Category Archives: Attending or Focus

Worship Wednesday – Choose Well Whom You Serve – The Doorkeepers (Bowab) of Egypt

 6437A day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.                    I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickednessFor the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!   – Psalm 84:10-12

For many years, we were apartment dwellers in the desert city of Cairo, Egypt. The Nile River winds gloriously south-to-north through the city, but it is nonetheless a remarkably dusty place. The fine sand of the Sahara blows in daily and covers everything in its wake. Washing windshields, sidewalks, and hallways must be done each morning. These are among the many needful tasks for which the doorkeeper is responsible.

Most residential buildings have a doorkeeper, called a “bowab” in Arabic. He and his family often live in a tiny space on the bottom floor of the building. He, his wife and children run errands, do various other tasks for building residents, find taxis for those who need them, and stand guard, so to speak, at the door of the building.

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The bowab has a lower station in life, but the ones I’ve known treated their work and those they served with dignity and graciousness. They may have preferred a different path, but maybe because of lack of opportunity or education, this was their life. Whether they chose it or not.

I had read Psalm 84 before moving to Egypt, but not until meeting the bowab of our building did these words come alive to me. This Psalm is written by the Sons of Korah* who were doorkeepers and porters those days in the house (tabernacle) of the Lord. They have a fascinating history which set the stage for them also to be sincere worshippers of God – humble, joyful, passionate worshippers.

Reading this Psalm, I am reminded of the pull of the world on us to walk away from God. To leave our stations. To choose to do something else. To be someone else. We begin to believe the voices that we deserve something different…something better…we owe it to ourselves to break free. Our thoughts can get more and more muddled…with that wanting something more…more than this?! More than what we have in Psalm 84?

We choose our course in life. God draws us to Himself, but we choose to align ourselves with Him or with the world. There is no “not choosing”. On days when my thinking gets clouded, I’m so grateful for the Word of God – how the truth of who God is resonates in my heart and mind. He is my Sun – driving away the darkness and my fear with it. He is my Shield – deflecting the arrows meant to wound and confuse me. He withholds no good thing from those who walk with Him.

I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.

Alexandria01

Just this morning, a friend reminded me of his devotional reading today out of A Daily Dose of Spurgeon:

“These were potters, and those that dwelt among plants and hedges; there they dwelt with the king for his work.” 1 Chronicles 4:23, ASB

Potters were not the very highest grade of workers, but “the king” needed potters, and therefore they were in royal service… We, too, may be engaged in the most menial part of the Lord’s work, but it is a great privilege to do anything for “the king”; and therefore we will abide in our calling… The text tells us of those who dwelt among plants and hedges… They may have desired to live in the city, amid its life, society, and refinement, but they kept their appointed places, for they also were doing the king’s work… Ye unknown workers who are occupied for your Lord amid the dirt and wretchedness of the lowest of the low, be of good cheer, for jewels have been found upon dunghills ere now, earthen pots have been filled with heavenly treasure, and ill weeds have been transformed into precious flowers. Dwell ye with the King for His work, and when He writes His chronicles your name shall be recorded.”Charles Spurgeon

Remembering the Sons of Korah and the Egyptian bowab helps me reckon with my station in life. How thankful I am that God has delivered me out of merely existing for myself and into gloriously serving Him. There is nothing menial there. All momentous. Nothing small. All mysteriously and lovingly God. I want to stand at that door…how about you?

“Choose well. Your choice is brief, and yet endless.”Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

If it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” – Joshua 24:14-15

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YouTube Video – Better Is One Day – with Lyrics – by Matt Redman

*Who were the Sons of Korah in the Old Testament?

Egypt Essentials: The Bowab by Erin Owen

Worship Wednesday – 5 Things to Ponder in Tuning our Hearts Toward God

SunriseFrom the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same the LORD’S name is to be praised.Psalm 113:3

We were made for worship. It is our finest pursuit – to be true and constant worshippers of a living and loving God. We make it a process harder than it is…which, in turn, causes us sometimes to give up somewhere along the way. Our default is often to rely on others (an author, a worship leader, a preacher) to stir up worship in us for a few minutes, or 50 (which seems to be the new norm in preaching these days). Then we lay the book down, head out of “church” for another week, or close our journals (on the mornings we manage to open them), and find some satisfaction that we did our duty…we worshipped. Check. Done.

Oh what we must miss in life when we don’t recognize God in all the moments of our day! All the moments. What joy we can experience when we see Him in every encounter, in all the coincidences, in every expression of His glory.

What keeps us from a life of worship? I grapple with 5 hurdles to worship. Be encouraged…none of these have to hold us back for all our lives. We are not without help in these – we have God and His church on our side.

Distractions – I so struggle with being distracted. God knows my frame (Psalm 103:14) and is not Himself distracted by my weaknesses. This used to be an area where I lived in constant self-loathing, but God has redeemed my thinking in this area. In the distractions, He is teaching me to see Him – even in my struggle. With the Psalmist, I say, “I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well.” (Psalm 139:14) My job here is to rein in those distractions where I’m “prone to wander” and remember God.

Idols – Tim Challies writes about how Sarah’s burning desire for a child drove her to orchestrate an unspeakable act – putting her husband together with another woman to gain a child from their union. What do we want more than we want God? Where are we unwilling to wait for God Himself to act? What do we put in our lives, in place of God, thinking them harmless (ambition, recreation, relationships)? They become harmful to us and those near to us when these things loom so large they modify our thinking of who God is and who we are to Him and His Kingdom – idols sink us into smallness, and not in a good way. God will not be made small, but we can be. God forgive us when we set idols up for ourselves and miss Him and the life He had for us. With His help, we can identify the idols, repent, and retune our hearts. 

Entitlements – Oh these vile little tricks of thought. “I deserve”, “It’s my time”, “I’m doing something for me”, “That’s just not my gift/style/preference”.   “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow” (James 1:17). We all get tired and feel stretched beyond what’s comfortable. Lean on God.

Good but not God – You do good all day – to those you love, with those on your job, and for those God places in your path. That good is how we apply a counter-pressure against the evil of this world. Doing good is right. In the strength of God, with Him in view, makes it become an act of worship. Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). John Piper wrote about doing good:

God gets glory not from our heroic exertion but from our reliance upon his strength—when we serve as one who serves with the strength which God supplies.

God’s will himself to glorify
Is not a weight
to make us sigh
For it is wings
to make us fly.*

Ungratefulness – Paul encourages us through his letter to the Thessalonian church: “pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit…” (1 Thessalonians 5:17-19). When we are in a lifestyle of worship, we can thank God for everything…everything. What joy we have in knowing He is working everything out (Romans 28:8) for our good and His glory!

From dawn until dusk and into the darkness of night, we can experience the sweetness of God’s presence if we remember not to forget and if we believe Him enough to not disbelieve. He is worthy!

Worship with me.

Blog - Sunrise by Alicia BowmanSunset in East Tennessee - Kathy VisneskiSunset in Philippines from Jessica BoltonMorocco sunset by Ingrid Pullar

Worship God – Introduction to a Series on Worshipping God by John Piper

Holy Subversion – Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals by Trevin Wax

*How to Do Good so that God Gets the Glory by John Piper

To the Other Woman’s Embrace by Tim Challies

YouTube Video – Indescribable – Chris Tomlin

We Were Made for Worship – It’s What We Do – Because of What He Did – from archive – www.debmillswriter.com

Photo Credits: Sunrise/Sunset images are credited (in the order they appear) to me, Alicia Bowman, Kathy Visneski, Jessica Bolton, and Ingrid Pullar.

Worship Wednesday – Live Like That – with Sidewalk Prophets

Blog - Live Like That - Sidewalk Prophets

Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:34-35

We choose whether our brief lives are misspent or spent well. A few days ago, a dear neighbor, Mrs. Frances died unexpectedly at the young age of 92. I loved her stories of teaching English and serving people God placed in her life. She and her sister walked the neighborhood in the early morning. Just seeing her on those walks encouraged my heart. She had so much joy and was generous with it, lavishing it on all she met. By her own testimony of faith, and evidenced by a life of loving God and others, she is in Heaven. I can see her house from my kitchen window, and her life will continue to affect me for good. I want to live like that.Blog - Live Like That - Frances & JohnnieMrs. Frances (on left) & Mrs. Johnnie – Neighbors & Friends

“Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
And when I am dying, how happy I’ll be,
If the lamp of my life has been burned out for Thee.”
C.T Studd (read whole beautiful poem here)

God has given me so many opportunities in life, for which I’m deeply grateful. Parents who loved God and loved us. A good education. Great friends through the years and across distances. Incredible work situations: teaching nursing at Emory University and then Yale University, working on cancer units in inner city settings and small towns, teaching English overseas, and now writing. I am a wife (blessed with an amazing “in-law” family), a mom to 3 great young adult children (two of whom have added sweet spouses to our family), and a grandmother-to-be. So much joy in all that.

Life has its deep losses as well. My closest life-long friend died this past year. We have lost other friends, family members, and dear colleagues over the years – some dying very young. My Mom, who was always my role model for godliness, died at 75, which today seems so young. My brother, Robert, and his son, Chad, are gone now as well, and even writing this, my heart is pierced again with the pain of missing them.Mom pictures for website 010My Mom, Mildred McAdams

IMG_0017My sweet nephew, Chad Stephens

2007 SepOct 046My older brother, Robert Stephens

So what of all of this? Did those people, through all these years and across all these miles, these whose lives brushed with mine, experience Jesus’ love through me? Today, is it the case?

There are moments of revelation – wake-up calls – that we are meant to hear for our own lives. Life is full of cross-roads, and we choose which way we go. No matter how successful, beautiful, influential, or (fill-in-the-blank), we are, each of us has only this one brief candle-flame of a life. How we live it matters. Will we be remembered more than a generation or two beyond our short stint on earth? Probably not. That doesn’t really matter as much as what we do with our lives – for God and for others. That’s what matters.

Do we live our lives for ourselves? Squeezing all the goodness out of our fortunes to indulge our own desires? Do we hold onto time as if it belongs to us? Do we waste a lifetime on our screens, instead of invested in real people? Uncomfortable questions, especially for me. I so struggle in this. As I write, even if this encourages some, I am aware of a world beyond the door I can see from my desk…where people are, in real skin, and real need. It brings all the more urgency to finish this writing…to get on out there.

“Oh God, I fail regularly. You are not bothered, I’m pretty sure, by our need for downtime sometimes. For recreation. You’ve created us to both work and rest, and You give us leisure to refresh us for the next round of life. Forgive us, when we use that leisure to spend on ourselves and only then want more – more time for ourselves, more toys, more self-directed adventures. Oh God, help us remember how You saved us from ourselves, through faith in Jesus. Help us to see the world with Your eyes. Help me, God, to get up out of this chair…and go out there… ‘recklessly abandoned, never holding back’ – like Jesus lived and shows us how. I want to live like that.”

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.Hebrews 12:1-2

Worship with me, with this great call to faith and action by Sidewalk Prophets:

Sometimes I think
What will people say of me
When I’m only just a memory
When I’m home where my soul belongs

Was I love
When no one else would show up
Was I Jesus to the least of us
Was my worship more than just a song?

(Chorus)
I want to live like that
And give it all I have
So that everything I say and do
Points to You
If love is who I am
Then this is where I stand
Recklessly abandoned
Never holding back
I want to live like that
I want to live like that

Am I proof
That You are who you say You are
That grace can really change a heart
Do I live like Your love is true?

People pass
And even if they don’t know my name
Is there evidence that I’ve been changed
When they see me, do they see You?

Chorus

I want to live like that
I want to live like that

I want to show the world the love You gave for me
(I want to live like that)
I’m longing for the world to know the glory of the King

Chorus

I want to live like that
I want to live like that*

*Lyrics to Live Like That by Sidewalk Prophets

YouTube Video – Live Like That by Sidewalk Prophets

YouTube Video – Live Like That by Sidewalk Prophets [images from films and news reports you might find familiar – brought tears to my eyes. One distracting typo: In the lyrics, corrected it’s “Was I love when no one else would show up?”

Live Like That – Sidewalk Prophets – Devotional Series

YouTube Video – Live Like That by Sidewalk Prophets (just another lyric video – another set of powerful images accompanying life-changing words)

Story Behind the Song Live Like That

Sidewalk Prophets Website

Photo Credit – Sidewalk Prophets Live Like That album cover Others are my own.

2015 April phone pics, American Idol, Spring flowers, Dad visit 205My Dad, living well, so far, with Alzheimer’s, and me

Kara Tippetts Has Finished Her Race – with Grace and Kindness and Glory to God

Blog - Kara TippettsPhoto Credit: Mundane Faithfulness

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing. – 2 Timothy 4:6-7

“When I wake up in the Land of Glory
And with the saints I will tell my story
There will be one Name that I proclaim
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, just that Name.”*

Kara Tippetts is one of the bravest and most generous women I’ve never met. I love her so much. She has been battling cancer for awhile, but she is Home. She fought hard because she would leave behind so much she loved – an amazing husband, four beautiful children, close friends and family, and a ministry with a wide reach.

Blog - Kara & Jason near the endPhoto Credit: Mundane Faithfulness

Still…there is a time for all of us that this life ends, and the next begins. Her time came yesterday. She lived so well…and she leaves a legacy for her family of what it is to live a full, faithful life, with a kind heart, and an open hand. She was a tight hug and sweet encouragement to me, every day she wrote in Mundane Faithfulness.**

I woke today thinking about her. While preparing to just refer readers to her memorial (obituary), the song The Only Name came on the radio. It is so fitting of Kara’s life.

“Yours will be the only Name that matters to me
The only One Whose favor I seek
The only Name that matters to me

Yours will be
The friendship and affection I need
To feel my Father smiling on me
The only Name that matters to me

Yours is the Name the Name that has saved me
Mercy and grace the power that forgave me
And Your love is all I’ve ever needed
When I wake up in the Land of Glory
And with the saints I will tell my story
There will be one Name that I proclaim
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, just that Name.”*
Kara fought her fight. She finished her race. She kept the faith. For us, there is still a race to be run. May we run ours with the great grace, kind heart, deep love, and focus on God that Kara ran hers. So thankful I got to know her on her Home stretch. Thank You, God, for Your glorious presence in Kara’s life.
Blog - Kara with hairPhoto Credit: Mundane Faithfulness
**Memorial – Mundane Faithfulness – read Kara’s blog – her story and her God will change your life.
My Blogs on Kara – Here, Here, & Here

Worship Wednesday – Greed, Gratefulness, & the Generosity of God

Blog - Tithing pic

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” – Luke 21:1-4

Years ago, an opportunity was afforded to me to teach at a very prestigious university. It would mean relocating to a new city, leaving family and friends, and taking a cut in pay. My current job had allowed me to live very well as a single woman, but I didn’t think a drop in salary would be that much of an adjustment. Unknown to me then was how much higher the cost of living was in the city where I moved. It wasn’t long after beginning life there that my finances were a mess. Running out of money well before the end of the month, I changed as much as I could to pull out of this situation. Eating oatmeal for dinner was one of my get-to-the-end-of-the-month strategies, and stopping giving money through the church was another. For the first time in my adult life, I didn’t tithe. It did not improve my situation.

During this time, there was this young graduate student I noticed at church who seemed to eat a lot of peanut butter sandwiches. As we became friends, he told me that he, too, was challenged financially, living off of a graduate school stipend. However, there was a big difference. When he received his check each month, the first thing he did was write another check…his tithe to the church. Then he lived on the rest, frugally, until the next check came. If I hadn’t noticed his simple meals, which brought us into conversation about finances, he would never have commented on his own situation. It was what it was, and he was grateful.

I would one day marry this young man.

This story was not to put him on any sort of pedestal but to consider three spiritual principles at play here.

1) Greed – Growing up, we probably all heard our parents say, “There is a big difference between want and need.” Along with that, need can turn into greed, if we are not careful in managing our heart’s desires. Through that financial downturn, I experienced great clarity. It was a scramble, but I finally got past that season of debt, bounced checks, and not tithing. Tithing is returning back a portion of our income (10% or more) to the Lord, in obedience to Him, for the sake of others in need. God doesn’t need our tithe. I need the tithe. It is a stewardship of what God has given me – obeying Him in tithing, then obeying Him with the rest of my resources follows.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;  but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – Matthew 6:19-21

Where your treasure is measures where you heart is. Not only that, my husband will say, but you can use your treasure to lead your heart. When you invest your treasure (whether it’s the stock market or to BGR, for example), you are going to pay attention to what’s going on with it. Where we put our treasure is where we tune our hearts. As we remember the heart of God toward those who need Him and toward those with other great needs, the resources He gives us become an extension of His hand of love…as we release them. Somehow, in our obedience (even when our heart is not fully in it), God will change our hearts. Hallelujah!

2) Gratefulness – Our children grew up with VeggieTales. The Madame Blueberry video about thankfulness was one of our favorites. The moral of this cute story was that being greedy can make you grumpy (adult talk: never satisfied). Also, the song goes with the story that “a grateful heart is a happy heart”. There is so much more to life than “the stuff”. Being grateful is a condition of the heart that can be cultivated. There is, after all, so much for which we can be grateful.

3) Generosity of God – God is wholly and perfectly generous toward us. He even challenges us to test His generosity (Malachi 3:10). We have sure found Him faithful. There may be long and difficult times of financial leanness in life. However, as we let go of a tight-fisted control of our money and what we want to do with it, God moves. Not always in ways we may “want” (again, it’s a letting go of control), but in ways that will truly satisfy, changing our hearts to be more like that of Jesus’ heart.

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue. – 2 Peter 1:2-3

Share Your Story: Tithing – The High Calling

The Open Hands of the Gospel

Generous Giving: Questions about Generosity

Gratefulness and Tithing – Unlocking the Floodgates of Heaven

Tithing – Gratitude or Greed?

Generosity vs. Greed

Tithing, Giving, and Generosity

Be Generous with Your Master’s Money

Generosity Begins at Home

 

 

 

Satisfaction & Contentment – a Journey and a Destination

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You open your hand; You satisfy the desire of every living thing.
 The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on him in truth.
 He fulfills the desire of those who fear Him; He also hears their cry and saves them. – Psalm 145:16, 18-19

Godliness with Contentment Is Great Gain – 1 Timothy 6:6

A summer day in a good book can change the course of your life…at least, your mind’s course in life. That morning, I was sleeping in a bit while our two-year-old slept on in her bed upstairs. Mine was a fitful sleep sorting through the conversation Dave and I had had the night before. Weeks away from having our second child, the CEO of our medical center had given me the opportunity of a lifetime. He offered me the directorship of the cancer center of our hospital. My husband and I had already made the decision together months before that I would stay home with our children. Having continued to work for the first two years of my daughter’s life, I was excited to dig into this new season of life. Then…the offer of an altogether different job…

Our conversation that night didn’t go well. How could I argue for a job that would take me away from our children not just during the day but into the night with other responsibilities pulling at my attention? The children are grown now, and I was with them growing up, but in those days, cancer nursing was my professional world with all that went with that. Purpose, capability, accomplishment…it was deeply rewarding and gratifying work. Mothering was still so foreign to me. Being a stay-at-home mom was a whole other life and I was afraid of it, really.

That morning, I came wide-awake, when Dave touched my arm. He was dressed and ready to leave, but he had a book in his hand. He asked me to read the chapter he marked in it, then he kissed me bye for the day, and was out the door.

It was Jerry Bridges’ book The Practice of Godliness. The place marked was a chapter on contentment. Bulls-eye! Right on the strained condition of my heart. On that sunny summer day, reading that chapter, the Lord helped me wrestle through the struggle of discontent and the idols that separated me from peace with God.

[Sidebar: This has nothing to do with whether a woman should work or stay-at-home with children. My circumstances allowed me a choice in that. We as a couple, he and I together, decided that this is what we wanted and could make happen for our family. It is possible I could have become the director, hired a nanny and a good administrative assistant, and still be on a Godly course in life…but I knew deep down that the struggle was a heart issue and a faith issue.]

Discontent was my problem and it would become my family’s, if I didn’t deal with it. Jerry Bridges wrote, “In all of the areas in which we are called upon to be content – whether possession, position, or the providence of God – the grace of God is the ultimate solution for our discontent.

I didn’t take that position, but stayed with the job of stay-at-home Mom. It was one of the most challenging, glorious undertakings of my life.  I am glad that Dave had the love and the courage to speak truth to me through that book that day. Cancer nursing is still a great love of mine, and my colleagues of those days are still heroes of mine. Still, having had these years with my children growing up, me with them, has been so much more valuable to me than the “what would have been.” I learned to be content in that and still have all kinds of impulses through life to remind me that content is where I want to stay.IMG_0068

Contentment is a destination. It applies to whatever situation we find ourselves. Satisfaction, as an experience somewhat different than contentment, is a journey. Beth Moore, in Living Free, talks about a soul hunger in all of us, created by God. She says, “The most obvious symptom of a soul in need of God’s satisfaction is a sense of inner emptiness. The awareness of a hollow place somewhere deep inside – the inability to be satisfied – ought to be a flashing caution light to every believer.”

We are meant to find our satisfaction not in possessions or position or even the providence of God*, but in God Himself. When we try to satisfy our longings in anything but Him, the emptiness continues to gnaw at us. The search for something, besides Him, to fill that void is never satisfied. A friend of mine shared with me just today how satisfaction is to contentment as joy is to happiness. It’s mining the deep riches of the Person of God. The more we know Him, the more we want to know Him. He fills us completely. He satisfies our souls. We don’t have to “chase after the wind” or try to “feed on ashes“. In times of spiritual hunger or thirst, it is God Himself who satisfies. Nothing else is ever enough.

Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:11-13

Blog - Satisfaction - Beth MooreBlog - COntentment

Living Free by Beth Moore

The Practice of Godliness: Godliness Has Value for All Things by Jerry Bridges 

*Notes on Contentment from Jerry Bridges’ The Practice of Godliness

Satisfaction Versus Contentment from Watchman Nee’s book The Normal Christian Faith

Contentment Vs. Satisfaction from Seriously? No, SERIOUSLY blog by a young mom named Kas

Resolved: Whenever Possible, Be All There

Blog - CrowdsThe LORD looks down from heaven and sees the whole human race. – Psalm 33:13

Seeing the people, He [Jesus] felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.Matthew 9:36

When was the last time you looked a stranger straight in the eyes? Or even lingered on a friend’s face? When was the last time you looked long enough in someone’s face that you saw her heart or sensed his struggle?

I grew up in the South during a time that everyone made eye contact to wave or say hello. It was unthinkable to look past a person…whether you knew them or not. There was a shared sense of community – a familiarity that brought people close, closer than just their geography.

For many years, we lived in the Arab world. My friends there would coach me as a woman not to be too familiar in encounters outside of family or close friends. I should divert my eyes, or just acknowledge them formally. Making eye contact was just too intimate. This didn’t apply to women, but in public situations, I had begun to change even with them.  I just didn’t make eye contact much at all…with anyone I didn’t know. Daily outings, doing errands, were completed with my thoughts elsewhere, pretty much on auto-pilot.

When we came back to the US after the 9/11 attacks, we returned briefly to our old ways of making eye contact, smiling at strangers along our way . This didn’t last long, because we saw more and more people didn’t really look at each other. It was as if a whole country had become more guarded, more isolated. Safety and security mattered more than the common space we shared and the common courtesies that came out of noticing need.

Not wanting to remain in this insular frame of mind returning back to the Arab World, I made the decision to really look at people…really see them, and notice their lives. Those were some of the richest years we spent overseas. It become easy to catch the eye of women, to smile at them, or greet them, or help in some small way. With men, less so…but my encounters with women became much more real and intentional and neighborly.

Back in the US now, I really don’t want to miss people. We are separated by so much – not looking at each other, ear buds in our own private soundtracked worlds. Our cell phones make it so easy to choose to focus on those not in front of us. We can miss that chance encounter – that divine appointment.  All our mobile devices, in fact, draw us to news being made by other people, entertainment to fill our times in between, and fantasy worlds of smiling people on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat (or whatever will come next). People (some real friends, some not) whose lives we try to match with our own. It makes me tired.

Resolved – to see people as Jesus saw them. To not be so distracted that I miss in-the-moment opportunities to serve or encourage others. To learn from them. People I may never see again. People who won’t necessarily give anything back except that momentary shared community. Oh, and the possibility of seeing them through the eyes of God…wow!

Many, many times, people have come to my aid…as if they were angels in disguise…through whom I’ve known the mercy of God. If they only knew how often they were a hand-up for me, a rope to hold onto, a real friend, even for a moment. They make me ambitious to be like them…to see the need…to notice those around me…whether it be another stranger…or a friend…and to be aware enough to respond.

I am resolved to put my phone away and to look up…to see your face…to listen for what’s really going on…and to respond with kindness. I am resolved.

It’s something I’ve been thinking about for awhile – this whole attending thing. Then a song came up on the radio by the Sidewalk Prophets entitled Save My Life, and my resolve was fueled. I’ve posted the lyrics below (and the links to the YouTube videos).

Save My Life by Sidewalk Prophets from Live Like That Album

We’ve met half a dozen times
I know your name I know you don’t know mine
But I won’t hold that against you

You come here every Friday night
I take your order and try to be polite
And hide what I’ve been going through

If you looked me right in the eye
Would you see the pain deep inside
Would you take the time to

Chorus
Tell me what I need to hear
Tell me that I’m not forgotten
Show me there’s a God
Who can be more than all I’ve ever wanted
‘Cause right now I need a little hope
I need to know that I’m not alone
Maybe God is calling you tonight
To tell me something
That might save my life

I’m the pastor at your church
For all these years you’ve listened to my words
You think I know all the answers

But I’ve got doubts and questions too
Behind this smile I’m really just like you
Afraid and tired and insecure

If you look me right in the eye
Would you see the real me inside
Would you take the time to

(Chorus)

Save my life

I am just like everyone
Jesus, I need You, I need Your Love
To save my life*

Blog - Sidewalk Prophets

*Lyrics

YouTube Video – Save My Life [Official] – Sidewalk Prophets

YouTube Video – Save My Life with lyrics – Sidewalk Prophets

Story behind the song Save My Life

Sidewalk Prophets website

Love Does by Bob Goff 

 Does Anybody Hear Her? by Casting Crowns

Photo Credit – Crowded Street

Photo Credit – Band