Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Waiting on Your Dream

“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:3-5

God gives us desires. He places dreams in our hearts to pray over and work toward. When our desires are from the Lord, he will carry them out to fruition.Back in 1991, I was given my first opportunity to speak before a large group of women. It was at a Mothers’ Day breakfast hosted by my church, Cedar Ridge Community Church. I was flattered they thought I had something to share, but at the same time I was terrified. For weeks I agonized over my message. Finally the day arrived. Trembling, I walked to the podium and began to share what God had given me. To my surprise, the women listened intently to what I had to say. They laughed at my stories. Many nodded their heads with looks of appreciation as I hit each of my main application points. Some even shed tears. After I finished, I received an enthusiastic round of applause. It was the most fabulous 20 minutes of my life.

I could hardly wait to get home and share my success with my husband. “They loved it!” I enthused. “It was a total rush, standing up there, sharing the Word of God. I could do that every day for the rest of my life!” That very morning I began to pray that the Lord would choose to use me in this way again. The dream had been planted.

Over the next decade, I was asked to speak once or twice a year at various churches or camps holding special events. Not an overwhelming number, but those engagements kept the dream alive. I began to feel strongly that the Lord had given me a gift. I also wondered why he wasn’t allowing me more opportunities to use it.

Waiting, while your desires fester in your heart, can be excruciating. We are tempted to try to “make it happen,” as Sarah did when she offered Hagaar to Abraham. However, with this particular dream of mine, I was very afraid of going ahead of the Lord. I wanted to be ready if I was to take on a ministry of this nature.

God did use that waiting period to get me ready. He did this through the experiences I had in raising my four children and learning how to be a godly wife. When God took my mother home to Heaven after a long fight with cancer, I struggled through a long period of grief that tested my faith. Two years of my life were spent in learning how to manage Panic Disorder. Much learning took place during my teaching career as I worked with a total of over 500 students and their parents. When I look back on who I was in 1991, I shudder to think of the kind of speaker I would have been. God knew this, and took the time to insure the ministry he wanted to do through me would be effective. He lovingly and carefully orchestrated the circumstances and people around me to grow me into a woman ready to teach his word and encourage others.

Finally, in 2004, the Lord gave me my first opportunity to be a speaker for a weekend-long women’s retreat. From there, the opportunities began to flow. I also began to write a book. Several of the articles I had written were published in magazines. It seemed like the Lord was indicating the time had finally come. So I retired from teaching and enrolled in seminary to pursue my master’s degree in Biblical studies. My husband was in full support of these decisions. He, too, sensed God’s movement and timing in our lives.

The point to this long story is this: God plants the dream, but then is faithful to sustain it. He waters it with encouragements, using opportunities and people in our lives. He nourishes it by working within us, getting us ready for the fulfillment of that dream. When the time is right, he brings that dream to fruition. When he does, we marvel at his timing and wisdom. We look back on his faithfulness and wonder at his patience with us as we stewed and fretted in the wait.

What dream do you hold in your heart? It could be finding that perfect someone to become your spouse. Maybe God is taking his time in giving you children. Is there a ministry that your heart is drawn to? You may be searching for a job or wishing for a home of your own. We become disillusioned with God when those dreams remain unfulfilled. Yet how much agony we would save ourselves if we would determine to trust God to bring that dream to pass, in his timing, not ours.

We can trust our faithful God who originally planted the dream within us to be faithful to carry it to completion. And when He does, we will give the glory to Him, because He will make sure that we understand it was His accomplishment, not ours. It will be worth the wait.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Loving Limas

My Uncle Bob grew up hating lima beans. No threats, rewards, or anything else offered to that little boy could induce him to swallow the dreaded green mush. This did not remain a life-long condition, however, thanks to the army. During boot camp training, he returned from an all-day post to find the dining room ready to close. There was only one thing left for the weary, starving soldier to eat: lima beans. Uncle Bob dutifully loaded up his plate; he figured he was hungry enough to force down anything. As he began to chow down, an amazing thing happened. Those lima beans were delicious! He had never tasted anything so good! Hunger had turned distain for lima beans into enjoyment. To this day, my Uncle Bob still has a passion for lima beans.

When faced with true hunger, what used to be passed over with distain suddenly became palatable.

We are a country full of people who have been gorging on luxury. In the past few decades, houses have been built to enormous proportions. Expensive items like fancy cars and oversized digital TVs are commonplace. We dine out at restaurants several times a week, seeking new exciting tastes and culinary presentations. Storage facilities have become commonplace as we rent space to hold the overflowing possessions which no longer fit into our homes. There is nothing inherently wrong with material possessions or privilege. Yet they do present a spiritual challenge: when we live with plenty, we tend to feel satiated. We can lose our hunger for the things that really matter.

"When the flesh feeds itself, the hunger of the spirit is forgotten," wrote Calvin Miller in The Song. We turn to God when we need. But in our wealthy society, those times for us have become few and far between.

We share our wealthy status with a church which was located in the prosperous first century town of Laodicea. Christ spoke to this church in Revelation 3. "You say, 'I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,' and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked." The Laodicians were rich, alright. They were rich in self-sufficiency and pride. Yet in their arrogance they had missed seeing the reality: they were living in spiritual poverty.

The city of Laodicea was a great commercial and financial center. It was famous for manufacturing a soft, glossy black wool, popular in local and export trade. Banking was a strong industry in the city. Laodicea was also boasted a well-known medical school which developed several medicines. One in particular was a salve used to cure eye diseases. Christ offered his church in Laodicea spiritual counterparts to these things. "Buy from me gold refined by the fire so that you may become [truly] rich, and white garments that you may [truly] clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may [truly] see."

They were poor, naked, and blind. Only what Christ offered could truly solve their need.

A few weeks ago I taught at a retreat that was held in the lap of luxury. The accommodations were beautiful, the food delicious. Everything was first class. The people of that particular church were largely accustomed to living a comfortable lifestyle. In light of this, I was fascinated to hear what part of my teaching resonated with the women in my audience that weekend. They expressed a need for truth and strength to help them through their struggles. They wanted to hear about waiting on God, and dealing with the storms of life that threatened their faith. It struck me as I heard them express their needs that God had been faithful to them. He did not let them grow complacent in their financial security. Instead, He was careful to continually introduce things into their lives that kept them on their knees.

We might be tempted to look at such things as problems. God looks at them as tools. We think they happen somehow in spite of the goodness of God. In reality, they happen because of the goodness of God. He wants us to rely on his necessary grace day by day and not grow complacent because we begin to believe we are self-sufficient.

We might pass over limas altogether should we never know what it is to hunger. What lays heavy on our hearts is often what keeps our feet planted in the reality of our insatiable need for God.

"The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him." Psalm 34:7, 8

Friday, March 13, 2009

Party Girl

My first college roommate was the antithesis of everything I held dear. I was a girl interested in a pursuit of God. She was interested in partying. Within the few days of freshman orientation, my roommate found others on campus just like her. They began to go out drinking most nights. She would come back to the dorm room drunk in the early morning hours, almost always inadvertently waking me out of a sound sleep. I would lay in bed, my face to the wall, angrily stewing about her state of rebellion. Her parents were in full-time ministry and loved her dearly. They made a huge sacrifice to send her to a Christian college in hopes she would turn her life around and begin to follow Christ. But all of their concern was lost on her. She was living for herself.

Soon my anger at her irresponsible behavior spilled over into every part of our relationship. I hated what she stood for and judged her harshly. I could barely be civil, so great was my distaste for the lifestyle she was choosing. One day, alone in the room, I began to rail at God. Why had he placed us in the same dorm room? How could I be expected to peacefully coexist with someone who stood for everything I hated? I knew Jesus said to love our enemies and pray for them. How could I change my feelings?

In desperation, I turned to 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter. What exactly was God calling me to do? What did he mean by love? I wanted specifics. As I read over the list detailing biblical love, I was struck with one thought: each of the expressions of love listed did not involve an emotional response at all! Instead, they were specific actions that actually might be carried out in spite of what we might be feeling. Biblical love is an act of the will. Emotions have little to do with it at all. I decided I could do that. If I didn't have to feel love, but just perform the correct actions, I could obey.

I began to work to change my part in our relationship. On the nights she was out drinking, I made up my roommate's bed, moving the piles of clothes off it so she could easily slip between the covers. One night I stayed up late typing a paper for her. If I got out to the store, I would always bring back a candy bar or some other small token gift.

As I worked to obey God with my actions, a funny thing happened.

God began to change my heart.

I began to look forward to when she would come back into the room. Her well-being became important to me. Rather than gritting my teeth in determined obedience, I found that loving my roommate had become an enjoyable task. No longer was I seething with resentment. I began to actually like the girl! By the time we parted ways at the end of the year, it was with great affection and tears. God had blessed my obedience by changing my emotions to match my actions.

Loving is not about feelings. That may be how society views it, but the Bible has a different take on love. In Scripture, love is all about our actions toward another. This is how we can love our enemies, as Jesus asked His disciples to do. It is how we can live in unity despite many differences. I found that loving my difficult roommate was not such a challenge at all when my focus was solely on obedience to God.

Biblical love is given only in the interest of the recipient. It will not be for our benefit at all. Jesus even said, "If you love those who love you, what reward will you get... do not even the pagans do that?" Biblical love has nothing to do with how deserving the recipient of our love may or may not be. It is a response to the love that God has lavished upon us.

Where we keep our focus as we move forward in obedience makes all the difference. Our eyes must be trained on Him, the initiator of our own love relationship with Him. Our actions must be a response to the love we have ourselves received.

"In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." John 4:10-11

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