Monday, October 26, 2009

Stewardship of the Home

I've found that in Christian circles we often say things like "my money is really God's money" or "this home really belongs to God." Then again, my husband is a Certified Financial Planner and a Christian, so maybe I hear these types of things more than most. But I wonder whether, at the heart level, we actually live that way? I thought I did until I recently had to give up my home.

We had lived in our house for 9 1/2 years and needed to sell it. Although I didn't expect to live in the house forever, the timing was not of my choosing. The act of putting a For Sale sign in front of the house was excrutiating. I am a very sentimental person, and I kept thinking through all the beloved memories that took place in that home: various small group meetings, gatherings with friends and family, meals around the table, bringing my baby home from the hospital, digging all the beds around the house ourselves while the sunlight faded into evening, and so on. Our "fingerprints" were all over the house and yard. Suddenly I realized that I had an "it's mine!" attitude.

When the sign was placed in the yard and I started cleaning frantically for the first showing, I had a sudden realization: the house was never mine. It was always God's, mine only to care for and manage well. Part of managing it well would be to present it in the best light possible so that it could sell, and sell for a decent price. My mind started to shift into managerial mode and I wanted to honor God with the way I prepared and cared for the house. I proceeded with the process of letting it go, thankful for the time spent there and realizing that it did not belong to me.

The house ended up selling within a week, and everything proceeded quickly from there. But thanks to that nudging from the Holy Spirit, though some tears were shed (mostly related more to leaving precious friends), it became easier to leave the place we'd called home.

But like any other discipline, cultivating an attitude of stewardship rather than a tight-fisted clutching of a house requires practice, prayer, and consistency. It requires reminding myself of what's true.

Now I need to re-examine how I'm doing with stewardship of my body, abilities, money, and so on. I know one of the hardest things for me is to remember that my daughter belongs to God and not me and that I am raising her as His representative. That may be a topic for another post.

The Discipline of Stewardship

When we think of spiritual disciplines, we tend to think first of Bible study and memorization, prayer, and maybe even fasting. Until I read some books over the past few years I didn't realize that there were dozens, maybe even hundreds, of things that can be considered spiritual disciplines. Really, anything that assists in the molding of our character into something more like Christ's could probably be considered a spiritual discipline.

To me, stewardship is an oft-overlooked spiritual discipline. One definition (from Merriam-Webster) of stewardship is "the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care." If we consider that everything given to us comes from God and belongs to God, everything we have is really just under our stewardship and not truly owned by us, whether our bodies, our time, our money, or other resources in our possession.

The act of living as a steward of these things is a discipline because through it we acknowledge God as the owner of all while we are the caretakers.

Now that I've introduced this idea, I'll proceed to a more personal post about how this has recently played out in my life.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Conformity is Overrated

Have you ever been with a group of people, let's say a Bible study or community group, and felt different from everyone else? Let me set the scene: you respond to a question, express a way you interacted with God over the past week, or share about a past experience and how it fit in with your testimony. You're met with blank stares or silence (or both).

Many years ago I began to share something deeply personal about my past in a small group from church when, at a particularly sensitive moment in the story, several group members began to laugh. Following their eyes, I saw that the hosts' dog was chewing its leg like it was a meaty bone. I never finished my story. But no one was to blame for that response -- it was circumstantial.

I guess what I'm talking about is less about a silly distraction and more a sense of feeling different from everyone else -- of feeling like you've shared something in a way others don't seem to relate to or that your approach to life or God is different somehow. I'm not talking about the "coarse jesting" that I'm often guilty of that Paul tells us to avoid. Or even of the many sinful attitudes I've expressed. It's more just a feeling of not being understood.

My intitial reaction to these situations is usually to avoid feeling that way again, which means trying to act like everyone else. Much less risky. Or to back off from talking as much in the group context (anyone reading this who's been in a group with me probably wonders if I've ever really employed that strategy!). Mostly, it takes me back to the junior high mentality of just wanting to conform.

But I've become convinced that conforming is the worst possible response we can have. I'm beginning to wonder if the very aspects of ourselves that make us feel most different from everyone else might be attributes given to us by God to make a positive difference in the lives of others.

I shared my hypothesis with a trusted friend who kindly pointed out that I tend to not be content with shallow conversation/interaction and ask more probing questions than most people do. She also mentioned that I have a real passion for savoring life rather than just going through life numbly. These traits have often felt like liabilities to me, but I am beginning to see that although they sometimes isolate me or are not initially understood, God has created me this way for a reason. When all our unique traits come together, unencumbered by the darkness of sin, God's character unfolds in wonderful ways here on earth.

Your "assignment," readers, has four parts: 1.) Reflect on situations when you've been in a group and felt different or felt compelled to censor yourself 2.) Talk with a friend who knows you well and try to determine what special traits/attributes your past experiences might be highlighting 3.) Thank God for those traits and ask Him to help you use them for His glory 4.) Start allowing those unique attributes to flourish and don't be tempted to conform any longer!

I'd love to hear your thoughts/experiences/etc. in the comments section.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Art of Being Still

Being still does not come easily to me. Oh, I can sit still with the best of them, but quieting my mind is nearly impossible. I am constantly thinking about something, if not multiple somethings. There is so much "noise" in my brain, and I've grown so accustomed to it that I don't know how to tone it down.

When I was dating my husband, I remember riding in the car somewhere with him in silence, looking at him and wondering what fascinating thoughts must be in his mind. Upon asking that common question "What are you thinking about?" (which I rarely ask anymore), the reply was "Nothing." "No, really," I said. "What are you thinking about?" I couldn't comprehend that someone could really be thinking about nothing. And the battle for a more peaceful mind rages on today in my spiritual life.

I'm convinced that, despite my struggle to do so, it's essential that I spend time periodically making a specific effort to be quiet in God's presence and listen to Him or just enjoy being with Him. Or to empty myself of everyday thoughts to make more room for praising His attributes.

The question is, in the midst of our cluttered lives, mentally and otherwise, how can this happen?

Getting out of my house and away from other people tends to help me, though it happens very rarely. Finding a secluded area in a (safe!) park gives me a connection with nature and removes me from anything that might call to mind my to-do list. Even in those circumstances, though, my mind wanders. Sometimes I try to find one single thing to focus on, like a flower, so that I can weed out the junk from my mind.

What I'm really curious about, though, is how can this state of mind and soul be accomplished on an everyday basis, in my own home? If you've got something that works for you, please post it in the comments. Thanks!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Prayer's Block

It all started an embarrassing number of years ago when I heard a radio reading of the day's My Utmost for His Highest devotional. My dad was struggling with yet another health issue, and moments before I had been praying that God would heal him and just let my parents enjoy their remaining time on this earth after all they've been through. Cutting through my previous understanding of prayer were these words (excerpted from May 3 in the book):

"...we may find that our obedience to God in intercdeing is going to cost those for whom we intercede more than we ever thought. The danger in this is that we begin to intercede in sympathy with those whom God was gradually lifting up to a totally different level in direct answer to our prayers. Whenever we step back from our close identification with God's interest and concern for others and step into having emotional sympathy with them, the vital connection with God is gone...Identification with God is the key to intercession, and whenever we stop being identified with Him it is because of our sympathy with others, not because of sin...It is sympathy with ourselves or with others that makes us say, 'I will not allow that thing to happen.' And instantly we are out of that vital connection with God."

Honestly, I'd always thought of "emotional sympathy" for others as a good thing. Really, it's that concern for others that motivates me to pray for them in the first place. I hear of a situation and imagine what it would be like in that person's shoes. I empathize. I am moved to pray. To me, muting that sense of concern would hinder my ability to love others as I should.

But it got me thinking (and has, on and off, ever since): what if what I think is best for someone isn't what God considers best for them? What if He's allowing a difficulty in someone's life to make him stronger in some way, to draw him closer to God, or to make him better able to minister to others?

We can easily agree that God's plan and mine are not always the same. Which leads to another question: How can I see things more in tune with God's perspective? Chambers makes it sound so simple, but for me it seems much harder to lay aside my bias. I don't like to see those I love experiencing any suffering.

These questions have plagued my prayer life periodically since that day I happened to turn on the radio. The result -- a serious case of prayer's block. I've had no shortage of prayer concerns and requests. In fact, I've got lists and lists of them. But my problem isn't the what as much as the how. As I bring my mind and heart into supplicational prayer, I've become so insecure about what to request that I have sometimes given up. It's become quite a roadblock in what is already a stumbling point (spending large chunks of time in prayer has never been easy for me, which I'm sure I'll mention in a future post).

One approach that has been helpful to me has been to look at the prayers in the Bible for inspiration. Paul, in particular, often focuses his prayers on spiritual blessings, so I often pray for those types of things (see Ephesians 1:17-21, for example) for those who request prayer.

Recently, I've determined to push through the blockage by cutting myself some slack and letting myself pray without so much analysis. I won't push aside the issue because I think it's worth consideration, but it's not necessary to let it hold me back so much, either.

I don't remember where, but I once read that prayer is like hanging out a "Help Wanted" sign for God. That's exactly what I'm doing internally and externally right now -- God, I need your help, every moment of every day, in every way. It's definitely a state of being.

I have some other "prayer's block" issues, too, that I'm not touching on now, such as "do my prayers actually change anything?" but I'll leave those for another day. I am reading Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? by Philip Yancey right now, so I'll probably wait untiI finish it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

When God Seems Distant

Maybe it's just me, but I have moments when God seems so far away. Cue Bette Midler: "God is watching us...from a distance." It's like going back to my childhood when I thought that heaven was right above the clouds and that's where the beautiful rays of sunshine came from that spread downward toward earth. God was up there, close enough to intervene when necessary but far enough away that humans were free to make our own choices in the meantime.

This feeling of distance often prompts me to examine my conscience to make sure that there's not a sin issue involved. Sometimes there's a specific sin that's creating blockage.

But just as with human relationships, the level of felt closeness can vary. I've found it essential in these moments to reflect on the times when I have profoundly felt God's presence or seen His direct hand in my life. These memories are vital to preserve -- they are touchstones for our darkest moments, or even just for blah ones.

In Deuteronomy 6, Moses exhorts the Israelites not only to follow the new commandments they have been given and teach them to their children and grandchildren but to never forget how they were brought out of slavery by God when they are in the Promised Land: " yourself, that you do not forget the LORD who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." (Deut. 6:12) It's essential that we find ways to remind ourselves of the love God has for us and the ways He has intimately interacted with us. In addition, evidence of His care is all around if we only look in a new way.

One final reminder of an important truth: God doesn't change. God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. My sense of closeness to Him likely has more to do with me than Him. Also, it never hurts to pray specifically for a greater sense of His presence. That is probably a prayer He loves hearing!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Treadmill Spirituality

For the past few years, I’ve seen a couple women regularly when I work out at the gym. Recently I’ve noticed that despite their faithful workouts, they look basically the same to me. One day my mind snapped out of judgment mode and realized I’m guilty of the same thing. I’ve worked out regularly for about eight years now, and while my weight has had its ups and downs, I’m relatively the same, and certainly not different in any way that other gym patrons would notice.

Worse still, I wondered if the same thing could be said of my spiritual health. Am I different in any way from eight years ago? I am in any way more like Christ, more frequently exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit? Am I trusting in God more and worrying less? Am I living as though I believe what I say I believe, and does my life reflect that Jesus is my main love? If not, something about my spiritual “workout” needs to change.

The answers to those questions are sobering for me. I've decided to be more diligent in considering modifications I need to be making – realistic ones that, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, can last. We’re long past the time of New Year’s resolutions and Lenten sacrifices, but it is never too late to shake things up and start doing something differently. His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). We can “start over” each morning or even at 4:20 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon.

Please consider asking God to reveal one thing you could change to shake up your routine. If you’re the type of person who thrives on accountability, tell one trusted friend what you’re doing.

One final note about those women (and myself): though I don’t want to be someone who’s moving but getting nowhere, there is worth in faithfully doing something and at least not backsliding. No one can maintain constant growth or always be on the mountaintop. However, the ideal is to be in a growth pattern that, despite time in the valley or periods of stagnancy, is ultimately progressing.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Spiritual Personality Test

Sounds like an odd concept, but I actually got a lot out of this exercise. Gary Thomas wrote a book several years ago called Sacred Pathways that explored the concept that we all have different spiritual temperaments that can affect the method that most easily helps us feel connected with God.

Quick synopsis from the publisher: "One reason many Christians become discouraged with their devotional lives is because they've adopted a narrow, cut-and-dried approach--one they're not wired for as individuals. Sacred Pathways explores nine time-tested ways to commune with God that honor the unique design he has given each of us. The naturalist, the ascetic, the traditionalist, the activist, the enthusiast, the intellectual . . . this engaging, insightful, and well-written book will lead the reader to a deeper understanding of his or her spiritual temperament, and new vistas of relationship with God."

Included in this book is an assessment to help you determine your primary way(s) of communing with God. From there, you can develop ideas of new ways to spend your devotional time with God instead of trying to fit a certain mold. Obviously, we should all spend time in the Bible and prayer in some way, but the when/how/where of it doesn't have to look the same.

Here's a link to an online version of the assessment. To delve deeper into the temperament descriptions or devotional ideas, I recommend checking out the book.

Incidentally, right now I am an intellectual sensate naturalist, according to the results, but I think last time my results were slightly different.

Formatio Book Series

If you are interested in spiritual formation, I highly recommend that you check out the Formatio series from IV Press. By no means have I read all the books available, but I have a few at the moment and I'm very appreciative of the range of topics they offer. A few that I have right now are Signature Sins (talks about how our own temperament, culture, family, gender, etc. affect the way sins manifest in our lives and how to combat sin), Coming Home to Your True Self: Leaving the Emptiness of False Attractions (covers spiritual disciplines that can help us find our true selves in Christ), and Sacred Rhythms (discusses 7 spiritual disciplines).

I haven't read very far in Coming Home to Your True Self yet, but here's a quote I love from early in the book:
"The great tragedy for many of us is that in growing up, we become self-made, independent successes who are weighed down with thoughts of the past and worries about the future. We lose touch with our true self, the person God created us to be. We live off-center and alienated from who we really are."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Have I Met the Guilt Quota?

Driving in the car the other week, I experienced a rare quiet moment and realized that I hadn't been as attentive to God lately as I wanted to be. I've had the desire in recent years to cultivate a greater awareness of His presence throughout the day rather than just having a formal time set aside for Bible reading and prayer or whatever else. But I went through a period of dryness where I was living more on autopilot than I'd like to.

My usual pattern (am I alone in this?) is to then begin a stretch of time where I wallow in my guilt for neglecting God. It goes beyond the necessary confession of sin and thought of how I might change. It's more like the desire to prove to God that I really do regret my actions by ensuring that I've spent enough time in mourning. This is completely habitual.

That day in the car, I suddenly realized that instead of proceeding with a period of lamenting I could just start talking with God and getting down to the business of connecting with Him in a positive way instead of fulfilling an unnecessary guilt quota. Sure, there are times when we need to seriously confront some sin in our lives and truly spend significant time on it. But I think there are plenty of times in my life when a genuine confession needs to just move right along to restoring intimacy with God by connecting with Him. Otherwise I become more consumed with my feelings of remorse than by my love for Him, and precious time can be wasted by continuing unhealthy patterns in my life.

Jesus Is My Self-Help Guru

I realized something recently. I've always been drawn to self-help books. I appreciate the concept of identifying an area in my life that needs growth and finding a resource that helps me process and overcome an issue, struggle, or past experience. In fact, during a couple episodes of depression in my life, these types of books helped me treat myself (though I know many who've benefited greatly from counseling).

Back to my realization. Jesus, or my Christian faith in general, has become to me what self-help resources are to others. The good news: Jesus is obviously the best possible example of what a healthy human being is intended to be in the eyes of the Creator. Becoming more like Him ensures that I will be more loving, less selfish, and more focused on God's kingdom and things of eternal significance.

The bad news: Sometimes I'm too focused on what I can "get" from my relationship with God. Instead of being satisfied with doing things out of obedience to God and bringing more glory to Him, I often think in terms of how my relationships, mental and physical health, enjoyment of life and experience of greater peace, etc., might be improved. These things are not negative, but my sense is that if they occur they are added benefits. When they become the focus, they become potential idols in my life.

One example is the struggle I, along with many others, have to eat healthy and exercise regularly. I often solicit God's help in making good choices, but the motivation in my mind and heart is more focused on the possible end result of having a slimmer, stronger, body that will look better and hopefully live longer.

And when it comes to relationships, we all know that it is possible to seek God in every moment and try to treat others as lovingly as possible and still experience pain and disappointment and even abandonment. Overall, hopefully growing closer to Christ and seeking to imitate Him changes us in ways that improves our relationships. But sometimes relationships break down despite the best intentions, so the quality of those shouldn't be our ultimate goal in drawing closer to God.

Suffering, challenges, disappointment, and so on will always be a part of life. No amount of spiritual growth will eliminate them -- though attention to our souls' health can solidify our faith such that we are better able to be strong in times of trouble.

Bottom line: I'm hoping to get to a place where I'm less focused on how my Christian faith can benefit me personally and more focused on being glad to be with Him even when I don't see a concrete, positive change in myself or my life.

More thoughts on related topics to come...

Sunday, July 12, 2009


I don't have a seminary degree. I'm not a Bible scholar. I don't know all the answers, nor do I pretend to. I just have a fervent desire to learn and grow and become better at loving God and loving others throughout my lifetime. Expect to see honest wrestling with questions here, some practical suggestions regarding spiritual disciplines/practices and my personal experience with them, and general food for thought.


I've long had an interest in spiritual formation and spiritual growth. More recently, I've been periodically evaluating the status of my soul. The question, "Is it well with my soul?" often comes to my mind (based on a favorite hymn, "It Is Well with My Soul"). We constantly evaluate the health of our bodies, minds, money, relationships, and so on, so why not our souls?

Soul care is easily neglected because our souls are invisible and untouchable. Despite the unseen nature of the soul, the evidence of its health can be seen in our lives in the way we treat others, our focus on instant gratification, the amount of peace we experience, and so on.

I'm starting this blog because I care about my soul's health and that of others, I think about these topics often, and I need an outlet for my thoughts. Whether or not anyone reads my posts, I'd like a place where I can effectively journal my thoughts.

If you find this subject interesting, I welcome you to enter the conversation or just browse. As is stated in the blog's description, my perspective here is decidedly Christian, so please keep that in mind as you read and comment. I am primarily writing for the benefit of myself and other Christians.