Humility: Key to Helping Relationships of the Cosmic Kind

 

In my last post, Listening Isn’t Everything, I wrote to encourage you to be more than “good listeners” when someone is hurting.  I challenged you as servants of Christ, to follow His example by asking soul-challenging questions that provide not only better understanding for you, but also that help the person in trouble to look at themselves and their circumstances more objectively–as God perceives them

In this post I write to offer a Scriptural perspective on the value of humility in helping relationships of the cosmic kind.  You may well be wondering what I mean when I refer to relationships of the cosmic kind Simply put, I am referring to when we enter into God’s presence through the miracle of prayer.  I think of my first prayer as a child, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep . . .” and the prayers of now–prayer that cries out to God for loved ones and prayers of thanksgiving for His love and mercy–all miracles that stretch across the cosmos to connect us with God Most High.

I love the picture painted in Ecclesiastes 4:9, 10 and 12 of caring human relationships that ultimately have the potential of becoming cosmic in nature:

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up . . . .
Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Initially, it is a very practical picture of the vast benefits gained through caring relationships“pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” However, the best (and by far the most interesting part) is reserved for the last nine words as it alludes to the entrance of the supernatural:  “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Suddenly, the heavens are opened up with the addition of that “third strand” and the scope of relationships is broadened to cosmic proportions as “we” becomes “three”–nothing short of miraculous!

It could be tempting to become cocky at the idea of having such a connection when it comes to helping others, but Jesus reminds us of our need for humility in Luke 6:42,

 “How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’
when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye?
You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye,
and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

I think about Jesus’ admonition every time a new Client comes to my office.  My inward prayer,  “God help me to see and hear this person with Your eyes and mind rather than my own . . . to communicate Your love and mercy.”  Every Client is given the opportunity to ask questions about me personally and professionally–they deserve to know who they are talking to.  I talk about my role as a Counselor, admitting from the outset that despite my twenty years of counseling experience, I do not have all the answers to their problems.  However, I then add that I do know the One who can and will bless them with His presence and His peace as we work together. 

Is there someone on your mind who needs help?  The pattern for helping that friend or family member is the same.  In humility:

  1. Rely on God prayerfully from the outset, to see and hear that person with His eyes . . . mind . . . love . . . mercy.
  2. Be willing to make yourself vulnerable; refuse any pretense about having the answers they may be looking for.
  3. Give testimony to the One who can and does bless us through the challenges we face–our God of Hope.

It is as you focus on your God of Hope in humility and in faith that you will see the beginnings of a relationship of the cosmic kind start to build.  It can be risky business when we offer ourselves to others, but I have learned to stay close to Him and marvel at His goodness no matter what happens–we do serve a God of miracles!

In my next post I will present a very practical tool that I have shared with many Clients and have also found personally helpful.

All to His Glory!

Simple Anticipation . . . Profound Peace

Anticipation: to look forward to as certain; pleasurable expectation; visualization of a future event or state 

Anticipation–there is a loveliness to this word as it rolls off the tongue that delights my heart . . . especially at Christmas!  For many, the anticipation of Celebrating God’s Gift of our Savior King is the highlight of the year as we remember:

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord.”  
Luke 2:8-11

Remembering God’s faithful provision of our Savior Redeemer is reason enough for our hearts to overflow with joy-filled anticipation of the Season.  Yet, there is a darker side of anticipation that can steal our joy and our peace–the dark stain of DREAD.  As the pressures of shopping, finances being pushed to the limit and a myriad of activities and social obligations threaten to overwhelm us, we lose sight of the simple joy of remembering God’s Goodness and have no peace..  

Many complain that living in convoluted times has caused DREAD to darken the door of ANTICIPATION when it comes to Celebrating God’s Amazing Gift.  We blame culture for robbing us of the PEACE that is rightfully ours in Christ. 

I accepted such arguments in years past, and felt defeated and depressed. However, I have since decided that neither the times nor the culture have power to rob Christians of the Peace that is inherently ours in celebrating Christ’s Coming.  In fact, rather than shifting blame to outside influences, we need to take responsibility for the choices we make as we reel-in the stresses and strains that can lead us to dreading Christmas.

I write this to encourage you to take an honest look at where you are one week into the Christmas Season.  On a scale from one to ten, with joyful anticipation at number ten and dread at number one, where are you?

Before going any further, let me share something very simple yet surprisingly profound that helped me to adjust my number on the anticipation scale this past week.  The insight came as I prepared to lead the Advent wreath workshop at my church.  I felt privileged to have been asked to lead the workshop, but inwardly . . . I quaked for weeks as I anticipated (dare I admit . . . I dreaded?!) blundering my way through presenting something I felt ill-equipped to do!  I repeatedly asked myself, “Who am I to instruct a group of people who already know what they are doing?”  In fear, I did what I generally do . . . I started researching everything I could that related to “Advent wreaths” on the Internet!

Not having grown up observing the Advent tradition, I understood Advent to be part of a church service–more formal. What I learned in my research was that the Advent wreath was originally meant for use in Christian homes and was not used formally in Church services (in a broad sense) until the mid-twentieth century.   What a revelation!  With that insight, I realized that, instead of placing our Advent wreath in the more formal setting of our dining room table (where it has been largely forgotten and unused in past years), it would be far more fitting to put it on our kitchen table for daily use.  So . . . that is exactly what I did.

DSC00129

The result of making this simple change?  Amazing and unexpected.  This past week when my husband and I shared our main meal (which varies with his work schedule) we lit the first candle, prayed and read the Scripture to each other as we ate. (The paperback we are using [found stuffed in amongst some Christmas dishes and decorations] is one we used when our children were young.)  After doing this three days in a row I realized how much I looked forward to sharing time with God and my husband each day.    Reflecting on it now, I marvel at how the simple shift from a formal mindset to daily use increased my level of anticipation as the days lead up to Celebrating Christ’s Birth.  Along with the higher level of anticipation, the result has been a greater inward peace as the dissonance/noise of Christmas pressures are put (essentially) on the “back burner” each day.

In the past, I looked at Advent wreaths as “one more should” to be saddled with.  However, what I discovered is the benefit of setting aside the “noise” of the many demands that surround Christmas with the simple lighting of a candle (a reminder that Jesus is the Light of the world) and savoring the Scripture over a meal–profound peace.  Wherever you are on the anticipation scale it is never too late to make adjustments to move away from dread toward joyful anticipation.  It may sound silly, but I am actually looking forward to lighting the additional candles!  Simple anticipation . . . profound peace . . . rejoicing in Him!

All to His Glory!

Growing Up Is Hard . . . No Matter How Old You Are!

As my husband and I drove out to do some errands yesterday, the shocking realization hit me that in fifteen years (if we live that long) we will be eighty!  Eighty!!!  The odd thing is that even though I will be sixty-five on my next birthday, in some ways, I still don’t feel like a grownup!  I still struggle with insecurity in certain social situations and I embarrass myself by laughing too loud when something strikes me as being especially funny.  I feel obligated to appear at least somewhat “put together” yet (more often than I am willing to admit) I frequently am scrambling just to keep up!

Growing up is hard . . . no matter how old you are!  Having this understanding has definitely impacted how I relate to others–be they family, friends or the checker at the grocery store.  Knowing that the majority of us struggle no matter what our age has freed me as a Counselor to love each Client according to their need rather than their age.    The beauty of using the Scriptures as our primary source of wisdom and perspective in the Counseling Room is that the Bible speaks to every age as it ministers to each heart.

In the past six months I have marveled at how Scripture passages that have stood out to me earlier in the week, can also be helpful to a majority of my clients facing vastly different problems.  The reason for this is that the Scriptures help to take our focus off of ourselves and beyond our circumstances to open our minds and hearts to God’s purposes and perspective.  For example, this passage from I Corinthians 4:1-5 grabbed my attention this past week:

“This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed.  Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.  I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.  My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.  Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.”

As I thought about being a “servant of Christ” and the responsibility I bear before God to never forget what He has done in my life, the phrase, “With privilege comes responsibility” came into my mind.  It is a phrase that I repeated countless times as our children were growing up.  I thought about that as I reflected on the Apostle Paul’s words.  If I am privileged to claim Christ as Savior, my identity is bound up in Him as His servant.  With the privilege of serving Him comes the responsibility to never trivialize what God has done or is currently doing.  I was especially touched as I thought about, “My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent . . . He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart.”  We all carry regrets of things said or done, yet we have a clear conscience because of the saving work of Christ Jesus–Praise and honor Him by reflecting His goodness whatever age we are!

During the week that followed I shared this passage with several clients–one reeling from the pain of infidelity, another battling panic attacks, also a single mom in need of a job– and they were each blessed by it too.  No matter how young or old you are or may feel, God’s purposes will be worked out in your life as you trust and honor Him.  Be encouraged friend, growing up is hard . . . no matter how old you are–but God is certainly worthy of our trust.

All to His Glory!

“Continue To Do Good . . . “

What are we to do when evil strikes and when life does not make sense?  How are we to respond to someone who slaps us hard and looks at us with eyes of hate; when there is no apparent remorse for what has been done?  It is tempting to try to hide from evil, to pull away from a world fraught with danger until things clear and we feel safe again.  Truthfully, that is my first response when life gets hard.  However, rather than curl up and hide, I have learned in my Christian walk to take a deep breath and respond to whatever challenge faced (be it my own or when helping someone else) according to the simple direction of James 1:5,

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

As the events of 9/11/2001 took place, I remember begging God for wisdom and perspective all that day and into the night.  I felt tormented and did not know how to respond to such evil.  Finally, as I was going to bed exhausted and confused these words came to me:  “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  God is good.”  (The first part is from Romans 12:9b; the second served as a reminder as to where I could safely put my trust.)  A sense of relief flooded my mind and heart as I reflected on the simple clarity imparted through those words.  As I went to sleep I remember how the words continued to work through my mind and heart: “Hate what is evil . . . cling to what is good . . . God is good . . . .”  I slept peacefully that night, finding my resting place in the hands of a loving God who is worthy of my trust despite the chaos in the world.

Since then, those words have continued to echo in my mind and heart, even as evil has continued to lurk and destroy.  I have continued to see God’s goodness still holding the upper hand.  This week though, I felt myself stumble inwardly as the tragedy in Boston took place and as I counseled three women hurt by the pain of rejection and betrayal.  What to do?  Deep down I realized I was tired of the hurting and done with the unfair suffering imposed on innocent people by the sin of others.  Even so, I had to smile when the words came to my mind, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God . . . . ”  My response was what I have learned to do, I took a deep breath and ran to the Scriptures, this time with my Clients.  Focusing on I Peter 3:8 through the end of Chapter 4, it was the final verse that settled into our minds and hearts as it rendered this simple clarity and assurance:

“So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”

What would God have us do when bad things happen; when we are treated unfairly or betrayed by others?  Are you tired and feel as if you have nothing left to give?  God has cleared a simple path for you and me as He urges us to  “continue to do good” by hating what is evil and clinging to Him for the strength and mercy we need to speak and act in love.  We live in a fallen world, full of heartache and confusion; a world no different from the one two thousand years ago that rejected and betrayed its only Hope.  God was faithful then and He continues to be now so . . . continue to do good as we trust HIM to deal with the ugliness of sin in this fallen world.  Truly, HE IS WORTHY OF YOUR TRUST!  

All to His Glory!

When Life Seems Complicated ~

Whether I hear it in casual conversation or in the Counseling Room, my spiritual antenna rise when I hear anyone say, “It’s complicated.”  The reason is because of a simple principle I learned early in my walk with Jesus:

When life seems complicated sin is often there.  Sin tends to complicate, but God always clarifies!

When we sin and we make excuses for our sin (placing blame on someone or something else); or when we are overwhelmed by the sin of others, we loose our spiritual objectivity.  However, when we prayerfully ask God for the clarity we are lacking, the insight may not come immediately but He always delivers according to His perfect will.  Here’s a personal example:

On the morning of September 11, 2001 I was living on the east coast of the US.  It was a beautiful day full of promise until the unthinkable happened; four planes carrying innocent men, women and children were crashed in order to snuff out the lives of even more innocent people.  Everything stopped that day, as airplanes across the country were grounded and people were riveted to watching their television screens as the magnitude of what had happened unfolded.

I remember praying throughout that day, begging God for help in processing all I saw.  As Christians, how are we to respond when overcome by such evil?  I struggled the entire day as I tried to make sense of the chaos; it all seemed so complicated . . . .  Late that night I finally turned off the television; it seemed as if all light and hope had been snuffed out as I headed upstairs to my bed.  It wasn’t until I pulled back the covers to get into bed that God’s answer penetrated my mind and heart: “‘Hate what is evil, cling to what is good.’ God is good.”   I was stunned as God’s answer penetrated my heart.  “Hate what is evil, cling to what is good”  is a verse from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans (12:9b).  The reminder that “God is good” flooded my heart and mind with hope that night, as I trusted that no matter how darkly complicated life seemed, God’s goodness would prevail.

That is why when life appears to be complicated by extenuating factors, I run to my Bible for the perspective I need.  How about you?  No matter how complicated your life is, the principle is the same:  Where sin complicates, God clarifies.  Are you unsure about where to begin?  Pray . . . ask God for clarity into what seems complicated.  Then, open up your Bible to Romans 12 as a starting point.  As you read, ask God for a teachable heart and a willingness to surrender those complications to Him.  Expect good things to happen as God grants you clarity in order to free you to serve Him better.  If you don’t find your answer there in Romans, continue to pray and entrust yourself to God as the Shepherd of your heart.  Let me know what happens!

All to His Glory!

The Clean Slate of a New Year Beckons . . . .

I am always grateful for that special window of time, when the old year is nearly finished and the clean slate of a new year beckons.  Just the anticipation of entering into that season fills me with a quiet HOPE of fresh beginnings.  To keep this time productive, I resist the temptation of focusing on regrets or successes.  Instead,  I prayerfully ask God for a teachable heart as Psalm 139:23, 24 guides me in this process:  

“Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.”

2012 was a challenging year in many ways, which perhaps is why focusing on Deuteronomy in my Journey Notes  in recent months has been so meaningful.  Yesterday, I was struck by Moses’ insights regarding the necessity of discipline throughout life.  As he prepared the Israelites to leave the desert after forty years of wandering, Moses reminded them of how God’s loving discipline had readied them to finally cross the Jordan:

Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you  in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.  He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna . . . to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.  (Verses 2,3)

Learning humility through God’s loving discipline (not humiliation) is essential at various junctures in our lives to teach us to rely on Him for our every need.  Deuteronomy 6:18 establishes our reward in keeping Him central in our minds and hearts,  

“Do what is right and good in the LORD’s sight, so that it may go well with you . . . .”

Humanly, I would like to think that after thirty-plus years of serving Christ, that I would be independent and not have to bother Him with my needs.  But with every challenge and disappointment as well as in savoring those special joys that make our lives uniquely ours,  I am increasingly aware that I need Him more than ever . . . which is exactly His plan!

In light of having our seven grandchildren visiting almost daily over the holidays, this is (in part) what I wrote yesterday in in my Journey Notes as a response to the wisdom of Deuteronomy:

“How precious it has been to have all of our grandchildren together for Christmas!  Spanning from age thirteen to three, it has been a delight to watch them interact as loving cousins.  Not once have I heard a crude or rude remark between them during the almost two weeks we have been together!  (This does not mean there were no flare-ups between siblings, there certainly were!)  But as I have been reading Deuteronomy I have been grateful for the insights given as to the value of discipline and on-going training that went into preparing the Israelites to cross the Jordan.  I am grateful to know that the outward love our grandchildren demonstrate for one another is founded on the forge of godly discipline and on-going training.  I pray Lord that you will continue to keep our family humbly reliant on Your Spirit and Your Word to keep us on the straight path.”

That same loving discipline (that of necessity includes learning humility) is essential to your continued spiritual growth as well as my own.  That is why I invite you to join me as the clean slate of a new year beckons . . . seek God’s wisdom and perspective on the past years regrets and successes.  Prayerfully thank Him for His plan for your life as you commit to enter into the new year increasingly reliant on Him.

All to His Glory!