G4OD, Day 18

Spiritual practice: Discomfort

I have a confession: I like to be comfortable. No, really, I do. I don’t know where it came from, nor when it began, but I like to be comfortable. But so do frogs in kettles. You have likely heard the story of slowly killing a frog in a kettle of water by gradually raising the temperature. Because of the subtle change, I have heard it said, the frog never experiences discomfort.
We are not so different. A small compromise today can remain an option tomorrow as well. This concept was discussed in my reading about purity, but it can apply anywhere. The author of The Purity Principle, Randy Alcorn, demonstrated the effects of choices by slowly pushing a book off the desk. Even though he kept praying that the book would not fall, it had to obey the laws of gravity.
Comfort. We like it. I like it. And discomfort can slowly push away from where we should be. When discomfort comes, my first instinct has been to step aside. I am convinced that that is completely the wrong direction. I should step INTO. Take skiing, for example. Among the handful of times that I have been on downhill skis are the trips 4th and 5th graders take at my sons’ school. As a new skill, I do not like it. I do not like making mistakes, but moreover, I do not like being uncomfortable. However, my youngest son has wanted – for months – for me come on his trip this year. I agreed. But what would I do?
I debated about whether to ski or not (not) and then what to say. Not wanting to lie, nor make excuse, I settled on a truthful answer if Jonathan asked for an explanation. He asked me why I did not plan to ski, and I gave him what seemed like the truth – “I’m more comfortable not skiing.” I now dislike and regret that response, but that is what I said. So I justified; I made it right. I helped students get started on their skis. I helped them put equipment on. I gave encouragement. I visited. All good things. All avoidance techniques. I was avoiding the possibility of failure.
When Jonathan became frustrated and wanted to head to the lodge, I felt like my attempt to avoid failure had put me right smack in the middle of it.
If a seed in the ground avoided discomfort, it would never bloom and grow. If animals avoided discomfort, they would not emerge from their eggs. What discomfort are we avoiding? At dinner time, a knock came on the door right after the pizza was delivered. In fact, I thought it was the delivery person who had noticed or forgotten something. It was, instead, a man who said his name was Barry. Barry said he had cancer and AIDS and would work to earn money for his medicine. He also said he was not a panhandler.
All of this made me uncomfortable. Talking with him was not uncomfortable by itself. The nagging “What to do?” question did provide discomfort. I did know a request for money was coming. I did not know what was the truth. Did he have cancer? Would he buy medicine? His story was well-oiled, as they often are. BUT, I did know this truth: something has happened in Barry’s life that has made him dependent on others. He did ask for money, which I declined. I did ask where he was staying and did tell him he may stop by any time to see me. He finally settled upon asking for a cold beverage which I was glad to oblige.
What did Jonathan and Barry have in common today? Both were looking to m for help in their mess, in their discomfort. Instead of stepping into the mess with them, I offered advice from a safe distance. I need to work on that.
Think of a time when you would say Jesus was uncomfortable. The closest thing I could think of was his torture and crucifixion. But, even in that, his exercise of self-restraint, self-sacrifice, was precisely what he had practiced all of his life. It may have been a very comfortable experience for his spirit in that it was exactly right. We would do well to follow his lead.
The other day I considered adopting a practice of engaging new experiences for three seconds. Enter into a mess for three seconds. That is long enough to settle your feet, long enough to say, “Father, Son, Holy Spirit.” Long enough to decide if that discomfort is where you can stay while you are needed. Barry was looking for a quick fix to his discomfort. So was I. What I pray I will do is learn how to embrace discomfort. Did you notice that I mentioned that Barry knocked right after the pizza arrived? There is half of a pizza in the fridge right now. Am I so dense? Suppose I had taken three seconds to say, “Father, Son, Holy Spirit”? They may have revealed to me that Barry should step in and dine with us for the evening. That would have fit well with my spirit. Instead, I turned my discomfort aside.
Jonathan, while in the lodge today, saw me being comfortable. Then he saw me operate where I am comfortable – behind the scenes. He and I talked and he received my encouragement. He bounced back and later attacked his discomfort with joy. By the end of the day, he was looking at the hills he will engage next year.
Jesus was not just “Teacher,” but he was and is the one who takes away the sin of the world. He could not do such a thing unless he first decided to step into our mess. We have the same opportunity: to step into discomfort for the chance to grow, grow in faith, trust, love, grace, mercy and so much more. Do not run from your discomfort. Engage it with the help of the Lord.
There is a creed in the Heidelberg that reminds us of our “only comfort in life and death.” That only comfort – “that I am not my own, but belong body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ” – offers great comfort. But what if it is true, what if that is my only comfort?
If that is true, then what are all these other things that I call comforts? Be careful, they may all be steps toward the edge. They may be steps that take us away from the center – the center of God!s will.
Take the steps you need to place yourself back there, back in the center of His will. The steps themselves may feel uncomfortable, but I am certain that they will sit well with your spirit.

G4OD, Day 17

Spiritual practice: Gratitude through praise

Allow me to confess that this came at a time when I felt especially ungrateful. In my humble opinion, nothing was going right. In my humble and accurate opinion, that was all my fault. I experienced a stretch of a day when I felt especially inadequate. To make matters worse, I could not think of anything for which to be thankful. Everything that I had at that point in time was something that I already had – so why be thankful?
The Lord began to convict me, revealing that I was treating gratitude as an item to mark off my checklist. Gratitude was a requirement. No wonder I felt like a grouch – I was failing my own requirement to be thankful. I wondered if I should resume reading 1,000 Gifts, but that thought did not appeal to me. The truth is, I was stuck.
Then I remembered a time in my life when I praised in spite of my circumstances. Whether I saw God working or not, I had praised him for who he is.
It started to add up. For the previous two days, I had turned off the music during my drive and had dynamic, conversational prayer. It had been exactly what I needed. But if we only allow ourselves to see God as a best friend, we soon lose sight of his majesty. His power. His magnificence. And if we begin to interact with God as a peer, we will have little reason for gratitude.
What we do not always see is the dynamic relationship of the Trinity, of the three-in-one. We might miss how amazing that is if we just have “fireside chats” with Jesus. We might miss that we should praise. And I remembered that I should.
I opened a new cd that I had recently purchased and began to sing along. Yet again the words and the sequence of songs spoke powerfully into my circumstances. God was my DJ, and God was also my audience. He was my reason for praise. And, within, 15 minutes, God had completely undone my self-imposed prison of thanklessness. As the day progressed, I began to see God everywhere. I began to write down all the things that I saw him doing, and I could not keep up.
By the end of the day I had gone from having no reason to be thankful to understanding that God uses EVERYthing. Why the change? Praise. Praise had shifted my eyesight. You do not praise one below, nor even one next to. To praise is to set one above, to rightfully elevate. I had rightfully elevated God by my praise, and that allowed me to take my rightful place: in his hand.
God s worthy of our praise – the only one worthy of our praise. If you want to experience your own deep sense of gratitude for what God has done, begin with praise.

G40D, Day 16

Spiritual practice: Purity

For your consideration on this practice, I invite you to read the written piece “Love Above.” This word has been planted in my life over the past week in conversations, readings, and application. The other day a friend shared about a transition to vegetarian practices. I shared my own sense that it was a practice I should adopt. He noted that he didn’t notice the daily difference, but he did notice when he went against the practice. Now, if he eats meat, particularly one that will be difficult to digest, his body rebels.
I have experienced that before. Soda is something that others will give up. They choose other beverages and then, after time, might try soda again. Their body does not know what to do with the substance. Something it once enjoyed, even craved, now stabs the body like an enemy! Our bodies and our daily lives do need a purity scan. There are many practices and consumptions that we have slowly taken on that are not if God’s original design. Our body, our life, adapts to the toxin and tolerates more..and more. Then, with time, it craves what it never wanted.
The topic of purity is often applied to our status as physical beings with sexual desires, and it is good to examine those practices. But if you believe that there is nothing impure in any other area of your life, well, I am concerned for your toxicity levels, friend. Our lives need examination. Our lives crave examination. Our body is a temple and our life is a song, do we not wish to take time to present our best?
A short book that can get you started is Randy Alcorn’s A Purity Principle. You could easily read the book in one day, but the thoughts within it deserve longer consideration. For fun, read it openly at work and see what self-conscious thoughts you have or comments you receive. Reading a book on purity at work almost begs the question: What is wrong with you? You could answer such a question this way: I’m feeling impure and I don’t want to be; I’ll let you read it when I’m done.
Maybe you begin by removing a particular food or beverage from your diet. I am convinced that our physical and spiritual lives are intricately woven together. Be it meat, pop, alcohol, sweets – there is much research available to guide your decision. But do examine and begin. You might not even be aware of the toxins you’ve ingested.

G40D, Day 15

Spiritual practice: Surrender

When the weight pressing against you becomes too much to bear, what do you do? Great question, but I am not so glad you asked. If I respond honestly, I would have to say that I “try harder.” That works about as well for me as I imagine that it does for you.
Perhaps as a temporary reprieve you can flex your muscles and try harder. Ultimately, however, you will find yourself pushing against a weight you cannot bear.
I knew that I needed to practice the act of surrender. I knew because nothing else worked. Thankfully I can recall times when surrendering my burdens to God has proven to be exactly the right move. We attempt to carry far more than we have ever been asked, and then we wonder why we don’t seem to be moving like we expected.
I wish that I could adequately describe the relief I experienced by surrendering; I will simply begin by saying that I wish I had done it sooner. But that is how we operate, isn’t it? We measure ourselves by our success against great obstacles. We forget that it is not our success at all; and that is why God reminds us.
I also wish that I could say I had surrendered before helping my sons prepare for school. I did not. In fact, it was my own inadequacy in that department that pushed me to the point of surrender. So, by God’s grace, I brought my sons to school and then had a talk with my Father as I drove to work. It was in that talk that He undid me: undid my false beliefs, undid my false expectations, undid my false fears. In short, He laid me bare. And that was exactly what I needed.
The blessings of the day and the course of the day, I am certain, were only available to me because of what I had set down. My day was filled with more surprises than I can even recall. I was free to receive.
We often sing a remix of an old, old song. With our lives we sing,
“I surrender some, I surrender some (just this and not that)! Some to Jesus I surrender (hey, I said not THAT), I surrender some!”
Thank the Lord there is mercy when we sing, because we often sing a wish more than we sing truth. I surrender some. And tomorrow I will be prone to take it back. Much like the joke of losing 15 pounds but finding 20, we like to measure ourselves against our problems. Alone in that, we will always come up short.
There is an accurate word of encouragement that applies here: Do not tell God how big your problems are; tell your problems how big your God is.
He knows; He is.
Surrender that burden you carry and watch the gift God will pour back into you.