Thursday, May 28, 2009

Cultivating a Quiet Spirit

Have you ever known someone who has lived their whole life trusting God without question? I have someone in my life like that. I will call her Francis. She has seen more personal tragedy in her lifetime than most people ever will. As a teen, she had to quit school and go to work to help support the family when her father died unexpectedly. When her own children were young, a gas leak in her basement caused an explosion that demolished their home and everything in it. Several of her children became involved with alcohol and drugs for a period of time in their teen and early adult years. Her husband died prematurely after a long struggle with diabetes and heart problems. She herself has had major health issues over the years. But most of these hardships paled in comparison when she lost two small grandchildren in a terrible tragedy involving their mentally ill mother.

Just two weeks ago, Francis faced yet another heart-wrenching loss-- her son, only 52 years old, died of a heart attack.

I worried how she could ever recover from such a blow at her age, especially after all she has been through over the years. As I dialed her number the day after receiving the news, I prayed that the Lord would give me the right words to say that would bring a small amount of comfort to her grieving heart. The woman who answered the phone was grieving, no doubt. Yet one thing struck me above all else as we talked. She had total trust in the Lord through the circumstance. She was at peace and rested in God’s goodness and control.

Peter wrote the women of the church that they should have this same attitude. “Your adornment must not be merely external…but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of the Lord.” (1 Peter 3:3, 4) Those words, quiet spirit, used to worry me about my own spirituality. No one would ever use the word quiet to describe this story-telling, gregarious, loud-laughing extrovert. But the Greek word Peter uses is not the opposite of loud. It would be better translated peaceful. It is an attitude of complete trust and submission to the will of God.

Jesus had a quiet spirit. He determined to put His obedience to the Father’s will above all else. Not once did He deviate from the course set out for Him. He remained silent before His accusers. When He was mocked, he did not retaliate. He calmly washed the feet of two of his untrustworthy disciples on the night of his arrest: one would deny Him hours later, and the second would soon betray Him with a kiss. His obedience ultimately led to an excruciating death on a cross. How could the Sinless One remain so calmly focused in the chaos that surrounded Him? He rested in the fact that the Father was in control. His was a quiet spirit.

“You have assigned me my portion and my cup, and have made my lot secure,” David wrote in Psalm 16. Each assignment is made with our eternal good in mind. God could not do anything BUT good. While we might question His assignments from our limited perspective, in His wisdom, God is at work in the details of our lives with a focused agenda. He is determined to bring glory to Himself and to complete the work in us started at our salvation.

Key to remaining at peace with God is determining ahead of time what we want. David had the right idea: “One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to mediate in His temple.” (Psalm 27:4) Paul echoes this sentiment: “One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14) Both Paul and David had one priority, one thing in mind: to live their lives focused on the God they loved. This desire can be lived out regardless of circumstance.

We can spend our days fussing and fuming at a God whom we believe might be in control, yet has questionable wisdom or goodness. Or we can doubt His power over circumstances or even His intimate involvement in our lives. However, scripture gives us a different picture. It depicts a powerful God who created the universe with a word. That same powerful God makes it His business to know every thought we think and the number of hairs on our head. He loves us with a passion, and every act of His toward us reflects that great love.

Instead of balking at what happens in our lives, we must determine to love God with our mind, soul, heart, and strength. Circumstances are really inconsequential to this agenda. This is something that my friend Francis has already learned. And when we determine to live with a quiet spirit, deciding to trust God regardless of what lies ahead, Peter tells us this is precious in the sight of the Lord.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Dreading the Journey

I never look forward to walking the dog. Each morning, as my alarm goes off, Sasha paws eagerly at my bedroom door, anxious for our daily constitutional to begin. She whimpers impatiently as I sleepily pull on my sneakers and socks, beside herself that we haven’t left yet. I sigh as we go through the front door into the great outdoors. Our round trip is a little over a mile, which takes us approximately thirty minutes. Weather conditions can be uncomfortable-- early in the mornings, the winter air is still bitingly cold and conversely the summer air too warm and humid. Sometimes my hip hurts as we walk. Leg muscles protest as I struggle up the hills. We often encounter other dogs, and Sasha barks vigorously, almost pulling me off my feet in her excitement as we pass them by. I am always happy to round the last bend and see my house and driveway, knowing the effort is at an end.

Yet despite my dread, I know the walk is so good for me. My doctor called to report my cholesterol is down along with my blood pressure (she specifically requested I pat the dog on the head for her). My muscles are stronger and I have better physical endurance than I have had in a long while. It is good for me psychologically as well. Spending a half-hour in the sunshine boosts my morale. I have met many neighbors in the community I would never otherwise have met while walking. The splendor of nature and the gradual change of seasons always lifts my spirits. Every day I appreciate more and more the beautiful surroundings in which we live. The benefits of the effort are many.

Even knowing this, getting up and out the door never gets easier. Given the choice on any morning, I would rather roll over, snuggle under the covers, and go back to sleep. Or maybe get a nice hot cup of coffee and slowly wake up as I sip, wrapped in a bathrobe. Looking ahead, my early morning walk is never positively anticipated.

Yet once it is accomplished, I am never sorry I did it.

I am looking ahead to possibly another kind of dreaded journey. After two mammograms, I went today for a biopsy on a suspicious area they have found. The uncertainty of the situation is a bit scary. If it is cancer (I hate to even type that word), trying times lie ahead. No one would choose such a path. Yet there are benefits to even that kind of journey.

Hard circumstances are frequently not all bad, but mostly just hard. The metaphors that we use to describe God at work in us are largely painful in character: the hot flames of a refiner’s fire, chipping off the rough edges to reveal the beauty of a diamond within, or the dying of the old man being replaced by a new creation. All these processes bring pain to the one being transformed. But always the outcome is worth the struggle.

Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:16-17, “Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” Light and momentary troubles? Several times Paul was beaten to within an inch of his life and left for dead! He had been imprisoned, thrown out of synagogues, and rejected by his own kinsmen. My guess is that he classified his suffering as light and momentary only in comparison to the resulting glory they would accomplish in him. The glory that was being produced was eternal in nature. Worth the fleeting and momentary price, to be sure.

I’ll let you know the outcome of my little circumstance. One thing is for certain--the destination is worth the journey, even when traveling a rocky, pothole filled road. We might not choose pain, but even as we begin to place one foot in front of the other, we can know we will not be sorry when the trip has reached its conclusion. Our God is faithful and will not waste one minute of our pain. He will reap the benefits for us and will remain by our side in the struggle.

“For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifest in our mortal flesh… Therefore, we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.”
2 Corinthians 4:11, 16

Update: Wonderful news on the biopsy-- no cancer was found!! I am thankful-- but not just for a good report, however relieving that it was. More, I am thankful that the Lord gave me peace throughout the few days we had to wonder about what the future held. Our confidence is not in the circumstance or in how we hope God will act. Our confidence is in the character of God, knowing He could not BE anything but good. No matter what the circumstance.