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Under His Wings

Under His Wings

Our family enjoys watching nature shows. Imagine you’re watching a mother bird in her nest with her babies. I picture the nest on the ground, with tall grass all around it, and the babies scurrying every which way. The chicks are completely dependent on their mother for food and protection. Their very survival is dependent on her.

Now picture a hungry lion creeping through the tall grass. He is hungry, powerful, ready to eat, and he’s headed directly toward this mother bird and her babies. Who do you think is going to win? The mom might be able to fly away, but those babies are going to be delicious.

 

What lions are you facing?

Sometimes I feel a bit like those babies, with hungry lions prowling all around me. Lately I’ve been waking up at 2:00 AM, with the opening lines of of Wendall Berry’s The Peace of Wild Things rattling in my imagination:

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be….

Those words get me every time, and it almost feels as if the lions are ready to pounce. What chance does a little bird like me possibly have?

 

Lions vs. Birds: what would the psalmist say?

If you were to ask the psalmist that question, you might find a different answer. There’s a handful of psalms that describe God’s people finding refuge in God, as a baby bird finds refuge under its mother’s wings (Psalm 17, 36, 57, 61, 63, 91). Of those six psalms, three of them (17, 57, 91) all contrast a lion attacking the psalmist and a mother bird protecting him. Psalm 91 includes a cobra and serpent joining with the lions and in Psalm 63, it is the jackals who are attacking us.

In each place, the contrast is similar. The baby birds stand no chance on their own, yet they are safe under their mother’s wings. The psalmist is up against excessively powerful enemies, is completely outmatched, but they are unable to touch him.

In Psalm 57, the literal enemy is the powerful and vindictive King Saul. David is hiding in a cave, and he writes these words:

 

Be gracious to me, God, be gracious to me,
for I take refuge in you.
I will seek refuge in the shadow of your wings
until danger passes.
I call to God Most High,
to God who fulfills his purpose for me.
He reaches down from heaven and saves me,
challenging the one who tramples me.
God sends his faithful love and truth. 

It’s such a picture of trust, but then, David describes his enemies. As you read his words, imagine the lions in your own life:

I am surrounded by lions;
I lie down among devouring lions—
people whose teeth are spears and arrows,
whose tongues are sharp swords.
God, be exalted above the heavens;
let your glory be over the whole earth.
They prepared a net for my steps;
I was despondent.
They dug a pit ahead of me,
but they fell into it! 

David is being trampled. He’s surrounded. Even their tongues are like deadly weapons. He’s despondent. It’s a bad place, and I know some of us have been there. When despair for the world grows in me…in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be… .Yet even so, David builds to praise:

My heart is confident, God, my heart is confident.
I will sing; I will sing praises.
Wake up, my soul!
Wake up, harp and lyre!
I will wake up the dawn.
I will praise you, Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations.
For your faithful love is as high as the heavens;
your faithfulness reaches the clouds.
God, be exalted above the heavens;
let your glory be over the whole earth. 

 

Good for David—but what about me?

Read that first verse again, slowly: Be gracious to me, God, be gracious to me, for I take refuge in you. I will seek refuge in the shadow of your wings until danger passes. 

I’ve always been a pretty independent person. It’s difficult for me to ask for help or admit that I need something. I want to fix my own problems and keep myself safe. At the same time, When despair for the world grows in me…I recognize how much I need his wings.

When I imagine what God is inviting me into, I want it. Take just a minute to look closely at these pictures.

 

 

Don’t just glance at them, think about what you see; think about how it makes you feel. Imagine yourself as the baby bird and our good God as the mother hen. Don’t rush this.

This is our home as God’s people—always safe, hidden under his wings. It looks pretty good, doesn’t it? That’s where I want to live. So how do we do it? What does it look like to live under God’s wings? Let me suggest three things to remember.

 

The storms and the lions

First, we have to remember, the storms will still come and the lions will still attack. This isn’t protection from the storms. It’s protection through the storms. David still feels trampled, and in each of these psalms, the threat is very real and very scary.

None of us knows what the future holds, and the lions are out there. There are nights I will still wake up at 2 AM. Where does worry tend to creep into your life? What are some of the scary things you’re anticipating? Close your eyes and picture those things for a moment. Now look again at these pictures and remind yourself, as one of God’s people, this is where we live—under his wings.

 

Our Mother Hen

Second, our Mother Hen will be with us through it all. While God most often refers to himself as our Father, I love that he also compares himself to a mom. I grew up with a good relationship with both my parents, but when I was hurt or afraid or sick, who did I call out for? My mom. God offers us the same gentle, nurturing presence.

Curt Thompson, in his book, The Deepest Place: Suffering and the Formation of Hope, makes the case that our brains can handle a great deal of suffering…as long as we know we don’t have to do it alone. And we are never alone! Not only do we have each other, we have our Mother Hen—our good and gracious God—always with us.

But we forget, don’t we? This is a major reason why we need the daily spiritual disciplines of solitude, prayer, and Bible reading. Perhaps when you engage in those disciplines, begin by taking just thirty seconds to imagine God holding you close, like a mother hen with her chicks. And the next time you rush toward worry or self-defense or self-protection, do the same. Let Jesus gather you under his wings.

 

Gratitude and praise

Third, let this confidence lead to gratitude and praise. Confidence shouldn’t lead us to arrogance or triumphalism, or even a further bitterness toward the lions. Rather, like the psalmist, let it lead to gratitude and praise. As you thank God and praise him for always being with you, reflect on this old hymn by William Cushing.

 

Under His Wings

Under His wings I am safely abiding;
Though the night deepens and tempests are wild,
Still I can trust Him–I know He will keep me,
He has redeemed me and I am His child.

Under His wings, what a refuge in sorrow!
How the heart yearningly turns to His rest!
Often when earth has no balm for my healing,
There I find comfort, and there I am blessed.


Under His wings, oh, what precious enjoyment!
There will I hide till life’s trials are o’er;
Sheltered, protected, no evil can harm me,
Resting in Je­sus, I’m safe ev­er­more.

Refrain:

Under His wings, under His wings,
Who from His love can sever?
Under His wings my soul shall abide,
Safely abide forever.

Morning Walks with MeiMei

Morning Walks with MeiMei

We got a puppy! Finally after 12 years of marriage, 3 children, 5 moves, and lots of rigorous discussion and negotiation, we got our first family pet. We went all in and decided to do the puppy thing. Telling our kids the news that we were getting a puppy was a precious moment we will never forget. Then came the fun of dreaming up names, deciding which pup we wanted from the litter, and finally planning the trip to go pick her up.

We chose the name MeiMei (which is Mandarin for “little sister”) and were quite smitten with her from the beginning. But, for those of you who have experienced puppy life, you know that it’s no joke! The house training, nibbling everything, and crying at night was exhausting! But even with the sacrifice of time, money, and sleep, we still have had so many joy-filled moments with this new little pup we brought into our family.

 

New Beginnings

We had four months to wait from when we decided to get a puppy to when we actually brought her home. During that time we all had something different we were looking forward to about having a dog. For my son, it was having someone to always play with in the backyard. For my girls, it was looking forward to the cuddles. For my husband, it was the companionship and being greeted at the door when arriving home. For me, I was looking forward to taking walks with my dog.

Not only were we preparing for a new stage of life with a pet, but we were also about to enter a new stage of family life. This fall my youngest started kindergarten, so we now officially have all school-aged children. It is bittersweet and I’m still adjusting to the new rhythm. But, a huge blessing that has come with getting a puppy, and with kids being in school, has been my morning walks with MeiMei.

I knew I was excited about starting the routine of going on morning walks, but I did not know how big an impact it would have on each day and the week as a whole. It has become a time of refreshment for my soul. A quiet way to start the day. I am so grateful for that time…for my morning walks with MeiMei.

 

Gratitude in the Little Things

I know not all of us have the luxury of starting off the day with a lovely walk with a really cute puppy. But I do believe that each of us has little things in our day that can lead us to hearts of gratitude. As we choose to notice these little things and allow our hearts to be filled with gratitude, our joy increases! When our joy increases, we have more capacity to love well, have more patience, are in a better place mentally, and many other positive side effects.

The Bible is full of verses about thankfulness, and we know it is important to be grateful, but it is easy to get bogged down in the day to day mundane moments. What if we actually let some of these verses guide us to have hearts of gratitude throughout the day?

Ephesians 5:20giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ….
When you are enjoying that cup of coffee, that is a good gift from the Lord! Enjoy it and thank him for it.

Psalm 118:24 This is the day the Lord has made; let’s rejoice and be glad in it.
When you walk to your car and feel a refreshing breeze, give praise to God! He has made this beautiful day.

Psalm 95:2 Let’s enter his presence with thanksgiving; let’s shout triumphantly to him in song.
When a song plays on the radio that stirs your soul, give him praise.

1 Thessalonians 5:16 Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
When the babies are finally asleep and you can breathe, or shower, or eat, praise the Lord for giving you your babies, but also praise him for the gift of quiet.

 

The Choice of Gratitude

Gratitude is a choice, and we can ask our Heavenly Father for help in noticing opportunities to experience gratitude throughout our day. A good starting point is to pray for help from the Holy Spirit! Then notice the little things…the good lunch you had…the changing colors of the leaves…the sound of the birds singing…your pet’s comfort and company.

Another option is to start a gratitude journal. Take time at the end of the day to write down some little things that you were grateful for that day. For example: the traffic wasn’t too bad…got time with a friend…finished a good book.

The list of reasons to experience gratitude is endless and God is worthy of praise for it all. I am praying for us, on my morning walks with MeiMei, to notice the little things, to give God the praise for it, and allow him the space to grow our hearts of gratitude.

Five Reasons to Practice Solitude

Five Reasons to Practice Solitude

Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. John 16:12

We are afraid of being alone. So much of our self-worth and self-image is tied to what others think about us. We can so easily fill our schedules with other people and activities to keep us busy. Even when no one else is physically around, the whole world is just one click or swipe away. We can endlessly distract ourselves with noise and images from TV, social media, music, podcasts, and so much more in this digital age. We use other people, endless activity, and entertaining technology to keep ourselves from ever truly being alone.

The intentional practice of solitude can be scary, but it has deeply formed Jesus-followers for over two-thousand years. Here are five reasons to engage in the discipline of solitude.

 

 

1. Jesus practiced solitude.

 

As disciples of Jesus, our goal is to become like him. We must imitate our master Jesus or that to happen. He was not afraid to be alone because he knew his Father was with him. He practiced the discipline of solitude daily throughout his life to commune with God, even as others would clamor for his attention (Mark 1:32-39). As Jesus approached the most difficult week of his life that would culminate in death and abandonment, he ultimately trusted his loving Father to meet him there.


2. Solitude teaches us to rely on God for identity and not others.


Whether it be a positive review from your boss or your friend’s laughter after telling a joke, it is so easy to rely on the opinions of others for our sense of self-worth. Intentionally taking time to be alone and connect with God through prayer and Scripture reading can teach ourselves to find identity in Christ and not in others. This is what Jesus did even at the height of his ministry so that he would not be caught up in others’ expectations of him (Luke 5:15-16). Jesus’ identity firmly rooted in God’s love empowered his ministry toward others.


3. Solitude empowers us to be present with God and others.


If you’re like me, perhaps you’ve found that your attention span steadily decreased as you began carrying your smartphone more. Technology has complicated the practice of solitude because we are never more than a swipe away from superficial connections with others. The intentional practice of solitude to remove ourselves from distractions like technology can clear our minds of distracting thoughts, and retrain our brains to have longer attention spans. This enables us to be present with God while reading the Bible and praying. It can also change our habits and patterns so that we can be more attentive as we interact with others. 


4. Solitude can open us up to the Holy Spirit’s gentle correction.


Often the fear of solitude stems from unresolved guilt and shame. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “We are so afraid of silence that we chase ourselves from one event to the next in order to not have to spend a moment alone with ourselves, in order to not have to look at ourselves in the mirror.” As God’s beloved children, there is no need to fear shame or judgment from him (Hebrews 4:16). When we are alone with God without anything to use as a distraction, God’s Spirit can reveal ways we are living and thinking that are different from the abundant life God wants for us. In solitude, we can confess these things and receive God’s forgiveness and empowerment to change.


5. Solitude develops contentment within us.


As we sit alone with God, we can develop a sense of contentment in him. Other pleasures or accolades can be seen in proper perspective to God. Practicing gratitude in this time of solitude can shift the focus from what you don’t have to how God has already blessed and sustained you. This contentment reminds us of God’s love for us and empowers us to say “no” to lesser things that ultimately won’t satisfy us.

As we enter this season of Lent, preparing to celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection, we invite you to join us in a seven-week journey to experience greater intimacy with God through the discipline of solitude. This study is available at theFormed.life, an online daily devotional resource to deepen your relationship with God and build habits of spiritual discipline. 

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Thank You: Everyone, Everywhere, Every Day

Thank You: Everyone, Everywhere, Every Day

“Thank you so much.”

Was that my 12-year-old son who just said that? Without being told? Did he really just spontaneously say thank you to some random person who only indirectly served our family? “Thank you so much.” I’ve since caught him doing that just about everywhere. Weird, right?

Now, like most parents, I can’t tell you how many times we’ve worked with our kids over the years to say their “please and thank yous.” Sure, that matters, keep doing that. But that is less about gratitude, and more about following socially acceptable manners. Again, that can be a good thing, and there’s overlap, but it’s slightly different.

This wasn’t about manners. It wasn’t about what was expected of him. My son was genuinely thanking someone he had no social obligation to thank. He was just grateful and he wanted to express it.

How did that happen? In a culture that pushes extreme individualism, even to the point of entitlement, where did my son learn gratitude? Well, from his perfect parents, of course! Especially his dad, right? No! I struggle with entitlement and self-interest just as much as the next person, and possibly more. My default is a thankless heart. So how?

The Other Side of “Work Matters”

A couple years ago our church preached a series on how our work is the primary way we love our neighbors. We don’t just love our neighbors by bringing them soup when they’re sick, we also love them by serving them in our vocation. You love your neighbors on Monday by designing or manufacturing helpful products or offering valuable services. You love your little neighbors by serving them at home. My work loves my neighbor. That makes sense to me.

As I reflected, I remember marveling over the other side of this reality. This means someone loved me today enough to toast my bagel at Panera (and to bake it, grow and deliver all the ingredients, and even design and build the structure I sat in). People at the power company loved me enough today to keep my electricity running. The people at the car shop loved me enough to change my oil and rotate my tires, not to mention the people who built the roads to get there. Just start listing it out—all of it. That’s a lot of love!

Sure, I’m paying for those things, but that doesn’t take away the genuine benefit I receive from so many. A truly countless number of people tirelessly work every day to make my life better. 

Everyone, Everywhere, Every Day

So I decided then to add a new discipline to my life, or at least to try it out. To the best of my ability, I’m going to try to thank everyone, everywhere, every day—anyone I see serving me. 

Seriously. Why not? It costs me nothing. It takes literally zero time because I’m there anyway. It requires nothing of me but eyes to see it, a heart to appreciate it, and a mouth willing to express it. And if they’re wearing a name tag, I’m going to try to do it by name and look them in the eyes.  “So-and-so, thank you so much for serving me.”

Sounds great, right, but so much harder than I thought! Once I started trying, not only did I begin to realize how many people love me every day, but I also had to constantly fight the entitlement and pride that lives within me. Thoughts like: Well, it’s their job to serve me. Besides, I’m paying for thisI thank them with my money. Or even just being blind to it or taking for granted the innumerable amount of people serving. This can be especially true of those who work in positions our culture has little respect for.

But once you start… I remember thanking the man cleaning the men’s restroom at a Royals game. Yuck. “Thank you, so-and-so, for serving.” He stopped, returned eye contact, and with delighted surprise in his voice said, “Thanks for noticing.” It cost me nothing. It made his day. When is the last time someone thanked him? 

Once you see the difference it makes, the way it brightens someone’s day to be seen and appreciated, the way it gives dignity to their work no matter what they do, and the way it increases your own sense of gratitude and joy, it’s pretty hard now not to do it.

Besides, the Bible not only commands gratitude, the gospel motivates us, and the Holy Spirit enables us to have truly thankful hearts. Look at 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” In ALL circumstances. For this is God’s will for ME. For YOU.

So I thank the person holding the door, the person sweeping the floor, the TSA agent violating my personal space (yes, even there). I thank the restaurant server, UPS driver, mechanic, and truly just about everyone I can. I wave to construction workers, garbage truck drivers, post office carriers, and police officers.

Now, please don’t miss this. I am not patting myself on the back. I still struggle with being an ungrateful, entitled, self-centered piece of work. Even years after I started doing this, I still forget or get lazy, lose my nerve, or just don’t notice. I’m a mess, people. I don’t do this nearly as much as I wish I did.

See How Much You Are Served

Yet we talk a lot about gratitude, don’t we? We know it’s good for us. We know it makes our lives better. We know it breaks the cycle of entitlement and selfishness. We all want more of it, don’t we? In so many ways, it begins by simply seeing the many people who serve you, and therefore love you, every day. Do you see them?

There are the obvious ones—grocery clerks, baristas, teachers—start there, with the people you inevitably interact with. Then begin to look wider. Who keeps this place clean, safe, efficient—janitors, door greeters, security guards, store managers. If you see them, thank them. 

And although it’s much harder to thank the ones you don’t see, even just acknowledging them makes me more grateful. For example, I just made myself a life-saving cup of coffee. It was amazing. Farmers grew those beans for me in Costa Rica. For me. Someone harvested them, someone roasted them, someone packaged them, and someone thought to import them. For me. They put them on a boat, then a train, then a semi (and someone built the boats, trains, semis, and roads, by the way). For me.

They ended up in a store that required engineers, architects, and construction workers just to build it (not to mention where all the materials came from), executives and managers to run it, and clerks, shelf-stockers, and janitors to maintain it. Then, of course, there are the people who keep our water clean and make sure it gets to my home, who give me power to heat it up, and who designed the coffee pot. Somebody even made me a nice mug to drink out of. For me.

How many people served me so that I could have that cup of coffee? That’s a lot of love! Do you have eyes to see it?

Say Thank You All the Time

So thank them. At least the ones you can, whenever you can, as often as you can, for your sake and theirs. Not because you have to in order to obey social norms, but because you are truly grateful for the love you receive from so many. Say thank you.

Imagine if we all made this simple goal—to thank everyone you see serving you (directly or indirectly) every time you see them serving you. By name, if at all possible. It’s such a small thing, but imagine what that would do, the dignity it would give, the hearts inside us that would grow, and the joy that would be shared.

It won’t cost you a dime. It requires nothing but eyes to see it, a heart to appreciate it, and a mouth willing to express it. Try it for a week and just see what happens.

I can tell you for me, this discipline of saying thank you is changing my life. Sure, I’ve got a long way to go, but it’s actually made me more grateful, more aware, and more sensitive to the world around me. I see people differently. I empathize more with those who work jobs society has little respect for. In return, I receive greater joy and purpose, and even greater delight in my own work (the way I love and serve my neighbors), even in the thankless parts. I feel their love, and I delight to give love in return.

Apparently my kids have noticed. I never meant to teach this to them. It was just a habit I wanted to try for a while, and for their sake and mine, I’m so grateful I did.

Colossians 3:15–17 says: 

“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”