Enjoying the Journey

I’m writing a novel, and I can’t wait until I can hold a first copy of it in my hands, gaze upon the cover, flip through the chapters, smell the aroma of the freshly printed pages, and gaze at it again. There are months of work leading up to that moment, hard work of writing and rewriting.

In the middle of this process, I’m having to remind myself that I also enjoy the creative process of dreaming up a story and making it come to life by putting words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, and paragraphs into chapters. I need to enjoy writing, not just having written! I need to enjoy the journey of writing.

The same principle holds true for other endeavors, such as gardening. We plant flower seeds and can’t wait until we have flowers that look like the picture on the package. We plant vegetable seeds and impatiently anticipate the time when we can taste the fruit of the planting.

There is, of course, no getting around the putting in of time and the putting forth of effort between the planting of the seed and the enjoyment of the view of the flower blossom or the taste of the vegetable. The plants need weeding, watering, pest control, staking, or whatever. This process is called gardening, and a true gardener enjoys the gardening, not just the rewards from the garden.

The principle of enjoying the journey has countless applications other than writing and gardening. Whenever we envision a goal of what we’d like to see accomplished there’s a process involved in getting there. It might be a goal of acquiring a certain amount of education, landing a better job, getting healthier, finishing a certain home improvement project, overcoming a personal struggle, and we could go on and on with other applications.

God has placed His call upon each of us. Yes, part of that call involves accomplishing what He’s called us to do, but another major part of His calling is how we live during the journey of getting there. Life is much like a long walk; it’s less about reaching a destination and more about enjoying the walk.

What we’re attempting to accomplish is going to involve a significant amount of time and effort. The actual achievement of these goals are momentary experiences spread out over considerable expanses of time. Most of life is lived between the achievement of goals, large gaps of time filled with major significant effort. That’s why we need to enjoy the journey!

“Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, Lord.” Psalm 89:15

Light Through a “Clean” Window

The sun-illuminated window referenced below
with all of its streaks, smears, and smudges.

I cleaned the sliding glass door in our home. I did the best I could, I really did. After the cleaning I inspected it carefully from the outside. There were still some streaks. Wipe, wipe, wipe, and they were gone. I inspected it from the inside. Oops! Some more stubborn streaks and smudges remained. Wipe, wipe, wipe. I found a spot that was resistant to my elbow grease. It was on the other side of the glass! Back to the outside I went. Eventually it passed my inspection.

The sliding glass door faces east, so the next morning the sun’s rays came shining through revealing all kinds of heretofore unnoticed streaks, smears, and smudges. Ugh!

Light has a way of doing that, exposing what had been hidden. Not surprising, then, that light is an important subject in the Bible. Jesus called Himself the light of the world. The Bible talks about those in darkness who have seen a great light. People who awaken spiritually are often said to have “seen the light.”

Those of us who have committed ourselves to being followers of Jesus, the Light of the world as He referred to Himself, find He has two opposite effects on us. On the one hand, He brightens up life, brings joy, and illuminates with insight and truth for us. On the other hand, like the light shining through the window, He exposes our imperfections, what the Bible calls sin; some of that insight and truth I just mentioned, particularly about ourselves, isn’t always pleasant to see. But it’s good that we see it!

Ironically, the more we grow in our relationship to our holy God the more we have a growing awareness that we’re not very holy ourselves! The Christian writer of more than a century ago, J. C. Ryle, wrote, “The most eminent saints of God in every age have always been the very last to lay claim to it [of being saints]! On the contrary, they have always had the deepest sense of their own utter unworthiness and imperfection. The more spiritual light they have enjoyed, they have seen their own countless defects and shortcomings.”

That may seem depressing, but it’s really not! Our growing awareness of how far we fall short allows us to have a growing experience of God’s grace and mercy! This in turn results in an authentic humility before God and around others; this is good!

Another benefit of exposure to the Ultimate Light is that we see where we need to still change to be more the person God has designed us to be! This too is good!

On that morning when I stood back and gazed at the sun-illuminated window, with all of its streaks, smears, and smudges, it got me to thinking about what I’ve just shared with you. I thought it would be good if you thought about it too, because it’s all good!

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

Well of the Heart — A Faith Fable

Max, his wife Izzy, and their son, seven-year-old Theodore, lived in a cabin nestled in rolling hills among a stand of pines. Their large garden and small fields provided most of their food, including feed for their milk cow, several pigs, and a flock of chickens. Fresh, drinkable water came from a deep well, protected by a round rim of rock. The well was covered with a small roof from which hung a pulley and rope with a bucket attached to the rope by which they drew water.

For several days the water from the well had tasted foul, possessed a slight odor, and was cloudy rather than crystal clear. Max had a theory as to why their water had turned bad.

One evening he discreetly followed his son Theodore as he headed down the path from the house with the daily pail of table scraps and other garbage. It was his job every evening to serve the contents of the pail to the pigs. The pig pen’s location was quite a distance down a steep path, thus preventing the odor of the pen from reaching the family’s cabin. The last few days Max had noted that it had taken his son less time than usual for him to make the round trip with the pail.

Max, staying a distance behind Theodore, watched as the boy approached the well on his way to the pig pen. Instead of passing the well the boy stopped and tossed the garbage from the pail down the well, turned, and started back toward the cabin.

His father stepped out from behind a tree, startling his son. “Why did you throw the garbage down the well?” the father asked.

Theodore, red-faced with embarrassment and hanging his head in shame, mumbled, “Because it’s so far to the pig pen. It was easier to toss it down the well.”

“How long have you been doing this?” the father asked.

“A few days,” the son replied.

“We drink from that well,” the father explained. “You can’t put garbage down the well and then expect to get fresh water from the well.”

Theodore nodded his understanding. “I’ll never do it again,” he said.

After the passing of much time, the well once again produced fresh clean water.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Proverbs 4:23

A Fresh Path to Prayer

A fresh view when I took a different path.

We’re such creatures of habit. For instance, we usually take the same route when we go from point A to point B. I do this when I take my morning walk. Occasionally I reverse the route; it’s amazing how you see things differently when you approach everything from the opposite direction! Why I got in the habit of going clockwise instead of counterclockwise is beyond me. Then, too, I’ve decided to sometimes alter part of the route, walking a way I haven’t taken for awhile.

These morning walks are when I pray. My praying can be as routine as the route I take! I can catch myself praying familiar words and phrases while thinking of things far removed. It’s multitasking at its worst! Mindless praying is a first cousin to heartless praying, and both are relatively easy to fall into.

Physically changing my walking habits while I pray helps prompt a refocusing of my praying, making it more fresh. You may not pray while you walk, but no matter how we pray, when we pray, or where we pray, it can become routine, easily becoming a rut. How can we take a fresh approach to praying?

There are undoubtedly countless ways to put new life into praying. It just takes a bit of creative thinking and intentional application. If we only pray in short, quick, sentence prayers when we’re troubled or in trouble, then maybe scheduling a few minutes to talk to God each day would be a good first step, making an appointment with Him. If we pray regularly in a certain location, perhaps it can help to change location, at least once in awhile. If we pray through a regular list of requests, maybe telling God “ditto” on the regular requests and moving on to something we don’t usually cover could be refreshing on occasion. It can be helpful to focus on giving thanks during a particular quiet time with God. It can also be good to praise God for who He is, not just thank Him for what He’s done; any relationship is helped when affirming who the person is to us and not just what they do for us. If we get distracted while praying, then talk to God about the distraction; it’s obviously on our mind and He wants us to bring to Him that which is on our mind. These are just some suggestions.

Prayer shouldn’t be routine or boring. After all, we’re communicating with the Creator/Sustainer God of this vast universe! He can name every one of the hundred billion stars in each of the hundred billion galaxies. He tracks every subatomic particle in every piece of matter in the universe. So He certainly has no problem singling each of us out and lovingly giving us His full attention! He’s willing to listen; are we willing to talk? Let’s climb out of our religious rut and seek a new path of prayer!

‘”For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.'” Jeremiah 29:11-13

First Chair

The actual concert referred to in this post.

A few months ago Diann and I attended an orchestra concert in which the child of some friends was playing. Once the orchestra was seated the first chair violinist, the concertmaster, came out to the applause of the audience. The first chair violinist then played notes on her violin to which the rest of the orchestra tuned their instruments. She was clearly in view for all of this, for she sat to the left of the conductor and closest to the audience.

Some time after the concert I did some research and discovered that the first chair violinist often communicates instructions from the conductor to the string section, translating into what it means for them. The first chair violinist is the go-between, the conduit, between the director and the orchestra.

I have this life-long habit of finding spiritual metaphors and analogies at every turn. It’s not surprising I found such at the concert.

It’s not easy trying to grasp who Jesus is, and that’s why Jesus is given many names in the Bible to help us understand Him better. He’s called the Good Shepherd, Living Water, the Bread of Life, the Rock and many more titles. If they would have had orchestras in Jesus’ time I’m thinking the Bible would also have referred to Him as The First Chair.

Jesus made it clear on several occasions that He was here on earth to carry out God the Father’s will and purposes. Jesus said He wasn’t teaching and doing what He wanted to teach and do but what the Heavenly Father wanted Him to teach and do. Yes, it sounds to me like God the Father is the Conductor and Jesus is The First Chair.

That makes those of us who are followers of Jesus part of the orchestra. We’re all different, like the musicians in an orchestra with their different talents, training, and instruments. God has orchestrated things in such a way that we’re to take our very different talents, training, and the unique instrument of God’s that we are and play the same great piece of music for our Divine Conductor. And that piece of music? Well, it could go by the name “Unfolding God’s Wonderful Will” or something like that. We play our lives well by tuning them to The First Chair and following the directing of The Conductor!

Jesus said to His disciples, “… for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” John15:15b

Party Guests of All Kinds — A Faith Fable

Harrison Banister threw a birthday party for himself. He was a businessman of some renown, influence, and wealth, though unconventional and peculiar in many ways. Each invited guest was not surprised, therefore, that the requested unconventional wardrobe for the party was a gold graduation robe that each received several days before the party from Mr. Banister. The printed invitations included the peculiar instructions that conversation at the party was to be limited to asking and answering each other the three printed questions that came with the invitation.

“What was a happy time for you growing up?” “What was a difficult part of growing up for you? “What is most important in life to you now?”

As the guests arrived they were greeted by Harrison Banister who encouraged them to mingle. So they mingled, flowing about in their gold robes, asking and answering each other the three questions. The guests continued the exchange of questions and answers as they ate dinner and birthday cake.

After a few party games Harrison Banister said, “As you quickly discovered, you didn’t know anyone else at the party other than me. Each of you has a unique connection to me and each of you is important to me in a special way. One of you is my banker, another of you is my barber. A cashier from the grocery store is here, so is a barista from the coffee shop I frequent. One of my golfing buddies from the club is present. The guy who shines my shoes every Monday down the street from my company headquarters is here as well. The gentleman who picks up my garbage with his automated garbage truck is here, too. One of my vice-presidents of the company is in attendance.

“I hope you all feel that you’ve enjoyed each other’s company this evening. Unfortunately, you’ve been separated from each other by where you live, your educational level, the kind of work you do – professional, tradesman, minimum salary worker or whatever, and your economic level. I’m your common denominator! Each of you is golden to me in your own unique way, hence the gold robes.

“On this my birthday, I wanted to give each of you a birthday gift instead of you gifting me. My gift to you, I hope, has been a deeper awareness that we are all equal as human beings, beloved of God. May you always see the people who happen to be around you, no matter who they are, as golden!”

Everyone applauded Harrison Bannister. All agreed it was the best birthday party they’d ever attended.

“For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile – the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him.” Romans 10:12

That Good Future

The coronavirus has interrupted life as we knew it. Astonishing is a good way to describe how much our own little worlds and the bigger world around us have changed in the last weeks.

Although we’ve always had wars, floods, droughts, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other natural and man-made disasters disrupting life, they have usually been localized. You could always look elsewhere and get a glimpse of normal life. Not this time; the upset to normal life is world-wide.

This world-wide shift of how daily life is lived can help us better understand, and perhaps better accept a teaching of Jesus (and the rest of the New Testament) that the world as we know it won’t always be the world as we know it. I find it interesting that most people, even people who don’t claim to be Christian, believe that what Jesus taught was good and was true, and should be believed and followed. Well, Jesus taught that He is returning to our world some day and that He will stop history as we know it. He taught that everything is going to be made new and that those who want to be with Him can enjoy this new heaven and a new earth someday.

Generally, people have found such talk as rather bizarre. The world has always kept spinning, and we keep doing our thing day after day: working, going here and there and back again, entertaining ourselves, marrying, giving birth, building buildings, having parties, etc, etc. But the coronavirus pandemic has interrupted much of this. World-wide disruption of life as we know it is now believable because it’s happened! This experience can make more believable the teachings of Jesus that God has plans to change things dramatically in the future for our world.

This is good news, that God plans to end history as we know it and make all things new. It gives us ultimate hope, that someday we’ll be done with pain and suffering, illness and death, hurting human relationships and hatred.

The way we can prepare ourselves for this eventuality that Jesus taught is NOT by stocking up on toilet paper! The prep for this astonishing transformation of all things is to align ourselves with Him in yielding our lives and will over to Him, to live now for Him.

We may wonder if we’re good enough to be accepted by Him and to be included in His plans. Not to worry; He’s a God full of grace and mercy and has provided a way to have all that’s wrong with us forgiven. This is why Jesus came to earth the first time, to be our Saving One, our Savior. Accept Him for who He is and you’re good to go, good to go into that good future when He comes back a second time!

Jesus said, “At that time people will see the Son of Man [Jesus’ favorite name for Himself] coming in clouds with great power and glory.” (Mark 13:26)

The Unknown Future

My wife Diann gave me the idea for the following reflection concerning the pandemic of the coronavirus and how it’s changed how we view the future. I want to give her credit because I’m “staying home” with her, “sheltering-in-place” with her or however you want to put it, and so I DO NOT WANT her to be angry with me!

She was sharing with me how we’ve always known we can’t predict the future and that our plans are always subject to change, but that we’ve never known that to be as true as we do now! So many of our plans, most of our plans, have been dramatically changed because of the pandemic in a way that’s never happened before.

Before the pandemic we gave mental assent and lip service to the fact that the future is unpredictable, but we hadn’t grasped that truth in a heartfelt way as we have in this pandemic of the coronavirus. We planned graduations, weddings, vacations, sports events, and other major life events not giving much thought that we might not be carrying through on those plans.

My mother would often conclude a reference to what she was planning with the phrase “the Lord willing.” Being my mother’s son I have often done the same. From here on out, when I use the phrase, I’m going to be putting more meaning into it!

This new respect for the future’s unpredictable nature puts us in a better position to relate to God in a more appropriate way! God is the one who is ultimately in charge of the future, not us. God is the one who knows the future before it happens, not us. The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” Proverbs 16:9

When we insist that we can manage our future from the present, that we’re in control, we deny God’s sovereign rule. One of the keys to having a healthy, maturing, and deepening relationship with God is to recognize His right to have ultimate control over our life. That not only means yielding to His will and leadership in the present but yielding the future to Him as well! We shouldn’t look for God to bless our plans for the future but look to being blessed by God’s plans for us in the future!

Does this means we give up making plans? Of course not. God’s designed us to be able to think ahead, to plan. It’s just that it’s all subject to His approval!

As we reflect on all the plans that have not turned out the way we planned, we can turn it into a positive. It can deepen our resolve to be ever ready to yield to God’s ways when they are not the same as our ways, to be open to His will always. I don’t know about you, but that wasn’t something I planned on learning at this particular time!

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.'” James 4:13-15

Faith in a Pandemic

Martin Luther painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder in 1529

As we deal with the pandemic of the coronavirus, we can learn much from something the great church reformer Martin Luther wrote over 400 years ago. I first saw this quote in a post on the Rock Point Church (of Schertz, Texas) Facebook page. Their post stated…

“When Martin Luther was dealing with The Black Death (Bubonic Plague, 14th-16th centuries), he wrote these wise words that can help inform the way we approach things happening in our world right now…

‘I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me, and I have done what he has expected of me, and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.’

And so Luther stayed in his hometown of Wittenberg, Germany, along with his pregnant wife. He cared for and ministered to those dying of The Black Death until the plague had passed from his area.

Quote From: Luther’s Works Volume 43 pg 132 the letter “Whether one may flee from a Deadly Plague” written to Rev. Dr. John Hess.

I wanted to pass along this Facebook post because Martin Luther’s words are insightful and helpful all these years later! So are the words of the Psalmist with which we close.

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.”  Psalm 91:1-2 & 5-6

The Pandemic’s “Pause” Button

Remember when we used to go to sports events, movies, restaurants, church activities, social events, school, and work? And how many hours didn’t we spend in going here, there, and back again!

The coronavirus pandemic has pushed the “pause” button on much that made up our busy lives. Most of it was good, and we hope we can get back to it sometime soon. But are there opportunities as we live with the pause button pushed?

Being a person of faith in God, I’ve come to the conclusion, along with multitudes of others, that if God allows something to exist or happen, such as this pandemic, then He has a plan and purpose for it. So, how does He want us to use this pause in our lives?

God’s into pauses. In the seven day week He’s designated we set aside one day a week for rest, the Sabbath it’s called, a day to pause. We’ve not always been very good at following His command on this, one of His Ten Commandments.

With much of life on pause how about asking ourselves, “What’s God trying to tell me through this?” “What lesson or lessons am I to learn?” Our busy lives have kept us from really thinking, we’ve been so caught up in doing. The tyranny of the urgent has often kept us from addressing what’s important. Now that our lives have been put on pause, in one way or another it’s a good opportunity to reflect on what’s really important in life.

We’ll need to resist the temptation to spend time grumbling, we don’t hear much from God when grumbling. Binge watching old TV shows or movies probably isn’t at the top of God’s list of ways to make the most of this time on pause either. Familiar addictions and sins over which we’ve gained ground can slip back when we have additional time on our hands, reinforcing Ben Franklin’s warning that “idle hands are the devil’s playthings.”

This is not a time to find ways to kill time but to find ways to redeem the time! The pause button can prompt us to think, read, act, and pray our way to being a better person, more the person God wants us to be.

In spite of the need for social distancing we can find creative ways to nurture closer and deeper relationships with each other. We can rediscover that being is more important than doing, resting is better than rushing, and affirming others better than self-achievement! We can move God from the periphery of our busy life to the center of our quieted soul.

Ironically, even though life is currently on pause for many of us, it’s possible we can later arrive at a place where we discover we’ve fast forwarded in important areas of our life! How about we pause and think about that?

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” Isaiah 30:15