Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Inner Old Testament Israelite

Who would've thought I'd find something personal in Deuteronomy?

Generally, I have trouble working my way through passages of obscure laws and judgement, but listen to these words (brace yourselves--it's a long-ish passage!):

"When you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you.

Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there to Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. He will bring you to the land that belonged to your fathers, and you will take possession of it. [...]

The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him and live. [...] The Lord again will delight in you and make you prosperous just as he delighted in your fathers, if you obey the Lord your God and keep his commands [...] and turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul."

I always sort of felt like an Israelite--one of God's chosen who constantly wandered off into their own wilderness of sorts, only to be called back to the land of her fathers. From the time I was a young girl, I honestly have felt "claimed" by God. By this, I mean that once I made the conscious decision to follow Christ, his grip was firm upon my life. No matter how many times I wandered away (and trust me, I wandered to the very distant of lands), I sensed a pull from the Lord. Many times, I even ignored that pull, but I knew it was there. And I wanted to go back to him, but I was stubborn, just like an Israelite in the Old Testament.

This description so vividly reminds me of my life during and post college. I learned about God from my parents, so the "land of my fathers" is very clearly the "land of following Christ" as demonstrated by my parents. During and after college, I did not "turn to the Lord" with all my "heart and with all my soul;" my Christianity was very half-hearted. I didn't seek out Christian fellowship; I stayed tucked away in my own warm, homemade Christian-like blanket and was content to stay there. It was nice and I was happy.

Sure, I wandered a lot and was confused a lot but it took several infrequent (but intense) dances with despair for me to finally have a harsh awakening and return. My return was right around the time Elliott and I re-met. It is so clear to me that God intended us for each other because we have brought each other so close to the Lord--we have brought each other into a relationship with God that involves all of our heart and soul.

I also think this passage is interesting because here is an Old Testament passage using the term "circumcision of the heart." It reminds me of Paul, when he tells the new church that they need not be physically circumcised to enter into Christ's family. And here we are--even in the Old Testament--being told that really, what matters is the heart. We should really reflect on what this phrase means (and I'm sure my theologian readers would have a more comprehensive interpretation. Please do shed some more light on this issue.). Circumcision is painful, but it is also a separation. Circumcising the heart has got to be painful--a giving up of our selves in order to separate from the world and point to God's glory.

Nah, it's not easy. But he didn't say it would be, now did he?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Random thoughts on listening

It feels like I haven't written in a while, and I'm not really sure why. A lot of it has to do with the lack of "still" time as schoolwork gets more demanding. Some of it has to do with not really being able to find the words. I tried to write about new things I've been realizing about prayer, but I started to trip over my words. I don't think it's a coincidence.

Silence and listening can be very enriching tools. I don't think we nurture them enough.

Sometimes prayer should be more about listening. Sometimes the spiritual journey should be more about silence and less about my poor attempts at articulation.

On a slightly unrelated note, this morning in church I got to steal a few moments with an older woman (I'll call her, "Ruth") I hold very dearly to my heart. Ruth is one of those people from whom with every encounter, I gain deep wisdom about life. Unfortunately for me, I've never been able to spend more than ten minutes at a time with her (note to self: ask Ruth out to coffee).

Since I always learn something from Ruth, I generally just like to listen to her tell me about her life in general (young people: seriously, listen to the elder people in your church. They honestly know what they're talking about). Recently over the past year, Ruth has been experiencing great pains that come with getting older. A very active person throughout her whole life, she is grappling with having to be seated for most of her days. Though she had found solace and joy in swimming, a recent shoulder injury has kept her from even this simple pleasure. She urged me to enjoy my youth and health now. "I didn't appreciate what I had," Ruth told me. "I was always thinking about what I wanted: a fuller chest, smaller hips, and so on, that I didn't appreciate being able to move."

Can we please all take that to heart? Let's stop focusing on criticizing ourselves and praise the Lord for the ability to move and be young and healthy. And if we are not young or healthy, let's pray and ask God how he might strengthen us in order that we may help encourage others.

God can use us. Let's let him.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Wandering the Wilderness with the Lord

I sat in meditation. Just listening. Closing my eyes and focusing on the One True God. I thought about life, and offered the whisper of a prayer about our future. I thought of the many possibilities facing Elliott and me. Each possibility certainly brings me a peace... a peace that only comes when you know you are exactly where God wants you.

Right now, it has been made clear that God wants us exactly where we are. But where is that, exactly? Where are we?

As I sat there praying, a vivid picture came swiftly in and out of my mind. It was me, wandering through the desert—the desert of the Israelites. I have often thought about how maddening and frustrating it must have been to be wandering in that desert for so long. In this particular moment of clarity, Jesus showed me that I have been wandering like the Israelites. All my life, I have been wandering from this to that with no clear understanding. Though sometimes I did not follow God through the wilderness, many times I have followed him.

I followed God out of graduate school, and then into the corporate world. But I was floundering and wandering about in that realm. So I followed God out of the corporate world and into another graduate program and into a retail job. And though I do feel at peace with where I am, a part of me feels that it’s just another step along the way. The way things are going right now, I don’t know how I will use this degree I am attaining, or, quite honestly, if I will finish. I have a tendency to start things and not finish them, but I also have been really relying on the Lord’s direction.

But the thing is, I’m not anywhere in particular yet. I am still wandering. I haven’t reached the right “land” yet. It’s not like I’m wandering in the desert without the Lord—no, he is very near and present in this journey. I have a feeling that God is bringing me (and Elliott) to a specific destination of some kind. I wonder if I will have another picture, maybe a year or two in the future (or five or six) of myself in this same desert, but arriving someplace.

I am comforted by this picture. It's like God is letting me know that he knows what’s going on. Indeed, I do feel a bit lost at times and still feel like the winds could change; at any moment, I may be swept up in a slightly different direction. But God is letting me know that he is in control.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:9

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