As I breathe in the last few weeks of summer, I am reminded of one truth a wise mom shared with me when I was struggling with a couple of toddlers. “The days are long,” she said, “but the years go fast.” At the end of each summer, I feel the truth of this statement weighing down on me. The years have gone fast, and they show no signs of slowing.
I cannot help but begin counting down the summers I have with my eldest child.
I’m forced to recognize the numbers of summers I will still be in my forties.
Only one. (Yikes!)
I’m reminded of the summers I will still have with both of my parents still living.
I am a summer girl. I love the sunshine, the green grass, the lake, and lazy afternoons. I love sitting on the dock with my feet in the water. I love popsicles, watermelon, and corn on the cob. I love watching baseball outside and feeling the sand in my hair after a day at the beach. I love golf and waterskiing and watching the sail boat races from our back deck. I love time with friends and staying up late.
But when August hits, I feel the relaxing tide begin to turn. I start thinking about preparing for classes, my kids start practicing for fall sports and start panicking because they haven’t yet made it through their summer reading list. The sun sets a little sooner and the weather feels a bit cooler. I stop watering my hanging baskets, and I start thinking about shopping for school.
My son saw the Sunday circular out on the table with the pictures of brightly-colored school supplies and his mood shifted. He grabbed the paper, crumpled it up, and threw it into the trash can with a vengeance. “Summer is NOT OVER,” he shouted. You know what? He was right.
It’s times like these that I have to force myself to stop rushing my life, to stop being anxious for what the future holds. There is still one month left of summer. Why am I rushing to the next thing?
Often times, I think about the ministry of Jesus and how he had a mere three years to lay the foundation of truth that would change the world. He had a very short time to instruct his disciples, and yet he walked through his days without rushing, without a to-do list, and without a sense of hurry. He took time to build relationships. He took time to listen. He took time to live life with those he loved and offer life to those he had yet to meet.
Jesus spent time teaching his people not to be anxious, and not to worry about tomorrow. Even when telling the disciples about what he would need to endure, he did so with an air of peace. He spoke the comforting words in Matthew 6:25-34 just for us, to help us overcome any anxious feelings we may be having. His kingship has already been established, and we need not fret about the future. Our heavenly Father knows our needs now and forever.
And here I was skipping the last weeks of summer so that I could get the first crack at the notebooks and pencil pouches at the local discount store.
So, I’ll stop looking at the calendar and I’ll forget about the school supplies for a while. Instead, I’ll drop my feet back in the lake and grab a popsicle (cherry is my favorite) and enjoy these last lazy days of summer with my kids. Hurry can wait.
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
As I am reading through the gospels with my children during this Lenten season, I am struck once more by how often we read about Jesus making time to get away and talk with God.
Mark records Jesus getting up in the morning, while it was still dark, to find a solitary place where he prayed. Matthew records Jesus dismissing his disciples and heading up to a mountainside where he could be alone with God. Luke writes how Jesus spent the entire night praying, calling out to God.
Luke records Jesus crying out to God in prayer on the eve of his crucifixion. And when Jesus did that, Luke writes that an angel from heaven “appeared to him and strengthened him” (Luke 22: 43). While Jesus was crying out to God in the garden, his disciples were nearby. Although he’d asked them to pray, they were sleeping.
As I closed the book for the night, tucked in my boys and headed off to my own bed, I began to wonder… how often, at the end of the day, I choose sleep over prayer. I sleep as a way to escape the problems of the day rather than cry out to God, as a way to gain strength to face those same problems.
In the Garden, on the night Jesus was betrayed, we see God once again offering something Jesus desperately needs. As a response to Jesus’ prayer, as a loving response to Jesus’ cry for help, God, gives Jesus strength.
Oftentimes, when faced with what seems like an impossible task, I find myself doing one of two things—either running around frantic, trying to control the outcome, or shutting down—sleeping—in order to avoid it.
But Jesus’ approach is different. On that particular night, He must have been physically exhausted, emotionally spent, and spiritually stretched. He knew what was coming. The task must have seemed impossible. But instead of running around or sleeping off the stress, He goes directly to His Father. He cries out to God. And God, in his mercy, gives him strength.
Many years before that night in the Garden of Gethsemane, David, God’s anointed King, spent a lot of time crying out to God. When he found himself in an impossible situation, this man of God, this man after God’s own heart, held nothing back as he expressed his distress to God. Psalm 13 is particularly telling of his need to cry out to God. Read the contrast from David’s first few lines to his last few lines.
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?…
But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.
David cries out to God. He lets fly his frustration. But by the end of the Psalm, David changes his tune. His attitude is reworked. Somehow, as the words pour out, God pours strength in. By the end of the Psalm, David writes, BUT I TRUST YOU.
The night Jesus prayed in the garden, I can only imagine how much he might have wanted to just close his eyes and sleep, hoping that when he woke, it would all be over. Sometimes the problems of this world bring us to that point too, where we wish we could just make it all go away.
But God has a different way. He shows us that when we cry out to him, he responds. He responds with exactly what we need to accomplish what he has set for us to do. In his mercy, God gives us what we need. All He asks, is that we cry out to him.
Then Christ, with the understanding of someone who’s gone through a time of weakness, turns around and offers the same strength to us.
Dear Lord, we thank you for this time before Easter—time to reflect on the story of your great sacrifice for us, of the pain you must have felt leading up to the crucifixion, and of the humanity of Christ, for it is through his humanity that we see how to come to you, how to cry out to you, and how to pray. Thank you for always responding to our prayers with exactly what you know we need. Help us to remember that your grace is sufficient for us and that through our weakness, your strength shines through. In gratefulness, we give you praise. Amen.
This past week we mourned the death of one of the greatest evangelists our world has ever known. At the age of 99, Billy Graham went home to the heaven he so passionately preached about. Countless news outlets, social media outlets, churches and ministries posted the message: He is Home! What a glorious day for Billy Graham, for in his earthly death, he met Jesus face to face. Praise God for His promise of eternal life. Billy Graham is now living that reality.
Billy Graham’s family gave touching tributes to his memory and powerful Gospel presentations. One that really caught my attention was a statement from Nelson Graham, Billy’s son. In his tribute to his father, Nelson claimed that Billy Graham was FAT. After getting our attention, Nelson explained.
“My father was F-A-T. He was Faithful, he was Available, and he was Teachable … May we all be that way.”
In just a couple of sentences, a son summed up the life of his father. In just three words, Nelson Graham let us all know what was important to this renowned evangelist and teacher. His father loved the Lord, was present for anyone who expressed a need, and displayed a humility apparent to all who had the honor of knowing him.
In a culture that applauds what we can produce, what we can show, and how many likes we get on social media, this message is quite contradictory. It was a great reminder to me to keep my desires and motivations in check as I make my way in this world. Let’s face it, that is not always easy to do.
We sometimes spend our time and energy attempting to obtain recognition and acknowledgement for what we have accomplished. We strive and complete to earn a prize from the world that says we are the best at what we do. We want to be remembered for what we did well in this life.
Living a FAT life means keeping our eyes squarely on God, his work in this world, and his work within us. In Psalm 37, David gives us a good road map to becoming faithful, available, and teachable.
Trust in the LORD and do good;
Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the LORD;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the LORD,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.
Often times, I charge ahead with a goal or a dream and ask the Lord to bless it rather than submitting to the Lord and having Him determine my path. This is not the way of someone who is both faithful and teachable.
God offers us more encouragement on how He can guide our steps if we let him lead the way. Proverbs 3:5-6 says
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
As for being present, I have made some changes this year to slow that tide. It means saying no to things, some very good things, in order to be present with those I am attempting to serve. My students, my small group, my colleagues, and my family. For me, being present means not being so overscheduled that I cannot adjust my day to make room for someone who needs my ear. It means spending more time in God’s word than ever before. Breaking busy is hard. It’s counter-cultural. And it’s worth it.
Franklin Graham, another of Billy Graham’s sons, closed his comments with one that gives hope for all who accept Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord.
“My father preached on heaven, told millions how to find heaven, wrote a book on heaven, and now he’s in heaven. His journey is complete.”
So, feel free to call me FAT. I consider it a compliment.
I always figured that anything that required study couldn’t possibly be delightful. But one of my Bible Study mentors has challenged me to see it differently with his book, Delights and Disciplines of Bible Study. Listen in on our conversation HERE on Faith Radio.
My heart was beating wildly as I watched my son stand at the edge of a small cliff off the coast of southern Greece. The beautiful turquoise waters beckoned him to jump, but his feet said “no.” While I had watched seven older cousins make the leap, I wondered if giving permission to my youngest to jump off a cliff might have not been my best parenting decision.
Fear was gripping his little mind. There was the fear of physical harm if the jump didn’t go well, and the fear of humiliation if he decided to crawl back down the cliff. After all, his brother and cousins had already made the leap.
I tried to yell up words of encouragement when I remembered years ago, trying to get him to jump off the diving board at our local pool. If I remained on the side of the pool, he would jump off the board sideways, narrowly missing the edge of the pool. But when I swam out beyond the diving board, then he would jump out safely and swim right to me.
I immediately left the side of the cliff where I was safely watching from afar and swam out to where he would ideally land. I said, “Just jump out to me and swim my way, just like we used to do at the pool. Don’t look down, just look at me. I’ll be right here.”
What happened next was a combination of sheer terror and sheer delight (mine and his) as I watched my son leap from the edge of the cliff and into the water in front of me. Within seconds, he emerged from the brilliant blue, wide eyed and smiling. He swam right to me and screamed, “I did it!” He may have doubted the water, but he trusted me at my word, that I’d be there when he came up.
In his gospel, Matthew tells a story about the disciple Peter, who also towed the line between fear and trust.
One of my greatest joys is to hear my sons playing their instruments in the house. My youngest plays piano—sweet and melodic. My oldest plays electric guitar—not quite as sweet, but reminiscent of the 8Os rock I used to crank through my boom-box. Either way, it’s a glorious sound, the sound of people using their talents to touch another soul, bringing joy to someone fortunate enough to be within earshot of their creative expression. I can honestly say, the music somehow restores my soul and helps me connect with our praise-worthy God.
I was fortunate to grow up in a musical household. My Mom would come into my room in the morning and actually sing to wake me up. She would also sing in the course of regular conversation. If someone inadvertently made a comment that came anywhere close to resembling a song lyric, she’d pick up there and sing the chorus for our listening pleasure. But what I loved most about having a professional opera singer for a mother was standing next to her in church. Those hymns take on a whole new meaning when you hear them belted out by a soprano who can hit all the notes. And (side note) I have yet to hear a rendition of “O Holy Night” that holds a candle to hers, which I heard each Christmas eve at the Midnight service. Simply spectacular.
My Mom always said that God loves to hear us sing praises to God. She has a poster hanging in her music room that reads, “He who sings prays twice.” The phrase is sometimes credited to St. Augustine, but the sentiment first appears in the Psalms. Read More