Light Before Form (Prayer Devotional for the week of February 7, 2016)

I don’t know about you, but I was pretty certain that I had my life figured out at 19. I knew what career I would pursue, where I would live, the boy I was going to marry, and that we would have four kids together (two boys and two girls—to alleviate some of the sibling rivalry that my brother and I experienced).

 

As life would have it, though, I never did marry that boy; I’m in a completely different career now; I live in another part of the country; and suffice it to say, God had a sense of humor when it came to allocating my children.

 

Why is it that we think we have to have our whole lives planned out in advance? Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for setting goals, but we have to be willing to make allowances for change, as well. How can we take steps of faith when God calls us down a different path if we are locked into a certain outcome for our lives?

 

Even the Creation story echoes this notion. Check out Genesis 1:1-3, where God began by separating light from darkness. He didn’t start with creating mankind, or even sculpting the earth. In fact, verse 2 says, “The earth was formless and empty” (NLT). God built his creation one step at a time: light before form.

 

Perhaps it’s just me, but I think we often grope through life in the dark trying to get things just-so, when what we really need to do is focus on the Lord first and foremost.

 

King Solomon mused in Ecclesiastes 2:13-14, “Wisdom is better than foolishness, just as light is better than darkness. For the wise can see where they are going, but fools walk in the dark.” If your life doesn’t look like you’d hoped or planned at this point, perhaps a good first step would be to examine the influences of “light” and “darkness.” What are you involved in that reflects the goodness of God? By contrast, what areas of sin in your life are lurking in the shadows?

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Dear January [yet again],

Dear January,

This is my third year of letters to you. You and I haven’t been on good terms for seven years, but I think the truce that we worked out last year is going ok so far, at least until my Facebook newsfeed blows up later in the month. (Facebook has a new thing now where it reminds you of posts that you wrote in years past, so I think I’ll take a hiatus toward the end of the month. I still remember the post that I wrote quickly on Jan. 23, 2009, asking for urgent prayer because something awful had happened to my brother, but I didn’t know what. I really don’t want to relive the posts from the days and weeks that followed that night.)

The 23rd falls on a Saturday this year, and I’m contemplating getting a sitter for the kids and going away for the weekend — just me, myself, and I. A little solitude might be nice.

This year holds a lot of promise, and I’m going to focus on being optimistic about the future. I’ll be finishing my second year as a professor, and I’m loving my job. Two of my kids are in high school now, the middle is in junior high, and this year is our last round of elementary school. When the fall semester begins, I’ll only have to deal with TWO school schedules!

I still imagine sometimes what life would look like if Nathan was here. Most likely, I would still feel stressed about being outnumbered raising three boys and have no clue about how capable I really am. I suppose I have that to be grateful for. Without the trials, I wouldn’t know how strong I could be. I would give anything to have him back, but life manages to go on, and so do I.

January, I feel like I have more confidence facing you this year than I have in several years. You don’t intimidate me like you used to, because I’ve proven to myself that I can make it through, and in just a few weeks, you’ll be gone and February will arrive in your place.

Till next year,

Ang

Are you an Andrew or a Paul? (Prayer Devotional for the week of September 27, 2015)

Have you ever wondered about your qualifications for serving the Lord? I’d like to share two examples to encourage you. First, we’ll talk about Andrew. He was a blue-collar worker – a fisherman by trade, not a scholar. We are introduced to him in Matthew 4:18 & Mark 1:16, where he is described in both instances as Simon Peter’s brother.

 

Let’s pause there for a moment. I have five sons, and I know that it doesn’t go over very well when any of them are routinely described as so-and-so’s brother. Everyone wants his own identity. Andrew did become one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, which is pretty amazing, but I wonder if sometimes he felt like the also-ran in comparison to his more famous brother. For example, in John 1:40-42, we read that Andrew started out as one of John the Baptist’s disciples, and he even introduced Simon Peter to Jesus. Verse 42 in that passage talks about Jesus changing Simon’s name to Peter, yet there seems to be no acknowledgement of Andrew at all. One historical reference I read said that Andrew was actually the elder of the two, so I imagine it felt even more humbling to be overshadowed by his little brother.

 

Then, there’s Saul-turned-Paul. In Philippians 3, Paul tried the “Annie Get Your Gun” tactic of “anything you can do I can do better” to explain how we should not put too much confidence in ourselves, especially when it comes to ministry. Paul described himself as “a Hebrew of Hebrews” and itemized a whole list of reasons why he would be considered the cream of the crop. He wasn’t being conceited, though; he was trying to prove a point that no matter how stellar your qualifications, it all pales in comparison to Christ.

 

So, whether you relate more to Andrew or Paul, remember that both individuals were used mightily for the Lord, regardless of their qualifications. After all, don’t you think that Andrew was better suited to witness to the common folk than Paul (especially considering his early career of persecuting Christians)? Paul, on the other hand, was perfectly poised to speak truth to the know-it-all religious leaders of his day.

 

The point is that God calls each of us for an individual purpose, and our callings may not resemble each other in the least. We may have a high-profile role like Paul, or we may work behind the scenes more like Andrew, but as with both of them, God wants to use us in his sovereign plan. Are you willing?

Impending Death … and Hope (Prayer Devotional for the week of March 15, 2015)

I received some devastating news this week about an old mentor and kind friend. As things stand now, it looks like she has advanced pancreatic cancer that has spread to her liver. I am terribly sad, and yet I feel a strong sense of peace for her. She loves the Lord, she adores her family, and she cares about her fellow man. She is passionate about justice, and not just the kind that penalizes criminals for wrongdoings, but the kind that rights the wrongs in the world. She is an advocate, a brilliant thinker, and a confidante.

 

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but unless Jesus returns to take us home before then, there is a 100% chance that you will die. How does that make you feel? Does the notion of dying fill you with dread or joy? Like it or not, as James 4:14 and Psalm 103:15-16 point out, our lives are like a mist puffed into the air or a dandelion blowing in the wind – only temporary.

 

While imprisoned for the gospel, Paul wrote in Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” He had a very matter-of-fact view about death: if he lived, then he had more opportunity to serve the Lord. If he died, then he got to be with Jesus. Win-win!

 

For a long while after my brother died, I had peculiar feelings that could only be described as jealousy. I hesitated to share it, because I didn’t want anyone mistakenly thinking that I was suicidal. It’s just that the more I thought about him being in the very presence of God in heaven, it felt like I got the short end of the stick. I/we were left behind to grieve and cope, to continue living in this broken world of sin and despair and problems, while he was free from such entanglements. How I long to be with Christ!

 

Easter is just around the corner, and it is my absolute favorite holiday. Sure, I love the festivities of Christmas, and I enjoy the spirit of Thanksgiving, but wow – Easter! Easter is a reminder that this world is not our home (Philippians 3:20). Easter is about the resurrection, newness, eternal life, victory, and HOPE.

 

It is with this everlasting hope in my heart that I can say to my sweet friend: Go in peace. Go to Jesus, relish in his presence, and enjoy the reward for your labors. I will always cherish having the opportunity to know you and call you my friend.

Dear January [again],

Alas, we meet again. You know I still don’t like you, but we seem to be getting better at maintaining a tolerable coexistence. I hope you don’t take my disdain personally. I wrote you a letter last year about how I was going to change my mindset concerning you, and I think I did. In fact, when you visited last year, I was putting the finishing touches on my dissertation and preparing to defend it, so that was good. A lot of changes took place last year — so much so that I’m even greeting you from a different time zone this year!

Honestly, I don’t have anything particularly sassy, smart-alecky, or gripey to say to you this year. I suppose this must be what healing looks like. I still don’t look forward to the 23rd, which happens to fall on a Friday this year. I’ll have a class to teach that afternoon, so staying under the covers and pretending not to be a grownup isn’t a valid option. I still have to get the kids to school and then get to school, myself. It’s going to be hard, though. It always is.

Would you believe this is the first Christmas since I lost Nathan that I didn’t cry at all that day? I almost lost it on stage during the Christmas Eve service as we sang Silent Night, though. Normally, I can’t really see the congregation because of the lighting, but they dimmed the lights for the candlelight portion, and I looked over to where the boys were seated. I saw my five boys — thankfully, not setting the pew ablaze — and then my eyes lingered a bit longer on my two nephew-sons. In that moment, I saw a glimpse of Nathan’s facial features lit up in both of them; my eyes got watery and a lump rose in my throat, and I couldn’t sing a couple of lines. I was thinking about singing with him in Glory one day, seeing his face lit up with the Light that lacks shadows, and I felt such a pull on my heart to want to be with him.

Instead of dreading you this year like I have done in the past, I’m going to choose to be thankful for you. Seeing you again is a reminder that my time on earth isn’t yet complete. There’s still work to be finished here, and for reasons often unbeknownst to me, the Lord has designated a few particular things for my doing. So, January, I offer you a truce. Perhaps by the time you roll around again, we might even be friends.