Posted in Meditations & Meanderings, Thoughts from Life

Questions Without Answers

“Question for you,” my husband or I will say to one another. Or it may even come from someone else. A child. A parent. A friend. A church member.

“Answer for you,” comes the inevitable response. At least, we hope there’s an answer.

There’s something incredibly satisfying about being confident in our ability to answer a question. It means we’re knowledgeable about something (always a confidence booster), able to make a decision (extremely edifying for those of us who struggle to make decisions), or able to be of help to someone (Who doesn’t enjoy that?).

Of course, when we are the ones with the questions, we also want the answers to be forthcoming. Typically when I ask a question of my husband or children or anyone else, I might not need an answer immediately. But I definitely want them to ponder, evaluate, consider, research, explore, or whatever and get back with me at some point. We ask questions because, ultimately, we want answers.

And this is where spiritual growth gets tricky. Because sometimes we ask questions that only God can answer. And many times it feels that He is a little vague or dodgy with the answer.

I can’t read Scripture without clearly seeing the number of times God’s clear answers were delayed or obscured in some way. And when He was clear and quick, it was often in discipline, not in response to the heart cries of a truly searching servant. From Job to Abraham to Joseph to the prophets to the disciples to Paul, there is incident after incident of God requiring His servants to wait. To trust. To learn slowly.

This truth is clear in my own life as well. I look at what I know now and see how much of it has come, not from beautiful moments of quick illumination, but from long and hard study. From waiting. From asking question after question after question, layering one on top of the other until I don’t really remember where I started—I just know that the search never seems to end.

Reading what I just wrote makes the process seem so very daunting. Completely overwhelming. And not at all reassuring. Can we really be motivated to ask if one request seems to pile into many? If the answers never seem clear and forthcoming?

Yes. Yes, we can. And here’s why. First, Jesus told us to ask. (See Matthew 7 or Luke 11. Or go back even further to see God’s instruction to Solomon in 1 Kings 3.) That’s reason enough.

But there’s more. If we really stop and look both through Scripture and our own lives, we see that there is so much more to God’s provision and work in us than just straightforward answers. He works truth. He works understanding. He works growth. He works His will. He works Himself into our lives. And through the process, though it may take so much longer than we care to endure, we do receive those answers. But when they come, they come with fullness of life and with meaning and with purpose instead of just as simple answers to questions. They answer much more than we could ever have imagined.

More often than not, my journal holds questions without answers. The beginning of yet another search, even as I am still in the middle of older searches. Even as I continue to journal through previous questions that have only received partial answers. Clues lead me to the next step, but the old questions seem unending. The new questions seem unanswerable.

But, I have learned to go ahead and ask them. To go ahead and write down the questions that I know will not be answered today. Or tomorrow. Probably even this year. Maybe even this decade. But they still must be asked. Because the journey to the answer means more than the answer itself. The journey points me to Christ. The ultimate Answer. And the more I ask, the more I get to know Him.

Seems like incredible motivation to me.

Posted in Faith Nuggets, Meditations & Meanderings

Ministry of the Spirit

Now if the ministry that brought death, chiseled in letters on stones, came with glory, so that the Israelites were not able to gaze steadily at Moses’s face because of its glory, which was set aside, how will the ministry of the Spirit not be more glorious? – 2 Corinthians 3:7-8

I often look at the Old Testament and say, “What if we could experience that.” They had waters parted and dead raised to life and old women bearing children. Or perhaps the Gospels. Jesus’ physical presence. After all, I’m a tangible, visual person. Would it not be more glorious, more wonderful, to be in His physical presence?

Paul says no.

According to Paul, nothing this side of heaven is more glorious than what we have now…the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Read what else Paul has to say about this glory…

For if the ministry that brought condemnation had glory, the ministry that brings righteousness overflows with even more glory. In fact, what had been glorious is not glorious now by comparison because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was set aside was glorious, what endures will be even more glorious.
Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness. We are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from gazing steadily until the end of the glory of what was being set aside, but their minds were hardened. For to this day, at the reading of the old covenant, the same veil remains; it is not lifted, because it is set aside only in Christ. Yet still today, whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their hearts, but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:9-17

We live under “the ministry that brings righteousness,” the most profound ministry possible. Righteousness! You and I are righteous because of this ministry of the Spirit! Not because of temporary sacrifices laid out by a stone-chiseled law, but because a once-for-all blood sacrifice sealed our victory over death and paved the way for the presence of the Spirit. That ministry. Is that not glorious?

But, Paul doesn’t stop there. He goes on to say that we will “act with great boldness.” Aha. There’s the kicker.

We act.

Do I act? Do you act? Do we truly live as though we are in the age of the glorious ministry of the Spirit? Or do we wish for the old, imperfect ministry of the law? Do we walk as if we have received the perfection of fulfilled righteousness? Or do we stayed weighed down as though trapped in imperfection?

I won’t deny that we are still encumbered by this world. It’s a hard world. And we long for the purity of heaven. But, we don’t have to wait for the perfection of righteousness. We don’t have to wait for the fulfillment of the ministry of the Spirit. We get those right here. Right now.

Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. The ministry of the Spirit.

Will we act on it?

Posted in Faith Nuggets, Meditations & Meanderings, Thoughts from Scripture

A Real Passion

Several months ago, I was looking for an image to add to a blog post when I came upon this precious image of a child reading an old, battered Bible. Although the image did not fit the post I was preparing to publish, I couldn’t help but save the picture anyway. It was beautiful, and I wanted to use it someday.

There are so many reasons this image struck me. The child with his scrunched up little forehead trying to read the words in front of him (probably still in Isaiah, based on the way the pages are slightly visible). The wear and tear on the paper cover. The way the pages are crisp despite their yellowing, indicating that this Bible is more old than worn. So many little details releasing so many thoughts in my heart and mind.

Above all of these thoughts, though, rose a passion. I never fail to feel deep excitement when I see someone connecting with the Word of God, whether it’s a small child trying to decipher the words of that big book lying around the house or an adult seeing an old truth with new eyes. Excitement abounds when my children share something new they have discovered in Scripture. Delight overflows when the girls in my Sunday school class ask questions about what they’ve read in the Bible. Joy fills my heart when I get to be a part of a Bible study where others truly want to engage and dig and explore and learn and grow.

That simple picture reminded me of that excitement and that joy.

But here’s the thing: our natural inclination is not to seek out those opportunities for engagement. We may say we have a passion for Scripture and that we want others to engage as well. But, it’s too easy to fall into phases of life when our passion looks a little too much like the Bible in the picture. Worn, yes, but not from loving use. Instead, simply worn from being around for a while. Familiar because of its presence, not because we’ve plumbed its depths. We engage when the opportunity presents itself, much like this Bible is read when a child just happens to pick it up, open it to the middle, and try to decipher the good old King James translation of what the prophets had to say.

That’s not how I want my passion to look.

If I say I love the Word of God, I have to act on it. I have to read it. And, I do. I started the habit as a child. I’ve been more diligent about it in some seasons than in others, and there are times I still struggle with the discipline of being truly attentive to what I’m reading each morning. But, I know it’s worth it to work on that discipline. To be diligent. To make an effort to wear my Bibles out.

My passion to see others connect with God’s Word has to be just as intentional. It has to be active. I can’t just plan to happen upon it now and then. Instead, I have to actively engage my children in discussion about what they read. I have to structure Sunday school in a way that will encourage my students to ask questions. I have to seek out opportunities to study Scripture with fellow believers.

A passion with worn edges but no real internal use is a false passion. It’s a sweet picture that is completely posed. But God knows the truth. He sees the little clues that reveal my lack of intentionality. And, because He is Truth, He will work to reveal those clues until I recognize that it’s time to get real.

Guess what. It’s time to get real.

Posted in Faith Nuggets, Thoughts from Life

Unharried

It was a lovely Saturday morning. The chilly breeze blowing in through open windows offered a delicious contrast to the humid, oppressive heat that is typical of the last days of an Arkansas summer. The sound of rain against leaves and the roof provided one of my favorite auditory backdrops, and I wanted nothing more than to just sit there and soak up the beauty. Although my ultimate preference would have been to find a covered porch and a good book to enjoy on that delightful day, I found myself enjoying even the prospect of tackling a work day with the coolness and sounds of rain flooding the “office.”

Although Saturdays aren’t normal, routine work days in the Hibbard household, they are still full. Some are filled with outside obligations. Those that aren’t still produce full lists. School prep for the new week. Finishing up any remaining work hours from the previous week. Fitting in any yard or housework that needs to be done. Working in any ministry and writing tasks that didn’t fit naturally into the week before. It’s the catch-all day, and that can sometimes make Saturday even more intense that a typical work day! Unfortunately, that can leave me somewhat harried as I head into Sunday and launch a brand new week.

It’s funny how God embraces me on all sides with lessons He wants me to learn, and one of the lessons He started teaching me last year (and is still working into my heart and mind) is connected to that harried feeling. This lesson is a natural follow-through to what He’s been teaching me about Sabbath rest for years now. It’s the realization that there is no true rest one day a week if I live the rest of the week in a state of maxed-out rush. I’ve long known this reality, but I haven’t truly known what to do about it. We live in such a rush-rush world. Full investment. Full engagement. Full planners. Full lives. That’s our culture. How do we keep our commitments, maintain productivity at work, and truly engage this lost world if we slow down at all? Is that not laziness? Sloth? Unproductivity? The opposite of all that is good and exemplary?

I still don’t really have an answer to that question, although I learned much through my studies of James and 1 & 2 Peter last year. And, books I’ve already mentioned like An Unhurried Life and Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking have helped me consider practical aspects of the changes that need to be made in my life.

But, in all honesty, I recall even now how that cool, rainy morning enabled me to get a glimpse, for the first time, of what it looks and feels like to tackle a full day with an unhurried, unharried mentality. No less work. No fewer tasks. But a mind of calmness and peace.

The realization is rather convicting. I was incredibly relaxed and peaceful on that delightful fall morning because the weather and the physical conditions of the day met my preferences. It was easy that day to be thankful for my office with many windows (a room which now serves as my daughters’ bedroom). It was easy to let the cool air wrap around me and chill me and leave me feeling wonderfully energized for the tasks ahead. But what about when the heat returned? Or when the days turned cold and cloudy with no nourishment of sweet rain or even beautiful snow? When being unharried and unhurried would require more work? That’s where I am hit hard with the realization that I do not submit myself fully to the rest and peace of my Savior. In sinfulness, I attach rest to a specific set of circumstances. Hebrews 4 tells me Christ Himself is to be my rest. The guilt of my idolatry makes plain why I cannot seem to escape a harried life, even with all I’ve learned about Sabbath rest – I connect rest to environment, not Christ.

I wish I could say that I can flipped a switch and automatically took the revelation of that beautiful Saturday into each new week, immediately implementing an unhurried, unharried approach. But, that’s not the way growth works. I still have to actively learn how to live this out – yes, even months later, I’m still working on it! How to take the ease of a perfect day’s peace and rest and choose to engage in it when it’s not so easy. That day, though, was a lightbulb moment. A day when I recognized the conviction and training of the Holy Spirit. An Ebenezer I can look back on and remember as I move forward into a life of increasing rest and peace, as I am doing even now.

Oh, precious Lord, may I learn the lesson diligently, no matter how long it takes!

Posted in Thoughts from Scripture

Psalm 2

Last week, I mentioned how persistence opened up beauty and wisdom in Psalm 2 that I’d never seen before. I hinted at the light that switched on in my mind, but I didn’t go into details. This week, I want to share just a glimpse – just a taste of what I saw in those verses and what has spurred me on as I’ve continue to work methodically through Psalms.

Throughout the week, I acknowledged the angst found in Ps 2:1-3. This is a hymn of frustration about the state of the world – one that rings with familiar tones as we compare it to those our hearts tend to sing today, over three thousand years later. Nations still rage and kings and rulers still plot in vain. The world is a mess, and we have to deal with it. Even so, we can chuckle when we get to verse four and see the Almighty King of kings laughing at them. He mocks their supposed wisdom and planning and scheming. He reminds them that they’re not really in charge like they think they are. And He promises to send His Son to rule over them.

These observations were nothing new to me – I’ve noticed them every time I’ve read this psalm over the years. But as I wrapped up this particular week of reading and rereading, it was as if blinders fell off, revealing a new layer of beauty. I suddenly saw God’s response in verses 4-6 as a comfort instead of simply a statement of His mockery. How can such things be comforting? Well, when looking at this passage in light of the whole of Scripture – in light of the fulfillment of the promise to grant the nations as an inheritance to the Son – I remember that I belong to this Lord who sits in the heavens. I may be under the temporary authority of worldly rulers, but the King of kings, Lord of lords, and Ruler of rulers truly knows me. I am not relevant to His power. I am not critical to the accomplishment of His will. He works through me simply because He chooses to, not because He needs to. I may not be relevant to His success, but I’m relevant to Him and included in His plan.

I’m in awe. Not at all because any of this is about me, but because I am so very often distracted by those insignificant, temporary rulers of this world. Those who will ultimately be “shatter[ed] like earthenware.”

The greatest beauty is revealed in the final verses.

Now therefore, O kings, show discernment;
Take warning, O judges of the earth.
Worship the Lord with reverence
And rejoice with trembling.
Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way,
For His wrath may soon be kindled.
How blessed are all who take refuge in Him! (Ps 2: 10-12)

Is that not a perfect prayer for those in authority? Is it not a powerful way to lift up our rulers, asking that the Ruler over them all open their hearts to help them show discernment, take warning, worship Him, rejoice, and do homage? Should it not be my heart’s cry that they be saved rather than perish? That they be blessed rather than falling to His wrath?

Yet in my distraction, I rarely have prayed in such a way for the temporary rulers of this world. I’ve been frustrated by them, filled with angst because of them, and discouraged by them. My prayers have been more imprecatory than a cry for their salvation.

After progressing from a point of limited understanding to a sense of great comfort, my final awareness was one of deep conviction regarding my own sin of neglect and need for change.

This is what God’s Word accomplishes in us. It shows us the truth about the world in which we live. It shows us the truth about ourselves – both in comfort and in conviction. But, above all, it continually teaches us more about who God is: the one who is never thwarted by the temporary rulers of this world. It draws us to respond, not because of what we learn about this world or ourselves, but because of what we learn about Him.

Posted in Faith Nuggets, Meditations & Meanderings

The Persistence of Listening

I’ve long claimed to love the Psalms. And I do. Well, some of them, at least.

When I say that I love to read Psalms, the truth is that I love to read the beautiful ones. The passages that overwhelm my passions and help me see the glory of God so much more clearly. The passages that restart my stilted prayer life. Those beautiful poems that reflect my angst and remind me to move on to praise. Yes, I love those portions of Psalms.

Toward the end of 2018, I started a new, daily exploration of Psalms. But this time, I don’t intend to read a passage every day until I’m done. This time, my intention is to spend a week on each psalm, simply reading it for the first couple of days, then spending the remainder of each week exploring the deeper nuances of the psalm.

Psalm 1 was lovely, as always. I never tire of the exploration of the “tree firmly planted by streams of water,” and I thoroughly enjoyed spending a week relishing the beauty of this psalm. But then it was time to move on to Psalm 2. And Psalm 2, on the surface, just doesn’t have quite the ring of Psalm 1. It’s good. It’s powerful. But, it’s not quite a personally nourishing as the first entry in the book. At least, on the surface.

On the first day of that week, I read Psalm 2 with enthusiasm, riding the excitement of the previous week. Day 2 was much less enthusiastic. By day 3, I was tempted to go ahead and move on. Was a full week really necessary? I hadn’t made a commitment to anyone – just created a plan for myself. Why must I stick to a week? After all, it would take a long time to process through the entirety of Psalms at that pace.

But I stuck with it. I kept pouring through Psalm 2 with diligence. And finally, at the end of the week, the diligence paid off.

Somehow, a light switched on in my head and heart, and I began to see nourishment and relevance and power in Psalm 2 – things I’d never noticed before.

Now I cannot read Psalm 2 without being deeply moved. Now each word seems obvious in its passion and relevance. It seems hard to believe that it took days of reading and rereading to see this depth. But, that is the nature of our hearts. Our minds. Our spirits. Often they are closed to even the most obvious until we take the time to intentionally listen.

But we don’t listen. We rush. We move quickly. We speed through. We pick up and meditate on what we automatically love, because it takes little effort. But, we neglect to ponder what doesn’t resonate immediately, because it takes too much energy. I’m so guilty of this!

Oh, to take the time. Oh to ponder. Oh to be willing to stop rushing through the glories of Scripture. Oh to cease blocking out the work of the Spirit simply because we don’t see immediately. Oh to stop refusing to sit in the quiet. Oh to truly learn persistence, even when silence precedes it.

Because that, my friend, is what makes passages like Psalm 2 come to life. Will you join me in the persistence of listening?

Posted in Meditations & Meanderings, Thoughts from Life

Happy New Year!

Okay, so maybe I’m about a week late on that new year greeting. But, there is a point, even to that.

I love fresh starts. And I love succeeding in my fresh starts. But, all too often I miss them. For instance, I had intentions for welcoming 2019. I had productivity plans and writing plans and decluttering plans. But, as often happens, so much ended up getting crammed into the days off school that I didn’t get around to the “extra” plans. It was all I could do to make sure I got enough work hours in (and I didn’t always succeed even at that) and tackled the necessities. I wanted to start the new year ahead of the game. Blog posts ready to publish. Projects ready to go. Stuff done. Instead, I accomplished what had to be done, leaving the whole hopeful list still waiting for me.

So now, here I am, a week into the new year, launching into a Monday after a night of very little sleep, carrying a few basic tasks over from last week and seeing none of my “get ahead” hopes accomplished.

With my personality, that’s not a very encouraging fresh start.

Over the past few years, though, I’ve been trying to change my mentality about fresh starts. Several years ago, my boss wrote an article entitled “Tomorrow is Always Fresh,” combating the lie that we have to wait until a traditional “fresh start” day to reorient ourselves after our plan or routine falls apart. Why do we have to wait until Monday? Or the first of the month? Or the beginning of a new year? Why not tomorrow?

This is my tomorrow.

So, I didn’t start the new year as I’d hoped. So, I don’t have a writing plan or a new schedule or a head start. So, I have to just dive in and work on it all as I’m processing through a normal week. If I let all of that stop me, I’ll never truly enjoy fresh starts. I’ll always be waiting for that next Monday. That next first of the month. That next first of the year. That day upon which I hang hopes that will not materialize. Something will always stand in the way. Something will keep me behind. Something will always need to be caught up.

This morning, I choose to start fresh right here, right now. Yes, it’s a Monday, but the fresh start is not because it’s Monday. The fresh start is because it’s today. Because I have an opportunity. So, I’m going to take it.

And guess what? Tomorrow will be fresh as well. So if things fall apart as today moves on, I’ll get to start again tomorrow.

So, Happy New Year! No matter what your past week has produced, may today be a fresh start for you as well.