When Preparation is Beautiful (not just painful)

My son tried counting the trees the other day.

During the 15 minute car-ride to his friend’s house, he counted first one tree and then another in someone’s front yard.  Then a clump of trees a few houses down.

Then we passed a stretch of  woods and his counting sped up faster and faster until he finally gave up because it was just impossible.  “There are  just so many trees prepared for snow,”  he said.

So that  was  it.  He wasn’t just counting any old random tree.   He counted only the ones he considered to be “prepared for snow.”

And what could that possibly mean, anyway?   How does a tree, in fact, “prepare for snow?”

He explained it to me.  Trees that lose all their leaves are ready for the snow to come, but trees that are still holding tightly onto their leaves simply aren’t prepared yet.

This matters,  of course,  because my six-year-old son is quite, quite ready for some snow here in Virginia.   It’s January and there’s not a flake in  the forecast.  He’s getting a bit anxious that it won’t every come, so seeing the barren trees along the stretch of road outside our neighborhood gives him hope.

I’d never thought about a leafless tree in that way before—not barren or dormant or dreary  or fruitless or any of those things that seem lifeless and beauty-less.  I’ve enjoyed the greenest of spring and summer trees and the radiance of the fall color-filled trees, but I’ve never looked at an empty tree and thought of it as prepared for something beautiful.

This shifts my perspective a bit.

When I’ve slogged through mudpits of discouragement or loss, mourning, grief,  disappointment, or anxiety, I’ve felt emptied out.

I have lost.  I have mourned.   I have waited (impatiently most of the time).   I have let go.  I have wished for the sign of something new, the assurance that this is not the end and that there is still  reason to have hope.

What if all that feeling of being emptied out, of having to let go, is truly preparation?

I am not dead; I am awaiting new life.

I have shed the old.  I am ready for the beautiful covering of something gloriously hushed and holy.

Scripture tells us that John the Baptist fulfilled the prophecy  of Isaiah,  calling out into the wilderness:

“‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him'” (Matthew 3:3 NIV). 

We don’t always see the work of preparation being done in others.   We don’t see what Noah went through day after day to built the ark.   Or all that God did in Abraham’s life or Mary’s life to  prepare their hearts for radical obedience to a divine call.

Maybe that’s why I can be so impatient with the process.  I see them fulfilling,  but not preparing,  and preparation can feel so painful, long,  or  hopeless.  I personally don’t want to let go.  I don’t want to be emptied out.   I don’t want to sorrow or lose.   I don’t want to shed the old.

And I do not want to wait and wait  and wait for the beauty of the new or the next.  I  would like God always to be at work in grand and apparent ways now, now,  now.

But John the  Baptist called out to  anyone who would listen so  that they would “prepare!”  Prepare their hearts and minds and lives  for God’s new work–the  Messiah,  the fulfillment of promise and all their longing.

They were to make straight paths for Him.

Could this be me? Could this be us?

Can I yield to  the work of preparation?  Instead of throwing up obstacles or complaints, instead of trying to hold onto the past or force something new, can I make straight paths for the Lord to be at work in my life, in my heart, in my mind,  in my relationships, in my ministry,  in my work?

My focus then isn’t on all  the circumstances I’m in, and I’m no longer straining my eyes to see any glimpse or  sign that God is working in the  landscape  around me.

My focus is on  what  God is doing within me.  How can my heart be ready?  How can my mind be ready?  How can my life be ready, paths made straight, for the Lord to fulfill His  plans–whatever they may be and whenever they may come?

Am I prepared for snow?  Not languishing in a waiting period….but prepared for  the beauty of  a new  season and ready to receive all that God has planned?

 

 

Ready and waiting

“I can’t serve anyone who isn’t sitting down.”

That’s what I say in my teacher’s voice when I’m dishing up snack to a group of  kids.

Something about snack brings out the jittery excitement in most of us.  We want to stand up to see what we’re having, what flavor, how much, is one serving bigger than the others and could we possibly have the  biggest one?

Snack time protocols can be pretty basic, but we cover them almost every single time the goldfish crackers and apple juice come out:

Wash your hands.  Sit in your seat.  Wait quietly.  No, you can’t have seconds until everyone else gets their first serving.

We’re just so eager.

I am so eager.

When I feel hungry…  When I feel need… When I think that maybe provision will come and I wonder if I will get my share or if maybe I’ll be overlooked and remain empty. .. When I am anxious because I just don’t know and I feel like the answer won’t come.

That’s when I want to leap out of my seat and take some control.  I want to make my need known, just in case God missed seeing it.   I want to be sure He didn’t forget me or abandon me and He won’t leave me behind.

Maybe I even worry too often about getting my own “fair share,” too concerned with the sizes of others’ portions to be content with my own overflowing cup.

I read today an oh-so-familiar story, about how Jesus looked out over a hillside teeming with people.  They had followed Him out when He sought rest.  No one planned this extended teaching  time.  It just happened.

They looked for Jesus and when they found Him, He loved them enough to  teach and teach and teach until the hour was late, and they were far from their homes.  No one had packed any food except one little boy with a simple fish-and-bread lunch.  (John 6:1-15)

This story reminds me that Jesus is able.  That small numbers and meager circumstances cannot hinder Him from miraculous provision.  I am reminded that He is an abundant, exponentially multiplying God, and that none of us could imagine in advance how He could feed over 5000 people with a boy’s packed lunch and still have baskets full of leftovers.

And this story reminds me to give Jesus what I have even though it could never ever be enough.   I am the simple boy who can choose to offer what I have to Christ—meager as it is.  I don’t selfishly hoard it. I don’t hide it away in embarrassment.  I give it to Him because He is forever sufficient in my insufficiency.

But today, I read the story again and there is a new reminder.

In her book, “Living Beyond Yourself,” Beth Moore  shares the step Jesus took that day on the hillside:

  • He made them aware of their need.
  • He took what little they had.
  • He placed them in a posture to rest in His provision.  He commanded them to “sit down” and fed only those who were “seated” (vv. 10-11)
  • He gave them “immeasurably more” than they could “ask or imagine.” Eph. 3:20

This is the question I ask myself all day today:

How can I—in the  midst of all of the everyday messes and the overwhelming worries—posture my heart in a place of rest?

Today, I struggled with a parenting decision, with a ministry decision, with a scheduling decision, with an organizing of my day decision and I was tangled up  in my own need for clear answers, for assurances, and for provision.

My heart paces.  I position myself to fix and control and make everything right all on my own limited strength.

Mostly, I fight this feeling of urgency, this pushiness I have to get answers now and see the results yesterday and have the blessings in hand already.

When can I see the abundance in place of the need?

But what if Jesus is poised with baskets in His hand, provision at the ready, abundance in waiting, and He simply asks that I sit?

Am I sitting down?  Am I ready to receive?

The little boy with the lunch box gave everything over to Jesus, his tiny lunch, his small offering, but then he sat and waited to see what the Lord would do.

Oh, the sitting and the waiting, they don’t come naturally to me.  So, I think it through today when the worries come—how can I sit in this situation, how can I posture myself to rest in Him, how can I wait and see what the Lord will do?

“Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him…” (Psalm 37:7a NASB)

 

Bible Verses about Times of Quiet

  • Exodus 14:14 ESV
    The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”
  • Job 6:24 ESV
    “Teach me, and I will be silent;
        make me understand how I have gone astray.
  • Psalm 4:4 ESV
    Be angry, and do not sin;
        ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah
  • Psalm 37:7 ESV
    Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
        fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
        over the man who carries out evil devices!
  • Psalm 46:10 ESV
    “Be still, and know that I am God.
        I will be exalted among the nations,
        I will be exalted in the earth!”
  • Proverbs 11:12 ESV
    Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense,
        but a man of understanding remains silent.
  • Proverbs 17:28 ESV
    Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise;
        when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.
  • Proverbs 29:11 ESV
    A fool gives full vent to his spirit,
        but a wise man quietly holds it back.
  • Ecclesiastes 3:7 ESV
    a time to tear, and a time to sew;
    a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
  • Isaiah 26: 3 ESV
    You keep him in perfect peace
        whose mind is stayed on you,
        because he trusts in you.
  • Isaiah 30:15 ESV
    For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,
    “In returning[ and rest you shall be saved;
        in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
    But you were unwilling,
  • Lamentations 3:26 ESV
    It is good that one should wait quietly
        for the salvation of the Lord.
  • Zephaniah 3:17 ESV
    The Lord your God is in your midst,
        a mighty one who will save;
    he will rejoice over you with gladness;
        he will quiet you by his love;
    he will exult over you with loud singing.
  • James 1:19 ESV
    Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;
  • 1 Peter 3:3-4 ESV
    Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.

Remembering: One Lump or Two?

Originally posted on August 3, 2011

My soul, wait in silence for God only,
For my hope is from Him.
Psalm 62:5

It’s my nightly routine.

Place favorite mug on the counter.
Heat up the water.
Lay tea bag in the mug.
Pour steaming hot water in and let it steep.
Add spoonfuls of sugar.  (Yummy and sweet).
Splash in some milk.

Evening tea.  It’s been years since I’ve gone to bed without drinking it and it’s become a sort of security blanket.  I’m not sure if I could sleep without a cup.

Even worse, maybe I’d lie awake just because the tea wasn’t in my favorite mug and instead dumped into some random coffee cup grabbed from the cupboard.  That’d be like someone trying to swap a precious teddy bear for some unfamiliar spare stashed at the bottom of the toy box.

Last night, I sat down to my steaming cup, took a sip,  . . .

gulped and grimaced.

Instead of sweet tea, I tasted bitterness.  I’d filled the sugar canister, but never spooned any sugar into my mug.

Have you ever been a little disappointed?  You hope for something sweet and taste undrinkable bitterness instead?

The Israelites wandered through the desert for three days, searching for water.  Each day, their hunt must have grown more desperate.  How long could they survive out there, moving through endless wilderness without water to drink?  And then they arrived at Marah and there was water and they felt that rush of joy that accompanies salvation!

But the water was bitter and undrinkable.  It seemed like cruel disappointment considering their true need.  They weren’t asking at that point for luxury; they were asking for necessary provision and it seemed like God had failed them.

Yet, there at Marah, “Moses cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became fit to drink” (Exodus 15:25).

The Israelites placed their hope in their water-finding abilities.  They hoped for an oasis or a stream in the desert. And when they found what they had been looking for all along, they also discovered disappointment.

Moses placed his hope in God instead, knowing that even bitterness can be transformed into water for the thirsty.

When we place our hope in God, we will never be disappointed. But when we instead look for what we think we need, we misplace our hope in:

the job we think is secure
the financial answer to our bills
the debt program that’s going to transform our life
the 401K that’s going to make our retirement comfortable
the weight loss program that is going to make shedding the pounds easy
the husband who is going to make us feel loved and not lonely any more

the ministry that we can put our energies into
the friendship that makes us feel connected
the church with the programs we think will fit our needs

There are oh so many places to deposit our hope and each could yield bitter disappointment.  But the Psalmist wrote: My soul, wait in silence for God only,
For my hope is from Him” (Psalm 62:5).

We wait for God only.  Not God plus the answer to our problem.  Not God and the life preserver from some friendly bystander who sees us drowning from the shore.

God.  And if He what He offers to us is a program or plan or a friend, then we accept His gift, but we never depend on the gift itself. 

We hope in God alone.  Only He can provide what we truly need.  And if it’s insufficient or bitter, He can transform it into plentiful abundance and sweet blessing, making “everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in the Fall of 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King