Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Two weeks running, my church's Sunday sermon has touched on the idea that "the reason most of us are worriers is that we see God as no bigger than our biggest problem." My own"problem with problems" isn't so much their individual weight as their combined volume. Lately it seems that something new goes wrong every day: an unexpected expense pops up just as a client hits tough financial times and can't pay a bill on schedule; a much-anticipated appointment cancels at the last minute because something important came up; I remember almost too late that I need extra input for a project and then my potential source gets huffy because I asked on such short notice. At least once a week, I was grumbling that God may be bigger than our problems, but He doesn't seem to be nearly as visible.

I thought it was His responsibility to step directly into my line of vision. It was some time before I considered that maybe I was looking in the wrong direction. Or that maybe I found problems more visible because--like a bird watcher who has her binoculars set for a clear view of a house sparrow ten feet away and then complains that the eagle soaring overhead is a blurry speck--I was too lazy to "adjust my focus" for the better vision.

Actually, human nature is so self-centered that it hardly needs an obvious problem to get itself, God, and the world out of perspective. Each of us is prone to one of two wrong attitudes toward everyday life. On one side stand the worriers and the workaholics, desperately trying to anticipate and head off everything that might spoil their plans; on the other side are the egotists who confidently assert that the human race is smart enough to deal with anything.

Both sides (and, sadly, both include a fair number of Christians) have the same root issue: thinking of themselves and/or humanity in general as responsible for "getting things right." If God gets factored into the equation at all, He is seen as a 911 number to be ignored during everyday concerns and called on only in direst emergency. When the emergency comes, it's not surprising that we can see it better than we can see God--because it's standing directly between us and what we'd already put in front of God.

Many of our problems really are bigger than we are. So if we also see them as bigger than God, we've likely gotten into the habit of seeing ourselves as bigger than God.

We may boast as we learn to treat cancer
And to stretch a life's total span;
But each human breath and each day of death
Are still subject to God's own plan.

We may think ourselves masters of science
Who could probe the most distant sun;
But each star was lit, and each orbit set,
By the Only Eternal One.

We may think we are brilliant achievers
If we guess where the snow will fall;
But the sun, the rain, and the hurricane
Are all still at God's beck and call.

We are constantly learning and dreaming,
And predicting a day when we
May see nature's all at our beck and call:
"Then," we think, "just like gods we'll be."

Since that line worked its mischief on Adam,
The appeal of its siren call
Has wrecked countless souls on the rocky shoals
Known as Pride and as I Am All.

But if you would be someone important--
Truly wish to achieve your best--
Turn away from pride, and let God inside,
For His servants alone are blessed!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Reshape Me, Lord

More than one Christian writer has observed that God is never in a hurry. That's not always good news to those of us who get tired of His using the slow-and-steady approach to work out our concerns. Impatience can easily tempt us to turn cynical: "God can afford not to be in a hurry; He's got all the time in the world!"

One might think that "what's taking You so long?" prayers would be confined to totally selfish wants. They aren't. Not only do we get equally impatient over legitimate physical needs, but even those of us who are slightly more mature--who genuinely want to become Christlike--can quickly drift into the irony of a "give me patience--and I mean now!!" attitude. We forget that what grows quickly rarely becomes truly strong, and that those who do "grow up" overnight tend to be those who learn the hard way--through the spiritual equivalent of a good spanking.

But slow or fast, pleasant or painful, we grow best when willing to cooperate with God in the procedure--a cooperation which requires both accepting His timing and emulating His perseverance. So by all means let us continue praying for our own spiritual growth. God may not often rush to answer that prayer to our full satisfaction; but it's one prayer that He always answers--ultimately--with a "Yes."

Reshape me, Lord, that I may be
A living channel of Your grace;
Renew my heart, and let me see
Your loving hand in every place.

Reshape me, Lord, and make me strong
To do Your work each waking hour,
To know the right, reject the wrong,
And serve the world through Your great power.

Reshape me, Lord, and make me pure,
A faithful servant of Your will;
Lord, make me true, and strong, and sure,
To every day Your plans fulfill.

Reshape me, Lord, in hope and love,
And faith to trust Your guiding hand,
Until the day we meet above,
When I with You in glory stand.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Who Can Forget Those Moments?

We all have certain memories so intense that, even decades later, our minds can see them as clearly as in the moment they happened. Some are a pleasure to relive: a brilliant sunrise or rainbow; a clear night in the country; a first kiss; the best birthday present ever. But there are equally vivid memories that we wish came with "Delete" buttons: a roomful of classmates taunting "Stupid, ugly loser!"; words of cold contempt from a youthful love interest; an employer's angry scolding in front of half the office.

The actual events may or may not have been particularly significant overall. But they all have one thing in common: they are accompanied by intense emotion. Apparently the human brain is so wired that vivid feelings trigger "burning" of accompanying events into the conscious memory--not a function without practical use. A moment of intense fear or guilt may well "leave a mark" that keeps a person from doing some foolish thing a second time.

But most negative memories have less-than-positive aftereffects. Many people live under a constant burden of guilt for past mistakes, convinced they have permanently rendered themselves unfit to accomplish anything worthwhile. Even positive memories can have negative effects; there are people who waste decades of present moments trying to recapture, or brooding over the loss of, some moment now past. The mid-life affair with someone who "makes me feel young again"; the post-bereavement mourning and seclusion that drags on for years; the endless complaining that "nothing ever measures up" to a "past perfect" experience--all are examples.

The Bible has a lot to say about "right" and "wrong" remembering. "Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm," Moses exhorted the Israelites (Dt. 5:15, NIV). "I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago," sang the Psalmist Asaph (Ps. 77:11). Conversely, Paul speaks of "forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead" (Phil. 3:13), and God Himself says of His repentant people, "I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more" (Heb. 8:12). It seems that God would have us remember the good He has done--and forget the evil we and others have done.

Doing the first item is actually key to overcoming our frequently intense difficulties with the second. While we may never completely rid our minds of troublesome memories, we can displace unpleasant thoughts from the center of constant attention by bringing better ones to the forefront. And a good place to start, when it comes to burning the good memories firmly into our brains, is to make a list of God's blessings--past, present, and future. If anyone has trouble, rereading the Bible with an eye out for God's promises and expressions of love should help.

One thing worth always remembering is not to take our all-powerful, all-caring, all-sufficient God for granted.

Who can forget those moments
When joy runs deep and pure:
An evening with a loved one;
Days when success is sure;
A view of gentle beauty;
A shining touch of light:
Who can forget those moments
When everything is right?

Who can forget those moments
When pain stabs sharp and strong:
An agonizing illness;
Some great unpunished wrong;
A mocking word of anger;
A graveyard in the rain:
Who can forget those moments
When all seems grief and pain?

Who can forget those moments
When God is clearly seen:
A rainbow, or a flower;
The springtime's budding green;
A stirring note of music:
Think on what God has given,
And take time to remember
Those moments sweet with Heaven.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Many Words

Those who revel in the sound of their own voices are frequently left to enjoy themselves free of competition. "If you want to know how to make people shun you," notes Dale Carnegie's classic How to Win Friends and Influence People, "here is the recipe: Never listen to anyone for long. Talk incessantly about yourself. If you have an idea while the other person is talking... bust right in and interrupt." Proverbs 10:19 predicts even more serious consequences than losing all one's friends: "When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise" (NIV). (See also the blog entry for 4/21/08.)

For all that--and for all our quickness to agree that nonstop babblers are horrendous bores--"talking too much" is a near-universal fault, probably because human nature easily recognizes it in everyone but ourselves. Even in prayer, the majority of us do nearly all the talking: "We dictate to God our shopping list and say 'Amen,'" as one writer put it. Then we complain that God "doesn't answer our prayers," when in fact we aren't listening for answers--we just want God to give us what we want and then step back until we think of something else to ask for. And we seldom seem to make room for any idea that He might want--or deserve--anything from us.

If somebody said straight out, "I don't think God or anyone else is important except as a means to serve my interests," we'd be shocked at such arrogance. Yet through our other words--our incessant talking about how much we know and how important our needs are and how we never get enough respect--many of us say the same thing daily.

That's why talking too much can't be dismissed as a relatively harmless personality flaw. Considering ourselves more important than even God is the worst of sins.

To make endless talk is an easy thing--
Thousands chatter in mindless ways--
But to know when the time for silence comes
Is a skill worth the highest praise.

To write countless words is a common thing,
Seeming often to have no end;
But to read the words of God's Holy Book
Is a way few their time will spend.

Our Lord's priceless words seek our minds and hearts,
Yet so many stop up each ear.
Please, today turn from your own empty words,
And take time God's great voice to hear!