-bad.

Having a bad day? Maybe it’s the disobedient kids, the inconsiderate boss, the troubled finances, the bad haircut, or the workaholic husband.

Or, maybe it’s your own heart.

You see, we don’t need any help ruining a perfectly good day. As sinners, we are quite capable of doing that all by ourselves.  Fortunately, God’s Spirit in us is quite capable of restoring the joy that we have allowed entitlement, discontentment, and selfish expectations to drain out of our lives (Gal. 5:22).

So go ahead and ask yourself that hard question: “Is my bad day my own fault?” If the answer is yes, take it to Jesus, confess your sin, receive His forgiveness, and seek to constantly weed out these subtle yet sinful attitudes.

Then, take a moment to bask in the sweet reality that tomorrow is a new day!

Love is Not Irritable

In celebration of an incredible “launch” of the First Corinthians study, and due to the fact that I still haven’t quite gotten back into my blogging groove since it ended (i.e., all I’ve felt like doing with my free time for the past week is watching Gilmore Girls) , I thought I’d post one last excerpt from the study. Enjoy!

“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

 

For each characteristic of love given, our response needs to be, “Am I . . . . ?”

Am I patient? Am I kind? Am I free from jealousy, bragging, and arrogance? Am I rude? Am I self-seeking? Am I easily provoked? Do I keep a mental record of the wrongs done to me? Am I more prone to rejoice in unrighteousness or in the truth?

Our individual answers are a BIG deal. Remember, apart from love, we are nothing (v. 2).

NO-THING!

This is serious stuff.

Because I can only speak for myself, I want to address the quality of love that needs the most work in my own life: love . . . is not provoked (“easily angered”, NIV). I don’t have “anger issues” in that I don’t scream and yell, punch walls, break things, or emotionally explode when things don’t go my way. But as I was studying the word translated “easily provoked” I came across the word “irritable.” Ding, ding, ding! That’s me. That’s my struggle.

Irritability, which I define as the tendency to be easily annoyed or frustrated, is something I fight every day. Since having my son 3 years ago, the battle has gotten even more intense. Unfortunately, I didn’t birth a perfect child, nor am I a perfect mother. He doesn’t always listen. He gets into stuff he shouldn’t. He usually can’t tell the difference between a washable marker and a permanent one. He doesn’t always want to nap (usually on days when I need a break the most). He messes up my house as fast as I can clean it. He asks “why” 5,789 times a day. He has no appreciation for sleeping in. After months of peeing on the potty, he still insists on going “number two” in his underwear. I could go on, but you get the idea.

Kids pretty much guarantee that a mom’s day isn’t going to go quite like she planned. There will be interruptions, messes, boo boos, tears, time outs, and human waste to clean off of who- knows-what. Some moms are great at tackling that stuff with optimism and grace.

Not me.

I am irritable.

As the small annoyances multiply, the tone of my voice starts to change. The force with which I close doors, drawers, and cabinets gets a little more intense.  When my husband calls to check in, I get less and less chatty. I soon become totally incapable of seeing good qualities in my family members and I get more and more critical. The next inconvenience that comes my way is usually met with complete insensitivity to the needs of others. It’s a downhill spiral that will end with me yelling and screaming if I let it continue. My irritability forces my family to walk on eggshells. It communicates to my child things I would never, ever say to his face. Things like “you are an inconvenience”, “you don’t do anything right”, “you are in my way”, or “I would be better off if you weren’t here right now.” Just typing those statements makes me sick to my stomach, because they are the complete opposite of what I want to communicate to my precious little man.

Irritability, while not as obvious as anger, is no less sinful. And left unchecked, it is no less damaging. It is contrary to love which our passage describes as slow to get riled up, frustrated, upset, or testy . . .  even when things don’t go as planned. When love rules our hearts, no one walks on egg shells. Doors aren’t slammed harder than usual. Words don’t get short and snappy. When love rules our hearts, inconveniences are seen as opportunities. Frustrations are met with self-control. Annoyances are graciously overlooked. Offenses are forgiven. The needs of others are put first.

Love is not irritable. How about you?

 

{Copies of the 1 Corinthians Bible study workbook, Becoming a Woman of Conviction in a World of Compromise, can be purchased here. The teaching sessions that go along with the study can be viewed here.}

Whatever You Do . . . {Another 1 Corinthians Sneak Peek}

I have officially crossed the half-way marker in my writing for the Fall study I will be teaching on the book of First Corinthians. Thank you so much for those of you who are praying me through! Needless to say, blogging has taken more of a back seat than usual, so I thought I’d post another excerpt from the study. The verse being applied here is 1 Corinthians 10:31:

“Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

For several years after I graduated high school I served in my church’s youth ministry, the highlight of which was getting to enjoy the retreats and camps right along with the students. One year our youth pastor brought in a retreat speaker who told our students (and I quote), “Have all the sex you want to the glory of God.” The second the words came out of his mouth, the middle school students giggled while the high school students sat wide-eyed and speechless. All I could think of in that moment was the damage control I was going to have to do as a leader of girls who were sure to ask a thousand questions about that statement.

Fortunately, the speaker followed his provocative declaration with really solid teaching. His point was that for an unmarried person, “having all the sex you want for the glory of God” means having no sex at all. God’s commands are a reflection of Himself. Because of that, a person absolutely cannot break God’s law by having sex outside of marriage and glorify Him at the same time. A body engaging in sin cannot be a body reflecting God’s image as He intended. That’s why sin of any kind is so detestable in the eyes of a God whose very purpose in creating us was His own glory. He desires for even the most mundane tasks like eating and drinking to point to Him and reflect His worth. All of life is worship, or at least it should be.

So, in light of 1 Corinthians 10:31,  I would like to take what that retreat speaker said to our students and rephrase it in a few ways that may strike a chord with adult Christian women:

  • Yell and scream at your kids to the glory of God.
  • Spend obsessive amounts of time at the gym to the glory of God.
  • Tell a dirty and/or racist joke to the glory of God.
  • Compromise your sacred marriage covenant to the glory of God.
  • Shack up with that guy to the glory of God.
  • Make alcohol a central part of your social life to the glory of God.
  • Routinely choose sports, recreation, entertainment, and home improvement over church to the glory of God.
  • Read pornographic novels – all “shades” of them –  to the glory of God.
  • Go see Magic Mike (or any other blatantly inappropriate movie) to the glory of God.
  • Watch sitcom characters dialogue about their private parts to the glory of God.
  • Listen to Katy Perry sing about kissing a girl and liking it to the glory of God.
  • Flaunt your boobs and other body parts to the glory of God.
  • Gossip, belittle, and criticize others to the glory of God.
  • Ignore your family and your home so that you can pin, tweet, or update your status to the glory of God.
  • Refuse to forgive and hold that grudge to the glory of God.

Don’t these sound utterly ridiculous? Each and every point is an absolute impossibility. And yet aren’t we constantly fooling ourselves into thinking we can dabble in sin and still live God-glorifying lives? Or that we can sing “Holy, Holy, Holy” on Sunday and seek to defy God’s authority by doing our own thing the rest of the week? If God cares about our eating and drinking, then He most definitely cares about the subtle immorality we carelessly putter around in. “Whatever you do” means “WHATEVER you do.” No exceptions.

Sadly, the life of the typical Christian in America reflects God’s glory about as well as a carnival mirror. Interestingly, we get all worked up when unbelievers don’t take God seriously. But do we? Do we take Him seriously? All too often, the answer is “no.” And rarely do we have to look further than our media preferences to prove it.

I hope you don’t feel like the morality police just rolled into town. The point of all this is not that we would be good boys and girls obeying all the rules and retreating from society as much as possible. The point is that we would start to see our lives as platforms for God to show off His glory; as stages upon which He can display His majesty; as channels through which He can broadcast His goodness and grace to a world so desperate to see that the gospel really does make a difference. When I started seeing my life that way, obedience became an honor instead of burden. Holiness became a source of tremendous happiness instead of an exhausting duty. My life became a beautiful story of redemption instead of boring record of a church girl who tried her best to be good. Even the mundane started to have meaning. Seeing my life as a platform for God’s glory changed everything for me. With all my heart, I desire the same for you.

There is perhaps no command that, when heeded, has more potential to transform the church of Jesus Christ than 1 Corinthians 10:31. The health and influence of the Church throughout the ages has always depended on a passion for the glory of God, an insistence on worship as a lifestyle, and a radical commitment to live all of life coram Deo – before the face of God.

And that will never, ever change.

Have mercy on us, O Lord . . .

 

 

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