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The significance of 40

“How old do you feel?”

My friend Lisa posed this question to the four of us sitting around the restaurant table. As moms of young children, we were out enjoying an evening that felt like like heaven to weary women that seldom went anywhere without kids in tow. It was our tradition, these birthday dinners. For each one of our birthdays, we would go out and celebrate. Four sacred evenings a year to which we always looked forward.

” I feel like I am 22,” said one.

“I feel like I am 28, ” said another

“Yes, 22 feels about right.” It was a consensus. The 20’s won.

Mind you, we were all in our early thirties at the time, and obviously the pattern was that each felt younger than they actually were, until it was my turn to answer.

“I feel forty.”

“What?!” was their collective response.

“I have felt 40 for a long time.”

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I was married at 19, and simultaneously became a youth pastor’s wife with other people’s children in our care. Maybe it’s that I became a teacher at 20 and parents would ask me advice about their children. Maybe it’s because I have always been hyper responsible and an old soul at heart. I am not sure what it is, but I have long awaited my 40th birthday so that my birth age would match the way that I feel. I am looking forward to turning 40.

And tomorrow, that day will have arrived.

I am not really expecting any fan fare or big celebration, just a inner knowing that this is a meaningful day to me personally. I have really tried to examine why I have felt such anticipation for this season of my life. Then it struck me.

Forty is a significant number to God. In scripture, a time period of 40 (days, weeks, months, years) always indicates a time of probation for His people, a time of waiting, preparation, and testing. It is not always an enjoyable experience, but after the time of 40 is complete, a season of blessing and renewal typically follows.

  • It rained for 40 days and 40 nights, the floods subsided, and then Noah stepped out to a fresh land and a rainbow signifying a promise. (Gen. 7:4)
  • Moses was 40 years old when he visited his people, the Israelites in Egypt (Acts 7:23). He then fled to the desert for 40 more years (Acts 7:30), and then God commissioned him to free His people from the hand of Pharaoh.
  • When Moses went up on the mountain to meet with God, he stayed there 40 days and 40 nights, and then God gave him His commandments. (Deut. 9:9-11)
  • Joshua was 40 years old when he was sent into Kadesh Barnea to explore the promised land. He did so for 40 days and 40 nights, and then returned to Moses with enthusiasm for this land flown with milk and honey. (Joshua 14:7) (Numbers 13:25)
  • The Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years, and then they entered the promised land. (Deuteronomy 8:2)
  • For 40 days Goliath taunted the Israelites, and then David defeated him with a stone and a slingshot. (1 Samuel 17:16)
  • Elijah traveled 40 days and 40 nights before he came to Mount Horeb, and then God appeared to him. (1 Kings 19:7-12)
  • Jonah warned the people of Ninevah for 40 days, and then they repented and God spared them. (Jonah 3:4)
  • Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days, tempted by Satan, and then he began his ministry. (Mark 1:13)
  • After his death and resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples for 40 days, and then he returned to heaven. (Acts 1:3)

Maybe I have been excited to turn 40 because God has been faithful to be with me in this probationary period of my life and perhaps I am entering into a time of blessing and renewal, and my heart has sensed it’s coming. Perhaps an “and then” is on the horizon. However, I can tell you this. The memorial stone that I am laying down at the halfway point of my life can be summed up in the second verse of Amazing Grace,

Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come (many of which I have not been aware). His grace has brought me safe this far, and grace will lead me home.”

He has shown me incredible grace these past 40 years, and I know that His grace can be counted on in the next 40 years to come.
Perhaps I have looked forward to being 40 because I have recognized my time of probation and testing, and God has placed an anticipation of blessing and renewal upon my heart. I am sensing a coming, “and then” for my life.

Each of us goes through a season of probation and testing before the Lord allows us to be used mightily of Him. Let’s not bemoan this time of preparation, but look forward with anticipation for the time of renewal that is to come. Yet remember,

It might just take 40 years.

 

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3 Reasons We Should Choose to Be Vulnerable

I stood before our women’s Bible study group after the video teaching ended, to wrap things up and dismiss the ladies to their small group.

The speaker had just shared her story, about the recent death of her cancer ridden mom. As we women do, our own eyes brimmed with tears as she shared, sniffles being heard across the room. In a moment when my defenses were down, I shared with the ladies how my grandfather had recently died as well.

He had finished his race, and as I had sat beside him on the day of his death, I got to see him cresting the final hill. Following behind him as a runner of the race of life, I could not see what he saw, but I had been able to picture the arms of his soul raised high as he caught sight of the victory crown, held by his awaiting Savior.

“It’s not how you start the race,” I told the ladies. “It’s how you finish, and so few finish well. Let’s run hard and finish this race for Jesus.”

You need to know that I said these last words with near sobs. The sorrow of my grandpa’s passing and the beauty of his life had caught up to me in this moment, and I abandoned all sense of looking strong and put together.

I was vulnerable. 

Most of the time this is a very uncomfortable place to be, especially if you are trying to appear confident and capable, or if you have ever been hurt in your life. Letting down our guard to expose tender places goes against our sense of self preservation.

But choosing vulnerability releases power in our ministry to others. 

So many women came up to me after. Some gave me hugs, like the “I have a story too and I appreciate you sharing yours”, kind of hugs. Some actually shared with me their hurts. Some just communicated differently with me because they were endeared to my heart. I saw the power, once again, of sharing a piece of my own story.

Can I encourage us today, to be willing to be vulnerable? There are some caveats to be sure. Vulnerability needs to take place in an appropriate context, where it is safe and the story being shared is helpful to the conversation or experience at hand. We have to make sure that we are careful in telling our story if it involves exposing the lives of others. But done at the proper time, in the proper way, our stories are powerful. Here are some reasons to choose to be bravely vulnerable:

1. It makes people feel closer to you. Relationships cannot progress unless both individuals choose to share the tender places of their soul. When defenses are up, or masks are on, relationships aren’t real. People need understanding and that can’t come unless we give them windows into our lives, our history, our families, our joys, our fears. Do you feel distant from someone? Choose to go first in sharing a tender piece of yourself with them. As my friend likes to say, it’s within this context of authentic relationships that we will grow.

2. The most powerful ministry comes from sharing our own places of brokenness, because it sets God up for glory. God doesn’t waste any of our hurts and it is likely that the very places we have suffered have equipped and compelled us to minister to those hurts in others. When we act like we have it all together, we get the glory. When we share our hurts, and how God has healed them, He gets the glory.

3. Being known means Satan can’t accuse you. Hiding our “stuff” only means that we walk around in fear of it being exposed. The enemy knows this and wants us to keep our brokenness hidden, where he can torment us with our insecurities. Trying to appear strong all the time is a tiring lie to maintain.

There is so much freedom in just being real and unafraid of people knowing who you are, to the depth of your being.

When was the last time you shared a vulnerable piece of your story? Go find a safe friend, or some people who could use the hope your story delivers, and do so today.

Growing in authenticity,

 

 

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To obey is better than sacrifice

Sometimes I can be a martyr. We call it discipline. Or duty. Or being responsible.

Oh, it’s not that I moan, “poor me” aloud. Often times I say very little about the sacrifices I think I am making. I may not even be very aware of the sacrifice itself, as it is just something that I “should” do in order to be a “good this” or a “good that”. And then one day I find myself tired, over committed, looking for a new venture, or looking for the next way to do it “better”.

Come on. You probably do it, too. 

The comparison game is partially to blame. You hear of what someone else is doing as a parent, as a friend, as a Christian, and feel you should do it too. You think that you should be a good enough person (spiritual or otherwise) to make the same kind of sacrifice.

Or maybe you lead the way in sacrifices. Maybe others look to you for your upstanding volunteerism, or the sacrifices made for your children, or your difficult lifestyle decisions. Maybe you like it that way and feel compelled to maintain your “different” status.

“Isn’t this what being a follower of Jesus is all about? ” you muse. “To make sacrifices in his name? To give it all up for the sake of following him?”

Well, yes. And, no.

God wants our sacrifices, only if they are sacrifices that he has specifically asked of us. What He wants more is our obedience and the two aren’t always one in the same. Obedience usually involves sacrifice, but not all sacrifice involves obedience. 

Remember King Saul? God told him that he was to go and kill all of the men, women, children, camels, donkeys, and sheep of the Amalekite people for what they had done to the Israelites when they came up from Egypt. Samuel specifically told Saul to listen to these instructions.

Saul obeyed, partially. He killed everything and everyone except for King Agag and the best sheep, cattle, and lambs. In Saul’s mind, he was 95% obedient and seemingly justified because he was going to sacrifice the animals on the altar as a thank offering to the Lord. Jewish laws suggested such sacrifices.

But partial obedience is disobedience with God. 

And external sacrifices do not make up for pride within a heart.

And a clear word from the Lord always trumps religious “shoulds” and “should nots”.

It is easy to get that all mixed up.

You could sell all that you have and give it to the poor, or give up your career to raise your children, or serve 30 hours a week volunteering, but if you aren’t humble enough to do it God’s way, it is worthless. And prideful. Yes, uncalled for sacrifices lead down the dangerous path of pride.

True obedience leads to humility for it requires an emptying of yourself, not merely your wallet, your time, or your dreams. We must be obedient to the Lord whether it leads to a palace, or to a cave. King David obediently lived in both. We must be obedient to the Lord whether we are favored by others, or looked at as strange. We must be obedient to the Lord whether it means we are asked to move to Africa, or to stay in the affluent suburb.

God cares less about what we give Him, or give up for Him, and more about our surrender to Him. It is doing whatever He asks, and in this we must listen.

“To obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22)

The phrase “to obey” has strong connotations of hearing, listening, and then following through. It’s not assuming that the way we have always done it is the way we should do it now. It is not assuming that how someone else is doing it is the right way for us. It’s going to God each day and listening for the still small voice that speaks a personal word through His Word.

The word “sacrifice” refers to Israel’s sacrificial system, but in some places is translated “thank offering”.

The word “better” can also be translated “happy”, or “glad”.

Perhaps being obedient will make us more joyful than does being thankful. I know that when I am in the center of God’s will for me I am filled with the abundant life that He promised. When I am just making assumptive sacrifices, life often feels hard and joyless.

I think sometimes we make things harder than they need to be. Will God ask hard things of us? For sure He will. But, if they are His ideas, He will help us succeed and they won’t seem so hard after all.

To obey is always much better. Sometimes scary or humbling, but always better. It will make you glad.

 Looking towards obedience,

To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices. (Mark 12:33)

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