Sunday, August 29, 2010

My Untitled Prayer

Lord, You are truth. All else is failing.
You order my heart.
Though my heart doesn't always understand.
I have great aspirations but often lose my way in the bigness of it all.
And I am overcome with expectation; expectation of myself.

I struggle to see past the chaos.
Where do I go now? What do I do next?

Yet You draw near to me as I draw near to You.
In this nearness, I can see scars of a work already completed.
And I am undone.
There is nothing left to say.

You finished it before I ever started.

Copyright © 2010 Michelle Holderman


Friday, August 27, 2010

A Matter of Trust

Everybody’s actin’ a fool and the whole world’s gone crazy...Trust in the Lord with all your heart…Frustrated, aggravated and irritated... And do not lean into your own understanding…What in the world is going on here... In all your ways acknowledge Him…God doesn’t make any sense... And He will direct your paths....I don't have clue where I'm going (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Does God really call us to trust Him in the middle of full blown chaos? I mean does He seriously want a shout-out from us even when we're struggling and tanked out?

I think God has a funny way of doing things sometimes. If you're wondering whether I mean funny ha-ha or funny strange, my response is: Yes, that’s it exactly!

Truly, there are times when God just doesn't make sense and it's hard to understand why the stuff that's happening in and around our lives is actually happening. Yet He simply asks us to trust Him through it.

I’ll share something with you that happened to me a few years ago.

I was feeling veeerrry frustrated with God. I did not understand what in the world He was doing because from my viewpoint; it didn’t make any sense. At all. I was struggling and I told Him about it too. He let me vent and kick and scream and carry on and the last thing I said to Him in that moment was, "God, you don’t make any sense to me! None whatsoever! Zip-po!" And almost immediately He replied back into my spirit, "Yes, but do you trust Me anyway?"

He said it in such a way that it almost made me laugh, which I didn’t want to do since I was so frustrated in the first place. And while He was probably glad to lighten my mood, even more than that; He wanted to make a point. And He did it by asking me a question (I just love it when God asks me a question).

He wasn’t asking for asking's sake. Rather He was trying to move me into the place of faith. He was essentially saying: Yeah, uh-huh, I know it doesn’t make any sense to you. I know you can’t see it the way I do. I know you’re frustrated. I know it all seems crazy. But despite all that, will you choose to trust Me?


It was really an invitation. And it’s not just for me but also for us all. God invites us to trust Him when nothing makes sense so He can show us more of who He is. He doesn’t ask because He’s in need of the answer but because we are.

Like it or not, there are just some things about God He will not show us except in difficult times; in times of hardship and in times of suffering. And often during times when absolutely nothing that is happening in our lives makes any sense.

So why is that?

I certainly don’t have all the answers but I think God often waits to reveal some of the deeper things about Himself during these times because we’re not so focused on other things; worldly things. And let me tell you, being chronically ill, the outcome of the ballgame or the latest fashion buzz isn’t the most important thing on my mind. My focus has dramatically shifted on working to be well; on wanting to understand why this happened and what purpose it is serving; on wanting to hear from God about it all.

And there it is.

In difficult times our focus and attention is shifted on God in ways that it isn’t during any other. We seek Him with fervor and intent. We start asking questions. And not polite, superficial questions but deep, anguishing, gut-wrenching questions. Desperate, demanding questions. And we set ourselves on a collision course with God to find answers. So He gives us a little something to hold onto, enough to keep us going, but just a bit mind you. Because God wants to keep us coming back for more. He wants us seeking Him over and over and over again. He wants to ever drive us straight into His Arms.

It has been my experience, however, that God is not really in the business of explaining Himself. Moreover, He has this thing about wanting us to trust Him even when there seems to be no reason to; especially then. He wants to show us that He is able to sustain us during the worst of times; during times when we’re flat out spent and broken.

Ironically, it’s also during these times that we seem to be the most receptive to Him despite our frustrations and disappointments, because we know can’t nobody do for us what Jesus can.

It almost seems like a game of hide-n-seek with God and in a way it is. Except this isn’t a game; it is the way of faith. Still, our hearts ache to know what it is He is doing and where it is He is taking us. So we keep on looking, we keep on asking, we keep on seeking.

But perhaps like the old U2 song says, we still haven’t found what we’re looking for. So we keep on looking and we keep on seeking and we keep on asking.

Whatever it is that drives us to Him, He just waits for us to come. He waits to show us how deeply He loves and cares for us. We don’t necessarily get all the answers we’re looking for. Instead, we find what we’re lacking in He can and will supply. God's in no short measure of anything. Whatever it is we’re in need of; He’s got.

It’s interesting though that the one thing we seem to want most is the one thing we don't have – understanding. And I think it's human nature to desire it. However, God is not so much interested in our always understanding Him as He is in our always trusting Him. Still, as many of us know, trusting God isn’t always easy; especially in those difficult and trying times.

The test results are bad, Lord. Yes, He replies, but do you trust Me anyway?

I got laid off from work...
He walked out the door...
This is not the way I thought things would turn out...
She’s still so sick...
This is all such a mess...
My boy went to prison...
God, I just don’t understand...

...Yes, but do you trust Me anyway?

No matter what, do we trust Him anyway?

We say we do but we really don’t want to go through anything to test if our theory is true. In theory it sounds good; in practice its application is not quite so simple. Yet through all the doubts and frustrations, God allows us to arrive at the place where we find our only real option left is to trust in His power and throught it; we come to realize that our finite knowledge can’t hold a candlestick to God’s infinite wisdom.


As His children, there isn’t one thing we’ll go through that has not first gone through the wisdom of the Father. Not that He causes it but rather that He allows it; be it for our own growth, for the benefit of helping others, or for a much higher calling. Whatever the reason, He has a divine purpose and nothing is wasted. If you don’t believe me, just take a look back through the Bible.

God knows what we need even more than we do and when we’re being conformed into the image of Christ, it isn’t always fun. In fact, the process can be downright painful. But God is precise in His ways. And as we move through that painful but precious shaping process, we’re shown those secret places of God we’ve never had access to before; we’re given fresh insight and new revelation; we’re drawn into deeper intimacy with our Savior and Lord and before we know it; we find ourselves trusting Him in a way we never have before. And it just comes.

Because as He’s shown us more of who He is, we realize who He is, is worthy of our trust. Not because He’s changed but because we are. And we are ever-changing, ever-learning, ever dying to self and allowing the Holy Spirit to work within us and through us.

God has a purpose for your life and for mine and that purpose has everything to do with advancing the Kingdom of God. And if we want to reach our full potential in Christ, then we must submit to and trust in the Father's perfect plan; even when we don’t feel like it or when it doesn’t make sense.

What God has in store for us is far more wonderful, far more awesome than anything we could ever imagine or dream of for ourselves! But it comes through the process and the process requires trust. Not trusting what we see in the natural but trusting in that glorious unseen supernatural realm of the Most High God. And very often the more difficult or impossible the circumstances; the more likely it is that God is up to something. And when God is up to something, He always goes about it in a way that bypasses our human understanding, which therefore requires our trust.

And so we’re left with a choice. We’re back where we started; back at His invitation to trust Him.

The God who created you, trust in Him...Trust in the Lord with all your heart

The God who knows your deepest sorrow, trust in Him...And do not lean into your own understanding.

The God with whom all things are possible, trust in Him...In all your ways acknowldege Him.

The God who knows the answers to your questions, trust in Him...And He will direct your paths.

The God who died to save you; this is the One who asks you trust Him...Will you?

Copyright © 2010 Michelle Holderman
Photos: Photobucket and Flickr

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Jonah Moments

I have always been quite intrigued by the Book of Jonah. The Bible doesn’t elaborate on any other time Jonah must have surely gone to speak for the Lord as a prophet. Instead, it focuses on this one account. God doesn't do anything without a purpose so the fact that He included only this account tells me something - that we should pay attention to what His Word says about it. I find I take away several great truths from this and I find that I relate to Jonah. A lot.

Remember Jonah? He headed straight outta dodge when God told him to go to Nineveh; the Lord said north and he headed south. This is what I call a Jonah Moment: Running from God (Jonah 1:3). Nineveh was a wicked, pagan city. And God actually told Jonah that he wanted him to go and preach against the city because its wickedness had come up before Him (Jonah 1:2). But Jonah did not want to do it.

In his attempt to run from God, Jonah ends up drawing some innocent people into his escapade. This is Jonah Moment #2: He drug other people into his stuff. He fled by hopping on board a ship en route to Tarshish; the opposite direction of Nineveh. But Jonah couldn’t hide from the Lord nor can any of us for that matter. The Bible tells us that a great storm arose and it got pret-ty rough. Jonah fessed up and told the crew if they threw him overboard into the sea the storm would calm down. And that’s exactly what happened.

What took place next, though, sounds like it came straight out of a movie line from the SyFy channel. “But the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17). So Jonah had to spend some time in the belly of the whale. Literally. This is what I call Jonah Moment #3: Getting a new perspective. I imagine that was a dank, dark, lonely and stinky place to be. Isn’t that always how it feels when we’ve run from God? Maybe spending some time in the proverbial belly of the whale is necessary for all of us on occasion.

It was there, deep inside the bowels of that great fish, that Jonah started praying. Amidst proclamations of God’s faithfulness and goodness, Jonah told the Lord he would make good on what he had vowed. I assume that meant the vow he'd made as a prophet to speak for the Lord to whomever He instructed. And that meant going to Nineveh. This is Jonah Moment #4: Crying out to God in the middle of a self-made mess. And it was at this that God commanded the whale to spit Jonah up. His rebellion and reluctance had put him there but his repentance had moved the Lord to bring him out. Little did Jonah know, this was a reflection of what was about to occur with the Ninevites.

The prophet hauls it to Nineveh and delivers the Word of the Lord. I’ll paraphrase – In forty more days your city is burnt toast! But the oddest thing happened. The Ninevites believed Jonah. When word reached the King, he covered himself in sackcloth and made a citywide decree for everyone, including all of their animals, to fast from all food and drink, give up their evil ways, and urgently call upon God to forgive them. And God saw their sincere desire to repent and He had compassion on them and relented from bringing destruction (Jonah 3).

This, however, did not set too well with Jonah. He had yet another “moment.” He got angry and copped an attitude with God. He told the Lord this was the very reason why he took off in the first place; that it was just like Him to be so gracious and compassionate and hold back from giving those wicked people what they deserved. He then asked the Lord to take his life because it would be better for him to die than live (Jonah 4:1-3). Clearly, this is Jonah Moment #5: Getting offended at God for forgiving people he didn't think deserved it.

Talk about drama. But I’ll admit; I can see myself in Jonah. There have been times I have had my “Jonah moments” with God too. I’m quite sure we all have. Like those times when we've run away from what He wanted us to do, trying to avoid it; the times we've not understood why He does what He does and feeling the need to tell Him about it; the times we've questioned why He changed His mind about a person, or a group of people, who we thought weren't particularly deserving of His mercy. Honestly, there have been times that I rather wanted God to sock it to ‘em; so to speak. Yet in His great love and mercy He relented when He saw a true heart change take place. And that was really what He was looking for all along. It's what He always desires. So it was with the Ninevites.

God’s reply back to Jonah cut straight to the heart, “Have you any right to be angry?" (Jonah 4:4) Still, Jonah marched off outside the city and found a place to sit and watch what would happen.

An interesting thing took place between God and Jonah. The Lord caused a vine to grow in order to give Jonah shade. This made him happy. God was concerned for Jonah too but He was more concerned about the spiritual matters at hand. So He later sent a worm along to chew on the vine, which caused it to wither and die. The sun came up the next day and Jonah, now without the vine, got scorched by the heat. Yet again he was outraged and wanted to die. And yet again he told the Lord as much.

Jonah just couldn't see it. He was angry. Angry enough to die. Again. Except this time it was about the vine. This is Jonah Moment #6: Still pouting and angry about the same thing only different. And again, God said to Jonah,“Have you any right to be angry about the vine?”

But this is where my heart really gets drawn in.

The last two verses in Jonah say, “But the Lord said, ‘You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?’” Jonah 4:10-11

This tells me something about God and His incredible, boundless love for people. God pursued Jonah just as He was pursuing Nineveh through Jonah. And love was at the root of His pursuit. God's love is unconditional and we, in our humanness, cannot always understand it.

God had created the Ninevites just as He had created Jonah and the Israelites. The Israelites knew the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Ninevites did not. God wanted to give them the opportunity to turn to Him just as He had done time and time again for Israel. And just as He had done for Jonah.

Much like a concerned father steps in to help and give guidance when one of his children is struggling, so does God the Father step in when we, or even someone who doesn't know Him, are cluelessly wondering off in the wrong direction. He wants to give us an opportunity to turn to Him; no matter what we've done.

In all of Jonah's "moments," I can see we're a lot like him - very human. But I also see through his account that God is a God of tremendous love and compassion; that He is a God of second chances. Don't know about you but I'm very glad about that one.

I see that He's a God who is truly concerned about people and He takes into account the hearts of mankind. I also see that God cannot tolerate ongoing sin. However, He will deal justly and righteously with people.

Whether you're a prophet on the run or a city immersed in wickedness, God will always do what is just and right.

~ Michelle

Copyright © 2010 Michelle Holderman

Jonah: A Veggietales Movie Music Video
"In the Belly of the Whale" by Newsboys

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Expect The Unexpected

We're all looking for something. We're all asking questions. We're all yearning to find our place.

So keep looking. Keep asking. Keep yearning.

Because sometimes we must do nothing more but nothing less than what we already are.

I'm not trying to make it sound more complicated than it is; quite the contrary. For it's in the looking, the asking and the yearning that we often discover the unexpected. And it's in the unexpected that we often find what we're really looking for. It's in the unexpected we often find the answers to our questions. It's in the unexpected we often find our own place.

We usually don't like such unforseen surprises. We mostly prefer what is anticipated, well-known and easily recognized. But we should embrace the unexpected for God frequently shows up there. He will work in unexpected people, in unexpected places, at unexpected times, in unexpected ways.

Abraham and Sarah. Aged and barren couple. A promise is made. God speaks. Sarah laughs. Isaac is born. A covenant is established. Unexpected.

Joshua. Mighty warrior. Ready for battle. But instruction came from the Lord. And with the blast of trumpets and loud war cries, the walls of Jericho crumbled to the ground. Unexpected.

David. The youngest and smallest in stature of all his brothers. But the Lord told Samuel, "He's the one." And David was anointed future King of Israel by the prophet. Unexpected.

Mary. A teenage virgin. Supernaturally impregnated. Birthed the Savior of the world. In a stable. Unexpected.

God will use what we cannot foresee to bring about His order and His will into the earth for our lives. Perhaps He'll wrap it in something remotely familiar, and He might even give us an expectable glimpse of some part of it, but it often comes about in unexpected means. And in this He is rightly glorified.

Expect the unexpected.


Copyright © 2010 Michelle Holderman
Photo: Flickr.com
 

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Some Things I've Learned Along The Way



the presence of God in your life is more valuable than any amount of money

having gratitude for the small things will keep you grounded

the laughter of children is energizing

a hot cuppa tea is as soothing to the soul as it is the body

if you're willing to look, there is beauty to be found within the messes of your life

the grass isn't always greener on the other side

dreaming is essential

prayer really does change things

opportunity does not always look appealing at first

family and true friends are to be cherished

God always has a plan

human perfection is an illusion

there really are some things worth fighting for

rest is necessary 

joy comes in many forms

the devil wants to exploit your wounds; God wants to heal them

words are powerful

hope has a tangible expression

genuineness speaks to the heart

sometimes the answers are right in front of you

love does cover a multitude of sins

we need each other to get where we are going; God has designed it this way

nothing is impossible if you truly believe

wireless digital technology is really cool

God is trustworthy

change is a sure and constant thing

people won't always understand

suffering and brokenness bind us to Christ in a way nothing else can

God knows our hearts better than we do

what you do matters


Copyright © 2010 Michelle Holderman

Friday, August 6, 2010

Broken Hallelujahs

“It’s not a cry you can hear at night; it’s not somebody who’s seen the light; it’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah." (Leonard Cohen)


Hallelujah is a song, a hymn, an exclamation of praise to God. The bigger the better, right? The more dignified the better. The stronger the better. Right?

Yet as I read the Bible, I find it to be the total opposite. The weaker the better. The harder the better. The costlier the better. The more broken the better. The truth is there’s just something about a broken hallelujah; about praise that costs you something.

As much as we don’t like talking about brokenness and suffering, we would not be the people we are without it. We would never grow spiritually. And we certainly would not seek God the way we do apart from it. We would rely on our own strength and abilities instead of His.

David said, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). Imagine if his “hallelujah” had been spotless and perfect. What if he had never struggled with Saul, Bathsheba, and Absalom? With himself? With God? What kind of hallelujahs would we be reading apart from David’s heart-wrenching anguish, humble confessions, and prayerful grief? Would Psalms still be Psalms? Would Solomon have been the king he became, the one who built the Temple, had his father not endured all that he did?

What if Jeremiah’s “hallelujah” had been concrete and full of certainty? What if he had never opened his mouth? What if he never lamented? Never prophesied? Never wept?

And Hannah? What about her broken hallelujah? It produced a son she so deeply longed for; a son whom God called a prophet, priest, and judge.

Or what about Job? What kind of hallelujah would he have had apart from all of his pain, suffering, and loss? Sounds half crazy but truthfully, what would the Book of Job read like had he never known such hardship? 

I know we all wanna skip over the bad stuff and go straight to the end where God gives Job double for his trouble, but we’d be overlooking a majorly important time in his life. The truth is Job’s whole escapade started when God gave Satan the green light to mess with him. Anything – except taking his life. What kind of spiritual drama was played out through Job? Perhaps Job’s terrible tragedy was, in fact, a battle over his personal hallelujah, broken or otherwise. And in that, God knew we would one day need someone to think about in our own suffering; someone who had lived it. Perhaps Job’s broken hallelujahs are but an echo of truth for us in twenty-first-century life.

Just suppose Paul never had that fleshly thorn. What kind of apostle would he have been without it? What kind of testimony would he have told apart from it? Would we still have, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in your weakness,” to hold onto in our times of difficulty had Paul not learned to boast with a most broken hallelujah?

And Habakkuk? His indignant complaints, his prayers, his fears and his uncertainties all pushed him toward one resignation: a broken hallelujah full of trust.



Think of Peter. He was so sure he would never deny Jesus yet he did exactly that. And when he did, his shiny, sparkly and glorious hallelujah suddenly changed into something deeply broken; something that God could take and powerfully use as only He can. Say something like building the Church and feeding the sheep.

Just read through the Bible and you’ll see that many who walked in the faith before us were full of broken hallelujahs. It was necessary. Because it is in brokenness that we become fluid enough for God to mold and shape us into who He created us to be. It’s in brokenness and suffering that character, perseverance, and hope are produced (Romans 5). And it is in brokenness that we come to the end of ourselves and learn to wade out deeper with dependence on Jesus. If you want to know that; you’ll have to be broken. It’s the only way.

Apart from trials and brokenness, we would never know true joy and victory. Apart from the painful and broken hallelujahs, we would never know true worship and praise. We would never know what it means to partake in the sufferings of Christ, and therefore, never know what it will mean to be overjoyed when His glory is revealed (1 Peter 4:12-13).

It’s when the wind has been knocked out of our sails; when we’re hanging on by a thin thread that our hallelujah suddenly changes and transforms into something more real and full of substance. And that’s because it has our pain, sweat and tears burned into it. It’s then God can really teach us.

If hallelujah is truly a praise to God, and it is, then a broken hallelujah is a sacrificial praise to Him. And that moves Him like nothing else can; for He sees what lies behind those anguished, troubled and fractured words. He hears the heart cries embedded deeply within them.

Honestly, anyone can offer a hallelujah when the load is light and the laughter comes easy. But pucker up and belt one out when the storm is raging; when it’s as dark as midnight. That, my friend, will cost you something. But it will also develop something deep within you. It will also draw you to God as never before; even if you go kicking and screaming along the way.

Sometimes the only thing you have to give God is a broken praise, but it matters. In the economy of God everything matters; including all of the broken hallelujahs.

~ Michelle

Michelle Holderman 
Copyright © 2010



"And even if it all went wrong, I’ll stand before the Lord of song with nothing on my tongue but, ‘Hallelujah!’” (Leonard Cohen)

Photo Sources: Photobucket.com and Flickr.com

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Moments In My August Day



Black Eyed Susies are abundant in our backyard.
Sat outside on the deck for awhile to take in their beauty.



Read in Psalms this morning.
A lot of solace.


Enjoyed a hot cuppa jasmine green tea this afternoon.
Very aromatic and delicious.



And listened to George Winston's Summer.
Very soothing.

Copyright © 2010 Michelle Holderman
All photos property of Michelle Holderman