Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Where is my Trust?

Trusting in God is a difficult thing to do. At a workshop a couple of years ago, the speaker said the most important question is “Do you trust God with your life?” A quick response might be “yes, of course,” but I think the question is much deeper. A quick response does not really honor the magnitude of the question.

I hesitate to answer the question with a confident yes, because when I look at my life, there is evidence aplenty that shows I don’t really trust God with my life. I trust God with bits and pieces of it, but not my whole life. My economic position gets some of my trust. My physical condition and health gets some of my trust. My ability to earn income gets some of my trust. Yet none of these are guaranteed. I can’t rely on my physical condition to remain good, no matter how healthy my eating and exercise habits. I can’t rely on financial or economic conditions to always sustain me. Jobs go away, bank accounts dwindle, investments fail. Putting my trust in any of these is a losing proposition. We don’t always realize that these are shaky sources of trust until we actually lose these things. We worry and fret until we hopefully, reach a point where we recognize that we can do nothing about these, and that the only constant is God.

Trusting God with my life doesn’t mean that suffering will go away. It does mean, however, that even in the midst of suffering, I can be at peace because I am trusting in the only constant, the Source and Giver of life. If I can trust God with my life, I can see that all the other is shifting sand, and I cannot stand on it with confidence. It will be like being at the beach and feeling the sand wash out from under your feet as you stand at the edge of the water.

This morning I was reading the parable about the tenant farmers in Luke 20:9-19. I spent some time with the way Jesus identified them as tenants. A tenant has temporary custody of a place. He does not own it. I was reminded that I don’t own anything either. It has been entrusted to me to use to glorify God. When I put my trust in the gift instead of the Giver, I put myself in a place of uncertainty. Trusting God with my life means that I look to the Giver, and with my vision full of the Light, I know I have already received all the Gift I could ever need.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Cracked Pots

Some years ago in a small group study, we were given a piece of clay and told to make a pot. Some created attractive, symmetrical vessels, while others of us (myself included) brought out of our clay something less attractive, more misshapen and lopsided. Mine reminded me of a pot I made as a child. My clay skills had not improved over the years.

Once our pots were made, we discovered that they were to hold a small tea light candle. At this point, I realized that the most artistic and attractive pots did no better job at holding the candle than my own lopsided creation! That was a good lesson for me, reminding me that I should not compare myself with others, for we are all created by God, and given different gifts, abilities and appearances.

But that was not the lesson of this exercise. When we placed the candles in the pots, lit the wicks and turned out the lights, we discovered how ineffective our pots were as lanterns. Other than a small amount of light coming from the tops of the pots, we could not see much. The sturdy clay walls held the light in.

You may remember the story of Gideon and how, with only 300 men, he overtook the Midianites (Judges 7). The men each had a trumpet and an empty jar, with a torch inside each jar. Gideon instructed the men to blow their trumpets when he blew his trumpet and then to smash the jars so that the torches would shine brightly.

The problem with our pots was that they did not allow our lights to shine very brightly. The pots were well constructed, but opaque. How much of my life have I tried to construct my life as a sturdy, impervious vessel, able to withstand the various bumps and blows that life throws my way? My very effort to create a strong pot out of my life prevents Christ’s light from shining through me. Like the men of Gideon’s army, my jar must be broken open for light to shine out. But, oh, how we resist being broken open!

A life lived outside-in tries to construct a sturdy structure to prevent brokenness. If my attempts to be Christlike focus only on outward effort, I may get so caught up in “works” for God that I don’t let God inside nor do I let the light of Christ shine out of me.

A life lived inside-out understands that the light is the most important thing and must be allowed to shine. The structure thus must be fragile, permeable, cracked and broken so that the light can shine out. That is not necessarily encouraging to us, because we want to avoid suffering and brokenness. But what God wants from us is not rigidity. God is looking for cracked pots. They are the only pots that can be light for a dark world.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Bad Vines

Several years ago, my husband, Jim, planted a grape vine at our house. It was one he had found on his family farm and he thought it was an old variety. We didn’t expect much from it the first couple of years, because it had to get itself established. Jim did what he could to help it along.

We both got excited the first year we saw it bloom, but it didn’t produce anything that year. We were patient, however. For several years we watched the vine hint that it might produce grapes, but while the vine was lush and healthy and growing, no fruit ever showed up. Jim finally wrote it off, but we left it where it was planted.

It grows outside a window where I read and journal. I watch the birds land on it, and I’ve watched it grow all over a boxwood beneath the window, all over the window itself, and into the maple tree that might as well be called “bird central,” because it is the favorite spot for birds to land before and after getting seeds from our bird feeder. Just this past weekend, it reached a new milestone—it has managed to attach its tendrils to a limb from the flowering cherry tree planted in a corner of the yard.

I noticed this on a windy day, because I saw the limb unable to move when the wind blew. The vine, although much smaller than the limb it was attached to, had such a grip on the limb that I wondered if the vine would break the limb in a strong wind, damaging the tree but not harming the vine at all. As I watched the tree with its constricted movement, I thought about the lesson this vine was teaching me.

We took on the vine and tried to help it along, thinking it would be good for us when it bore fruit. How often have I gotten involved in some habit or activity or venture thinking it would be good for me or for my family? It may have been truly a good and beneficial thing for someone else or under different circumstances, but it fails to bear fruit for me. Instead of enhancing my life, it drains my life. Like the fruitless grape vine, it continues to spread its influence into my life, and I keep hoping things will change. When they fail to change, I may find it easier simply to let things continue rather than to make the change that will be life-giving for me because the change will be painful. Like this vine that we allowed to continue to grow, the activity or habit continues to spread its influence over me. My time may be so consumed by this venture or activity that I never stop to consider if it is drawing me nearer to God or pushing me away from God.

I would not have seen how the vine had spread if I had not been paying attention to it while watching the wind blow. The Holy Spirit, the wind of God, cannot move me if I have let the vine that is taking over my life continue its work. I have to pay attention to my relationship with God. I have to examine all that I am involved in to see if it is drawing me nearer to God, or, if, like my cherry tree, I am unable to move freely when the Spirit blows. I am unlikely to fall off a cliff away from God, instead, I drift away, inch by inch, as the tendrils of the fruitless vine overtake my heart.

If my life is unexamined, I won’t realize what is happening. Truthful examination won’t be pleasant, because when I really begin to look closely at my heart, I will discover that there are bad vines there. The only solution for the vine in our yard will be to cut it down. The same is true of the fruitless vines in my heart. It won’t be easy, and like plants often do, they will continue to try and put out new shoots. I will have to remain vigilant to put to death vines that have grown for many years but vigilance is necessary for me to grow toward God.