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Living With a Heart Wide Open

In Proverbs 4:23, King Solomon shares a timeless nugget of wisdom about the heart:

“More than you guard anything, safeguard your heart, for from it are the sources of life.” (1)

G-d places a high priority on the heart.  All through scripture we find instructions on how to care for our hearts, how to identify the weeds in our hearts that need to be pulled out, the deceitfulness of trusting our hearts too much and how to keep our hearts humble before G-d.  The human heart is one of the single greatest mysteries of G-d’s creation.  It is full of complexities, can be hardened or softened, can give and receive, be opened or closed, light or dark, close to Him or far away.  It is an eternal riddle to which He alone holds the keys of understanding.  He, however, gives us tiny glimpses into this sacred internal space within us that He formed and knit together in our mother’s womb. (Ps 139:13)

Our hearts possess an incredible capacity to feel both the highest and most joyful, euphoric emotions as well as the lowest, most sorrowful pains of anguish…and everything between.  We are a kaleidoscope of supreme complexity and have an incredible emotional range of experiences within our repertoire.

Certainly every single one of us has incurred or experienced enough pain, disappointments, challenges, failures, bumps in the road, setbacks, tragedies, losses, impairments or disadvantages that we could each probably build a fort of self-loathing, plant a white flag billowing from the top of it and live there forever.  We could each build a very convincing case loaded with excuses for why we should throw in the towel, clam up into a fetal position and rock softly in a dark corner while singing quietly (padded walls optional).  While it paints a humorous picture for some it’s a little too close to reality for others.  It’s probably no news flash to you but life on this planet is H-A-R-D!  Like bumps and scrapes and bruises and concussions hard.  Like broken lives and damaged relationships hard.  Even collapsing ministries and divided families hard.  I get it.  We’ve all walked some kind of broken road.  Yours may look different from mine but each of us has walked a path with some broken glass on it and we’ve all had our hearts a little tattered.  Who among us lacks sufficient excuses to just shut down and become emotional vegetables?  No one.  Now that I’ve fed all of our excuses to live in self pity and wallow in our woes, I’d like to talk about how to live the exact opposite.  I want to propose a better way…living with a free and wide open heart.

While this sounds like a romanticized and naive idea taken from a Golden Years children’s story book I assure you it’s no whimsical or weak proposition.  It’s not a feminine concept which excludes men from participation.  There is nothing easy about it so please remove from your mind the wistful images of skipping through fields of wild lilies and rabbits scampering through lush meadows.  Forget turtles and puppies and everything else in that cutesy soft category in your mind.  Take this concept out of that category entirely.  It is not (I repeat) it is not an undertaking for the faint of heart.  This is the kind of stuff that separates the men from the boys.  Put this open-hearted way of being right up there with Braveheart and The Patriot on your DVD shelf.  This is the blood, sweat and tears, no guts-no glory approach to life.  Right about now I’d imagine you’re looking around for a sign up sheet to join huh?

Since I’ve just painted a picture proposing that we live with a heart posture which sounds as excruciating as the pains and setbacks I mentioned in my earlier paragraph, you might not see the benefits of the upgrade.  As I previously stated though, life is difficult and painful at times.  We know that.  But in our self-deluding internal talk we think that pain comes from having our hearts open and it’s less painful to be closed.  That would seem like a naturally logical conclusion to draw except that it’s entirely, completely and totally untrue.  All of life is hard.  We just get to choose which hard we want to live in.

On extreme opposite ends of any spectrum you’ll find something hard.  Being in poor health and wasting away slowly with disease is painful and hard…but so is being an Olympic athlete at the peak of their game with hours of training, the risk of injury, sore muscles, 10-12 hour practices, years of work and a narrow chance of medal glory in the end.  Both options are hard but if given the choice between the two we’d all want to be on the Olympic end of the “hard” continuum.  Why is that?  Because we understand on some level that this is a better kind of hard life.  It’s wrought with sacrifices and challenges and setbacks and potential repeat failures but we’d still want it.  Why?  Because it pushes us to our highest physical potential and feeds our innate, G-d given desire to be great, to accomplish mighty and awesome things, and to grow into the best version of who we were created to be.  Bottom line: life never ceases to be hard or challenging.  There will always be resistance pushing at us and we will always have obstacles to overcome so long as we are converting oxygen into carbon dioxide.  But we do have some degree of choice as to the kind of hard life we want to lead.  In the same way that being an Olympian is far superior to the dire condition of a diseased, low quality of life, on the heart spectrum, living with an open one trumps the self-protected heart every. single. time.  Here’s how that works…

Rather than imagining the heart like a light switch to be flipped off or on, consider it more like the dimmer on a light switch.  There is a gradient on the heart…a transition between open and closed.  Currently, most of us are probably living somewhere near the middle between an open and closed heart and circumstances either open us more or shut us down.  Someone tells you how much they love you and your heart expands open but when someone cuts you off in traffic you become instantly closed, defensive and visions of swinging baseball bats dance around in your head, right?  When someone gives to you generously and thoughtfully without a quid pro quo expectation of return, your heart opens to receive their selfless generosity and you respond with gratitude.  When you experience rejection, hurt, loss or broken promises your heart begins to close again.  We live between the tension of opening and closing.  Stress generally closes us a little, rest and refreshment open us.  Love opens us, anger closes us.  You get the idea.

So why does living with an open heart trump living with a closed one?

In the same way that it’s difficult to clean your house with the lights off, it’s hard to go through life without the lights of your heart on.  When the light of our heart is off, we aren’t really full “home” or present.  We become numb, dulled, lacking in discernment and suspicious of others’ actions and motives when our hearts are closed.  We second guess ourselves and lack the confidence to make wholehearted decisions.  We live too close to the  line of fear and caution when we are closed off to life.  Nothing feels safe.  Nothing seems trustworthy.  The heart lives in a restless state and often pings between extremes rather than resting in a stance of being open, present and trusting.

We think that by staying closed we protect the good and keep the bad out.  We mistakenly believe that remaining closed blocks the pain and minimizes the potential for disappointment and the chance of failure from setting our hopes too high.  The truth is that we can’t be open and trusting while being closed and protective at the same time.  We can’t openly and authentically relate to those around us with a heart partially shut down.  It just doesn’t work.  We are whole human beings with many complexities but we do not exist in compartments.  We can’t shut down part of our heart and open another part.  We can’t shut down painful emotion and expect to feel the exhilaration of the joyful emotions.  The heart is very all or nothing.  We choose to remain open and feel both the joy and the sadness of life and respond openly to all of it or we close it all down–blocking the joys of life from coming in and keeping our pain trapped inside instead of releasing it.

Having highlighted the ways we shut down and what makes the heart open and close I want to explain the process of living with an open heart by making some distinctions between what it is and what it isn’t.

Living with an open heart does NOT mean:

Having no boundaries.
Living with a heart wide open is not a total, inhibited openness to anyone and anything.  There are some people and situations with which we should maintain an open guardedness.  But this is different from being closed.  To be closed is to shut down, cease all signs of life, turn off feelings, etc.  It’s a state of emotional paralysis where our discernment is numbed.  An open guardedness is staying present in the moment, feeling the caution/hesitation and discerning the situation without giving an unsafe or untrustworthy person/situation access to our heart.  To remain openly guarded we must build and maintain healthy boundaries.  The heart cannot properly relate to life or people without these healthy boundaries in place.  A closed heart is a poor man’s way of boundary setting.  That is living in the continual state of open/close, open/close with every situation rather than remaining always open and protecting by boundaries without closing the heart.  When strong, balanced and healthy boundaries are in place there is no need to close the heart down to protect it.  For more on boundary setting I’d recommend this book.  It lays a good foundational understanding.

Being a passive doormat or victim
An open heart is not a heart that begs for abuse, mistreatment or emotional bullying.  There is never a situation which makes that treatment of the heart okay or acceptable…period.  Having proper boundaries in place will prevent the doormat & victim scenarios from occurring.  Being open doesn’t mean being passive. It means being present.  It means fully engaging with the world around you and the way your heart feels in response to that world.

So how do we live more open in our daily lives?  This is a question I ask myself just about daily.  I’m continually growing in this area and looking for how to do it better.  I’m practicing at this and will not ever claim to be an expert at it.  But here’s a little of what I’m learning about how to keep an open heart:

1) Be a student of your heart.
That sounds like some funky psychological babble but I’m being serious.  Start observing what, in your life, triggers your heart’s instant reaction to close.  Notice what makes your heart feel open.  Recognizing our opening/closing tendencies is a big step in learning how to live with our hearts open.  If we don’t know what shuts them down it’s difficult to know what to do differently, how to respond and how to practice with those situations.

2) Don’t be afraid of being adventurous.
What I mean by that is to take tiny risks.  Put a little more of your heart out there in your life and relationships than you normally would.  Push your comfort zone out a little bit more.  For example, if you’re interested in someone, put a little piece of your heart out there (to the degree that trust will allow and they have proven themselves on some level).  Show your genuine interest and then give them room to respond.  I’m not talking about guitar serenades below bedroom windows but make a small gesture and and see how it’s received.  While it may feel safer to keep your feelings a secret reserved for top level security clearance, this will inevitably keep your heart closed and prevent the possibilities that might happen should the other person know your true feelings.  As another example, if you’re on a job interview and want to clam up and close down, sit back a little bit, smile more, tell a joke or a funny personal story that says you’re a real person and not just a job candidate.  Make people fall in love with who you are.  We are naturally drawn to the infectious energy of happy, alive and open people.  The process for getting there is a daily one…made one decision at a time.

Because I like lists with at least 3 items…here’s #3:

3) Start practicing with your high trust relationships.
The people who know you, love you, buy your daughter’s Girl Scout cookies, would help you move, water your plants & get your mail when you’re on vacation, bring you soup and a book when you’re home sick, hand you tissues and hold you when you cry or give you stellar advice when you need counsel are your high trust relationships.  These are your safe spaces.  These are the people with whom your heart easily remains open the majority of the time.  Friendships in this space feel effortless and family bonds, when high trust is present, are strongly woven.  This is where you practice.  It’s your training ground.  If you were Daniel in The Karate Kid this would be your Mr. Miyagi.  These are the types of relationships that are best to practice maintaining an open heart with because they know you, you trust them, and if the relationship is strong enough, it will safety net you if you fall while you’re learning.  If you close down, these are the friends and family who will probably notice it and lovingly help you re-open.  Relationships are required to learn this open-hearted way of living.  It doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  There would be little point in learning this skill if you were the sole human being on the planet.  We need relationships to learn openness.  Growing, healthy and sustainable relationships should nurture us and open our hearts more than we are able to open them ourselves alone.  The heart can never heal when it’s closed.  In a safe context, where we can practice keeping our heart open we speed up the process on our own healing and wholeness.

Lastly, I want to address the question we’re all probably thinking right about now: What happens if we keep our hearts open and still encounter a hurtful situation that makes us want to close down?  How do we stay open then?

This is where the rub is.  This is the h.a.r.d. part.  This is like trying to find that sweet spot between taking your foot off the clutch and accelerating the gas (if you’re a seasoned standard driver, try to remember the days when this was hard…because it sounds easier than it is when you’re first learning).  The tension between open and closed is where we live a large percentage of the time.  There are about a dozen things pelting your brain at once in that moment and you have mere seconds to make a decision between “stay open” and “shut down”.  This is the part I said earlier that separates the men from the boys.  Choose to bear down in this defining moment.  Tough it through that self-protective impulse to hang a “Sorry, we’re closed” sign in the front shop window of your heart and remain open anyway.  This is where true strength emerges.  It’s where heroes of the heart are born.  It’s the moment where flowers are thrown and you’re kissing babies’ foreheads.  How we respond in this moment is what either launches us forward or sets us back.  This is that moment of potential glory where we can jet into hyper drive and take the Millennial Falcon of our heart to the next galaxy of personal growth by choosing to defy fear, stare it down and remain open in the face of impending pain.

This is where relationships are so vital.  When we are in high-trust relationships, we have someone to help us push through that moment and choose to remain open.  We can access these relationships to help us remain firm in our resolve to keep our hearts open regardless of the response we receive from someone else.  We also have the ability to affect and influence, by our words and actions, the way we open others’ hearts or shut them down.  That’s another post for another day but while on the subject, munch on that thought a little.

Remaining open hearted doesn’t mean we won’t feel hurt or be disappointed or receive an undesired outcome.  It simply means we will have a stronger resiliency to bounce back from it, heal faster and move forward without having to work at re-opening our hearts again.  It’s easier to maintain an open heart in the long run than it is to open the heart we’ve shut down.  We all have experienced some degree of heart closure as it’s impossible to perfectly and consistently keep our hearts open 100% of the time.  But the quicker we realize when we have shut down and ask the Father to help us open our hearts again, the quicker and easier it is to remain open.

Keeping an open heart means remaining open to new options and possible outcomes.  It’s about honestly owning our thoughts, feelings, hopes, and desires.  It’s a place of beautiful transparency.  It’s a place of authenticity, being present and engaging wholeheartedly with those we encounter.  It’s letting people really see who we are, with no masks or facades and no pretense.  It requires risking the vulnerability of being known.  It’s about pushing past former relational baggage and connecting with people in the present as we are now.  It’s about facing pain and rejection and countering it with love and understanding.  This is the open-hearted road less traveled.  This is real life-on-life, relationship-transforming stuff.

This is an ongoing, lifelong, daily uphill challenge toward personal growth & development.  I guarantee you that it will be hard.  This is the Olympics for your heart.  It will require mental toughness, a determination to deepen your relationships, a commitment to personal authenticity and a lot of patience with the learning curve.  Hopefully, in taking these steps toward living with a heart wide open, protected by healthy and loving boundaries, we can all move a little closer to that end of the spectrum.  Life will always be hard, but let’s choose the hard life that makes us more open, more free, more authentic and more involved in the lives of those in the world around us.

May G-d give you lavish grace in learning to live with a heart wide open.

Footnotes:

(1) Artscroll Tanakh

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A Relationship Without Props

I received an e-mail a while back from a reader of The Gospel Masquerade blog who posed the question, basically, “how close to IHOP can I get without getting sucked in?  How can I keep a safe distance but still connect there only for fellowship and some of  good things I believe I do get out of it?”  Even though I’m not writing on the GM blog anymore I think this question is a really important one so I thought I’d highlight it and share my reply here for GM blog readers who make their way to this blog.

For what it’s worth, here’s what I shared with him…

There were times back when I was affiliated with IHOP I’d snag a nugget of something that really spoke to where I was and I would run with it for a while.  I extracted what I could from it and then moved on.  There was however way too much trust invested in the validity of everything IHOP I heard.  Once I got sucked into their philosophies and teachings it took a lot of time after leaving to filter through what I was taught and evaluate after the fact what was true and what was bogus mixture.  I had to come to a place of security in my own relationship with G-d to say “I don’t need IHOP to survive.  I can grow and have a wonderful relationship with the Father without their influence.”  Once I got past feeling dependent on IHOP for spiritual sustenance it opened some big doors for me to move forward.

Here’s what I know from being heavily involved though: all deception is insidious.  It masquerades as all kinds of things.  What often seems very good and sound to our natural mind is nothing more than man-contrived spiritual hoops constructed to make everyone else jump through them to get to a “higher place” spiritually.  But growing in relationship with G-d isn’t about grasping.  It is like learning how to float in a pool.  It’s born from a place of peace and trust–not striving.  So many make it about striving and going through mental gymnastics or external disciplines and this is contrary to everything G-d said about how to walk with Him.  He stresses throughout Scripture that it’s about loving Him and keeping his commands, doing justly, loving mercy, walking humbly before Him.  It’s organic.  It flows from a free and open heart and it doesn’t require having someone behind you poking and prodding you forward like cattle.

So, rather than tell you what you should do, I’m going to suggest how you could pray about it.  You can do with this what you’d like.  But above all, seek the Father about it.

Some suggested ways to pray: Ask Him to demonstrate to you what a relationship with Him outside of IHOP looks like.  If you dare to do something really gutsy, pray that G-d shows you what a relationship with Him looks like without any external, spiritual props to lean on.  Praying is just talking to G-d….letting your heart be open before Him and being authentic and honest with yourself and Him in conversation.  It doesn’t need fairy dust or special lighting, a service, an altar call or cool music in the background.  It’s just you and Him.  For some that’s terrifying and they fill their lives with so much noise and static that they substitute the fluff in exchange for the real relationship.  But REAL relationship is what we should be after.

Bottom line…do anything and everything that makes your relationship with the Father MORE authentic, genuine, raw, organic, honest, sincere and free.  If it gives you an extra hoop to jump through, makes Him feel further out of your reach, presents you with a list of things you have to do or say before you can come before Him, then chuck it out.  Man makes up rules…but G-d created laws and it’s His laws that bring life and freedom.  Man’s rules just add bondage.

Blessings to you as you continue to seek after truth and grow in relationship with the Father!


Yours in truth,

“Ariel”

http://gospelmasquerade.wordpress.com
https://kindlingembers.wordpress.com

The Simplicity of Loving Him

Have you ever tried to dislike someone who genuinely loved you?  It’s challenging isn’t it?

Why is that?  Because it’s just plain easy to love those that love you.  It’s easy to be kind to those who are kind.  It’s quite natural to respond well to being treated well.  Most of us instinctively want to reciprocate by the manner in which we receive.  It’s just hard-wired into our human blueprint.

So here’s another question for you…

Why is it so hard to love G-d sometimes?

Be really honest with yourself.  You’ve thought it before.  You’ve wondered the same question.  Why does it seem so complicated and challenging at times to love the Creator of the universe who very apparently loves us so deeply?

I’m sure there are many reasons we could trace that question back to but here is my theory:

You can only love G-d in direct proportion to how much you receive His love.

As I mentioned, it’s easy to love those who love you and it’s easy to respond well to someone who treats you well so I believe that the reason why loving G-d sometimes feels the opposite of easy is because there is a disconnect between the giver and the receiver.  There is a breakdown somewhere between the Author and Giver of love and us, the humble creation He chooses to bestow his kindness, favor and affection on.  Meaning–we aren’t fully receiving his love.  Our receiver is broken or there are too many distractions and other things pulling for our love to truly feel His.

Bottom line: if we we aren’t truly, deeply and fully receiving His love, we have NOTHING in ourselves to return that love with.  We can’t give it back.  We can’t love in return.  We are reflectors of His love…but it all originates in Him.  You can’t fake it or muster it up…because then it becomes superficial performance or heartless duty…and that isn’t love.

Love is fluid.  It’s always moving and being exchanged.  It is given and received over and over.  Love is always in motion.  It isn’t stagnant.  For love to remain alive between two people (or between us and the Father) it has to be moving.  (Last time I checked, when something is lifeless and no longer moving that often means it’s dead…like bugs for example.)

So now, the question is “how do we keep love moving and alive in our relationship with the Father?”  If we can only love G-d in accordance with how much we open our hearts to receive His love then how do we do that?  I’m not going to give any answers to that but want to give you the question to sit with.  There are probably a thousand different ways to answer that and I couldn’t even begin to know or name them all.  Herein lies the beauty of our journey of knowing Him.  This is the adventure.  If we had a checklist to complete or a list of questions with every tiny answer filled in, how boring would life be? Can you imagine dating/marrying someone who hands you a list at the beginning of the relationship and says “these are the dates and times I’d like you to call me.  Here’s when I’d like us to go out on dates.  I’d like to be married on this date, have our first child on this date, move to Colorado at year 5…”  Just reading that felt constricting and smothering didn’t it?  Well if we wouldn’t want our human relationships conducted in such a sterile and lifeless manner then why would we want that in our relationship with the One who made us?  Relationships grow and thrive in the womb of the unknown…the un-planned, don’t-have-it-figured-out space where trust is required to remain connected and growing.

Loving G-d should be simple.  If it isn’t, then our beliefs about loving G-d and receiving His love have become warped and complicated by man’s teachings and false paradigms.  Seriously, don’t you see that everywhere?  Don’t you constantly witness it in churches and religious organizations?  It’s as if someone wrote a book on “The 50 Ways to Complicate Loving G-d” and everyone is buying it.  Why do human beings have the propensity to take simple things and make them needlessly complex?  I think in part it’s because we don’t really believe it’s simple.  We think that it’s more complicated than it really is so we over-think, over-analyze and over-perform to make it feel like “work” so we can somehow feel like what we did was worthwhile because we really had to generate a lot of effort to do it.  Isn’t it ironic that as human beings we look for the simplest, easiest, most comfortable way to do most things and yet make something simple (like loving G-d) ridiculously complicated?

How about this: let’s just believe G-d and take Him at His word.  Let’s allow ourselves to believe that it really is supposed to be simple.  Let’s stop fighting it and just be ok with keeping it simple.  Let’s invite people into the simplicity and purity of devotion to Him and leave the rest of the complications and entanglements at the door.

Here’s my challenge to you:

Stop and evaluate your relationship with G-d for a moment.  Does it feel simple or difficult?  Open and vibrantly alive or complex and disconnected?  What beliefs or paradigms need to shift for you so that you can begin to see the simplicity of loving Him?

Practice receiving.  Practice opening your heart and actively letting His love in.  It is a love that will never scar you, abuse you, mistreat you, misunderstand you or take you for granted.  It’s the only safe love there is.

Choosing to be “all in”

Anyone who has ever been in love before knows well how euphoric those early “honeymoon” stages of a new relationship are.  Colors are more vibrant.  Food tastes better.  All of life seems to burst and come alive as love fills up every pore of your being.  Loving this amazing person in your life feels effortless as breathing and everything in you wants to please them, cherish them and spend every bit of time together that you can.

This is before the first argument, before there have been any disappointments and before the real tests and trials of the relationship come.  It’s before the decision to marry, before the choice of which set of parents get “dibs” on having you for Thanksgiving dinner, whether you’re using cloth or disposable diapers or whether you want a house in the city or in the suburbs near the grandparents.  This is the stage when loving is simple.  It’s the stage before you have committed to it.  The risk is low and the investment is minimal so the “weight” of the relationship is very light and fun.

It’s so easy to see this stage in human relationships.  Its presence is easy to identify.  It’s also apparent when that relationship shifts, when it hits challenges, when it has been well nurtured and when it has not.  Eventually, in every relationship…whether destined for marriage or not, the love will change.  Hard days will come.  Love will be tested and there will be that “fight or flight” moment where you decide how invested you are in its success or whether you’re going to count your losses and walk.

I had an “aha” moment recently where I came to an understanding of what commitment is unlike any I had ever known or heard before which I’m going to take a moment to share with you.

Every relationship (whether in our human relationships or in our relationship with the Father) there will be moments when our love ebbs and moments when it flows.  There will be times when we don’t “feel” like being loving…in fact, we just might want to close up shop and shut our hearts down to love altogether.  But that isn’t committing to love…it’s merely a commitment to comfort.

True commitment means “I will never let my heart change its mind about you.”

It means that when I don’t “feel” like loving, I will love anyway.  It means that when the storms and shifting seasons of life distract me, consume my time or numb my emotions, I will still guard my heart to ensure that my affection and commitment to you remain intact through every life season so that we can continue to grow in relationship together.

It doesn’t mean we don’t all have our days.  It means that at the end of them, we choose to ground ourselves in the truth of what we’ve committed to and pledge our hearts to it…even at moments when our emotions are slow to catch up and follow our decision to love.

Imagine what would happen if we truly lived our relationships out that way.  How would that change the divorce statistics in our country?  How many fair weather friends would become deep, sincere, lifelong ones?

Our society has next to zero comprehension of what commitment is.  Everything in our world is constructed to appeal to our “want of the moment” and feed our “now”…with no thought of the future.  Everything is dispensable, replaceable and easily tossed into “last season”‘s outdated pile once we’ve grown tired of it and no longer have our childish attention spans fed by its entertainment.

Commitment isn’t easy.  It can feel very scary because it is a heart decision to be “all in”.
It isn’t emotionally driven and it doesn’t produce instant gratification.

It’s the marathon of true relationships…not the 50 yard dash.

It is not for the faint of  heart.  It takes a strong man or woman to truly activate their commitment to something.

Being committed should not evoke the image of being carried off to an insane asylum.  It should be a reflection of your character and a byproduct of your trust-based love.

The majority of this post has addressed commitment more from a human relationship perspective but how does that apply to our spiritual relationship to the Father?  Does it work the same way?

I believe it does…only better.

Why better you ask?  I’ll explain.

In our relationship with the Father, we have a lot of things to support us and help us commit to that relationship.  We are surrounded (hopefully) by people who encourage us in that relationship and help us work through the things that make us distance ourselves from it.  Even better though is the fact that the Lord is already well acquainted with our humanness.  Our high probability of royally screwing things up sometimes is not a shocker.  He never jaw drops at us in disbelief like he didn’t see it coming.  He is sympathetic toward the areas where we are weak and He puts in us the very love with which we love Him so we can’t commit to love Him without His help anyway.  The beautiful thing is that He can actually help you to love him better.  It’s like a lender who gives you money to help you pay off the loan they gave you.  Huh?  Who does that?  It’s crazy and cool all at the same time.

G-d dispenses love in much the same way.  He puts the love there.  Our part is simply to commit our hearts to loving Him–to directing the focus of our love toward Him and not squandering our love on things unworthy of the investment.  We are stewards of love.  We are both recipients and dispensers.  He makes love happen.  We simply commit to loving Him with the love He puts in us.  It’s a simple “yes” in our hearts and a lean toward Him.  It’s a pursuit to know him and keep His Word and follow His will.  Our commitment is measured by our pursuit more than our conquering.  It is tested in the journey…not by a final destination.

Sometimes loving G-d is easy.  It flows naturally and we feel emotionally connected.  At other times, we hear nothing but the chirping of crickets.  These ebb and flow seasons of closeness and separateness in relationship to G-d are mirrored in earthly relationships.  But the connection that keeps the heart coming back after every ebb and the rubber-band that draws us close after a time of distance is that commitment to not let your heart change its mind about the one you love.

Commitment is rooted in trust.  You cannot commit to someone you do not wholeheartedly trust.  But where there is trust, there is safety and commitment follows naturally.  We cannot commit our hearts to loving and serving a G-d we do not fully trust.  So whenever we allow ourselves to believe a lie about His character or question His goodness, His promises or His ability to do what He said he would do, little seeds of doubt sprout in the soil of our hearts.  These weeds of doubt  slowly choke out our trust and with it, our ability to remain committed to love Him with our whole heart, mind, soul and strength.  See the connection?

May our heart’s declaration be: “Lord, I’m all in.  My heart is committed and I won’t let it change it’s mind about you.”

I challenge you to take some time to reflect on your relationships…both with the people in your life and your relationship with the Father and ask yourself whether you have become casual instead of committed in your relationships?  How can you build trust and strengthen your commitments?

Feel free to share your thoughts, insights and “aha” moments on this as well.  I welcome your comments.

When the Time is Right to Write

Hello friends & readers,

It’s been a while since I’ve been here so I wanted to pay a visit just to check in so you’d know that I haven’t completely fallen off the face of the planet (although under a blanket of 2 feet of snow right now it might appear that I have if you were viewing my house from a satellite).

I feel a bit more like I’m writing a letter to an old friend than a blog post on the internet that can be read by hundreds and thousands.  It’s just  my present frame of mind this evening so I’m going with it.  So bear with me if my writing style changes a bit from what you’re used to in previous posts.

Life after writing on the GospelMasquerade blog has been busy, but great.  I’ve found myself in a cocoon of sorts lately.  Not literally of course; more of a cocoon for the heart.  In the almost 2 years I wrote posts on GospelMasquerade I was so public–the things I thought, felt and experienced were laid pretty bare for the world to see, feel, read and experience along with me.  Even though most of what I wrote was a re-telling of previous experiences, I filtered much of them through the current lessons and experiences I was having at the time of writing it so my spiritual world was very public.  It was a valuable season and I have no regrets about that chapter of my life and am grateful for all that has come about as a result.  But in contrast, the place I’m in at the moment is a very private and much quieter one.  I didn’t intentionally make it that…it just is what it is.

I have had many ask, plead and beg that I not stop writing but in the many years I’ve been writing, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it is that writing comes and goes in seasons for me.  It’s very organic.  It’s not something I flip off and on like a light switch.  It’s not something I’ve ever allowed to become routine.  There are many people out there who write for a living.  They crank out articles, publications, blogs and books one after the other because they work in a world of literary deadlines where work must be produced on a schedule.  It has to be researched, written, edited, proofread, revised and published by a certain day.  Well, I’m not one of those.  I don’t work for a publishing co. or punch a clock at a magazine or newspaper so writing has a very different role in my life.

I write–not on a deadline, not for a paycheck and not to meet a demand.  I write because I want to.  I write because I enjoy it.  I write because it connects me to readers in a profound and personal way.  I write when I feel inspired to do so.  I never sat down in front of my laptop and said “ok, I need to crank out a blog post now” and wrote something.  I write when the passion is there to write and when I believe that I’m writing something that really needs to be said.  Otherwise, guess what?  I don’t write.  I am out living life like everyone else…working a full time job, going to the gym, spending time with my family, traveling, catching up on a good book I’ve been meaning to read, and deciding which corner the floor lamp looks better in.

So I decided to write this post because I felt the need to a) alleviate a little guilt for not being on here in a few months and b) to assure you, my readers, that my blog sabbaticals of late are not permanent ones.  It’s just the particular writing season I’m in right now.  When there’s something to be said, something to share or fill you in on, I promise I will.  It’s all about the timing being right to write.  So it might be tomorrow, a week from now or 3 months…but I will be back.

In the meantime, we’ll just keep living our lives until we can reunite here again.  But thank you for taking time out to read and follow my blog(s).

May your life be filled with truth, love and laughter.

–Ariel

Setting Your Life Spam Filter

Since the invention of e-mail, a new word has been added to our technology vocabulary that was once only known as a processed, canned meat. Everyone now has their own little e-mail folder called SPAM.

All e-mail accounts have filters that stand like armed warriors with flaming swords and 6 foot shields between us and the junk e-mail we don’t want in our inbox. These warrior filters are smart. They recognize the difference between a message from your Grandma or your boyfriend and a Viagra ad or a letter from someone in Africa who has 2.3 million dollars they want to make you the beneficiary of. Amazingly smart.

When the spam filter on our e-mail account is set too low, there are less little warrior filters out there defending us from junk mail. So all of the sudden, the little message that you have new mail takes you to an inbox of junk you don’t want. How disappointing right?

If you’re wondering where I’m going with this fun little story about e-mail and spam filters, let me bring it home for you.

We live in a world where we are continuously inundated with spam…and not just the e-mail kind. We intercept messages at a rapid fire rate 24 hours a day. They comes through media (film, tv, magazines, billboard ads, etc), conversations with others, grumpy people on subways, and on and on. We receive messages both relating to the natural world we live in as well as the spiritual one. While there is a degree of this we can’t filter out entirely because of the world we live in, there are personal spam filters we CAN set on what we will and won’t let in and to what degree we will let it in if we chose.

We 100% have the choice and personal control over how many of those spam messages we allow into our thoughts, lives and relationships with others. We have a lot of control over those filters. We don’t have to be the victim of our environment. We can set our personal environment. We each have the personal choice to let TRUTH be the armed spam filters that stand between us that the barrage of junk that would pollute our hearts and lives.

This post doesn’t come with a “how to” or a formula to make anything happen…but rather, a challenge. I challenge and encourage you to take an hour or two and do some prayerful reflecting on your own life. Where are your current spam filters set? Are there areas that need to be set higher? Is too much junk still coming in? Sit and take some time to evaluate how you can set your own life spam filters using the truth of scripture as your guide. Feel free to post comments about what you did and how you applied this in your own life if you gained something from this that you’d like to share.

Obeying God: A Relationship Found in Truth Not Feelings

We live in a world so driven by selfish ambition, comfort and personal preference that the whole idea of obedience to another will outside of our own feels utterly foreign to our human experience. The very word obedience often makes people cringe. It somehow creates a mental association with the idea of losing our personhood, forfeiting our own wants and shriveling into a non-entity that exists to do another’s bidding. This might sound a bit extreme but really stop and think about it. As children, didn’t the very words “Obey your mommy & daddy” immediately make you want to rebel and run to do the very opposite? Our human nature is born into rebellion. It is counter-intuitive to follow what someone else wants or asks because it is so hard wired in us to do what we want to do.

I remember a few of the power struggles with my parents growing up when I had the chutzpah to say “I don’t want to” or “I don’t feel like it” when asked to do something. I quickly learned that “wanting to” or “feeling like it” and doing it were two separate things and they had little connection to each other when it came down to obeying instructions. But in other areas like what I wanted to wear or eat I was allowed some personal choice and the right to say “I don’t want to wear that” or “I don’t like beets.”

Personal preference is allowed in decisions where a right/wrong has not been established. There was nothing wrong with wanting to wear a yellow shirt or have a certain vegetable choice over another. There wasn’t a right or wrong at stake here…it was left up to my personal preference as a little girl trying to assert personal decision making ability and learn what I liked/didn’t like. It was only when there was an instruction to do or not do something that going against it became an obedience issue.

There’s nothing wrong with a 7 year old riding a bike up and down their sidewalk on a quiet sunny day when they are given the boundaries of the riding limits. Staying between the Jones’ house and the big oak tree at the end of the street is a marker–a guidepost to frame an activity and give it a safe realm of enjoyment. There is no wrong done until that boundary is violated and the adventurous 7 year old decides to bike beyond the point of the safe zone which then becomes a disobedience issue.

Romans 5:13 explains that there is no sin without a law to make something wrong. If there were no speed limit sign then no one would ever get a ticket for driving 80 mph because there was no instruction or law to set a limit on speed and enforce penalty for those who go over it. So without a law, there is not a way to define what sin is because sin is by definition the action or behavior committed outside the boundary of a law. This is what makes it sin in the first place.

G-d set up the entire universe on laws & instructions. He put boundaries around everything in His creation. The sun and moon rise and set the same way every 24 hours. They are in perfect order and set the boundaries of day and night in our solar system. You’ll never look up at 2:30 in the afternoon and see the sun and moon bouncing around in the sky or colliding into each other. This would be outside of G-d’s design and the way He ordered creation. There are size and space boundaries. There are land boundaries. All things are set and designed to remain within a certain framework but they have ultimate freedom within that particular framework. Fish, whales and sharks are confined to water dwelling but have complete freedom to move and live anywhere in that ocean that they so desire. They have boundless freedom within the boundaries of their water world.

This probably seems quite elementary up to this point but let’s carry this principle over into a relationship with our heavenly Father. G-d set up boundaries for our human lives in the same way he set up boundaries for His creation and the planet life of the world you and I are currently sitting on. He gave instructions for the human race to keep. G-d’s instructions are already set and recorded in His word so let scripture teach you what is right/wrong.

Because there are set boundaries and instructions then we know that sin is trespassing outside of the framework for life that G-d gave because apart from a law there is no sin so where law is present, sin can be defined. What very commonly happens however is that we treat obeying G-d as an option on the ala carte menu of our lives and employ our personal preferences to pick and choose that which we want to keep and abide by. But personal preference has no jurisdiction where G-d’s laws and instructions are present. He created us with free will and personal choice. He has given us free reign to use our personal preferences and make autonomous choices in our lives. We can choose where we want to live, what kind of career to pursue, who we want to marry, what color to paint the dining room, what car we want to drive. We have a myriad of everyday choices and decisions that we can use our own free will to make. The only thing that becomes a sin issue is whether we have enacted our personal preference to override His set instructions.

The key to obedience is trust. Without a trust in the one that is asking you to do something there is no allegiance in our hearts to follow through on it. When we have complete trust in relationship with the Father then we can rest in the fact that He 100% has our best interest at heart and that ultimate good comes from following His instructions. Resisting them however breeds the opposite: confusion, shame, guilt, rebellion, and personal destruction.

Part of our aversion to following what G-d instructs is that we ultimately don’t trust Him and somehow convince ourselves that we have come up with a better way. We have somewhere along the way embraced a mis-belief about who He is, His character, His motives and how He sees us. When we allow mis-beliefs about who G-d is to creep into our belief system it chips away at our ability to trust Him. We will often then choose to rebel and fall back on self-reliance and self-protection and put guards up because we have decided that trusting G-d is not safe. See why what we believe about G-d is so critical? See what it’s of utmost importance that our beliefs about Him be based in what is true? When we are in a safe, trusting relationship with our heavenly Father we have no fear of following His instructions because we trust the blessing that comes with that obedience. We are fully free to dance within the boundaries of our playground and know that He will take care of what lies outside of it. G-d’s protection is strongest within G-d’s boundaries. When we go outside of them and “go play in traffic” can He still protect us? Yes, and in His mercy He often does protect us and come to our rescue but mercy was designed to cover us in our areas of ignorance–not give us a free pass to willfully rebel.

We must align our beliefs about G-d with who He says He is in His word to truly trust and obey Him with our whole heart. One reason I believe that many rebel against G-d and keeping His instructions is because they believe He is just like their earthly father. They distrust their father’s love, his motives, his actions and make a direct link to the heavenly Father in that belief system. But G-d is not flawed. He has no area of imperfection in Him. He is not a dictator but He is a supremely righteous ruler. When we get a hold of how perfect G-d’s justice is and trust Him lead our lives, there is always peace, security and safety in following His will and instruction.

In closing, one very important distinction I want to make is that complete, unquestionable obedience is only to G-d and not to people. A child needs to sometimes understand why they are being asked to do something in order to build greater trust in their parents and as adults, we are subject to the requests our employers make of us. However, obeying the whims and demands of others can very easily venture into the ground of abuse and G-d does not desire us to be abused or mistreated. So please use discernment when someone is asking you to do something for them. You are not everyone’s subject and this post is specifically addressing obeying G-d and what He calls us to do. It isn’t to give undue power and authority to people to lord over others and demand obedience. It’s isn’t license for mistreatment or abuse.

Taking Action:
1) What are G-d’s actual instructions? What are we really called to keep? I challenge you to remove the superimposed lens of others’ scriptural interpretations and read the Word of G-d with your own eyes and heart. Read scripture as if you were picking it up for the very first time and know nothing about it and ask the Father to illuminate truth to you by His Spirit as you read and He will show you exactly what His instructions are and how to keep them. His mercy and grace are there for when you miss it but our desire should still be to keep His instructions even though we don’t do it perfectly. The Father sent His Son to be our Messiah, to fulfill the law perfectly so that in the areas where we miss it His completed work covers us.

2) What are some areas where you recognize that you enact your personal preferences and override G-d’s instructions? Are there areas you have become aware of that you can repent (do a heart turn) about?

2) What are some mis-beliefs you have had about the Father which have affected your ability to trust Him fully and follow His instructions?

The Father’s Waiting Room

On a daily basis, we all live in the stop and go of life.  Between activities and events, we wait.  We sit in dentist offices, bus stops, driver’s license bureaus, post office lines and daily commute traffic…waiting.  We try to pass the time during these various activities by calling or texting a friend, reading a book, doing work on the go or annoyingly drumming our fingernails on a hard surface so everyone around us is consciously aware that we are waiting.  We wait for test results, transcripts, raises, promotions and our morning Starbucks latte.  We wait to hear a health prognosis of a loved one and wait for people we want to talk with to call us back.  We tell kids “Wait, and I’ll tell you when you’re older.”  We wait on our servers to bring out our check, wait for paint to dry, wait long hours on a flight to arrive at our destination and wait on hold when we call the phone company.

Waiting is the lull that happens between what we just did and what we’re about to do.  It’s the painstaking void between activities.  Waiting is the space that temporarily holds us until the next circumstance is ready for us or we are ready for it.  Sometimes we actually initiate the waiting.  We wait to return a phone call we’re dreading or wait as long as possible to have a conversation with a loved one that we know will be difficult.  We wait to ask for help and wait to speak up when we aren’t feeling confident.  But the waiting we loathe is the waiting flung upon us that we did not choose.  Waiting seems bothersome and inconvenient most of the time in our go-go-go world where we’d like to skip spaces in the Monopoly game and jump to the next square.  But waiting is not just a void or a gap in time between activities.  Waiting is the incubator G-d uses to change and form us into His image.

Let’s look more closely at how that works.

Waiting is a big deal to G-d. It is mentioned in scripture 73 times. Stepping into the historical accounts of scripture we see time and time again, story after story where waiting produced the will of G-d while simultaneously building character and strength of heart within the main protagonists of the story.  In contrast, more often than not times of rushing ahead ended in failure and disaster.  Esau could not wait to eat and so he forfeited his birthright for a hot meal.  (Genesis 25:29-34)  But times of waiting ended in reward.  Hannah waited and prayed earnestly for a son and her cries were heard on high and she was no longer barren.  (1 Samuel 1:20)  In Acts 1:4 the believers in Jerusalem were instructed to wait and not leave the city so that the promise the Father was sending could come.  Those who waited at the Feast of Pentecost received the promised Holy Spirit.

A classic story about waiting is the story of Abraham & Sarah.  There was a significant gap in time between when the promise of a son would come and the actual delivery of the promise.  Like us, Abraham and Sarah grew tired of waiting.  They saw the frailty of their old age creeping up on them and no doubt felt that the promise would never come.  Perhaps they wondered if G-d forgot what He said.  It would be quite easy in that position to think “I’m getting up in years and my hearing isn’t great.  Maybe I mis-heard.”  So, in their state of deferred hope, they forged ahead to manufacture what they believed to be the end result of what G-d promised: a son.  Ishmael was conceived through Sarah’s servant so one could say that they got their promise…or did they?

The reason why Ishmael could not be G-d’s promised son to Abraham is because G-d’s promise comes through G-d’s provision.  G-d’s results can only be the by-product of G-d’s action and initiative.  We can’t create His promise.  Ishmael was the byproduct of Abraham and Haagar’s provision not G-d’s promise.  Scripture also tells us that G-d’s promises find their yes in connection with Him (2 Cor 1:20) and they bring no trouble with them (Prov 10:22).  Anyone who knows the rest of the story knows that the end result of Ishmael’s birth caused trouble.  It brought strife and conflict into a happy home.  It caused dissension and arguments into Abraham and Sarah’s marriage.  It brought about competition, jealousy and power struggles.  The downward spiral came about simply because of an unwillingness to wait.  G-d’s promise wasn’t just about giving Abraham and Sarah a son.  If that was all it was about then Ishmael would have been it.  But it was a lesson in trust.  It was about teaching them that He was their source, that He was faithful to fulfill His own promises, and that He was a covenant-keeping G-d. He was drafting the contract of an eternal covenant between Himself and Abraham.  He was creating a seed of promise that would produce blessing, protection and ongoing provision to the rest of the generations that came from Abraham’s seed.  G-d’s promises always have a big picture.  Abraham and Sarah did not fully have the big picture to see what G-d had in store for them and their empty arms and hollow womb cried out for a child so Ishmael became the quick fix to numb the pain of their waiting.

I began writing this post with a list of ways that we wait on a daily basis for small, temporal things.  But there are much deeper, weightier things each of us are waiting for.  We are all waiting and holding on to see the fulfillment of something.  We all hold within us the promise and hope of some future fulfillment.  Maybe you’re waiting for the return of a wayward prodigal that you long to see step into the Father’s loving arms of forgiveness and redemption.  Maybe you are waiting for a spouse that will be your partner and cheerleader in life and will balance you with complementary strengths and gifts.  Maybe like Sarah, you wait with an empty womb for a baby you have cried and prayed for and the empty room that will someday be a nursery is a continual reminder of that void.  Maybe what you’re waiting for is something completely different but it holds just as deep of a place in your heart and it is continually mentioned in prayer before the Father.

Now, holding whatever that thing is in your mind you can see why Ishmael seemed like a brilliant idea and a quick pain-reliever to Abraham & Sarah.  You see, the greatest time of temptation to create an Ishmael in our lives is in a time of waiting.  Because of the fact we live in such a instant gratification culture where everything takes minutes not years and productivity is measured by fast results, we translate this same efficiency into the kingdom of G-d and expect Him to move based on a human timetable.  This does not make G-d slow.  He is outside of time so “fast” and “slow” don’t mean much because He is not confined to operate by either speed.  Those are English words we use to define and contrast the movement of things in a time-based world.  However, we set up in our minds what we think is slow, fast and on time.  When G-d is not immediate in His response, we assume He is not coming.

The children of Israel grew weary of waiting for Moses to come down from Mt. Sinai so they made a golden calf and gave themselves to idolatry.  They erected a god that they could worship now.  There was immediate delivery, instant gratification.  When there is the distraction of a golden calf, there seems to be no felt need to wait for the real visitation.  There was such revelry, intoxication and pagan celebration that most of them probably even forgot Moses was coming.  They too numbed themselves to the discomfort of waiting.  It’s the human story. Every character in the Bible faced the temptation to not wait.  Every person had their trust tested and shaken.

We are not exempt dear family.  We too live in the continual tension of waiting between the promise and the fulfillment.  It is G-d’s waiting room.  But it is not a place of idle boredom.  It’s where He does some of His best work in our hearts and in our lives.  It’s in the journey where He transforms us so that we are ready to handle what He has for us when we arrive at the destination of promise.

Throughout the book of Psalms, David the shepherd, warrior and king composed many, many poems about waiting for the L-rd.  In fact, he wrote more about it than any other writer in scripture.  He was well acquainted with the seasoning process of waiting.  He too experienced the pain of rushing ahead and did not wait for G-d’s hand.  It caused the death of Uriah and the death of his firstborn son.  That was his breaking point.  That is the place where scripture illustrates that he came to the end of his own fight.  When the prophet Nathan came to reprove him for murdering Uriah in order to marry Bathsheba, his prayer before G-d was for the Father to create in him a clean heart and steadfast spirit (Ps 91:10).

The purpose for waiting is not only to see the fulfillment of the promise or the answer to the request we have prayed for.  There are actual blessings and promises for those who wait.  Waiting in itself brings a reward.  It is not merely a means to an end:

Adonai takes pleasure and delight in those who wait–Psalm 147:11
Adonai is waiting to show you favor…happy are those who wait for Him–Isaiah 30:18
Those who wait for Him will not be sorry–Isaiah 49:23
Those who wait and hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint–Isaiah 40:31

So how do we wait for Him? How do we posture our hearts in the waiting period between the prayer or promise and His fulfillment? I want to make a very important distinction between passive and active waiting. Passive waiting is similar to the kind of waiting you do in line at the grocery store. You are bored, disinterested, feeling impatient and frustrated, trying to amuse yourself with reading magazine covers at the register and pretending to be amused by the children playing loudly in line in front of you. Passive waiting is simply about forcing your will to endure something uncomfortable or inconvenient. It’s a place of victimized lingering where you kill time until you get what you are waiting for. I don’t want to paint passive waiting out to totally be the bad guy and say that you need to get excited and engaged about every moment you find yourself waiting. Let’s be real here…no one can achieve that. Passive waiting is the kind we do most of the time in our day-to-day lives, sitting in traffic, pumping gasoline into our cars and that’s probably okay in those instances. I’m referring to the kind of waiting we engage in when we are waiting on the Father.

So what is active waiting? Can I be honest? I ask myself this question regularly. I don’t have the complete answer on how to do that perfectly but here are some things I do know to be true about active waiting and have seen the payoff in my own life in the times when I have actively waited for something.

1) Active waiting is hopeful. In Psalm 130:6 the psalmist writes “Everything in me waits for Adonai more than guards on watch wait for morning.” The watchmen anticipate that morning will come and they have hope that they will see the sunrise break over the horizon. Hope deferred makes the heart sick and a sick heart can’t wait without hope to hold on to. Hope is vital to active waiting because it is based in the trust and belief that we will have what we have asked for (1 John 5:15). It is a hope in the Father’s ability and desire to deliver the promise rather than a hope in the promise itself. When we have hope, we can wait with anticipation and eagerness. Going back to the example I used above of waiting for a spouse…the hope must be placed in the Father–He is the focus. If the hope is only placed in finding a spouse, an “Ishmael” will be the result.  Abraham & Sarah had the hope for a son but they did not place their hope in the Father’s ability and desire to be the one who gave them that son so they got the son on their own terms. Our hope has to be in the Father and in the fact that he knows our heart. He knows what we need to thrive, grow and mature and He knows what needs to be developed in us in order fulfill the plan He has for our lives. So ultimately He alone knows who will be the best partner for us because He knows how the two of us fit together into His big picture.

2) Active waiting requires preparation. It requires getting ready for what’s coming.  The line from the movie Field of Dreams comes to mind: “If you build it, he will come.” There is an element of truth to that statement because over and over scripture tells us the steps we are to take in times of waiting. Look at the parable of the talents. (Matt 25:14) Three men were given talents and they were praised or punished based upon how they managed those talents while waiting for their master to return. It’s a test about active waiting. There was a task, a responsibility and a result expected of those men while they were in a time of waiting. Two actively waited for the master and invested what was in their hands and were able to bring back to the master a return on his investment. One man waited passively and buried what he was given and because he did not actively wait and continue with the task given when the master went away, he lost everything. Recall the story of Esther.  Before she became queen, she had to go through a year long “spa” of beauty treatments to prepare her to go before the king.  There was a long waiting period full of intense preparation…of both of her physical beauty as well as an internal preparation of her heart.  Look also at the parable of the 10 bridesmaids who were waiting for the groom’s arrival so they could go out and meet him on the way to the wedding feast. (Matt 25:1-12) Five were wise in their time of waiting and acquired oil and filled their lamps. Five squandered the time of waiting and ignored the need for preparation. When the cry rang out that the bridegroom was coming, their last minute scramble to acquire oil for their lamps resulted in them missing out on the wedding altogether…and all 10 bridesmaids were waiting the same amount of time for the same wedding. It’s not about who waited longest…it’s about what they did while they were waiting.

3) Active waiting comes from a place of rest–not impatience. This is not a fingernail drumming kind of waiting. Active waiting is born out of a heart at rest, a heart at peace. It’s not a peace based on the circumstances but rather a resting in the faithfulness of G-d and knowing how big the hands are that hold you. Active waiting is about resting in contentment because you have confidence in the One who created the universe and knit you together in your mother’s womb. It’s a place of resting in His character rather than your comfort. How does one do that?  It’s simply a declaration from your heart to His that you trust Him to take care of you, provide for your needs and answer your requests and petitions. It’s hanging your life on Him. He is your source…the One from whom your waiting heart draws all that it needs (2 Peter 1:3).

4) Active waiting comes out of a place of gratitude. When you are actively waiting for the fulfillment of something, it’s important to not lose sight of the things you are grateful for in the here and right now. Remember the promises He has already fulfilled. Recount and tell aloud of His wondrous works! Deut 32:4 says “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.” Psalm 66:5 says “Come and see what God has done, how awesome his works in man’s behalf!” and Psalm 111:7 says “The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.” Set your heart to thank Him for what He has already done which demonstrates His character, proves his track record and displays His ability to fulfill what He promised He will do.

Whatever prayer or promise that is on your heart which you are diligently seeking and asking the Father for, I pray that He responds to your earnest and sincere prayers and in His perfect timing and gives you the desires of your heart as you continue to acknowledge Him and see His face.

Take Action: Reflect on some times in your own life where you have seen the value and reward of waiting.  List them in a journal if it helps to make it visual.  Also consider circumstances or specific situations when you have numbed the pain of waiting and forged ahead of G-d’s timing and felt the compounded pain of creating an “Ishmael” rather than waiting for the promise or answer from the L-rd.  In what additional ways can you practice “active waiting” for something you’ve prayed for or are waiting for currently?

(I would like to extend a special thank you to my mother who is a beautiful example of how to wait with grace for the fulfillment of promises. Conversations with her are very much the inspiration behind writing this post.)

What Your Heart Believes, Your Life Will Ultimately Follow

I’ve recently been pondering paradigms and belief systems…how they are shaped by outside influences, environment, education, other people, etc. Something I find interesting is the fact that regardless of what someone says they believe, their life is the ultimate lived-out demonstration of their belief system. In other words, the beliefs that shape us ultimately are the ones we lean on, live out and manage the day to day of our lives by. For example, if your words are the book then your life’s actions and decisions are that book being made into a movie and hitting the big screen as a summer blockbuster. The way we live our lives and make daily choices is the 3D fruit of our inner faith.

What the heart believes, the lifestyle will follow.

For the purpose of illustration: If someone says they believe in being healthy but never works out or is mindful of what they eat, their lifestyle proves their actual beliefs about health by how much priority it is given. If we say that family is what we believe is most important but choose late nights at the office 3 times a week over dinner with our kids then that message has become lost and our hearts have become buried beneath to do lists. The breakdown happens because there is a gap between what we know we should prioritize and what we should do or believe but there is no freedom or power to live godly lives in the world of “should”. True freedom is when our actions are in line with truth-based values and goals and we are living congruent with what we say we believe.

Our lives and words should live in harmony so that we can live out of a place of peace. When there is a conflict between our said beliefs and a lifestyle that demonstrates otherwise we must then confront the reality of our life choices and tell ourselves the truth. We must evaluate the inconsistencies and determine what our belief systems should be by measuring our life choices against the plum-line of scripture. The moment when we realize our lives are not living up to what we say we believe we have a choice to make: continue to deceive ourselves or radically shift our choices to line up with what we know is true.

What We Believe About G-d Determines How We Respond to Him

The most important decision in the world ultimately is what we choose to believe about G-d. This one defining decision shapes everything else in our world: our lifestyles, our decisions, our values, the mate we choose, our priorities, the way we raise our children, the choices we make, the kind of friends and relationships we keep, etc.

What we say we believe about G-d is generally evidenced by (a) the actions and attitudes we exhibit and (b) the way we respond to G-d in tragedy or personal failure. Circumstances that are outside of our control (such as losing a job), events that cause pain (such as the death of a loved one or a betrayal from a close friend), and moments when our failures cause us to face our frail humanity are the times when what we really believe, in our heart of hearts about the Father comes into full view. Our life is simply our belief system in action.

It sounds overly simplistic but it’s really quite profound when you sit and pull back the layers of that onion. What we believe about something…anything really…determines our response to it. If we tell ourselves that we’re not good enough for that raise then when we walk into that annual performance evaluation we will respond to that life circumstance based on the beliefs that we have formed before we walked through the door. In a more positive contrast, if a teacher believes her 4th grade students are bright, full of imagination, life and each have a passion to learn then she will respond to them and conduct her classroom based on that belief. In turn, those students will believe that their teacher wants them to thrive and succeed and their actions will rise to level of her expectations–they will respond based on their belief about her. Our beliefs about something shape our responses to it…whether positive or negative. So let’s relate that back to how we see the Father. If our fundamental belief about the Father is not based on the truth of scripture (which is where he paints his nature, character, attributes and commands in vibrant technicolor) then we are responding to the Creator of the universe out of a false belief. The choices and actions we take then follow right in step with that belief and we either draw closer to Him or move further away.

I’m going to use an illustration and write in the first person so I can insert myself as an example. Let’s say that I was someone who believed that the Father is disappointed with me if I don’t spend at least two hours a day praying and reading His word. By holding to this idea, I have allowed a seed of belief to plant into the soil of my heart–a belief based on what I think G-d expects of me. This is a mis-belief because it is evaluating my standard of acceptance by how well I achieve a goal I have set for myself. Note that I said “set for myself”. In this example, it’s something I would have told myself G-d required of me and I needed to fulfill it to prove how spiritual and dedicated I am. No where in His word does He actually mandate a time frame for how little or much time we have to daily commit to prayer or worship because His desire is that we do it by choice from the heart. There is of course nothing wrong with having that 2-hour daily goal but it’s not a standard of performance G-d mandates. So if I continued to hold to this false belief, it would eventually sprout confusion, despair, condemnation, self-hatred and a myriad of other negative emotions because now I have evaluated my relationship with my Father G-d based on the merit of my performance. One of two things will happen: I would either reach the bar and achieve the 2-hour marker and feel proud and deserving for having reached the desired goal or I would fail to meet it and be hurled into a place of frustration, bewilderment, failure and self-condemnation. It might seem like a bit of an extreme example to you perhaps but many many people in fact do view a relationship to G-d in this manner. Do you see how vital it is that our said beliefs about G-d line up with the truth of His word?

It is critical that what we believe about G-d is true and accurate because it ultimately determines how we respond to Him, how we serve Him and how we follow His instructions. Embracing wrong paradigms about G-d alters our choices and belief systems and can violently throw us off course much like poking a stick through a bicycle wheel in motion will lead to a crash.

Taking Action: Ask yourself “What are the some of ideas or concepts I have embraced and believed about G-d?” Feel free to form a list or jot them down in a journal if it helps you to write things down. Then begin to pray that the Father reveals Himself to you as He truly is and ask Him to shatter any false ideas or beliefs you have about who He is that would affect the way you respond to Him, teach about Him or represent Him to those around you. Also, look at ways your lifestyle and choices are congruent with your beliefs and where they contradict. Where inconsistencies arise, don’t ignore or excuse them. Take a closer look and ask G-d to show you ways you can set boundaries, make choices and alter priorities so that your life lines up with what you truly believe.

Works Without Faith Is Performance

I very strongly believe that the Spirit of G-d which is in us is our counselor and teacher and that in day-to-day life as I am going about my day and living life that G-d instructs and teaches me through the world around me.  I am learning constantly and absorbing truth from life experiences, people, ideas, and thoughts (Ps 16:7).  Well as I was driving from work recently the Father dropped a little nugget in my thoughts which resonated the moment I heard it.  It was this:

Faith without works is dead but works without faith is just empty performance.

In other words, if we say we believe something but put no feet to our faith and no action to the trust we claim to have then it doesn’t mean much. If we stand on the side of the pool and say we trust our Daddy’s arms in the deep end but never actually jump into them then there is no action to test our trust. On the flip side of this little play on words, if our lives have movement, achievement, productivity and action but we don’t live our lives with the goal of making Him known…if we don’t live out of a place of trust and faith in His ability to work everything for our good and to will and do in us His good pleasure then we have become locked into performance mode. Performance is propelled by our flesh rather than our faith. Is there anything wrong with achievement, work and activity? Of course not. The chief task given to mankind in the garden of Eden was to work–to create, cultivate, subdue and nurture the world G-d put us in. So I’m not at all saying don’t have goals and ambitions. What I’m referring to are matters of the heart: the motivations and intentions behind our actions that fuel what we do.

Our lives ultimately tell the world what we believe. Inconsistencies between what we say we believe and the life our actions illustrate should be a wake up call to us that it’s time to do a heart check. If we truly live from a place of trusting G-d and have our faith where it should be, our lives should naturally produce fruit in like kind. If however we are trying to produce fruit but are disconnected from the Vine–the source–then we have become actors reciting the scripts of our fallen nature. We become pretenders. We have taken the lowly and base road of trying to prove our mettle with the sounding gongs of our actions when our hearts are far from the One we claim to follow. Not a single person on the planet is exempt from this snare. We all fall into it…probably multiple times a day. But most of us live unaware of it and don’t even realize when we do it. I would like to challenge you to ask the Father where your blind spots are by allowing the Spirit of G-d do a heart check. Be willing to step back and question the why that motivates your what. If you discover inconsistencies between the fruit of your walk and your well-worded talk then thank the Father that He opened your eyes to see it so that you can walk free and live your life with an undivided heart. Then set your heart and mind to know what is true and walk in it. This is where freedom truly lives.