The Weakest Reed

He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle.


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How to Save the World In Fewer Than 10 Steps

1. Even if you have all the power, splendor and resources of God himself, come into the world unattractive, poor and in a social standing generally regarded as powerless. 

Isaiah 53:2-3

He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
    and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

2. Spend decades of your life, perhaps even the most “productive” years, living off the radar in complete obscurity.  For example, leave no verifiable records of your actions or activities in your teens or your twenties.

3. Spend time with people who have no power to change things.  In fact, make them your partners.  And maybe throw in a few people that most of the world would scorn and might not even necessarily trust or believe.

1 Corinthians 1:26-28

Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important.

4.  Do extraordinarily kind and loving things. Things that could make you famous and bring widespread attention to your good work.  Then encourage people to tell no one about them.

Matthew 8:4, Jesus heals a leper and tells him to tell no one.

Mark 7:36, Jesus heals a man who can’t hear or speak and tells him to tell no one.

Matthew 9:30, Jesus heals blind people and tells them to tell no one.

5.  Even though you know you only have a couple of years to personally spread your message as far and wide as possible, spend time mostly with individuals or in small groups in quiet and intimate settings.  You may even consider generally avoiding situations where your message will be heard by great numbers of people, especially if those people will want you to take a widely recognized place of power within the culture at large.

John 6:14-15

 When the people saw him do this miraculous sign, they exclaimed, “Surely, he is the Prophet we have been expecting!” When Jesus saw that they were ready to force him to be their king, he slipped away into the hills by himself.

6.  Get to know people.  Really know them.  Intimately.  Their bodily functions. Their foot odor. Their addictions. Their shame.  Their jealousies. Their selfishness.  Their brokenness. Their weaknesses. Their most ugly habits. Their hatred of you and everything you stand for. And love them anyway.  Love them until it kills you.  In fact, love them until they kill you.

Romans 5:6-8

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.

7. End your mission on earth when your life is still at its prime and just when it seems you might be gaining some momentum and perhaps even a small following.  Surrender your life into the hands of the people who hated you.  Even though a noble death might make you more likely to be favorably remembered, die a shameful, criminal’s death.   Do it for the sake of those who worked the hardest against your purposes, your mission and your message.  For your enemies.

Colossians 1:21-23

The Message (MSG)

You yourselves are a case study of what he does. At one time you all had your backs turned to God, thinking rebellious thoughts of him, giving him trouble every chance you got. But now, by giving himself completely at the Cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God’s side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence. You don’t walk away from a gift like that! You stay grounded and steady in that bond of trust, constantly tuned in to the Message, careful not to be distracted or diverted. There is no other Message—just this one. Every creature under heaven gets this same Message.

8. Do it to make a place for your enemies in your home. To share with them all your inheritance.  Offer them your friendship. Offer them a place in your family. And then let them take all that you’ve given them and reject it.  Over and over again.  And keep loving them anyway, rejoicing when they finally do turn towards you. 

Luke 15:20-24

 20 “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. 21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.[a]’ 

22 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.

 

 

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Does voting our values mean we are imposing our beliefs?

You know how when you’re having a conversation with another person and one of you has bad breath, it can be so distracting that it’s difficult to even really hear what the other person is saying? If we’re the bearer of the odoriferous breath we may, a bit self-consciously, cover our mouth with a hand, turn our faces slightly in another direction or speak with as little breath expelled as possible, hoping that which comes from us that might possibly offend would not reach the level of their attention.

But the whole conversation becomes a little bit awkward that way. It’s hard to see eye-to-eye when we’re doing everything we can not to stand face-to-face. Sometimes I feel like having a political conversation with someone who knows that I happen to be a person of faith is like doing that strange bad breath dance. I’m so conscious of offending the other person, I don’t articulate clearly enough what my actual position is. Today I read a blog post that insinuated that having religious beliefs is something that should be done outside of the voting booth, but not in it. So for the sake of a clearer and hopefully more authentic conversation, I’m going to put my face straight forward to look at yours and say what I really want to say: My religious beliefs do affect my vote.

That is because my religious beliefs affect my values. And all of us, every single one of us, votes based on our values. Our values are shaped by our families, our cultures, our gender, our experiences, our education, and countless other factors. But religious beliefs are undoubtedly one of the things that help shape our values. And it’s not just me. I hate to break it to you but, whether you have a religious affiliation or not- whether you consider yourself religious, spiritual, agnostic, atheist or none of the above-your religious beliefs (or lack thereof) affect your values. And your vote is affected by your values.

But let me tell you what that doesn’t mean:

  1. Just because my religious beliefs affect my values, doesn’t mean that when I vote I am trying to impose my religious beliefs on the state. I am simply casting my vote based on my own values, just like anyone else. Asking me to set aside my values before I vote would simply be asking me to put aside my humanity. I believe in separation of church and state specifically because I appreciate living in a place where we don’t do things like force people to separate themselves from their values when they exercise their right as a citizen to vote.
  2. I am no more trying to impose my values on you than you are trying to impose your values on me. Just as your votes may result in policies which go against my values, my votes may result in policies that go against your values. The nature of a democracy is that each person has the ability to place their single vote, whatever their vote may be and whatever their vote may be based upon. We each have that one single vote. That’s it. (Consequently, we also have a really, really good Constitution for which I am very thankful.  It protects us from a tyranny of the majority, which can be a dangerous thing.)
  3. Just because I have religious beliefs does not mean that when I vote I do not use my brain. If you think that having faith means not having an intellect, I challenge you to find a realm of human achievement where you don’t find people of faith. Arts, sciences, literature, philosophy….we are everywhere. And we do enjoy using our brains when we vote just as well as any other person does (or does not. Democracy is a funny thing like that. We don’t give tests to determine upon what a person will be basing their vote to see if it is appropriate before we hand him or her a pencil and ballot.)
  4. And just because I have particular values, doesn’t mean I don’t want to keep talking with you about this. Even if you have dramatically different values from mine.  I truly enjoy a good, intellectually honest, respectful debate.  And if we can agree on those ground rules, I’m all about digging in. Let’s not disrespect each other by assuming we can’t handle an opinion that dissents from ours.  My favorite conversations are the ones I’ve had with people who are not threatened by ideas different by their own.  That’s the place from which the absolute best policy-making is done. So let’s get at this!


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I walked down the dirt road on which my in-laws’ cabin sits and let the beauty of nature wash over my senses. The sun does not not neglect to generously warm each inch of my skin. The breeze offers a cooling balance and stirs the long grasses to release their sweet scent. The ferns on the forest floor stretch out their fronds in endless configurations of orderly beauty against the rakishly disorderly backdrop of the forest floor.

It is all there, whether I choose to enter into it or not. This feast for the senses, almost an embarrassment of riches in a place like the cabin–the sun, the breeze, the sweet grasses, the fern fronds, the birch forest- it all would have existed even were I not here to experience it. This uncultivated beauty is unlike the more civilized variety that we humans maintain or mold by our own efforts. Natural beauty simply IS. By no effort of mine it exists in glorious splendor, free for me and all the rest of humanity to enjoy.

I walked and I felt the tongue of my soul thirstily lapping up all that was around me, I started to wonder why I am made like this.  Why is natural beauty the food that feeds my particular soul?  In my life as a mother of three young children there are a long list of things I need to do in order to receive the benefits of healthy relationships, a passably hygienic home, meaningful work, even recreational pursuits require a lot of effort at this time of life. For every single arena of my life there is a litany of requirements for maintenance.

Yet the beauty of nature excites and soothes. It inspires and humbles.  It wraps around my senses in endless varieties and provides satiation.  But I do nothing to receive such a lavish feast as is provided by a place where natural beauty prevails.

I do not need to pay nature in order for it to administer these gifts to me. I do not need to feed it. I do not need to work for it. Entertain it. It seems as if it would balk like a strong but good-natured grandfather if I tried to coddle it.

Natural beauty requires nothing of me.  In fact is one of the few things, perhaps the only thing, that I feel no sense of guilt as I enjoy it. It is undoubtedly good, so I feel no shame as I bask in it and I do not accumulate debt as I accept its gifts. I can be free to receive what it gives me with no sense of needing to reciprocate. It takes nothing from me, not even requiring my appreciation of it as sometimes I feel about beauty that has been produced by human hands.

Natural beauty does not require me to maintain it in order for it to be.* It existed before I came along. It will exist after I am gone. It is remarkably persistent, tenacious even. Fire consumes acres and dainty, green tendrils begin to shoot through stricken soil soon after. Disasters occur to wipe out entire landscapes, but natural beauty reappears before humans can even begin to rebuild. Destruction may seem to have overcome, but glitter spills in night skies above and the sun will rise amidst a never-identical show of enigmatic shades of color the next day. Natural life will unfurl its tentacles wherever chaos strikes and slowly but surely begin to re-order itself.

And for a soul as hungry as mine, it is a blessing and a wonder that inherent in the character of natural beauty is that it is perpetually available. There is not a time of day in which it does not exist somewhere around you, most likely within immediate reach of at least one of your senses: loamy soil’s scent, a dancing tree’s shadow play, smooth stone rubbed between finger and thumb. It. Simply. Is. Moment upon eternal moment. Cycles of light and life never ending. The beauty of nature is there to take in.

As I round another curve on that dirt road only to arrive upon another landscape ripe with pleasure for the senses, I realize that I cannot think of any other thing besides natural beauty of which I can say this is true of its relationship to my soul: It requires nothing of me and yet my whole self- mind, body and soul- feel saturated with enjoyment of it. I receive so much without giving a single thing to it but my attention. And even if I do not give it my attention, it still exists within my reach for whenever I do tune myself to it again.

And as I turned back on the path towards the cabin again, the brilliance of the sun’s reflection on Lake Superior dazzled my eyes. In the same sort of flash I realized why this natural beauty is food for my soul. Because the beauty of nature is, to me, as clear a picture of God’s grace as I can seem to experience. And none of us can survive even a moment without grace. Grace is that which is present around me at every turn, whether I call it or not. Whether I recognize it or not. Whether I do anything to deserve it or not. It requires nothing of me and yet exists for me in the tick and tock, hum and drum, press and pull of every moment. This is what grace is: It is the thing which is there for us to receive freely and be filled. 

I may not always be tuned to appreciate it, but as sure as natural beauty IS whether I choose to tune my attention to it or not, so is Grace.

Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So nobody has a good excuse. Romans 1:20

What feeds your soul and why?

*Though, of course, if we are not stewards of it we do squander it. But sometimes I question if humans have the ability to completely destroy it. Though our efforts contribute, a hand greater than ours truly holds the power of life and death. And I think we see this common grace and the faithfulness of God in the persistence of natural life despite our best and sometimes worst efforts.

 

 


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Of Ants and Men: When One Gets Squished Does the Universe Care?

Please don’t judge me too harshly, but there was a carpenter ant crawling across my bathroom floor today and I squished it with my sandal. And I felt a pang of sadness and still have a vague sensation of lingering guilt about it. But I felt no differently about that particular ant than I would about any of the other ants in the whole world that could have been wandering across those tiles at that particular moment.

Sometimes I wonder, am I like that ant? Just this one human being among billions of humans on the earth or maybe trillions if we look across the span of time. Am I anything more to Him than a  tiny creature whose existence is meaningful in relation perhaps to the others who share my space and time but not very significant in the grand scheme of things? Does it matter if it was me who was inhabiting this space and doing this work in this moment or could it have just as well been any other human being doing the same thing to basically the same end? Does my individual existence, my personal purpose or a relationship with me as a single entity matter to Him? Or He mostly just concerned with the larger picture, beautiful and awesome picture that it might be?

I had a professor who was an atheist until he attended a conference about the cosmos and he listened to scientists in a field not his own discuss the way the world was put together. And he wondered at the way it was all so purposeful. So not random. And he said it changed him. He knew there must be some sort of Greater Force out there, putting it all together. Holding it all together.

It has never been a challenge for me to experience God like that. I see God in the grand, sweeping scale of the universe and I can look across the span of history and see the ways He has brought beauty out of destruction or how compassion overcame brutality. I can see that His love for the human race has conquered death and disease and war and hatred. That His love for us has held off the tide of destruction that we have created in our own arrogant ignorance: the way we consume and destroy and pursue always more because it’s never enough at the cost of all things holy. Instead of letting us obliterate ourselves and the earth, He is faithful and gracious to us. He lifts the sun up from the darkness each day and He coaxes the tender buds of life from the death freeze each winter. For it all. For the Universe. For all of us. For humanity. But was it for me?

What I struggle with is seeing Him as personal. I can see where His beauty and His might are poured into the world in a grand scale: Mount Everest and The Grand Canyon and the Pacific Ocean and the Milky Way. I can see how His love for humanity is reflected in creation but it is hard for me to discern how this kind of love is personal. Is it for me? And in the same way, I can see how the love that He poured out on the cross is a lavish kind of love for humanity. A son slain for his enemies’ sakes. He who was perfectly good sacrificed for all that was wretchedly wrong. But I wonder sometimes, was that really a sign of love for me or was it a general display of love for all of humanity? To sacrifice One for the good of many, this may be considered general benevolence, but is it indicative of a personal love? Of care for each one? Would Jesus have died even it were just for me?

For me and for any others who feel like an anonymous ant crawling across the bathroom floor of the universe today,

God who presides over and witnesses the life of every single, messy, noisy, frail sparrow in a flock of many, let your eyes see me today and, perhaps more importantly, let me be know that they do.

God who clothes grass in the field, daily trodden upon and then finally fodder for the fire, with greater splendor and glory than even the most majestic of kings, please show me that you desire to make beauty with my life as well.

God who says that He would leave ninety-nine sheep in the field to go after just a single one, please find me where I’ve gotten lost in the wilderness. Come and scoop up this foolish sheep and rejoice over me with singing and quiet me with your love.

Let me know in my deepest heart of hearts that you formed me, fearfully and wonderfully, crafting every part of me from a single cell,

and that you have a plan for me and that not even one day of my life-even the day that turns to a week that turns to a year that feels wasted- is outside of that plan. That plan to use every single bit of pain, every ounce of talent, every hope and fear and foible and success for good.

Help me to truly believe that you are intimately acquainted with all my ways, that you even number the hairs on my head and know my words before one escapes from my tongue and that you care for me as if to capture every tear that falls from my eye.

Give me a sense of this truth: That your thoughts towards me, towards just this one single ant in a crowd of many, are too vast and numerous to be counted.

And help me to live in the reality of a love for me that is lavish. A love that rejoices each time I turn towards you. The “let’s throw a party in heaven” kind of love.


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For those unable to put the oxygen mask on yourself first

I remember it as an old-fashioned bike painted shiny black and it was heavy. Or at least it felt heavy to me. I was probably eleven and the bike was made for a man, not a child. The problem of the bike’s weight was compounded by the large kiddie seat molded from grey plastic that was firmly bolted to the back. If I sat down on the bike’s seat my toes couldn’t quite reach the ground, so to ride it I had to balance on the pedals while standing, swinging my body from one side to the other over the metal bar in the middle. Everything about that man-sized bike was unwieldy to my child-sized self. It wasn’t a bike I rode for fun, it was the one required to perform my assigned duty of picking-up my little sister from daycare.

To ride this beast of a bike, I’d throw one leg over the middle bar to get on and then kick my feet against the ground a few steps to gain some momentum. Once it was moving forward, I’d hop up, one foot and then the other, pushing the pedals down hard to keep going. I’d carve a swervey, tippy line down the busy road, kicking up dust as I hugged the shoulder trying to avoid getting into the cars’ way. On the downhills, I made an effort at respite by sitting while I could. But the up hills were really a trick. Even on days when the sun’s rays didn’t beat on my neck, I’d get hot prickles of sweat from the exertion of pushing that heavy bicycle up the hill. It was a cumbersome and awkward venture, one that always made me self-conscious of who might be driving by.

When I’d reached the daycare, I’d loaded up my pudgy, baby sister into the child’s seat. If I didn’t have an adult to help me, I’d have to balance the bike against my hip to keep it upright while twisting and bending to lift and heft her up, buckling her in. Then I’d start the process all over again, getting on and moving the three of us now- the bike, the wriggling toddler and me-down the road. Tipping and turning, it was perhaps sheer will rather than strength or skill that kept us upright. I was never quite in full physical control of that bike. I was aware it could have easily come to a disasterous end if I lost my balance, me or my sister propelling through the air, scraped skin bloody with road rash and pocked with implanted gravel. A few times, I remember slipping off the pedals, trying to catch the bike’s weight against my body before my sister hit the ground.

Fortunately nothing worse than bloodied knees were the casualties of those clunky, ponderous rides. It wasn’t really a venture designed for a child. But really, looking back, there were a lot of bikes I was asked to ride that weren’t actually fit for a child; adult-sized responsibilities that shouldn’t have been mine, burdens too heavy for a kid to gracefully bear.

I was the type of kid who took responsibility when it was given to me, clasping it as if it were a gift. As the oldest of five kids, it felt good to be useful. When my parents were pleased with me, I was pleased with myself. Each time I was asked to do something, I saw it as a sign that I had some value to others.

I must have been good at taking responsibility because soon enough it was given to me a lot. As early as I can remember I was often left to care for other children, first for small spurts of time and later for much longer. Hours grew to long days and as years went by, I remember times when one day would pile on top of another, sometimes without knowing when to expect the adult to return. There was a lot of waiting. I remember often feeling the strain of anxious tension, a child carrying a heavy load, wondering when I’d be free to hand off the responsibility, throw off the weight and be released.  I would long for someone to say, “You don’t have to worry, I’ll take care of that.”  But it wasn’t just being relieved of responsibility that I ached for.  It was for someone to say, “You don’t have to worry, I’ll take care of you.”

I don’t think it is wrong for children to be given some responsibilities or for siblings to help care for each other. But something changed in me, I think, when caretaker stopped being an activity and it started being an identity.

Just like that cumbersome bike sometimes felt like it might crush me, I think that the disproportionate sense of responsibility I felt when I was little outweighed my sense of self. As the child’s job of becoming who I was became eclipsed by my duties to others, “you are responsible” started to become a bigger reality than “you are Rachel.”

Eventually when we get older, we all bear more responsibility which can be difficult but ultimately fulfilling when developed appropriately. Most of us, like weight lifters, have built up the ability to bear that weight slowly, over the course of several decades. But when it happens too young, we develop inappropriately. We bear more weight than we should on our child’s frame and our disposition towards responsibility distorts.

As we grow, we get so used to feeling that disproportionate heaviness that it feels strange to be without it. We find ourselves as adults taking on more than we should, even taking responsibilities for things we shouldn’t, threading more and more weight onto our barbell until we experience that familiar almost crushing experience that we did in childhood.

Our outlook on the world and our place in it also becomes ill-formed. We develop a perspective that is so used to looking out for others that it seems wrong to sometimes look out for ourselves first. I’m still pretty sure if I were in a plane accident with my children, I’d be almost physically unable to honor the flight attendants admonition to please put the oxygen mask on myself first.

And if that’s not enough, it feels even stranger still when somebody else tries to watch out for us. I feel a deep sense of discomfort every time someone offers to help me.

I saw tweeted the other day the question: Who were you before someone told you who you should be?

Who was that me before Responsible and Caretaker became my identity? I was creative. I was a child that saw fairies in the moonlight and tiny worlds in the woods. I was convinced that nature sprung to life, dancing and singing, when we weren’t looking.

In going through boxes of my childhood things, I found evidence of poems and songs and plays that I had written in those early years. Before I learned to be the bearer of heavy things, I was fanciful. I was lighter before I had to develop those responsibility-wielding muscles. I had time to fill my head with “to be” lists rather than “to do” lists. I was a bleary-eyed dreamer who saw the future in softly-lit, glowing possibilities instead of a sentinel who had to keep perpetually open the watchful eye of responsibility.

Yes, I’m describing a cotton candy world that is airy-fairy and sentimental. But I was in grade school! That was what I was supposed to be like. I was supposed to be like a child.

Previously, when I heard people speak of having faith like a child, I understood it to be an intellectual simplicity. It seemed I was being admonished to push aside rational or scholarly concerns and just accept what was being told. This always disturbed me.

But now that I have children myself I think about having faith like a child entirely differently.

When I am with my children, they do not doubt that I am the one who is looking out for them. (Psalm 91)

That I will come for them when they call. (Micah 7:7)

They take for granted that it is my job to supply their needs, not their job. (Philippians 4:19)

When we go out, they just assume that I know when it is time to come and when it is time to go from a place (though they might complain a bit). (Psalm 121:8)

And that I will carry them when they get tired. (Isaiah 46:4)

They trust that if they get lost I will come for them. (Luke 15:4-6)

And they actually think it is silly and ridiculous if I try to give them a load too heavy for them. They assume it is a joke, in fact. (Psalm 68:19)

In Matthew 25, Jesus says, starting in verse 25, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants.”

Jesus knows that children would not doubt the way He is about to describe a loving Father! LISTEN to this verse with faith like a child.  Let this sink in today:

He goes on to say in verse 28, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

I am praying for myself and for any who read this who feel themselves loaded heavy, burdened low– that we would have faith like a child today. That we would be confident in our Father who has made it his job, not ours, to daily bear our burdens (Psalm 68:19).

I love this passage in Psalms in particular in the King James Version. It actually reads, “Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation. Selah. In this version, the picture is not just of him taking on our burdens, but actually loading us up with benefits! This is the reality of life with Him that I want to know. Not only does he ask us to cast our burdens on Him, but then he gives us an easy yoke and a light burden. Admittedly, in past readings of the passage in Matthew, I’ve thought to myself, “Well geez, if you’re such a powerful and mighty and loving God, can we just skip the burdens altogether?” But today as I reflect on the KJV of Psalm 68:19 I’m letting myself wonder if this is, in fact, the kind of burden He had in mind: He daily loadeth us with benefits! Could it be? And how does this change everything!?!

Sometimes I wonder what I might have become if I could have been childlike a little longer. Would I have developed my creative gifts more? Would I have thought of myself as a writer instead of perpetually sublimating that part of myself to being a caretaker? If I hadn’t grown up under a heavy load, would I have stretched higher to achieve greater success in other areas of my life? A part of me still grieves these paths not taken. But I also know that I am the child of a God who redeems, who restores lost years (Joel 2:25).  For me, that is part of the reason I’m writing again.


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My story of being a stony-hearted, brutish beast…

It was one of those days when I felt like a fraud standing in the church pew during worship.  Sunday mornings there’s a special kind of chaos that happens in our household and I frequently find myself arriving to church disheveled and loaded down with over-brimming diaper bags and teary children.  As I walk in, I am certain  that others are disdainfully appraising the bedlam that floats in around us like the perpetual cloud of dust on Charlie Brown’s friend, Pig-Pen.  More often than seems appropriate, we’ve had a fight in the car on the way over and as I sit in the sanctuary my heart slouches inside of me like a petulant teenager facing a parent who expects them to make a good showing at a family reunion.

When we started singing “All Creatures of Our God and King” I was barely tuned in. But despite my inability to focus on worship, the words started breaking through in bits and pieces, washing over me…

Burning sun…..

                        silver moon….

                                                                                            lights of evening…

                                           flowing river….

                                                                                                        flowers and fruits….

…every part of nature being exhorted to praise their Creator God.  Each line of the song like an arrow zinged to crumble the stony wall encapsulating my heart.

This verse came to mind from Luke 19:40: He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

When I’ve heard this passage before, I’ve felt a sense of shame that Jesus would have to make a fallback plan in case humans didn’t burst forth with cheers and praise and rejoicing at the presence of the Lord.  In previous readings, I’d interpreted this statement almost as the declaration of a frustrated king who, when finding his court is full of useless subjects, waves them out of his presence and announces that it doesn’t matter anyway because he can easily replace them, with stones no less.

But then out of nowhere (well, probably out of Somewhere), my understanding of these verses completely changed.  I realized that He who created each and every thing on this planet is fully capable of imbuing every single thing with life, humans and rocks alike!  It’s not a statement of our uselessness to Him, it’s merely of a statement of our need for Him and inextricable link between worship and life.

This brings me great hope because there have been many times in recent years when I have identified too closely with this image from Psalms 73 :

21 When my heart was grieved
and my spirit embittered,
22 I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before you.

Dulled by the drudgery of long days and deadened by the monotonous work of just plowing the rows and rows of flat field, I could not imagine how I could be used for anything beautiful anymore.  Feeling like a brute beast before the Lord, I had lost the sense to know even how to move forward.  But this Jesus that we follow guides, gently it seems even, a brute beast!  This Psalm goes on,

23 Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.

To think, He doesn’t just pull a brute beast towards more drudgery.  He guides that brute beast towards glory!  Of course, it’s not that he always change our geography or circumstances by taking us out of the dusty field in which we’re working.  But He often changes our experience of our fields by walking beside us, touching us with his presence and whispering guidance in our ear, even giving us glimpses of the glory that we are moving towards.

And this same Creator who guides this brute beast to glory will also inspire stones to cry out.  He can even animate a lifeless rock to use it to sing to Him!

I am sometimes that rock. Lower even than an animal, I am so dead in myself that I cannot conjure up one drop of life on my own. I need that Creator, Source of Life bigger and better and beyond me, to make me viable again.  To make me pliable and usable, something beautiful once more in His potter’s hands.

So as I stood in church that day, those arrows breaking up the stony walls around my heart, by time we got to the verse of the hymn where we sing, “Ye who long pain and sorrow bear, Praise God and on Him cast your care!” I find my whole self lifting upwards, remembering this Creator who is so wonderful that He would inspire even an inanimate object to worship Him!

In that moment and always, I find hope again as I worship Him, turning towards Him to be refreshed by His never-ending flow of  living water. But when I’m even worse off than that, when I’m stony-hearted and don’t even have enough life in me to turn like a senseless animal towards Him, He can still reach into me and revive my deadest places to make me sing again.

Am I the only stony-hearted, brutish beast among us?  If you’ve got a prayer request, message me at weakestreed@gmail.com or put it in the comments below and I’d be happy to pray for you as I pray for myself to be  softened for His use and guided to His glory.