I want to be THIS rooted in relationship to God. Sometimes when I pray for help, or strength, or direction, I am looking for the answer, rather than the WAY to get to whatever answer God has in store for me. I want results from God, but what God wants from me is an open, trusting and submissive heart, regardless of how things turn out. In Philippians, the Apostle Paul directs me to “think on these things…..” and then lists the things upon which God is literally asking me to meditate. Inherent in what I am NOT to ruminate about are the ways in which my life might be hopelessly broken. God is giving me pretty clear instructions. He is saying, let Me focus on the broken parts, while you focus on “these things,” and then (because he knows I sometimes don’t follow directions) he lists them in Philippians. The following is a marriage of the NIV and Message translations of the Bible, each of which have some of my favorite ways of expressing Philippians 4:8-11:
“Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, lovely and admirable – – if anything is authentic, gracious or praiseworthy, think on these things. Meditate on the best not the worst, the beautiful not the ugly, things to praise not to curse. And then whatever you have learned or received or heard from me , whatever you have seen in me, – – put those things into practice. And the God of Peace will be with you.”
In early Christianity, following Jesus was sometimes called “The Way.” Living a life of faith isn’t an idea or a belief, it’s action – – a response to Who God is and what He has done. It is a way of living. The choices I ultimately make, reflect my faith. Faith is not something I GET, it’s something that gets lived out through me. How do I go through trials? Who do I depend upon? Where do I find peace, strength, solace and security? And when I do go my own way, do I know – – TRULY know – – there is no condemnation in Christ and come high-tailing it back to Him, with genuine confession and repentance in tow? Real faith looks like submitting to God’s way, not mine. Which looks a lot like focusing on what is “right, true and pure” in the midst of a trial in which it is so much easier to focus on what is wrong or broken. God’s requests are simple, but not easy, and this one in particular is SO counterintuitive. Everything in me wants to fix my life. But God says “Find what is noble and true and right and beautiful in your life, right in the midst of its brokenness, and focus on those things and I will work out the rest.” O.k. God. (And honestly most times, I only say o.k., after I have tried everything else in my own strength and failed.) So, O.k. God… I give up. I am sorry I didn’t quit earlier. My life is Yours. The people in it? Yours. The troubles, the joys, the outcomes? Yours. The heartaches? Yours. The trust? Yours. Me? The kids? The future? Yours.
I have been examining the dark to get to the light, but it doesn’t work that way – – that is not what God has asked me to do. He asks me to focus on the light and only the light to get there. This passage in Philippians is the Way through.
I have had nightmares in my life in which I was in some sort of great danger and I had to run through a gauntlet, or through darkness, or past some sort of yet-unknown-danger (always scarier than the known-danger) to escape to safety. Those dreams have been palpable and real and sometimes even powerful enough to wake me up. In those dreams, fear coursed through my whole body, making my legs weak and slow, as I ran through the dark or danger to get to the light. And never, not once, in all those dreams, did I careen to a stop in the middle of that danger to say to myself, “Let me examine the darkness. Let me consider how bad it is. Let me think about everything that has gone wrong here or could go wrong here, or will go wrong here before I move out smartly toward the light.” Nope. In those dreams, I always just ran pell mell toward safety. THAT is what God is asking me to do in Philippians and in real life. He is saying, let ME handle what is in the dark, you focus on the light. I do it right in my dreams. I hightail it to the light, to safety.
Thank you God for being so very clear. Thank you God for that list – – for a list of things I need to keep focused on as I run toward safety, and toward you, and toward the light. My prayer is that you help redirect me every time I want to look elsewhere, slow down or stop to examine the dark. My prayer is that I abandon myself to you God, and rest, truly rest, in your love, protection, security and sovereignty.
A good friend told me to lean into God, lean into others, and don’t try and do this on my own. I know she is right but at the same time, show me the chart. Show me what it looks like to “Lean into God” and “put the burden down.” And then it struck me. The whole point is I DON’T know how to do any of that. Not only do I not have the power to make it better…I don’t even have the power to put my own burdens down. I just have to ask God to take them from me. I have to give up any efforts borne of my own strength and trust Him with literally everything. It helps to remind myself of God’s actual, supernatural power.
And when trials feel like they have the power to overwhelm? The moment I try to combat them in my own strength, they do. Yesterday I prayed for help in just turning it all over to Him. And today, the burden felt light. Today I had moments of real joy in the absence of the life I had hoped for – – moments God gave me, my kids gave me, my friends and family gave me. There is beauty and light everywhere. All the time. In the midst of everything, even the darkest trials, God has enough for me. His grace is sufficient for me, and where I was looking at the darkness, it was as if He said to me, just turn around. Turn around and face the beauty that IS there. I was blind but now I see. Maybe tomorrow I will be blind again, but today I asked and I saw. Maybe it is that easy? “Seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened…”
It truly is one small step at a time, this life of faith. I am quite sure I have said this before, but I will say it again, because I need to remind myself of this all the time…One of my favorite images is the idea of Jesus being a lamp to our feet. A lamp at my feet doesn’t illuminate the destination, just the next step. I can do that today…I can take the next step, trusting in the One who can always be trusted and has the Power to keep me rooted in love and grounded in a real and sustaining faith.