Monday, February 28, 2011

Help and Light

God graciously gave me a hint to steer me in the right direction. And HERE begins the good part, that part that I've been waiting to get to. The very reason that I began this whole story back in the summer last year was so that I could lead up to this.

My pastor preached a sermon from Ephesians 3 one Sunday night, and one phrase from verse 17 particularly caught my attention: "That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith." Pastor said he hoped everyone present could say that Christ was dwelling in their hearts, and he went on to say that the Holy Spirit comes in to dwell with every believer at the moment of salvation. I knew that; I believe that, but a new thought struck me.

"If the Holy Spirit indwells me, what kind of house does He find it? Does He feel welcome and at home here?"

I had the realization that no, indeed He does not. I had a vision of the Holy Spirit shuffled away in some dark corner of the house, while I reigned supreme over my life, not even affording Him the slightest courtesy or the barest hospitality. In the little nook under the stairs where I had pushed Him, He was not "in my way" as I bustled about, cleaning here and there, making plans here and there, and taking action on this project or that project, all without consulting Him or even taking time to converse with Him.

How wrong!

If a delegation of ambassadors or dignitaries arrived at my door, I knew how I would treat them. I would dress my best, welcome them graciously, and lay myself out to attend to their slightest wishes. I would be alert to the smallest hints as to how I could better serve them. I would listen to their conversation and be sparing with how much I talked about myself. I would not complain at the length of time they stayed or question the things they wanted to do. I would be at their disposal. They would have the best seats, the best food, and every comfort I could provide for them. Their smallest wish would be granted.

I realized that I needed to get things right with God. He bought me--He redeemed me--He indwelt me--He blessed me with His glorious presence--and I had treated him this way in return.

Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? (1 Cor 3:16)

What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's. (1 Cor. 6:19-20)

I got on my knees before God and asked His forgiveness. I said that from now on, I would give Him complete control. I would attend to His slightest wishes. I would take my orders from Him instead of the other way around. I would be shuffled aside into the obscurity of the little nook under the stairs, if He so chose. I surrendered to Him the deed and the key to the house. From now on, He would be the owner.

And do you know what? He accepted it. He didn't treat me like I had treated Him, either. He didn't forget about me in the corner under the stairs, but with the tenderest acceptance and love, drew me out by the hand and gave me a role to participate in the work that He was doing. Furthermore, He set to work, calmly ordering the house back from the sloppy chaos I had left, expertly putting things back to a state of peace and orderliness.

I was amazed at His patience. How did He wait so patiently, knowing exactly what needed to be done, yet allowing me to go on alone, not forcing His way into the picture, but waiting to be invited?

I was amazed at His forgiveness. It was a shame and an abomination... that the Holy Spirit of God should ever have been so rudely treated, so shoved into a corner, so shut out and marginalized, so dishonored and disrespected. But He forgave me. How I praise Him for His mercy!

Thus I began the adventure of learning how to walk in this new way, yielding to the Holy Spirit's leadership in my life. But the battle wasn't over.

Next Post: Be Filled with the Holy Spirit
Previous Post: Get Up Early: Skirmish #2
First Post: Tutored Under the Master Professor

Friday, February 25, 2011

Get Up Early: Skirmish #2

So then I had this bright idea.

For every day that I didn't get up in time to have my devotions, I would fast the whole day.

"Mwa-ha-ha," I thought gleefully to myself. "This'll teach me!" I do love food, and I was sure that even the bare threat of going without it would be enough to get me up in the morning. However, just to make sure I knew I wasn't bluffing, I made myself the rule that I had to get up on the first ring of the alarm (no hitting snooze). I wrote in my journal that day, "I'm tired of the defeat that sees me, day after day, succumbing to the sleep-god. I can't not learn this."

I admit that I really thought I wouldn't have to carry out my threat on myself. But the second day, I was already fasting. I knew it would take a whole day of fasting to hurt badly enough to be effective, because fasting for one meal, or even two, is so easy for me that it would have no impact on my sleep-ridden brain's reasoning power. That day, I ruthlessly carried out my threat, determined to drive the knife blade into the flesh and kill it till it was dead. I sniffed deliberately whenever there were any food odors to be smelled--and there were some good ones. I deliberately looked at food items so that I could tell myself, "See? You could have had that if you hadn't done that this morning."

But even still, I was thinking I undoubtedly wouldn't have to do it a second time, once the flesh saw I meant business.


By the time seven days had passed, I had fasted four of them. After two weeks had passed with me eating only about every other day, I was hungry, thin, and extremely irritable.

I decided it was time to reevaluate. I felt like I could starve myself to death before I would ever give up sleep. I evidently loved sleep much more than I loved food.

Also, I realized that I was fasting in the strength of the flesh. I was wielding a crowbar against myself to try to move myself, but it was about as effective as a tree trying to pull itself up by the roots. No matter how resolved I was, if I was operating in the flesh to try to destroy the flesh, the flesh would wimp out at the last minute and not carry out its threat against itself. And I felt like the more I fought against myself, the more I weakened myself and made myself unfit to continue to fight.

What made things even worse was that when I did get up to pray, my prayer times were duller than ever. Somehow, I just couldn't connect with God. What was wrong with me?

Next Post: Help and Light
Previous Post: My Custer's Last Stand
First Post: Tutored Under the Master Professor 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Get up Early: My Custer's Last Stand

The third aspect of my assignment was to do my devotions first, at the beginning of the day. I never failed to do my devotions, but I did them at night. And it was here that my flesh put up a determined, all-or-nothing fight to not yield. My flesh was NOT going to sacrifice those precious moments of sleep if it could help it.

I must add, by the way, that I had been feeling like I should do this since at least 2006, so this was a long-running struggle going much farther back than the other two assignments. And I found that no matter what I did, I simply could not prevail against myself.

I would go to bed with the best of intentions of getting up early the next day, but sleep would totally erase them from my brain, and by the time the alarm clock rang, the only thing I could think of was indulging in as much sleep as possible before I absolutely had to get up and go to work.

This made me sad, because it was like God would whisper to me, "Do you love sleep that much more than you love me?" I could get up to go to work, but I could not get up to make my appointment with my Savior. I could get up at, say, 3 am if I was going on a trip, but I could not get up at 6 to meet with Jesus. I could get up consistently every day at 6 if I had to be at work by 7, but if my work schedule changed and I didn't have to get there until 9, suddenly I "couldn't" get up at 6 anymore.

The flesh had declared its intentions. No surrender! This is not going to happen.
The spirit declared its intentions. Oh, yes, you are going to do this, and I'm going to fight until I succeed.

And so, the battle raged. And raged. And raged.

One of the early skirmishes involved a plan where I determined to fill out an "Accountability Sheet" that I invented for myself. I set myself a period of one month in which I answered nine questions:

1. What time did you go to bed last night?
2. What time did you get up this morning?
3. Was your alarm set?
4. What did you read in the Bible today?
5. Did you pray today?
6. What time did you leave Edith's? (At the time I was spending the night with an elderly neighbor)
7. Account for the time you spent today. What did you get done?
8. Was there anything else you should have gotten done?
9. Was there anything you did that you shouldn't have done? (In other words, did you waste any time?)

I did this faithfully for an entire month, and I was trying really, really hard to improve. In my mind's eye, I saw a graph of my bed times and waking up times, with a gently descending line that settled on a sensible bedtime and arising time and then fixed there for the rest of the month. My goal was to go to bed at 10 and get up at 6.

When the month was over, I plotted my actual points on a graph in my journal. Here is the graph.
Chaos! I was dismayed. And this was when I was trying. I would hate to see what it was before that. Still undaunted, however, I determined that the fight must go on. "Now I see where I am and how far I have to go," I said to myself. "So I'll do it for another month, and surely I'll see some improvement."

Here is the second month's chart.
Still chaos! Sure, my bedtime evened out. But that was not the point. The point was to work on my waking up time. The point was to arrive to a state where love for God could get me up out of a warm, comfortable bed, to go kneel on a cold, hard floor in prayer, because God was that worth it to me. The point was to achieve self-discipline and go by the rules I had set for myself, not by the frenzy of emotion that the moment of the alarm clock's ring produced in me. The point was to love God more than I loved sleep. Funny how every night before I went to sleep, I could convince myself that finally, today, my love for God was going to be enough to get me up, but every morning when the alarm clock rang, I couldn't think of anything but, "Just give me a few more minutes." And those few minutes inevitably lasted until the moment where I panicked and said to myself, "There's no way I'll be able to get ready and get to work on time if I don't get up." No time now for a quiet hour of stillness before the King of Kings. Now that hour was used up and I barely had time to shower and dress for work.

So that skirmish left me pretty much where I was before. Many more skirmishes were to come.

Next Post: Get Up Early: Skirmish #2
Previous Post: Learn to Pray
First Post: Tutored under the Master Professor

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Learn to Pray

Oh, prayer is a hard one. I had so many ups and downs with this. I still have so far to go. But I can look back and see that I've learned a few lessons, which I will share here.

The flesh does not like to pray, but the Spirit does. In order to pray effectively, I must be walking in the Spirit. Never mind what the flesh wants. It's supposed to die anyway.

The point is not to "say prayers," the point is to connect with God. Be still on Him and wait on Him until you have truly visited the throne room and conversed with the King of Kings.

One of my biggest hindrances to prayer was a line of reasoning something like this: "I'm not successful at prayer, so prayer doesn't do any good, so why bother to do it at all?" But this reasoning is first faithless, and second inaccurate. The Bible says our prayers DO do good. By the way, we are commanded to pray, so the "Why bother" comment is invalidated just by that alone.

Another big hindrance to prayer was this line of reasoning: "God is going to do whatever he wants. Things will be the same if I pray as they will be if I don't pray, so why bother?" God taught me big time that this is not true. Whenever I prayed, things happened! Whenever I didn't pray, things didn't happen. It was almost as if God was deliberately withholding the answer until I asked. An illustration of this helped me to understand. I work in a preschool, and it is important to teach the kids to use language, so if they point at something and go "uuuh," we know perfectly clearly what they are asking for, but we say, "Use your words," and wait to give it to them until they ask. Also--it's free to pray, and you just might get what you ask God for, so you really have nothing to lose if you pray; you can only stand to gain.

I learned that body position had a great deal to do with whether or not I would get very far in prayer. Lying in bed, it only took about 3 minutes of prayer to put me to sleep. Kneeling beside the bed, I got a little farther, but pretty soon my head would be pillowed peacefully on my arms and I would be asleep, only to wake up an hour later feeling very stiff and uncomfortable. Standing up--Ah! There's a sleep prevention technique! So at different times I have had to give myself a rule that I have to stand up and not so much as touch my bed. It wards off sleepiness, all right!

Probably my biggest hindrance to prayer was a wandering mind. If I "think" my prayers, it's only a minute before my mind is zinging all over the place into random thoughts that have nothing to do with prayer. Before two sentences are out, I have already forgotten I was praying. Then I catch myself five minutes later thinking about, say, a kayak going down a waterfall, and I realize, "Oops! I was praying! Let me get back to that. Where was I?" I resume my prayers, say a sentence or two, and again, my mind is off in another direction and I have forgotten I was even praying. Do you know how frustrating and prayer killing it is for this to happen over and over again, every two sentences, every day of your life? So two solutions have saved me. One is praying out loud. However, in our small house, it is difficult to have the privacy to do this, so I often take prayer walks, where I can pour out my heart to the Lord in verbalized prayer. Solution two: Write my prayers and enjoy the ability to have silent prayer AND instant focus. An hour of prayer suddenly becomes easy when I'm writing. Of course, I can write slower than I can think, so I can't say as much in an hour as I probably could if I was praying silently, but given that my silent prayer is interrupted by a million random intrusions and I give up after about five minutes, I know I'm getting a lot farther with the written version.

So prayer is coming along. Not perfect yet, but getting somewhere.

Next Post: Get up Early: My Custer's Last Stand
Previous Post: Depend on God
First Post: Tutored Under the Master Professor

Monday, February 21, 2011

Valentine's party

Today I had several girls over to my house for a Valentine's party, complete with chocolate cake, roses, and of course, conversation hearts. (By the way--yuck! they've changed the recipe for those things and...bleck.)

The purpose of the party was to express to them the love of Jesus and ignite their hearts with a love for Him. The Lord really helped me to do that as I talked to them. I could see them listening intently, they got quiet, and one of them told me afterward she appreciated it.

We also got to do lots of other fun stuff, like go outside to see the chickens, feed grass to our neighbor's horses, swing on our backyard swing, and decorate heart-shaped sachets, which we then filled with potpourri. 

Tomorrow I'll try to get back to our regular story! But I just had to break in here with a little current news flash. :-)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Depend on God

These three pursuits, depend on God, pray, and do my devotions early, all occurred simultaneously, yet seemed distinct at the time I was going through them. Therefore, rather than treating all three together and progressing chronologically, I'm going to treat each one individually in order to bring out the facets that stood out from each one. So forgive me if we jump around in time a bit in the next few posts.

As I said, I was willing to learn to depend on God. Willing, but clueless.

So I said, "God, it sure would help if I could at least come to feel like I needed to depend on you." And God happily obliged me by introducing a set of circumstances into my life that were designed to be above my capabilities, outside the range of possibility for me, more difficult than I could handle.

Hel-LO, trials!

"Humph," I thought. "I didn't mean to ask for that."

It started out pretty mild. Things like being uncommonly annoyed at doing the dishes, and having to depend on God for the cheerfulness that I had always taken for granted. When I asked for cheerfulness, I would receive it, but before, it had always been automatically dispensed. Therefore, I had taken the credit for my habitual good humor to myself. I didn't realize how many ways God supplied me with blessings!

Things went along and I have to admit I almost forgot I was supposed to be working on this area of dependence on God. But every so often, a situation would crop up that was beyond me, and I would remember, and try to be a good, docile learner, and get better at this whole dependence thing.

Then came a job opportunity, and I took it without thinking. I was already working two other jobs, but I needed some extra money, and this seemed perfect. However, I didn't consult God about it. I just took it.

The day I was driving in the car to my first day on the job, the Lord convicted me about it. "You didn't find out if this was my will or not, did you? In fact, you didn't even consult me. You didn't wait on me. This was not what I asked you to do, was it?"

I had to admit, "No, it wasn't."

And that job, which was supposed to be a simple, quick project of four months, stretched into seven months of spectacular failure, in which I blew deadlines, frustrated my boss, and fell behind at every step of the way. It wasn't for lack of trying. It wasn't even for lack of aptitude for the position. It was simply and purely a personal fault: I couldn't produce the self-discipline necessary to actually put in working hours and work on the project.

It was around this time that I came to a certain realization: "Me trying is the same as me not trying." It happened this way: All throughout my life, I knew there were certain things I did well (piano, spelling, crochet, etc.) and certain things I did not do so well (swimming, being organized, staying focused, etc.). However, with anything I did not do very well, I always comforted myself by saying, "Well, you're not really trying. If you ever once tried, you would be as good as anyone else at it."

Three specific cases disrupted this idea. First, at work they had a weight-loss contest. Everyone would get weighed once a month for four or five months, and whoever lost the greatest percentage of their body weight would win an ipod or a wii. So I decided to join them. I could afford to lose 15-18 pounds, according to my body mass index, and for the first time in my life, I started to try to lose weight. Always before, I had stayed pretty constantly trim without trying. Well, my weight at the end of the contest was only one pound less than my weight at the beginning, and that was only because I had happened to skip breakfast that morning. So much for trying to lose weight. Me trying (to lose weight) was the same as me not trying.

Second, I stared an accountability sheet where for a month, I would record my bedtime and my waking up time. The idea was to try to get to bed earlier and wake up earlier, and see progress over time. Ha. At the end of the month, the only thing my chart showed was chaos. So I tried another month. Perhaps this time, the graph would show steady improvement and progress. Nope. I was all over the map. So much for trying to dictate to myself my bedtime. Me trying (to get up early) was the same as me not trying.

Third, I encountered the above-described difficulties in my job. I tried, and tried and tried and tried and tried and tried. Oh, how I pushed! Oh, how I tried to govern myself! Oh, how I tried rewards and punishments. Nothing worked. I continued on in the same rut of failure for all seven months. Me trying (to make myself work) was the same as me not trying.

It was this that got me thinking. "In my flesh, I really can't do anything by myself. If God doesn't come through for me, I'm sunk." (Remember what I had asked God earlier? How I had wanted to feel like I was dependent? He got me there all right! I just didn't know how painful it would be.)

I also did a word study in Scripture on the word nothing.

John 15:4    Jesus said, "Without me, ye can do nothing."
Gal 6:3        If a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.
John 6:63    The flesh profiteth nothing.
1 Co. 9:16   I have nothing to glory of.
John 3:27    A man can receive nothing except it be given him from heaven.
John 5:30    I can of mine own self do nothing.
John 11:49  Ye know nothing at all.
1 Tim 6:7    For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.

It hit me for the first time in my life that I am nothing. Apart from God, I can do nothing. God is the great everything. And only as far as I am found in Him and receive things from Him will I ever do anything.

NOW I was on the way to true dependence on God.

Next Post: Learn to Pray
Previous Post: A Triple Milestone in Sight
First Post: Tutored Under the Master Professor

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Triple Milestone in Sight

After spending about a year to learn how to open up my mouth and speak, God sent me on another quest which would take at least a year. This time, it was really a three-fold assignment that would all relate to one common theme, though I wouldn't see how all three tied together until later.

First, depend on God. Learn to rely solely on Him. Don't live as though I were an independent, autonomous creature, but instead, one that needs God for every breath, every step, every day of my life.

Second, learn to pray. Not just "say prayers," but pray, mighty, faith-filled prayers that connect with God.

Third, put God first in my day by doing my devotions in the morning.

The first assignment, Depend on God, I accepted unquestioningly. "Sure, God. I'll be glad to depend on you. I don't really know how, but I'll be glad to try." I then proceeded to try to work up some good "dependent" feelings. (Haha... must've made God laugh.) Overall, I realized that for all practical purposes, I lived without reference to God, existing without consulting him or feeling that I needed to consult him. I had my own ideas, made my own plans, and went through the day by myself. It didn't enter my head to depend on God most of the time. Of course, if I was embarking on a major step or had a weighty decision before me, I would pray "for direction," but even that was sort of a token gesture.

The second assignment, Pray, was somewhat more difficult. The truth is, I didn't really like to pray. I wasn't good at prayer. My mind always wandered. But I knew it was a good thing to do, and I knew I would need to do it sooner or later, and I had been meaning to study it anyway, so I accepted the assignment.

The third assignment involved getting up early. And that meant sacrificing sleep. Now, I love sleep. I don't think you understand. I LOVE sleep. Wait, I don't think you get it. I really, really love sleep. At sleepover parties when I was a kid, while all the other little girls were talking and giggling and watching movies into the wee hours of the morning, I happily snuggled down in my sleeping bag at 9:00, wondering how they could possibly make such a sacrifice for each other's sake to stay up so late. I, at any rate, was going to enjoy myself at this party, and that meant going to sleep. Sleep, for me, was (still is!) the ultimate indulgence. Therefore, my entire being revolted from this assignment with everything that was in me. And oh, what a battle raged!

The Master Professor, however, remained unperturbed. He knew how to teach me the right lessons in the right order. His teaching techniques were absolutely effective. He had infinite resources at his disposal. He was sure of His own success with his pupil, though I was not at all sure of it.

Next post: Depend on God
Previous post: One Milestone Reached
First post: Tutored Under the Master Professor

Thursday, February 17, 2011

One milestone reached

So God had me where I was obediently witnessing. It was great! I knew it was a huge milestone. It was also a shocking, sobering realization to look back on my previous condition and realize, "Wow! I could never have been a missionary without learning this! Thank you, God, for teaching me that."

I wrote extensively in my journal about the lessons I had learned, started a girl's Bible Study on the theme of "Open Up Your Mouth and Speak," and prepared a document containing the essential message I had learned. I excitedly started witnessing! Whereas in 2008, I had only led three people to Christ, in 2009, I had the privilege of praying with 18 people who wished to receive Christ.

The Master Professor had elegantly and skillfully achieved his goal. He is the type of teacher who never gives up until learning actually takes place. He is also the kind of teacher who moves His pupil right along to the next lesson as soon as the first has been mastered.

Learning to open up my mouth and speak was hard. The new lessons that replaced that one were harder. But these, too, would eventually lead to me looking back and saying, "Wow! I could never have been a missionary without learning this!"

Next Post: A Triple Milestone in Sight
Previous Post: Torn Apart by My Own Perverseness
First Post: Tutored under the Master Professor

This is my first post

I have been wanting to do this, and a day off work gives me the perfect excuse to start.

May the Lord Jesus Christ be honored here.