Success is…Faithfulness

I’ve gotten through my main point and am wrapping up the gospel presentation, I’m finally ready to invite this audience full of college students to consider following Jesus for the first time.  I arrive at THE BIG ASK, the call to faith, praying silently that someone would just stand upAnyone?  Bueller?  The awkward silence is getting longer.

Fail?

I have been consistent in both discipline and loving attention.  I have displayed firmness in my stance and gentleness in my voice. I’ve done basically everything the Supernanny says and I am exhausted from it all. And right on cue, brother tackles sister again and sister talks back again and I have to go out to the laundry room so they don’t see mom’s crazy eyes.

Fail?

I had been feeling (discerning?  thinking?  imagining?) God’s direction to lead a prayer meeting at church.  Tons of people were going to come, of course!  Except it is usually just me and one of the pastors, I forgot how boring prayer meetings sound to other people (myself included a lot of times) and I feel silly and insecure and entirely ineffective.

Fail?

A missionary shared recently at church about friends in Syria who have seen 1 or 2 conversions over the last TWENTY years.

Fail?

Strong Christian parents praying endlessly for their adult children who have chosen to walk away from the faith.

Fail?

No.

No, I don’t think so.

In a culture of input = outcome and practice makes perfect, life lived in the upside down Kingdom can be frustrating and confusing.  While success SCREAMS AT ME to be measured in numbers and results and happy endings and ‘yes mommy’ and ‘yes Jesus’ I find myself trying to find hope in a world of ‘no mommy’ and ‘no Jesus’ and asking the question “Why bother?”.

Why bother with the discipline?

Why bother with invitations to faith?

Why bother cleaning the floors when they are just going to mess it again by evening time?

Why bother going?

Why bother giving?

Why bother sending?

Why bother praying?

Where are the results?  Where is the revival?   Where is the miraculous story I can write in my prayer letter?  Where is the assurance that my children are going to turn out okay?

Where is the success?

If I were asking all of these rhetorical-but-not-really questions to Jesus, which I guess I sort of am, I imagine he would come back at me with a question that made all of my questions seem a little empty.

Why are you worried about the outcomes, Kirsten?

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.  Luke 17

Scripture is clear that God cares A LOT about our faith.  What kept Anna the prophetess praying?  What brought David to face Goliath?  What brought Moses to confront Pharoh?  What brought Mary to the manger?  I don’t need to go on but I’m sure you could add a lot to this list or just read Hebrews 11 for a re-cap.

Being faithful is me acting out my faith in God and his ways – even though I have no idea what the outcome will look like.

And I am REALLY thankful that mustard seeds are so small.

Because sometimes my prayer meeting feels smallActually, sometimes my prayers themselves feel small.

Sometimes my kids’ progress looks small.
Sometimes conversion numbers are small. 
Sometimes the impact appears small.

If you have faith as small as a mustard seed…

When we are faithful in our giving, we have faith that God will take care of our own needs.

When we are faithful in speaking (and writing), we have faith that God will use our words.

When we are faithful in our parenting, we have faith that God will love and pursue our children in ways that we can’t imagine.

When we are faithful to mop the floors AGAIN, we have faith that God will lead us in strength and contentment to do the work set before us.

Jesus does not ask me to be successful, but he invites me to be full of faith minute by minute.

The mustard seed rests in my hand.  It feels insignificant and miniscule, like it might slip through my fingers at any moment.  So I best put that baby in the ground.  And then allow it to sprout.  And then allow it to grow.  And then allow the branches to spread wide and broad enough to create a home for birds and shade for tired souls.

Maybe I won’t get to see that seed again after it is sown into the brown dirt, but maybe I’ll get to be the one flying on a nice tire swing from that big, strong branch.  Either way, I will be faithful.
mustard tree“It was during your talk that I became a Christian” my friend told me, who had recently left atheism for faith in Jesus.

My failed call-to-faith.  But nobody stood up…

“I was just sitting there listening to all the words you were saying and all of a sudden, my heart changed”.

My failed call-to-faith.

My faithful call-to-faith.

I later had the privilege of praying through the Psalms weekly with this girl, of baptizing her, of helping her to lead her own small group, of praying for her during a trip to Kenya, of standing aside as she grows as a minister in her own right… of seeing a grand tree growing out of something that felt so small. 

Jesus help me to be faithful today. Jesus help me to go when you say go, stay when you say stay, give when you say give, pray when you say pray, speak when you say speak, be quiet when you say be quiet. I won’t always understand what you are doing, and I won’t always see ‘success’ as I think I should, but either way, I will be faithful

To read my other two posts on what God has been teaching my about my thoughts on success, click on these:
Success is…Laughter
Success is…Submission

Success is…Submission.

Ahhh…the loaded ‘s’ word.

***I’m gonna share a few thoughts on submission but it is nowhere near a comprehensive view on the issue.  This is a blog for crying out loud, read a book (or the bible!)  if you want more depth and breadth.  Also, we don’t live in a perfect world, and some may disagree with me on this for reasons I’ll never get, but in instances of injustice, oppression, abuse and sin I say don’t submit, run***

Okay, so I’m a passive, quiet, middle child, not even a smidgen of Type A in me and like most people I avoid confrontation and enjoy politeness.  I might even give the outward appearance that submission is easy, or natural, for me, yet inwardly I find myself being extremely opinionated about things and also easily offended.

And for good reason.

Because you may not know this about me, but I have really good ideas and I am smart and gifted and generally awesome.  You should ask for (and then heed, of course) my advice on how things should be done (and by “things” I mean ministries, meetings, marriages, families, work scenarios, decision making and life in general).

That’s me.  Sweet on the outside, obnoxious on the inside.

I think Jesus had a word or two for people like me…

But what is my choice, what is our choice, in these churches and communities and relationships and countries with so much disagreement, so much drama, so much controversy?

What is our choice when there is so much passion involved?

What am I supposed to do when I have a different scriptural interpretation?

What am I supposed to do when I am not the one in charge?

What am I supposed to do when I would rather do something different?

What am I supposed to do when I feel so strongly?

What am I supposed to do when I really, really, really want my own way?

Submit.

That’s the answer to all my questions.

As far as marriage is concerned, I don’t have anything very exciting or sexy to say, at least from a personal narrative. No feminist rant here, as promised.  Actually, submission in my marriage isn’t something I usually struggle with (or actually think about very often…oops?).

I respect Jon, he respects me.  I sacrifice for him, he sacrifices for me.  We trust one another’s discernment and support one another’s goals and ideas.

Jon is not domineering, he’s not a jerk, he values me, and he is really smart, so it is easy for me to get behind him when he says he wants to try a new parenting strategy or get carpet instead of laminate or move us to the middle of the desert to minister to college students, or not skip church just because I am a raging introvert...

Sure, honey. 

Easy Peasy.

But man oh man, when Jon was my team leader in InterVarsity, it was a different story.  For some reason I hated when he would tell me how to plan the leaders meetings I ran.

These are MY meetings, dear. 

But, he was kinda like my boss (okay fine, he was totally my boss), I didn’t have a choice, but I didn’t make it easy on him.

Speaking of Jon, I am having a hard time writing this.  So I just looked up from my computer and asked him, who is sitting across the couch from me, what he initially thinks of when he hears the word “submit”.

“I think of a horse, that needs to be tamed and obedient”

OH I SEE, SO YOU THINK I AM JUST SOME DUMB HORSE THAT BETTER DO WHATEVER YOU SAY, HUH YOU MACHO PIG???

Just kidding, I didn’t say that.  I’m a good wife, remember?

He was referencing Psalm 32, specifically how he tries to be submissive to God.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.

Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
or it will not stay near you.

Jon desires to be like this horse, quick to listen, quick to yield his own way to God’s way not needing ‘bit and bridle’, but knowing God so well – his law, his grace, his will, his word, his Spirit – that it is natural and best and easy to follow and obey the Master.

See I told you, it’s easy to be married to and submit to a guy who loves God like this.  I won the husband lottery, ladies.

When I asked myself the same question I initially thought of my friends’ wedding I recently attended where the first act they did as a married couple was to wash each others feet.  Him in a suit and tie, her in a wedding gown, kneeling down to wash the Flagstaff dirt off of each other.  Nobody wants to wash stinky feet, especially not in formal attire, but they did. Beautiful. 

Submission is service, submission is obedience, submission is sacrifice, submission is respect, submission is waiting, submission is giving, submission is love.

Submission is success, at least that is how God is helping me to re-frame my messed up view of success.

I wish I could say, so badly, that being successful was  just preaching a great message, or leading a fantastic meeting, or running a growing ministry, or being the smartest in the room or making Jon see it my way.

I wish I could say that being successful was merely appearing compliant and nice and polite.

But that is an incomplete, and faulty image of success for followers of Jesus.

Because if I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, I gain nothing.

Jesus save me from my obnoxious self.  Save me from being a noisy gong. 

Because these three things remain, Faith Hope and Love.

And because the greatest of these is Love.

 

Submission is a posture of the heart.

It is more important that I love, than get my own way.

It is more important that I love, than have the last word.

It is more important that I love, than be in charge.

When I am subject to my brothers and sisters, whether they are the one up front, or the one right next to me or the one stumbling behind,  I am loving them and allowing them to love me.

When I yield my own desires and my own opinion and my own will – no matter how much passion and conviction behind them-  to those of someone else; God is glorified and Jesus is made known; among His Bride and among The Lost.

Submission is the hardest thing I have to do every day, because it requires me to keep my mouth shut and be the listener instead of the talker, the student instead of the teacher, the servant instead of the master, the follower instead of the leader.

It requires me to be the one who loves, instead of the one who doesn’t.

And the greatest of these is love. 

recite-15680-1000533664-r3wbcu

Success is…Laughter

Last week I posted about my struggle with success but I have been wrestling with the idea of how “Christian” success should be defined for about a year, specifically how it relates to…wait for it…motherhood and ministry.

We all know how the ‘world’ defines success. The money, the cars, vacations, beauty, jobs, yadda yadda yadda.  Thankfully, us Christians know better than to pursue those things.  Right?

Right?

Well, if I am so different from the world, or at least supposed to be, tell me how can Jesus freaks like me define success in different areas of their lives?  Should Christians even be concerned with being ‘successful’ in the first place?

As I was praying about this I felt led to pursue, and share here, three different areas of ‘success’.

And the first one that I will share about today comes from Proverbs 31.

Okay, don’t stone me for this, but I try to avoid Proverbs 31 on this blog, and I would rather talk about pretty much any other part of scripture than this one. I hate to say that about any part of the bible but here is where I am coming from:

1) Women have used Proverbs 31 like a club to beat themselves up.

2) Women have used Proverbs 31 like a club to beat each other up

3)  I think it is often misread and misinterpreted and misapplied.

4) It is overused to the neglect of acknowledging that the rest of the bible is also applicable for us silly females.  Alright that is hyperbole, but think about it, is there any ONE place in scripture that men are FOREVER being compared to?  Or led to? Or preached on? Or pigeon-holed into?

I think it is beautiful, I think it is God-breathed and useful as I do ALL of the bible and thankfully there are plenty of women out there writing books on it so I don’t think my dearth of commentary on “The Proverbs 31 Woman” will be missed.

And with that I shall now fully lay out for you my CHRISTIAN FEMINIST RANT.

What?  That’s not what this blog is supposed to be about?  Oh yeah.  (sorry, I am feeling quite sassy today)

What was I saying?

Oh yeah, success.

I was praying about how to approach my Christian life and all my Christian activities, if not from a worldly-defined perspective of success, and I was truly surprised that laughter came into my head (and more surprised by a verse from Proverbs 31, God is both good and quick to humble me.)

Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.

Laughter. 

Alright let’s dig in.  So the woman described at the end of the book of Proverbs has had quite a busy day and is running on little sleep.  (I’m guessing, okay I’m hoping for her sake, that she had perhaps a nanny and a house-keeper and possibly a secretary and board of directors)

She, like most women I know, is juggling a lot of balls all at once.  At least two businesses (land purchasing/wine-making and garment-making/ sales), children, a husband, a home, and philanthropic activities to name a few.

Women fulfill so many roles in life, roles that are constantly changing with life-stages, career moves, family and faith journeys, and like the woman described at the end of the book of Proverbs, they are acting in several roles at once, trying to keep all these balls from crashing down around them.

These important roles like raising children, serving in church, loving spouses, and earning a living each requires daily activities like cooking and cleaning and, um, purchasing fields (okay, so if I truly commit to being the illusive “Proverbs 31 woman” does it promise to come with its own vineyard?  I could get excited about that.)

Can I just admit that when I am juggling more than two balls at once, I am tired and stressed, and I am sure as heck not laughing – in fact a lot of time I am crying.

She laughs at the days to come?

I work my tail off.  I make a mean loaf of bread.  My house is clean. I treat my husband like the respected man he is (good thing this particular man doesn’t mind a little bit of sass…).  I gave up on charm and beauty when I hit 30.  I am putting my masters degree to good use to help provide for my family.  And my kids help me with the “gets up while it is still night” part.

I got this.

Except, what is this illusive laughter being referred to?  It is almost mocking me in my frenzied state.

What if one of her kids gets sick?  What if her field burns to the ground?  What if she gets postpartum depression and she just can’t cope?  What if her kids turn out to be jerks regardless of how great of a mom she is?  What if no one buys her linen garments at the market?

WHY IS SHE LAUGHING??!!!

One of the oldest tricks in the parenting books, when my kids are upset or whiny or on a downward emo spiral towards full-on tantrum, is to get my serious face on and say:

“Don’t you DARE laugh.  I better not see you smile young lady.  Whatever you do, don’t laugh.  Uh oh – what’s this I see?” and just as quickly as a smile starts spreading through her precious little mouth a laugh is bursting forth and the moment is saved.

Laughter instead of crisis.

If my sweet baby girl was genuinely hurt, or perhaps truly committed to her cause for tantrum, this trick wouldn’t work.

Speaking of downward emo spirals, even now with less on my plate sometimes I want to scream, I want to quit, I want to panic, I want to worry and I want to do my favorite stereotyped (for good reason) female activity:  I want to control.

I want to control.

I want to manipulate.

I hold the reins of my life tightly in my hand, you better believe it.

I clench the reins and steer like my life depended on it, jerking and yanking this way and that.

I plan and I fret.

Because I am truly committed to the things I am doing.

Is it possible that this capable, strong, domestic, fierce, Godly, multi-tasking master described in Proverbs chapter 31 knew better?

Is it possible that she is holding the reins lightly?

Is it possible that she is seeking FIRST the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, knowing that all other things for her family and ministry will be taken care of as she uses the brain and resources that God has provided?

God created ME to be a capable, strong, domestic(ish), fierce, Godly and multi-tasking master, too.

But God knows that sometimes fields burn (and you know, bathrooms flood…)

And depression sinks in.

And kids rebel.

And economies flounder.

And people don’t show up.

And beauty fades.

And if I am holding the reins so tightly that I crumble to the floor like a bag of bones every time my circumstances suck it’s gonna be a rough road.

And worship will be grim.  And life will be grim.

She laughs at the days to come.

I am so thankful for all the roles I get to play in my life, what a gift from God to have such purpose and participation in His Kingdom work, but try as I might (and I do try, and actually I think in Proverbs 31 there is an element to being prepared and diligent, which also helps in being able to let go) I cannot control outcomes. 

I CANNOT define success as a fruitful vineyard or 10 garments sold at the market or 1st grade reading levels or people in the pews or a perfect mole, because some days fields are gonna burn and kids are gonna throw up and The Enemy is gonna wage his war.

But I can hold the reins lightly.

I can seek first the Kingdom of God today, and we’ll see about tomorrow, tomorrow. If I can do that, if I can love this life a little bit less than I love God, I think that is successful.

I can laugh at the days to come.

Can you?

**So the second thing, after laughter, that I will be exploring in Christian success is SUBMISSION. Oh yes I did, and there will be no Christian feminist rant, promise.  Stay tuned**

Both Hands

“That is NEVER going to be me” I say to myself while perusing some of my favorite blogs on Tuesday night.  “I am NEVER going to write a book.  I am NEVER going to speak at a conference.  No, not me.   I am going to sit on this couch and just peek through a crack in the window to occasionally catch a glimpse at what other women, real women, talented women are doing for Jesus while I remain here in my little, insignificant life in which I can’t even get my two children to behave”

Insert:  90’s Jennifer Knapp Christian-angst music and a bar of chocolate.

When Jon is working nights I love taking time to read the voices of other women who are passionate and gifted and funny and Godly but for some reason tonight I noticed a commonality amongst the several sites I visited that poked annoyingly at a painful place deep within. Not only are these women passionate and gifted and funny and Godly but they are also published.  And on speaking schedules.  And raising more kids than me.  And apparently living in a world in which there are more than 24 hours in each day.  (Oh, and gorgeous – because this really couldn’t be a legit female-comparison blog post without talking about body image, right?)

All of a sudden these writers, these women, with whom at one point I felt a sense of sisterhood, seemed far away and foreign and secluded in their own club that I wasn’t invited to.  The Successful Christian Woman’s Club.  Or something.

Me?  I am a card carrying member of the  “all-alone-in-my-pajamas-by-8:30-sitting-on-a-couch-surfing-the-internet-and-crying-while-listening-to-Jennifer Knapp-doing-nothing-of-value-with-my-life -club”.  My club doesn’t even have a coherent name.  Waaaahhhh.

For a lot of my adult years, when telling Jesus that he can have my life what I mean, at least partially, is Hey Lord take diligent notes while I give you my ideas on how this suits me best.  Thanks.

In the past this has been holding on to sin with one hand while trying to hold on to Jesus with the other.

Then it was holding on to security blankets with one hand, and to Jesus with the other.

Lately it has been holding on to success with one hand, and to Jesus with the other.

But for all of my hand-holding, I just can’t see success in my life, at least not on this Tuesday night (alright, it’s entirely possible that a flooded bathroom, a surprise pimple and some good old fashioned hormones were at play here. It’s okay.  Jesus meets me on the mountain top, and he pulls me out of the pit, amen?)

On this particular Tuesday night I just can’t see what I think I should see from my 32 years.

I can, however, see the many accomplishments and talents of other women.

I can feel my two year old hitting me all day.

I can see my three year old acting like an angry teenager.

I can remember that girl I didn’t disciple well.

I can read all the words I wish I had written, but in fact they belong to someone else.

I can inherit the legacy of women before me, but sometimes my choices look so different from theirs that I wonder what those that come after me will be left with.

I know what I see, and what I don’t see.

God what do you see?

As I turned down my music and exhaled all my pride and insecurity for the Lord to gather up and make new and make holy and make light I prayed for wisdom and vision.

God, what do you see?

What do you feel? What do you hear?  What do you have for me to write?  What do you have for me to inherit?  What do you have for me to pass on?

He answered all my questions, and spoke to my need for success and affirmation, in this way: by tenderly taking my clenched fist and, one finger at a time, carefully unwrapping it from that heavy suitcase (full of book deals and perfectly groomed children) I have been lugging around.

Just as I couldn’t make it work holding on to sin with my left, and Jesus with my right – nor can I hold on to anything, success included, while fully following Jesus.

The Lord wants both of my hands clinging to his robe for healing.  The Lord wants both my hands raised high in worship.  King Jesus wants both of my hands open, palms up, so that I might receive the bread he has for me to feast on.