Getting Up While It is Dark-The Most Important Spiritual Discipline

I am by nature an early morning person.  It comes naturally.  I am thankful for that.  Whether or not it comes naturally, I do believe getting up early to meet with God in quiet is a biblical principle we should desire to practice.

Proverbs 31:15  says, “She gets up while it is still dark;…”  On many levels this is just a practical habit to develop.  Getting up early offers us quiet, uninterrupted time to plan our day, prepare meals, set out reminders, etc…  It’s a jump start if you wish. We see evidence of this in the description of the Proverbs 31 woman’s life.  Verses 16-18 describe some of the tasks she sets out to handle during this early morning time.  However, I think the principle goes deeper than this.  Throughout scripture God gives us examples of His people seeking Him early in the morning.  His Son, Jesus Christ, frequently stole away in the early morning hours to pray.  I am convinced getting up earlier than others in our home to spend time with God is a spiritual discipline that can transform our lives.

Each new day brings with it a fresh slate.  Repented sins of yesterday have been cast away.  Each new day brings new graces, now opportunities.  When we arise early in the morning to meet God before we open the calendar, begin our interactions, we meet Him unblemished.  We meet Him in the best possible condition we can be in.  Cleansed by His grace, refreshed, renewed, revived.  We meet Him with clear minds, before the busyness of life sets in.  It is in those moments I am most open to hearing Him, to understanding His word, to seeing the priorities He has set before me.  In those early morning moments, it is truly just me and Him.  New day.  Fresh words.  Blank journal page.

I believe the Proverbs 31 woman was just like me and you.  She had a full to do list.  She had a large family.  In order to be her best, she chose the discipline of getting up while it was still dark.  That one act gave her the wisdom to determine her priorities for the day.  It gave her the emotional strength to serve in gladness.  She was able to move into her day with a willing heart to work.

I know it is not easy.  And for some of you it may seem impossible.  You prefer the dark hours of the night when the family has fallen asleep.  Here’s the thing-at the end of the day, even when those seem like your best hours, you are spent.  You have the sins of the day weighing on your shoulders.  Regret has had time to set in.  Those minutes/hours may be great moments to study, repent, ponder.  But they are not the morning.  There is something absolutely amazing about meeting God in the early morning hours.  There is something beautiful about watching the day literally unfold as the sun rises. There is something invigorating abut knowing I am sitting before the throne cleansed, giving Him my very best, my first fruits.  It is a wonderful act of worship to lay myself before Him as an offering early in the morning, to meet with Him anticipating a new day.

Early-Morning-Prayer

I challenge you to practice His presence in the morning.  You may not have to get up while it is still dark.  Just get up 15 minutes before everyone else.  Just get up 15 minutes earlier and commit to use that time to sit in His presence.  He will give you the strength to do it.  He will call you to Him.  You’ll begin to look forward to those moments.

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Proverbs 31: An End to the Stay At Home Mom vs The Career Mom

I so often wonder why women hurt each other so very much.  I have experienced it at the hands of so called friends, I have inflicted it upon so called friends, I have watched my daughters stung by words and exclusion of so called friends, I witness it in the church and I don’t know a woman in the workforce who wouldn’t attest to the fact that women are hard to work for. Women, we are fierce and yet weak and insecure.  We compensate by building walls or building up our own self-esteem at the expense of another’s.

Last week I attended a women’s networking group for women in business.  The topic?  Negotiating.  Great speaker.  In fact she was a woman who had been through a deep spiritual experience as she sought to become the woman she wanted to be instead of the woman she was “posing” as.  Where did the presentation go?  Where it sadly goes so often-the harshness of women, our insecurity, our overcompensating.  It was refreshing though to be in a room of women I didn’t know, all there for “business” purposes, but all seeking wisdom on how to do life better, be better.

Wool&Flax

Proverbs 31:13-14 informs us of the woman’s work.  She worked with wool and flax making clothing, blankets.  She is compared to merchant ships bringing her food from afar, trading at the marina.  Clearly she worked, and worked hard. Does it matter if she worked for someone else, worked in a storefront or worked from home?  I have never understood the debate we create – especially at church.  Where and how we work is not a reflection of our spirituality.  Who we are at work or at home or at church is a reflection of our spirituality.  Whether or not we engage in the debate, judging other women for their choices, their efforts, their calling is a reflection of our spirituality.  Taking a side, defending our choice, by judging others is a reflection of our spirituality.

The Proverbs 31 woman lived in a very dark time for Israel.  Life was hard, resources were few and theft/plundering was common.  This woman of faith didn’t spend her time contemplating which “camp” of women she wanted to align herself with.  This woman of faith kept her eye on her priorities.  She knew she must bring good to her husband and family (vs 11-12).  She went to work.  She was industrious.  Somehow I don’t think this woman afforded herself much time for idle talk, games of Bunko, supper clubs or mani/pedis.  She was too busy seeing the needs in front of her, working to meet those needs and keeping her focus on God for sustenance, strength, and hope.  She struggled little with insecurity, not because she was proud, but because she kept her focus on God, His precepts.  She spent little time comparing and instead focused on serving any and all she could influence.  She focused on having excellent character, wisdom, skills and compassion.

These verses, more than any others in this passage, convict me.  I so often fall prey to looking around, comparing my life to others, allowing the comparison game to drain me.  Fatigue sets in and my industriousness wanes.  In the end I hurt myself, my family and sometimes those around me.  My words become harsh.  Discontent can drive unnecessary spending.  My priorities shift and I become more important than He.

As women of faith can we see past a list of “to do” items in Proverbs 31 and really see the passage for what it is?  It is a description of a woman who found her worth in God.  It is a description of a woman who focused on her God, her family and her community – in that order.  It is the description of a spiritually, physically and mentally healthy woman.  Let’s put down our judgement.  Let’s pull away from the debates.  In fact, let’s agree there is no debate.  We work.  We seek to be industrious, trustworthy and compassionate.  We keep our eyes on God, we see needs around us and we work.

Proverbs 31 Woman: Wife of Noble Character

Unpacking the Proverbs 31 passage is truly a life changing for any woman who seeks to live life according to God’s design. The passage begins in verse 10.

”  A wife of noble character who can find?  She is worth far more than rubies.”  Prov 31:10 NIV.

In other translations noble is translated virtue or pure.  I believe this speaks to the state we should be in before marriage-a virgin, having saved ourselves for the one God has chosen.  I believe it speaks to the state we should remain in after marriage, the partner of one man, our husband.  Our character should reflect that of Christ.  This is not about perfection.  It is not about an image.  It is about heart.  We have to remember life flows from the heart.  As we seek to keep ourselves pure and noble we honor who God has created us to be, we honor God and we bring hope and beauty to our husband, our marriage, our family and our home.  Scripture says we are worth more than rubies.  Our value goes beyond what we do, what we bring to the marriage financially.  Our value goes beyond our skills.  Our real value is based upon our relationship with Christ, our security in Him, seeking to be fulfilled through our relationship with Christ, not the relationship with our husband.

proverbs31-woman_650

How can I maintain virtue/nobility/purity?  How can bring hope and beauty to my husband/family/home?

  1. I must guard my heart:  this means protecting it from unsightly/immoral books, songs, television, movies, gossip, relationships.
  2. I must fill my mind and heart with His word-the tool available to me to instruct, correct.
  3. I must spend time in prayer confessing and seeking God’s counsel and direction.
  4. I need to remain humble.
  5. I need to be mindful of my choices-this is such a big area.  So often we allow ourselves to become so busy we simply move through life, never giving any real thought to our actions, our choices, our speech, our friendships.  Life on auto pilot leads to moments of disappointment.  We can find ourselves in compromising situations not even knowing how we got there.  Mindfulness is a result of scripture study, prayer and focus.
  6. I need an inner circle of godly women who speak truth into my life, holding me accountable.
  7. I must seek to serve God first and my husband second, children third.

Over the course of the next few months I am going to spend Friday breaking down these scripture.  I’d love to hear from you.  How does this passage speak to your heart?

Further reading:

Elizabeth George:  A Woman After God’s Own Heart

Ann Ortlund:  The Gentle Ways of a Beautiful Woman

Gordon MacDonald:  Ordering Your Private World

Inspired-Back to Basics with the Proverbs 31 Woman

Any time I am asked to speak, God does a work in me.  This weekend, sharing about how to be effective women and not just efficient women, I was reminded how valuable these passages in Proverbs 31 are.  It saddens me when others say this Proverbs 31 woman is not relevant, that she is simply an ideal, and not one we can attain to.  I just beg to differ.  She is an ideal. The description of her however is the entirety of her life.  Yet, we see her included in scripture.  I believe she is the goal to be attained, much like Paul refers to.  She is the culmination of a race well run.  She is God’s design for woman and the description of her helps us in setting our priorities and making choices.

prov31I am reminded that in good season, God grants me the wisdom, the ability and the time to be and to do.  Keeping Him first and my family second, remain constant.  The opportunity to work, invest, minister, etc… come at different times.  So often in my humanness I struggle with the “in due season.”  I read Proverbs 31 and I want it all, all right now.  I strain and struggle. I become discouraged and before I know it, Satan convinces me I can’t do it.  He would be correct.  I can’t do it without Christ and I can’t do it all at once.  I have to remind myself that a “no” now does not mean “no” forever.  There are moments when God says “no, not right now”.  I have to remember that He will restore those jobs, ministries, relationships in due season.

I struggled with this when my girls were younger, spending way too much time trying to do too much, looking to the next season instead of embracing the season I was in.  I have fallen prey to that again.  I realized as I shared with others, God was convicting me.  I had let a seed of resentment set in regarding home schooling.  I was looking to ministry and jobs I wanted, but couldn’t make work in this season.  I need to embrace this moment.  What a gift.  I have the opportunity to be at home, to focus attention on both my girls in unique ways.  I get this extra time while home schooling.  I have to have faith, living in this season with strength and dignity, knowing He will open doors for ministry, expand my opportunities when this season is over.

As I refocused my attentions on this passage it was like revisiting an old friend.  Why had I lost touch?  Why I had I let my attention drift to other things?  This world needs more Proverbs 31 women.  I embrace setting her before me as an example, a goal.  I will not strive though.  Instead I will rest in Him, seeking His guidance and wisdom as I seek to love Him, serve my husband and my daughters.  I will embrace His precepts and follow His word.  I will raise girls to do the same.

The link below is a document outlining what I believe to be the attributes of the Proverbs 31 Woman.  I would love for you to use these as motivation.  Please don’t look to them as a “to do” list.  Instead see them as a guide.  Remember it is not about what you do, so much as it is about who you are.  Yes, the Proverbs 31 Woman did a lot, but the passage focuses on who she was, how she did it.

Outline

Joy-Do We Even Know What It Means?

JoyBlackboard

Each year I attempt to set some goals (you can read more about that on my business blog).  More importantly, I begin in November to pray about a “word” or theme for the year.  I haven’t been doing this long, and began the practice after some encouragement from a dear friend, Shari Edwards.  As I have begun this practice I have come to realize how valuable it has been in helping me to really know WHO God is.  It is easy to know of God.  Even as a Christian I can study and know more about Him, but it can be challenging to know WHO He is, to experience Him.

As I prayed the word JOY kept coming to my mind.  Initially I brushed it aside, thinking it too trite.  Who picks the word JOY as their word for the year?  Pollyanna?  It felt too simple.  In my mind it was too close to the “blessed” syndrome of American religion-the one of prosperity and good if you love God.  Not my doctrine.  Not my faith.  So, in all honesty I began to pray really hard the word would go away.  Surely I needed something more serious, more worthy.  Ahhh, the human ego and our desires to do, to strive, to know.  In the course of those prayers, repeatedly god brought to mind or used a devotional or magazine article to put James 1:2-3 in front of me.  In those moments I began to understand what He desired for me.  I chose obedience and placed my thoughts upon JOY.

JOY isn’t a feeling.  JOY is a state of being.  JOY is one of the Spiritual Gifts His Holy Spirit gives us through our obedience and faith walk.  JOY is an attribute of Christ.  I can only experience JOY when filled with His Spirit.  I can only know JOY when I know HIM.

As I ventured through this season of doubt, fear, and anxiousness God has taught me much about faith.  How little mine was, can be and still is on too many occasions.  He has taught em to let go.  He has brought me from the desert abiding, to a deeper relationship with Him.  I know with certainty JOY is my word for 2015.  It won’t be a year of laughing, jovial moments, happy, happy, happy.  No.  The reality is life will continue to be hard.  Friends will lose battles with illnesses.  Loved ones will be lost.  Children will make poor decisions.  Persecution will increase.  But I know this to be true-when I walk in faith He will fill me with HIS JOY, an abiding peace which promises me salvation and wholeness.  He is reminding me this life is about being ready.  I want to grow this year and be the kind of woman who is ready.  Ready for the life I am living.  Ready to respond to the world in which I live.  I want to be spiritually grounded so I can experience His attributes in the midst of it all and be ready-ready to respond in deep abiding faith.

JOY-it isn’t a feeling.  JOY-a state of being.

Ice Baby, Ice!

The ice hit home last night.  We’ve had a crazy winter, but not near as bad as others.  For that I am thankful.  I have to admit, while it is an inconvenience, and I know many don’t like it, I love “snow days”.  I always feel like I have been given an extra day.  Crazy, I know, but it works for me!  Ice, baby, ice!  I love having my peeps all at home.  I love feeling like our “to do list” has gone out the window.  I love that everyone seems to slow down, rest, be creative.  

Today, especially, I loved this unexpected snow day.  I have been reading and studying mentoring from a biblical perspective and just finished a lesson on Daniel for another project.  As you know, I’m nearing the end of an on-line bible study with a group of women I don’t know, but am connected to via ministry connections and mutual ministry partners.  It has been an incredible blessing to learn from these women, to pray for them and have them pray for me.  This week, my year long desire to focus on “who” I am in lieu of pursuing answers to “what” should I be doing and the scriptures raised to the forefront in my studies has me thinking on the following:

Resolve.  “Daniel resolved…”  As I mentioned last week, I am at that point I can begin to lose sight of my goals, feel discouraged and/or re-evaluate.  What I realize is this, anything I was truly resolved to do, I am still doing and willing to stick with.  Those are the tasks I should have focused my attention on.  I was also struck by the fact that Daniel knew in advance what he would not compromise on.  He knew who he was and what he believed.  Who, not what.  As I thought about the story a little more, I also realized Daniel did not try to get anyone to join him.  He didn’t worry about what others were doing.  He didn’t try to sway others to join him in his efforts. My studying of mentoring. brought similar points to focus.  Mentoring is NOT about me sharing my life, my lessons learned.  Mentoring is “joining the Holy Spirit in His work in another’s life.”  Ele Parrott, Transforming Together.  Mentoring begins in the quiet place when I am praying, reading His word, growing spiritually and living authentically in all places.  

I love that I have had the extra time today to ponder all of this.  To look again at goals and tasks and continue to re-evaluate, focus…I love that in 2 days the season of Lent begins.  As I enter lent this year, I want to purpose to do less.  Not as a sacrifice, but as an act of worship.  I want to focus on Who I am in Christ because of His great sacrifice and love.  I want to resolve to finish the race.  I want to resolve to continue my work towards being available, listening more than I talk, pointing my girls towards scripture as they enter adulthood and need to have their own resolve!  I want to worry less, releasing my fears, trusting more as I allow myself to know Him more.

Yep, I love ice-sort of.  I am going to relish the rest of this snow day.  As I write, my girls are informing we get another one tomorrow! Hmmmm…… I’ll probably have to do a little less pondering tomorrow.  But then again, maybe not.  Looking forward to another day at home with my family enjoying who we are as a family!   

Survival of the Fittest: Thanksgiving Style

Wouldn’t it be nice if the Hallmark version of the holiday emerged victorious in all our homes?  Instead, for many of us, it turns out a little more like “Christmas Vacation.”  The reality is, even with the best laid plans, executed with grace and efficiency, people are a part of the holiday and, sadly bring to the table emotions and baggage.  Maybe that is not your experience, and if not, I pray you know how blessed you are.  For me, the family strife seems to creep its way in, no matter what I do.  This year, proved no different. An ongoing volatile relationship exploded once again, and to round it all out nicely, the dreaded stomach virus has over the course of a week taken immediate and extended family out one by one.   It’s given new meaning to “survival of the fittest”.

I have a tenuous relationship with my mother. There are many reasons for it, most a result of life circumstances in and out of our control, her struggle with depression, and an innate desire as a daughter to want to fix things, do enough to obtain approval, maintain peace…  For years I allowed those desires to almost consume me.  I took on every need, every disconnect and feverishly sought to find a solution, a way to mend the fences.  In the end though, I did little more than take on another person’s anger and dissatisfaction. I was changed and in return able to do little to create change.  Last year, all things came to a climax-yes, at a holiday.  It was devastating.  It was painful.  It was terrifying.  It was the end of me, and the beginning of truly learning to let go of the things that bound me and learn to live freely in Christ.  I look back now and wonder why I didn’t let go earlier.  Why I didn’t realize that the struggling was not a part of my spiritual growth, but more a battle to hold on to “earthly ways” and a failure to trust God.  Beth Moore, in Breaking Free says “..the most debilitating loss for a Christian is not the loss of a loved one, but the loss of faith.”  It is hard to admit a loss of faith.  Too often we think of it in broad terms-walking away from a relationship with Christ.  If we look at it in broad terms we can protect ourselves from having to face the harsh reality of our spiritual condition-the lack of faith.  As a Christian it is heart wrenching to come to terms with a faith problem, yet anything binding us/oppressing us is just that.  So, while I hated last year’s events, they were the beginning of looking deep within myself and coming face to face with my lack of faith issue.  And so, this year, through much prayer, quiet reflection and pursuit of God’s word, He has begun to restore.  The relationship with my mother is not restored.  It may never be fully restored, for some of the work is hers to choose to do.  He has begun to restore me, free me to live abundantly as the person He created me to be.  He has shown me cycles need not be repeated.  He has shown me I must trust Him to see my mother through her journey on the path she chooses.  He has shown me I can not live “for” others, but can live freely “with” others.  And as happens when we let go, have faith, He grows in us the very image of all we have hoped to be.

As for the stomach virus, well, not much to learn from that.  Life happens.  Sometimes you just roll with the punches.  You get back up, you clean up and carry on.  In the end, we all survive.  Some of us may not grow or seek a new path, but some of us will.  We survive, but more importantly we chose the path less traveled, we get through it and we thrive.