Life Renovations

I posted earlier that I am doing a 21-day fast with my church. People redecorate their homes and resurface roads, so why not spruce up our lives?

As I embarked on this fast, I had a game plan of sorts. I wanted to really step up my prayer and listening for God’s voice.

As the fast progressed, I feel like God spoke to me. So on the last day of the fast, I have decided to share some of my  insights here on Minimalist Believer.

  • Seek first the Kingdom. My life is in dire need of change. I need God to do so many things. I need a complete overhaul. But as I talked to him about it, I was reminded of Matthew 6:33 which instructs us to “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (NLT). I am worried about so many things and I put my energy into so many things. It seems that in all of my worrying and all of my strivings I have neglected the Kingdom, and I’ve been wondering why my life is in disarray.
  • Put God first. I know this sounds like the first point, but in my life it means something entirely different. In the book of Haggai, God delivers  a hard message to Judah. At the time God’s Temple was in ruins. The people of Judah didn’t restore it because they were caught up in beautifying their own houses. They were too busy doing their own thing. Because they neglected to rebuild the Temple, God was against them. They worked hard but had little to show for it (Hag 1:5-6). God declared a drought and destroyed their crops (Hag 1:9-1; Hag 2:17). When the people set out to building the Temple, God promised to bless them.(Hag 2:19). I saw myself in this passage. There are some things that God has instructed me to do. Have I done them? No, because I’ve been too busy doing my own thing. I’ve been fearful. I’ve been procrastinating. It’s very likely that this is the reason that my life is not flourishing.
  • Keep Praying. In 2 Chronicles 7, God’s people find themselves in trouble. God had shut up the heavens and sent locusts to devour their crops. However, if the people would humble themselves, pray, turn from wickedness, and seek God’s face, God promised that he would heal their land and be attentive to their pleas.

To be honest, I went into this fast questioning whether or not anything would happen. I’ve been dealing with a lot of anxiety and cynicism. But surprisingly, I had some insights that I believe will help me moving forward. I hope that they help you, too.

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Extreme Makeover – LIFE Edition

I loved Extreme Makeover Home Edition. Even when I should have been studying, I would sit riveted as Ty Pennington and company destroyed a family’s dwelling place and then worked together to design and create a new one that was better for them and their way of life. The show made me cry more times than I’d like to admit.

Maybe there’s just something in my heart that loves the idea of something new. I love the idea of blessing a family in need. I love the idea of giving someone a fresh start.

Having a new home built to suit was an amazing opportunity for the families, but it was not without sacrifice. While they didn’t have to pay for the home, they did have to give up something. First, they had to give up what they already had. Their old home may have been too small, unsafe, or in disrepair, but it was theirs. They had memories there. They had their stuff there. In order to have the Extreme Makeover, they had to give up what they had — their home and everything that went along with it: furnishings, appliances, and memories. That was the only way to qualify for the makeover.

Second, the lucky family had to give up control. They had to leave the design and construction up to Ty and his team of experts. They couldn’t choose the layout, furniture, or the paint colors. These were decisions that Ty’s team made. Sure, they did their best to create something that would meet the family’s needs and suit their tastes. However, there was no guarantee. The family had to live with whatever Ty’s team had decided. That is both scary and exciting at the same time.

Right now, I find myself in need of a makeover. While my housing situation is stable, my life is not. There are some things that need to be remodeled and revamped. There are some things that need to be demolished completely, and others that need to be built from the ground up. My life needs an Extreme Makeover.

This may be my lucky day. Yesterday my pastor announced a church-wide fast for the next 21 days, starting Sept 10. It is a time to push back from something (food, TV, social media, sweets) and press into God and hear what he has to to say. It is a time to seek God for direction, change, or just a closer relationship. In all respects, I am a prime candidate for an Extreme Makeover.

Like the families on the show, there is a cost for me. I have to give up something. I might have to abandon my way of thinking. I might have to give up some habits. I will have to change what I consume and how I spend my time.

Similarly, I will have to give up control. I don’t know ahead of time what the result of the fast will be. I’m not sure what changes God will make in my life. This is a time when I let go, step back, and let God remodel my life as he sees fit. I don’t get to make the decisions. This is his show.

As I prepare to embark on this 21 day journey, I am really committing myself to seeking God. I will do all the things I know to do: spend time reading, spend time praying, and serve at church. I will also take some time to just slow down and listen for God’s voice.

During this time, please pray for me. Please pray that God would speak to me. Pray that my life will be transformed. Pray that might I emerge a different person. Pray that this will be new beginning for me.  And pray that I will know God better in the process.

I am looking forward to emerging from this fast with a totally remodeled life.  And if all goes well, I’ll be brought to tears by the wonderful result.

 

My Prayer For you – September

Lord, I thank you for every person that you have brought into my life.

I thank you for your care and protection.

Thank you for your blessing and provision.

Please continue to bless your people that we may be a blessing.

Bless our families.

Bless our homes and businesses.

Bring healing to our bodies and peace to our lives.

Transform us by your Spirit.

God, I pray that you would cause your people to know the truth, and be set free.

I pray that the light of your truth would shine into our lives, and that we would be forever changed.

Guide us in every decision.

For those that are returning to school, I ask for your protection and help.

For those that are employed or in business, I pray for blessing and favor.

For those that grieving, I pray for comfort and strength.

And for those that are experiencing hardship, Lord, bring deliverance.

Help us to remember that you are present among us, and that you have brought your Kingdom to earth.

Reign as King in our lives.

Amen

A Fresh Perspective on Stuff

My thought for the day is courtesy of my pastor. He talked a lot about stewardship, and I will be writing more about this later. In the meantime, though, I’ll share my thoughts for today.

In a recent sermon, my pastor said something that really struck me: everything we have is God’s. Everything we have is given to us to steward, not for ourselves. This impacts me in three ways:

  • It makes no sense to constantly accumulate more stuff for myself. What I think I own, is his.
  • I have to think more carefully about money (that’s his, too). Would God really want me to buy those five bottles of shower gel, especially when I have three at home already?
  • When I see everything as belonging to God, it is much harder to be stingy. God would want me to share what I have. So I need to keep this in mind, and be generous with what I have. God would let my cousin eat the ice cream. God would let my relatives use my favorite soap. He would let my friends take all my blue pens. He would have me hold on to things very lightly.

Minimalism is about breaking my attachment to things, and pursuing the things in life that really matter. This fresh perspective on stuff should really help me on this journey.

Leaps of Faith

I am at a point in life where I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know which end is up. I don’t know whether things are getting better or getting worse. I have more questions than answers. My life is in freefall. You can read more about that here.

A few years back, I took a leap of faith. My leap took me from medical school to seminary. I left a defined career trajectory for the great unknown. I took the leap trusting that the answers would come. I stepped off the cliff believing that as I took the first step, the next would appear. I felt a sense of joy and exhilaration as I took this adventurous leap.

Fast forward four years. I still have no answers. No next step(s). No nothing. My joy and exhilaration have deteriorated into terror and despair. I’m in freefall, and I am anticipating a crash landing.

At this point, I am unemployed, with no real job prospects. My home is for sale, and has had only three showings since March. This is certainly not what I was expecting.

More than once, I have wished that I never took the leap. I wished that I had never left med school. I wished that I had done something (anything!) else. I wished that I had kept me feet on solid ground.

But it’s too late. I jumped, and I have no idea where I will land, or what will be bruised, broken, or dislocated when I do.

I know that it all comes down to this one question: do I trust God to catch me? The simple answer is NO. I am falling to far, too fast, to be capable of trust.

My pastor at church is doing a series on Authentic Faith. This Sunday, he talked about Abraham, and the great faith of Abraham. We looked in particular at Genesis 22, where the Lord instructs Abraham to take his only son, Isaac, to the mountaintop and sacrifice him. Abraham packs up, travels three days to get to the mountain, and prepares to sacrifice his son. At the last second, the Lord tells him not to harm Isaac. Abraham had passed the test; he really did fear God after all. It turns out, there was a ram in the bushes. Abraham sacrificed that instead.

What a nice story. But I’m not Abraham. Abraham had seen God deliver (Isaac was a miracle baby — the son of promise!). Abraham had a story behind him. My situation is very different. God has yet to deliver on anything he’s said. God can’t expect Abraham-level faith from me… at least he shouldn’t.

I don’t have Abraham’s faith, or anything close to it. What I do have is a lot of anxiety… and the tiniest shred of hope: hope that I did the right thing. Hope that things will work out. Hope that my moment of bravery won’t prove itself to be a moment of insanity. Hope that what was in my heart when I took the leap will actually come to fruition.

I had such high hopes when I took that leap. I was trusting God, and following after his will. I was acting on what I knew to do. I was being obedient. It was going to be an adventure of faith — the amazing unfolding of God’s plan. It was going to be wonderful. Things look very different now that I’m in the air.

I see now that leaps of faith are not to be feared. It’s the landing that presents the problem. Regardless of how I feel about it, I am in freefall. It really is best to avoid evaluating things while in freefall. It’s hard to think clearly when the ground is rushing up at you. Fear and anxiety drown out the voice of reason, and your one persistent thought is I’m gonna die! Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. It all depends on how I land… wherever that is.

Commitment – Game On

This past Sunday I turned in my membership form at my church. It might not seem like a big deal to you, but it’s a huge step for me. I’ve been going to this church for nine months now, and I really feel like I’m learning and growing as a result. I have friends there, and I don’t see myself going anywhere else. So why was it so hard to turn in a form and make myself official?

Because by turning in the membership form, I am committing to this church. The thing about commitment, as my pastor (I can officially call him my pastor now) points out, is that it severely limits your options. Once you commit to a man or woman, that limits your dating options. Once you commit yourself to a particular diet (vegan, vegetarian, low cholesterol, etc.), that limits the things you can eat. Once you commit to a minimalist lifestyle, it limits your options for shoes, purses, and just about everything else. And when you commit yourself to a particular church, it limits your options for where to be on Sunday mornings.

I don’t like the idea of limiting (or eliminating) my options. I like to keep my options open. I want the freedom to change my mind without consequence. I like having the freedom to act or participate only when I want to. I want the freedom to walk away whenever I get bored or find something new. And I don’t want to feel guilty when I do.

But I had a conversation with a new acquaintance, and she asked if I was a member there. I said “No,” and she asked why not. I didn’t have an answer for her. It really made me think about why I had such a casual relationship with my church.

After our conversation I thought about what it would mean to join this body of Believers. It would mean that I serve there, and that I contribute financially. It would mean that I would forsake keeping my options open “in case I found someplace better.” It would mean that I stop the search, put down roots, and engage fully.

So maybe it’s time for me to go beyond committing to a minimalist lifestyle, or committing to a church. Maybe it’s time to commit myself to God and his plan for my life. Yes, it would eliminate my religious options, and it would severely limit what I did with my life (no career as an exotic dancer, I guess). But it may also be an opportunity to experience more fulfillment.

That’s the tricky thing about commitment. I can’t wait to see how things turn out and then decide. That’s not commitment. That’s observation. I don’t want to be an observer of my own life. I want to live my life.

I can’t sit on the fence. Well, I can, but that will get me nowhere. I have to make a choice. It’s a scary thing. I don’t know what God’s plan entails. I don’t know what it looks like. But there’s only one way to find out.

Yes, there are unanswered questions. Yes, it’s a huge risk. But reward usually involves risk. And yes, I am terrified. As the Super Bowl approaches, I liken life to the Big Game: we all want to know the outcome, but it must be experienced play by play. If I want to know what it means to fully engage God, and his plan for my life, I have to make the commitment and take things one play at a time, even though I don’t know the end result.

I’ve watched long enough. It’s time to step onto the field.

GAME ON

Minimalism, A Rich Young Man, and Me

I love Luke’s story of The Rich Young Man. It is a relatively short passage, but it contains great insight. In this story, a young man approaches Jesus, asking how he might inherit eternal life. Jesus responds that the rich young man already knows the commandments. The young man acknowledges that he has observed the commandments all his life. Jesus then instructs this man to sell all that he has, give to the poor, and follow him. The young man went away sad because he had great wealth.

Our pastor spoke on this passage recently, and he pointed out that the rich young man valued his stuff more than he valued eternal life. He could not part with his wealth, not even to obtain eternal life. It’s frightening to think of the power stuff — over him and over us.

This story has particular significance to me at this point in my life. Jesus instructs the man to part with his stuff, selling it all. He further instructs him to give to the poor. His final instruction to the young man is to follow him.

As scary as it sounds, I think that Jesus is saying the same thing to me. It has been unfolding for a long time, but the message seemed to emerge as I began to type this blog post. I will explain:

In April, I graduated with my Master’s in Biblical Literature. I wrote my thesis on Jesus and his mission of Social Justice. I referred to Luke’s story of the Rich Young Man, discussing the importance of giving to the poor and not accumulating wealth for ourselves. I had not yet discovered minimalism.

About nine months ago, I stumbled upon a minimalist blog, and decided that I needed to pursue this lifestyle. I buy less, and I am in the process of selling, donating, or throwing away much of what I already have. I see how hard it is. Looking back over the last 18 months, I wonder if God has been preparing me for this realization, at this moment, as I type. Maybe my thesis topic and my discovery of the minimalist lifestyle are not random occurrences, but steps along a path. I believe that Jesus’ message to me is the same as it was to the rich young man: get rid of your stuff, give to the poor, and follow me.

Having written my thesis, and subsequently learning about the minimalist lifestyle, I can now see what this means, and it is a scary thing. Giving to the poor doesn’t scare me that much. I wholeheartedly believe in giving to the poor and caring for the most vulnerable members of society. I am even getting more comfortable with the idea of getting rid of my stuff. The thought of parting with some things, like my house, is still kind of scary for me. I’m making progress, though.

The last part, however, terrifies me. The very thought of following Jesus makes my stomach turn and my mouth go dry. It is soooo scary for me to even think about. It’s scary because I don’t really know what it means. I don’t know what that looks like. I don’t know what it entails. What if he leads me down a path that I hate? I’ll be stuck! That scares me more than anything: that Jesus will lead me down a path of pain and misery. That does not interest me at all.

As scary as it sounds, though, I’m not sure I have a choice. I don’t know where I stand on issues like God’s plan vs. our own free will. Once we commit to God’s plan, do we have the option to change our mind later? Will it be too late? I am concerned about all of these things as I consider following Jesus.

One thing is clear, though: I need some time to wrestle with these ideas, and to explore what following Jesus might look like for me. I don’t expect to know everything right away. It will take some time, and probably some prayer, for me to get a better understanding of what it means to follow Jesus.

It’s hard to be on the receiving end of that kind of challenge. I can really sympathize with the Rich Young Man, who went away sad. Jesus told him what he needed to do, but he wasn’t up to the task. Am I any different? In the end, will my response be the same as his? I can only hope that I will be strong enough, and brave enough, to not walk away.

If you have any thoughts on anything I have said, please, please leave comments below. I would love to hear other perspectives.

Fear Exposed – The Root Of It All

I’ll admit it: I have a problem with bath products. I can’t even begin to describe the stash of bath products under my bed. To say that I collect various products in various scents is a gross understatement.

But it’s not all about smelling good (though part of it is about that). It’s not even all about the sales (though that’s part of it, too). Part of it is about the fear of not having it when I need it. This is at the root of it all.

It started when I was in college, and I didn’t have a car. So the summer before my first year I stockpiled all kinds of things that I didn’t want to run out of, from soap to ketchup packets. It was so bad that at the end of the year, I had a huge bin of bath products. There was enough to sustain my mother and me for six months.

As ridiculous as it may be, that same fear still lives in me. It’s the reason that I get a new stick of deodorant the minute my current stick reaches the halfway mark. It’s the reason I that I have three extra toothbrushes. It’s the reason that I go crazy when the Body Shop has a sale. Sometimes it’s about not wanting to physically run out of something because I somehow think that it will be catastrophic (like deodorant). Sometimes, it’s about buying it now because I’m not sure I will be able to buy it later. Either way, it’s the fear of running out that causes me to buy and buy and buy.

Committing to live simply has forced me to deal with this fear head on. I can’t just go to The Body Shop and mindlessly buy body butters. No, I have to deal with it for what it is: fear. I’ve been shopping based on fear for years. It’s interesting that no matter how much I bought, it didn’t make the fear go away. Sure, it would temporarily mitigate it, but the fear always came roaring back, and I would dutifully go and shop.

Now, when I start feeling anxious about my reserves, I have to work through the fear of running out. I have to remind myself of my ridiculous stash, and tell myself that I will not run out. I have to remind myself of my commitment to minimalism, and that shopping will not be consistent with my new lifestyle. I have to remind myself that I already have more than what I need. Usually, I have to think back to the root of the fear and address it.

Once again, it comes down to trusting God’s provision (see this blog post). Will I/Can I trust God to make sure that I have deodorant? It sounds silly, but this is what it’s about. For me, this is part of what minimalism is about: trusting God. Yes, clearing clutter is part of it. Yes, being free to live the life of my dreams is part of it. Saving money, unplugging from consumerism, downsizing, are all facets of minimalism. But for me, part of it is learning to trust God and his provision.

In less than a year, minimalism has improved my life. It has saved me money and helped me to clear clutter. I has helped me to unplug from the consumerist culture, and to give more thought to what I really need. It has given me a different focus. And it has forced me to confront one of my deepest fears. It has impacted me more than I thought it would, and I look forward to seeing what the future holds.

Crisis

My life is in crisis. I have more questions than answers, and enough stress to keep me on the verge of tears at all times. I am experiencing the most intense fear that I have: fear of the unknown.

I fear the unknown more than I fear death. I see death as unavoidable. For some reason, I see the unknown as something that I can avoid by proper planning. If planning doesn’t work, surely prayer will keep me away from the unknown, right? Not really.

The fact is that uncertainty is a part of life, and it cannot be avoided. This is the reality of living as a finite being: you don’t know everything. And as long as we have limited knowledge, there is always an element of the unknown in our lives.

Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the LORD will work for us, for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few.”    1 Samuel 14: 6

This is an extreme case of uncertainty. In the verse above, Jonathan comes upon a garrison of Philistines, and decides to approach them, not knowing whether God would help him. Jonathan was not afraid of the uncertainty that he faced. He didn’t let anxiety paralyze him. He didn’t take three months to analyze the situation. Instead, he does something that I think is both crazy and admirable at the same time: he charges forward. He faces the Philistines, not knowing the outcome of the situation, not knowing whether he will prevail or be killed.

While I doubt that I will ever be in a situation where I contemplate attacking a fierce army, I do think that I can learn from Jonathan’s response to the unknown. In times of crisis, when fear and uncertainty threaten to smother the life out me, shutting down is not the answer. I cannot just sit and wait for destruction to overtake me. I have to try. I have to move forward. It is scary, but it is necessary. Who knows? Maybe God will work for me. But I will never know if I never try.

Thoughts On Worry

Worry is the sin of distrusting the promise and providence of God, and yet it is a sin that Christians commit perhaps more frequently than any other.

– John MacArthur

I am a sinner. This isn’t news, but I just thought I’d state that up front. Tonight I am worried — about a variety of things. Will my next jewelry show be enough to pay the bills? What if only a few show up? What if I don’t get any bookings?

I’ve spent some time reading about worry, and how to respond to it.  Much of the information was helpful. Some of the better articles:

Bible Verses About Worry

When You Are Worried

Do I trust God? If worry is a lack of trust, then the answer is no, because I am seriously worried. How can this be remedied? I don’t know. (If you know, please tell me in the comments section).

Pray as if everything depended on God. Work as if everything depended on you.

– Augustine of Hippo

 I like Augustine’s quote. I can’t say that I trust God to make everything alright. But I can pray and work. I feel that this is a balanced approach to faith and trusting God. It’s one that I can try. Perhaps the act of working toward a solution makes me feel that I am giving God something to work with. I like to be proactive and doing all that I can makes me feel like I am actively awaiting help from God. (And hoping that it comes!)

Working toward a solution also occupies my mind. Time spent looking for employment is time that I’m not worrying about not having a full time job. It is productive, and being productive has a calming effect on me.

What are your thoughts about worry? What do you do to keep worry under control? I would love to read your responses in the comments section.