Lord, Bless This Mess

“Now the word of the Lord came unto Jonah … saying,Arise, go to Nineveh…” But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord,and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish.” 

—Jonah 1:1-3

 Here’s a confession. I hear but don’t always listen.

To hear is to use your auditory senses. When you hear, you do so with your ears. When you listen, you take it to the next level. What you hear becomes the center of attention. To listen is all about focus, concentration, and tuning in to the broadcast. The conversation gets clearer.

On the other hand, human frailty is something like this: even when God speaks, we sometimes don’t listen.  Thus, my recent Jonah moment. In the Old Testament narrative, God spoke clearly and Jonah went the opposite way.

I can sympathize with Jonah. I think I know how he felt.  In my own self-created “situation,” I was on the boat leaving Joppa, heading for Tarshish when I knew perfectly well I should be in Nineveh.

And, no, it wasn’t sheer disobedience. I never refused to do what God said. In fact, I pledged to do exactly what God instructed, just not right now. The conversation went something like this:  “OK, Lord, I heard You. But I’ll be right back. Just let me run over here for a second and do this first.” It was a small request, I hardly thought He would notice I was missing.

From that moment, I was leaning into a headwind—the kind of gust that sucks the air out of your lungs. Two choices were involved and I picked the option that I favored.  The result:  a mess.

Choosing to do what we want is always prideful, self-centered and disobedient. We learn quickly that we can’t run away from doing as God instructs, Jonah-style. Nor can we quietly saunter away, full of logical explanations, like me.  Whether you end up getting thrown overboard in a fierce typhoon or simply have your eyebrows knocked askew by a powerful gust of wind, God’s message is clear. Stop doing what you want to do.  The plan we choose can never be as effective or successful as the plan God chooses for us.

Listen and learn.

Living in everyday joy doesn’t make you immune to making regretful decisions. It does give you peace in every mess. You cultivate the ability to pray and ask God to send a taxi…or a whale…going in the right direction. God honors us when He graces us with a work that becomes a blessing to someone else.  In the end, just turn around and pray for deliverance whenever you feel that messy wind start to blow.

Everyone Needs A Stone

Then God went up from him at the place where he had talked with him.~

Genesis 35:13 (New International Version)

I have a stone. It is small and nondescript, smooth to the touch and primarily colorless.  It is my stone of remembrance.  It reminds me that, no matter what is going on in my life at any speck of time, God still appears in the middle of my situation. And He speaks.

I call it my quiet stone. Quiet because it diminishes my flagrant urge to gush and tell God all about something He already knows. The secret to effective Godly communications, for me, is listening. But don’t just take my word for it; let’s ask Jacob.  Jacob had that kind of encounter at a place he named Bethel, “house of God.”

Jacob called the place where God had talked with him Bethel.~ Verse 15

Let me be clear. When I say God speaks I mean He actually does talk to us.  The One Who is Creator of the universe will show up.  Often because I ask Him to.  Periodically I find myself saying, out loud:  “Lord, I just need you to come down here and see about me.”  I need Him to weigh in on my situation.  Then, occasionally He shows up just because.

I’ve learned that having a brief memory lapse is a typical human frailty.  It is easy to forget what God just did yesterday.   I need a stone to remind me that God is adequate.  He is enough.  He has everything that I need.  My stone reminds me that God is sufficiently able to do everything He has promised.  I’ll need that stone tomorrow—when I may not hear His voice so clearly.

My stone is a reminder of God’s presence whenever there are flashes of distraction, anguish or pangs of sheer perplexity, when I ask, “What was that? What just happened to me?”

Jacob set up a stone pillar at the place where God had talked with him…  Verse 14

I’m getting ready to walk around the house and yard to find the place that I will name my Bethel.  It shall be the place where I place my stone.  A place where I meet God and visit with Him.  We all need a stone.

God’s vision for Jacob was of him producing kings, procreating millions and generating a nation. God’s vision for us is possible, but it is not inevitable.  It materializes if we yield to His will . You will be great; you will do great things.  Your stone reminds you that God is with you and that He has a vision for your success far greater than anything you have imagined.

 (iStock Photo, Steve Gray)

The Power of Love

L L Cool J, the celebrity actor and rap artist, was interviewed on television the other day by Piers Morgan and asked about the key to his successful marriage.  “What is the secret?” Piers asked.  After just a brief moment of contemplation, his reply was brilliantly direct and simple, “Eat your soup and let her talk.”  Indeed!  Even as someone who has always enjoyed having the last word, I can appreciate that. In fact, I greatly love the quotation by theologian, Paul Tillich, who said:  “The first duty of love is to listen.”

In its best example of the power of love, we express our thankfulness and our praise for one another. Not just on the occasion of an annual love holiday, but every moment, every day, all year long.

The knowledge of how to live your best and most lovingly joyful life will forever transform, illuminate and unshackle you.

The celebration of Valentine’s Day is an occasion for us to exchange flowers, candy, gifts and verbal or written expressions of our love and commitment. We share love with others, not because they demand it, but because we choose to.

As one who was married and committed to one person for nearly fifty years, I know for certain that having a truly personal relationship with a loving God is best demonstrated by how well we love those around us.  And that includes our spouses, parents, children, friends, fellow Christians, neighbors, coworkers, colleagues, strangers—everybody.  Love demonstrates what living your best life is all about.  On the deepest level, the energy of our love reflects the energy of how much our Creator loves us.

Real love transcends distractions, procrastination, unforgiveness, and all of the reasons why we should not love one another.  To experience the true power of love, learn to express your love, even to those who may not love you.  After all, loving those who love you first is the easy part.  When you can love the difficult people in your life, then you know for certain that you’ve got this love thing figured out.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.~ 1 John 4:7 

(Photo:  ©iStockphoto.com/cillay)