stewardship

All posts in the stewardship category

Making Room (2016)

Published December 26, 2016 by joypatton

“No room!”  Place after place, inn after inn, and all with the same reply. Bethlehem was crowded and bustling with people trying to abide by the orders of the census. Mary and Joseph searched everywhere for a place, and yet there was no room. Panic began to rise in Joseph as he knocked on door after door hoping to find someone who would pity this poor young man and his young pregnant wife.  His need to protect and provide began to take over about the same time that Mary’s need to settle down and nest could no longer be suppressed. Finally they found someone who was willing to make room for them, not in a house or an inn, but in a barn. Was this really God’s chosen place for His Son to be born or was it a default location?  How could a stable and a feeding trough be God’s perfect provision for the Christ child?  At that point, it didn’t matter how big or how small the room was.  God provided a space in a town with no room, and there was a place and a space for them to abide, even if for a short time.

It sounds so simple and so easy to welcome someone in or to make room for them.  However, making room is often a painful process that requires sacrifice. In order to make room for Mary and Joseph, someone would have had to give up their comfortable room. An innkeeper would have to give away a room without being paid.   When the angel told Mary that she would become pregnant with a child, it came with much sacrifice and pain. When a woman’s body makes room for another human to grow, it’s a painful process.  Not many women describe pregnancy as easy and comfortable.  Even my friends who have adopted children have gone through painful waiting processes as they tried to make room for a child, often much longer than nine months.

Making room for Christ in my life is a painful process that requires sacrifice.  I remember working in my flower beds in the front of our house.  I had these pretty little bachelor button flowers that just grew and grew.  They became these big huge bushes of adorable little flowers that took over the garden.  They were crowding out the other things that were growing like my mums and tulips, the flowers that would grow year after year.  So these perfectly fine flowers had to go; otherwise, the perennials wouldn’t get the sunlight and soil they needed.  It just didn’t feel right when I threw those precious little pink and purple flowers on the compost pile, but I knew it had to be done for the long-term plan of the flower bed.

God reminded me that sometimes in order to make room for the things he has for me, other things have to go.  At first for me, it was having time to do crafty things, like knit and scrapbook and decorate cakes.  As I asked Him about how I was supposed to find time to write and teach, he reminded me that I had time to do everything He called me to do.  I began to realize that my precious TV time for my favorite shows became less important as my desire to do his long-term list for me grew.  Sometimes the things that go are really good service opportunities at church or for my friends.  But when doing those things comes at the cost of a stressed out mom who is mean to her kids, the cost is too great.


This year, I was at a Christy Nockels Christmas concert and the word “room” kept sticking out to me. I remembered the above blog post that I had originally written in 2010. I was reminded again that making room is not easy, but I know that God only needs a little bit of room to be able to work. I was reminded of a time this past summer when I thought my marriage was over. I could not see change; I could not see progress, even the marriage counselor had quit. My parents and my brother asked us to give it one more try. They even offered to pay for us to go see a new counselor, something that would require sacrifice on their part.

Reluctantly, without much hope or faith, but with lots of boundaries, I agreed. I knew that I didn’t want to walk away from my marriage wondering whether we had tried everything. I gave God a small sliver of space to work; I gave my husband one more chance to show up in our marriage. I gave God a little bit of room to show up in a crazy, unpredictable time. Like the first Christmas, this was all God needed to make a miracle. God took the little space in my marriage and turned it into something glorious that only he could do. This Christmas we were all together as a family experiencing a new kind of marriage we never thought possible.

This Christmas I’m also making room in other ways. We’ve decided to sell our house in order to get out of debt and be able to live on less money until my husband finds a new full-time job. We need to make room in our budget and in our lives for whatever God is bringing next. I look back at the things God asked me to sacrifice to make room for him in 2010 like crafting and TV, and those sacrifices seem quite small compared to selling a whole house. But I realize that that is how God begins his work and shows himself to be faithful. He only gives us the next step of obedience. As we make a little bit of room, he shows up in all His glory to do more than we could ever imagine.

So as we go into 2017, how is God asking you to make room for Him in your life? What are you willing to sacrifice? Are you willing to be uncomfortable, in pain or heartbroken in order to make room for Him to do His work? I can tell you this: making room, no matter how big or small, is never easy, but it is always worth it.

 

Glorious Impossible 2013

Published December 27, 2013 by joypatton

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The term “glorious impossible” refers to the impossible things that God does for his glory.  The Christmas story has so many “glorious impossibles” in it, and Carl Cartee wrote one of my favorite songs about it that our church often sings at Christmas.  You can read my first blog about it here to get the whole picture.  But this year God gave our family its own glorious impossible.

It was a few weeks before Christmas and our Christmas cash envelope was completely empty.  The money was tight this year, and in this last month of the year, we felt it more than we had before.  Because my husband is self-employed, a paycheck is never guaranteed, and even when we were able to pay ourselves, it wasn’t enough to make it all the way down the list.  By the time the other budget items had their say, there was no cash left for the Christmas envelope.

We had made it through the year working hard and being open to every opportunity God put in front of us.  We both picked up part-time jobs.  Andrew worked as an umpire during baseball season.  I took part-time jobs catering for weddings, being a personal assistant, working as a PR assistant for a marketing firm, substitute teaching and writing and editing on the side.  God even sent a wedding cake client to help make ends meet.  All the while, we knew I needed a full time job.  My resumes evaporated into cyber space, and I never even got called for an interview.  After being out of the work force for 13 years, I began to doubt my chances of getting back in.  The closest I came was a long-term substitute teaching position, which God used in interesting ways, that lasted for two months.

In the last year, we cut and slashed our budget too.  We got ride of cable and satellite TV.  We used coupons and menu planning to cut the grocery budget.  We were even down to one car for awhile because we didn’t want to get a car loan.  But finding extra cash for a car was as impossible as finding cash for Christmas.  The next thing on the budget chopping block were the kids’ extracurriculars, and that one we wanted to put off as long as we could.  Not to mention, the house repairs that needed immediate attention and sucked up whatever cash was left.

But then December was coming, and it looked like it was going to be impossible to pay for Christmas with cash this year.   Life with one car was impossible as we tried to figure out how to get six people where they needed to be every day.  My husband was ready to go get a car loan, and I was ready to buy a jalopy just to make it back and forth to school.  But then we compromised and moved some money around that was held for our salary to buy a car.  It seemed impossible to find a car in our price range that my husband wasn’t embarrassed to drive.  And yet once again God made a way for the impossible to happen.  We found a Lincoln “Alligator” in great shape, which Faith called the “Crock”.  After taxes, title and new tires, we had $400 left.  And this was the extent of our Christmas cash.

One night we sat down with our cash and made our Christmas budget.  We decided not to get gifts for each other, but to instead fix the fireplace that had been unused for six years.  We also wanted to give the kids money so they could buy gifts for each other.  That meant their “big” gift budget was $50 each.  Sadly no gifts for extended family, friends and teachers.  And no money to send Christmas cards either.  I sighed as I put down my pen.  I tried to make myself content with what we had.  My husband tried to tell me it would be fine.  We told ourselves the kids would be fine and having a small Christmas could actually be good for them.

On December 23, I was walking home with Connor from his pet sitting job.  He was telling me how hard it was for him to be “poor.”  To not have what other kids in his school had.  I tried to explain that we choose to live like this because we don’t borrow money and that everything comes with a trade-off.  I reminded him that his dad and I both grew up the same way.  We were always the “poor” kids in rich neighborhoods.  That night Andrew and I both agreed that we needed to get our kids around some people who really were poor.

I also found myself complaining to God.  I hated that our year had been so hard financially.  That we were both working our tails off and getting nowhere.  I remembered thinking that we weren’t poor enough to be on anyone’s radar.  That no one even knew we had nothing in our Christmas cash envelope.  That my kids would have a crappy Christmas, and it made me mad.

Then on Christmas Eve morning a strange car pulled up across from our house.  As three men pulled packages out of their trunk, we thought the new neighbors were trying to celebrate Christmas in their new house.  But then they crossed the street and came to our front door with six large gift bags labeled “teen boy,” “tween boy,” “older girl” and “younger girl.”  Andrew was puzzled and asked who it was from.  They simply said they were asked to deliver it to the Pattons and didn’t know where the gifts came from.

I was hiding around the corner still dressed in my pajamas.  Tears filled my eyes as I remembered complaining to God.  I heard his small whisper in my heart, “I know how hard it is.  I see you.  I see how hard you have been working.  I love you.”  I told him I was sorry for complaining.  We did not deserve this.  We didn’t even know how anyone knew.  We knew that there were other families much poorer than ours, much more deserving of this gift.  We honestly didn’t know how to feel in that moment.  The shame of the reality of our small Christmas threatened to steal our joy and our gratitude.

Very early on Christmas morning, Kyle stood by our bed and whispered that he couldn’t sleep.  I think he was imagining what lived in those mysterious boxes delivered to our door.  Soon enough everyone was awake and Christmas morning went on with our traditional breakfast and reading the Christmas story.  We opened the Christmas presents we had bought, and then it was time for the “bonus” Christmas.  Andrew and I looked at each other, not knowing what to expect.  We opened the envelope to the “Parents” hoping for a clue to the identity of our benefactor.  Instead we found a generous gift card for ourselves.  Kyle opened his smallest present first.  When he saw the $50 iTunes gift card, Andrew looked at me and said, “That was our whole budget for him.”

And the gifts kept coming.  Name brand clothes for the kids with names they couldn’t pronounce and stores we had never been inside.   Hope squealed with delight as she opened her “American Girl” doll from Target.  As we looked at the carnage of boxes and wrapping paper left behind, Andrew and I agreed it was the biggest, most expensive Christmas we had ever seen in our lives.  We couldn’t imagine who would have given this kind of Christmas to us.

This was our glorious impossible.  God gave my children a Christmas they would never forget, and something we could hope to do for someone else someday.  He reminded us that he sees and he knows and he cares.  His lavish grace is upon us even when we don’t ask for it and don’t deserve it.  And once again God in his mysterious way made the impossible possible.

Sacred Service

Published August 29, 2013 by joypatton

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I stood at the back of the room dressed in a tuxedo shirt and bow tie with black pants. The emotions caught me by surprise. As I looked around the room, I saw familiar faces. I looked at the person on stage. I used to be that person, the one standing on the stage in the front of the room giving the keynote address. I wanted to be that person again. But today I was standing in the back of the room wearing an apron and cleaning up dirty dishes. It was a painful reminder that I was not where I used to be.

To me, it felt like a giant demotion. Being there as part of the catering staff felt like a declaration of my failure. I guess the book thing didn’t work for her, so now the poor thing has to wait tables. The voice of the accuser haunted my ears. “See, you tried too hard, you went too fast, you pushed too hard and you ruined it. Now you will never have it because you messed it up. Everyone else knew you weren’t ready, that you were too young, but you didn’t listen. You kept pushing anyway.” All of his words confirmed to me that I was an Orphan, unworthy and abandoned…unloved.

But I kept serving and smiling. I texted my husband to ask him to pray. He knew what it felt like. He had friends show up at concerts where he was working security and not the green room. He reminded me that we were doing what we had to so that we could provide for our family. I hated that. I hated doing this to provide and not the things I loved doing, that I was gifted to do, that I was called to do. And then I became the Accuser. If God wanted to, he could have made it so. He could have made our efforts successful. But he didn’t. The proof was as plain as day… he must not love us after all.

And in my desperate prayer for help, I heard his voice. “Well done, my good and faithful servant. It makes no difference to me whether you are standing on a platform in the front of the room or standing with the catering staff in the back of the room. It’s all service. All of it is serving me and my purposes for my glory. I don’t care where you are standing; I care about your heart.”  I asked him to forgive me for putting him in the wrong.

He is lovingly teaching me what it means to serve. I’m learning to be content serving in the back. I’m finding joy in serving others and helping others’ dreams come true. God, in his amazing grace, has even given me friends to serve alongside. Last weekend some friends who were in Bible studies with me years ago came and worked at my catering job too. What fun it was to serve together again! So we weren’t planning a women’s retreat or doing a weekly women’s Bible study. But it was still sacred because we were doing what Jesus did when he took up the basin and the towel.

Recently I was filling out another job application, and it asked where I saw myself in five years. I used to be able to answer this question easily because I was very goal-oriented. However now I’m in a place I never planned to be, and my goals are completely worthless when matched against God’s sovereign plan.  I’ve learned that I am and will always be a follower of Jesus. And Jesus had no career goals or plans. He simply did whatever the Father asked him to do; he went wherever the Father asked him to go; he said whatever the Father asked him to say. And everything was overshadowed by two words: loving and serving.  By his example, Jesus made all service sacred.

I don’t know where my “career” is going, but I do know that wherever the Father asks me to go, I will be loving and serving others, hopefully just like Jesus did.   I serve at the pleasure of the King, and I will go wherever he asks me to go…to a tiny back room to make jewelry, to a marketing firm as a PR assistant, to my family at home or standing in the back of the room in a tuxedo shirt and apron.  Some day I may even stand on a platform again delivering a keynote address, but it will still be about loving and serving people, and it will be no greater or more significant or more important than where I am serving and loving today.  It’s all loving and serving people. It’s all pleasing to the Lord when my heart is the heart of a Princess.  Just like Jesus, I serve at the pleasure of the King.

 

Lessons from the Wasteland: Lean Not

Published June 10, 2013 by joypatton

When I was little, there was a ditch near our house where we would often play. We put a board across the ditch to be our bridge. I have a memory of my brother using a long stick to poke around in the shallow water underneath. One day he put the stick in the water and leaned on it as hard as he could. That day the stick broke, and he ended up in the water soaking wet. And I was on dry ground laughing hysterically.

In the middle of last winter, this picture came to mind. I felt like I had been standing on the bridge, a bridge that God had placed in front of me. And I had leaned in hard, trusting that we would get to where we were going. But this winter it felt like every door I knocked on was slammed closed, and every window of opportunity a miss. My dream was suffocating and dying because there were no places for it to go. The stick had broken, and I was at the bottom of the ditch, muddy and soaking wet.

As the spring came, God was asking me to step on the bridge again. The little girl in me stood there still shivering and wet, shaking her head. There was no way that I could get on that bridge again and lean on the stick. I knew what would happen, and I was not stupid enough to try it again. I didn’t want to end up in the mud again. I worked very hard to avoid pain, so why would I knowingly walk into it?

On a sunny spring day in the park, I was recounting this to my friend as we sat on a bench. She asked one question that changed the whole picture. “So the stick you were leaning on, was that God?” I shook my head yes and told her that God was the one who had let me down.

All winter I had been hurt and angry because I believed God was shutting me down and killing my dream. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t do what he made and gifted and called me to do. I felt betrayed and even accused God of being wrong.

As our conversation went on though, I realized that I hadn’t been leaning on Him. He wasn’t the stick that broke. The stick that broke was my own understanding. I had been leaning on other things, trusting other things to confirm my call, seeking the approval of others and chasing worldly success. Those were the things that let me down. When those idols failed, I was left in the mud.

Today he is asking me to just get on the bridge again. I’m very afraid. But one step at time, he will lead me across the bridge to where we are going. I’m afraid that I will once again be distracted by other things and start to think that they will get me there. This time we walk step by hesitant step across the bridge. Today I’m terrified of making a move without him. Today I’m grateful for the things he has given me to do, and I’m trying to joyfully walk in them.

Today I realize that he isn’t the stick; he is the bridge. The bridge never changed and it never went away. It wasn’t the bridge that let me down; it was my own understanding. The bridge was still there asking me to trust, and slowly in small ways I am learning again that He is trustworthy. My eyes are open to the ways he is gently wooing me back to Him and reminding me that I can trust Him.

“Trust in The Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

Free Advice Friday: I feel guilty when I work because I’m putting my baby on the back burner.

Published November 30, 2012 by joypatton

I was talking with a young mom this past week, and I asked her how her part-time job was going.  She said it was going well and that she enjoyed it, but that she felt guilty when she had to put her baby “on the back burner” to do her job.  This was what I wanted to tell her, but didn’t at the time.

To me her comment was a red flag that some lies had possibly crept into her thinking.  I wonder if any of them sound familiar to you.   If I’m not 100%focused on my child, than I’m a bad mother.  My child should be my #1 priority.  What I want doesn’t matter because I have to take care of my child.  If I need other people to help me take care of my child, I’m not a good mom.  These sound good and right at first glance, but they are beliefs that can lead to destructive behavior for you and your child.

As mothers, we have made some assumptions about life on the stove.  The simple fact is that not everything can be on the front burner all at the same time.  We assume that if it’s not on the front burner, it’s not getting what it needs.  We tend to think that the pots in the back are neglected and forgotten. We have been taught that it is more right/Christian to put ourselves on the back burner than to put anyone else on the back burner.  We think that everything needs the same amount of heat and attention all the time in order to be good.  Perhaps the biggest false assumption is that we are the chefs standing at the stove.  That it is up to us to decide what gets put on the front burner and what gets moved to the back.

I would suggest a different picture at the stove.  The Father stands at the stove, closely monitoring all the pots.  Sometimes a pot needs to be carefully watched and brought to a boil.  He moves it to the front burner, so that it gets the attention it needs.  Sometimes a pot needs to sit and simmer over low heat.  Things are still cooking, but he can put the lid on while the heat of the stove does the work.  Sometimes he moves a pot to the back burner because it is waiting to be combined with one of the other dishes.  He hasn’t forgotten or neglected any of the pots on the stove.  He is giving all of them exactly what they need, when they need it.

I’ve realized that I need to move out of the chief cook position and learn to be a pot on the stove myself.  Sometimes the Father moves my baby to the front and asks me to take care of him.  Sometimes my kids have needs that require my full attention and focus, and he asks me to join him in his work.  Sometimes the pot that holds my marriage gets moved to the front burner.  He gives time, space and money to go on a date with my husband and remember that we really do like each other.  Sometimes he moves me to front burner and asks me to use my gifts and talents for his glory.  So while I’m there, I trust him to be watching the baby pot and my marriage pot.  Or sometimes me asks me to sit with him and simmer on some things. I trust him that when those things need more attention, he will give me time, space, wisdom and energy to join him there.

In a practical sense, I’ve learned to invite him into everything, every moment of the day.  Sometimes I ask him if I should do the next load of laundry or answer emails.  After all, he knows how much of both has piled up and needs to be done.  I ask if this is the time to engage with the kids or take some alone time.  He knows I need to do both, but can’t do both at the same time.  When I do take some time away from the kids to write or go on a retreat or read a book I want to read, I enter back into life with my kids more energized, more grateful, more myself.  I have been refreshed and am able to engage in ways I can’t when I’m tired, grumpy, depressed and burnt out.  My kids and my husband benefit too.  My husband remembers how hard it is to be the only parent.  The kids see me taking care of myself and following my dreams.  My son Kyle keeps asking me if I’ve found a publisher for my book yet.  I know he is praying and hoping for the best with me.  The hardest part is learning to trust what God says about me more than striving for the impossible standards the lies have created for me.

So, my friend, you are not the one who is putting your baby on the back burner.  The Master Chef has moved your baby to the back burner of your stove, so that he can produce a masterpiece in your life.  Don’t worry…he has not forgotten or neglected your baby.  He knows that in order for you to do what he has asked of you, the baby has to be somewhere else.  He has provided a safe place with loving people for your child.  He is big enough to take care of your baby, even if you can’t be there.  Trust him to move you where he needs you to be.  If you feel guilty about being on the front burner for awhile, tell him.  Then trust him more.

Free Advice Friday: What do you do when you feel like a preacher trapped in a woman’s body?

Published October 26, 2012 by joypatton

Recently I was talking with a friend and this question came up.  She was in a small group at church and very excited about taking the small group through some of the books and Bible studies that had been pivotal in her spiritual growth.  The small group was a mix of men and women, and she wanted to lead/teach/facilitate the group.  However as she prayed about it, the Lord graciously and gently took her to scripture to understand that she was not the one who should lead this small group through the material. (see I Timothy 2:11-14)

At first, she was frustrated because she felt like she had the same gifts in leadership and teaching as the male leadership in the group.  The only difference was that she was a woman.  This was where I could definitely identify with her story.  I too have often wondered why God put the spiritual gifts of a pastor into my body and then limited the use of those gifts in the church.  It’s enough to make the feminist within kick and scream and blow a gasket.

My spiritual gifts are teaching and shepherding.  As a pastor’s daughter, I have an innate understanding of how the church works.  I have vision and can see where a ministry needs to go or how things should be organized.  I’m outgoing and can talk to a wide variety of people.  I have a deep love of God’s Word, and I love speaking to large groups to help them understand His Word.  These are all things that God has put into me.  If I had been born as my father’s son, I probably would be pastoring or planting a church.  But alas, God also put a uterus into me and so (according to my personal understanding of scripture and convictions) the offices of pastor and elder are not open to me.

So what is a woman with the gifts of a pastor to do?  In my conversation with my friend, part of the reason she was angry about not being able to lead was because it seemed to reinforce what she was taught as a child, that women are not as good as men.  That God favors men over women and values them more.   This subtle lie creeps into our thinking and adds to our resentment.  The truth is that God values men and women equally.  In the eyes of God, there is no difference between men and women, Greek and Jew, slave nor free. (Galatians 3:28)  Paul also says that “God shows no partiality.” (Galatians 2:6)  I consider Jesus the first feminist because of the counter-cultural way he treated women.  He talked to the woman at the well and refused to condemn the woman caught in adultery.  After his resurrection, he appeared to women first.  Obviously he valued both genders equally.

So the fact that God made me a woman does not mean that he considers me second-class or less than.  Rather I have come to see that God has intentionally knit me together to accomplish His purposes in the kingdom.  It was no mistake that he made me a woman.  It was no mistake that he gave me the gifts and experiences he did.  The truth I must choose to believe is that he created me exactly the way he intended.

Does it mean I can’t use the gifts he has given me?  No, it simply means that I can’t use them the way I want to, the way that satisfies my flesh, the way that seems right to the culture.  It means I must trust him to show me how he wants me to use my gifts.  The light was not made to be hidden under a basket.  He put the light within me so that it would shine to the glory of the Father. (Matthew 5:14-16)

Personally I have realized that God has made me for teaching women the Bible.  Rather than seeing women’s ministry as a consolation prize for a second-class citizen, I choose to believe the truth, that it is the first prize.  When God changes a woman’s heart, it is the key to changing everything in her world.  I have seen that when a woman believes the gospel and understands how it affects her daily life, it changes the way she relates to everyone in her world: her husband, her children, her co-workers, her friends.  As she lives the gospel, she can’t help but share the good news with every person her life touches.  The world changes, and God’s kingdom grows.

For me, this is my “place in the wall,” my “battlefield.”  My friend reminded me of a scene in the final movie of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  A woman had disguised herself as a man in order to have a place on the battlefield.  When her uncle was mortally wounded, she came to his defense and revealed her true identity with her long hair flowing from her helmet.  The wraith, a horrible, ghost-like creature, turned to attack her and claim the life of her uncle.  The creature reminded her that no man could kill him.  She stood between the wraith and her uncle with her weapon drawn.  As she plunged her sword into his face, she said, “I am no man.”  Her unique nature allowed her to claim a unique victory.

If Satan can get us women to believe his lies that we are not a valuable as men in the war or if he can get us to fight the battles for position and power, then he can claim the victory.  If he can get us to pout in the corner and refuse to use our gifts because we can’t do it the way we want, then he wins.  We become paralyzed and ineffective in God’s kingdom.  But when we reject the lies and embrace the unique ways that God has knit us together, we can step into our unique place on the battlefield.  God’s light in us cannot be hidden, he is glorified, his kingdom advances and the enemy is defeated.

What is your unique place on the battlefield?  

Lessons from the Wasteland: Sell everything

Published October 15, 2012 by joypatton

“You have found a treasure: the treasure of God’s love.  You know now where it is, but you are not yet ready to own it fully.  So many attachments keep pulling you away.  If you would fully own your treasure, you must hide it in the field where you found it, go off happily to sell everything you own, and then come back and buy the field.” – Henri J.M. Nouwen – The Inner Voice of Love

When I read this, I realized that in the wasteland God was asking me to sell everything.  This feels so counter-intuitive to me.  When you find a treasure, you don’t hide it and then come back.  Don’t you want to show everyone?  But the truth is that this treasure is so precious, so personal, so profound, that when you find it, you hide it.  Not because you are ashamed, not because you are afraid, but because you are not yet ready to fully own it.

I don’t like not being ready.  I don’t like it when someone tells me I can’t have something.  It often spurs on my Ice Queen to take it by force.  I have talked to women who have what I’m chasing after.  It’s so maddening to me when they tell me that they don’t know how it happened.  That the opportunities just fell out of the sky and the doors magically opened.  This is not the answer I want to hear.  I want to hear how God called them to it and through diligence, hard work and perseverance, they obtained the prize.  This is how my flesh wants the story to go.

But that is my story, not God’s story.  God’s story takes me through the wasteland.  The land of nothing and no opportunities.  The dry and weary land of knowing the treasure is there, but not being ready to fully own it.  The pain of now and not yet.  In the wasteland, I’m tempted to believe that God has taken these things from me by force.  In a jealous rage, he has ripped away everything I have.  But this is not truth.

Rather he has invited me to sell everything.  This past year I thought I owned a position.  It was a position I thought I deserved, that I earned, that was rightfully mine.  In my wisdom, it was a logical next step for where God was taking me.  After all, it all made sense on paper.  To me, this position was exactly what I needed.  And yet, it was taken away.

I believed that God took it, that he forced me out.  But honestly, he gave me the perfect opportunity to sell it.  To let go of the attachments that have kept me from knowing Him.  I could have gone and asserted myself and demanded my proper position.  I could have gossiped and taken my complaint and my hurt other places.  I could have fought to hold on to my precious position.  And yet, God was asking me to sell it, to let it go.

There are other things I’ve had to let go of this year.  I had to let go of some friendships and my desire to be justified, right and loved by all.  I’ve had to let go of micromanaging my teenage son and learn to let him rise and fall on his own as a man.  All the publishing and speaking doors I knocked on were closed.  I had to let go of my self-effort to get to where I thought I was going.  I have “sold” these things so that I could have one thing, the pearl of great price.  The treasure more valuable than all other treasures: Jesus.

Henri Nouwen goes on to explain, “This is often a painful enterprise, because your sense of who you are is so intimately connected to all the things you own: success, friends, prestige, money, degrees, and so on.”  The wasteland is painful.  It looks and feels like everything is being taken away.  But the truth is that he is asking me to let go.  He is also giving me clear direction about what needs to be sold.  It is the painful process of dying to self.  This is not something we do once, but something we must do daily.  Jesus himself said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)  Deny self and follow.  That’s what it means to sell everything.

But as it has been said before, living sacrifices tend to wiggle off the altar. I want to wiggle out of the pain.  I want to get to the Promised Land without going through the Wilderness.  But that is my story for my glory.  I want His story to reveal His glory.  This is why we need the Holy Spirit.  In his mercy and perfect timing, he shows us what we must sell.  Invite him into the wasteland to show you what possessions are keeping you from knowing and trusting Him more.  In His perfect love and full of grace, he will show you.  “Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44)

What is God asking you to sell?  Will you do it joyfully?

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