Soul-Trading

mark 8-36If you’re a parent, I would venture to say you spend a lot of time helping your children explore their interests, find their passions, make friends, and grow in their abilities. Outside a typical school day, you cart them to swim and music lessons, sports trainings and games, tutoring.

You make sure they don’t miss the party invite (what if they don’t get invited again or are left out on the playground at school?)! We only have Wednesday afternoons free and the school just opened up a term of Oztag… perfect! Sign us up! Wait… what’s Oztag?

My own daughter tried ballet, hip hop, gymnastics (at two different gyms) before we realised her passion was music and art. She now also plays netball for both her school and club.

How do we, as parents fit it all in? What’s the motivation for all this, (shall I daresay “over-scheduling”)? We tell ourselves we want what’s best for them. Some of us believe our kids are stars and in order to get ahead, they must perfect their trade. We must set them up for success. And… Kids are demanding at times. They tell us what they want to do and we jump through every hoop to make it happen. I mean, how guilty would we feel if right down our very own hallway slept the next Mozart and we didn’t pay for that extra term of piano lessons?

We live in crazy times! All this taxiing our children to and fro. Then, what’s left of us, these devoted, well-intentioned grown-ups?

Soul weary, budget busted, time strapped adults whose sleep patterns are poor and marriages are weak.

In the pursuit of fostering well-rounded, talented, happy children who have friends and self-confidence, we can lose our own souls. What happened to regular date nights? Adult friends who party with us while the children go to bed?

What are MY interests?

Didn’t I have hobbies once upon a time?

Where are friends who make me laugh, those who spur me on towards becoming my best self?

All of our choices come at a cost. This over-scheduling and saying “yes” to the aforementioned litany of options means saying “no” to other things. Unfortunately, those “other things” can be the very ones which sustain our souls. The fun. Spiritual growth. Marriage. Small group at church. Rest.

Let’s don’t mistake “good parenting” for soul-trading.

Kids need parents who love each other and they need to see us taking care of ourselves, embracing a hobby, setting boundaries, living within our means. The lessons WE teach through lives devoted to Jesus, the church, our marriages, and sabbath rest far outweigh any weekly half hour lesson you could pay for with someone else in charge.

“What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for” (Mark 8:36 MSG).

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Notice Me, Please!

At my son’s recent cross-country race, every kid suddenly picked up his pace as he came down the stretch of the course where parents were lined up cheering. Knowing they were being watched and hearing the roar of the crowd, maybe even their own names, provided a catapulting adrenaline boost!

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Me, at the finish of the race!

A few years ago, I ran the Blackmores Half Marathon. It was a dream-come-true for this Texan to cross the Sydney Harbour Bridge afoot and then finish those 21km at the steps of the Opera House. As I was running, I knew my husband, Greg, was somewhere out on the course and as my legs fatigued, I longed for his smiling face to find me amongst the crowd. I needed my adrenaline boost. At about the 10km mark, I turned a corner and spotted his bright red jumper in the distance. My smile quickly faded as I realised, he wasn’t looking my direction…

I kept staring at him as my feet pounded the pavement, music blasting in my ears, willing him to turn around as I approached. I kept thinking, “He knows my pace. He knows I should be at this point in the race about now. I’m doing so well… surely he’s going to clue in and start yelling for me any minute.”

When I was within about 50 metres of him, not only did he not begin cheering for me, but I started yelling out for him!  I’m singing Taylor Swift, “I keep cruising, can’t stop, won’t stop moving. It’s like I’ve got this music in my mind sayin’ it’s gonna be all right,” only,

IT. WASN’T. ALL. RIGHT.

Greg wasn’t the one huffing and puffing. He had the easy job: stand there in his nice bright red, warm jumper, cuppa in hand, and look for me. Yell out; clap; whistle; say, ‘you’ve got this babe!’ You know, catapult me forward. Make me feel like a star!  Show everyone around me how special I am and point out how I’m smashing this race!

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Here’s the bright red jumper which can be seen from a great distance!

By the time I was within 10 metres of him, not only was I exerting extra energy to yell out, but now my arms were waving and I almost tripped the guy next to me for looking to my right to get Greg’s attention. Just as I was passing him, he finally saw me. He yelled out a little ‘great job’ (or something) and I was turning the corner, on my own again. Now, instead of feeling an adrenaline rush of energy, I was feeling sad and irritated that my one fan didn’t even notice me.

He didn’t see how great I was going… How strong I looked. How fit! How my determination and discipline had paid off and, perhaps most importantly – how I was rocking my new shoes.

In that moment along the course, I needed him to recognise me. I wanted everyone around me to hear MY MAN cheering me on, to see that I was good at what I was doing.

A lot of us compete throughout our whole lives like we are in a footrace, panting along, hoping someone will notice us. We wear our achievements like a pinned on race number, right across our social media sites, longing for likes and views. We feel defeated when we don’t get invited to the party, as if everyone passed us at the finish line. We give up when the boss doesn’t notice how hard we worked, wounded like the runner in the courtesy shuttle who sprained her ankle.

We pour our blood, sweat and tears into things praying for

SOMEONE to NOTICE.

Looking to others to motivate, encourage, acknowledge, or validate you will, most certainly, lead to disappointment. Your friends might get it right one day, but forget all about you the next. Your kids may say “thank you” today and demand more than you can give tomorrow. Just as quickly as your followers “liked” your last post, they will un-follow you for something more popular.

If your self-worth is tied to what’s temporal, you’ll find yourself striving with an insatiable need to please. Or, you’ll constantly be bitter with the taste of envy, disappointment, and anger on your tongue, a resident victim.

The encouraging news is that there is ONE who is ALWAYS monitoring your progress, cheering you on, noticing your every move and smiling upon you.

His name is Jesus.

He never loses sight of you; as a matter of fact, his eyes are ranging about the earth, ready to strengthen those whose hearts are committed to him. He’s on the lookout for you and you have no other competitors. He goes before you and behind you. Our God never loses step or forgets to turn. You don’t have to yell out or wave him down. He loves you, just the way you are, at whatever pace you’re running your race.

Going through the motions doesn’t please you,
    a flawless performance is nothing to you.
I learned God-worship
    when my pride was shattered.
Heart-shattered lives ready for love
    don’t for a moment escape God’s notice (Psalm 51:16-17).

Day 21: “Smile at the Future”

she laughs

Laughter – good medicine. Nothing like a big belly laugh when you hear a funny joke or your kids do something hilarious. Have you ever smiled so much your cheeks hurt? Maybe it’s a day at a theme park or a show? Your wedding day?

Can you smile at your future?

Unfortunately, some of you feel dread with your approaching calendar. Unless you’ve got a holiday planned, you’re stressed about work coming up, bills that need to be paid, a problem you have to deal with… you think ahead too much and rather than hilarity, it’s a headache.

What does your future look like after these 21 days of prayer and fasting? How much of it pleases you, knowing your family is prepared to take on its next season? Your mind and heart are in a better place than they were three weeks ago. Your position is strong and secure. Your future is bright.

You know how to put your problems in the proper perspective. You’re secure in your position in your community as part of a larger world. You pray more. You encourage often. You allow vulnerability.

You close your eyes and envision what’s to come and you can’t help but crack a grin.

Now to Him who is able to [carry out His purpose and] do superabundantly more than all that we dare ask or think [infinitely beyond our greatest prayers, hopes, or dreams], according to His power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20).

Day 19: “Peace”

peace worldAs you approach the final three days of prayer and fasting, you are more at peace. Yet, learning to walk in peace despite your circumstances is a lifelong practise and takes more than a few days to master. Composure comes when you make it a habit to take negative thoughts captive and submit them to God. You can walk in harmony with others when you learn to separate what someone else might say about you that’s contrary to what God says.

Nothing can steal your peace when you completely trust God no matter what curve balls life might throw your way. No scary diagnosis. No unforeseen accident. You’re embracing the blessing of well-being within your spirit which your mighty God offers you each day.

You can find the “Prince of Peace” right alongside you when you seek him continually. He is longing to embrace you and to care for you. He desires nothing more than to guide you into a quiet place of relaxation amidst any storm you’re facing. The practise you have incorporated into your life over the last three weeks is allowing you to experience more of Jesus.

You know that you’re not alone. You have seen and heard him speak. You can see that dedicating time to your relationship with your Heavenly Father brings contentment and rest. You, as a carrier of God’s peace, can actually set the temperature in your home, your family, your workplace. You make and maintain calmness everywhere you go.

“Finally, believers, rejoice! Be made complete [be what you should be], be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace [enjoy the spiritual well-being experienced by believers who walk closely with God]; and the God of love and peace [the source of loving-kindness] will be with you” (2 Corinthians 13:11 AMP).

Day 18: “Pray for the World”

pray for the world

Our world is groaning with the sufferings of war. Entire nations are collapsing under corrupt leadership; millions of children starve while we gorge ourselves, gluttonous. Oppression – a word to describe the weight under which some women still live. Natural disasters ravish entire communities and many will never recover.

The list goes on.

If you were born in a first world country with paid work, unlimited food at your fingertips and emergency services just a phone call away, you might find it easy to look past the rest of the world’s problems. Yours is shiny and safe.

People facing economic hardship, fewer opportunities and less freedom are equally loved your Heavenly Father. Remember the less fortunate. Ask Jesus to show up in their lives.

As you continue to fast, pray for peace in the world where it’s absent. Lift up the nations both near and far. Pray for their leaders. And thank God for your many blessings.

“God holds the high centre, he sees and sets the world’s mess right. He decides what is right for us earthlings, gives people their just deserts God’s a safe-house for the battered, a sanctuary during bad times. The moment you arrive, you relax; you’re never sorry you knocked” (Psalm 9:7-10 MSG).

 

Day 12: “Children of God”

kidsHave you ever been annoyed with little children? Maybe they’re your own, throwing a tantrum in the shops over a lollypop while you’re trying to buy groceries? Or perhaps someone else’s little darling is making noise in church and you just need her to shush so you can concentrate? The chaos of youngsters can be a bit much. Kids definitely bring energy and volume to a room!

Children also carry a faith unlike your own. 

The world hasn’t jaded them. Their tender souls cry out for God’s blessing and presence. Children see the world with wide eyes and wonder. They believe in the miraculous and move in the moment, embracing everything around them without fear or hatred. Kids dream big and hug you hard. They laugh loudly and cry easily.

What reckless abandon!

Jesus loves children:

“The people brought children to Jesus, hoping he might touch them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus was irate and let them know it: “Don’t push these children away. Don’t ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom. Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.” Then, gathering the children up in his arms, he laid his hands of blessing on them” (Mark 10:13-16).

Parents, you must lead your kids to Christ, for he wants to bless them. Pray for your precious ones today and model a life of surrender so they will chase after God, fully submitted to his lordship too.

If you’re not a parent, don’t get in the way of children having an encounter with Jesus. Look them in the eyes, say something kind, and believe God’s best for them, shining the light of Christ. Lift the young ones in your world up to him in prayer today.

And, pray for yourself… that you can grab hold of a child-like faith, one that embraces its simplicity and allows Jesus to lay hold of you and pour out a blessing.

“What marvellous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are” (1 John 3:1a MSG).

Day 10: “Your Kingdom Come”

thy kingdom comeWhat did Jesus mean by saying, “Thy Kingdom Come?” while teaching his disciples how to pray? God’s plans, not mine. His intentions, not yours. Undertaking the Lord’s strategy before our own.

Total surrender to the will of God is easier said than done. Dying to your fleshly desires – submitting your goals, money, children, health to a Heavenly Father comes with resistance.

Your inward focus over the last week and a half has allowed you to hear God with more clarity, to tune into the Holy Spirit, to find freedom in areas where you struggle. Hopefully, you’re learning to yield to his voice in a more meaningful way.

However, if your biggest obstacle is yourself (your problems, insecurities, fears), then understanding “thy kingdom come” as it relates to others, will prove difficult. Ask God, “why have you put me in this spot at this time with these people?”

It’s time to begin looking outward. How can your own personal revelation benefit someone else in your world?

“God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them” (2 Corinthians 5:18, 19).

Sharing the love of Christ looks different for everyone. You may give time to a friend who needs a listening ear. Or, make a meal and cart kids around for a mate stuck at home with an injury or a newborn. You might go out of your way to help your co-worker.

Encourage someone.

Extend forgiveness.

Whatever God is asking you to do, go for it! Pray for opportunities. Step out in faith.

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
 as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:9-13).