Saturday, April 18, 2009

Beware of Religion

Clearly blogging is a passion for me. I've even had to face a little ridicule because of it. I know I do it a lot, but I cannot help myself. It's not only a passion, it's an act of obedience for me. Let me explain.

Almost two years ago now, my life shifted from a full-time stay at home mom back to a working mom. You see when my two youngest came only ten months apart I was very blessed to have my boss, also my my mom, allow me to take a very long leave of absence from the work place. I think she realized what a handful two babies would be, and knew such a precious handful didn't belong in the hands of anyone other than someone who loved them enough to make sure we all survived those crazy hairy days. Did I mention that long leave of absence was five years long, with pay? And even now back at work, I am blessed with a greater flexibility than most, and for that I am extremely grateful.

So, back to the obedience. At the time of my return to work my "service" in ministry was entwined completely in serving in our church's women's bible study. I served in several capacities, I acted as a greeter, ran the computer check in, served doing overheads for worship and the teachings, I facilitated a small group and I even got to teach on occasion. It was the place of service for me, and I loved it. When I had to return to work, I had to let it go.

I enjoy serving, especially among women. I love the process of sharing my heart and getting them to dig deeper. I enjoy the opportunity to teach, though I consider myself more of an "exhorter" than I do a meat and potatoes, verse by verse instructor of the Word. It's funny, a few of us were talking at a prayer meeting last night and I decided to coin the term "vegetable teacher" because my style isn't as in depth as some (meat) but it's also not just light fare (baby food, if you will.) I give good healthy word, but it's still easy to chew! I think we all need to aspire to be "meat eaters" and I am part of the transition process from the milk to the meat. (I have totally wandered off point here... where was I?) Oh yes, yes, I loved serving as part of the women's bible study team but I didn't get to do it anymore.

So I was really missing it, and in a lot of ways I suddenly felt very disconnected and somewhat out of place. I didn't know where I fit anymore. I had a long history of struggling with not feeling of value without service, I felt more connected to the Lord by what I did that by who I was, and after having been on a previous hiatus from service for other personal reasons, I was fighting hard not to fall back into the trap of thinking God was mad at me if I wasn't giving of my time in some capacity.

But almost a year went by without feeling like I had any clearly defined roll in ministry, I actually started to get depressed. Don't misunderstand me, I had times and personal opportunities that I got to have a divine appointment or would get to speak encouragement to someone or make myself available to someone in need, but something was lacking. I learned the value of being open and available, but I craved the consistency of having a place I could feel like I was being about the Father's business, kingdom business I tried to fill holes where I could, volunteered willingly where there were needs, but when it isn't in the place the Lord has geared you for, the sense of being ministry putty (just filling holes, not actually belonging there) gets challenging after enough time goes by. Please don't misunderstand, we should always support our church and be willing to be that putty when needed, but that place is a place meant for someone else, and we need to find the place meant for us, because each one of us does have one; and when we are where we belong, there is an energy and a fulfillment that overcomes the weariness and challenges that come from giving of yourself.

(Note to self, this post has gone in a completely different direction than I anticipated.)

So, back to how being here and blogging so much is actually an act of obedience. After more than nine months of sitting on the proverbial "bench" I found myself at our women's ministry retreat. I wasn't going to go, I didn't have the funds and I really didn't have the desire. I was kind of suffering a little from "sore thumb syndrome", I felt like I stuck out and I was feeling pretty sensitive. Maybe it's a woman thing. When we feel disconnected we conjure it up to be far worse in our minds, we take the sense of not belonging and it becomes a sense of not being welcome. It's all in our heads, but it bleeds into our hearts too, and that's when we go down that road that no woman wants to and no man can understand. I can hear Neal now, "Why do you let it bother you what people think so much?) So Women's Retreat? I wasn't interested.

Until I got the call. Someone told me I needed to go, and they were so sure of it they were going to pay for it. They handed me a check on a Wednesday night and told me to find a friend to room with because they really felt I was supposed to go. So I did, but it wasn't comfortable and it wasn't easy. My closest friend was going with someone else who had blessed her by paying her way, and I really didn't know the other lady and didn't want to suddenly infringe on their planned time. One of my roommates was a good friend but we had kind of been going through some stuff between us and it was challenging. The other friend who let me stay in her room was there teaching a class that weekend and had a lot on her plate. I had lost touch with most of the other ladies who were there and none of my other good friends were there that weekend. So I went, but I wasn't totally happy about it.

It was a bit of a roller coaster weekend. Both of my roommates weren't showing up till Saturday morning so Friday night I had the room to myself. It took everything I had in me not to just hide out in the room. (I'm telling you it's totally a girl thing... possible change in title?) But I didn't, I forced myself to get up and go downstairs. I was of course glad I did, the word was good, the worship uplifting, but I still felt out of place. The Lord did speak to me during the worship time. One upside that had come from my disconnection was I had created a really good habit of getting up each morning and reading the Word, journaling and praying. Every day at the same time, I got up before the kids and kept this time set apart. I was religious about it. I was actually a little pleased with myself about the new level of commitment I had in my changing life. So as I was there in worship when I heard the Lord's still small voice, I heard him very clearly.

"I don't want to be a habit."... OUCH!

It was a humbling moment. In one fell swoop the Lord popped my religious bubble and brought me to my spiritual knees. By no means am I saying a daily devotional time is wrong, but it had become wrong for me, the way I was doing it. It had become about the actions instead of the purpose. I walked away each day proud I had done it rather than having actually made a connection. It would be like if I put a dry erase board on my refrigerator and used it to communicate with my kids each morning. "Mom loves you, hope you have a good day, be careful, make good choices. You're precious to me." I could write it all down and the right sentiments would be there but if I didn't bother to connect with them and communicate with them beyond the words, what value would it really have? I had succumbed to "dry erase" devotional time. The right sentiment was there, but there was nothing lasting about it.

It was a starting point for a lot of things the Lord wanted to speak to me. The weekend was all over the place, from profound moments, to emotional highs, I even got my feelings really hurt, I felt humiliated, but through every experience the Lord was speaking, it was like He was handing me these golden nuggets and I really took them, and held on to them, appreciating their value and substance, and I have kept them with me ever since, they're in my spiritual backpack if you will, and when I waver I pull them out and I remember that changing weekend.

I learned a lot. I was really encouraged by this wonderful godly woman who taught on prayer. She shared how shocked she was when she'd been asked because she never thought of herself as disciplined in prayer, she wasn't a "prayer closet" type. But her husband had helped her to realize that she was one of those "pray without ceasing types" because she talked to the Lord all the time. I thought, "hey, me too!" It isn't formal or religious, but it surely is relational. It brought freedom to me.

I connected with women I didn't know well, hung out with people outside my small circle and I realized I could be more open, I could still make new friends. I got to love on one young woman who had been in in my group when Neal and I served in youth ministry before and I realized all those years before I had made a lasting impact on her life. That was pretty cool.

Even when I got my feelings hurt and felt humiliated, I realized I needed to know that stuff like that happens. Even godly people are going to hurt your feelings, even embarrass you, but you can (and should) choose to give them the benefit of the doubt. I found there is freedom in that. Forgiveness lets us both off the hook.

But despite all the affirmation and encouragement, even the victory of beginning to overlook an offense there was still a little sense of feeling lost, longing for a place, a position of service. (Old habits die hard you know.)

So the weekend brought me about to a quiet time alone with the Lord on the last day of the retreat. I was sitting and reading the word and journaling (in a very relational way) and pouring out my hearts desire but also surrendering my will and the box I wanted to fit the Lord's plan in. He had shown me through the weekend that I had made a difference in people's lives, and I could still make a difference in people's lives, and even if I was just ministering to or encouraging one single person, that it was enough. I knew that, I used to always say when I got the chance to teach, "If it ministers to just one person, it served it's purpose," but God had to remind me. Because it didn't just apply to teachings, but to me as a person.

I had to let go of my religious preconceived notions and just be open and willing to allow the Lord to use me, when and where and how He wanted to. And even if I only ministered to that single person, that was enough. That person mattered enough to the Lord to put me at the right place at the right time to fill a need, or encourage one of His kids, or to bring in one of the lost sheep. Jesus ministered that way. Sure he stood before the masses and gave the Sermon on the Mount, but he touched a single blind man, took the hand of one lame person and helped him up.

So as I sat there taking in the luster of all the nuggets that He had been speaking (and it goes beyond even what I have shared in this already long post) I heard Him whisper to me again. He said, "Write."

Write. So simple yet so profound. I have heard about the line in Chariots of Fire (I still want to see the movie for myself) where the main character says something to the effect of, "When I run, I feel the Lord's pleasure." And I understand that statement. Because sometimes when I write, I feel it too. I'm not being prideful, because what I am saying to you is that writing isn't something I do, it's a gift God has given me. It's not my talent, it's His endowment. I can write because He has enabled me to, and when I get to use the gift He has given me, it's fulfilling. And if only one person gets blessed or encouraged by my using it, then that's enough.

And He told me, there were no limits on it. I can do it anytime, anywhere, as inspiration strikes (which by the way the inspiration I had to write this post has been completely shelved, the title has been changed and God has taken me off on His own rabbit trail with this post!) So I started to write, and I asked God for wisdom and direction and it wasn't much later that a friend at church came up and told me she had been praying for me and felt led to encourage me to consider blogging. So out of that was born this blog, My Walk of Faith. Even the URL portrays an accurate perception of why I do it. Diana loves to write. Because God has put a desire in me to share it. I hope it blesses people, I want it to bless lots of people, but if only one, one is enough.

What about you? We all have spiritual gifts. My husband has the gift of worship, he loves to play his drums, and he loves to play them for people and help get them caught up in the Lord's presence. It's fulfilling. I'm watching my children, their gifts just emerging. Jake has this natural gift to lead, I know because I see people wanting to follow him. He enjoys it, having people around him, getting them involved in things. He thrives on it. Ethan and Victoria are still a little young, but there are glimpses, Ethan may be a prayer warrior in the making, I see glimpses of both my giftings and Neal's passed down to our daughter (she's really loud and got a lot to say and loves to sing worship...)

When we find what God has given us, and realize it's for a purpose greater than our own desires, it's empowering, exciting. And when we use it, we not only get to bless others, but we get blessed ourselves. It's really quite amazing. But the fulfillment comes when we take those gifts and surrender them all to the Lord, open and willing to allow Him to use them for His kingdom, His kids, His purpose. Sometimes it means leaving our religious preconceived notions and intentions by the way side, removing the dry erase board and being willing and open and saying, "Lord, I'm just here and ready."

From 1 Corinthians chapter 12...

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men...

...All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines...

...The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ...

...Now the body is not made up of one part but of many... ...But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be...

...Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it....

To read the whole chapter of 1 Corinthians 12 you can click here.


Unknown said...

Wow...I am so glad that you do blog, because I am blessed and encouraged by you constantly!

Winnie said...

This post is very inspiring. It is exactly what I went through a while ago, and this is what God also taught me... amazing!