In the Wilderness

A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD: make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

Call me dumb, but I have never before today noticed the placement of the colon in that oh so familiar scripture. It’s amazing that with a change of inflection, a verse you think you understand takes on a whole different nuance.

I used to think the first few words were simply setting the scene for John the Baptist who hung out in wild places and that’s all there was to it – the description of a scene for the more important announcement that was made next. While it still does set the scene for that announcement, this morning it set the scene for my heart.  What I see today is that while you are in the wilderness, prepare the way for the LORD.

The wilderness is often what we refer to when we are in a hard season where there doesn’t seem to be much growth or movement. It doesn’t feel like we are flourishing and rather we feel in want. Thirsty for something refreshing to take away the drought or worse yet the pain. The wilderness often has a vast landscape and we most likely don’t know when we will reach the end of it. That place where we can see the waters flowing and the promises of God before us. John the Baptist is proclaiming something else. He is saying, though you are in the wilderness, you can be in it with expectation. Expect growth and know that your wandering and panting is laying down the pathway for God to take you to where He is leading. Expect great things.

I wake up two times a night now with my mom to reposition her for comfort and care. I’m already tired and it hasn’t been that long. I feel like I’ve just stepped into a new wilderness and refreshment and flourishing needs to be carefully thought through and stewarded lest I thirst to the point of despair. I’m in need of endurance because I don’t know how long this road will be. One thing I know for sure – God is here with me. He is showing up in the blooming of friendships just started. In the kindling surrounding our family where I am hoping will set a fire in the hearts of my boys. They are watching and participating and although I resisted this being part of their story, it is what it is and God doesn’t waste a thing. He is writing something new with them and He is writing what may or may not be a long ending to the story for my mom and I. Regardless of how it plays out, I know I need Him. I long for Him and I won’t travel this journey well without Him.

Where are you? That’s the question God asked Adam in the Garden where there was nothing but flourishing for a long while. The question is a good one to ask at the first of a year because it helps us determine where our hearts are and how we are seeing God and hearing His voice.

Where are you? I hope and pray where ever you are, you know He is near.

The Practice of Spiritual Friendships {The LIFT Project}

In week 3 of the LIFT Course on The Leader’s Soul, Mindy Caliguire gave us 6 spiritual practices leaders must consider in terms of soul care:

Prayer {Central to everything, the language of our relationship with God, the most direct and obvious way our soul opens up to God – His person, His grace, His healing}

Use of Scripture {Not one particular but all… study, memorization, meditation, praying scriptures, etc.}

Spiritual Friendship {One that often gets left off the charts because we want to protect ourselves.  People in ministry tend to isolate themselves.}

Solitude {connecting to the idea of silence to exempt ourselves from the demands of life where we can hear from God}

Soul Searching {Examining your heart in the spirit of Psalm 139: “Search me Oh God and know my heart…”}

Simplicity {NOT about making your life more manageable but a focused life on Jesus, living with integrity and faithfulness to the life He has called you to}

Mindy says the biggest enemy to simplicity is actually duplicity.  Where we are one person in one environment {church, small group, Bible study} and another person in a different environment {school, work, at home}.    It occurred to me that in order to live a life of Biblical simplicity, one cannot avoid the call to live in and through Spiritual Friendships.  Sometimes called “fellowship,” spiritual friends are those who you can be your authentic self with, who you can go to when you need prayer for the deepest, darkest parts of your life, those who you have invited to hold you accountable to walking in the way of Jesus and those who spur you on to love and good deeds, who encourage you, who help you maximize your strengths but are not afraid to walk alongside you in your weakness.

It is through spiritual friendships that we can come face to face with the living God, when we can actually touch, see and feel the work of Jesus in this broken world.  Through spiritual friendship we learn, are stretched and are even broken by community. 

Authentic spiritual friendships are where the temptation to live in duplicity is broken down and the joy of living in simplicity is ushered in.

We were asked at the end of this session to discuss two questions:

1. What has been the biggest challenge for you as a leader in engaging in spiritual practices?

2. What is one spiritual practice that you most depend on these days?

My answers… number 1… prayer and silence.  A mom of 4 has little time for silence and I see now why it’s called a discipline.  Discipline is difficult and it requires a will with intention and perseverance.  Honestly, I’m tired most of the time and when it’s silent I tend to fall asleep.  On a good day I will wake up early and take a few moments to myself that include silence and prayer.  This requires the discipline of setting the alarm and not being distracted by housework, emails, Facebook etc.  But the practice of prayer… really consistently going to the face down with own life and the lives of those I love and shepherd is one that I need to set aside time for.  Sure, I pray all day long…quick popcorn prayers that I believe whole heartedly God hears, loves and answers.  But the kind of prayer you take a considerable time for, the kind that nurtures your soul is one I crave.

Secondly the discipline I rely most on is that of spiritual friendships.  For me as a leader, I’m thankful that I’ve never been tempted to isolate from the few who I know love me despite all my shortcomings.  Without these friends, first and foremost my husband, I don’t think I could survive.  Yet the fear of disappointment, the fear of of not measuring up, the balance of loving my family as much as I love my friends are all distractions that have their way of creeping in.

Practice makes perfect they say.  So spiritual practices or disciplines if you will, are a necessary part of sanctification that God so desires for us.

“And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” ~ James 1:4

What about you?

1. What has been the biggest challenge for you as a leader in engaging in spiritual practices?

2. What is one spiritual practice that you most depend on these days?

The LIFT Project: The Leader’s Soul

I’ve been taking an online class through Willow Creek Association’s Leadership Institute for Transformation called The Leader’s Soul.  It has been eye opening, heart opening and quite revealing all at the same time.  The class, focused on the soul of  a leader has challenged me in the way I care for my own soul while being in a so-called soul-care vocation, if you will.  As a church leader it is an honor, privilege and blessing to walk alongside others in hopes that God may use me to care for the soul of another, pointing them towards Him… the Shepherd of our souls.

Yet if I’m going to be truthful, I would have to admit that it is far too easy to neglect my own soul in the middle of life.  Kids, schedules, meetings, late night studying, piles of laundry, meal planning and the ever increasing collection of dust and baseball dirt in the house leave me with little but moments here and there to tend to this soul.

I want to spend a little time this week sharing what I’ve been learning in hopes that it may encourage you.  The very first week of the course proposed two questions:

What are your symptoms of soul neglect?

What are your symptoms of soul health?

How do you know when you are neglecting the care of your own soul?  How does it become a problem for you in your relationships? Your parenting?  Does it effect your work?  I know when I am neglecting my soul when my general attitude towards people becomes more snarky.  I tend to have a dry sense of humor…witty…ahem… okay, I’m a little sarcastic.  But the line is crossed a little too easily when I am depleted of every good thing that keeps my heart and mind focused on the right things.  I get snarky.  Sarcastic at the wrong time with the wrong people.  I also am tired very quickly… I want to check out, shut down and go to bed.

But when my soul is being fed, nourished and healthy… I am far more patient, I laugh a lot more often and things are more peaceful at home.  My soul needs regular moments of quiet.  Time in the word, not just reading but thinking and writing and asking God to change me.

Mindy Caliguire, who is one of the instructors of the course pointed out that just like care for our physical bodies through eating right and working out, our souls need care to be strengthened and nourished.  Not only that but every day we make a choice one way or the other to care for our souls or neglect our souls.

The Leader’s Soul class has challenged me in my choices… there are many things about life that cannot be changed and many things I would not wish to change.   I really believe that if we care for our souls and stay on course with Jesus, He gives us a grace for whatever He has for us in life.  It comes down to choices in how we are going to be faithful to that which He has given us.  For me, where I gain my perspective, from Whom I draw my strength and the way I choose to use and give my first fruits of time and energy MUST change.

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”

What about you? 

How do you know when your soul is healthy? 

How do you know when it is being neglected?