A few months ago, my creative boss asked me and a few other employees to spend twenty minutes or less writing a poem about why we do what we do.
What working girl has time to write poetry when her inbox is spilling over with emails and deadlines? Besides, my last attempt at poetry wasn’t pretty (although it was memorable!):
A man was in a mine
He tripped on a vine
He really quick got up
And tried to find his cup . . .
But my boss said it didn’t have to be perfect, so I just wrote from my heart.
And when I finished, I was surprised and grateful for the exercise. Because most days the deadening dailyness of details clouds my vision and I forget.
But yes, that’s right! This is why I do what I do:
Most days I drag myself out of bed
grab an apple on the run
lower my shoulder to the Mac
and grit my way through email
and space dot space dot space dot ellipsis
their faces gray and unformed and far away.
But on occasional days
I see them
Ann locked up in bitter prisons of the heart
Jenny searching desperately for soul rest
Aisha wrapped in hijab, eyes blinded, serving a dead god
their faces soft and flushed and hungry.
And I wonder at this high calling
serving the WORD with each word
that, if Spirit-drenched, can point to Him
whose face is bloodied and tear streaked and warm
carrying all their sins and griefs and sorrows
if only they will let Him.
April is National Poetry Month, and I’m issuing my boss’s challenge to you. (No groaning, now!)
Why do you do what you do? I know you don’t feel like you have twenty minutes to write a poem, but even two is just fine. You’ll be glad you did! Because whether you’re a Classical Conversations homeschooling mother or an architect creating a design concept on the thirtieth floor, “where there is no vision, the people perish” (Prov. 29:18).
Before I hit I-94 that morning, I read about how on the cross Jesus didn’t think of Himself in order to free me from myself. I asked Him to help me live free of self that day, and then—in the smallest of tests in the Art Institute of Chicago—I failed.
It happened under Mark Chagall’s America Windows—after a lunch of hummus and tabouli in the Garden Café. With leftovers in hand, I asked a security guard the way to the Picasso and Chicago exhibit.
He ignored my question and fiercely told me I was not allowed to have food in the Art Institute. "Oh, I didn’t know," I said and repeated my question about the location of the Picasso Exhibit.
"I won’t tell you until you throw your food away," he growled.
Muttering to myself, I dumped my food in the nearest trashcan and got the directions I needed.
I knew I shouldn’t mention it to my mom and sisters—after all, I’d asked Jesus to help me live free of self—but I couldn’t resist. The security guard had treated me with less respect than I felt I deserved, and my self wanted to flare up and kick back.
In that moment, I lost sight of the fact that Jesus was willing to be treated in a way Hetotally didn’t deserve . . . in order to take God’s wrath that I did deserve because of my sin . . . so I might receive what Jesus deserved—God’s love, favor, and righteousness.
What’s the big deal, you ask? Isn’t it perfectly natural for someone to resist being treated disrespectfully? Sure, but Jesus didn’t give me His Spirit so I could continue acting "naturally." One of the marks of Jesus’ Spirit is meekness. It’s also the third beatitude:
"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth" (Matt. 5:5).
What does it mean to be meek? Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains it this way:
The man who is meek is not even sensitive about himself.
We think those who exert their power and defend their rights will rule the world. Jesus says just the opposite. Those who are meek (gentle) like He is will rule the world with Him in the end.
It’s what we see the night Jesus was arrested. He knew what was coming, pleaded for a way out, but surrendered to His Father’s will: "nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will" (Matt. 26:39). It’s how we see Jesus responding to the insults flying at Him from all sides while He hung on the cross: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).
But we’re not Jesus. And meekness isn’t just tough . . . it’s impossible! Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains why we fight meekness:
I am aware, when I am honest with myself, of the sin and the evil that are within me, and that drag me down. And I am ready to face both of these things. But how much more difficult it is to allow other people to say things like that about me! I instinctively resent it. We all of us prefer to condemn ourselves than to allow somebody else to condemn us.
Meekness only becomes possible when we have Jesus’ Spirit living inside of us. I will try to remember that the next time I find myself being talked to in a tone I find offensive.
How about you? Do you know this meek Jesus? Are you allowing Him to exhibit His gentleness through your life when you feel wronged, belittled, or underappreciated?
Tears and I go together—we always have. Growing up, I cried when I was happy, cried when I was sad, and cried when I didn’t even know why I was crying. In third grade I wept through the movies Bambi, Fievel Goes West, and Old Yeller. In high school algebra I fought back tears when faced with mind-numbing quadratic equations.
After reading Jesus’ second beatitude, you might think I’d be especially blessed because of all my tears, but that just wouldn’t be true:
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted" (Matt. 5:4).
I told you what I cried over, but did you notice what I didn’t cry over? I didn’t cry over my sin. And I certainly didn’t cry over the Church’s or the world’s sin. I just couldn’t relate to Psalm 119:136:
My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law.
How do I know this is what Jesus means when He says, "Blessed are those who mourn?" Well, His beatitudes aren’t random and chaotic—they’re all built on the one before. This second beatitude flows out of the first beatitude: being poor in spirit. When you and I realize that we have nothing good to offer God, when we realize how desperately we need a Savior, that will lead us to mourn over our sin. And not only our sin, but others’ sin as well.
Have you ever cried over sin? Not because you were dealing with its painful consequences, but because it hurts the heart of God? Because it sent God’s innocent, perfect Son to the cross?
Or are your eyes dry and your heart hard and unmoved? Worse yet, do you laugh over sin? "How can we laugh over sin," Kay Arthur asks, "when sin nailed Jesus to the cross?"
When is the last time you cried? More importantly, what made you cry?
Will you begin to pray along with me, "God, break my heart for what breaks Yours"?
When you do, God promises that He will comfort you. In Kay Arthur’s words, "The blessedness does not come in the mourning; it comes in the results of mourning—knowing the comfort of [God’s] intimacy, the surety of His arms about you, hearing the beat of His heart as He draws you close to His all-sufficient breast."
After watching her message for myself, I couldn’t agree more. Joni relives her life story as if it’s happening in the moment—with tears, singing, and heartfelt emotion. I thought I knew all about Joni’s story, but most of what she shares in this video was new to me.
Journey with Joni through . . .
her disappointing pursuit of physical healing
the “tired middle years” of her marriage
her husband’s “I feel trapped” admissions
Through it all, trace the deeper healing that Joni has received. The deeper healing that can be yours, too.
I visited Chicago this past weekend, not realizing it was the same day as the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The river had been dyed green, the whole city appeared to be drunk by noon, and cops swarmed the streets. Then there were the homeless, tucked into doorways trying to shield themselves from the bitter cold.
The Poor in Chicago
Except for Aveda. She stood right next to the door of Garrett’s Popcorn, wrapped in a scarf and winter coat, holding a "Please Help" sign in one hand and a plastic cup in the other. She cried out to each person who entered the store, asking for money to purchase a hotel room.
After dropping a dollar bill in her cup and telling her about the Pacific Garden Mission, I told her that Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor . . . in spirit," and that I wanted to be poor in this way too.
Aveda didn’t get it. When I told her about Jesus’ statement, she started telling me about how often she prays. She may be poor, but she’s not yet poor in spirit.
The Poor In Spirit
"Blessed [happy] are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" is the first "beatitude" that Jesus shares in His Sermon on the Mount. The Beatitudes are not statements that Jesus expects the world to live up to. The Beatitudes describe the essence of a true Christian. And boy, a Christian couldn’t possibly be more different than the world!
Because we’re all born thinking we’re something. Thinking God would really benefit from having smart, sweet girls like ourselves on His team! But while we’re busy admiring ourselves, He’s stooping down looking into doorways for someone—anyone—who is destitute of spirit. Someone holding a "Please Help" sign.
Are You Poor?
While Aveda didn’t get it, I pray that you do. Jesus doesn’t approve of you because of your prayers, your Bible reading, your church attendance, or your purity. He, the Savior of the world, is looking for those who realize they desperately need saving.
I have to ask: Has there ever been a time in your life when you’ve been wrecked over your sin? Who are you more like in the following story—the Pharisee or the tax collector?
He [Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 18:9–14).
I’m a crummy friend. I didn’t even realize it until last Friday, when Revive Our Hearts asked their employees to spend four hours on an exercise called the Personal Vitality Plan. We were to look at twelve areas of our life and evaluate what’s been going well, what’s been being neglected, and what some achievable steps are to replenish that area.
It didn’t take long to realize what was anemic. My relationships. Specifically, my friendships.
Until now, my idea of a good friend has been one whom I don’t have to spend a lot of time with, but when I do, we pick up right where we left off. But now I wonder if my definition of friendship has simply been a sorry excuse for neglect and selfishness on my part.
Oh, I haven’t painted it that way. I’ve chosen the busyness of “ministry” above friendships, investing more time in those who are “needy” while my iron-sharpening-iron friendships have simmered on the back burner.
As spiritual as that has seemed, I wonder if it has had more to do with pride and fear than love and compassion. There’s something self-inflating about being the one people always look to for help and answers. But since when are friendships one-sided?
When I look at Scripture I see friendship described with words like:
talking face to face (Ex. 33:11)
your friend who is as your own soul (Deut. 13:6)
loyalty (2 Sam 16:16)
kindness (Job 6:14)
trust (Ps. 41:9)
celebrating together (Luke 15:29)
grieving together (Ps. 35:14)
Now I see that I’ve been treating my closest friends as if they’re optional. But Jesus tells me in John 15:12–17 that friendship isn’t optional (and in the process, He calls me His friend!):
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. . . . These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”
It took me less than the allotted four hours to realize that I was a crummy friend, so I spent the remaining time sending emails and setting up specific plans.
I asked one friend if she’d be willing to spend time together regularly. I don’t want to get spread so thin maintaining all kinds of relationships that no one really knows what’s going on deep in my heart. I asked her to meet with me regularly for several reasons:
She loves and cares about me.
She already knows me well and runs in my circles.
She’s not afraid to ask me hard questions. You know, the kind that make you squirm.
Once that was taken care of, I began making plans to choose people over pixels: scheduling a party for artists in April, inviting neighbors over to roast marshmallows in the fireplace before spring arrives in full vigor, exploring the possibility of a getaway with two other about-to-turn-thirty-year-olds.
Since Friday, I’ve attended a birthday party, two movie nights, and am headed to the Art Institute in Chicago with the girls in my family this Saturday. Oh, and I’m asking God to teach me how to be a good friend. To learn to love . . . and be loved.
How about you? What do you tend to value more than friendship? What’s your excuse for letting your friendships simmer on the back burner? And if you’re the one feeling undervalued in a friendship, how can you continue to extend grace and reach out to that busy friend?
Jennifer cussed the chaplain out when she arrived at prison to serve her sixteen-year sentence. But in the privacy of her cell, she repeatedly beat her head against the concrete wall until it bled. Without drugs, she knew no other way to mask the anger and bitterness she had known from childhood.
For most of her twenty-two years, Jennifer’s parents said she was a mistake—that she was supposed to be a boy. So, Jennifer believed that God makes mistakes.
At ten, a nineteen-year-old from church began molesting Jennifer. At this point, Jennifer wanted nothing to do with God.
She started drinking at age eleven to make the pain go away. By twelve, she was cutting, participating in criminal activity, and abusing drugs. By seventeen, she was a “mule,” trafficking drugs from Tulsa to Memphis.
One night, wondering how her life had turned out the way it had, Jennifer breathed a simple prayer, “Help. If You’re listening, help.”
She didn’t think about that prayer again until twenty-seven days later, when she saw six squad cars in her rearview mirror. As Jennifer was slammed to the pavement and cuffed, a load lifted from her. While she didn’t know what it would look like, she was certain life as she knew it was over.
After arriving at prison, Jennifer mocked the inmates in the PAL program (Principles & Applications for Life—a Bible boot camp of sorts). But she watched them. Their joy haunted her because it was something she had never known.
So she caved and joined them. For ten weeks, she heard things she’d never heard before: Forgiveness equals freedom; God uses authority for direction, provision, and protection for our lives. And, if she would believe in Jesus’ sacrifice for her sins, He would give her a new identity.
Ten weeks came and went, and the chaplain asked Jennifer to stay ten more. She couldn’t understand why—after the trouble she’d caused—but Jennifer agreed.
And on December 21, 2000, God’s Spirit interacted with her through His Word for the first time in her life. When that class ended, Jennifer got on her knees and told God if He could salvage what was left of her life, it was His.
And it has been, ever since.
“If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Cor. 5:17)
PS: Jennifer got out of prison on May 31, 2011, only to go back in . . . this time as denominational chaplain. God is now using her mightily to help salvage other bitter, broken lives.
Call me crazy, but I don’t believe in pursuing guys. (Was that a gasp I heard?) Yes, you might want to sit down for this. Today, I’m sharing seven reasons I’ve given God control of my love life. Are you ready? 1. I’m not actually waiting on a guy to pursue me, I’m waiting on God.
Whenever you’re frustrated over how long it’s taking a guy to notice you, remember that God is in control of everything:
The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; he directs it wherever he pleases (Prov. 21:1).
If the Lord can move the heart of the most powerful man in the land, He can turn any guy’s heart. Wait for His perfect timing.
2. I want a man to prove through his pursuit that he is a godly man who will lead and love me well after marriage.
Let’s just imagine that you do capture that special guy’s attention. You begin dating, and then he pops the question. Before long, you’re a wife! Now what?
Well, Ephesians 5:22–33 says that as a wife, you are to submit to your husband as to the Lord. The question is, have you modeled and practiced a different pattern in the months or years leading up to your marriage? Did this man lead and pursue you, or did you pursue him? Don’t wait until marriage to hand over the reins of leadership. It won’t work well. Start now, and wait for him to step it up and pursue (or not).
3. I am already loved completely and unconditionally.
I no longer have to fight for attention or find my worth in a boyfriend. Neither do you. Listen to how deeply—and how long—the King has loved you:
“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness” (Jer. 31:3).
4. I don’t know what is best for me, but God does.
Have you ever set your sights on a guy only to realize later that he is totally wrong for you? I’ve done that more times than I care to count. That’s because:
Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way (Prov. 19:2).
God, unlike us, knows everything. Including the hearts of all guys (1 Kings 8:39b). You can trust Him to lead and protect you, His daughter, even when you don’t realize you need protecting.
5. God has nothing but good in store for those who wait on Him.
You can rest easy. Psalm 25:3 says:
None who wait for you shall be put to shame.
That’s a fact you can count on from Your God who makes promises and keeps them. Of course, that doesn’t mean we’ll always get what we want when we want it. God tells us that in this world we will have trouble. But ultimately, in the end, He will work everything together for the good of those who love Him (Rom. 8:28).
6. Marriage won’t secure my happiness.
I am often reminded of this as I spend time with married friends. Marriage just presents new opportunities to continue to trust and submit to God. In fact, God has made it clear that marriage isn’t about you or me (sorry to burst any romantic bubbles!). We were created as women to help men (Gen. 2:18). And in a greater sense, we’re created for God, whether married or single. If married, it’s to give others a tangible picture of Christ’s amazing love for the church, and the church’s grateful submission to Him.
“I want you to be free from anxieties . . . the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:32–35).
7. I need this time of waiting in order for my faith and trust in God to grow.
Waiting isn’t easy. But, life will never be easy, and I will always find myself waiting for . . . something. I have a feeling this is training ground for even greater ways I’ll need to trust Him in the future.
“The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him; let him put his mouth in the dust—there may yet be hope; let him give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults. For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men” (Lam. 3:25–33, emphasis added).
Having said all this, I feel like I should say . . .
1. Trusting God with your love life doesn’t mean everything will work out beautifully, or that you’ll get what you want. This isn’t about some sort of way to manipulate God.
2. The fact that you and I aren’t pursuing guys doesn’t mean we can’t be friendly to them!
3. There are no formulas. This is about growing in your relationship with God. Be sensitive to His Spirit’s leading.
Now that that’s clear, I’d love to learn from you. Which point means the most to you personally? Do you have any additional reasons or verse to add to my list?