Prayers, Fears and Promises

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“Bzzzzz,” vibrated my phone in the middle of Senior Theses presentations last night. A student was defending her claim about the on-going effects of the French Revolution, when I glanced over to see the name of the Middle School principal who interviewed me 6 weeks ago in Asheville, NC.  However, since I was one of 2 judges, I couldn’t satisfy my curiosity at that moment.

By the time I WAS free; the civilized deadline for calling future bosses had come and gone.  But patience has its rewards and the news was good this morning.  I got the job!  So thank you for your prayers. I will be teaching French to Middle-Schoolers in the fall.

Now don’t you feel encouraged? – You, the Church?  I know that when I have prayed persistently and over a long period of time, my faith is strengthened upon learning how God has met the need of a brother or sister.  Answered prayer makes me want to pray all the more!  My unbelief is diminished and light expands to push back the dark corners of doubt.

On a side note, God DOES  have a sense of humor.  In our private prayers about this job, Mike and I had specifically asked God to provide me with a French job with a salary range of between X and Y.  And the offer was X!  (not a penny over).  I think Mike was a bit disappointed at first.  Who doesn’t hope for more?  But I can picture God smiling, having arranged the sure way to keep our hope in HIM, the owner and provider of ALL our resources, and not in cash flow.

Despite this great news, I confess that I still struggle with fears and what ifs.

I know – you’re surprised!

You’d think that with this answered prayer, coming on the heels of  last week’s offer on our current house (thank you, Father!), I’d not fear or worry about anything!

It’s true – I have to daily engage in the uphill hand- to- hand combat for faith.  My French 4 girls and I have been translating a list of 10 Truths/Reminders about God.  A young American pastor, Matt Reagan, compiled them in college when he realized that each morning he woke up having forgotten about God.

Demonic alchemy happens in the night and faith evaporates when that alarm goes off.  We have to RE-MEMBER / RE-CONSTRUCT our faith-foundation all over again.   It’s like putting on one’s defensive knight’s armor, piece by piece to engage the day.

Hence, my daily pondering of which promises/ truths encourage me the most:   When the dark clouds of fear start rolling in, I push back firmly with the brilliant rays of God’s truths.  Here are just 3 of those dailies:

·         No good thing does God withhold from those whose way is upright (Ps 84:11)

·         The Lord is with me, I will not fear; what can man do to me? (Psalm 118:6)

·         God works all things for my good because I have been called by Him and I love Him (Romans 8:32)  

 Join with me and let’s undertake this challenge together:  think about what daily spiritual vitamins protect you, feed you, strengthen you, empower you and share them.  Let’s not be anemic, starving Christians, for want of the power available in God’s word.

For the word of God is alive and full of power.

PS: The French translate Jesus/the Logos in John 1 as ‘the verb’.  Can’t you just picture active, coursing super-natural power? 

Reflections on waiting

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This waiting thing – we’re in the thick of it!

  • Waiting for the house to sell
  • Waiting to get a teaching job in NC
  • Waiting for Mike’s first paying client
  • Waiting for Wes to return from Afghanistan

Not that waiting isn’t part of others’ lives, too:

  • Our brother and sister-in-law are waiting for her immigration paperwork to come through.
  • Friends are waiting for babies – to be born and to be adopted
  • Many sisters & brothers in Christ are waiting for loved ones to be brought into God’s forever family
  • Other friends are waiting for healing and pain to subside
  • A friend is waiting for her husband finally to receive the career recognition he deserves and longs for
  • Another friend is waiting for debt to be paid off so she can marry

I realized something last night that shifted my view of how God is working.  I’m a lot more relaxed this time around selling a house.  The first time was when we were 27 years old.  Mike had moved out to Monterey, Graham was a baby and we were desperate to sell a house in Arizona.  DES-PER-ATE.  I bugged the real estate agent every day.  God was gracious and brought a buyer in 3 months, despite my total lack of faith.

The last time we sold a house, I had started growing spiritually through the means of Bible Study Fellowship, but was living functionally still as an atheist.  I was 42 this time around.  As I fretted internally, worrying about 30 times a day, “What if…..!!!!”  (at least I didn’t phone our realtor every day!), God brought welcome relief in the form of a verse.  We had studied Genesis the previous year in BSF and all of a sudden I recalled the promise God made to Abraham when the old man, like me, was fearful, tired & discouraged.

Gen 15:1 Fear not Abram, I am your shield and your very great reward!

All of a sudden, my behavior switched.  I consciously chose to sub in that very promise from God each and every time I caught myself falling into worry and fear.  I would literally shake my head and actually stand up to that worry/fear thought:

NO!  then I would say to the Lord…

God, YOU are my shield and my very great reward, therefore, I will not fear.

Instead of playing the worry movie 20 – 30 times in a day, I affirmed God’s Word over and over again.  A month later, God brought the buyer.

Now I’m 55 and we’re selling our 3rd house.  My goal is to offer my waiting to God as worship.  I want to PLEASE my Father by demonstrating that I trust him.  As Graham reminded me yesterday in a phone call, ‘We have a rich and powerful Father, so we can relax’.

The realization that struck me last night came in reflecting about how we came to find the house that we are going to purchase in North Carolina, God-willing.  From Thanksgiving through mid January, we had been ‘studying’ available houses, making a list of features, comparing them in Excel (a side benefit that comes from being married to an analytical husband!) all in preparation for a house-visiting trip last month.  Our goal was to make an offer on a house over that January weekend since Waynesville is 8 hours away by car from Newport News.

We arrived on Saturday at the real estate agent’s office and in addition to the list of houses we had planned to visit; she added one that had ‘just popped up’,  being listed 2 days earlier on the Thursday.  It wasn’t part of our ‘careful study’.

And as you might guess, that is the house we have chosen.

Do you see what I realized last night?  At just the RIGHT time, God brought ‘our house’ to us, not dependent on our analysis and searching.

If I extrapolate, at just the RIGHT time, God will bring:

The buyer for our current house…….The job offer for me……etc

Yes, our efforts are important – But God doesn’t want frenzied, desperate efforts.  Reasonable next steps/actions that come from a deep, relaxed and confident dependence on God are the kind that honor our Father.

Lord, thank you for Christ:  my Anchor, my Blissful Rock, my Big Brother, my Champion and Author and Finisher of the faith implanted in me.  Give me the humility to keep casting these cares back on You, because I KNOW You love us and have our best interests at heart.

God meets our needs very creatively!

Incoming! – we’re under attack!

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I didn’t see it coming.  I thought we were dealing with other, on-going issues.  But as hours passed and the distance between my husband and me grew and the feelings turned icy, and directed against each other, I suddenly saw THIS in a different light.

Certain subtle strategic, spirit-placed clues helped me to see the attack for what it was. At coffee yesterday, my friend Kris mentioned trying to praise God’s attributes alphabetically in the car en route to the gym, and un-God-like characteristics kept breaking into her thoughts.  Instead of qualities like Dependable or Daily provider, traits like dour and doubtful came to mind.  She then commented, “I know where THOSE thoughts are from, not me, but Satan himself!”

That idea lodged in the outskirts of my mind.  Then I was reading Ann Voskamp’s blog about 4 action steps to cement a marriage. (This – after a silent ride home in the car from our small group)  All of a sudden, in the middle of a mini pity party, I pictured Mike and me as 2 jigsaw puzzle pieces, jaggedly pulled apart.  We no longer were one complete picture.  Our sinful brokenness was SO tangible for our emotional energy was directed at making each other the enemy.

It was then that I began to see what was happening.  This was a spiritual skirmish that the Sovereign Controller, i.e. God was allowing.  All military encounters, whether actual or preparatory, can be used by wise leaders to strengthen soldiers.  “Let’s get our feet dirty, boys.  Brandish those weapons. Jab at the enemy!  Use your tactics. Don’t just stand there, fight back!”

Each attack makes soldiers wiser and stronger.  Crawling out of the opposite trenches and meeting in what just a few hours ago had been No Man’s Land, I hope that Mike and I will stay alert.  We are in a faith battle in this ‘for keeps’ spiritual war.  For our enemy is prowling around, determined to weaken us and make us ineffective as Christians.

As Paul warned the Ephesians and now us in Chapter 6:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

And why is the enemy attacking my husband and me?  Only because we have stepped out and publically talked about a Journey of Faith.  We are leaving ‘secure’ jobs and a predictable life and income and support structure to go off to the hills and build a new life.  We have announced that we are walking toward this new life by faith in God and the promises in His Word and NOT by sight.  It’s risky and tempting to Satan.

It ‘so happens’ that Mike and I are reading in Job, this start of the New Year, as part of a chronological Bible reading plan.  We, the readers, know that Satan is attacking Job with God’s permission. Today I see this ‘coïncidence’ as part of our spiritual fore-warning. Thank you, Holy Spirit!

Shields up!  Helmets on! Jesus’ righteous breastplate buckled tight.  Peace-laced sandals gripping our feet as we move forward! God’s Word-sharpened sword at the ready! Tightening ranks with my beloved husband.  We have each other’s backs. 

Chronological Reading Plan of the Bible in a year

Addicted to calm waters

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As I write this, Calvin seems better. His downward spiral after some routine surgery led to the vet calling me during my 8th grade logic class. Either he had serious neurological problems or he was a member of a tiny percentage of cats allergic to that particular antibiotic.  Dr. Crist gently mentioned, “If this is a neurological issue, euthanasia might be the kindest option.”

As the tears welled up and I reached for tissues, my 24 budding adults didn’t know quite what to do.  Through sniffles and a tight throat, I explained what the vet had said and what God was teaching me through this experience.  Friday was another day colored by difficult circumstances that had been unfolding during the past two weeks.  Even before my mind absorbed the possibility of actually losing Calvin, God had been teaching me.

Negative lessons:

  • Functionally, I am addicted to a problem-free life.
  • I act as if my pets and family members are mine.
  • The more I need circumstances to go my way, the less I have of real peace.
  • I need trials and difficult circumstances to wean me off of false and damaging ideas.

Positive lessons:

  • I am a steward of anything that I previously looked at as ‘mine.’
  • I am here on Earth to do my Master’s bidding.
  • My desires for peace, health, comfort, rest are good and legitimate and given to me by God.  Where I go wrong is in expecting that they will be satisfied my way here on Earth.  But in heaven, I will be bowled over by how they are met.
  • If I have been bought (redeemed) and forgiven by God because of Jesus’ work on my behalf, then I have a new full-time and life-long calling.  I am a soldier AND ambassador in the Lord’s army.  My orientation must change.  It is no longer Maria’s life and Maria’s agenda and Maria’s desires.  I am a servant.
  • I am to put on HIS clothes and armor each day before going out to share the terms of peace with the remaining rebels who haven’t heard the news about the Conquering King.
  • I wear my wedding invitation to the divine, heavenly banquet.  When Maria died and was reborn by the Holy Spirit, her admittance to the Eternal Party was woven and sewn into her new self.  The blood-written letters lovingly spell out what awaits me.  One day I will be ushered into the presence of the Lamb and the Father.  It is THEN that I can relax.
  • In the meantime, like Jesus demonstrated 2000 years ago, my expectation should be to strip my cumbersome robe of Maria’s agenda, wrap a towel around my waist and wash the feet of those in my path.

Reading and personalizing an Andrew Murray quote on acquiescing to God’s sovereignly-sent trials has helped me.  I summarize what he wrote with 4 prepositions –   By, In, Under, For.

These troubled waters (picture roily seas like the kind Peter walked on) have been sent to me

  • BY GOD’S DIVINE APPOINTMENT
  • IN HIS KEEPING
  • UNDER HIS TRAINING
  • FOR MY GOOD, FOR THE LENGTH OF TIME HE SEES FIT

And what are troubled waters? –  Any circumstance that I don’t like, such as

- problems and disappointments

- delays and frustrations

- trouble and disaster

- sickness and death

- even evil

In short – unmet expectations.

Yet, I act and feel surprised when calm waters evaporate. I shouldn’t.  After all, didn’t Jesus affirm that we would have troubles in this life?  Why do I work so hard to avoid what is inevitable in a fallen world?

As bleak as the above might seem, we can take hope.  These trials are NOT a cosmic ‘whoops’.   God IS in charge.  The Fall is not a surprise.  He has ordained it and is using it for His purposes – His Good purposes.  We can trust Him.

So like Peter, to the extent that we keep our eyes and thoughts fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, and trust Him to walk with us through the Valley and through rough waters, we will grow in experiencing His true peace.  NOT the peace that depends on circumstances.

PS:  If our desires won’t be satisfied until the next life, shouldn’t we be coaching our kids how to delay gratification?     

Acronyms and a Family Reunion – How I’m Praying

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I must be handicapped to some degree mentally.  For I have greatly benefitted from memory techniques to help me cope.  My favorite way of making up for poor memory, is to organize what is important to me in the form of an acronym or a silly rhyme.  Mike has a colleague and a boss who have nicknames inherited from their active-duty air force days.  One is named Box and the other Stick.  The only way I can remember who is who is to say to myself: “Stick is Mike’s boss, because STick STays at work late.”  The “st- trick” helps me when I need quickly to verbalize the correct name.

I’m just sharing a deficiencyL and one of my crutchesJ.

So in the effort to organize some wonderful attributes of God into a prayer for an upcoming family reunion, I used the first 2 initials of our two sons, my husband and myself.

Wes who is an Infantry lieutenant deploys to Afghanistan in about 6 weeks or so.  We have organized a family reunion for the 1st week of October.  We have a small family, but EVERYONE is coming.  The last time we were together was a year ago when Mike’s brother Steve married Eve in Toronto.  And now we are reuniting.  Life is fragile – who knows when we will all be together again.  So I’ve been praying.  First I prayed that Wes indeed would be granted the vacation days he had been ‘promised’ by the Army.  Then I prayed that Mike’s mom and his cousin Terry would be able to come. These prayers have been granted by our always-faithful heavenly Father.  Now I’m praying for a hurricane-free week, good health and safe travel.

But more importantly, I am praying for harmony. You know what YOUR family is like!  Old patterns that weren’t healthy ‘way back when’ resurface when family members are together for more than 24 hours.  These can include juvenile rivalries, un-forgiveness and assumptions that have fossilized even though they are no longer true.

There are also political and spiritual differences among family members.  Enough said.

Then there are expectations about how people should act.   My husband tells me that unmet expectations are the source of much grief.

And did I mention that in this beach house will be 6 women who all like to cook, but who view meal prep and clean-up differently? Some likely will be battling hormones of various kinds, cranky because of poor sleep in a new bed and/or tired because of babies and toddlers!

Don’t get me wrong!  We’re not an exceptionally dysfunctional family.  I don’t think anyone is in counseling at this momentJ.  We’re pretty normal!!!  But we are all sinners.

So here is how I’ve been praying and where my acronym comes into play.  I took the initials of the first and middle names of my nuclear family: our oldest son GC, my husband MF, our youngest son WJ and me MB and created a prayer for our entire Cochrane family, all of whom will be at this happy event :

Blessed are you, O God

May we, the Cochranes

          Delight in

          Enjoy ‘muchly’

          Treasure and

          Rejoice in who You are    (DETR – I pronounce it as ‘debtor’)

Grant us ever-exceeding (here come the initials of our names)

          Gratitude to You

          Compassion for others

          Mercy in our actions

          Faithfulness in our reliance on You

          Wisdom

          Joy

          Mindfulness and

          Beauty-seeking

I now have a better chance of remembering HOW I want to pray leading up to our reunion and during.  Of course PEACE, FORGIVENESS, UNSELFISHNESS and many other attitudes are ones for which I’m THANKING GOD ahead of time as well.

Don’t misunderstand – I’m not anticipating upheavals.  But I do believe that God wants us to be prepared and on our guard.  Satan and his cohorts are always aggressively on the prowl, looking to devour Christians.  We must be mindful and clad in our spiritual armor that God has provided.  To do otherwise is at best naïve and at worst a disaster waiting to happen.

Colossians 3 - 12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Painful start to summer vacation

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Thank God for Christian girlfriends and a Godly husband who have been holding me up recently.

School is out and I have frittered away 2 of my 11 weeks with not much to show for them.  I have been anxious and depressed.  (Does this come from too much time on my hands?)  Or am I being confronted with one of my many idols?

My worth consists in my productivity.  Here is what I did today!  Just call me superwoman.

My other idol that has me bowing and scraping as a willing slave is a fit body.  As a recovering bulimic I think constantly about food and exercise and how my body feels and looks.

Time for the training wheels to go, Maria!”  Suddenly, I have been confronted with the hollowness of my props.  But not alone.

In divine preparation, one friend gave me a book that has had me meditating on living in the present moment. I’m learning to construct a new reflex of gratitude, while trying to remember that all I do and think should glorify God.  That I can thank God FOR the previous moment that brought me HERE and live in that particular HERE, dependent on Him honors Him. That sacramental attentiveness in lieu of my customary rushed oblivion actually slows down T-I-M-E because it makes me aware of how the eternal I AM (Yahweh) is the God of the present moment.

Last Saturday in one of my rare ‘Ecclesiastes’ moments, I couldn’t think straight.  I kept saying over and over, “J’ai perdu mes repères!!! – I’ve lost my bearings.  I don’t know where I am and where I’m going.  I don’t how to frame my life!”  I finally thought, ‘I should share with my husband, after all, he needs to know what is going on and be a priest to me.’  I was in the bathroom cleaning the floor when he came up to change clothes to mow the lawn.  We sat down on the floor, leaning against the bed.  I told him what I was feeling (same ole, same ole).  As I teared up, he held my hand, listening to me.  When I didn’t know what else to add, I glanced up at him, embarrassed and spent with my emotion.  I saw that he was silently crying, entering into my pain.  Then he prayed for me.  Didn’t offer any advice.  Just sat WITH me and LOVED me.  Never have I felt so tenderly understood and accepted.

A few days later over coffee, another friend opened up about her anxiety in a way that gave me freedom to share my pain about being a slave to fitness. Then and now via email she has been listening to me and my customary thoughts (kept private up until NOW) and reflecting back to me how irrational they are.  (Anything that doesn’t align with God’s Truth needs to be ditched!)

Thursday,  I picnicked with another dear friend who is a classics expert and Godly woman as well.  I got up the courage to share with her what was going on with me and how these first 2 weeks of summer vacation have been painful, fleeting and have felt wasted.  (She teaches at my school and is on the same schedule.  One of the differences between us is that she knows how to rest without guilt.)

She reminded me that we live in wartime.  She pointed me to Revelation 12 where I read how the Accuser pursues us.  Sensing his time is short and driven in his Satanic Smear Campaign he boldly marches right up to the very throne of God bringing stinging condemnation.  Not bothering to address him, the Holy Father just points to the Son sitting next to Him, as if to say, ‘Why bother, these children of mine are clothed in my Son’s purifying blood, you can’t smear them!’ But Satan doesn’t give up:

17 Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring —those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.

So dressing in gospel armor with my helmet of Salvation is a daily necessity!  (There is now NO condemnation for those who are in Christ)

Finally yesterday, I was catching up with one of my favorite young friends who inherited ME when she married our son.  She shared what she was learning about anxiety – that it is fear about the future.  As such, it is SIN.  And God has provided us with the gift of repentance.  We can experience FREEDOM from guilt, as much as need. Her anxiety is not a condition that God has given her and that He will remove if she prays fervently enough.  In hearing how she is processing anxiety, I was drawn to applying how I live with condemnation which drives me to live by law.  But that TOO is SIN.  And I can repent and move back into the realm of Grace where I am welcome.

Have I enjoyed my first two weeks of summer vacation?  NO!  But I think this is a gift whose time has come.  It’s time for me to unwrap the present and learn the lesson.

Thank you, Lord, for your gift of pain that is preceded by and accompanied with Godly friends and family.

‘How blessed, blissful, to be envied – i.e. ASHER, is the woman (having her sins covered because SHE repented) who now trusts and relies on the unfailing love of the Lord’  Psalm 32: 1 & 10

 

Getting Dressed – Psalm 32

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Currently Psalm 32 is my favorite scripture to recite.  I crave daily the truths it blazes. Unconfessed sins weigh me down.  I bend over to cover them up.  My belt of truth grows tight from this cover up and shameful cower.

Finally I break free and lift my head & hands to God and release the burden of my sin.  The belt is loosened. I’m weightless.  Light warms my face and body – no more guilt TODAY to darken my soul and weigh me down.

In this position, God exhorts and encourages: “Let everyone who has tasted this ‘chesed’ – this loving kindness pray to me”.   When we do pray, we are promised three things:

  • Protection while in the midst of danger with eventual musical rescue
  • Guidance and instruction about where to go, with on-going care as we journey through life
  • Joy as we remember our upright position when freed from sin

The Bible calls the man or woman who knows these truths, ‘asher’.  Asher means blessed….enviable….happy…..joyful.

*

After this daily confession, with my belt of truth comfortably reminding me that I’m secure in the light, I continue to put on my Gospel armor. I slip on my Peace-with-God sandals:  no need to fear that my access to His throne will be blocked.  My stance and confidence in my standing are firm.

I’m covered by Christ’s righteousness…no need to fake being something I’m not. I’m free to confess sin as it occurs; I don’t have to pretend a righteousness that is not mine.  Jesus’ righteousness is comfortable and comforting. I need that secure breastplate over my heart.

I consciously don my head covering marked, “SAVED by GRACE”.  Recalling that I have already been rescued helps me to reject:

  • the fear thoughts of ‘what if?’
  • the depressing thoughts of:  I’m-not-good-enough
  • the lack thoughts: God might not come through TOMORROW!
  • the superior & judgmental thoughts: At least I’m not….

Now I raise my shield of faith and cover not only myself, but the Church that is around me, those Christian brothers and sisters I encounter throughout my day.  I offer them protection by reminding THEM of gospel truth.  And when the going gets tough because the enemy is attacking me or a brother or sister, I pull out my short dagger and yell, “It is written: _____________!”  The demons scatter, horrified and wounded by the power of God’s Word.  ‘We better leave this Daughter of the King alone for now,’ they reason.

Gospel armor: fashion that NEVER goes out of style.  And I haven’t even mentioned the snacks I bring with me to nibble on throughout the day for energy.  We’ll talk about that another day.  But who doesn’t eat at least 3 times a day!

 

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