Faithful in little, faithful in much

In the last month God has made it increasingly clear to me that much is accomplished in the drudgery of the day-to-day. Even the most mundane of tasks is worthwhile, all because our lives and our actions matter. Every word, every action, even every thought matters. Everything we do is eternal.

I love the Parable of the Talents found in Matthew 25:14-29 (here are verses 14-23, but it’s all really good):

“For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’”  

One of the neatest experiences is to realize that consistenly being faithful in little has a dramatic impact on your friends, family, and coworkers. The truth is that so often we become influencers and transform environments without even realizing that we’ve done so. When you’re faithful with little when it’s hard and when you don’t understand, and when you think no one sees, you yourself are transformed, sanctified, and made more like Christ. And that doesn’t go unnoticed.

I think sometimes we feel like we’re out in the desert.We feel without hope of achieving our dreams and sometimes we even begin to feel forgotten. We wonder why God’s put our dreams on hold. But let me say this – if I’ve learned nothing else in the last several years, I have learned that faithfulness in the desert leads to an incredible reward. God never, ever puts our dreams on hold, even when we’re asked to wait.

I love this verse and I’ve held on to it since the fall:

“But these things I plan won’t happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed.” Habakkuk 2:3

So, my encouragement to you today – if you feel stuck in the wrong job or the wrong state, or even if you don’t know where God is calling you or what His plans for you are – be faithful right now. Be faithful where you are. Look for opportunities to love and influence the people you see daily. The rewards you will reap as you eventually move from one season to another will be tremendous.

The challenge for me as I transition is to continue pushing through, working hard, and remaining faithful as I see the end approaching rapidly.

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“Life is hard and life is good.”

“Life is hard and life is good. ‘That he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end’ (Deuteronomy 8:16).” John Piper

I love how God is constantly walking me through situations in life that redirect my focus from my circumstances to the Gospel and to Christ. Especially recently.

The season of life that I’m walking through currently leaves me feeling anxious, excited, and simultaneously both nervous and confident. Sometimes seasons feel drawn out and slow and other seasons feel like time merely flies past and there’s nothing you can do to slow it down. Last night I realized that somehow our hearts understand these different seasons, even when we can’t analytically understand them. At this point, this season feels like even time is as divided as my heart. It’s like I can feel time rushing forward in slow motion and I’m held in between the extremes. Crazy, I know. The only thing I can liken it to is watching an egg timer. The sand seems to rush as it drains from one end to another, but that three minutes always feels like an hour.

I have learned over the course of the last several years to never waste a season. I always want to look for the lesson, learn from any mistakes I have made, and enter the new season looking more like Christ. I’ve personally experienced what Deuteronomy 8:16 says – that we are humbled and tested by God for our own good. It’s remarkable, really. It’s hard and it’s good. It’s beautiful and painful. It brings both joy and tears.

Truthfully, seasons are never about circumstances. Seasons are always about the heart. Life is all about the Gospel. Circumstances are a tool God uses to redirect our hearts back to the Gospel.

This season has been about illuminating and breaking my pride, developing humility, submission, waiting, trusting, and learning to simply be still and let God be God. More than anything, it’s been about faith in God’s promises and confidence in His Word. I’ve continually looked to Habakkuk 2:3 for assurance:

“But these things I plan won’t happen right away. Slowly, steadily, surely, the time approaches when the vision will be fulfilled. If it seems slow, wait patiently, for it will surely take place. It will not be delayed.”

Recently I’ve blogged a lot about Romans and Abraham. I’ve been totally overwhelmed by Abraham’s response to God and by his faith:

“No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:20-22).

I want faith like that. So today my prayer is this: “Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; Guide me in your truth and teach me, For you are God my Savior and my hope is in you all day long” (Psalm 24:4-5).

A heart fully submitted and devoted comes from a heart that has endured seasons, it would seem. Seasons are always about the heart. “To do you good in the end.”

Rest

I’m enjoying blogging every day. I find that it helps me focus on the truths I’m reading in Scripture and that it allows me to process what God’s doing in my heart more completely.

The theme of today has been rest. No, I’m not still at home in my pajamas. But I was ’til about 2:00 p.m. this afternoon! Today’s the first Saturday in over a month that I was able to sleep in, make breakfast, and spend some time with God. I have a favorite spot for quiet times – a massive green chair in my living room that’s perfect for cuddling up in and reading my Bible.

Like I said yesterday, I set my heart last night to embrace this season of waiting and to use this weekend to rest. And really rest regardless of what my schedule dictates I must do.  So I took this morning slow and haven’t rushed at all today, even when I was running behind. I was right – this is exactly what I’ve needed and I need it far more often.

I drank several cups of coffee, listened to Jason Upton, had a long phone conversation regarding ministry with a very dear girl, and spent time this afternoon catching up with an old friend over Mexican food (we actually found a decent place in Crystal City!) and ice cream. Time spent like this is soothing to my heart and I begin to remember what relationships are about.

Rest changes me. Yesterday the rain made me irritable and tired. Today, the rain almost emphasized rest and peace. Even the torrential downpour wasn’t going to be allowed to ruin my day (I’m totally a sunshine girl). If I owned a pair of rainboots I would have taken a long walk and gone and splashed in the puddles. You see, my perspective is really all about my heart condition. Where I set my heart is crucial. If I allow my heart to grow angry and restless, I will be angry and will get no rest. If I’m focusing on God and His Word, I will have peace and rest, and my soul will be restored (Psalm 23:3).

Proverbs 4:23 says “keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” I’ve heard that verse used in every sermon on relationships I’ve ever heard. And it applies there, but we need to see it as valuable outside of that context as well. I need to guard my heart against worry, stress, and insecurity. I need to be wise with my time so my heart can grow and find rest in God’s Word. If my heart’s not right, nothing I do will be right. It makes total sense.

I’m also reminded of Colossians 3:2-3: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

My life’s been hidden WITH Christ IN God. I cannot think of anything more amazing. And that should be my focus – the focus of both my heart and my mind; my will and my emotions. When all of those parts of me are in line with Scripture, then rest becomes easy.

Fight the clock or focus on the finish line?

One of the things I like the most about MBC is that so much of what they do is first thrown up on a white board and talked about, debated, marked out, rewritten, and reframed. If you walk around through the upstairs office areas, almost every cubicle and conference room has one. There’s always vision being written down, pictures being drawn… notes being taken. I love that work culture!

The point? I’m really visual. I’m so much better at seeing than hearing (something I really need to work on). So last night, when a friend drew an illustration to drive a point home, it helped a lot with redirecting my perspective.

I wish I could recreate it for you – just so you could see it too. I should have taken a picture with my blackberry.

But since I didn’t, I’ll attempt to explain it.

So many times we’re somewhere between the starting line and the finish line. But instead of focusing on the finish line – where we’re headed – we’re instead looking at our stopwatch and timing our progress. Instead of a race to the finish, we race against time. It’s like there’s a huge clock just above us that weighs us down and we can never quite outrun it. When we do that it’s almost like time stands still and we seem to move in slow motion. That, according to my friend, is the best way to get impatient, take your eyes off of the goal, and lose focus.

And it’s true. It reminds me of the story of Peter walking across the water to Jesus in Matthew 14:22-34. He took his eyes off of Jesus, probably just for a second, and remembered where he was instead of who he was walking to and where he was going. In that second, he stepped from faith into fear and began to falter.

I’ve always loved Hebrews chapter 12. Verses 1-2 are favorites of mine, but today I read the whole chapter and really took some time to think about the context (Heb. 11-12) and the illustrations therein. Here’s chapter 12:1-14:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,

nor be weary when reproved by him.

6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,

and chastises every son whom he receives.’

7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. 12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord”

So what does this mean to us? We sin when we lose sight of the goal and live in fear. Jesus endured the cross because He focused on the joy that would come. Likewise, we’re to not grow “weary or fainthearted.” Fainthearted means “lacking courage,” and weary means “physically or mentally exhausted by hard work, exertion, strain, etc.; fatigued; tired.” Basically, we’re not to become exhausted and we’re to run hard with our eyes focused ahead.

It’ll take discipline. And discipline is good. It’s one of the ways God loves us and I think I’m getting a lot of it right now. I need to better discipline my heart, my mind, my will, and my emotions. I all too often find myself weary, lacking courage, and checking the time. The promise here is amazing – if I will be disciplined – if I’ll lift my hands and strengthen my knees – righteousness and holiness will be present in my life. Pretty cool. I’m going to work to focus on the goal instead of fighting the clock.

Contentment 2.0

Tuesday evening I was running and listening to a sermon on contentment by Josh Patterson of the Village Church (the sermon can be found here). I used to run, watch a muted tv show, and also listen to sermons – all at the same time. I’m constantly the multitasker, even in what I consider to be “me time,” or “alone time.” Recently I’ve realized that I need to focus more during that time, and so now I just run and listen to sermons… it’s really brought about a lot of breakthrough in my life. I love the changes that take place in my heart when I am constantly in prayer, listening to sermons, or reading the Word.

I must have put the sermon on my ipod with purpose, but I had forgotten about it until it jumped out at me as the one to listen to right then. Over the past few weeks, I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be content (as I’m sure can be seen from previous posts).  God keeps directing me to Philippians 4, and other epistles that Paul wrote… I’m learning so much about true contentment and what it means to find complete satisfaction in God alone. All of it has been amazing – I’m always constantly overwhelmed by how God speaks to me… how He uses His Word, His Church, and His world to imprint new things into my heart – things that I hope are engraved there forever. But Tuesday was really special. It was one of those defining moments that I think I’ll never forget. It was a moment when an important truth that completely changes the way I view life was illuminated…

Josh Patterson read Philippians 4:11-13 (NLT) “Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”] As I heard it again, and he mentioned that Paul didn’t show a preference for either plenty or lack, I realized that BOTH are hard places to be content in. Contentment is a learned response, regardless of whether you have little or whether you have much.

I’m realizing that it’s probably far harder to be content when I have all that I want, because then, in my plenty, I lack the desperation and knowledge that He’s all I have and could ever need. I’m now praying that since God has taught me to trust and to be content in the desert or hard seasons, that He’ll give me the opportunity to learn to be content (and to practice contentment) when I have enough, or even plenty. I think I’ve always read Paul’s words in Philippians 4 to mean that we have to learn to be content when we are in lack, but I think I’ve realized that what we truly have to learn is how to be satisfied in Him when we don’t lack any good thing. That’s the hard part. I’ve spent more time in prayer in the last month than I have in years… Now I just need to make it a lifestyle and stay there.

I think I understand now, more than ever, why the rich young man in Luke 18 didn’t understand what Jesus was trying to tell him – he thought he had all that he needed. Even when presented with the prospect of eternal life, he didn’t understand the necessity of discontentment WITHOUT Christ. And he couldn’t imagine that Christ could fulfill him and be the place he found contentment if he didn’t have physical security, his possessions, and his stature in the community.

Even WITH/IN Christ, it takes His strength for us to rely on Him and crave Him, even when we’re in a season of blessing. The proper context for Philippians 4:13 is that it is Christ who empowers us to face any situation and be content in both the experience and the outcome, whether it be pain or pleasure. I think it might be possible that the truest test of faith isn’t where you run when you’re hurting, but where you abide when everything seems to be going your way, the path seems clear, and the future is bright.