Sunday, August 25, 2013

Futility: What's the Point?

Futility. By definition it means useless acts. The Hebrew meaning is breath or vapor. Essentially it's something that is here one second and gone the next. It's also a word used by Solomon many times in the book of Ecclesiastes. In some versions of the Bible you may recognize the use of the word vanity

Personally, I have a harder time identifying with that word in this context. My mind immediately goes to someone who spends a lot of time trying to look good for others, a cabinet in your bathroom, and the song, "You're So Vain." So, I prefer futility or meaningless as a word substitute.

I've experienced a lot of that futility myself. My flesh often sees life through the world’s eyes. I think, What’s the point? It seems the harder I try, the more things stay the same or worsen. It's very much like that addage of taking three steps forward and two steps back. You just can't seem to get any traction and haven't a lot to show for your efforts.

I recall as a teenager studying through the book of Ecclesiastes with a church class. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t really understand it and it was a real downer! I just couldn’t identify with Solomon. As I look back on it, I now understand why. I had not lived a lot of life yet. The idea of futility probably never entered my mind. My whole life was still ahead of me and I had few responsibilities since I was still living in the shelter of my parents.

After living a few more decades (ugh, that sounds old), I've lived through many more experiences--both first-hand and by observation. Life does have a tendency to look futile. But, of course, by whose standards? Are these my standards? The worlds' standards? Or are these God's standards?
Yes, I need to see things through God’s eyes. I need to have that heavenly perspective on things and put the measuring stick up against the Bible instead of the world's idea of success. 

Romans 8 reminds us of a different perspective. The things we suffer now will be nothing in comparison to future glory. This earth has been subjected to sin and that makes life pretty icky sometimes (my paraphrase), but we do have hope
Solomon's advice was to enjoy things we have rather than desiring those things we don't have. It's not that we cannot desire good things or pursue a better life, but how much time we spend focused on those desires or how much energy we use chasing those dreams can be futile. And, it may not be what God has in mind for us. Solomon tells us in Proverbs 16:9, "The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps."

That's what I've been thinking about this week.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Washed Up on Gilligan's Island?

Okay, so life is not exactly going the way you planned it. You're not in that career you want, you're not living in that house you'd rather be living in, or maybe you're still looking for Mister or Miss Right.

Sometimes it feels as if you're just being pulled along by the currents of life and you've washed ashore on Gilligan's Island. You set up a hut on the island and keep looking for a way to get off--a way of escape. Now what? What's the purpose of this island experience? I mean, seriously, what good is a formal gown and a suitcase full of money on a deserted island? (That was a Gilligan's Island reference in case that one zipped by you.)

Suppose, just suppose, that where you are right now is part of God's calling--or ministry--for your life? (Say what???)

Yes, that dead-end job or unemployment may be part of God's plan. That neighborhood you're living in or your singleness may very well be part of your present ministry. None of these situations are necessarily permanent. Like any other calling or ministry, it's for a season. Some seasons are just a little longer than others. For example, I could borrow the book title for my singleness season from Laura Ingalls Wilder and call it The Long Winter. Yeah, it's been one very long season. But it is just that--a season. It's not necessarily forever.

However, I do know that in my season--or whatever season you find yourself in--there is purpose. I was listening to a message by Tony Evans recently and he made a few suggestions:

  •  Ask God how He wants to use me in this present state that I am in.
  •  Suppose God wants to use me in this present circumstance, but I might be so distracted by my circumstances that I am not ready or available to be used.
  • Use this time to prepare for what lies ahead. (If you want a better job, train for it or study. If you want a mate, become a student of godly marriages and make sure you're ready to be a mate. If you want a better home, start saving up for it.)

In this season I need to be available for God to use. If I'm spending all of my free time chasing after what I want, I may miss those opportunities of ministry. It could be some of those opportunities are part of God's plan to prepare me for what's coming later. All of it becomes part of God's plan. And that circles back around to the theme verse I have chosen for this blog...

For I know the plans I have 
for you,” says the Lord
“They are plans for good 
and not for disaster, to give you
a future and a hope.  
~ Jeremiah 29:11

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Worship Music: Who Are We Really Worshiping?

Worship Music: How much of what we hear and sing is truly directed toward God?

I was in my car running some errands and turned on a talk radio program. I'm not even sure what program it was. The program was more than half over and the host introduced a young woman. She said something that struck a chord (no pun intended) with me. She said something to the effect that most of the Christian "worship" music we hear on the radio is all about what God can do for me.

Ouch! Sadly, that is true. Also sadly, I've been such a needy child of God for the past year that I really have been guilty of spending more time focused on my needs and neglecting to send back that thanksgiving and praise to Whom it belongs.

Heal me. Make me feel better. Take away these hurts. Show me what You want me to do. Help me understand. Protect me. And the list of needs goes on and on...

Don't get me wrong. All of these are legitimate needs and sincere requests to be made of God. But, they can definitely get us "out of balance" if it's always one-sided. (FYI: I'm not condemning modern Christian music.)

Someone once pointed out that very few songs are written with the singer giving direct praise to God. Most are written with a "let's all praise God together" focus. Even the Doxology, "Praise God to Whom all blessings flow," is all about us telling each other how great He is. Corporate worship is great, needed, and Biblical. I also need intimate worship where I am directly telling God how much He means to me. This also put God back in the throne where He belongs. Singing "How Great is Our God" together is fabulous. But sometimes I need to turn that into "How Great are YOU, God!" By the way, I can do this corporately or alone in the car!

If you begin reading through all the Psalms, you'll notice that most of them will include a good balance of all these things (Psalm 109). And some are strictly all praise focused toward God (Psalm 104).

I realized today that I need to be more intentional about worshiping God directly, praising His name, and exalting Him because... "It's all about you, Jesus." This means in song and in prayer, "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer." Psalm 19:14.

The speaker on the radio said something else that was very interesting. She sometimes likes to listen to Christian rap music. Why? Because with that type of music she is unable to sing along with it. It forces her to listen to the words. Hmmm. Interesting.

That got me to thinking about my own life. I'm a singer and help lead music at my church. I've been doing it for a long time and truly love singing. However, last fall I sensed God was leading me to make a few changes. I simply did not feel like singing any longer, so it was time to step down from my leadership position and take a sabbatical.

I did just that and an amazing thing happened: I listened. I tried to sing, but could not bring myself to do so most of the time. So I really listened. However, I did sing inside my heart and mind. I paid close attention to the words and I still worshiped. I particpated even though my mouth wasn't moving.

This listening was not limited to church services. The same thing happened to me when I was in my car. Instead of singing along with songs on the radio (which I always do), I listened. All of this listening was part of the long process that God was taking me through to give me rest, but it was also a time when He wanted to teach me. In the process I was being spiritually renewed. (I'm slowly going back to singing and serving again.)

Well, just wanted to share these things that I'm pondering in my own life. What do you think about all of this? Or have you ever thought through any of these things?

Monday, August 5, 2013

Waiting, Waiting, and Waiting Some More

I've posted about the topic of waiting several times in the past. If you've ever noticed my "topic cloud" on the right side of this blog page, the topics I've written about most often appear much larger than others. The subject of waiting is not in the top five, but it's definitely been visited a lot on this blog. And, if you're curious about those other posts, here's a link to them: Waiting.

I've been trying to think of something to write about for the past few days. I've listened to some great sermons, read some very interesting devotionals and blogs. However, the thing that is uppermost in my mind is this topic of waiting. As a matter of fact, I went back to a book that I read last year on this topic. It's called Waiting On God by Cherie Hill. I've marked it up quite a bit and went back to read the highlighted portions. I was in need of some encouragement and it helped. (There's a link here directly to the book if you're curious about it.)

Then today I was checking Twitter during my lunch hour and saw a tweet from a fellow writer that really got my attention. It was "I'm Tired of Being Single." Dun-dun-dun!!! GASP! That's exactly why I was tired of waiting. Tired of waiting for a mate. Tired of being alone. Just tired of it all--plain and simple. [I included a link above if you'd like to read his article.]  That article pretty much sums up my feelings.

I'm a very patient person. Seriously! Once I got out of my teen years, I managed to live and wait three decades for a mate. THREE DECADES! And I'm still waiting as I enter decade #FOUR.

Now, before you think I'm just ranting and raving like a lunatic (she's lost her mind and we'd better have an intervention), I'm mostly okay with the waiting. I mean, I have a good--very blessed--life. I have wonderful friends and family. I have meaningful work and hobbies. I do my best to glorify God in whatever I do. The key here is the word mostly.  I do have days--sometimes weeks--in which I'm not really okay with the waiting.

I do understand that "the other side" is not a bed of roses and won't be the answer to all my problems. Life doesn't suddenly get better simply because of a relationship. In fact, it probably gets much more complicated. None of that still takes away that desire to share your life with someone who's closer than a roommate or good friend.

So I continue to wait on God's best for me. I wait for God's timing. And I pop the waiting Bible verses like tic-tacs after a spicy meal. Yes, I've got a list. And then I devour books like Cherie Hill's. In parting, I want to share a few of her thoughts on waiting:

"While you’re waiting, God wants you praying, 
drawing nearer to Him, and resting in the peace 
that He provides in the midst of a raging storm. 
As you wait, God strengthens you because you begin 
to realize that God IS at work . . . He’s growing 
your faith and He’s purifying your heart. And faith
is rarely grown with anything other than 
overwhelming circumstances, and typically not 
found in any place other than the 'waiting place.'"
~ Cherie Hill

"You can’t say that you’re praying for God’s will 
and trusting in His timing if you’re not willing 
to 'wait.'"  ~ Cherie Hill

This is a paraphrase of one of her thoughts: The waiting place is where God tests our faith. But, we can know that God will not leave us in that waiting place any longer than absolutely necessary to accomplish His purposes. 

" eye has seen a God like you,
    who works for those who wait for him!"
 Isaiah 64:4b

Just being real...