Sunday, December 30, 2012

like a sponge.

Lately I've felt like a sponge, thirstily soaking up any bit of wisdom or inspiration I can.  I find myself searching for it everywhere -- in Scripture, in books, in old journals, in songs, in quotes, in conversations.  I don't know why or how I've become so thirsty, but I'm like a dry sponge, soaking it all in and wanting more.

I wouldn't really call this a valley, or say I'm in a spiritually low place, because that's not true.  In fact, God is very real and very close...His work is more evident and His voice more clear than it has been in a while.  And yet I feel thirsty, needy, for more of Him, for more wisdom, truth, clarity, faith, light, inspiration, direction, hope, and holiness.

He satisfies the hungry soul with good things (Psalm 107:9).  He gives me a little every day.  A Scripture, a devotion, a line from a song.  Something specific to pray for.  A quote I wrote in my journal years ago, that spoke to me then and does again now.  Little sips to quench the thirst.  In fact, there are so many little "sips" I could share here -- thoughts that God has given or that have encouraged me lately -- that would probably seem so all-over-the-place if I wrote them all down here together, and you'd think I was crazy!  But they have kept me going...kept me thirsting...seeking for more from Him.  For more of Him.

At camp, we play a game with the kids involving a sponge and two buckets.  Each camper has to dip her sponge into a bucket of cold water from the creek, soaking up as much water as possible, then place the sponge on her head and run to the other end of the field.  At the other end of the field, there's a second bucket, and she squeezes her sponge out there before running back to the first bucket.  The object of the game is to be the first team to fill the second bucket.  It's hilarious to watch the kids play this game, running and laughing across the field with creek water streaming down their faces from the sponge on their head.  Some of the little ones hold it there too tightly, and squeeze most of the water out onto their own heads as they run, leaving nothing left to squeeze into the bucket.

I don't have a brilliant analogy for this.  Thinking about being a dry sponge just reminded me of it.  All I can say is, Lord, fill my bucket!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

worship leaders

So, for the past couple of months, my friend Kevin and I have been serving as interim worship leaders at a new church start in Knoxville.  Today was our last Sunday there.  On the drive home today, I was reflecting a bit on the whole experience and what I've learned from it.

Leading a congregation in worship is an honor and a huge responsibility.  People come into church -- hopefully -- with a need and desire to experience God and hear from Him.  Practically speaking, the worship music is the door to that.  Before they sit down to hear the Word of God preached, they take part in the music.  It is the worship leaders' responsibility to lead the people into the presence of God.  That's huge.  That involves not only what songs we choose to sing, but the order of them, the quality with which we play and sing, our own spiritual preparation, and the whole attitude and spirit we give off from the stage.  Like the shepherd (the pastor) feeds and guides the sheep, the worship leaders have a responsibility to lead them as well, and that has to be taken seriously.  Just choosing a few songs to sing doesn't cut it.  It takes focus, work, prayer, and preparation to actually lead the people into the spirit of worship.

All that being said.... A) I have a new respect for church worship leaders! and B) it has been a great experience for me to be a part of this ministry.

And C) unfortunately, another level of difficulty is added when there is a general lack of the Holy Spirit's presence in a particular congregation.  That is one thing Kevin and I have struggled with during our time at this church.  The church as a whole is spiritually dry, and in that case, even when you pray and prepare to lead worship, sometimes you still get dull, blank stares from the congregation.  That can be frustrating and discouraging.  I've heard worship leaders talk about this before; now I've experienced it.

I'm not saying there weren't moments in these past 2 months that the Spirit was present and people worshiped.  I'm not saying there weren't moments that I got lost in worship as I stood on that stage and played my guitar, and played a wrong chord because my eyes were closed in worship.... because yep, that happened ;-)

But there was a lot of dryness, too.  So I'm praying for this church -- for God to be welcomed and to bring that congregation to life spiritually.  I'm super thankful for the opportunity to serve there for the past 2 months!  It has certainly been a learning experience.  Moving on from here, I hope God will bless them graciously.

Friday, December 21, 2012

"We are not through the story yet."

I've been slowly reading through The Shadow of the Almighty, the biography of missionary martyr Jim Elliot, for a while now.  It's a potentially life-altering book, if you let it really touch your heart and challenge you.  His passion for God, ministry, and personal spiritual growth is challenging and inspiring, and there are a lot of insights on how God works, too.  Not to mention the love story between Jim and his wife Elisabeth...that's pretty incredible, too...and as a girl, of course I love a good love story :-)

Personally, I find it crazy how alike Jim Elliot and I are.  The book records a lot of his own writings - journals and letters - and so many of his thoughts, prayers, and desires echo my own at this season of my life.  I almost feel like I'm reading my own journal at times!!  Maybe if we'd lived at the same time, we would have been "kindred spirits."  Maybe it's just the heart of a single 20-something called to a life of ministry.  Whatever the reason for the similarities, it's good to feel like you're not alone.

Today as I was reading, I came across this passage, an excerpt from one of Jim's letters to Elisabeth.  It's one of those that is so true for me, I could have written myself:

"Oh, what an ache wanting can bring, when I know that the wanting is good, right, even God-granted, but realize that for now it is God-denied, and that He has not let me know all the wisdom of the denial. But I believe, and it is this that lets the living go seems to say, 'Take it easy; we are not through the story yet...'" 
(Jim Elliot)

Those words have been echoing in my heart all evening.  God knows what it is I want, the thing I'm waiting for, praying for.  Oh, what an ache wanting can bring.  He has His reasons for not giving it to me yet, and I trust Him, as much as I know how.  There is an ache in the waiting and wanting, but there is a joy in the trusting and hoping.  He sees the whole picture.  We are not through the story yet.  

Sunday, December 9, 2012

You raise me up!

Let me tell you a story.

In July of 2006, I was working as a camp counselor at Camp Ba Yo Ca.  It was a tough week.  It was hot, I was tired, and some of my campers were difficult to get along with.  I remember Tuesday of that week so clearly -- that night was going to be the weekly hiking trip and overnight camp-out on the mountain, and I was dreading it!  Like really, really dreading it.

At chapel that morning, one of the younger counselors did sign language to the song "You Raise Me Up."  I'm pretty sure that was one of the first times I'd heard that song.  The words washed over me, overwhelmingly, speaking to me right where I was.  You raise me up so I can stand on mountains.  Suddenly I had the strength to go climb that mountain -- and camp out on it -- strength I had completely lacked just a few minutes before.  I am strong when I am on Your shoulders.

I remember that song playing in my mind all day long that day.  But it wasn't in the annoying, song-stuck-in-your-head way.  Rather, it was like God used the words to carry me through that difficult day, one step at a time.

Since that week, I've often named "You Raise Me Up" as one of my favorite songs.  I like to listen to Josh Groban, the Celtic Woman, Selah, or anyone else sing it.  But I don't remember it ever speaking to me and blessing me like it did that morning at chapel....... until tonight.

Currently, I have a big opportunity in front of me that's both scary and exciting.  I haven't shared it with many people yet... if it all works out, I'll tell you about it, so until then just take my word for it :-)  Let's just say it's an opportunity that involves standing on some mountains and some strength I don't know if I have.  The website is open on my browser, staring at me all day long, waiting for me to work up the courage to make a decision.  It's been consuming my thoughts for several days.

And tonight, I was listening to Pandora while editing some pictures, and the Celtic Woman singing "You Raise Me Up" comes on.  I hummed along through the first verse and chorus, distracted by my work....and then somewhere in the second chorus, it hit me.  Listen to the words!  So I did.  And again, just like that morning at camp years ago, I was overwhelmed by what they were saying to me.

You raise me up so I can stand on mountains
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas
I am strong when I am on Your shoulders
You raise me up to more than I can be

I'm afraid of the "leap of faith" that is before me, but I want the courage to take it.
He will give me the courage....He will "raise me up."
I will not walk into this alone or unprotected.  He is my strength, and with Him I can do it.
With Him I am more than I can be on my own.
You raise me up.  Thank You, Jesus.