Saturday, March 30, 2019

Just Right

Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters 2011

We all derive a certain feeling of satisfaction from being in the “Goldilocks zone,” where everything feels “just right.” Like the little girl in the fairy tale, we don’t want to sit in a chair that is too big, or one that is too small, but in one that is “just right.”

My husband and I recently witnessed a maritime version of this tale while we were at the beach. It was a perfect day, with sun shimmering on the calm azure waves, and wispy clouds floating lazily through the robin’s egg blue sky. Amidst all this tranquility was a hotspot of vibrant activity, where large silver fish were jumping from and diving into a frothy patch of surf, attracting the attention of a flock of terns.

We could almost palpably sense the frustration of these birds as they hovered over this appetizing meal, because despite the inviting aroma and gleaming silver scales of the fish, they were simply too big for the terns to catch!

From our earlier walk on the shore, we knew that a section of sand we refer to as “Coquina Beach” was teeming with jewel-toned, tiny coquina mollusks burrowing beneath the sand and resurfacing as the waves lapped the shore. These would have been a hearty feast for sandpipers, but for the terns, sadly, they were just too small.

Standing alone, apart from all the commotion, was a single tern who had found his Goldilocks zone! We had seen him dive close to the shore, where he snatched up a baby mullet, about 6 inches long, and was savoring it in his beak as he prepared to eat it. Happily, he had found the provisions that were, for him, “just right.”

It made me wonder about how we can find the Goldilocks zone in areas of church service and ministry. Many new Christians, who have saved by trusting in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6), are initially on fire with their zeal to serve the Lord (2 Kings 10:16).

They envision some grand ministry opportunity, like becoming the preacher of a large church, or traveling abroad to plant a church in some remote foreign village, only to be disappointed when the Lord does not immediately grant their desire. At this early stage of their Christian walk, such a ministry opportunity would be “too big,” causing them to bite off more than they can chew. 

Baby Christians who have just been born again (John 3:3-8) need to be fed with the sincere milk of the Word (1 Peter 2:2), rather than attempting to digest the strong meat (1 Corinthians 3:1-2). They forget that we need to wait upon the Lord (Psalm 27:14; 37:7-9,34; Isaiah 40:31) and His perfect timing (Luke 12:42-48), and that He wants us to be faithful in the small things before He entrusts the larger things to our care (Matthew 25:21).

At the other extreme who is the Christian who has been saved for decades, yet is content with service that is “too small” or even nonexistent.  Such a Christian may be content to occupy the pew on Sunday morning, but never to come to other services or even to open their Bible on their own.

We wouldn’t dream of restricting our weekly eating to a single repast, no matter how fine, on Sunday morning, but instead look forward to three square meals every day, and perhaps some snacking in between! Yet these Christians who settle for “too small” are content to be spoon fed by their pastor once a week, never seeking spiritual nourishment and daily bread (Luke 11:3) from God’s Word themselves (Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4).

These Christians tend to have the same attitude about serving the Lord, not seeing the value in answering God’s call (Isaiah 6:8) for even the simplest requests. They shy away from menial tasks that they consider to be beneath their dignity, or from encouraging others who are beneath their station in life (James 2:1-9), or even from giving, perhaps grudgingly doling out some loose change for the collection plate (Luke 11:42) while neglecting tithing and love offerings (Malachi 3:8-14). They forget that to whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48), and that God is the source of all good gifts (James 1:17).

Their attitude toward God is that He is too small, as if He alone were not worthy of all our love, devotion, and service (Revelation 5:9). They forget that He alone owns the cattle on a thousand hills; that He needs nothing from us (Psalm 50:10-15) yet delights in blessing our faithfulness (Proverbs 28:20); and that we can’t outgive Him (Matthew 7:11; Luke 6:38; Malachi 3:10). He is Almighty, all-powerful God (Psalm 147:5). Truly He deserves the best offerings of our time, talent and treasure.

Thankfully, there are Christians whose service for the Lord is “just right,” not in the sense of being self-righteous, but of being willing to listen to and follow His still, small voice (1 Kings 19:12) wherever it may lead (Isaiah 6:8).

Sometimes this may mean leaving the ministry opportunity that is “too big,” appearing to be fruitful and satisfying our pride, yet robbing us of the opportunity to grow in humility and total surrender to Him. We may enjoy being “first,” forgetting the paradox of Christian life that he who is last will be first (Matthew 19:30)

Sometimes finding the service opportunity that is “just right” means moving on from one that is “too little,” stepping out of our comfort zone and relying on Him, instead of on our own flesh (John 15:5; Psalm 52), to supply all our needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).

Meanwhile, God will shape and mold us into His image (Philippians 3:10) by applying the pressure that is “just right.” He will not test us beyond what we are able to bear (1 Corinthians 10:13) by forcing us to endure a trial that is “too large.” When we are disobedient, He will not let us get by with a knowing wink (Acts 17:30) or slap on the wrist, for that would be “too little” for a loving parent. Instead, He will chastise us as sons and daughters, justly delivering consequences that are “just right” for our sin (Hebrews 12:6-11).

May He guide us in our Christian walk to serving Him in ways that are “just right” for His purpose that He has intended for each of us (Ephesians 2:10) since before the beginning of time!  May we then hear Him say (Matthew 25:21):

Well done, thou good and faithful servant:  thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.  

© 2019 Laurie Collett


Saturday, March 23, 2019

Alpine Dream

Photo by Dana Hutchinson 2017

I recently dreamed that my mother, husband and I were at an Alpine resort in springtime. Stretching out behind the cozy Swiss chalet was a beautiful vista of snow-capped, bluish-gray mountain peaks encircling a lovely green meadow, dotted with wildflowers in bold shades of yellow, red and violet-blue.

The guide at the resort suggested that we follow a parcourse that was challenging yet would lead to an even more inviting view. The first part of this was a platform resembling a flattened-out metal jungle gym suspended several feet off the ground, made of metal bars about 1 inch thick and outlining rectangular structures of differing sizes and uneven placement, without apparent pattern.  It was partially covered over with an opaque tarp that blocked vision of where the bars were. The tarp would crumple if stepped on between the bars, so that the person walking there would lose their footing and fall through to the ground.

The others decided against it, but I ventured forth, figuring that I could use my free foot to discern where the bars were and trace a safe path. But it proved to be much more difficult than it appeared, and I was in great danger of falling. Thankfully, the guide took pity on me, walking alongside the structure and holding my hand. Despite my numerous missteps, he steadied me sufficiently so that I made it across to the other side.

The next challenge was a long, steep, metal ladder, leading downward to an unknown destination. The guide advised me to descend it backing the ladder, despite the awkwardness and unfamiliarity of that position, so that I could see where I was going rather than where I had been. As I started down the rungs, a chilling wind blew across me, and I wished I had worn a coat. Instead, I was wearing a very long, woolen scarf, which was now more of a nuisance as it whipped against my body and face, often blinding me momentarily.

Finally I had reached the final rung and was surprised and delighted at the peace and solitude within that valley. I sat down on the lush grass and enjoyed the birds singing and darting among the shrubs and bushes. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted what appeared to be a tiny ballerina whirling through the air. I caught it and discovered that it was a delicate white flower, fashioned from what looked like Queen Anne’s lace or cauliflower fronds cut in paper-thin sections. The intricate detail in the dancer’s face, arms, hands, legs, pointed toes and tutu were an amazing testimony to God’s handiwork.

I gently tossed the ballerina into the air, and she began pirouetting on a gentle breeze and then softly spiraled to earth, spreading out like an ostrich plume on a velvety patch of dusky green moss near my feet. A little boy approached me in wide-eyed wonder as he eagerly showed me the treasure he was carrying. It looked like a miniature drone but was actually a bee-like insect, its wings constantly whirring and its multifaceted eyes turning in every direction.  

As the sun slowly began to set, I realized this glorious day was slipping away, and it was already growing colder. The ladder was no longer visible, and I didn’t know how to get back to the lodge. I wandered off and was surprised to see a large group of children, dressed only in shorts and swimsuits, laughing and playing in a pond.

“Aren’t they cold?” I asked a stranger standing near me.

“No, it’s a hot spring,” she explained.

As I awoke and began to consider the symbolism of the dream, I wondered if it could be a metaphor describing our journey through life once we are saved (Acts 2:21; 4:12) by trusting in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way (John 14:6) to Heaven. At the moment of salvation we are elevated to heavenly places in Him (Ephesians 1:3; 2:6), visualized in the dream as a beautiful, serene meadow enclosed by the mountain peaks and inspiration of His greatness.

But we are not meant to linger there, but to embark on a spiritual journey that will progressively shape us into His image (Philippians 3:10). It is not an easy upward stroll, for the path often takes twists, turns, and even sharp descents. Yet these challenges (2 Corinthians 11:23-33), symbolized by the parcourse in the dream, strengthen us and improve our spiritual fitness.

We are constantly in danger of falling, for we cannot see where the path leads or the obstacles threatening us, like the tarp obscuring the view of where I could safely step on the metal bars. Our own feet are unreliable to direct our path, but we will progress when we are holding onto the hand of our Guide (Proverbs 3:5-6). May we remember that He is holding and protecting us in the hollow of His hand, which is held tightly in the hand of the Father (John 10:27-29), and sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise (2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13; 4:30). Nothing can separate us from His love!

Often we feel unprepared for the journey, having neglected to equip ourselves with needed gear, like a coat when climbing on chilly slopes. Choices we made, perhaps favoring fashion over practicality, as in the case of my overly long scarf, or worldly rather than spiritual priorities (James 4:4), may return to haunt us.

But climbing down the ladder while facing outward reminded me that we are not to look backward, dwelling on the evil or guilt over where we have been (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Philippians 3:13). Instead, we are to ask forgiveness (1 John 1:9) and focus on where He is taking us, even if that seems to be downward. Like the apostle Paul, we can learn to be content in whatever state we are in, whether humbled and brought low, or abounding in spiritual victory and material blessings (Philippians 4:12).

Especially as we age, our life journey may sometimes seem to be headed downward into depths of infirmity (2 Corinthians 12:7), trouble, and loss of loved ones, abilities, material provision, and dreams (Job 1:21). But Jesus Christ is the God of the valleys as well as the God of the mountains, and He will not desert us there. He is the Lily of the valleys (Song of Solomon 2:1), which are filled with reminders of His beauty, power, majesty, and compassion.

When we hit bottom, we are more receptive to His mercy, grace and love. We need not fear, for He will even guide us through the valley of the shadow of death, comforting us, providing for us, giving us peace, restoring our soul, and leading us in the paths of righteousness (Psalm 23).

God speaks to His children primarily through His Word (Psalm 119), but also through others (Proverbs 27:17), through life circumstances, and through the beauty of His creation (Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:20). Often His love letters written in nature are unique for each of us, speaking to our heart in a particularly meaningful way, like an image of Christ in the clouds, treasures on the beach bearing special reminders, and even the crucifixion and ascension intricately carved into the skull of a catfish!

I had this dream a few nights before a performance for our dance ministry, when I had become discouraged over rehearsals not going as well as we had hoped. It is fitting that in the dream God sent me a reminder in the shape of a tiny ballerina, as if to say, “I can shape even a flower into a beautiful dancer expressing My glory, so why would I not do the same for you, My child?”

Lack of energy and spiritual vision had recently also become a concern, and the endless energy and multisided vision of the insect in the dream reassured me that God would supply these needs as well, and all our needs according to His riches in glory (Ephesians 1:7; 3:16; Philippians 4:19).

The playful children in the dream had no need to fear the cold, for they were basking in a hot spring. When we are growing old and cold, Christ’s inner spring within us can restore us to youth and fresh fire (Exodus 24:17; 40:38; 2 Chronicles 7:1). May even our later years be filled with childlike faith (Matthew 18:3-4), fountains of Living Water (Song of Solomon 4:15; Jeremiah 2:13; 7:13), and the passion of being on fire for the Lord! 

May we abound in service and good works as His ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20) and fellow workers (1 Corinthians 3:9), not growing weary (Galatians 6:9; 1 Corinthians 15:57-58), for in due time He will show us the fruit of our labor!

© 2019 Laurie Collett