“Let Him (or her) who has ears to hear, hear.”
I would get finished reading about and liking pictures of another ministry that I completely adore and wish I could support more than just through prayer, I’d push the button to turn my screen black, and then pray once more that God would give me such a passion for the gifts – the life, relationships, and responsibilities – that He’d placed right before me right now. I wanted to love where I was at and the people I was with more than I wanted to jump on a plane and walk down others’ roads, but that was just it…I was still wanting it. I was ready to push past the wanting and start the taking hold of and having. (And of course I loved the people here, but you can live a whole lifetime just halfway there.)
“Let Him (or her) who has ears to hear, hear.”
So around January first, I opened up The Word and began wondering which sections I would hide in my heart this year. I landed in a place I’d been hovering around for a few years. The letter to the Philippians has always been one of my favorites. One of the reasons is because of chapter one verse 21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Awhile back when this girl was youth group age, ahem…, that was the theme for one of the conferences or camps I was a part of. We even had t-shirts about it. I remembered that verse because I think at the time I was also reading DC Talk’s Jesus Freaks book all about martyrs. I was all in for Jesus and whatever He asked of me then, and I pretty much expected it would be full of all material discomforts. Bring it on!
How surprised was I that, though there have been lean times in my life, I haven’t come close to the third world “lifestyle” I was expecting. (Not that I really would have handled such a life any better or with any better attitude. I know enough to know that I just…don’t know what would be required of me.) Instead I have had many comforts placed before me and therefore, I’ve been asked to steward this well. To love much here. To “live is Christ.” None of us like thinking of death, but really isn’t death the easier part for the Christian. It happens and in the blink of an eye we’re with Him. (And no, I don’t want to blink just yet.) But, to live – that takes a few more blinks this side of eternity. It isn’t painless, stainless, or shameless. WE WILL FALL AND SOMETIMES CAUSE OTHERS TO FALL. WE WILL BE HURT AND WE WILL HURT. WE WILL WANT AND WE WILL HAVE TO FILL.
Though to live isn’t always roses, there are some good size roses in the bunch. In some seasons they are a pretty big mass and in other seasons all that’s left are the stems and thorns. Want to know the truth? I have a pretty sweet life! I have a husband who is a God follower and desires to lead others to do the same. I have five children (!!!!!) who seem to love to call me mom (at least I assume that’s why I hear that title around a hundred times a day). We have a home that the hubby keeps making more and more wonderful. We have a steady income. We have a church family that loves on us and a team of people that we work with that we actually like (and we hope like us;)). Some days, though, I find I don’t quite know what to do with all this “life.”
It’s kinda like taking this jean wearing, t-shirt and flip-flops sporting southern girl into a very fancy restaurant where you’re expected to know which fork to use at just the right time. I just do not know how to fully function there! (I have been in such atmospheres, and I did dress up because it was the “code,” and as soon as I got home I quickly traded the fancy for the familiar and all felt right again.) It’s the truth – I don’t know how to handle “nicer than I’m used to or expected to have.” I feel like it’s the pretty sitting room that some homes have that no one uses except for special guests. It kinda seems off-limits or out of my league. “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders…” Oh yeah, I guess that doesn’t just mean the dusty places; perhaps it’s also the dusted places.
So, Philippians it was and Philippians it is and Philippians it was supposed to be. Remember, I prayed – I asked; so, since His Voice is still alive and active, He answered. Chapter one verses 8-9 stopped me in my tracks. “I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus, And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more…” I cried out to Father, begging for such an affection and a love. If Paul had it, if the Philippians could have it, then so could I! If Katie could love the poor around her doorstep and Asher could love the feet full of jiggers and Mary Beth could love the orphans in China and Lindsey could love the refugees in Jordan and Skye could love the prostitute on Green Street and Pam could love the Haitian children looking for oreos and Katie and Kristian and Christine could love the girls and boys sold into slavery then I could love the husband I’ve been called to model Christ’s love with and the children I’ve been entrusted to Deuteronomy 6 with and the church family I’ve been led to build up and serve with and the children I’ve been asked to delight in, love on, and share Jesus with on Sundays. Yes, ’cause just like that younger, youthful me, I was still all in for Jesus and whatever He asked of me.
I went on to be reminded in chapter two that Christ, who was God, did not regard Himself in that way but emptied Himself (humbled Himself) and became obedient to the call on His life. He did what was needed. He didn’t wait and take a spiritual gifts test first to see if this was really what God wanted Him to do. He didn’t let His preferences or desires for comfort keep Him from reaching the world with God’s love. He practiced exactly what He preached: “Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added.” His starting point wasn’t Himself – it was The Kingdom. His starting point was the greatest need where He was at. Well, He was on earth among mankind and the greatest need then (and the greatest need now) was for people to come into complete communion with God. So, He would take the Self that He was, with all it’s skills and gifts, and use it with whomever God placed in His path wherever that path was.
Finding out how you’re wired or where you have a passion isn’t wrong nor do I discourage it; actually I encourage it! Finding out who you are in Him will benefit the Kingdom greatly instead of trying to put on someone else’s shoes all the time! (Jesus knew who He was and what He was here for, so it made it easy for Him to be about His Father’s business.) But did you notice what the gifts were meant to be? A benefit for the Church. I know that we as human parents sometimes tell our kids to put certain toys away when company comes over because we deem some things okay not to share, but that’s not the case with the gifts God gives us. Our gifts aren’t meant to make us stingy or self-focused. They are very much meant to remain gifts – which in their very definition means they are to be given…to infinity and beyond, if you will.
And this very “life” that Christ would choose would eventually lead to a death that would claim the knees and tongues of all creation to the glory of God the Father. The same God who so loved the world that He gave up His only son to have it near. It was this joy that was before Christ that motivated Him to live the one human life He had here on earth – the joy of the glory of God the Father and the joy of having His children with Him forever. It makes me ponder what my motivations are in life. There is nothing wrong with having other motives for life, but the first one, well, Jesus made it easy. He told us what it was to be – the Kingdom, and this priority should infect or affect all the others. Everything we do should somehow be a light that guides the world’s attentions and affections straight to the glory of God.
“Let Him (or her) who has ears to hear, hear.”
Just like Christ did it all for the joy set before Him, Paul reminds us over and over again in Philippians to do it all for the same reason. “Rejoice and share your joy!” We are quick to share our discomforts and our complaints. We are quick to share our dislikes or disagreements over something. Why not learn to be quick to share joy? Why not learn to find joy in the very thing you’re finding complaints so easy in? Jesus sure did. Paul did. David did. Since there’s nothing new under the sun and since we go through the same things our brothers and sisters around the world do, I’m pretty sure it’s possible. Those little seeds don’t seem so promising when you put them in the ground in the spring, but I’ve seen a whole lotta smiles this August as friends are picking vegetables and fruit from their own gardens or canning items from other people’s gardens. A lot of times the joy comes out of the dark or the discomfort or even the frustration. I think there are a lot of times in our lives that remain joy-less not because it’s not there to be found but because we get kind of comfortable in the dark – in our selves – that we don’t actually break out and fully bloom. Because if we break out, we are, well…out there. For others to see, for others to need, for others to draw from. That’s what it takes to “live is Christ” – to be there for others. To be of a humble mind where we regard one another as more important than ourselves. To not only look out for our own personal interests but of others.
So, somewhere between Phil 1:1 and Philippians 3:4 (where I’m at this week) I began to break out and push through and rise above the dark. Those prayers turned into my praises and those words turned into my worship and those people turned into my people.
“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders…wherever you would call me.”