The Catalyst

Too busy, I have been too busy. And although I have been planning and thinking about how to work towards recalibrating my life, taking steps toward doing so have been small.

One thing I have noticed in my busyness, is that my stress and exhaustion have kept me from praying consistently. I think about taking time to pray, and then I get distracted. Or I feel too tired to pray, and I choose to do something mindless, something that I don’t have to think about.

I have been becoming frustrated with myself. I felt stuck as if I wanted to pray but just couldn’t. And then on Christmas Day my heart was touched. We were visiting Mom in her new home and she had some things that she had gone through and was deciding if she should get rid of them. So, I was looking through some containers of jewelry, just checking to see if there was anything I might want to keep. Something silver sparkled in the menagerie of pins and necklaces. I pulled it from amongst the other pieces, it was a silver necklace with a small oval pendant hanging on it. The oval part had folded hands, not etched in the silver, but raised. I flipped the oval over to look at the back, and etched in fine print were the words, “God answers prayer.”

Tears filled my eyes and emotion caught in my throat. How had I let life become so overwhelming that I no longer had time or energy to pray or spend with the Lord? How had I forgotten His faithfulness?

I put the necklace on and fingered the praying hands. My heart felt a tug and something inside released. I had felt as if in a vice grip of anger, frustration, and overwhelm. Resentful! And in the midst of it all I think I pushed God away. It really makes very little sense to me, because He has been working in amazing ways in my life, making things happen that only He could do. Ye I think I felt buried under all that was and is left undone. And somehow I still felt left very much alone. But I didn’t cry out to Him, I didn’t seem to have the focus or the energy to say anything.

This necklace, the folded hands, the words of promise on the back, encouraged my heart and made me feel my need again. My need for the Lord, my need to pray and to share my heart.

It feels like He reached for my hand, for my heart, and reminded me, hey, I’m still here, you don’t have to continue to carry that alone. How had I forgotten?

How very tender and sweet is my Heavenly Father who knows my wayward heart when it feels stuck in quicksand and reaches for me in such an unexpected way. He can use anything as a catalyst to pull us close, to help us feel His love and desire for our intimacy with Him.

Since that day I have been learning of some changes needed in my heart. The Lord is showing me daily where growth needs to take place.

I got together with a dear friend for coffee, to share our responses from a study we are doing together, to exchange Christmas presents, and to chat. We had a beautiful time. Just before we got ready to leave we shared pour personal prayer requests.  She shared her struggles and need, then I shared mine. I told her through my responses to the questions and as I verbalized my requests how I had been so overwhelmed and preoccupied that my prayer life had been suffering. I shared how I needed to be quiet before the Lord instead of frantic and rushed.

The next day as I read in my Recalibrate Life read for January, I found myself in a chapter on prayer. Here in Ruth Haley Barton’s book, Sacred Rhythms I learned a little more about “breath prayers.” I saw what I had previously underlined and wrote in the margin. I noticed the breath prayer I had chosen. As I reread a few paragraphs giving instruction in deciding on your personal breath prayer, I noticed that I had missed an important part in how I wrote mine. I had not voiced a need, instead I had just made a statement. The self-sufficiency of that so-called prayer glared at me. How could I have missed that? I knew the need was the same, but this time I would voice the neediness. I wrote my new breath prayer in my prayer journal. “My Sweet Abba, Help me abide.”

I can’t do it alone. In order to continue to grow in my relationship with the Lord I need to find that quiet place of abiding on a regular basis. I need that place of intimacy and rest.

I closed my eyes and whispered my breath-prayer, tears immediately filled my eyes. At first it seemed puzzling to me,  but a picture came to my mind. When a small child is in need of a nap but is fighting you as you attempt put him down, and the chase is on. Then, at last, when you catch the little one and hold them tight, usually tears ensue in the midst of the wrestling for calm. The child recognizes the comfort they have found, and their exhaustion catches up with them. They finally find rest.

There I was, tears sliding down my cheeks, recognizing I was where I needed to be. My tears came because I have wrestled so long with self-sufficiency and at last there in the abiding I found what I needed. A peacefulness settled over me. And the Lord brought a few verses to my mind.

Psalm 91:4 NLT “He will cover you with His feathers, He will shelter you with His wings, His faithful promises are your armor and protection.”

Psalm 63:7-8 NLT “Because You are my helper, I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings. I cling to You; Your strong right hand holds me securely.”

When I abide in the shadow of His wings, in His loving presence, I find there I can stop striving. I can just be there without words. A sweet place to rest. It is my hope to find this place often throughout my coming days. To just sit with my Lord. I have known this place before, but busyness caused me to lose my way.

The verses above are now printed in my planner on a page just before my daily pages. A small reminder of my neediness.  I see the folded hands necklace every day, and choose to where it some. It has been a precious catalyst to help me find my way back from the chaos. And my breath prayer is only a whisper away to lead me into the Lord’s presence as He draws my heart to know it’s neediness for Him more and more.

How sweet and gentle is the Lover of my soul! How is He drawing you? What is He showing you that you need? Draw near to Him today to know His love for you more!

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Self-Reliance or God-Reliance?

Which one is true of you? Are you self-reliant or God-reliant? Or maybe, as with me, it varies depending on what is happening in your life.

When we act in self-reliance we, in reality, are telling the Lord that we don’t need Him. We forget to pray and don’t spend time with Him or even read His Word. Maybe it is because life is going smooth. Or maybe it is because our crammed calendars tell us that there are too many things going on and there isn’t time to fit it in. And then as decisions need to be made we choose to go by our own wisdom rather than seeking His because it feels safer and we feel more in control. We figure we have as good as plan as any. We forget how fragile and needy we are. Sound familiar? We run in independence, relying on self so easily through life.

We forget God, we diminish our need for Him. We aren’t the first to do this. The Israelites did the same thing. In Deuteronomy 8:11-14 Moses warns them “Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by failing to keep His commandments and His judgments (precepts) and His statutes which I am giving you today, otherwise, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply and all you have increases, then your heart will become lifted up [by self-conceit and arrogance] and you will forget the LORD your God who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” 

We forget all He has done for us and the greatness of our need for Him. We forget when life is going well and we feel satisfied and nothing is pressing hard on us.

As I thought about the way the Lord worked in the recent circumstances of my life, I realized that He showed me His presence and power when I chose to abandon outcomes to Him. I mean when I admitted I needed Him and His help and His wisdom.

The Lord doesn’t grab the reins of our lives from our hands and tells us to do it this way. But when we stop and let go of our control and ask Him to take over, He is able to do so much more than we can ask or imagine.

When my hands, heart, and mind are busy controlling outcomes I miss looking for, praying to, and trusting in the Lord. It is only when I recognize my need for Him, and let go of self-sufficiency that I then seek Him in the desperate, fragile, needy way of reliance. It is then that my eyes are searching for Him, His power and His presence, and it is then that my hands, heart, and mind are free to focus on Him and His faithfulness. Empty hands can be lifted up in praise and thanksgiving.

What are your hands filled with?

Is it the many material blessings He has given? Is it the overwhelming problems you feel weighing you down that you are trying to carry in your own strength? Is it all of the things on your endless to-do list?

There has to be something that keeps us from Him, that allows us to forget Him. There has to be something that keeps us moving forward at break-neck speed relying on self.

When our hands are filled and our houses are stuffed to overflowing and are calendars are bulging with too much to do and too many people to see, it is then that we forget God. We forget prayer, we forget praise, we forget to seek Him in His Word. It is in those times that it is too hard to lift our hands and our hearts. In fact, it is on those times that I find myself much more likely to grumble and complain.

I am not sure that I had realized that before, but I recognize that as being true now. My grumbling and complaining come because the weight of it all is way too heavy. Self-reliance weighs us down after a while. We weren’t created to rely on ourselves.

Self-reliance say: “I can do it!” “I’ve got this.” “I don’t need help.” “It is best that I… ”

God-reliance says: “Lord, I must depend on you, I don’t know what to do.” “Oh, help me Lord! ” “Lead me Lord, give me direction. Where do I go from here?” “Grant me wisdom, Lord! ”

What do you hear yourself saying most often?

I know it seems like I think that I can control and manipulate things so I work hard to figure it all out. But the truth is, it usually does not work out well when I do this. I need His wisdom and knowledge to lead me.

In Psalm 103, the psalmist tells his soul to bless the Lord. It is thought that this Psalm was written by David at the time he was pardoned of his adultery with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:15). David wrote this after the child, conceived with Bathsheba, became very ill and was near death.

Can you imagine how he felt? It was from that place he pleaded with his soul to bless the Lord and to not forget all the benefits from the Lord.

When things are out of control, which is true often in our lives, we get to choose how we will respond. Will we try to manipulate circumstances? Or will we remember Who God is and remember His faithfulness in our lives and then choose to bless His name? Remembering how He has been at work in our lives builds our level of trust.

It would be difficult to choose to step onto a single-strand ladder and feel even a tiny bit safe. But when the ladder rungs are made of rope with several strands braided together we feel more secure.

So it is with trusting in God and learning to rely on Him to lead and guide us. The more we see Him at work in our lives,  taking care of situations, and resolving problems that frustrate us, answering our prayers in amazing ways, the more strands of faith we have getting braided together building our trust.

David knew that his heart needed lifting, he needed hope. David knew that in gratefully praising God for all that He had done for him and the Israelites, new hope would be found. He would remember God’s faithfulness and find reason to rely on Him again.

David was quite aware of the mess he had made by following his own desires and lusts. We too find ourselves in the middle of messes unsure of what to do. Maybe you are there right now. Maybe you have made a string of decisions based on your own wisdom and knowledge, pure self-reliance, and now you realize you are in too deep. The Lord waits for us to let go of control and turn it over to Him. There may be consequences, but the Lord is faithful to give us the help we need and He will work in the middle of the mess. We, like David, can choose to bless His name in the middle of the mess. We just need to remember Who God is and all He has done, pray for help, and watch Him work!

Psalm 103:2 KJV “Bless the Lord, O my soul and forget not all His benefits.

This is the path to seeking to choose God-reliance over self-reliance because our trust in Him grows through it. This is the path I want to take, how about you?