On Heart Goals…

I recently read a devotional that asked:
“What is your heart’s goal on a daily basis?”

I sat and pondered my answer.
What I say they are.
Contrasted with what they really are when my actions speak louder than my answers.

I considered how others I know might answer the question.
Not what they would say.
But what their lives express.

And I realized that these would be some of the potential answers for me and for others I know:

Daily Heart Goals:
To be liked
To be loved
To be pretty
To be skinny
To bulk up
To be a good teacher
To be a good friend
To be a good boss
To be a good employee
To get married
To stay single
To belong
To be successful
To be sought after
To be effective
To be busy
To be less busy
To be noticed
To be heard
To see justice done
To be merciful
To protect others
To protect myself

Cries of the heart.
True goals of the heart.
Again – not what is stated.
But what is lived.

But then I had to ask myself the original question:
What is the daily goal of MY heart?

And even more important – no matter what it is today, what do I want it to be?

And the only answer I could come up with that satisfied my soul:
To stay in step with the Spirit of God.

I desperately need Him.

Because in my interactions with people – even those I know well and love best – I can’t read hearts, minds, or motives.
My view is skewed, always, by my own filters and my own lack of knowledge.
What part of the story am I missing?
What is the truth?
Did that person have a terrible experience that is skewing their view?
Are they wrestling through something awful?
What is their perception of me?
What is their perception of themselves?
What baggage and filters do they bring to the table?
I really have no idea.

Honestly, I don’t even really know my own heart at times!

And because my view is skewed, any goal other than staying in step with the Spirit is flawed.
I do not see the big picture.
I do not know the end from the beginning.
I do not know what is best for me.
Or for them.

But I know the One Who does know all of that.
The One Who desires to be my Good Shepherd. Their Good Shepherd, too.
Who has said, “Humble yourself. Put Me first. Recognize how little you know and how little you are compared to Me. And then, after you have faced that reality, cast all of your cares on Me. I see it all. I know it all. And I love you passionately. So I will take care of it all. Stop worrying what others think – or do – or know – and focus SOLELY on what I think. I’ll take care of the rest!” (I Peter 5:6-7, Kathy-phrased)

So I can most definitely work towards things.
Like beating my body into submission.
Taking every thought captive.
Being a life-long learner so I can be a life-long teacher.
Choosing to die to self with every action.
Putting your needs ahead of my own.
Recognizing sinful thoughts, words, deeds and repenting of them, quickly and consistently turning to walk in a different direction.

Those things take effort.

But that is the beauty of it:
When my goal is keeping in step with the Spirit of the Living God, everything else falls into place.
It is HIS power that does all that work that needs to be done.
It is HIS voice that tells me to do it!
It is HIS prompting that says, “Get going!” Or “Stop!” Or “Where did that thought come from? It wasn’t Me!”

He is the One who gives me the grace to see it from your point of view.
But to also value His opinion above yours.
He is the One who gives me the ability to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”
And to love you as He has loved me.

He is the One who pours through me so I can be characterized by love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Goodness. Kindness. Gentleness. And Self-Control.
The One who will cause the hallmarks of my life to be His fingerprints.
And He is the One who will give me the power, grace and strength to let go of what you think. Or what I think you think.

Are there things about me that I would LOVE to change, goals I would LOVE to accomplish?
No doubt.

But neither those goals nor your opinion can be the driving force of my life.

At best, I am a weak and foolish sheep.
A flower quickly fading.
Dust.
Powerless.

So my ONLY goal HAS TO BE keeping in step with the Spirit of God who dwells in me.
Listening for His voice.
Getting to know Him better through the Word. Through prayer. Through worship.
Practicing instant obedience so that we can move on to the next thing and not get stuck mastering this one area.
Being quick to listen to HIM, slow to speak and slow to become angry.
Bowing the knees of my heart constantly and consistently.
Keeping short accounts with Him. When He nudges me to repent, doing it instantly.
Recognizing that He does not need me to accomplish His work in this earth.
But that He has given me the privilege of being useful to His Kingdom.
Not because I am wonderful – but because HE is.

This is freedom.

All the other goals can quickly become chains.
And what I think you think of me is definitely a chain as well.
But walking hand-in-hand with the Spirit?
Listening to His counsel and practicing instant obedience?
Considering HIS opinion above all others?
That is freedom.
That is joy.
And that is the abundant life Jesus offered.

Thank God For Clouds

I did one of my favorite things yesterday.
I sat and watched the sunrise from my tiny porch at my apartment in Guatemala.
What a blessing!
I didn’t know when I would be able to return.
Some said the earliest would be October.
Others said January.
But God said, ‘’Mid-September, just as you asked.’’

And I am blown away once again by His kindness.

The sunrise yesterday was gorgeous at first.
But then clouds rolled in, obscuring it.
I could still see glimmers of the glorious light show that was happening behind the clouds.
But most of it was obscured from my view.

And I realized how very, very much that represents life right now.
For many of us, life is extremely complicated and extremely filled with unknowns.
And while God has answered MANY of my questions in incredible ways, I still have more.
More questions.
More things I am waiting for.
More things I cannot see.
Things I do not know.

But here’s what God impressed on my heart yesterday morning:
The sunrise was still there, whether I could see it or not.
I could not see the whole picture that I wanted to see.
But I could see enough to know that it was happening.

And I had a choice.
I could rail against the clouds – the things I could not control that were obscuring my view.
Or I could enjoy the glimmers I did see, celebrating them in spite of the clouds.

And more than that, celebrating the faithfulness of the God who created them.
And who allowed them to block my view.

The God who ‘’works for those who wait for Him.’’ (Isaiah 64)

The sun was rising, even though I could not see it as clearly as I wanted.
And God is working, even when I cannot clearly see it.
And even when I cannot see it at all.

I knew the sun was rising because I could see the effects.
The sky was growing lighter.
The blue was growing deeper.
The shadows were fleeing.

I know that God is working in the areas of my life where I have no sight because I can see the evidence in the places where He is plainly seen.
In my life.
And in the lives of others.
So I thank God for the clouds, even though they made the sunrise less spectacular than I wanted.
Because they pointed me to the God who is more spectacular than I can comprehend.

Will you join me in thanking God for the clouds?
They may obscure your view, but they will never stop God from working.
The Son has risen.
And the glory of God will rise until the day the whole world bows before Him.
And in the meantime, we get to see glimpses of what He is up to as we wait for that final glorious day to dawn.
After that, there will be no more dawns because there will be no night.
Just the light of His glory shining.
So we press on, waiting in hope, even when we cannot see.

Thank God for the clouds.

Testimony Time!

2020.
What a year!

And yet, when I look back at this year, and particularly this past summer, I see the faithfulness of God.

Psalm 107:2a says, ‘’Has the Lord redeemed you? Then speak out!’’ Let me ‘’speak out’’ just some of what I have seen Him do. May my eye-witness testimony encourage your heart.

I planned to come home in April to clean out my house, get it ready for market, do all the things needed to list it.
And COVID-19 closed that door.

I planned to keep renting my place for another year just because of market uncertainty.
But a series of events closed that door.

I planned to come back to Maryland in mid-June to deal with my house.
But that ticket was cancelled.

Throughout this time, I had no idea how I was going to pay my bills.

In fact, that was true of the entire 2019-2020 school year.
Due to circumstances beyond my control, 10 out of 12 months, from the time I left in August to go to Guatemala to the time I sold my house this past August, my income was not sufficient to meet my expenses.

But I never got behind on a single bill.
Every month God showed up.

I bought a ticket to come to Maryland at the end of June. A nasty itinerary with an 18-hour layover, but at least a way back.
Shortly after I bought it, the airline added a direct flight to DC. I was able to change my ticket with no fees, no issues. Went from 22+ hours of travel to a nonstop, 4.5-hour direct flight to DC.

The day after I landed in the U.S. I “just happened” to run into friends from church.
One of them offered me the use of their brand-new basement apartment.
They had gotten final use and occupancy that week.
The only thing it didn’t have?
Kitchen stuff.
Which, of course, I had.

And, since God loves the details, He arranged it so that my kitchen stuff matches the décor of the apartment.

A few days after I got home, friends approached me, telling me of their interest in buying my house.
I never listed it.
I never had to show it.

And they bought it “as-is”.
I made no repairs.
I did no cleaning.
I painted nothing.

Six weeks after I landed, the house was sold.
99% of my possessions were dealt with, given away.

And even in that, God worked in awesome ways.
Thrift stores are taking minimal donations because everyone cleaned out during the quarantine.
Yet God provided people and non-profits to take it all.

I needed to do some adjustment with an organization that was coming to get stuff.
I had the phone in my hand, getting ready to call an 800 number to navigate the process.
I was dreading it – trying to get to a human being, dealing with being on hold, figuring out who I needed to talk to – and as I sat there, getting ready to dial, my phone rang.
They were calling me to confirm.
I was able to make the changes without any effort on my part at all.

I needed to finish raising my funds for the year.
Without churches meeting in person.
With people being in huge amounts of financial uncertainty.
Unofficially, I am at 100% of my needed support. (The online tracking needs to catch up with the promised giving…)
Officially, I am at 76% of my needed support.

The airport in Guatemala was supposed to open June 30.
It didn’t.
It was supposed to open at the end of July. It didn’t.
So I started praying then, asking to get back in mid-September.
At the time, officials there were planning a staggered re-opening: first in-country flights only; then Central America only; then international flights.
So the prognosticators were saying October at the earliest for people like me. Many were saying January.
But I kept asking specifically for mid-September.

When the airport did not open as scheduled on September 1st – the only hope I had of getting back by mid-September – I took a deep breath and instructed myself: “Kathy, sometimes God says ‘no’ and sometimes He says ‘wait’. His timing and ways are perfect. So trust Him and keep waiting with a happy heart.”

And then came word that the airport is opening on September 18th.
This coming Friday.
With no gradual reopening.

I asked for mid-September.
It looked impossible.
And God made a way where there seemed to be no way.
I am scheduled to land at noon on Friday.

And there’s even more!
But in the interest of conserving words, let me just say that I have seen God do impossible things. All school year long. And particularly this past summer.

Jesus said, “Put My interests ahead of your own and watch what I will do to provide. You are so easily consumed with the unimportant stuff, the things that NONE of the rest of My creation worries about. But if you will let go of your kingdom to focus on Mine instead, I promise I will take care of the rest.” (Matthew 6, Kathy-phrased)

And He has.
Oh, how He has!

If you weigh my current choices with the philosophy of the day, they are sadly lacking in “wisdom”.
But Paul put it this way: “The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God…This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength.” (1 Corinthians 1)

The ‘’foolishness’’ of the cross:
Deny yourself. Live for God’s agenda. Follow in His footsteps. Die to self.

Impossible to do in our own strength.
But the way of the cross is the ONLY way to resurrection!
You have to die in order to experience resurrection power.

And not just on the day you trusted Christ to be your Savior.
That day you gained eternal life. Guaranteed.
But every day that you walk in obedience, every day that you die to yourself, every day that you hold ALL of your life in open hands before Him – those are the days that you gain the abundant life that Jesus promised.

My biggest concern as I write this is that you will think that this kind of thing, these kinds of provisions only happen for us “professional Christians” – pastors, missionaries, etc.
But the reality is that I am not something special.
I am a stubborn, foolish, stinker of a girl, a sinner saved by grace alone.

But God?
God is wonderful.
He is faithful, good, kind, able, near and utterly powerful without my help.
He does not need me.
But I am desperate for Him.

And that is my testimony.
Look at God!!

On Seeking First The Kingdom

Worry.
It consumes us.
And yet, Jesus gave us the antidote to it.
He not only said, ‘’Don’t put your energy there”, He also gave us a place to redirect it.
He said told us to use the energy that it takes to worry and replace it with seeking first the Kingdom of God. (Matthew 6)

I have been thinking a lot on what that means.
How do we seek first His Kingdom?
I don’t know about you, but I am sick of worrying.
Exhausted from the soundtracks that loop in my mind; the “what if” scenarios that are always humming if I let them.

Here is the “how to” that I have learned:

First, you have to acknowledge that there IS a Kingdom of God.
That it is bigger than you
And eternal.
That this world will burn.
But that His Kingdom will never end.

But that acknowledgement can’t just be head knowledge.
It has to change your posture.
In order to seek HIS Kingdom above yours, you MUST bow your knee to the King.
Bringing with you all that you are.
And are not.
All that you have.
And all that you want.

Surrender.
Living the truth that there is a Kingdom that is more real than anything your five senses can comprehend.
That it is a Kingdom at war.
And that you are ALREADY on one side of the battle or the other.
Even when you don’t realize it.
You are either with the King or against Him.
There is no middle ground.

And, once you have acknowledged the reality of the King and His Kingdom by humbling yourself before Him, you have to live as a citizen of that Kingdom.
Obeying His rules.
Not what you want Him to say.
But what He has actually established in His Word.

You don’t get to decide which portions to obey and which to toss.
You don’t get to redefine His definitions.
You don’t get to cherry pick what you consider to be the good, comforting, lovely parts while ignoring the tough stuff.

And if you are going to live by Kingdom rules, you have to actually study them.
More than just a cursory glance on Sunday through the lens of the preacher.
But for yourself.
Saturating yourself in the Word.
Checking ALL other voices against it.
Asking the Holy Spirit to illuminate it.

Because there is no such thing as neutral.
For Him or against Him. That’s it.

But then what you find in His Word has to be lived out daily.
Otherwise, you are saying you are seeking His Kingdom, but you’re actually living for your own.
Which makes you act like a traitor to the King.

For example, when He says, ‘’Respect the government because God puts in power the leaders of His choosing”, you do it.
When He says, “Defend the widows and orphans, do justly, love mercy and walk humbly in my Kingdom”, you do it.
And when those two principles feel mutually exclusive, you don’t lean on your own understanding, your feelings or the way the wind of culture is blowing.
You ‘’trust in the Lord with all your heart’’ as you ‘’acknowledge Him in all your ways” while you trust Him to “direct your path”.
So somehow you do both.
Speaking when He directs.
And shutting your mouth when He says so.
But always, always, loving as He loves.

By the power of the Holy Spirit.
You live what the Word of God says.
Allowing Him and it to instruct, convict, correct and train you. (2 Timothy 3:16)

And not just in that case.
But in so many others where the Truth of the Word meets the stickiness of life.
You seek first His priorities and agenda. As they are laid out in His Word.
While laying down your own wisdom.

That is the simplicity of seeking first His Kingdom.
Obey the King.
And let Him worry about the consequences.
In your politics.
In your relationships.
In your sex life.
In your finances.
In your parenting.
In your dealings with your parents. Or your kids. Or your neighbors. Or your boss.
In your workplace.
In your playtime.
In every area of life.

One Kingdom or the other.
No neutral.
For Him or against Him.
With Him or not.

The remarkable thing?
This Kingdom thing actually works.
Take it from me.

I can shout with the Psalmist that I have “seen in my history the faithful love of the Lord”.
As the old hymn says, ‘’I have proven Him o’er and o’er.”

I can testify:
He will blow you away with His kindness, His mercy and His unfailing love.
He will hold you as you cry.
Help you when you fall apart.
Provide for your every need.
Rejoice over you with singing.
Fill your life with good things.

But don’t take me at my word.
Take Him at His.
Seek first His Kingdom.
And see what He does.