Hope for this Hard Season

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Sometimes you live in a season of hard.
season of hard
season of gray
Weeks, or months, or sometimes years of walking through a gray kind of life.
Sometimes it is living through a crisis.
Cancer. Grief. Debt.
Sometimes it is simply day by day trudging through a wearying routine.
Loneliness. Parenting. Career.
hard life
You know that you cannot do this life on your own.
At least, that you cannot do it well on your own.
You pray for the Holy Spirit to help.
You plead for God to change your heart and produce fruit in your life.
You confess that you cannot do anything without Him.
Yet you do not become more gentle. You do not become more loving. You do not become more self-controlled.
hard events
You fast in appeal for a transformed heart.
You search the Word for guidance.
You beseech the Spirit for wisdom and discernment.
Yet you gain no understanding. You acquire no flashes of insight. You feel just as lost as before.
hard path
Sometimes you cry out to God in the middle of your season of hard.
Sometimes you cry out at God.
Sometimes you cry and shout in helpless anger.
I know that I cannot do this on my own, but I feel like I have to do it by myself. You promised to help me. You promised that Your Spirit would be in me, giving me the strength and power to do what I cannot do on my own. You are not keeping Your promises. I am trying so hard, and I cannot do it. I pray and I beg and I fast but You are still silent. This is not easy and Your burden is not light. I confess that I need You and You don’t seem to be with me.
hard moment
Sometimes, perhaps not very often, but sometimes God answers your cry.
Perhaps it is a phone call
or a card
or a text.
God brought you to mind and I prayed for you.
I specifically prayed for you in…
I feel prompted to share this verse with you.
God breathes hope
Sometimes God breathes a little hope in your direction.
Nothing changes.
Everything changes.
Perhaps not very often, yet perhaps it should be more often.
Perhaps we should all listen a little more carefully.
Perhaps we should all leave a little more space for promptings.
Sometimes God might want to breathe a little hope through us for someone else’s hard season.

Art credit: all photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2017

The Mystery of Prayer

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

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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Emmanuel on the Cross

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

The beauty of Lent is the demonstration of God’s presence in all circumstances.
Lent
The beauty of the cross is the proof that God is with us.
cross
Wherever you are, whatever your cross is today, God is with you.
Emmanuel. God with us.
From Advent to Lent, God stepped into His world and submitted to the same rules we must follow.
Whatever the reason we all suffer, whatever the purpose, we cannot say that God did not play fair by asking us to be subject to something He was not willing to experience.
broken
Are you broken? Jesus is broken with you.
Are you lonely? Jesus was despised and rejected by men.
Are you betrayed by your closest loved ones? Jesus, too, was betrayed by those He loved.
Does grief seem your closest and most constant companion? Jesus grieved and wept over those who would not accept Him.
In the words of Corrie ten Boom from the hell of a Nazi concentration camp: No matter how deep our darkness, he is deeper still.
deeper
When it feels as though life is beating you into the ground, when the weight of your burden does not allow you to rise from your bed in the morning, when you cannot carry your cross for one more step, you can know that He is here with you, carrying your cross with you, taking your burden on Himself.
Every tear we shed becomes His tear. He may not yet wipe them away, but He makes them His. Would we rather have our own dry eyes, or His tear-filled ones?
He came to us. He is here with us. We can be certain of Emmanuel in all circumstances.
If He does not heal all our broken bones and loves and lives now, He comes into them and is broken, like bread, and we are nourished.
Emmanuel
Be nourished by the bread of life and know that He is with you.
Peace to you.

Final two quotes and many of the thoughts in this post are by Peter Kreeft in Bread and Wine

All photographs are copyrighted by Made Sacred, 2017.

Finding the And

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

What is this proclivity of ours to divide ourselves? What is this propensity to force a choice, to say it must be either-or rather than and?
Reading Others
The more I read and listen to church leaders in other countries, in other faith traditions, in other times, the more I see our especially American tendency to eschew the middle of a continuum for the outer reaches.
We do this in religion and we do this in politics. Fundamentalism vs Liberalism. Republican vs Democrat. Often we confuse the whole thing completely and mix both religion and politics all up together in an inseparable soup of extremes.
Why can’t it be and?
Why can’t some of what fundamentalists teach and some of what liberals teach both be true? Is there truly no middle ground, no and?
N. T. Wright
N.T. Wright, a bishop in the Church of England and a respected theologian/historian who specializes in studying and writing about Jesus and 1st century Judaism and Christianity, spoke at a conference in America of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.
Eucharist
Wright described how the Roman Catholic church made the Lord’s Supper more and more mystical and ritual, almost turning it into something magical that had to be done with just exactly the proper rites in order for the bread and wine to become body and blood, and how the Protestant church reacted so strongly against this that they turned the Lord’s Supper into merely a symbol, a sign of something that happened a long time ago and nothing more.
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Wright suggested that perhaps it is both. Perhaps instead of either the Catholic view or the Protestant view, it is and.
The Lord’s Supper, as Jesus gave it to the disciples and instructed them to continue to practice it, was simple. There was no formula that had to be done in order to make it work correctly. Yet it also was  more than a symbol.
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In some mysterious way, when we take the bread and the wine, we are taking into ourselves the body and blood of the risen Jesus. We are taking into ourselves the presence of the living Lord which then gives us the power and strength we need to go out into our community and meet the needs of those around us.
This view harmonizes with the other things that Jesus did and said, such as his imagery of the vine and the branches, saying that we must abide in Him and He must abide in us, otherwise we can do nothing (John 15).
Of course, God can find other ways of giving us the power we need to bring His kingdom here on earth, but this is the primary, continuous way that Jesus gave us.
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If we open our hearts and minds, there are so many more and‘s to be found. There are many more ways in which the theology insisted upon by fundamentalism and the social justice insisted upon by liberalism are essential to each other rather than pressed up hard against one another.
If we find them, perhaps we can move one more step closer to the unity that Jesus prayed for us to have.
If we can only seek out the and.

 

Art credits: Eucharist relief; Catholic EucharistProtestant Eucharist; Eucharist tapestry; Eucharist in Prayer Book

An Unexpected Pause

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Made Sacred must go on hiatus.

I hope you will wait for me.

I understand if you will not.

Winner!

PresenceofGod
The winner of The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence is Andy Dunham! Congratulations!
Thank you all for sharing and subscribing. Look for the next giveaway on Friday (which you can still enter even if you’ve already subscribed and followed), when I also share some of my purpose behind writing this book.
A hint about the next giveaway…something to adorn your home…
Peace,
Elizabeth

Seeking God’s Will

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

Lord, Have Mercy

 

Lord, Have Mercy

a spoken word poem
(for email subscribers, click here to listen to the audio of this post)
(it’s better heard than read)

 

Lord, have mercy
Again I am trying
And again I am failing.
I preach ways of love
Yet all the time I am flailing.
I yell and I threaten,
My daughters are quailing.
I blame all but me:
The crankiness of these
You gave me, my own lack of sleep.
I cast stones away Yet from Thee
I can’t flee.
Into Thy hands
My heart, it won’t change,
My faults stay the same,
My thoughts won’t rearrange,
My emotions I can’t exchange.
You alone can make me new,
You alone can cleanse me all through.
If You want my heart to resemble You,
Only Your hand will do.
Thee I adore
Out of Your amazing grace,
You are willing to give chase
And work to mold me into one
You are proud to call a son.
You give me life
and joy in my strife.
You are beauty, You are art
You are holy, set apart.
You are worthy of all praise.
Your glory is set ablaze
Like the fire of sun’s rays.
To You no face is raised
And all heaven and earth obeys
You, the Ancient of Days.
Amen

What Hope Changes

Hope.
Tulips
It changes nothing.  It changes everything.
How do you endure?  When everything around you is falling apart, when all that you love on this earth fails you, how do you keep going?
It happens to all of us.  At some point in our lives, whether early in life or late, we sit in stunned silence while our world crumbles.
Pummeled
What do we do?  What do we do when we or one we love is living in the middle of unimaginable pain?  What is it that keeps us going, that lets us perservere?
Hope.
It changes nothing.  It changes everything.
Hope doesn’t heal the sick or take away the pain.  It doesn’t fill the stomach or bring your loved one back.
Focused on Death
It changes nothing.
Hope gives you a glory-full vision of the end of your story.  It gives you a glimpse of the beauty, the joy, the perfection that is promised.
Focused on Hope
It changes everything.
When you know the end of the story, when you know that Christ wins and that we will be with Him forever, it gives us the power to bear anything.  Anything.  When you can see the end of fear, the end of despair, the end of pain, when you can see the adventure, the rest, the wholeness that waits for you, you are sustained in the now because you know that this, too, shall pass.
So hope.  Hope in what is promised.  Hope in what God has promised through the power of the resurrected Christ.
For you who have just received that 3 a.m. phone call, you who walk dazed from your doctor’s office, you who saw your child drift away, you who wish desperately for a child, you who sit weeping in a corner, who think that you will always be alone and unloved, for all of you who live in darkness and doubt…
Broken
there is hope.  Beautiful, glorious, resurrection hope.  So breathe deep of this hope.  Let it fill you up with peace and joy so that you are able to endure all things.  For He who is our hope is coming.
Hope
It is promised.  It shall be so.

Art credit: last photograph by R.K. Sewell Photography (photographybysewell.webs.com)

Psalm of Love

Holy. Beautiful. Glory.
Creator. Author. Majesty.
King and Lord. Humility and Servant.
Love.
Wise beyond my wisdom.
Knowing beyond my knowledge.
Perfect plan beyond what I can comprehend.
Love.
Giver of all that I grasp too tightly.
Sacrificer of all, that I may see Your face.
 Abundant mercy and grace, I rest in your delight in me.
 
 Love.
 
For all that comes before,
 
 When I cannot understand,
 
 Still I will cling to Your power, Your goodness and
 
 Your Love.