Leaving Space for the Unexpected

I learned a long time ago that I have to leave white space on my calendar. No, this time I’m not going to write about all the reasons you need to take occasional time away from the daily grind for yourself. This time, I want to encourage you to be ready to spring into action.

Now and then, I look at my calendar and discover a day with (gasp!) nothing on it. Most of the time that turns out to mean I have a very busy day ahead. I just don’t know it yet. ‘Could be there’s a household repair or an unplanned errand calling my name. I might be needed by

            A sick child.

            A friend who is mourning.

            A new neighbor waiting to be welcomed.

            A lonely loved one, or one who is simply overwhelmed.

            Fill in the blank with the sort of calls you get…

In many cases, the unexpected that fills the “white space” in my life involves someone who needs me. That’s one of the reasons I need to remain vigilant about keeping my lifestyle and my calendar flexible and well-pruned. For me that means, when possible, staying prayed up and rested up. It means fighting the urge to procrastinate, so that there are seldom any “absolutely has to be done right now” items on my daily list. And it means, of course, intentionally leaving some unplanned time on my schedule.

I’m learning to expect the unexpected, because the unexpected is actually pretty common. You will almost certainly be needed in an unexpected way sometime soon. You may be summoned by a phone call, or an email, or maybe by that still small voice pointing you to a need you hadn’t noticed before. Today, I’m asking you to get ready to meet the need, to be prepared to answer with a cheerful, “Yes!”

The unexpected is coming, so leave a little space!

Photo by Eric Rothermel via Unsplash.com

Do Nothing

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Nope. This won’t be a blog giving you permission to become a long-term couch potato. (You know me better than that!) I do, however, hope to influence your pace and your motivation. We’re past the holidays, and past those early days of the new year when we thought maybe we’d do a better job of living this year than last. (Why, exactly, do we think a flip of the calendar will empower us to do that?) Now, for many of us, an overwhelming life has returned, or at least it’s creeping up on us. I can’t believe that’s how God means for us to live.

So then what? Let me share a few wise words that are not my own:

“Do nothing in a hurry. There is always time for all that is in the will of God.” (Jessie Penn-Lewis) Do you believe that? I do. So when I say, “There just aren’t enough hours in the day,” I need to realize that God didn’t goof. This means, of course, that I have. I’ve taken on too much.

Now is a good time to evaluate yet again the pace at which we live. If you need a nudge to make sure you are living at a reasonable pace, perhaps these words will help:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit” (Philippians 2:3). Take a moment to ponder this question: Are the frantic places in your life there because they make you look more spiritual, or valuable, or accomplished? It’s an easy trap, one the Enemy is deft at setting for so many of us.

“Being dependable doesn’t mean it all depends on me.” (Uncredited, but Biblical.) Are you actually doing more to help the human race than you’re meant/called to do? I’ve been there.

And lastly, I’m struck by the words Bonnie Gray wrote on the (in)courage[1] website, “Don’t minimize the things that give you rest and joy. They’re often the first things we start letting go of when we’re stressed, but they may be the very ways we can experience God’s peace in the midst of anxiety.”

Are we leaving time for rest? For joy? I hope so. If not, there’s no better time to start than right now.

[1] (in)courage – a DaySpring community (incourage.me)

Stick Your Neck Out

While I’ve told this story before, it bears repeating. We lived in the same house for 30 years, and we had the same next door neighbors for the entire time. Not too many people can say that these days! I learned a lot from that wonderful couple. Let me share just two of the lessons they taught me.

When we were out of town and a freeze was coming, our neighbors covered our pipes without a word. They saved us all sorts of trouble because they took the time to notice our need. I’d like to get better at noticing the needs around me and meeting them when I can. That’s the simpler lesson, though. This next one is a little trickier.

A couple of years ago, Steve pulled out of our driveway with a rather large moving van full of furniture. He was simply helping our son and daughter-in-law move all of their worldly goods from a storage unit in Houston to an apartment in Austin. But you can imagine how that might have looked, since I wasn’t in that van with Steve. Some people would have decided to “mind their own business,” but my neighbor was at the door within the hour, just to check and make sure all was well. That meant the world to me.

Too often, I have used “minding my own business” as an excuse to avoid what could be an awkward situation when, in reality, the needs of our neighbors may well be our business if we can be of help. Our culture is too quick to call for isolation in the name of privacy.

It’s not easy to stick our necks out and ask if our friends and neighbors need help. What if they say, “Hey, butt out!” Pause for a moment to truly contemplate that question. The real answer is, “That’s probably not such a big deal. It’s probably worth the risk.”

With “worth the risk” in mind, I called a new friend not long ago. He had been across the room from me in Sunday school and just didn’t look well. It felt a little awkward to make a “Hey, are you okay?” call, but I did it anyway, leaving a voicemail when he didn’t answer. Later he called back to catch me up on life a bit, tell me how to pray for him, and express his gratitude that I cared enough to call. On the other hand, another friend hadn’t been showing up for church for a while. I didn’t make a call to her and later found out that she was very ill.

And so, I’m hoping to get better at sticking my neck out—at asking, at the risk of being rebuffed, if I can be of help or encouragement to those around me. If you’re one of the people I call, please be nice!

We Get to Do This!

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My friends Steve and Susan live in a Tanzanian village. Choosing to live as the villagers do, they work hard, love deeply and forego many of the comforts you and I take for granted every day. Sometimes, when I read their newsletter, I wonder if I could make the same sacrifices they’ve made. But “sacrifice” isn’t a part of their vocabulary. In fact, Steve’s latest email ended with these words:

We are so blessed that we get to do this.

The word “get” got me. It was a punch to the gut regarding all the times I’ve considered my calling for the day to be difficult or uncomfortable or simply too time consuming. I grumble from time to time. Do you?

We get to serve. We get to love. And we get to be blessed by our willingness to follow our Lord, unless we allow a lousy attitude to steal our joy.

So, what do you get to do today? Chances are, none of us get to read novels and eat chocolate all day. But we get to do something. And that something is what our Lord has called us to for the day before us.

Sometimes that calling looks small: sweep the floor, drive to work, write a letter, place a call. Sometimes the day holds tasks that look enormous, impossible, or unpleasant. And, on many days, we aren’t quite sure what the day is going to bring. But, always, Jesus is the Lord of our day and

We are so blessed that we get to do this.

Embrace your blessing today!

Free Gifts by Beth Smith

Do you remember the old Smith Barney commercial? It said they “made money the old fashioned way—they earned it.” In the world’s system, we often get because we earn. That’s not how God’s kingdom works. It works on the gift system. Our loving, all knowing God knew any attempt to earn our own way into his kingdom was doomed to fail, so he provided another way through Jesus. A daily relationship with God is free for the taking.

Why don’t we all take the free gift? Many times it’s because we don’t want to give up control. We don’t really know God, and we don’t really trust him. We’re afraid of what he might ask us to do.

  • What if he sends me off somewhere to be a missionary?
  • What if he doesn’t want me to have my home, my car, my money—my own way?

“No thanks,” we think, “I’ll stay in control.” How’s that working for you? I can tell you it certainly doesn’t work so well for me.

In the book of Haggai, Chapter 1, the people tried to be in control of their lives—building homes, earning a living, and concerning themselves with their own needs. ‘Trouble was God had told them to rebuild his temple, and they were ignoring him. So God said to them, “You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough…You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it” (Haggai 1: 5-6). Then God told them to get going on that temple, to re-focus and change their priorities.

We too need to be about the business of our Lord. Matthew 6:33 tells us to make God’s ways and plans our first concern. Then he’ll take care of our needs. Work for God’s company, his kingdom! The wages are great, and the retirement plan is out of this world.

Paul reminded Timothy (and the rest of us) not to neglect the spiritual gifts he’d been given. They’re gifts from God, and we’re meant to use them to bless others.

  • Are you a gifted listener? Then listen. So many people need someone to hear them.
  • Are you a giver? Do it cheerfully.
  • Are you a good host or hostess? Invite people into your home.
  • Are you a cook? Take a meal to someone ill or in need.
  • Are you blessed with time? Pray. Pray for your country, your family, yourself, your friends or the people on the church’s prayer list.

Listen for what God says to do. Write a letter, feed the homeless, care for a child. Who knows what door he will open? God meant it when he said, “Give and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured back into your lap” (Luke 6:38 NLT).

We’re tempted to think, “There are too many needs. I can’t make a difference.” Some of the nuns working with Mother Teresa were overwhelmed by the needs around them. They came to her and said, “What can we do?”

She answered, “Give them a smile.”

We all have to start somewhere. Share yourself, your faith, your encouragement. God’s gifts to us, and our gifts to others, aren’t earned. They’re given out of love, so that we can pass them on to others in love. And that’s the way God wants it.

Photo by Stefan Cosma via Unsplash.com

Always (by Beth Smith)

In a marriage seminar, I learned to avoid using the word  always when arguing with my husband Bert.

The teacher gave these “he said/she said” examples:

She says, “You always leave your underwear on the floor,” or “You’re always on the phone.”

He says, “You always burn the toast,” or “You’re always talking .”

Don’t do that!

The Bible, though, uses the word always in much better ways. For example, “Jesus told them a parable that they ought always to pray and not turn coward or lose heart ” (Luke 18:1 AMP).

Always pray. We may think, “I’ve prayed. Nothing happened. Maybe I’m not praying the right way.” But God says, “Don’t faint. Don’t stop.” Keep believing that God will do what he knows is best for us.

The prayer life of Jesus is our perfect example. He prayed all the time. He acknowledged God the Father in everything he did. He prayed alone, but he also prayed with and for others. And he prayed for us!. What better encouragement can we have to always pray?

Philippians 4:4 says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I’ll say it again; Rejoice.”  Think about the word rejoice. “Re” means to go back, or go over again. When we don’t feel like rejoicing, or when we think we have nothing to be happy about, we need to go back over what Christ has done for us. For starters, he’s provided eternal live and promised to be with us always.

Finally, in 1 Thessalonians 5:15, we find, “Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.” Paying back evil for evil involves many things. Someone hits us, we hit back. ‘Doesn’t help. You’ve seen in sports that it’s usually the guy who hits back that gets the penalty. The refs almost never see the first blow.

Not hitting back isn’t enough, though. If we don’t hit back, we may still be full of resentment, waiting to retaliate, holding a deep, ugly grudge. That’s no way to live. We keep thinking that we’re right and they’re wrong. What they did just burns us up. Yes, it does burn us, but that hatred (we never call it that, but of course that’s what it is) doesn’t burn them at all.

Jesus tells us to forgive as we have been forgiven. For me, that’s a lot of forgiving. Instead of evil for evil, we are always to do good to fellow believers and to everyone else.

How do we do that sort of good? We can give money, time, talents, emotional support or physical support. We can give smiles, kind words, encouraging words, praise, and hope. We can tell our story of what God has done for us.

How often we hear ourselves say, “There’s nothing I can do.” Or “I just don’t know what to do.” The Bible tells us what to do. Always pray, rejoice, and do good.