On Being a Light Follow

c86101ab950fae5adb4c803590345e46 (2)It is marvelously exciting to see God at work in my life, though sometimes I’m a little slow to catch on.  From my limited perspective, it appeared that sending me to Kenya to encourage my Christian sisters this spring was God’s present focus for me, and one that would provide plenty of practice in dependency on my Lord. So I sought to arrange my schedule into blocks of time for study and preparation. In addition to needing material for extended teaching time, I would be speaking through translators to people in a very different culture than mine. Knowing that being well-prepared makes adapting to changing circumstances much easier, I intended to apply myself diligently to preparation.

No sooner had I set my course, than the distractions started. Not the worthless, empty distractions that I was prepared to dispatch post haste, these were true ministry needs among friends, family, and the body of Christ. Clearly, I was not to ignore the needs of those closest to me for the sake of study time. After two months of interrupted study time, I was beginning to worry a little about having to depart for Kenya without adequate preparation, and every prayer request I made was focused on this issue. While stuck in traffic one morning my mind was suddenly flooded with the Scriptural foundation and direction for one of the Kenya messages. Speaking directly to the topic and congruent with the culture of the audience, it was perfect! God had obviously interrupted my impatience with the traffic jam and done in seconds what I could have spent hours searching out. Clearly, God was perfectly capable of managing my schedule and my study without adhering to my best-laid plans.

As I was thanking God for His provision, I remembered a specific request I had made of the Lord several months ago. I had read an article by Laura Riva on being a responsive follower while dancing. She wrote, “Being a light follow does not mean being disconnected – in fact, it means quite the opposite.  It means that when led, your reaction is nearly instant without sacrificing quality or connection. It means that your responses are fast – but not ahead of the lead. You do not need force or strength to lead a light follow – you simply need to guide them. It means that their frame and attention is so sensitive that it feels like the lead is directly connected to their mind.”

What a magnificent picture the author painted of the delicate partnership between a skilled leader and a trusting, responsive follower. Learning to respond with quick sensitivity to one’s dance partner without anticipating his next move and taking over the lead is a highly valued skill and one not easily mastered. I clearly recall dance lessons that consisted exclusively of lead-follow practice, using only half of the normal connection to one’s partner, and just being led in an aimlessly meandering path around the floor. It seems like a lot of time and money to spend on such minutiae. Surely learning actual dance steps would be more useful. Would this exercise really make that much difference in one’s dancing? The answer is, unequivocally, yes! A dancer can lead a highly responsive follower successfully through steps the follower has never even learned. More crucial than the perfect execution of steps, is the ability to follow. The author’s beautiful description captivated my heart not just as a dancer, but as a Christian. Here was a brilliant illustration of the way I want to follow the Holy Spirit.  And I prayed so earnestly that God would give me this kind of responsiveness to His leading.

Now, feeling torn between the desire to minister to family and friends in need and the desire to be fully prepared for ministry opportunities in Kenya, it dawned on me that my gracious heavenly Father was answering that prayer. All these apparent directional changes were just lead-follow practice! I could only shake my head and laugh at myself. Laughter soon gave way to deep gratitude that God was developing in me the very thing I had asked for. He had continued to thwart my efforts to lead until I surrendered to Him in desperate dependence. Now that we had arrived at that point, God’s faithfulness was evident, and relief flooded in. I no longer feel the need to tell Him what my study time should look like. Oh, I still  schedule time on my calendar for due diligence. But I am learning to rejoice when God adds appointments to my well-laid plans. My days all belong to Him, anyway, and He is perfectly qualified to arrange them to fulfill His ultimate purpose. My infinitely wise Teacher can give me an entire outline in just a few minutes if that is His plan. I am free to enjoy being in the moment, responding in trust to whatever appointments He puts on my calendar today. Serving Him has gone from a stressful juggling act to a graceful waltz with my heavenly Father. Yes, Lord, I would love to dance.

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”  Isaiah 30:21


An Idol For a Ministry

Trends in our culture are changing with ever-increasing speed. Technology, clothing styles, housing trends, entertainment options, education, and even the way Christians do church, are changing at a dizzying rate. But one thing seems to never change: humanity’s love of money. Money fuels our trend-hopping lifestyle, enabling us to lay hold of the next thing that promises fulfillment to empty souls. The hunger for more started in the garden of Eden and has raged through every generation since. Two of the Ten Commandments given to Israel by God reveal our desire to acquire, specifically forbidding coveting and theft. It’s no wonder God’s Word contains approximately 2000 verses which address the subject of money. Most Christians can quote at least a few Bible verses about money, and man’s inability to serve two masters, but we don’t live like we believe them, including me.

As much as I have inwardly and outwardly preached against the materialism of our culture, and of the church, I have been as resistant as anyone to give up my material dreams and aspirations for the sake of the gospel. Studying Philippians, seeing Paul’s willingness to give up everything, everything, for the furtherance of the gospel has brought needed conviction into my life. Not only did Paul give up everything, he did it with rejoicing! Paul knew what it meant to serve only one master. I have been trying to serve two.

Though longing for time to write, more time for study and prayer, and more time for ministry, I’ve been frustrated at how difficult it has been to set aside that time. With grown children and an empty nest, God has given me the privilege of time to pursue Him on my own schedule, yet, I put that privilege on hold in order to pursue money. Money, to help me gain my dream of a home that is larger than the one we have, and hopefully, newer. It didn’t have to be fancy, just more than I have. I thought I could have both my dream house and time for ministry. But working even part-time was giving away time the Lord gave me to do the very things I desired. In hindsight, it is quite apparent that discontentment and idolatry have marked my life for many years. What foolishness!

But what freedom there is in giving up an idol. It is only after surrendering our idols to God that our eyes are opened and we see how blind and foolish we have been. Faith does, indeed, become sight. It always seemed giving up the house dream would be sad, but that was Satan’s bluff. Liar! Reality is, the thrill over the opportunity God has given me to study, write, and serve Him full-time has far outweighed any sadness over my surrendered dream. Yes, there are twinges of wistfulness over the house. Woven into those twinges are threads of expectancy. Expectancy is not expectation that God will be so proud of my sacrifice that He will provide the house as a reward. There is no illusion that His request for my idol was just a test, and having passed it, I will receive the desires of my pre-repentant heart. Rather, I have expectancy that God will work His beautiful and perfect will into every twinge, changing the longings of my heart, cultivating contentment, and working in and through me in ways I have always desired, but have thwarted with my own idolatry. Those who have given up everything to follow Christ and preach His gospel have always captured my heart. The house dream was my primary stumbling block to being free to follow Him unreservedly (not that I am yet one of those people, but I press on). I knew God wanted me to give it up. I was like a child gripping a fascinating, fuzzy, striped bee he longs to possess, while it is stinging his palm and bringing pain. It is a difficult lesson to learn that bees are painful to hold, but delightful to appreciate when they are free to be exactly where God wants them to be. Idols are no different. God’s children are not to grasp for anything but to give our hearts and attention fully to God, knowing that He is a good Father who desires to give His us only good things. We must trust God to give good gifts, placing certain blessings where He wants them, knowing that what He desires to give us is unfailingly the most perfect gift, designed for perfect blessing of His child and for His greatest glory.

In Philippians 3, Paul has given up everything (status, achievement, worldly goods, and even freedom), counting it all rubbish, to know Christ in the power of His resurrection, the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, in order that he may attain to the resurrection from the dead. The fellowship of Christ’s sufferings would mean wanting the same things Christ wanted: God’s glory alone, such that He was willing to be absolutely single-minded in His pursuit of glory for God. Verse 15 instructs us to also have this attitude, and Paul is confident that God will reveal areas in which we are not like-minded and fully surrendered as Christ was, and as Paul was. That is exactly what God has done for me. At first read, that verse felt like a “done to me” verse, but His interruption has been a huge blessing and gift from God, a “done for me” event. Knowing the heartbeat of my Father God assures me that every interruption He brings is not done to me, but for me. God took away my idol, but in its place, He gave me an undivided heart, a clear mind, and time to serve Him. An idol for a ministry – what a trade!