Can You Hear the Singing of God?

When he tells me that he loves me, his blue eyes a breaking dam, I receive it. I knew it already, from the expressions on his face, and his love-laden actions. It’s when he tells me that I’m beautiful that I falter. To be loveable and to be beautiful are not synonymous.

He stands tall, closer to me than he’s ever stood, and says, “You’re beautiful.”

I should have felt the truth emanating from his nearness, surging like deep waters from his eyes, but still I utter the words, “Do you really think I’m beautiful?”

He was like an angel, like one pronouncing divine words. I was like Zechariah, responding with unbelief. He could have scolded me, closed off the dam, cutting the flow of love. It was just that no one had said as much to me before, at least besides my family, and them not in the same manner.

How is it that love is easier to accept than delight?. Sure, God loves us. It’s his job to love us. He made us; he’s greater than us; he died for us. We accept his forgiveness. We accept his eternal life. It’s his tenderness, his pleasure, his all-surpassing joy that crashes against our shame and falls rejected at our feet.

Am I beautiful to Him? Does He delight in me? Can I accept His creation pronunciation, “It is very good”?

When my heart discards the adoring nature of God, it’s like questioning everything He’s ever written. “Did God really say…” Ever since its haunting utterance in the garden, we like to echo that question. It’s our fallen spirit, a spirit of distrust, reservation, doubt. Yes,…but. Yes, you may love me, but I am not beautiful.

What does “The joy of the Lord is my strength” mean, other than that the Lord’s taking joy in me sustains me, fills me with sustenance? His delight becomes my energy, fuels my obedience, becomes my calling:

Sing, O Daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm. On that day they will say to Jerusalem, “Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:14-17

Shortly after my husband-to-be spoke those words, “You’re beautiful”, we went hiking on an early summer day through the green mountains of North Carolina. While we stopped for a rest, he took me in his arms and sang prayers over me, making up lyrics to simple tunes. To be sung over is to be delighted in, cherished, covered in grace.

God Himself is singing over us. It’s more than a love that pities. It’s a love that delights; a love that will fight for our nearness, a love that wants to do more than save. A love that pours grace and worth into us. And what is He singing? Words of radical joy! Words of victory! Words of beauty!

How will we respond to this singing? Will we hang our heads in shame, uttering quiet words “Do you really…”? Or will we accept the joy and sing, shout aloud, rejoice, be glad with all our hearts?

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Closing the Gap

“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25)

If there’s a time of year when discipline rears up in a heart, January is usually it. We are peppered with talk of habits, resolutions, try-hard mentality, and you-can-do-it. If only creating a new habit was as easy as writing it down on fancy paper and saying with determination, “I resolve…”

The problem with habits is that the ones you want to form elude your best disciplined efforts, but those you desire to depart from have a way of edging in deeper. I have had disciplined periods of my life where “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13) was my theme verse. Prayer, Scripture memorization, exercise, diet – all happily situated under command of my fierce will. Those periods didn’t last long. Usually, my habit-forming attempts champion the verse, “what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15).

A disconnect separates my desires from my practices. The Lord’s Spirit calls within me to deeper fellowship. The River of Life within me points to glory and freedom and joyful living, but I can’t always muster the will to put aside the frustrations of the day, the defeat I so constantly feel as a parent and a wife. When my attitude is positive, the will has power. When it’s been a “No! To your room!” day with children, the attitude plummets and accusations weigh down the will.

If I am to build habits, it’s only by grace and Spirit, not determination. Grace and His Spirit close the gap between desire and flesh. So here are my habit tips, my own little pep talk for accomplishing my hopefuls of 2012:

1. Graceful Expectations: “Don’t bite off more than you can chew,” goes the cliché. Habits form like snowballs. They start small and get bigger. I will only except something of myself that is realistic given my other commitments and my family situation. In other words, I will not resolve to write a novel this year, while potty training my two-year-old, growing a garden, and sending my five-year-old off to kindergarten (and did I mention teaching piano lessons and accompanying at church?). But maybe I can resolve to write more on my blog, to have several weekly times of study and devotion, to drink more water, to review my Greek flashcards.

2. Graceful Structures: I need help. Last year that help was a Bible reading plan. This year, a different Bible reading plan, and a six-week women’s Bible study that is giving me new tools for personal devotions. I’ll also be joining with a few other women writers for encouragement and fellowship. What structures do you need? Sometimes we need formal structures, like small groups or classes. Other times, less formal structures  will suffice like a new planner for organization, or a hiking book for new trails. Prayer books are a must! Reading prayers is a great tool for a tired brain and heart. You’ve read, “Just add water,” on pre-packaged food. Prayer books are a “Just add your heart” pre-packaged deal. By the way, if you don’t want to buy a new book, use the Psalms, the prayer book of the Bible. (Ann Voskamp has a great post on prayer and prayer resources.)

3. Graceful Recoveries: I am expecting set back. The old “two steps forward, one step back.” I will not judge success or failure on the belief that I will immediately fall into a habit without work or struggle. Forgiving ourselves is perhaps more difficult than forgiving others. Extending grace when we fail to live up to our expectations moves against the condemning cultural voices we hear. So I resolve to be graceful with myself. If I need to reevaluate and change things up, I will do it.

Expecting Grace

Yesterday morning we watched a hawk perched in a tree across the street. From our position in the front window, in the first light of a gray day, amongst the gray trees of winter, its gray form seemed merely another branch. It flew from tree to ground and back to tree where it sat motionless. It was this tree-ground oscillation that first drew my attention to the bird, and I wondered how many things hang around in trees, camouflaged, and I never notice.

One of my morning “chores” is to watch the backyard birds eat their breakfast – cardinals, doves, chickadees, sparrows, and finches. Lately, we’ve noticed a pair of pileated woodpeckers hanging around the neighborhood. But a hawk is special. It’s a large bird of prey, frequently seen soaring, but hardly viewed up close, still. I counted this a grace and a good start to the day.

This morning while we were eating breakfast, my newly-turned-two son pointed outside, “Gawk! Gawk!” He was asking after the bird. If it was there the previous day, why not this morning? I guess for a two-year-old, a one-time experience easily becomes a daily expectation.

Why is this not the same with us? If we once experienced the grace of Christ, should we not point at that grace, expecting it to come again?

Instead, as adults, we are able to distinguish between normal day events and more special occurrences. I expect grace to be a fleeting moment of joy, like the viewing of a unique animal, or the happy hug of a friend. It happens, but it’s not something we bank on every day. But grace is not like an event that comes and goes, starts then finishes, remaining absent for a period of time. Grace is anything but linear. Grace moves fluidly, whether we’re aware of it or not, like the turning of the earth, day to night and back to day. Winter to spring to summer to fall. Grace may manifest in different ways, but since the creation of the world, this spiritual phenomena encircles our lives. Grace moves through closed doors and into our presence. The reason for this is, of course, that grace originates in the Godhead. Grace is the Person of Christ ministered to us by the Spirit of Christ.

Do I expect it? Am I aware of it? Am I saying “Grace! Grace!” every morning when I wake?