How to Seek God’s Will

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I have to give my two year old a lot of specific instructions throughout her day.
Two year old
I have to tell her which arm to put in which arm hole, how to get a blanket pulled over her legs, where each toy should go when cleaning up.
Needs lots of help
And she’s two, so I’m okay with this.
My seven year old, however, I expect to have a general idea of what I want from her.

Seven year old

More independent
I would feel disappointed if I had to give her as many minute directions as I do her younger sister. As my eldest matures and as our own relationship grows, one of my hopes is for her to know me well enough to know what I want from her without me having to detail it out.
Age gap
Help each other
I have spent much of my life wanting to know God’s will for me.
Seeking God's will
I wanted to know what college to attend, which career I should pursue, whom I should date, whom I should marry. Much of my relationship with God was consumed with begging Him to tell me what He wanted me to do.
I told myself that I was seeking God’s will in order to please Him and bring Him glory, but in truth I wanted to know His will in order to protect myself. I wanted to be sure that I would be successful, that I wouldn’t make any mistakes that would cause me lasting pain.
I am learning.
I am learning that God’s relationship with me is much like my relationships with my daughters. The more I know God, the more our relationship grows and the less He has to direct my every move.
Only asking God to tell me about His will does not constitute a growing relationship. That amounts to not much more than a dictatorship.
When I am with my husband, I don’t want either of us to order the other about. I want us to understand each other deeply so that orders are not necessary.
And so it is in our union with God, a person both loving and beloved. He does not delight in having to always explain what His will is; He enjoys it when we understand and act upon His will. Our highest calling and opportunity in life is to love Him with all our being. ~ Dallas Willard in Hearing God
In recent years, rather than seeking God’s will for my life, I’ve spent my time seeking God.
I seek to know Him, to understand Him, to love Him more. In that loving, I trust that He will let me know if there is something specific I need to hear. I trust His Spirit in me to guide me when either I am beginning to head in the wrong direction or there is a specific thing He wants me to do.
And He does. He fulfills that trust.
I have a long way to go. I have not yet grown to the point of having an easy, conversational relationship with God throughout every day. But I want that. Oh, how I long for that kind of relationship with the One I love.
Rather than praying “God, help me to know Your will so that I can do what you want me to do”, my new prayer is “God, help me to know You more so that I can love you more.”
Seeking God
That is a prayer I believe He delights in answering.
And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever. I Chronicles 28.9

edited from the archives: the daughters mentioned in this post are now four and nine. Time, slow down! Just a bit.

The Mystery of Prayer

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So much of this kingdom-living life is mystifying.
We are given a magnificent vision of being made priests and kings. We are told to go out into the world and live in a way that brings God’s rule to earth and creation’s praise to heaven.
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So much of the time we wander around, having no earthly idea what to do.
Yet here we are.
This is our mission whether or not we understand it completely.
This is our goal whether or not we can perceive the next step.
This is our purpose and we may not set it aside every time we fail to discern the way forward.
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Part of the answer to finding our way is in prayer.
Prayer itself is a mystery, however central to our lives as Christ followers. Perhaps it wouldn’t be prayer without also being a mystery.
Yet it is a mystery we can, in our own fumbling way, find the shape of. This mystery of prayer has the shape of heaven and earth joining together in Jesus and our sharing in that joining through the Spirit.
The very act of prayer says that we stand in the space between heaven and earth. Prayer says that, in some mysterious way, we are called to stand for God on earth and to stand for creation in heaven.
But again the very practice of prayer, before we even begin to think about the content, says in and of itself: we are people who live at the interface between God’s world and the life of this present world. We are people who belong in that uncomfortable borderland. We are called to stay at this post even when we have no idea what’s actually going on. ~ N.T. Wright, After You Believe
Remaining at our post even when we have no idea what’s actually going on takes humility and patience. It takes faith and hope. It takes the living out of virtue, as I discussed recently.
Yet doing this, remaining at our post, continuing to pray even when you don’t understand how any of it works or what on earth you are supposed to say, trains our hearts.
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Even if we gain no clarity at all, our hearts are being trained in humility and patience, in faith and hope.
Prayer changes us. It is a piece of what transforms us into the people God created us to be.
Prayer is one of the disciplines which, when practiced regularly both in public and in private, builds our character, habit by habit and virtue by virtue, into the royal priesthood through which God will restore the world.
But it means that we come to prayer knowing that we’re to reinforce the heart habits that make us, by second nature, who we are. And we rise from prayer with the heart formed that bit more securely in its settled second nature of trust and obedience. ~ N.T. Wright, After You Believe

 

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How We Can Live the Kingdom of God Right Now

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The in-between is hard.
This time and space between our first step towards Jesus and coming face-to-face with Him is difficult and often confusing.
Following Jesus
Do we buckle down and learn to follow all the rules?
Do we throw rule-following to the wind and learn to live authentically?
Following Jesus
How in the world, how in this very world, are we supposed to live out this God life?
Jesus speaks often of the Kingdom of God. It is coming, it is near, it is breaking through.
The Kingdom of God is His rule, His will being done here on earth as it is in heaven.
He taught us to pray for this to happen.
Now.
Praying for the Kingdom of God
Paul speaks of living now as though we were already perfected. One habit leads to another which leads to another which suddenly leads to hope and love breaking through into our world.
Perhaps it is a little of both the rule-following and the living authentically.
When we try to obey God’s beautiful law, His law which shows us how life works best, we slowly become the sort of person who naturally and authentically follows after God.
It takes work, it takes choice by painful choice to build these habits, but the more work you put in, the more natural it becomes.
Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. ~ C. S. Lewis
Living in the Kingdom of God
It is as though we are planning to move to a distant country and are trying to learn the language of that country before we go. It takes work to learn a language, but the more we work at it and the longer we practice, the more that language becomes a part of us.
After awhile, we begin to think in this new language; even, perhaps, to dream in it. If we work steadily on, when we finally move to our new home we may even be mistaken for a native.
Isn’t that our ultimate goal, our telos? To be mistaken for a native of the Kingdom of God?
Suddenly, after years of following the rules, we find that the character of Jesus is becoming authentically our own character. When we do the work, with the power of the Holy Spirit inside of us, we find that love and peace and patience are becoming our natural response.
We also find that as we become more like a native of God’s Kingdom, we are bringing pieces of God’s Kingdom to rest all around us.
We are doing the work that allows God’s Kingdom to break through to our homes, to our workplaces, to our churches, to our relationships.
And so we find that at the same moment we have been praying Christ’s prayer of Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, the Spirit has been working within our very selves to transform us into the answer to that prayer.
God’s ways are as beautiful as they are mysterious.
It is an astounding idea that He would allow a partnership between these frail jars of clay and the Holy Spirit’s death-defeating power.
Yet He does allow it, even command it.
Through us, through our weak and cracked selves, the Kingdom of God is breaking through to heal and restore our broken world.
Let us continue our labor to obey God’s law, to choose His habits, to learn His language,
so that one day we might be mistaken for a native of His kingdom.

Hold Fast to your Ideals

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Intentional parenting is exhausting.
Parenting
I am not a mommy blogger, nor am I a homeschool blogger. Being a homeschooling mommy, however, is a very large piece of my life right now, and every once in a while I need to speak of these things.
Homeschooling
We are at the end of a school year, and I am worn out.
I have been weary and have thus become lax in my parenting.
parenting is hard
I have let behaviors slide that should have been corrected. I have allowed books and shows into our home that sabatoge the lessons of character I want to teach my children. I have not been as intentional about filling our home with Jesus.
parenting is exhausting
This past weekend, my husband and I went to a homeschool conference. Along with the practical helps and the curriculum browsing, I found my vision again.
We all have ideals for our homes. Whether you homeschool or not, whether you have children or not, whether you are married or not, you have a vision for what you want your home to be.
ideals
I have become lazy in reaching for my ideals. There’s not really a way to soften it, although I would love to make excuses for myself.
I was negligent, and especially when it is children’s lives and souls that are at stake, negligence should never be an option.
If negligence is not an option, I must instead find my resolve. I must find the resolve to hold fast to my vision for homeschooling, for parenting, for shaping my home into a small piece of God’s kingdom here on earth.
A lofty goal? Yes, but one toward which I believe God calls all of us to reach.
vision
I am painfully aware that I will never attain this ideal.
I am joyfully aware that God has promised Himself, His Spirit’s help in bringing His kingdom into my home.
God has already won, His kingdom is steadily coming, even while I am still waiting for change to occur.
He has promised that if I will continue to be faithful, He will continue to help me. Even when my children have forgotten everything I’ve ever taught them, even when I yell at them once again, He is with me. He has never failed me.
I must simply take a deep breath
whisper a prayer for forgiveness
a prayer for help
and try again.
Try again to reach for perfection
to reach for Jesus.
I find that He is already here.

Pay Attention

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Tell us of God.
Look at the lilies of the field. Watch the birds of the air.
Show us what God is like.
Once there were women kneading yeast into their bread.
We want to know about God.
There were these workers, see, who were lining up for their pay at the end of the day, and some had worked all day while others had been there only an hour.
What does God want from us?
Once upon a time, there was a businessman who had been dishonest with his boss and was about to lose his job, so he called in all of his master’s debtors.
We want to see God.
Pay attention to the sparrow that falls to the ground.
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When people ask to know more about God, the Son of God answers by telling them to pay attention to the world all around.
There is nothing that is separate from God. Nothing that can be deemed secular. Nothing of which could be said, That has nothing to do with Him.
We can learn as much about God by paying attention to the world around us as we can by reading Scripture.
The Holy Spirit within us whispers that both are created by the Word and speak of the Father.
Pay attention!
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Scripture speaks of truth and truth is what happens in our world.
Even when what happens is not right and good, it speaks of God.
People can learn as much about the ways of God from business deals gone bad or sparrows falling to the ground as they can from…knowing the Ten Commandments by heart. ~ Barbara Brown Taylor in An Altar in the World
What happens in our world is truth and Jesus is truth and if we want to know God we only have to look around to see Him.
Pay attention.

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This Beautiful Ordinary

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Ordinary.
Shoes
Is there such a thing?
I’m tempted to think so.
In the midst of the dishes and laundry and cleaning toilets, snotty noses and bedtime stories, the routine can seem mundane, dull…
Ordinary.
Until I really look. Until I really stop. Until I really see what is around me.
Nothing is ordinary.
Messy kitchen
Those dishes mean a miracle of earth producing food that can be purchased and eaten at our table.
Laundry
That laundry means a miracle of cotton growing from the ground and being woven into fabric that keeps our bodies warm in this cold winter.
Toilet
This filthy toilet means an act of service, a deliberate dying to myself in a beautiful sacrifice for my family.
Sad baby
Those snotty noses mean a miracle of beautiful, sturdy bodies that are growing so very quickly.
Bedtime story
These bedtime stories mean a miracle of imagination, of minds that eagerly search for and grasp new meanings and ideas every day.
These very things that seem so ordinary are the very fabric of the miracle that is my life.
The Christian faith does not simply, or even mainly, propose a few additional facts about the world.  Rather, belief in the Christian God invites a new way to understand everything. ~ Andrew Davison in Imaginative Apologetics
Because all is created, because all is love, than nothing is ordinary. Everything is sacred.
I cannot separate my life into ordinary parts and miraculous parts, into secular parts and sacred parts.
Without Christ, nothing was made that has been made. In Christ, all things hold together.
No matter what surrounds you, it is not ordinary, it is not solely of this world.
No matter how tempted I am to name something as mundane, as secular, it is not so.
Nothing that God has created is ordinary.
New Family
All is miracle. All is sacred.
There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred, and that is one of the deepest messages of the Incarnation. ~ Madeleine L’Engle in Walking on Water

edited from the archives

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When You Cannot Believe or Feel or Care

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Suffering is not always great pain.
Sometimes suffering is a great numbness.
A deep loneliness or a fog of discontent.
A feeling that you are not doing much with your life or a lack of emotion in general.
Suffering is sometimes an absence of the felt presence of God.
My God
My God, my God!
A cry of despair toward a seemingly empty heaven.
An emotion of not-caring which you feel should be frightening but is not.
Sometimes this is the cross we are asked to bear.
It is not as flashy or book-worthy, yet is just as real.
Just as difficult.
If this is you, may I believe for you until you can believe again?
God is here.
He is with you, even in the cloud.
Presence in the Cloud
He is with you, even in the dark.
Presence in the Dark
Even when you cannot feel Him, when you cannot believe,
even when you cannot care,
just do the next right thing.
Behave as though you feel, believe, care.
I believe, I know.
He is here.
Even in the dark.
He is with you
Perhaps especially in the dark.
He is with you.
And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
No matter how long you must continue to live this suffering that is your cross.
So He has promised.
So it shall be.
So take courage and keep walking.
He is with you.
Always.

Art credits: Moses in the cloud from a Bible primer by Hult, Adolf, 1869-1943; Augustana synod.; all other photographs copyright by Made Sacred, 2017.

The Danger of Obedience

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I am a lover of rules.
I have a deep belief that most rules were created to keep me safe. I cling to safety and I enjoy comfort, thus I comply with the rules.
Moses Tissot
There is an expectation when we follow rules that our obedience will bring about a desired result. When we obey the rules, we feel entitled to a certain outcome.
We have often, I fear, misunderstood the promised outcome of submitting to Jesus.
As did His disciples.
They had just seen Jesus feed the five thousand when He made them get into a boat and cross the lake while He stole some much needed alone time with His Father.
Storm Clouds
While they were crossing the lake, a storm came up. One of those storms that tends to sweep across the Sea of Galilee, swamping and overturning all boats in its path.
And the disciples were caught right in the middle of it. They clung to their boat for dear life, crying out with fear in a danger that was the direct result of their obedience to Jesus.
Storms
Has this happened to you? If not yet, as you continue to obey Jesus it is bound to happen sometime.
Whether it is physical danger or a danger of a different sort, submission to Jesus does not guarantee safety.
Quite the opposite, actually. Obedience to Jesus often brings trouble down on our heads.
Yet it also brings peace beyond understanding and joy that is made complete.
Most precious of all, surrender brings us the presence of Jesus Himself.
Jesus walks on the sea
Jesus came down from the mountaintop, walked out on the water, strode into the storm,
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and stepped into the boat with the disciples.
And immediately there was calm.
Obedience does not bring safety and it does not bring comfort.
Obedience does, however, bring the presence of God Almighty Himself.
It is worth every dangerous moment.

Art Credits: Moses and the Ten Commandments by James Tissot; storm photos by Kirk SewellJesus Walks on the Sea by Gustave Dore; Christ Walking on the Water by Julius Sergius Von Klever

The Girl Whom Jesus Loved

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Who are you?
How do you see yourself?
Are you parent, child, sibling, aunt? Are you friend, lover, loner, partier? What about artist, engineer, plumber, teacher?
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There once was a man. A pastor and author, one of the main leaders of the Church as it existed then, an eyewitness to Jesus’ miracles. He had a lot going for him.
How did he see himself? What was his self-given identity?
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The disciple whom Jesus loved.
That’s it.
No leaning on his accolades, no referencing his great accomplishments (and he had quite the list of them!), no resting on whom he knew, only falling upon what Jesus thought of him.
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The other day, one of my daughters came into my bedroom while I was getting dressed for the day. She looked at me for a bit, then asked me why my stomach hung down all funny and whether I wished it wouldn’t.
I don’t always handle these sorts of things this well, and it took every ounce of self control not to cover up, hide, start mumbling excuses about how I know I need to eat fewer pieces of dark chocolate but YOU KIDS drive me to it…
Instead, I knelt down, looked her in the eye and told her that no, I didn’t wish my body was different. I told her that I knew my body was beautiful because God made it. I told her that my body had grown four human beings inside of it and that made it a little stretchy but that I wouldn’t change it if I could because if my stomach wasn’t stretchy, I wouldn’t have four beautiful girls in my life now.
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I told her that I was beautiful because God loves me.
She’s only six, so she may not understand just yet, but I want desperately for her and her sisters to only see themselves as one whom Jesus loves. Whether she is looking at her body or her intelligence or her talents, I want her to only see one whom Jesus loves.
I want desperately to be like John.
Every time John refers to himself in his gospel, he calls himself the disciple whom Jesus loved. Nothing else. He does not identify himself by his name or what he did. Only by how Jesus saw him.
When I get to the end of my life, when I look back on all I have seen, all I have done, and all I am, all I want to see is Jesus.
All I want to be is the girl whom Jesus loved.

Art credit: photo of statue of St. John the Evangelist by John Stephen Dwyer; detail from fresco of Jesus Christ and St. John the Apostle from Ubisi, Georgia

Who Am I?

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I recently stopped nursing our last little one, and it was harder on my emotions than I expected.
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I expected that I would be grateful to have a little extra freedom. I expected that I would be glad to hand over some of the nighttime routine to my husband. I expected that I would be happy to have my body belong only to me again.
I did feel all of those, but only a little.
Overwhelmingly, rather, was a sense of loss. A loss of part of myself, of who I am.
It took me by surprise until I realized that for over nine years I have been either pregnant or nursing. No breaks at all.
Of course that would become a major part of my identity! Nine years is a long time. Almost a decade of being identified as a pregnant or nursing mommy is certainly enough to cement that into who I am as a person.
All of those big emotions (and I am normally not an overly emotional sort of person) made me pause and think hard about who I think I am compared to who I want to be.
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As a mom of four children, eight years and younger, it is so easy for that one piece of me to become my entire identity. I’m a mom. It’s what I do twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Even when I am away from my babies, my thoughts are still full of them.
Yet I recognize that I must be careful. Of course being a mom is and always will be a large part of who I am, but I need to guard carefully against it becoming all that I am.
Someday, after all, these babies will not be babies anymore, and being a mom will not fill up quite so much of my time. Or my house.
I must be careful to keep my heart close to God, to make sure that my primary identity is as His child. He is, ultimately, the most important piece of me, the One who is with me always.
I must take care to remain close to my husband. He will, Lord willing, be my dearest companion still when the children have homes of their own.
I must be mindful of my own self. I need to continue reading, continue learning, continue making my art, continue cultivating deep friendships.
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I believe wholeheartedly that if I lose myself in my children, I and they will be the poorer for it.
Yet that piece of who I am is so consuming that I cannot just drift along and expect to hold on to the rest of my self.
I must be deliberate about caring for the other pieces of me. The more I cultivate all of the fragments of me, the richer and deeper the whole of them will become.
Those of you with children, what do you do, or for those whose children are older, what have you done to keep yourself from getting lost in your identity as a parent? I am still a mother of little ones, and I need your ideas.
I don’t often write about parenting issues, but I supposed that this particular struggle was one that was common to many. I pray that my written thoughts will spark your own heart-searching.
Peace.