Every Good Endeavor

This month I read Timothy Keller’s “Every Good Endeavor.” Hearing a few podcasts of his on the topic whetted my appetite and I was eager to read his deeper thoughts on the theology of work.

Because yes, God has much, much to say about the topic of work. In fact, as I read, I became more and more struck by how “work” is not a topic. It is an intrinsic part of our design. A correct theology of work is so important because it is actually a correct theology on who we are and how we are meant to relate to the world.

Keller is one of my favorite authors and speakers. I am blown away by the lucidity and clarity with which he can convey profound wisdom. I wasn’t disappointed by this book. True, at the end there were several pages that almost lost me, but every time I determined to just follow his train of thought, BOOM, he led me to an amazing idea.

The big ideas in this book are “God’s Plan for Work,” in other words, what Genesis and pre-Fall has to say about work and who we are; “Our Problems with Work,” enumerating the incredibly deep ways in which sin has broken our ability to work or even understand what work is; and “The Gospel and Work” — the amazing news that because sin has broken the world so deeply, a Christian can be a profound light by simply reclaiming the truths of God’s Plan. Not easily, but simply.

Having been taught a very solid theology of work from a young age, I’m not sure there was anything brand new in this book. However, over and over, it was a message that cut through to my heart and challenged me page after page. It’s far too easy, living on this side of the Fall, to grow weary or discouraged, to assume failure on my part rather than seeing that my best work will be plagued by the results of Adam’s choice. (There will be fruit and there will be thorns.) It’s also easy to not consider how holistically we can live for the Kingdom of God — we don’t begin to make a difference when we teach Sunday school, but rather, the minute we rise from sleep and begin to maintain, preserve, and create (wiping down the sink!)

There were too many “best parts” to pick just a few, but for someone who is prone to being a slave to the “work beneath the work” (trying to satisfy some need for production and success and self-worth), the very last segment left me almost in tears — you know, that feeling of your soul being liberated from weight it need not carry?

Remember, God was able to rest in Genesis 2, verses 1-3 only because his creative work was finished. And a Christian is able to rest only because God’s redemptive work is likewise finished in Christ. When the work under the work has been satisfied by the Son, all that’s left for us to do is to serve the work we’ve been given by the Father.

For a read on how all your life’s work can be connected to God’s work on the earth — both your production and your consumption — I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

a passion for the impossible

I just finished A Passion for the Impossible, a biography of Lilias Trotter. (I am part of a read-a-book-every-four-weeks challenge this year and am already enjoying immensely the motivation of the group!)

Lilias Trotter was an English aristocrat whose artistic ability had the potential to launch her into the position of first great female watercolor painter — but instead, she followed the voice of the Holy Spirit to Algeria, a part of the world theretofore untouched by the Gospel. Hers was a life of faithfulness. Many times, I put the book down, thinking, “Goodness, this is kind of slow.” And then it occurred to me: that’s the point. Her life never had a fireworks moment. There was never a crusade attended by thousands. She didn’t open orphanages that reached hundreds. In fact, as of the writing of the biography, Algeria is still a hard, dangerous place for Christianity.

And yet, she gave her life, daily, faithfully. She did not judge her steps by their “success,” but by her obedience. She died having affected many fellow missionaries and her persistence resulted in 15 outposts, penetrating the darkness with the light of Jesus. Not enough to make a “splash”, as it were, but counted in the currency of heaven, a chest of treasure.

Several spots struck me especially, and I’ll record them here (for my own future benefit!)

***

“As an eagle…fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings—so the Lord alone did lead him.” Fluttereth over—the early stages of faith are reaching upward, like the eaglets for their food when the mother-bird is overhead. . . it is an older faith that learns to swing out into nothingness & drop down full weight on God—the broken up nest of former “experiences” left behind—nothing between us & the abyss but Himself—A rejoicing in every fresh emergency that is going to prove Him true—The Lord Alone—that is trained faith.

***

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
And the love of God
And the fellowship of the Holy Ghost
be with you.”

We have so often listened to it as the soothing ending of a quiet sermon. In its full meaning it is a battle cry.

***

“Two glad Services are ours
Both the Master loves to bless
First we serve with all our powers
Then with all our helplessness.”

These lines of Charles Fox have rung in my head this last fortnight—& they link on with the wonderful words “weak with Him”—for the world’s salvation was not wrought out by the three years in which He went about doing good, but in the three hours of darkness in which He hung stripped & nailed, in utter exhaustion of spirit, soul, & body, till His heart broke. So little wonder of us, if the price of power is weakness.

***

How do we bring things to a focus in the world of optics? Not by looking at the things to be dropped, but by looking at the one point that is to be brought out.

Turn full your soul’s vision to Jesus, and look and look at Him, and a strange dimness will come over all that is apart from Him…

***

Along with this book, I very highly recommend the devotional, “A Blossom in the Desert,” which is a collection of her writings and artwork. It is beautiful, challenging, and bite sized! Her meditations are rich, Word-based, and life giving. Even today, her sacrifice is affecting hearts — like mine. How amazing!

Teaching From Rest

“Rest begins with acceptance, with surrender.” — Sarah Mackenzie, Teaching from Rest

I started this book after Christmas (when I finally found it, in the bottom of an Amazon box, in my Santa’s-workshop-of-a-bedroom.) I’d had it in my cart for months, debating over whether or not it was worth the full price. Sometimes it’s those $12 splurges that are the hardest! But I finally took the plunge. Something — Someone — told me I really should read it.

Only about 20 pages in, and I was already just on overload. Maybe you’re scrambling to order it now, and will find that those 20 pages hold nothing that special — I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s just what I needed to hear and ponder and repent of.

This issue of rest. Of peace. Of unclenching my teeth.

This issue of lordship.

That is, after all, what it boils down to. My obsession with squeezing every last bit out of every last minute, of making sure those moments go the way I “need” them to go, of freaking out when something comes up that is going to take those moments away from me — who am I serving? Certainly I have forgotten that I don’t own minutes, I don’t make minutes, I don’t get to claim minutes. They belong to Him. And I am His servant. He can set a list before me in the morning and then, halfway through, ask me to switch gears and serve a naughty toddler, a discouraged son, a hungry husband. He’s allowed to do that because it’s all His.

As I was mulling these things over, I overheard Ryan ask one of the boys for a double AA battery. If you have little boys, you know those are the most precious possessions. And my son responded that way. There was a moment of panic and freak-out, and Ryan just said, “Really? Who bought those batteries for you? Don’t you know I can get you more when you need them?”

And I saw myself so perfectly in that interaction. I heard so loud and clear: “Really? Who gave you this breath, this life, these 24 hours? Don’t you know I can give you all the moments you need?”

In Matthew 25, the Master hands out talents to his servants, a familiar story. But when I read it this time, I saw, “The master gave to his slaves of his own possessions.” It’s all His, and stewardship, therefore, looks like serving His desires with my time and energies.

*****

God isn’t after success, He’s interested in faithfulness — another nugget that illuminated a whole train of thought and conviction.

Certainly I know that. But in my efforts to be faithful, I’ve begun to define what that looks like and then judge my success at faithfulness (rarely do I give myself a good grade, as I’m sure you can imagine.)

And so in yet another paradoxical moment of following Jesus, I’m realizing afresh that repenting of idolizing productivity and giving my heart completely to His rule and reign is the road to (surprise, surprise) freedom! Because any number of things can hijack a moment, hour, day and prevent me from a “successful” end. But nothing, literally nothing, can steal my ability to be faithful in any given moment and circumstance. Jesus sets us free to win. We win! I cannot lose when I realize He’s asking me to respond by the Spirit, not hit a certain goal.

Take “my” moments and my days
Let them flow in ceaseless praise…

See? Even there! “Ceaseless praise” is not an end goal of success. It is defining my every moment! Success can be thwarted at every turn, but faithful, ceaseless praise—nothing can thwart that!

*****

So I recommend this book, but mostly, I’ll just encourage you to know that God is always pursuing us. He doesn’t leave us half broken. He’s a Redeemer. He’s a master Potter. The cracks and weaknesses and foibles that I am (or am not!) painfully aware of — He addresses those. I just yield to Him and follow Him on this path of sanctification, and find Him faithful. There is not much I find more comforting than to find myself in His hands again, being kneaded and shaped, knowing that He loves me completely and hasn’t forgotten me, and He has a vision of me being spotless and without wrinkle.

new years eve, 2016

A year is ending. A whole year made up of, really, pretty insignificant days all strung in a row. Some highs, for sure, and definitely some days that felt like a punch in the gut. But mostly, it was just daily kinds of days.

A tapestry woven of time, places, and people. The thread of my life intersecting with my children’s, with my husband’s, with yours. The gold of this situation, the black of that one. The rows and rows of whites and gray that seem to mean little, but what do we know? We aren’t the weaver, we’re just the thread, and this masterpiece will be seen when we’re on the other side.

*****

Feeling, today, thankfulness I can’t even put into words. I am incredibly rich in this season. I am pursued by a God who never gives up on me, who continues to turn over stones and illuminate shadowy corners and sets me free to hope and life and peace I could never have without Him. My husband is a man of incredible wisdom and insight, whose hope is firmly fixed on Jesus alone, who is generous all day long, and who speaks truth to me that sets me free. I have children who are a delight, whose lives were planned by God, and whose destinies I impact every day. Friends, family — abundance. A warm home, food in the cupboards, wool slippers on my feet. From small needs to big, God provides and teaches me in them all. In utter heartache, He hears. For grace to make another dinner cheerfully, He is there. Some years have left me trusting that God willprovide. This year, I am so aware of all He has provided.

*****

Saying goodbye to the year is, first, saying goodbye to a month of special moments.

*****

Already the Holy Spirit is stirring new hunger and expectation in my heart. The sun rises tomorrow to a new calendar year, but our true hope is the promise of eternity — and the foretaste we have now in the presence of His Spirit working out His kingdom come in our lives. He’s making something beautiful. We can trust Him.

serving in strength

As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

That verse has been on my counter for the last couple of weeks, catching my eye, realigning my heart.

Some days I may wonder what “special gift” I have received, but other times it’s quite clear: these are days of service. Laying my life down and spending my moments and days in cleaning clothes, preparing meals, organizing home, giving instruction.

There is always more to do than I’m up for. I get tired sooner than the mountain is moved. I lose heart before the task is accomplished. Many, many times, I simply forget that I’m serving, and elevate my feelings of “I just don’t want to” to a place of consideration. Selfishness is incredibly strength-sapping.

But when my eye catches this line, the one that goes, “serve by the strength which God supplies,” my heart is renewed. There is a source of strength that is endless! Endless.

That doesn’t mean I don’t head to bed early these days — I do! — or pause long to sit with the nursing baby — I do! But it does mean my attitude doesn’t cut off the flow of strength that comes from the Holy Spirit in me. I can smile. And when I don’t, and the excuses start to flood my complaining heart, I can know that my feelings are out of line and there is a better, abundant, strength-giving truth available to me. Repent and get back into the flow of strength.

And when all else fails, I can at least be thankful that my serving is generally done with two feet firmly on the ground. This guy handles the roof problems.

november 8: I will be with you

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you.

When.

When.

Not if, just when.

Sometimes the rivers overwhelm me. I am surprised to find myself in life up to my eyeballs. Sometimes what should be a small trial — a difficult week with too much going on — threatens to overflow me. Other times a truly significant testing of faith is the fire I face.

But so the path of Jesus leads — there will be waters, there will be fires, and

“We can’t go under them, we can’t go over them; Oh, no! We’ve got to go through them!” (Name that book.)

But here is my very favorite truth of the gospel: God with us.

“I will be with you.”

This morning, as a new day dawns and we have yet to see what waters or fires may await us, I can already know that there is a way through. And it is with Jesus.