Seek First…

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,

and all these things shall be added to you.”

Matthew 6:33

A bigger house, or at least one with a bigger yard.  A picture posted public, or a few seconds of fame.  A car or a hundred-dollar check or some friends who see the cause and want to help.  A larger (smaller?) family or one that functions differently.  We all want more, don’t we?

There are letters to be written, friends to inform.  Changes to be made, jobs to be done, books that need to make their way off of the shelf and into the head.  We want the house with the view or the little bit of fame but do we realize that that’s not the view or the fame we need?

Jesus preaches to the multitudes and He knows that two thousand years later He’ll be preaching the same message to me.

All these things a human being could want–and He is the only one who can fulfill.  “Therefore,” He says, “take no thought for your life, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor yet for your body, what you shall put on”  (Matthew 6:25).  He knows what we need and He knows perfectly how to give it all to us.

I have dreams.  In fact, I have so many dreams they sometimes conflict with each other.  There is one way of life that seems so appealing, and then there’s another that’s equally attractive.  Depending on the day, one may outweigh the other.  And I read the Word and let Him fill me and I see His paths clearly.  I see all that He’s done and all that He wants to do.  But then there’s my life.

What of it?  What with it?  So many questions and He gently pushes His finger over my lips.  Trust Me.  Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.  I want great things with this life and I can get so impatient in the waiting.  Sometimes everything moves so. slowly. and I just want to jump ahead and do something.

But that’s where I fall.  God made me a human being.  Not a human doing.  I thumb through John 15 and know this truth: abiding is key.  “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.  By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples”  (15:7-8).

Now it hits me–the order in which things fall.  First, abide.  Second, ask.  Third, do.  Not do, then ask, then abide.  God is a God of order, and His order is the one that works.  “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

We abide and He fills.  Our desires become His desires, and of course He’ll bring those desires to pass.

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The Love Verse – Patience

“Love suffers long.”

1 Corinthians 13:4

Around 7:00pm, during our Ladies’ Bible Study, the power shut off.  The fans stopped rotating to keep us cool and deter the nasty mosquitoes.  About fifteen of us, sitting around two tables under the thatch roof of the church.  It wasn’t a normal Bible Study night; it was the night of the potluck.  A third table boasted numerous plates and bowls of delicious food, all homemade that day or the day before by the women in the group.  Tortillas, panadas, beans, coleslaw, bread pudding, cookies.  Tiff made her famous lime juice and Blanca contributed her baked macaroni and cheese.

But there it all sat, on the table, waiting for us to devour it.  And there we all sat, around the tables, waiting for the current to return.  My patience was dwindling, as I had skipped dinner at the house in anticipation of the feast before us.  Miss M., sitting across from me, decided to start us off in song.  We sang hymn after hymn, praise after praise.  Some of them I’d never heard before, but as I opened my mouth God gave me every necessary word in order that I might lift them back up to Him.  Our voices continued and we prayed, asking for the current and a decrease in mosquitos.  Eventually the lights came back on.  Patience.

~~~

I was in the shower.  Conditioner soaking through my strands, water freezing to ease the sweat.  The lights went out, and all was silent but the sound of the running water.  The bathroom was pitch black–not even the moonlight shone in to give light to my task.  I finished rinsing, turned off the water, and cautiously stepped out onto the little rug, praying the huge cockroach behind the trashcan would not find its way to my feet.  I grabbed my towel, felt around for my clothing, and hurriedly got dressed.  Arms out and hands spread, I slowly moved out the door and down the hall to my room.  My flashlight sat in its regular place on the shelf.  God is so good, how He provides.

As I sat on my bed, flashlight and pen in hand, I wrote in my journal of the day’s happenings.  How I had to practice patience.  How I had to remind sweet Irma to be patient.  How thankful I was that it was a “cooler” night, so the absence of a working fan was not such a problem.  Mid-sentence the fan clicked and the light overhead began to shine.  A shout from down the hall made me smile and share in Irma’s joy.  Thank You, Jesus.  Patience.

~~~

The rain poured, and poured and poured and poured.  Children ran from one building to the next, screaming and avoiding glares from their teachers.  One by one I helped usher them back into their classrooms, though they still could not hear their teachers over the raindrops on zinc roofing.  With these children, I have fallen in love.  Their giggles, their belly laughs, their smiles and conversations and joy.  I love watching them as they learn, as they make realizations and come to conclusions.  When things “click.”  Or, when they understand a wrong they’ve done and come to full repentance.  How precious.

We’ve built a trust, those kids and I.  Not all of them, mind you, but many of them.  They respect me, and I respect them.  But it has not always been that way.  I came and they saw a target: someone to manipulate and dupe into giving them material goods.  They’re really great at their game.  Thankfully, the Lord gave me wisdom and discernment enough to see through it.  Consistency is key, with any and every child.  After some time of constant discipline and maintained order, these kids have discovered that I love them.  They see that I care about their futures, which means not giving in to every whim and wish.  And they know that I will praise  and encourage them at appropriate times.

This thing, this trust, does not come easily.  But when a child turns from fighting you and begins to hug you and lean on your shoulder and actually confide in you?  Oh, there is much reward in love through patience!

Adapted from my journal, June 21 & 22, 2012.  A friend of mine worked with me, via email, to help me fully digest the “Love Verse” (aka: 1 Corinthians 13).  We took one portion at a time, starting with “love suffers long”, in order that I might master the act of love.  

No Condemnation

It’s been quite a few days since I last wrote, and a lot has happened during that time.  I returned home from Belize on August 31st–back to fewer bugs and “chilly” weather and natural foods and welcoming hugs from family and friends.  All lovely things.  It was incredibly strange entering the airport in Atlanta and seeing the vast amounts of people and shops and hallways.  It hit me that living in a third-world country for three months had so disconnected me from all of that; I was no longer used to any of it.  Driving home from the next airport set me stunned:  I had forgotten what a city looks and feels like.

In a sense, a spiritual sense, it’s much harder to live in America than Belize.  There are more–or maybe just thicker–barriers that must be broken down and obstacles that need to be removed.  Being on my guard at all times is imperative, because Satan can sneak in and steal at any point.  This past week had me figuring out how to readjust.  I’m trying to find a balance–learning to live here in the States while maintaining all that God taught me as I lived there in Belize.  It is far too easy to let go of my new habits or to put aside daily quiet time or not be in constant communion with Him.  Yet forsaking those things is dangerous; they must be done.  And it doesn’t matter where I live, or what temptations I face (because they do change from country to country, and region to region); God is God and He is with me wherever I am.  Thus, I can have constant communion and fellowship with Him in all places regardless of my circumstances.

The past three months have also taught me the truth to this verse:

“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus,

who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.”

Romans 8:1

Through Christ, we are freed from the law (hallelujah!).  We no longer are subject to it; we follow it out of obedience to Him, which is out of love for Him.  But following the law is not our means of salvation.  Jesus Christ is.

I learned that truth but I also learned it in a step forward.  Because God doesn’t condemn us, we are not subject to anyone else’s condemnation either.  (Even if God were to condemn us, humans wouldn’t hold the role of Judge anyway.)  We are FREE in Christ.  That means we are not held to others’ expectations.  We are not held to our own expectations.  I trust you know that this is not to say we can throw all care to the wind and live however we want to live.  Of course not.  But it does mean that we are free.

There are numerous practical ways I have ingested this.  Unfortunately, it took me quite a while to do so.  But the last month or so of my stay in Belize was a time of increasing freedom–rather, my increased acknowledgement of my freedom.  I no longer checked the kitchen sink every half hour to wash the most recent dish or piece of silverware.  I no longer hung around the house most of the day to make sure I was always 100% available instead of going to the dorm or elsewhere.  I stopped trying to solve every problem the little girls had.

Let me point out something else.  Each of the things I mentioned above were done out of fear; fear that I wouldn’t be worthy of my keep or fear that they would think less of me because I didn’t measure up to some standard (a standard that was never even said).  There were no stated or written expectations for me to begin with; I was just there to help out when needed.  When I first arrived at the base back in May, I started washing the dishes and working around the house and taking care of the girls.  I did these things to be helpful, as an assistant, but soon the others started leaving these things to me as my job.  There was nothing wrong with that, at first.  Then I put pressure on myself and took on the roles completely because I saw that others weren’t.  There is also a spirit of judgement at the base, which meant that I would receive dirty looks or even the silent treatment if I didn’t do something that I was supposedly expected to do.  I hate disappointing and upsetting people, and not being worthy enough–so I worked harder.  It was completely irrational.

Then I meditated on that verse, Romans 8:1.  I realized that the roles I had assumed were only good to a point.  Helping out and being an assistant–that’s what I was there for.  I was not there to take on the role of Mother or even Big Sister.  So I started gradually backing off, even though the others did not always approve.  When they needed something or asked me to do something, by all means I would do it.  But I did not busy myself to unlimited degrees.  I refused to let their judgement penetrate me.  Instead, I chose God’s freedom and found my worth in Him.  He is the only one I will ever have to answer to, so He is the only one I am going to get my expectations from.

Choose freedom, friends.  Choose God’s victory over condemnation, and don’t let Satan steal anything from you that you have in Christ.  Meditate on Romans 8:1 (and the rest of that chapter) and know God’s immense love for you.  Take that love and use it on others.  You are free–live it!