When is Enough Enough?

Seven years ago became a two-girl family. No, we hadn’t had a baby—that would have taken a class “A” miracle! Missionary friends sent us their daughter in 2009 when she became college age. Then in 2011 a second missionary family, who are great friends and live out of the country, sent their oldest daughter to live with us. We became something we never imagined—a haven for young adults who were formerly ex-patriots.

Our two girls could not have lived in countries that were more different. Emily came from Mongolia, a dry, barren part of the world that spends nine months of the year below zero and where the main diet is meat and root vegetables. The other girl, Sarah, lived in a poor fishing village in Mexico, two blocks from a beautiful beach in that lush, semi-tropical country where seventy-five degrees is considered really cold and the diet consists of a huge variety of fresh fruit and vegetables but very little meat. One thing they both have in common is a familiarity with a large variety of people and living conditions. Needless to say, there was a never-ending list of topics for conversations at our home.

One thing that experiencing other cultures adds to your life is an appreciation for the little things we are blessed to have here in the United States. Sarah speaks of putting an electric rod in a bucket of water to heat it up and then using the heated water for showering. Emily talks of how she enjoyed going to their outhouse on forty-below-zero mornings just as the sun was coming up and being amazed at the glorious colors of the sunrise. Their shared bathroom at our home may have had the most unusual green fixtures ever seen, but at least they functioned in the normal American way. There wasn’t, however, the sound of the surf or a view of the sky.

Somewhere along the way, Americans have come to believe that the way things happen in the United States is normal. We consider our mere existence as being enough to make us deserve comfort and ease. Too many Americans function as if the world owes us something. Fortunately, most of the world cares nothing about our petty demands. Millions of people accept abject poverty as a way of life, working together as communities to help each other through the difficult circumstances around them. Much of the world scrubs their clothes in rivers, digs trenches for latrines, and cooks their food over open fires. The idea of a bedroom for each child is unheard of in most cultures. Many of the rooms in my house are larger than the average home for much of the world. People are too busy making a life for their families to complain or even contemplate that there could be a different way to live.

When is enough enough? The idea of contentment is becoming a foreign concept to people in our country. Instead of being thankful for the blessings we have, we protest that we can’t have it all. After all, we deserve it. We are Americans.
As I listened to our girls talk with delight about the places where they grew up, I realized their fond memories were not about things they had but about the people who surrounded them. Emily enjoyed putting on plays with friends and having deep conversations with neighbors. Speaking of cooking together as a community and freely dropping into each other’s homes makes Sarah’s eyes sparkle. The joy of working together to accomplish a task and sharing resources so the entire community could celebrate together are highlights of their lives. There is no talk of personal rights or accumulation of “stuff”. The joy of their lives are more basic. It’s all about family and friends.

I may have been the “mom” of the family, but I had much to learn from our “daughters.” Traveling into other cultures is not new to me, but I must confess that a public water closet in Evion, France that was a simply a hole in a concrete floor was way beyond my comfort zone. But as we lived and worked together, my list of basics shrank and my “Dream List” came to contain more relationship goals than physical stuff. Sharing our home for a few years was very good for me.

Julia, Do You Love Me?

This morning I read again the story of Jesus meeting His disciples at the sea shore after His resurrection and how He spoke to Peter, asking him three times if Peter loved him.(John 21) How those questions must have tugged at Peter’s heart knowing, that just days before, he had forcefully denied that he even knew Jesus. Jesus was so tender with Peter, asking him if he loved Him and then giving him the task of feeding His sheep. As I read the story, my heart once again felt Jesus asking me those same questions, “Julia, do you love Me?”

The word Jesus used for love was the Greek word agapaō. When I typed the word in my prayer this morning (I usually write out my prayers to God.) I typed “agape”. The Thesaurus told me that the word means open, astonished, amazed, openmouthed, surprised, shocked, and agog. Those words seem to fit the kind of love I have for God. I am often amazed and surprised by how He loves me and how He works in my life. Yet Jesus wasn’t asking Peter, and He is not asking me if I am amazed by Him, He is asking if I love Him with total commitment and devotion.

Over the years I have struggled to apply the word love to my life. I am not a people person. I have lived my life surrounded by people, interacting daily with them, teaching and leading them. I am energized by many of those interactions but also drained by some. I don’t naturally enjoy being around others. I would say I am an introvert who has lived her life as an extrovert. Many times I have said I don’t like people in general. That struggle has even worked its way into my relationship with God. Do I love people as God asks me to love them? Do I obey the great commandment and love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength?

When I attended Grace University we had assigned seats for chapel. I sat next to a very strange guy who one day wrote the same sentence over and over in his notebook. That sentence was, “Love is the feeling that we feel when we feel a feeling that we’ve never felt before.” My problem has been that I have looked at love as a feeling, an emotion or some sentimental, unexplainable emotion as portrayed in a Hallmark movie or a chick flick. After examining the word over the years, my conclusion is that it is not so much about emotion as about exactly what Jesus asked Peter. “Do you love Me with total commitment and devotion?

After explaining to a friend about my struggle with loving people, he asked me a question that has helped me tremendously. He asked, “Julia, when people leave being with you, do they feel that you love them?” I had to answer yes, because many people have thanked me for loving them. As I thought about that question, I realized that love is action. It is caring, listening, making time for people much more than an emotion. It is an attitude that lets others know they are important to you, that you have their back. It is being committed to helping, sharing, or teaching so that the other person’s life is made better. It is devoting your life to others.

As I think about God asking me if I love Him, I realize that I do. I am completely committed to hearing Him, following Him, obeying Him. I am devoted to God and would never think of giving up on Him. He is the most important person in my life. And with that realization, I also understand that I really do love many people. I am committed to being their friend, willing to do whatever I can to help them work out their problems, grow in their knowledge of God, or simply enjoy sharing life with them.
So as I think about an answer to the questioning of Jesus, my answer is yes.

How God’s omnipresence changes prayer

Prayer makes sense only if it is a tangible expression of confidence in God’s immediate presence to us.

How does the invisible God help us to apprehend Him in faith, so that our hearts are reassured He is with us and cares for us? We want to pray in love, faith and humble obedience, not wavering doubt, but how can we when it seems all we are doing is voicing personal desires or thoughts about God? Heart-felt, faith-filled, humble prayer in itself is a key to answering these questions.

Ps 139 7_8God is omnipresent. He is everywhere at the same time, and one of the ways He manifests His omnipresence to us is through our prayers.

The Scripture provides abundant evidence for this, but so does a clear understanding of the difference in nature between the Creator and the created. No human being (deceased or otherwise), angel, or demon is everywhere at the same time. Only God, our Creator, is omnipresent. If you or I have thoughts of our deceased parents or grandparents, or want to say something to them, we cannot contact them directly.  They are in a place far removed from us, and we cannot reach them by memories, thoughts, or “prayers.”  The same is true of the saints, and the mother of Jesus.

The only invisible person we can be confident knows our thoughts and innermost desires, that hears our words, and feels our love is God Himself. When the Bible speaks of God drawing near in our prayers, it is plainly saying that as we pray, an assurance arises in our hearts, or peace settles over our minds in the firm belief that He is indeed present, and attending to our concerns.

So, let us rely on God’s ever-present Spirit, crafting words of faith for our prayers, turning from sin and relying fully on Jesus’s blood and righteousness.  We then have every reason to believe that God is hearing our prayers and the prayer itself becomes evidence He is here.

The Psalmist declares that God inhabits the praises of his people. He also speaks of God holding their tears in his bottle. His word says that he never forsakes us and leaves us. And even if I don’t have a spoken prayer but a groaning in my spirit, even then God is drawing here. Praise the Lord!

“Lord Jesus, thank you for being here this morning in answer to prayer.  Thank you that this walk of prayer reminds me that you are here with me.  Oh my soul, take your rest in the ever-present God!”

Key references for further study on prayer giving evidence of God’s presence: Psalm 56:8-13; 139:7-10; John 15:5,12-17; Romans 8:26-27; 1 Peter 5:6-7; James 1:5-8; 4:2-3, 6-7

Key references for further study on God’s omnipresence: Job 34:21; Psalm 32:8; 113:4-6; 139:3,5, 7-10; Proverbs 15:3; 1 Kings 8:27; Isaiah 57:15; 66:1; Jeremiah 23:23-24; Matthew 6:6; 18:20; Acts 17:24, 27; Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 4:12