FILLING SPACE

 

By Lisa Huddleston

“You have not handed me over to the enemy but have set my feet in a spacious place” (Psalm 31:8).

It amazes me how God directs me to the right books at the right time—but I know he does.  And Eugene Peterson’s, The Pastor, is the “just right book” for me right now in many ways.  Of course, I love Peterson’s words, his brushstrokes that always manage to shape the faint images that float in my mind.  He lets me know that I am not alone in my thoughts, and for that sense of camaraderie, I find peace in his words.  But even more than the art of his expressions is the timeliness of his topics.  God sent me this book right now because I have been pondering many of the same ideas over which Peterson hovers.  Things like “What makes a church Church?”  “What does it mean to be a part of the Body of Christ?  “How does one recognize the voice of God in his life?”  “When can one say that he has been or is being called?”  Fuzzy things like that.  Things without clear cut definitions or proper edges around them.  The Pastor lets me breathe in the ambiguity and gives me room to explore my thoughts. 

And one of these thoughts is currently taking precedence over the others.  It is the idea of leaving space for God to be.  In the chapter called, “Bezalel,” Peterson writes about the work of the artist in the church.  He hearkens back to the Exodus and the man who was called to the role of giving form to the tabernacle that Yahweh painstakingly described to Moses.  Peterson calls it “using the sensory (material, sound, texture) to give access to mystery, to the ‘behind the scenes’ of our ordinary lives—to see, hear, touch, taste, and smell the vast world of beauty that inhabits, underlies, and permeates space … The Holy” (p. 176).  The centerpiece of Bezalel’s work was the ark of the covenant, and in the center of that center was the mercy seat—the throne of Yahweh.  But, as Peterson writes, “the mercy seat was not a seat at all.  It was empty space, a void, an emptiness framed by the angel wings that marked the presence of the enthroned God, Yahweh” (p. 185).  The space between the cherubim was room for God—a place for I AM to dwell. 

That thought triggered another as I considered the space that Bezalel left for God—or rather that God designed for himself.  Did I have a space like it within me?  Now that I am the temple for I AM, is the space for him just as real as it was between the wings of the ark of the covenant.  A space for I AM.  Room for my God and his being.  I know it sounds weird, but how was the I AM-ness of Yahweh finding room for expression in me?  And did this constitute a call?

I hope you can go with me on this, or that you are willing to try, but what do we say when we are asked what we do?  We answer, “I am a teacher.”  Or “I am a doctor.”  Or “I am an artist.”  We do not say “We do teaching or doctoring or art” but rather we identify what we are.  Is that at best the I AM filling his space in us?  It may be so. 

And then I considered that space.  Was I keeping it for him?  Was it a holy space only to be filled by I AM thoughts and presence and activities—and was there enough room for him in me?  Was I letting false identities eat away at his space?  A little clutter here and small pile there?  Good things that filled my days and made me look important or made me more acceptable—but took up room for I AM and therefore diminished my calling?

And the thought of “spacious place” sent me to his word.  To a Psalm I love and a promise I hope is as real for me as it was for David.  David writes that God is his “rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me … for the sake of your name lead and guide me” (Ps. 31: 2-3).  For the sake of I AM in him, David begged God to direct his path.  He trusted in God only and spurned any substitutions (false idols) that might lead others astray—David rejoiced in God’s love and was made glad in God’s rescue!  He let God set his feet in a spacious place, and trusted God to do his best with it.  David was God’s anointed king and a man after God’s own heart.

I hope you have gotten here with me.  To that place in the center of the center—in the Holy of Holies.  The space between the wings and the mercy seat of I AM.  Do you see the emptiness made for God?  Is it real in you as it was for Bezalel and for David?  Is it cleared of clutter and spaciously free for God to fill?  Come, Lord Jesus, come.  Let us be your own.  Amen.

UNDER HIS WINGS

 

By Lisa Huddleston

“The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” (Ruth 2:12)

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem … How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (Luke 13:34)

As often is the case, several events have taken place within the last week or so that seem inextricably tied to one another—at least in my mind.  It may be nothing more than coincidence, but I prefer to think that God is trying to show me something important and believe it’s worth exploring and connecting the dots in order to discover what that message may be. 

While it may seem odd to discuss wings and cats together on the same page, the first of these stories concerns my little family of porch cats.  This tight little bundle of three appeared early in the fall, and mama and kittens have made a happy home on my back porch since then.  We have provided them a cozy “Cuddle Hut” complete with a kitty heating pad for the winter and all the food they can eat.  No wonder they’ve stayed.  But try as I may, those cats will not let me love on them.  They run to their dish when I approach and then scatter if they see that I’m not bringing food.  Only one of the three will even give a hint of a purr when I scratch his little head.  What a bunch of furry ingrates!  Yet, it’s quite obvious they have no intention of leaving, and we have come to an agreement of sorts.  We can feed them and care for them, but they will never run to us to have their ears scratched or let us know in any way that they return our affection.  It’s just the way it is, and I can like it or lump it. 

The next situation that I have pondered this week is much more serious, but it really made me think along the same terms.  A friend of mine has a heart for foster children and has brought many of the kids into his family—adopting some and allowing others to pass through as they needed to.  Recently, despite his and his wife’s heartfelt efforts, they were forced to ask that a foster child be placed in a new situation.  It was painful to know that no matter how much love they extended, they could not force this teenager to accept what they offered—a home, a place of refuge, and room under their wings.  My heart ached for my friend.

And I have had other occasions this week to consider this idea, to wonder how I could love someone who only wanted to be left alone to make his own choices.  I won’t go into all the details, but it hurts to feel rejected.  I even feel wounded by the silly cats so you know I have trouble dealing with being pushed away by people.  But I know that my responsibility is to love–period.  I have to leave the rest up to others.  Sometimes it may be that the love I offer is misunderstood as my trying to take away freedom or maybe it is seen as an attempt to control.  It’s even possible in this broken world to see an offer of love as just one more opportunity to feel disappointment and pain.  I guess it really is a complicated matter—loving and being loved.

Again, I am sure it was no coincidence that as I taught yesterday’s Bible study, I was surprised to see words in the book of Ruth reminding me that God also wants to take me under his wings.  I had not meant to pay attention to them, but as I read them not once but twice (again when Ruth asks Boaz to spread his wing over her), I remembered that God knows just how I feel.  He also offers love that is rejected.  God so loved the world!  The whole world.  How many of those he has loved have spurned his gift?  Sadly, they are many.  Yet, still he holds out his hands to the world.  Longing to pull us close.  Longing to cover us with his wings of refuge.  But they would not!  And, sometimes, even I will not.  And he grieves. 

I am glad to have heard his call this week.  As I hurt over my own feelings of rejection, he drew me near.  He showed me how much he loves me—even when I turn away.  He reminded me that he wants me to love as I have been loved.  And I hear him.  From those ingrates on the porch to people who don’t yet know what love means, I choose to offer love.  It’s the least and the most I can do …  as I listen to his heartbeat from under the cover of his wing.

THORNS AND OTHER MESSENGERS OF SATAN

 

By Lisa Huddleston

“But if you don’t drive out the inhabitants of the land before you, those you allow to remain will become thorns in your eyes and in your sides …” (Numbers 33:55).

“They will be thorns in your sides, and their gods will be a trap to you” (Judges 2:3).

“Therefore, so that I would not exalt myself, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to torment me so I would not exalt myself” (2 Corinthians 12:7).

Since January 1st, I have been privileged to lead a group of women as we read through the Bible together and meet weekly to discuss what we’ve read.  It is an honor as well as a huge responsibility.  Each week I feel the weight of it as I do my best to prepare for our meeting by drawing in other resources, choosing points of discussion, or researching some difficult texts.  My goal is to foster a love for God’s word  and to get myself out of the way of His purpose.  However, the second part of this goal is sometimes hard to accomplish.

Last night was one of those times.  It had been a long day, and I was feeling the wear and tear.  As I was barely into the lesson, I knew I wasn’t ready.  Maybe I wasn’t prayed up.  Maybe it really was just a long day.  Or, just maybe, my old enemy was making a sneak attack when I wasn’t looking.  Sadly, I believe that was the case.  My guard was down, and Satan saw his chance.

I have struggled with anxiety for many years, and for many years, I have allowed it to win.  I haven’t accepted opportunities that I wanted to because I feared the panic and insecurity that would often accompany these occasions.   As I stood or sat before a group with all eyes on me, the panic would randomly rear up, stealing my breath away and causing me to feel the shame of once again giving into fear.  I figured my best option was to avoid the possibility by avoiding teaching or facilitating.  I was wrong.

As I’ve read through the Old Testament this time, I have noticed an interesting phrase—one that reappears in the letters of Paul.  In Numbers and again in Judges, the people of Israel were warned against allowing other nations to remain in their midst.  They were commanded to destroy all of the inhabitants of the Promised Land, but they failed to do so on many occasions.  They bent the rules here.  They made exceptions there.  And before they knew it, the land was peppered with idolaters—“thorns in their sides” that blinded them in their relationship with the Lord and ensnared them with other gods.

As I read the words, “thorns in your sides,” I thought of Paul.  This was the verse most familiar to me, but now I wondered what Paul had meant about his “thorn in the flesh.”  What had caused him to choose these words?  The thorns in these other verses were there because of the Israelites own failures to obey God’s instructions.  Was this the case for Paul?  Was it something he had brought upon himself?  I wondered. 

No one really knows what Paul’s thorn was.  All we know is that it was something that caused him to recognize his own weakness and that he called it a gift given to him to keep him from exalting himself, from the idolatry of self-worship.  Although his “thorn” was a “messenger of Satan,” it was backward blessing.  Because his thorn forced him to see his weakness, Paul learned that God’s grace was sufficient and that the Lord’s power would be perfected through this very weakness.  Unbelievably, Paul wrote that ultimately his weakness pleased him because it pointed to the working of Christ in his life.

How did that happen?  How did Paul’s thorn become a blessing?  Did he ever really beat it?  I think the answer is yes and no.  I doubt that Paul ever lost his thorn.  It remained throughout his ministry as a reminder; however, did Paul let it beat him?  No!  He didn’t let it shame him into quitting.  He didn’t use it as an excuse when faced with difficulties.  Rather he let God use it for good—just as God used those other nations to cause Israel to return to him.

Yes, the message is clear as is the choice I face.  I could retreat once again from situations that cause me to choke on my own words or I can say with Paul, “When I am weak, then I am strong!”   I see the choice.  I can’t say I’m there yet; but, at least I am looking in the right direction thankful for the grace that is always sufficient even for me.

HEARING BETWEEN THE LINES

 

By Lisa Huddleston

 “And you shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king.  Only its spoil and its livestock you shall take as plunder for yourselves” (Joshua 8:2).

It was a good morning.  I woke a little later than usual and had time to sip my coffee at a leisurely pace while I read my Bible and pondered the account of the Israelites as God led them into the Promised Land.  It was a curious story, and I couldn’t help noting some things that seemed odd to me.  For example, in one battle, the Lord’s instructions were to “keep yourselves from the things devoted to destruction”—only the silver, gold, bronze and iron vessels were to be kept for the treasury of the Lord (Josh. 6:18-19).  They were instructed to destroy everything else.  Achan promptly broke faith with God by keeping some of the devoted items for himself, and he and his entire family were stoned for his rebellious act.  It saddened me to think of women and children suffering for Achan’s sin.  Then in the very next words, the Lord said that the people could keep “spoil and livestock” in their upcoming defeat of Ai.  What?  Didn’t Achan’s whole family just die for doing that very thing?  I have to admit, I felt a little annoyed by the seeming inconsistency.  Why didn’t God just stick to the plans so they could know what was allowed and what was not?  If he was going to change the rules, why did Achan have to die?  I knit my brows, pursed my lips, and closed my Bible.  Check.

The morning was passing and there was work to do, so I got dressed for the day and headed into my office to await a call from a coaching client.  We were scheduled to work on a High Performance Pattern—a longer than typical discussion requiring some pretty intense listening—so my thoughts were quickly refocused on the here and now with the Israelites out of sight and out of mind.  As the call progressed, I was caught up in my client’s stories.  God’s hand was so clearly evident in this person’s life that I felt privileged to be a hearer and a listening witness to the freedom of God to lead where and how he chooses.  As I hung up the phone, I thanked God for the opportunity and headed into the kitchen for lunch.  Check.  The day was moving right along, and I was making good progress. 

Next on my agenda was writing my weekly column—the piece you are now reading.  I had had some pretty good ideas throughout the week, and some really great topics were simmering in my brain as it had been longer than usual since I’d written.  But as I sat down to begin, the morning kept running through my head.  The freedom of God to lead as he chose, the way he knows us, the ways that he shapes us through his plans and the experiences he gives, the unique ways he relates to each one of us in order to draw us closer to himself … this topic rose to the top.  And here it is.    

God can choose to do whatever he wants to do!  This may not be a big aha moment for most of you, but it is for me.  As a pretty orderly and structured type, I like for things to be predictable.  I don’t like surprises, and I don’t care for interruptions.  My calendar is clearly labeled on most days, and I do my best to stick to it.  It’s been a great day when I can sit down in the evening and look back with satisfaction at all that’s been accomplished.  A good day is a productive day.

Maybe that’s why God does what he does.  As long as everything is running smoothly and my predicted time table is being met, I don’t have to check in with him—except at my appointed time for Bible study each morning.  Unexpected turns grab my attention.  Confusing interruptions or sudden bouts of indecision send me running for help.  And then he has me!  Looking to him to guide me, searching for the way I should go, straining to hear his instructions for today.  Apart from my daily plans and between the lines of my scheduled agenda, he keeps me ever listening.  As was true with the nation of Israel and in the experiences of my client, God leads and it is our role to hear and to follow his instructions for this day.  He always speaks clearly—it’s my hearing that is all muddled up.  Oh Lord, help me to hear between the lines!