Morning Bible Reading and Manna for Today

I used to believe that a regular morning routine was out there somewhere in my life. Maybe it would come when I finished college. Maybe when my job didn't require so much of me spiritually. Maybe when I lived in a quieter house. Maybe when I got married. Maybe when I got better sleep. Sometime in the past few years I've realized that just isn't going to happen. Ever. People might say life is what you make of it, but sometimes life just makes you, doesn't it? 

Life reveals you. It finds you out. It sneaks up on you with pranks and cranks and crabs and empty bags of coffee beans. It just doesn't take long to be thrown off rhythm, feel overwhelmed, and to just throw your hands up. I have been there, friends, I am there in many ways. Life just hasn't felt kind to me the past few years and finding a time to read, reflect, pray, praise, and memorize has felt like me trying to solo backpack across the Sahara. I've got the supplies in my pack, but I haven't got any idea how to this. 

There is such a wealth of Bible study tools out there and such a deluge of books to read on why studying the Bible is good, and often times I find it easy to get caught up in what they all say I'm supposed to do...and feel guilty when for whatever reason I can't. I'm going to tell you what I've found works for me, over many years of practice, and having to throw out a lot of "best practices" to find the ones that are sustainable for me.

I love deep Bible study, but I find what I need for deep Bible study is the constraint of a class or gathering or a group of people. I need that accountability. This is the way I've been created. However, what sustains me and actually brings me joy in the day to day grind, is not deep Bible study, but daily manna. Enough. Just enough. It keeps me coming back the next day wanting more and more and more, and often times leading me to a time when I'm able to get back into deep study of the Word with others. But not every day can be that time. I just wanted to say that because I think there is a deep thirst for the deep Bible study and we ought to pursue it, but there are just some seasons when the constraint and accountability of a class isn't available, and we still need the Word. 

My daily routine (right now) looks like this—and it may seem like grazing to some people, but it may seems like over-eating to others. Take what helps you, leave what doesn't. God knows what season of life and change you're in, and He never changes. 

Most weekday mornings I have my beverage of choice in hand and am sitting down by 6:45. I'm trying to gradually move that earlier and earlier. I read my Scripture memory card one time (currently Psalm 34:13-14). I read my daily growth card one time, asking God for help. I open my small notebook and write the passage of Scripture I'm rereading (Currently Amos: my best practice for Scripture reading has been to read the same book over and over, sometimes 20 times over the course of a month or two, one chapter a day.) and the date, and I write O, I, & A down the side (Observation, Interpretation, and Application), leaving a space at the bottom for a prayer. I read one chapter from Amos, make some observations about what is happening in this passage. Then I make some interpretations about the character of God, the character of man, and where Christ is seen in the chapter. Then I apply this to my today. Then I write a short 2-3 sentence prayer. All of this takes less than 30 minutes. 

After I read Scripture, I'll read a chapter from a book (right now The Gift of Being Yourself by David Benner), open my daily notebook, see what's on the calendar for the day, what's on the menu for tonight, and what tasks I need to do. Sometimes I'll pray as I do that, asking God to help me be faithful, to see him as sufficient, and for the Spirit to lead me as I work. Nothing fancy, just breathing staccato prayers, as I call them. Help. Thank you. Please. I praise. 

I know there are some of you with six kids and chickens in the yard and a baby nursing, and there are some of you getting up at 5am to navigate hellish traffic on your way to the office, and some of you for whom mornings are really difficult, facing the day feels heavier than most of us can fathom. I want you to know that today, as I read Amos 1 again, reading how God protects what is his and disciplines those who come against it, I prayed for you. I prayed that the things battling against you, attempting to obliterate your areas of strength, your trust in God, and your clarity of mind, would be crushed by the Lord and his Spirit would comfort you in the process. He cares for you. He knows the season of life you're in and the things you can't bear, and he's bearing them for you.  

Maybe a long, deep drink from the well of his Word seems impossible today, but if you can get a sip, take one. Stick an index card in your back pocket with a piece of Scripture on it. Meditate on it while you wash dishes, while you're at the red light, before you rise up. God knows you are dust, he made you out of it. Do what you can, with his help and comfort. 

Bread for the Body, Hope for the Soul

A week ago Monday we got a new bed (king, Tuft and Needle), we started taking a conglomeration of supplements, and I got some specific prayers prayed over me. This week was full of joy, hope, good sleep, and a sense of peace I haven't had in a long time. What came first, the supplements? The sleep? The prayer? I don't know, actually, and whenever I've tried to put my finger on the source of the peace, it eludes me. 

This past weekend we took almost four days to just completely rest, turn off our few electronics or leave them at home, read a few novels and a few non-fiction books, get our hands dirty in soil, swim (and scrub) in our pool, take a spontaneous trip to a suburb of Dallas we both love, slip into church and slip out, take some inventory of our health, joy, fruitfulness, and marriage, and just spend some good time talking through some things we needed or wanted to. It has been the most restful four days I can remember.

I've been thinking a lot about health the past few months. Mine hasn't been at its best for over a year. Doctors couldn't put their finger on it and so it's just felt like a giant mystery. The whys mount and the answers aren't found, and meanwhile the rest of my body has suffered for the lack of answers. But alongside this physical body, there's also a spiritual one and an emotional one, and those three are more intertwined than most of us acknowledge. I have felt at times paralyzed in all three of those areas this year and have struggled with the limitations. 

Yesterday as Nate and I drove home from a gathering we talked about how the recognition of our limitations is actually a really healthy thing and if all the past few years have been is simply that, we're okay with it. We are not superhuman or invincible, we're not saviors, we're not the strongest or wisest person in the room, we're not the most healthy physically, we're not the ones with all the answers. This has been a humbling journey for both of us and, on this side of things, we're able to see how the aching, humiliating, and longing has brought us into a better place. 

There have been days over the past two years where the spiritual, physical, and emotional manna I wanted to horde wasn't available, and I've just had to subsist on what I knew on that day. God is good. God is faithful. We are weak. We do not have what it takes to see this through. We have failed. We are hurting. And yet, every day brought new manna. I can't explain that kind of goodness and I can't understand it—and in many ways, if I'm completely honest, I don't want to repeat it. 

The past few weeks have felt like the morning before Sabbath when the Israelites were given the double portion of manna (Exodus 16). They still weren't given enough for the whole week ahead, but they were given enough hope for tomorrow and strength for today. I feel that hope and strength coming back to me. 

I feel it when I speak with others, sharing God's faithfulness and listening to their stories, their pains. I feel it when I wake from a good night's sleep. I feel it when I remember we're fighting a spiritual battle and those take different kinds of prayers. I feel it when I am able to think and speak clearly. To be candid, I feel it in my entire body, as the physical symptoms begin to come into focus and I can stare at them freely, without shame, without confusion. 

Maybe you're in a Sabbath weekend right now, enough for tomorrow and today, clarity coming quickly and answers abounding. Or maybe you're not. Maybe it's Monday or Tuesday or Thursday, and you're wondering if God is hearing and answering and coming and bringing and healing. I don't know that he is because he did and is for me. I know that he is because that is who he is.

He promised to never destroy his people and he's not destroying us, even as we feel chipped away at and refined in every place. He's pressing, but not crushing, wounding so he can heal, lighting fire to so he can burn away what's not eternal, pruning so you can grow, but never destroying the parts of you that image him. 

I'm praying for you today, if that's you. God isn't surprised by our anger or sadness or disappointment. He isn't. He's not surprised by our lack of faith or the presence of doubt. He's not swayed by our bad theology or—get this—our seemingly perfect theology. God is a Sabbath keeping God. He keeps the Sabbath for himself (Gen. 2:1-3). He keeps it for you (Ex. 31:13). He made it for you (Mark 2:27).

Sabbath is coming soon. And until then, today's bread is enough, I promise you, it is enough.

The Tyranny of Waiting

There have been times I thought patience a gift of mine, and other times I couldn't see past the thing I'd fixed my gaze upon, desperate for the kind of relief I thought it would bring. I've never been foolish enough to assume perfect happiness or contentment would come with the thing itself, but I did think it would abate the wait. 

"Yes, but would you trade the thing you got," a few friends and acquaintances would say to me, when I would try to say how the thing didn't bring the satisfaction I thought it would. The question pricks at my skin and heart and I want to protest, and so doing, betray a defensive heart: I wouldn't trade it for all the world. But that doesn't mean it has brought the infinite joy and satisfaction they still imagine it would in their own wait. 

Because there is always something else for which to wait

This, the tyranny of the wait, is the plight of all—no matter your age, location, weight, marital status, parenthood status, career, or pursuit. We are all waiting for something and the thing for which we wait seems to both suffocate us and crush us in our waiting. 

Twelve wants to be twenty-one. High-school wants to be college. College wants to be career. Career wants to go back to college. Single wants to be married. Childless wants to be with child. Stay at home parent wants to be an empty nester. Elderly wants to be young again.  

I have never met a fully satisfied person and I have never been one either. 

I have been thinking a lot of Jesus in the gospels this week, trying to point the way to the kingdom to a bunch of bumbling fools who followed him around waiting for the big hurrah and nearly missing it when it came. This is like the kingdom, he says, and this way to eternal life, and I go to prepare a place. This way, he's saying, again and again. The psalmist said, "Look up! Look up!" All some way of saying "You're thinking too small, you're settling for too little, you're messing about with mudpies in the slum because you cannot imagine the holiday at sea [Lewis]." 

We're so desensitized to the wait because so many have what we want that we imagine it is normal enough to get, and once we have gotten, we set our eyes on another wait. I've fallen for it myself. I got marriage and after bumbling about for a few years, we've got a home, and kids would seem next. Well, we tried for kids from the start and it just didn't work out like we thought, but now we've been thinking lately: how much of our "What's next?" is prescribed by culture and expectations, and not by the tasks put in front of us by the sovereign God of the universe today

I want to be a waiter, an expectant, active, jubilant waiter. But I want my wait to be for the One Thing and not the many things. God is a good Father who gives many good gifts, but not because we make lists, giving them to him and staying on our best behavior. He gives them to us because he's good—not because we are. And no amount of cajoling, pleading, or pointing at those to whom he's given the gifts will force his hand. He gives because he's good and withholds because he's good too. 

When my friends and acquaintances ask, "But would you trade the thing you got?" I want my answer to be, yes, I would trade it for the One Thing we're all waiting for: Jesus. 

O Lord, we wait for you;
your name and remembrance
    are the desire of our soul.
My soul yearns for you in the night;
    my spirit within me earnestly seeks you.

Isaiah 26:8,9

I don't know what you're waiting for today, to grow up, to settle down, to have financial security, to get married, to have babies, to get good news, for your son to come home, for your husband to see you, for a hug, for a promotion, for joy. I don't know what it is, but God does. He sees and knows and is attentive to you in it. He also wants you to want him more than you want the thing you want.

That thing? It won't satisfy. I promise you it won't. I know this because I have never met a satisfied person. We're all still waiting, so let's all wait for the One Thing together. 

When Being Ourselves Means Bearing Bad Fruit

I left Texas two years ago, strong, able, capable, and sure, in the delirium of vows and on the cusp of summer. I came back here weak, knowing my frailty, and my failure ever before me. Limping more than running, praying more than proclaiming.

A week ago I sat in my car with a friend, though, and she said I seem stronger, surer, less fearful of the opinions of others. I went home and asked Nate, "Is this true? And if it is, am I gentle or unkind in it?" We had a fine talk and he said something that hasn't dislodged itself since then: I think one reason you might be stronger is because you've spent the past two years living with someone who encourages you consistently to bear the fruit of the Spirit instead of the fruit of your own sin. 

For 34 years I lived with 42 roommates. With the exception of a few homes that weren't perfect, but sure full of joy and fun and mutual service to one another, most of the homes I've lived in were reaming with dysfunction. It's hard to press that many sinners together in such close quarters without all sorts of insecurities rising up, proclivities pushing out, and humanity running over. Those places were bastions of sinfulness—not because we weren't mostly trying to walk in grace by faith, but because we were at varying places in the long walk of obedience in the same direction.

There were days I cried myself to sleep under the weight of shame I had at my failure to love all those girls fully, my own insecurities rising up and cursing me and others. And other days I cried myself to sleep because I was doing my best to love—even in tough ways, and all I received in return was the hurt that hurt people cause. It was painful. Really painful. It was good, don't get me wrong, and I wouldn't change it if I could, but there were days when it was excruciating and when I felt my whole self was being sucked up in the vortex of the sin of others—knowing they could very well be being sucked up in mine too. 

Here's the thing, though: I thought that was normal. I thought that's how every home functioned.

I thought in order to feel at home, everyone in the home needed to be free to express their best and worst selfbut the result was often that they were free to inflict their worst self on others. I thought being at home meant I could be lazy when I wanted or indifferent or I could close the door when I didn't want to face the dysfunction outside it (but couldn't hide from the dysfunction inside it). I thought it meant bearing the brunt of the shouts and screams of others, the slammed doors, the cold shoulders, and the willful selfishness. In my sinfulness, I thought that was normal. 

A friend told me recently the person she feels most like herself with brings out the worst in her, and I ached inside. We believe a lie when we believe "being ourselves" means permission to be angry, manipulative, indifferent, and unkind, in the presence of the one with whom we feel at home. 

Of all the challenging things I've found inside marriage, one hundred percent of them are the fact that my own selfish inclinations have no place to hide—and they also have no place to express themselves. They're suffocated to death (and rightfully so) in the presence of one who lives and walks by the Spirit, bearing the fruit of the Spirit, and always encouraging me to bear it as well. There isn't space for us to lash out toward one another or "be ourselves," because that's not who we are. We're children of the living God. We're sons and daughters. We're chosen people. We're royal priests. We're a people for his own possession. What gives us the right to live as though we're children of the enemy? Expressing anger or giving a cold shoulder or manipulating others or preferring ourselves over others? Those are the fruits of the enemy. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control. Those are the fruits the children of God bear. 

I'm weaker than I ever thought I would be, but there is a strong and certain confidence in me born partially because it's the first time I'm living in a home where "feeling like ourselves" isn't our currency. I've died a thousand deaths over the past two years, death to selfishness, death to preferences, death to priorities, and in all that pruning, fruit has begun to grow. 

I don't know if you're unmarried or married, a mother or a sister or a brother or a friend, but today, I'm praying that the areas of our lives where we're grasping to "feel like ourselves" or "express ourselves freely," would begin to die today. If we're children of God, we know "to die is gain," "unless a kernel falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit" "sown in weakness, raised in power," and on and on. So much of this upside-down kingdom means dying to what feels comfortable, not getting our preferences, setting aside our expectations or desires, and being raised to walk in the glorious freedom of self-forgetfulness. I'm praying that for all of us today. 

How to Pray When You Don't Know How to Pray

Suffering comes in waves, I find, in multiples of two, six, ten, eighty. Never one at a time, trickling down the side of life. On Monday everything is fine, but it is Friday now and a boy has been killed and a friend is miscarrying and a family I love is fractured and another friend is in the hospital and a girl I know is afraid of some consequences and more friends faced the end of hoping all things and another friend is running away from those who are trying to love her. It's a tattering, shattering, clattering week. I cannot contain the sorrow, it falls out like a floor beneath us and overflows like a sea that drowns us. 

I am sitting on the back patio and I have just pressed end on my cell phone. What do you do when there is so much stuff of life crammed into fifteen minutes two-thousand miles apart? Where do you even start to pray?

I have learned this year to pray staccato prayers: help, thank you, please, I'm sorry, I worship. The Father has no need for the flowery sort of prayers, perfectly formed with pristine theology. Those sort of prayers are more for us than for Him. It is right and good to learn to pray (To the Father, through the Son, with the help of the Holy Spirit.), but at the end of it all, when our snot and tears mingle and the choking sadness is too much to bear, staccato prayers will do. He knows it all before we say a word. 

David said this, 

You yourself have recorded my wanderings.
Put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?

If the sovereign God who has recorded our wanderings and gathered our tears in a bottle, kept track of them in his book, cannot handle our staccato prayers (Help. Thank you. Please. I'm sorry. I worship.), he is probably not the God of the Bible then, and instead a god I've made in my own image. God, the real God of the universe, can handle the smallest and shortest sufferings and the largest and longest. He has sent His Spirit in order to, "help us in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings." 

If the Spirit himself, the God, intercedes with unspoken groanings, I think he can handle our staccato prayers. 

Help. 

Thank you. 

Please. 

I'm sorry. 

I worship.

I think you have most likely slammed up against suffering of your own this week because suffering never comes in small doses but in multiples of two, six, tens, and eighties, You're pressed up against some of these same people or the same people by degree, plus people of your own, maybe your own suffering. I'm praying now that we would be strong enough to be weak pray-ers, knowing the Spirit surrounds, above, below, around, within, making what is weak strong.