Jesus is Present to You

It is such a gift when someone really listens to you. You can tell by her uncrossed arms, attentive eyes, and thoughtful questions. She makes you feel welcomed, validated, and loved. Somehow this friend has succeeded in putting aside her preoccupations, her concerns, her agendas, her life, for you!

She asks a question, born of her careful listening, that stuns you with clarity, like sunlight suddenly caught and intensified through a magnifying glass, bearing down on your soul with brilliant accuracy. Maybe her question broke open a festering wound, maybe it sealed an ache with healing, maybe it removed obstacles and shone a way forward, maybe it released you from a prisoning thought, but in some way the Holy Spirit used her attentiveness to bring you closer to Him. She ministered to and served you with her willingness to truly listen.

Two people listening on a park bench
Photo by Kaboompics.com from Pexels

“For even the Son of Man did not come expecting to be served by everyone, but to serve everyone…” Mark 10:45 TPT

Jesus had a way of paying such close attention that he got under people’s walls and defenses. He was so in tune with people’s souls that he frequently asked questions they themselves didn’t realize they needed to be asked. These questions were often so accurate that people felt uncomfortable and vulnerable in his presence. Sometimes they couldn’t stand it and walked away, like the rich young man in Mark 10. Others braved the awkwardness, intrigued by Jesus, and trusted his take on them, which always resulted in a freed and rejoicing person.

The Samaritan woman (John 4) who could have bristled defensively at Jesus’ insight into her adultery is a dramatic example of this. Instead, she responded to Jesus’ insight because he knew her so well, yet didn’t avoid her, even inviting her to know him. Had Jesus been consumed by his own thirst, sore feet, and getting to Galilee rather than being available to listen and speak into this jaded lady’s problems, she would never have known the grace of God.

Very rarely did Jesus command anyone without having listened to them. The majority of his interactions were with people coming to him, coming into his presence and asking him questions, to which he listened and most often answered with another question meant to make them consider their hearts, souls, and wills.

People swarmed him, inundating him with requests for healing, and peppering him with moral tests. He so often asked the simplest of questions, like “What do you want?” or “What do you need?”

He could see that he had to demonstrate how God is present to them, listening and aware of their depths even more than they were aware of themselves, because his agenda was for people to be with him. He made Presence his agenda.

“Remain in me, as I also remain in you.” John 15:4

He wants nothing more than to be with you, today and forever. He wants to be present to you, and you to be present to him. Being with you is Jesus’ greatest desire! His agenda is to serve you with his presence and you to serve Him with yours.

So, take five minutes to imagine Jesus sitting with arms uncrossed, eyes focused and attentive on you, really listening. Then, what thoughtful (maybe pointed!) question does he ask you? Sometimes you will feel the question before you hear the words. Welcome the feeling (even if it’s uncomfortable) and allow him to clarify into words what is going on inside of you.

As you regularly practice being present with Jesus, you will find that you are less preoccupied with your own things, able to really listen to others and to Jesus at the same time, so that He is able to speak through you and minister to others.

 

Where Can I Find Peace and Quiet?

My soul hungered for quiet with just Jesus. With an unexpected hour of uninterruption before me, I took the opportunity. I rushed to the bench we usually meet at, and hurriedly sat down to commence “The Time of Being Present” (cue soundtrack indicating an important moment!).

Only I couldn’t sit still. I couldn’t stop talking. I felt as if tiny flashes of electricity were flowing under the surface threatening to shock me into action any second. I kept flicking my eyes to see who might be coming, ready to look busy. And Jesus wouldn’t say anything! He just sat there. 

In my discomfort I began to realize that Jesus was holding the quiet for me because I couldn’t.

He was guarding our peace, refusing to bow to the busy-ness of my brain. He remained in quiet peace, because it was in him. There is no confusion in him, no conflict, no tug-of-war in his being, like there is in mine.

Awe washed over me, chasing my pesky, distracting thoughts away. 

Take a moment and let that sink in: Jesus holds the quiet for you.

When you are having difficulty quieting yourself, focus on Jesus, knowing He is there holding the quiet for you. Be willing to surrender your thoughts to his. You could say, “I’m here, Jesus, and I want to lay down my thoughts to hear yours. I welcome you.” Then allow Him to be quiet with you, allow Him to speak to you, allow Him to show you something. Whatever He chooses to do with you, He does for you, not against you, with your best interests in mind. 

Sometimes that means saying nothing, just being present.

Why should a Christian practice “being present”?

For some Christians, practicing being present sounds too other religion-y, too “out-there”, too vague. To Christians who love the “go” of the gospel, who find purpose in a mission, and joy in activity, being told to “be present” is too inactive, even a trap of the devil to stop the forward motion of the kingdom. Aren’t we supposed to be looking forward to Jesus’ coming and the full expression of his kingdom? Yes, we are. Aren’t we supposed to turn from our old selves? Yes, we are. But these are not the only aspects of following Jesus. We follow him today, too.

So, why is it important for a Christian to be present? And what does it mean?

First, although God spoke the Bible into being in the past, His word is alive and active today. He has also embedded every “today” with his presence. In Hebrews 4:7, 9-12a, it says:

God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” This he did when a long time later he spoke through David,…

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish… For the word of God is alive and active.

When you read a certain passage and it strikes you as especially pertaining to you in the moment, that is the Holy Spirit speaking today.

To those who are compelled to go and tell, do and act, it is important to recognize daily that Jesus does not only live in the future of heaven, but in today. Let that future inform the present, but not take its place. In our eager anticipation, let us not gloss over the realities of today.

Second, our creating, life-giving God is making today and gifting it to us who live in it. He has purposes for it and for us. God speaks in Isaiah 55:10-11:

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,

and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish,

so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,

so is my word that goes out from my mouth:

It will not return to me empty,

but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

All time is in his hands, for he made it. In Isaiah 46:10 he says, “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.” Yes, he has created us for eternal life and called us into His promises, but He is giving us life today to live that out now.

Third, to be present means three things for a Christian:

1) to be attentive to God in the moment,

2) that we are called to be his disciples today, not living nostalgically for a real or imagined past, or living with disdain for today because we think the future is the only place we will find happiness and fulfillment,

3) that we are able to attend and minister to others without our own thoughts and concerns taking precedent.

The biggest difference between the practice of being present within other spiritual traditions and Christianity is that a Christian is seeking and experiencing God in the moment as His beloved creation. We are listening to God in the moment.

Jesus left heaven with its lack of time, to enter our here and now at a very specific time. He did not live longing for the past, or ignoring the importance of today because of the future. He lived in Mary’s now, and Joseph’s now, and Peter’s now. Then he sent the Holy Spirit to be our present help in the todays that followed in which we now live. In John 14:26 He says, “The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you.”

I will elaborate in another post how practicing being present helps Christians minister to others. For now, may I merely point out that when we are present with God regularly, our worries and preoccupations dim because we are able to leave them in his hands, thus making more compassionate space within ourselves to minister to others.


Now, I am by no means an expert on other religions, but I wanted to make an effort to point out some important lessons we can learn from others who practice presence far more frequently, as well as some fundamental differences.

In yoga, it is an exercise, a practice, meant to waken you to yourself on the way to perfection. While Christians do not share the same belief that self-awareness will make us perfect, there are some lessons we can take from yoga. For example, “Yoga uses the simple clarity of the body as a means to bring the mind into presence. Rather than just dictating actions to the body, the deepest yoga practice teaches the mind how to listen to the body in the pure light of awareness without judgment or expectation.”

This stance of listening without judging or expectation is necessary for Christians too. Jesus listened deeply, and he did not cast judgment, reserving that for the Father when He deems the time right. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” John 3:17.

While Zen Buddhism recognizes that we are limited beings, it denies God, certainly a personal, loving God. But it does recognize that the problem lies within us. Christians go further and name it sinfulness.

“It’s how our mind handles those external forces [like interruptions, conflict, pressure and chaos] that is the problem.”

This is true. We try to solve things on our own, without God. No matter how brilliant we are intellectually, how emotionally intelligent, we are still sinful, including Christians, so our natural bent is toward broken, independent-of-God solutions.

Practicing being present, which really puts us in touch with the experience of being a creation and beloved at the same time, helps us to humbly accept this again, and find God in the here and now.

In Buddhism of a more general nature, practicing being present is a way to be released from suffering, from the attachments we make with our expectations and desires. Ultimately, Buddhists deny any permanent, essential soul and self, so practicing presence is a way of losing those attachments that create the illusion of self. This is very different from why a Christian practices presence!

Christians recognize the permanent eternity of our souls, that God created each and every unique one, and when we are present we are allowing ourselves to be aware of the Holy Spirit’s presence. It is much like paying close attention, so close that we forget our own concerns and preoccupations, to a dear friend.

To those who acknowledge the inspired word of God, the historical humanity of Jesus’ divinity on earth, and base their lives on God’s past actions and the promise of His future actions, it is important to be open to His presence and action in today.

 

 

On Being Present Today (When You’d Rather Be in Yesterday or Tomorrow)

I am currently in a temporal vortex of sorts having just returned from a fantastic, fulfilling mission trip that lingers in my happy memories and draws me back from today, yet driven forward by the hope and plans of the future that require a time investment today. So here I sit in the heart of the year, in the heat of today sandwiched between two mountains gazing at their tantalizingly cold and clear summits. In the hazy swirl of the valley lies my today, the heavy traffic of an eight-member household, a job, hobbies, and responsibilities all bustling about me, confusing me with their incessant demands to decide now, today, on this and that. Like a helium balloon that cannot but rise because of the nature of the gas inside, my spirit rises above the smog and noise of today to those summits behind and before me.

How can I tether my spirit to today? How can I keep my attention on these busy, tiring, immediate moments in this six-week long valley when I just want to escape into the summit of yesterday or run headlong into the trails of tomorrow? How can I even enjoy being present now when I find today taxing, boring, unpleasant, and tedious? I even ask why must I?

The simple reason is that Jesus is in today. He made today; he gave it to me and to you, and he weaves his love and purposes into it, especially into its unwelcome circumstances. He does not flee the difficult, the despairing, the darkest of days. He does not live like a hermit on mountaintops. He lives now in whatever rain or sun, haze or clarity, storm or serenity surrounds us. Jesus holds my ballooning spirit in the here and now.

Jesus grounds me. He keeps me present even as he calls me forward into his promises and plans, even as I remember with nostalgia his bold presence in the past.

If you find it hard to wrest yourself free of a happy past to face the trials in today, or you are looking forward in anticipation to a hopeful tomorrow, entrust those times to God, and look for Jesus today. He is “I am”. He is holding you today. He is speaking today. He is present today. And he wants you to be present, too. As you pay attention to him in the moment you will find that He has grace for you today. He has guidance for you today. He has love for you today. He has purpose for you today.

When I stopped lingering my gaze on the mountaintops, I found Jesus ready to help me navigate an intense conflict, I found him urging me to pray with someone, I found him bringing joy into simple things around me, I found grace for my fatigue, I found wonder in his word.

My present circumstances require grace, focus, lots of decision-making small and large, and they easily tire me because they require my weaker skill sets. Even in this, I can base my day on the promise that in my weakness, he is strong.

In my weakness, I want to escape, float off into the past or the future, but His strong hand holds me here as He walks me through each day, aided and anchored, until I have traversed these busy streets into the quieter mountain trails foreseeable in my future adventures.

So, if you, like me, are finding your present days arduous, are tempted to mentally stay in the pleasant past, or are eagerly anticipating a future that dulls your today, join me this month as we focus on being present in the present to God and to others. Let’s discover the gift of Jesus in our todays together.

Here on the blog each week I’ll be putting up another post on being present, so be sure to look for those. You can also follow me on Instagram for more frequent, shorter encouragements and thoughts at @writerkimberleymulder. I share my posts, thoughts, and those of others on my page on Facebook @kimberleymulderwriter.

Courage Amid Worries

Four a.m. is a sly hour. Sometimes I can slide past it in oblivion, other times it wakes in my sub-conscious as a bright new dawn, a photo-bomber of my picture perfect slumber. Last night, it shed its camouflage, and grinned widely at me, enjoying the time to toy with my mind. This is the hour that is raw; the vulnerable, naked time. It is as if all the swaddling comes off my psyche, and I’m left in the crib flailing and wailing (if awake), or completely at peace (if asleep). Honestly, this hour intimidates me.

Last night was one of those unpleasant rousings where the ugly thoughts come out to haunt and ridicule. At this time of night, I’m not laced into focus, my mind is not nimble, and the shrouding darkness leaves a perfect place for me to be ambushed. Unguarded, unfocused, and vulnerable, I am rather like an infant who cannot control herself, let alone protect herself.

For an hour in the dark, I ricocheted between what I call “worrying prayer” and brainstorming solutions. “Worrying prayer” is babbling all my thoughts, like a litany of desperation, without pause or presence. Essentially, I am bombarding God’s ear with my worry. He is gracious and allows me this, but I have learned that I cannot possibly receive an answer in this state. Have you ever tried to talk reason, or love, into someone wound up like a top in their worried spiraling? It’s like speaking to an infant who doesn’t talk yet. He or she really doesn’t have the capacity to take it in. Likewise, worry occupies all the available circuits to take in these words of comfort or guidance, so nothing can attach to brake the spiral.

I have taught my children to pray in these moments, to bend whatever power of thought they have toward the eternal light of Jesus’ love, to spend their minutes remembering and calling for his help. They have told me of numerous times that Jesus has come and settled them, even within nightmares. This is what I was attempting to do at four o’clock in the morning.

In between ricochets, I kept telling myself to remember that this is a vulnerable time for my spirit, that I have an enemy who wants to distract and dismay, and to recall what the Lord has been speaking to me regarding these things I’m worrying about. Essentially — Be still, Kimberley! Hold your plank! (See last week’s post about holding your plank to develop courage in stillness.)

As I spun around again and again, these internal reminders acted as a visual anchor to my spinning soul, like watching your parent standing patiently at the side of the spinning ride. Even though my mind continued its circuits, I knew peace awaited me. When the mental gyrations slowed enough for me to set foot on the solid ground of truth, I looked intensely for Jesus. I needed my woozy brain to lock into peace.

If you’ve ever gotten off a merry-go-round, a tilt-a-whirl, or any other spinning amusement park ride, you know that finding a focal point for your eyes will ease your head back to stability. As my whirling mind slowed and moved tentatively forward, I asked Jesus for a word, a feeling, something to help ground me and keep me from orbiting back out into anxiety.

Immediately, he gave me a picture. I saw him, not in great detail but definite in presence, stooping low to look me in the eye, motioning with his hand to keep my eyes locked on his. We were entering a narrow passageway in a cave.

I suffer a mild claustrophobia at times. I don’t like narrow caves. Once, in Colorado, I balked at one, almost returning to the surface and waiting for the others. But the guide told me its dimensions, and my husband and he would go before and after me, talking with me to keep me calm. Knowing the length made it manageable; knowing I had help made it possible. I did it, which helped me in future times when I faced a similar challenge.

To add exquisite depth to this story, the reason I was in this precarious state at four in the morning was because we are taking financial risks at the Lord’s leading. I am way outside my comfort zone. Our finances are tight, and likely getting tighter. Cave analogy, anyone?

Not only now for my sleep-addled brain high on adrenaline, but also for the time to come with its consequences regarding our daring choices and the looming “what-ifs”, Jesus gave me exactly what I needed: “Lock your eyes on me. I will lead you through this tight space.”

This is a word that is especially rich personally for the present moment, but its reverberations stretch into eternity. Not only is he speaking peace and courage into my present heart palpitations, but he comforts with the promise that as I follow him through these tight financial places at his bidding, like a camel going through the eye of a needle (Matthew 19:24), my future is secure (Matthew 19:29).

If you, like me, are feeling the pull of a worry spiral, expend your energy on remembering who God is, what He has said to you personally, and focus all your attention on Him. When a moment settles, ask Him to fill it with His presence, a word, a picture, some grace to latch on to.

May you find the ground beneath you,

As you step off the worry-go-round,

Focused amid the trembling,

Sure, maybe not of your steps,

But of His care,

His purpose,

His Love,

Presence,

Peace.

Courage Gains Strength in Stillness

Nascent courage feels much like a sprig of hope, slenderly strong in the cold earth rising to the call of the white light above. Fragile, yet powerful, in its miniscule multiplication, cell upon cell of mitochondrial factories.

Scoff not at the small beginning. Trample not the greening of an idea under the solstice of God. He rises, like the sun, for just such a reason. He bends his power, as the sun sends its rays, to this greening earth to call forth these courageous beginnings.

Sometimes a seed lies long in the dark earth, then someone “happens” to kick a clod away, just enough to make the difference between dormant dream and lifting life. When hope has lain buried for long, in order for courage to rise and respond, our hope needs to be called forth. What draws us out of our sheltered shells is, most often, love.

Without love we will lack courage. So, if you are at a crossroads and struggling to be courageous, pause and consider whether you have lost your sense of belovedness. Consider whether you have been pushing forward out of duty rather than in response to love. Are you being led by love, or pushed by fear? When we push forward because we are afraid, we are reacting, not discerning; we are controlling and manipulating, not receiving and moving in peace. This is not courage; this is fear.

Courage is refusing to react to fearful circumstances with desperate action; instead, it is rooting action to burrow into love, scaring the fear away with tenacious trust.

Suppose that, if it could, the greening tendril sprouting from the mud should react to an onslaught of icy rain by moving, or quickly throwing a shelter over itself? It would die because it was no longer in the ground, nor getting the nourishing water. That onslaught, terrifying as it is, actually feeds it. When we react in fear, we could be refusing the very water our courage needs in order to grow.

Courage is bracing our hopes with Love. It is the action of choosing to be patiently still in the storm, attentively focused on the leading of He who loves us. Uncertainty could be your storm. Attack, need, conflict, or busyness could be your storm. Regardless of the nature of the storm you are in, refuse to be swept up in it, refuse to be tangled. Set your mind and heart on agreement with the Lord – which can only be love. Focus your attention, not on the solution to your particular dismay, but on the Lord’s love for you. Dig into it and stay there. From this courageous place, dug into Love, you will receive strength and understanding of what to do and when.

If you have ever held a plank exercise, you will understand the strengthening action of stillness. In this exercise, you have only your hands and toes on the floor supporting your body stretched as if it were a straight board head to toe over the floor. It requires, and develops, a great deal of active strength to hold this still pose for very long.

So, if you are weathering a storm around your just-sprouted hopes, hold your plank! Brace yourself! Be still, knowing God.

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging…

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:1-3,10 NIV)

For now, you will feel the pain of holding it, you will not notice the growth in your muscle of courage, but afterward, you will not be uprooted, you will be strong, focused, and courageous.

In my own life, I have had to do this repeatedly.

In my twenties, crisis pulled me out of the international ministry life I had just embarked upon. In the stillness of my sickness, I struggled to know God’s love in my experience. He was there, but the strain of spiritual and emotional endurance, like burning muscles, screamed for my attention and often drowned out the soft touches of love. When the assault of illness ended, I wobbled out with a weak, but healed, body, and a battered, but tenacious spirit. 

That was twenty years ago, this August. Two years before that (twenty-two years ago), I had followed Jesus out of my plans to be a musician and into his plans to put me in ministry. At the time, the shape of my ministry was teaching English in Ukraine. But after my illness, it dissolved and I could not see it. The clarity had shattered and melted into the ground where it nourished my life, but remained unseen. For twenty years I’ve known it rests there, but I’ve been unable to draw it to the surface into a solid shape.

Two years ago or so, after many efforts to draw this latent desire into life (out of fear that I had no purpose), Jesus drew me back into stillness – for a year! I dug into him, and held my plank. Unlike other times of waiting, this time was warm with joy, rich with experiences with Jesus, and had a sense of incubating new life. From it new ideas germinated from old loves that had lain buried so deeply that only the Lord knew where to find them.

Just like the plank exercise works on your core muscles, the stillness of this time developed a core courage upon which I am growing new strength. For the last year, I have looked many of my fears in the eye. Fears like, “Who cares if I write?” “I’m going to face critics; I don’t think I can.” “Am I jeopardizing my kids’ futures with the sacrifices my choices are making?” And on and on. Through many interactions, Jesus lead me forward against these fears. At one key point, I realized that I would eternally regret not trying. That was a decisive blow to many of my fears and cleared the path for me.

He is leading me into the impossible, which is another name for miraculous. That ministry which dissolved into the ground of my life twenty-two years ago, He is powerfully inviting forth with his sunshine, his call of love. And it’s not the shape of a singular plant, like I thought it would be. It is an entire field! From it, he is coaxing a writing ministry, a vocation, and one specific international opportunity.

In a month, my family of five will be going with a team from our church to central Asia to minister to ministers. There is a retreat for missionaries in central Asia where we will minister to the kids, while their parents’ spirits are encouraged and empowered in the adults’ sessions. This caring for the spirits of the “frontline” leaders is exactly what Jesus has called into life in my vocational field.

It is also an opportunity that we have prayed for, for twelve years! We adopted our oldest from this country and planned and prayed about taking her back when she was twelve to sixteen. Not only do we get to delve into her ethnic background and culture, but we get to invest in it!

To answer this call, we’ve had to exercise courage financially, by sacrificing, and by asking for help. Again, love leads us into this, and we ask that you listen to Jesus to see if He is asking you to help us with your donation and your prayers.

If so, please donate at gofundme.com using your credit card (this is not tax-deductible) or send checks (this is tax-deductible) to:

Vineyard Columbus

Attn: Jackie Williams, International Ministries

6000 Cooper Road

Westerville, OH 43081

Include a note (but not on the memo line): Mulders, Central Asia Trip.

I will be sharing here, on the blog, during the trip what God is doing, so be sure to check in for pictures and stories! We are so excited to see and be a part of what God is doing there! Thank you for being a part of our little story.

In what areas do you want to “hold your plank”, maintaining a stillness locked into God’s love? How has love called you into something scary and how are you responding? Have you been courageous because of love? Share your stories in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!

Being Hospitable is Central to Following Jesus

Being hospitable is all about making space, a push to the jumble of our commitments, a pull of invitation for someone to enter despite the topsy-turvy evidence of messy, beautiful lives.

Whether having someone come to my place or meeting someone elsewhere, if you are like me, you have a mental, maybe physical, closet stash of hustled miscellany out of sight. These thoughts tumble into my mental space frequently, like ubiquitous dust bunnies floating about the space. Mental dustpan in hand, I sweep these distractions up again so that I can direct my attention to my friend.

This making space – temporal, mental and physical — is hard. I confess, as an introvert, it is all too easy to not rise to the challenge, choosing instead to let TV and books entertain me. It is easier to anesthetize the bunny thoughts, ignore the mess about me, and not interact.

Sometimes I have approached hospitality as an encroachment on my turf, something to be tolerated out of necessity, or a cost of following Jesus. It’s as if I see myself as a can of soda in God’s vending machine, out of which I am dispensed to be drunk dry in service to others. Can you see how fear-based this is? These are the times my decisions to be hospitable are not led by love, but are pushed by fear.

Usually, I am a decisive person. I get things done. I soldier file my thoughts and march them through my project-filled day like a general issuing complicated drills, so why do they trip over hospitality?

Because I haven’t been committed to it, not like I am other noble things, such as prayer, or making healthy meals, or completing jobs for work, or preparing to lead a meeting. Remember those dust bunny thoughts I have to corral to pay attention to someone else? They are the natural result of a life lived to produce, to find its satisfaction in getting things done. These are the thoughts I am committed to, and, because they rule, they demand to be given precedent. I am afraid to give up time to “shooting the breeze” because there is an internal general barking orders to “get things done. You can be hospitable when the work is done, when you are off duty.” Inherent in this attitude is that hospitality is “just play”, a luxurious activity undertaken only after the work is done.

I only truly notice my lack of commitment to hospitality when I find I am in need of someone else’s. Then, I wonder who to turn to. I consider who has turned to me for a bit of welcome, and the past stretches behind like a savannah with sudden mounds of shrubbery sparsely greening a patch, for my hospitality is, at best, unsteady. It has lacked commitment. Strange for one who takes commitments seriously! But the reason follows.

Tucked succinctly in a litany of best practices, Paul wrote to the Romans to “practice hospitality.” (Romans 12:13b NIV) The Greek word for “practice” actually better translates as “pursue”, meaning to press on, strive, or make every effort. Most notable is that hospitality is to be pursued just like righteousness, godliness, faith, gentleness (1 Timothy 6:11), the good (1 Thess. 5:15), love (1 Cor. 14:1 NIV), and peace (1 Peter 3:11 NIV).

Even though I have followed Jesus for thirty years, I did not know this! Until Natasha Red pointed this out in her five-day devotional on hospitality, I had not known the absolute importance practicing hospitality is to following Jesus. I have been wrestling with this conviction ever since! I am going through a mindset reset about being hospitable. 

This is what I’ve understood so far.

Hospitality is not a luxurious activity. It is not a superfluous activity. It is not peripheral or optional. It is essential. It is central. It needs to be woven into the fiber of our characters and exuded in all interactions as we go about our duties and activities. It is an attitude our hearts inhabit. That’s why we are hospitable.

Jesus made space to be with his Father regularly (Luke 5:16 NIV). He made space for everyone, even for the woman with the bleeding problem who was considered untouchable (Mark 5:25-34). He makes space for us, awaiting our approach, our turning, with delight. If ever there was an icon for being hospitable, Jesus was it! Notice it’s his character that is hospitable, his hospitality didn’t depend on a place to carry out his welcome. He did it without home to call his own! Everywhere he went, he ministered as he welcomed.

Ministry of any kind is really practicing hospitality. In ministry we intentionally make space for someone. So, conversely, hospitality is really practicing ministry. And through it, I grow and the kingdom of God grows. My capacity increases. Jesus knew this, he knew the vitality that hospitality gives us.

And that’s just it, as I make space for someone, intentionally sharing a piece of life with her, what I thought would overwhelm instead enlarges me. My experience, my heart, my understanding is enlarged as I make space for another. What is mine is not being chipped away and eroded, leaving an emptiness, rather, that space grows as we receive one another. This is what CAN happen when I stop thinking of MY time, MY quiet, MY space, remembering and actively believing it is Jesus’s. He provides it, He is the author of all best practices, and He teaches me to share it.

Practicing hospitality is no longer about what I have to offer, or how much I can give, or how much it will “cost” me.  Rather, it’s about the grace of God inviting and calling me into something bigger, something eternal, something essential.

As I commit to pursuing hospitality by allowing this attitude into my activities, infusing everything them, and shaping my character in the process, I expect I will find a rich and spacious world of blessing. I will be living in the kingdom of God on earth. It is described as a living, EXPANDING thing (Luke 13:19-21 NIV), not as God purchasing and dispensing with me to whomever needs me. I need not be concerned with running dry, because at the table of hospitality He is providing for me and my guest. Not only the guest eats at the table, but the host as well. We are both nourished. These are the transactions of God. We give, thinking we will be depleted, only to find that there is a filling in the giving, and we come away satiated. At least, that is how it is meant to be, how it can be when we pursue the things of God: righteousness, godliness, faith, gentleness, the good, love, peace and hospitality.

Recovering a Hospitable Heart

The reason I chose the word “hospitable” for April’s focus, and not “hospitality,” is that I wanted to focus on being, not doing. We are hospitable; we practice or do hospitality. Hospitable is the intention and attitude, whereas hospitality is the action that springs from the intention. However, we frequently start with good intentions, but as we carry out the multitude of actions, we often end exasperated and empty. As with many things, we become good at the executions and tasks required and lose the heart and intention of it.

Are you excellent, or strive to be excellent, at all the little things to welcome someone into your space? Is it easy, even fun, to make sure all the fresh freesias are displayed beautifully in the mason jar, or every book and shoe is in its rightful place? Wonderful! These are welcoming touches.

freesias

 

But when you are done, are you so tired you have a hard time paying attention to the guests? Or do you find that, even as they tell their travel stories, you are thinking about the smudge on the window you missed? If so, your hospitable heart has swept out of the room with all your cleaning. I confess, sometimes this is so for me!

 

So, how do we recover a hospitable heart?

This is what I do:

  1. Practice hospitality to Jesus first. This is foremost because no other guest to my heart can make it bigger and more welcoming. Jesus always fills and fuels. As I let go of my ‘stuff’, He makes that heart-space in me spacious and able to welcome. I consciously spend five to fifteen minutes with open hands, focused on Jesus’ presence right in the moment – not asking questions, not thinking about what needs to be done, just welcoming Him and worshipping. Music can help, as can a short piece of Scripture beforehand if concentration is challenged! When I do this, I am remembering that Jesus is hospitable to me, and I walk into his welcome. I am so much better at welcoming others after I have been welcomed by the great Host himself!
  2. Before I get started on the actions of hospitality (cleaning, arranging, cooking, etc.), I think about my intentions in my hospitality. I want these lovely people in my home because I want to spend time with them. Do I need energy for visiting when they arrive to pay attention? Then I must set a schedule beforehand for how much I can realistically accomplish so I’m not worn out. Which is more important — making sure every smudge is off every window, or having the energy to see my guest’s needs? Is my intention in this action to make myself feel more comfortable (presentable), or make my guests feel more welcome to be themselves?
  3. I focus on listening to my guests. This is the biggest difference between being hospitable and practicing hospitality. In the hospitality industry, the best companies are the ones which have employees that really pay attention to the guests, even to the point of preemptively meeting a need. But in most hotels and restaurants, hospitality is relegated to good service, not good conversation. Need a bed? Check. Need toothpaste? Check. Need a napkin? Here it is. That’s hospitality. But hospitable goes so much deeper because it’s an investment in a relationship. When I have guests at home, I make space in my activities to listen to them, and when I am doing that, I try to do nothing else (not even in my head!) I try to invite them into sharing their lives, and not always be talking about my life. Listening is the best way to show your hospitable heart.
  4. Recognize that I have a limit to my listening abilities, and be okay with that. Generally speaking, I do not have the capacity to listen and converse for a long time. I shoot for quality over quantity because of this. Some of you are different, so find what works for you. I like to invest in a deep conversation, then retreat to do something else quietly. If I don’t I find that my attention to my guest is about as good as if I weren’t there anyway! This way, we can re-enter conversation later, after I’ve rebooted. I used to think I had to drop everything and always be present, but this only drained me, making me a grudging, zoned out host, and I’m sure my guests felt caged and forced to engage. Take breaks!
  5. Recognize that your guest has limits, too, and be okay with that. I choose not to take offense if a guest goes off by herself, or chooses to help with the dishes (believe it or not, I did take that as a criticism of my hosting abilities at one point!!), or wants to watch TV instead of talk. I want them to feel welcomed, but not feel forced to engage.

Recovering a hospitable heart can only happen when we are first welcomed into Jesus’ presence because He takes all the things that are burdening us: tasks, problems at work, illness, deadlines looming, etc. The more we can find peace in knowing His care for all these things, the more we will have space within ourselves to pay attention to someone else. So start by entering the presence of the hospitable one, Jesus, then proceed to stick with your intentions rather than your “to do” list, recognize your limits, and recognize your guest’s limits. It takes practice and intention to keep a hospitable heart. I do not do this perfectly by any measure, but I am learning how to regain a hospitable heart when I lose it.

 

When your heart is weary and over-burdened, cluttered and overwhelmed, unable to welcome another,

May you find grace’s space, the gentle unpacking and strong uplifting, of the One who welcomes you as you are.

And in His space, may your heart regain its shape and capacity

To love and to welcome another.

 

 

Be Hospitable to Your Own Soul

This is for the caretakers, the ones who always volunteer, the ones who say, “Someone has to do it, so I guess I will.” This is for the weary leader so busy caring for others that her own needs groan into a stifled discomfort and disillusionment. This is for the one always bending to accommodate another’s dilemmas, demands, or desires. The one who others count on to be hospitable, always.

Is there space at your table for you?

Do you find it easier to see how Jesus loves the other, but not so easy to see how he cares for you?

Does it feel luxurious, even selfish, to be hospitable to yourself – because it means saying no to someone else?

This is how I felt for a long time, especially when I tried to balance leading at church and mothering my three children through their first six years. And although I’ve never really wanted, deep down, to disconnect from the church, I was tempted to because of my desperation. There is an unequivocal absolute about mothering, so if that took all my energy, so be it.

But I felt, oh, so guilty! 

Grace came through gentle permission to step out of leading for a season, and into community, to be hospitable to my own soul in their presence.

I learned what it was to be welcomed at the table as me and not for my leadership or my abilities. I learned it was good, and deeply necessary, to spend time with my soul in God’s presence. Even more, the community I was in practiced a new hospitality towards me, one that warmly, quietly, cherished what was going on between me and God. I learned what it was to receive grace, to be one of the group relying on others and God – just as much in need of grace and hospitality as the next. Once driven by all the shoulds of good Christian living, I found I couldn’t do it all, and now I know, I shouldn’t.

Three days ago I remembered this lesson.

I went for a walk in the world turned fluffy, as if the bare black branches had bloomed a profusion of double-petalled white hydrangeas overnight, so that the morning dawned so brightly we thought we had slept in. Everything gently curved in cotton-ball whites, taking the muster of gray wood and dressing it up like scrappy Cinderella in her shimmering, glorious ball gown. This April snow would only last an hour or two, and so I roused my sleepy, overwrought self to find its peace in this fine fairy forest.

For two months I have been gunning it. Surpassing milestones before expected, churning out thoughts and plans as from a factory at full operation. And it’s been good. Exciting. Worth it.

But I’ve noticed my deteriorating patience, my mental freeze at simple requests turned difficult by the fog. What once felt easy, now is uphill.

As I walked uphill on my return trail, now watching the sloppy, slippery, muddy morass at my feet with less light-heartedness and more measured determination, I realized I was no longer looking at the trees and the snow and feeling the tingling breeze. I was tiring and the thrill was gone despite the beauty surrounding me. I thought of those benches sometimes installed at perfect outlooks for people to catch their breath, simultaneously in wonder and relief. Where was one of those?

I also thought how fitting it was that what had drawn me forward this morning was the fleeting beauty, how it invigorated my lagging body, and gave me purpose. My purpose was to enjoy. Just like two months ago when I embarked on new paths for my life. They were beautiful in hope, invigorating in promise, and gave me purpose. They still do; however, I am tiring of my walk and I need a bench for this day, at least. Somewhere to catch my breath in the exertion of living out my calling, somewhere to just enjoy the view with Jesus, and not be making or planning anything.

I can tell when I haven’t been hospitable to my soul. I get tense. I get short and become inhospitable to my husband and my kids. Instead of delighting in the care of these precious ones, every innocent request I interpret as a demand. I grudgingly help find whatever was misplaced, I go through the motions of care, but gone is the heart of care. All this dimming of life, trudging into drudgery, just because I walked passed my built-in bench.

My built-in bench is Sunday, when I typically observe the Sabbath with worship, rest and joyful activity. But sometimes I need more, or a Sabbath is pulled out of shape by sickness or strange schedules or just lots of people. I love people, but I also love my quiet.

We hosted friends for Easter, after a week of having neighbor kids over, spending two days being hosted by other friends, and the intervening times filled with fun and errands and my kids. All delightful, all a blessing, and I treasure every connection and laugh and joy we had.

But I needed my built-in bench. I needed a place to be with my own soul and no one else’s, to be with Jesus, and no one else. A place to be hospitable to just the two of us. I am so glad that Jesus finds quiet a hospitable place. He knows how to hold silence and make it special, how to fill the quiet with presence, and in so doing, warm my heart into relaxation and acceptance, into creativity and gentleness.

“But Jesus himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” Luke 5:16 (NASB)

Jesus took to the silence to find the presence of His Father. This warmed his heart, and made him creatively focused. When he returned to the crowds, he never appeared torn about what to do for whom, aggravated by the magnitude of the needs before him, or capitulated to another’s plans. Instead, with daring directness, he did only what the Father told him. He healed many, but not all. He taught many, but not all.

Jesus did not go through his life saying, “Someone has to do it, I guess I should.” He delegated like crazy, sending people to do things easy, and impossible. He relied on others! He empowered them by asking them to do things like find donkeys, feed five thousand, and steer boats. 

 

We get so caught up in ministering, in what needs to be done, that we stop hearing the particulars that God is leading us to. In our over-serving we inch slowly away from the table. We give up our chair, and like a servant at royalty’s table, stand ramrod straight and proper against the wall hiding our fatigue under our starched uniform and pasted smile, as we serve those at the table.

But our King invited us to his table, to sit, be fed, listen to him. When Jesus said, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all,” (Mark 10:43-44) he is not speaking about who gets a seat at the table, for we all do, but to use your guest status to welcome others to the table. 

So, come back to the table, draw up a chair, pass the food around, and eat!

And, when you get up to walk again, make sure you enjoy the view at your built-in benches!

Moses: A Lesson in Humility

When I asked my daughter what “humility” meant to her, she said “It’s when you fart in class!”

via GIPHY

Like her, I think many people confuse humility with humiliation. But humility is something you practice voluntarily. Humiliation is often something done to you, a deeply embarrassing event, not an attitude. Humility is a result of grace, whereas humiliation is a result of shaming.

Take a look at the Old Testament with me. It is peppered with exhortations like these:

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14 NIV

“He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.” Psalm 25:9 (NIV)

Humility, in the Old Testament, was always in reference to people’s attitude toward God. It was always voluntary. And it was always the path to true confidence. In Numbers 12:3-8 we get a description of Moses that demonstrates this truth.

Now the man Moses was a quietly humble man, more so than anyone living on Earth. God broke in suddenly on Moses and Aaron and Miriam saying, “Come out, you three, to the Tent of Meeting.” The three went out. God descended in a Pillar of Cloud and stood at the entrance to the Tent. He called Aaron and Miriam to him. When they stepped out, he said,

Listen carefully to what I’m telling you.
    If there is a prophet of God among you,
I make myself known to him in visions,
    I speak to him in dreams.
But I don’t do it that way with my servant Moses;
    he has the run of my entire house;
I speak to him intimately, in person,
    in plain talk without riddles:
    He ponders the very form of God. (MSG)

Is that not the very picture of confidence? He has the run of God’s house and speaks intimately with God, all because he was a quietly humble man!

Was he always humble? He certainly hated injustice like God, and killed a man in his zeal! Was that humility in action? No. Rather, it was pride in his rightness and authority to make someone pay. But he realized it, and humbled himself as he ran far out into the desert. I wonder how much of that run was fueled by self-condemnation. Was every day of those forty years in the hot, sunny desert clouded by shame and self-condemnation? Possibly. For when God met him in the burning bush, we find a man so low in his own esteem that He doubts the power of God.

When God calls Moses, he answered, “But why me? What makes you think that I could ever go to Pharaoh and lead the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11 MSG), and “Moses objected, “They won’t trust me. They won’t listen to a word I say. They’re going to say, ‘God? Appear to him? Hardly!’” (Exodus 4:1 MSG)

This is the hidden danger in humility. We slide out the other side into humiliating ourselves with our self-condemnation. We sink into doubt – since I see myself so poorly, surely God must hate me, distrust me, not love me. We humiliate our Father with our mock humility, making him out to be a silly old fool for doting on us.  

But God fixed the hole in Moses’s soul by not letting him out of his call and by focusing Moses’s attention on who He was. He repeatedly called Moses to enlarge His view and understanding of who He, the great “I AM”, was. God didn’t answer Moses’s self-doubt with “this is who you are,” but with “I AM”.

The more Moses focused his attention on God and held him in awe, and the more Moses walked out God’s call, the more truly humble he became. He walked confidently into potentially enormously humiliating situations. Surprisingly, humility led to courageous action.

Humility is a stance of worshipping stillness before God, realizing our small creature-liness before His infinite divinity. It is the guide into both intimate sanctuary and courageous kingdom action.

Do you need courage to do something God’s called you to? Do you need courage to ask forgiveness or reconcile with someone? Do you need courage to face an enemy? You will find it in humility. Worship God and He will give you courage.

May you enter the gate of humility and discover the wonderful significance He gives you. May the fence be mended in your life to keep you settled in humility and not fall into self-condemnation. May you leave through the gate of humility, confident in what He’s called you to do.