Every December, I assess the year I’ve just lived – not what’s happened to me, but how I’ve lived it. This year was a mixed bag. In some areas I’ve grown, thank God. In others, not so much.
So now I look to 2020, and what needs to change. The big word is consistency. I need to be more consistent in so many areas of my life that it’s daunting, but as I recently learned from a YouTuber I watch, “Consistency is what stands between you and success.”
So here goes. I’m stepping out into consistency with determination and hope. 2020, let’s do this.
Photo Credit: Memories in Motion Photography (Candace Townsend)
Isn’t it special how the truly exciting things in life often involve our siblings? My sister Clarissa and I, even though we had our times of disliking each other growing up, have always played together. The last two years have been no different. First, after much prayer, we opened a clothing boutique. Coming from an entrepreneurial family, it would seem such a move would be obvious, but we’d never even considered going into business together before. We actually closed the business a couple of weeks ago, but that’s for later.
Then there was the day she dragged me to the gun range. She has a concealed carry license and had been telling me for months that I needed a break and shooting is therapy, so one day I caved and joined her to take my turns shooting both of her handguns (I preferred the .38, if anyone cares). I think I frustrated her when I refused to come out and say I’d had fun, but I did have to confess that it was very satisfying to try something completely new and do so well. In fact, it was a gift.
To understand my satisfaction, you have to know that I was always afraid of failure when I was young. I never learned to skate, for instance, because I feared making a fool of myself. Doing so well my first time at the range was extremely satisfying. Will I ever return to the range? I don’t know. It’s hard to excuse spending so much money on ammo when you’re only doing it for kicks.
Third, we went out of business with a bang. Sounds ridiculous, right? Going out of business is usually a terrible thing, but this was different. We prayed and considered carefully before concluding that it was the right move for us, and then we did something so exciting it still gives me goose bumps. We took all of our clothing and gave it away at a shelter for battered women. ALL of it. Many of these moms had taken their kids and run with only the clothes on their backs and what little they could carry. Seeing their joy at freely choosing several brand new outfits each was AMAZING, and it satisfied a long-held dream of mine.
I’ve always wanted to do something big – like give away a car or something. It wasn’t on my Bucket List, because I’ve always thought a Bucket List was for things that were at least somewhat within reach. If it had been on a list, I’d have called it my Dream Big list.
Because God led Clarissa and me into this particular adventure in the first place, my relatively small investment in our business was turned into something huge. When we calculated what we’d given to the shelter, we’d done the equivalent of giving away a car – a new car. You might think I’d regret investing money and time into a business that would close down after a year and a half, but I don’t; I consider it a huge blessing. Even if this final thing were the only reason we’d launched Cady’s Closet, I would say it was a grand adventure, and I haven’t stop smiling since we set up our pop-up boutique for the last time.
Now I’m looking forward to our next adventure. Sisterhood is an awesome thing.
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.
We have been created anew in Christ Jesus to do good things. Other translations say “good works.”
When being encouraged to do good works, some people answer by quoting Ephesians 2:8-9. (KJV For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.) Yes, we are saved by grace, through faith and not by our works; salvation is a gift. Now, if those who quote verses 8 and 9 would only continue to verse 10, they would see why God gave us the gift— “to do the good things he planned for us long ago”. God doesn’t give useless gifts; He gives gifts with a purpose. Knowing this, we realize we are responsible to find out what His plans for us are and to follow through and do what He expects us to do. As Ephesians 5:17 puts it, “Don’t act thoughtlessly, but try to understand what the Lord wants you to do.”
God prepared these works in advance, expecting us to do them. How much clearer can it get? God had a plan in mind, works lined out for each one of us, even before we accepted His gift of salvation. Now it’s our turn. Now it’s time for us to learn what those works are, pull ourselves together, and go get them done.
This is not merely something we can do; it is something we must do if we are to be pleasing to Him. After all, His Word says repeatedly that faith without works is dead. (James 2:17, 20, 26; KJV; Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead… But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?… For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.) Too, without faith it is impossible to please God. (Hebrews 11:6, KJV, But without faith it is impossible to please Him…)
The people refused to enter the pleasant land, for they wouldn’t believe his promise to care for them.
Okay, this is beyond my ability to understand. They were standing on sand – in the desert – looking at Canaan. It was bad enough that they didn’t just believe and obey God, following where He led. Even worse, they could not accept the beauty and bounty of the place He had called them to and chose to stay in the desert instead.
The desert! They chose to stay in the barren, dry places where there was only enough food and water for their massive numbers because God took care of them! They chose a life of wandering with no home, trekking through the desert (where God had to take care of them) instead of trusting Him and moving on over into the lush bounty of Canaan – which He had already told them would be theirs. Why?
I think the bottom line is that we humans tend to prefer the challenges we know. The challenges Israel faced in the desert were so familiar, and God’s care through those challenges so consistent, that they were (and I use the word in a skewed fashion) comfortable. In truth, I think they took God’s care in the desert so for granted that they hardly recognized it anymore. Stepping over into Canaan, though, would have meant trusting God to care for them in new areas and…oh…
Until then, God had done everything for them, or had Moses or specific others do it. They knew, though, that in Canaan they would be called upon to do something – to take up arms and fight for the ground God had promised them. They were like baby Christians who don’t want to grow up! Or, I suppose, it is rather the other way around – today’s perpetually babyish Christians are very much like these children of God.
When someone first turns his life over to God, He takes total care of them as if they were literal babies – answering every prayer instantly (like a parent responding to a baby’s cry) and often in astoundingly miraculous ways, but then God requires them to grow up – to start using and exercising their faith – to DO something…to take up arms and fight for the ground He has promised them. The funny thing is that God usually ends up fighting the battles for us after we take up arms to fight (just as He did for Israel once they actually crossed on over into Canaan); He just wants us to get up off our blessed assurance and move. But too many refuse. They aren’t willing to take up arms and step forward into His promises, trusting Him to take care of them through everything. No, they would rather stay in babyhood where they don’t have to do anything (but also can’t own or be anything); they would rather stay in the desert.
I’ve seen myself in Israel before, but until meditating on this passage I had never really seen their walk as a parallel to my spiritual walk; yet it is. What they did as a nation I may (or may not) do as a Christian – gaining or losing ground accordingly. Help me, Lord, to keep moving forward!
Reading on into verses 34-39 you see the consequences of Israel’s refusal to grow up. They thought they would be just fine if they stayed in babyhood, in the desert, but because they first disobeyed God’s call to move forward and then, when they did move, moved on their own terms…
When we disobey God in any way we are in sin, and unconfessed sin always has consequences. In their case, it became greater sin. (v. 34-39) “Israel failed to destroy the nations in the land, as the lord had told them to. Instead, they mingled among the pagans and adopted their evil customs. They worshipped their idols, and this led to their downfall. They even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons. They shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters. By sacrificing them to the idols of Canaan, they polluted the land with murder. They defiled themselves by their evil deeds, and their love of idols was adultery in the lord’s sight.”
It’s true; there is no such thing as standing still with God. We must continually move forward. It is also true that genuine obedience is doing what God says, when God says, how God says and all God says. Israel did finally cross over into Canaan, but even then they failed to do all God said – destroy the nations of the land. They let some remain and, because they did, they “fell” into horrible sin and later paid an unimagined price for that sin. God has great mercy, but (v. 43) “Again and again he delivered them, but they continued to rebel against him, and they were finally destroyed by their sin.”
God was still merciful, and did deliver them in the end, but how different would it have been if they had obeyed Him, and fully, the first time? Where, for instance, would Israel be today? Where would I be today if I had always obeyed Him, and fully, the first time?
Have you ever seen a beautiful example of bonsai? All my life, I’ve been drawn to tiny pots holding miniature trees that have been trained to grow ever so gracefully into living art. They bring me joy and, having seen them so many times, I thought I knew bonsai.
But now I know a bonsai artist. He posts pictures of his ongoing projects on Facebook, and through him I have learned so much more – including just how much I don’t know about the art. First, bonsai comes in all shapes and sizes from the tiny trees I’ve seen to trees so tall he needs help to move them. Second, he doesn’t generally start with nursery-perfect trees, but rather goes out on his own to find truly interesting specimens that show promise of greatness…at least to his trained eye. Then comes the real work.
Focused on producing the ideal product, he begins by selecting just the right the pot. After settling the tree’s roots in its new home, he sets it aside, letting it sit there and grow. He does nothing but nurture it until he knows its roots are established and it is healthy. Then, and only then, does he begin the careful and entirely deliberate pruning process.
I don’t know what goes on inside his head, but I do know that each move he makes is deliberate. He removes branches that are unhealthy or don’t belong in the final design, pieces that get in the way of the special beauty he wants to reveal. Then, having done this, he pulls out his wire and wraps those branches with it so he can ever so gently train them to grow exactly as he sees them in his mind’s eye.
It was a revelation when I saw it. Bonsai isn’t those tiny trees I’ve always admired; it’s careful, thoughtful, pruning and training.
So is Christianity – our development as Christians. When we’re born again, God repots us, putting us in a place where our roots can settle and we can grow strong. Unlike the bonsai trees, we have it within our power to move from this place, but if we’re wise we choose to remain.
Having repotted us and given us time to grow, once He judges that we are settled in, strong, and health enough, He begins a very deliberate pruning process. This is when life gets challenging and exciting all at the same time. Some things we exult in. When He delivers us from addictions that have plagued us, we feel suddenly free. When He gently removes things that have been blinding us, freeing us to truly see Him, we rejoice. Other changes He makes are more painful. We may not want to leave behind things like dangerous friends, bad habits, etc., but if we do…
If we trust His vision, that He sees clearly the promise within us and has a plan for making us beautiful, we submit to the pruning.
Then comes the next step. Having pruned away the deadwood and offensive branches, He pulls out His wire and begins to shape us. Patiently, gently, He nudges us to learn to show love, to be forgiving, to walk in integrity, to be faithful… He helps us learn to produce the Fruit of the Spirit in our lives and, in general, to grow to look like Him. I have this image in my mind of Him sometimes sitting back, like my bonsai artist friend, and smiling softly in satisfaction as we begin to truly take shape.
Bonsai is a slow art, one that requires mind-blowing patience on the part of the artist as his pieces take years to develop. Our growth as Christians is the same. I thank God that His mercy, grace, and patience with me are new every morning.