Kind

Every few years God brings me almost to a halt in order to return back to the basics of my faith. In the past it’s been recognizing the hope for Heaven, His faithful presence in my life, or once was realizing the magnitude of my sin and need for a Savior.

This is not me regaining my salvation. It is practicing remembrance. When these seasons begin, I often get uneasy because I fear that my wrestling is offensive to God and that He is disappointed that I am back to something I should have already learned.

This past month has been one of those back-to-basics moments. But this time, instead of putting on a cloak of shame, I chose to walk in Philippians 2:12-13: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

I have been working out my salvation by asking the question, “is God kind to me?” I feel almost heretical stringing those words together now, even after God and I have had some extensive conversations about that very topic. It just doesn’t feel right to say such a thing.

Growing up in the church, I’m pretty good at the whole head knowledge thing, but my heart is often slower to catch up. When I first spoke the question that had been rumbling around in the very back of my head I was simultaneously relieved and appalled. Relieved because I felt like the ticking time bomb had been diffused. Appalled because every Sunday school teacher or pastor I’ve sat under would probably ask me if I didn’t hear a word they had said. Of course God is kind!

But to be honest, I wasn’t feeling it. I saw God’s kindness in people’s lives around me, but was having a difficult time seeing it myself. I’d like to think that I tried really hard to see His kindness in my life, but my heart was tired and calloused. So I probably gave up quickly.

Right around this time, I had a seminary assignment where I practiced spiritual disciplines and wrote out prayers everyday for a certain amount of time. This is when I started getting very honest with God. No more of that hiding behind “I know” business. It was time to give Him a piece of my mind. There were definitely a series of “I’m mad at You because ____” and “Why haven’t You _____” and several “I don’t like ____.” Everything centered around why I thought God was disciplining me unjustly. Everything centered around me. 

I think it was good and wise to voice where I was; I needed to hear myself to realize it was all about me. So I started studying about who God is. The Bible talks about God’s character a lot. It says that He is Creator (Gen 1:1), Savior (John 3:16), Holy (Rev 4:8), Love (1 John 4:7-12), and Life (Col 1:17), just to name a few. 

Titus 3:4-7 has been a favorite passage of mine for a long time. I had completely forgotten it uses the phrase “loving kindness” until I did a Bible search for the exact phrase. 

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,  so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 

This verse is especially applicable for now for two reasons:
1. It clearly attributes kindness to God.
2. The kindness of God is the gift of Jesus. 

Fair warning: I’m about to nerd out here. 

I wanted to find a good, healthy, Biblical definition of “kindness” so I hopped over to Blue Letter Bible to see how kindness was used in these verses. Y’ALL. I LITERALLY CAN’T.

In Titus 3, Paul used the Greek word “χρηστότης” which comes from the root word of “χρηστός.” Now I do not read ancient Greek, but thanks to the little modern Greek I know some bells went off in my head…because that word for kindness sure did sound a lot like the word for Christ. LOOK AT THIS.

root word of kindness (Titus 3)
χρηστός
khrā-sto’s

Christ (New Testament)
Χριστός
khrē-sto’s

I cannot get over how close those sound. I am choosing to believe that it cannot be a coincidence that Paul, when writing Titus, chose the word for kindness that sounded so similar to that for Christ. 

At the very beginning of me examining whether I believe God is kind to me, I had a dear friend (looking at you Lizzy Cook) who encouraged me to see God’s kindness as the free gift of salvation. I can know and experience the kindness of God by walking out in the freedom and hope and grace and restoration that the Gospel brings. Jesus Christ’s presence is kindness.

And in case you’re wondering, yes, I believe God is kind to me. So much kinder than I will ever comprehend. 

Solitude

If you had asked me two months ago to name the spiritual disciplines, my list would have included prayer, Scripture memory, reading/studying the Bible, and accountability. Turns out there are a good number of additional practices. One of those additions is something called “solitude.” And turns out that it’s not just for monks.

Y’all. Over the past 6 weeks, the longest I’ve gone without hearing some mention of solitude has been three days. NOT KIDDING. Books for fun, books for a seminary class, friends, podcasts, more friends, sermons, more books…everywhere I turn, there has been some nugget about the importance of solitude.

I’ve also had the exact same “it’s showing up everywhere” experience with a new-to-me author, Henri Nouwen. (And also with Chick-fil-A…but I still have five months left of my CFA fast so we don’t talk about that one.) Would you believe me if I said that it took me two weeks of these “solitude” and “Nouwen” bombardments before I realized Henri Nouwen has a lot to say about solitude? And here I was thinking they were two separate occurrences. Ha.

By that point, there was no denying that God had my attention. If everyone (including this Nouwen dude) is claiming solitude is so essential, why was this the first I was hearing of it?

Solitude is counter-cultural. In a world that demands go and do, solitude demands that we stop and sit. 

This nugget was from a seminary book:

“The practice of contemplative prayer––learning to quietly sit in God’s presence, gazing upon him, and allowing him, not our worded response, to fill our consciousness––is a transforming discipline for Christians more accustomed to prayer of the head than prayer of the heart.” (David Benner, Care of Souls)

Not only that, but I would venture to say that we also live in a world that demands we have a response to everything. We are trained to have a thoughtful opinion, witty rebuttal, or insightful analysis. If we don’t, well…you just failed 10th grade English, or you’re the laughingstock of the dinner party. Solitude can be super uncomfortable because it forces us to stand, unmasked, before God.

“Solitude is the furnace of transformation. Without solitude we remain victims of our society and continue to be entangled in the illusions of the false self.” -Henri Nouwen

Nouwen is adamant that even though solitude is hard work (I’ll affirm that claim), when we set aside time and space we will undoubtably be inundated by a thousand distracting thoughts as we are face-to-face with our inner chaos, but the result of perseverance is hope in the presence of God. We are reminded that God is bigger than we are.

But here’s what really got me: Did you know Jesus practiced solitude? Matthew 14:23 gives us a picture of Jesus practicing solitude in the middle of His ministry, “And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.” Did you catch that? Jesus left the crowd. Went by himself up the mountain. Where he prayed. By himself. For a long time. He also practiced solitude after hearing about John the Baptist’s death (Matthew 14:13), after healing many (Mark 1:35), before choosing the Twelve Disciples (Luke 6:12), and the night he was betrayed (Matthew 26:39). One last verse to drive home this point: “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (Luke 5:16 NIV)

Here are some questions that helped me begin to practice solitude:

  • Where am I trying to use outer distractions to shield the inner noises?
  • When was the last time I stopped to listen to the quiet whisper of God?
  • Am I persevering, pushing into solitude?
  • What is my attitude toward solitude?

“In solitude we become aware that our worth is not the same as our usefulness.” -Henri Nouwen

Sometimes we choose solitude and other times God plops us down in the middle of it. Regardless of how we got there, God will always, always, always use those times to teach us about who He is.

Solitude is not just for monks.

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Prayer

10…..9…..8…..

The mental countdown had begun.

7…..6…..

I could feel the grooves on the inside of my cheek from where I had been biting it for the last hour.

5…..4…..

I could hear the fast “thump thump thump” of my shoes echoing down the tiled hallway.

3…..

I swallowed hard. The lump was still there.

2…..

If I could just make it to the bathroom I could avoid the questions. But what if someone saw me before I left? Flushed. Wide-eyed. Panicked.

1…..

The click of the stall lock functioned like a marathon gun. The gates opened. My tears freely flowed down my face.

I would be lying if I said this was a one time occurrence.

 

 

I really wanted this month’s focus to be on prayer. I have been practicing praying in different ways (journaling, through song, praying Scripture, setting reminders, etc.) As we walk around campus, I’m praying for the people we pass and those we are about to meet. I’ve seen God answer very specific prayers as well as what it looks like to come before Him daily to lay it at the foot of the cross.

But I wasn’t expecting God to teach me about prayer through weakness. With every turn He has been reminding me that I am nothing without Him.

It’s really natural for me to pray for other people. I am so grateful for this! But it is hard for me to pray for myself. I don’t want to admit that anything is wrong.

There is nothing that will humble you faster than living in a foreign country.

I have learned that I have to prepare for battle. Or what feels like battle: Language class. Campus evangelism. The grocery store. Every time I step foot out my door the enemy is looking for opportunities to get a foothold.

Y’all. The enemy attacks hard. And if I’m being honest, he’s gotten the better of me a few times. BUT, he hasn’t won. I’ve started getting faster at acknowledging the lies I’m believing. I’ve started getting faster at remembering to pray against the enemy’s attacks.

Here are a few of the lies I’ve heard, what I’ve learned to pray, and truth that I choose to believe.

I am not enough.
God, remind me that you have a purpose for me.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

I am a failure.
God, remind me that I am not earning your approval.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3-6)

I am a lost cause. 
God, remind me that you are making me more into your image.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)

I am not as loved or effective as my teammates.
God, remind me that I get to celebrate my teammates and not be in competition with them. You are using all of us for your glory.
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them…(Romans 12:4-6)

I am defeated.
God, remind me that you restore.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

I have let God down.
God, remind me that your power is made perfect in weakness.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

Prayer isn’t just an emergency flare. Prayer aligns our hearts with His’. I’ve noticed that as I pray more – for my friends, for injustices, for my own heart – I am comforted by His presence. There’s a familiarity that brings immense comfort…and as I spend more time with Him, I’m more in step with the Spirit.

If I wasn’t constantly faced with my weakness, I wouldn’t turn to Him.

2Cor12:9_FreehandTruth