Coming Into Focus

My brother and I like to joke around with my sister, Sunnie, about how she’s not spontaneous at all. She’s a woman who likes a plan, and while I respect that, it’s not always very much fun. Derek and I will go to the movies or to play putt putt on a whim. But when we invite Sunnie to go with us, it throws her off. It’s not how she had planned on spending her afternoon (a valid point and reason not to join), so she usually won’t do it with us. If she does go with us, she kind of takes a minute to just freak out.

One time, the three of us went to Mount Airy on a Saturday. I can’t remember if we went to see a movie or to shop in the local stores, but when we were done, I said to Derek, “We should go to Virginia.” (For those of you reading this who may not know, we weren’t far from the state line.) Derek thought it was a great idea. Sunnie, however, who was sitting in the backseat, was not so excited about it. Talk of how that wasn’t the plan commenced. Derek and I realized that it was causing her some anxiety, so we ditched the idea pretty quickly after that.

That was the day I learned just how much my sister doesn’t like deviating from a plan. She says that she’s working on it. Her first move, from what she’s told me, towards being more spontaneous was purchasing Linkin Park tickets three or four months in advance. (Don’t ask me how that’s spontaneous because I don’t really understand it, but it makes sense to her, and I suppose that’s all that matters. Plus, she’s very excited about it, and I love seeing other people get excited about things they love or look forward to.)

To clarify, while I enjoy the freedom of not always having a plan, I have no problems with making plans. Sometimes making plans is not only smarter, but really important as well. Making a plan for what I’m doing when I get off work tomorrow isn’t that big of a deal to me. Making a plan for where I want to be in the next five years of my life is a big deal to me, and it’s important if I don’t want to end up exactly where I am right now.

Maybe you have some big plans for the New Year, and I think that’s great. Your plan could be to eat healthier or travel more or work harder at achieving your dreams. Whatever it is, I’m sure you’re focused and you have a strategy.

But sometimes our plans don’t work out. I’m not saying that to discourage you. I’m saying it because it’s true, and to let you know that while it is true, life goes on.

I won’t bore you with the details (if you’re really interested, comment or contact me and we’ll chat), but suffice it to say that I’ve made plans, some significantly more important than others, that didn’t work out. Not only did I survive and am alive to tell you about it, but I can tell you that I’m actually better off because they didn’t work out.

I could go on and on about how my experiences have made me who I am and how I love who I am, which would be very true. I mostly say I’m better off because I’ve gained a lot of things from what actually happened that would never have happened if my original plans had played out. I wouldn’t have met a lot of the people I’ve met, I wouldn’t have grown as a person the way that I have, and I wouldn’t have learned some of the things I consider pieces of wisdom that God has shown me.

The reason it’s all worked out is because when my original plans crumbled, I’ve somehow managed (with immeasurable help of God, of course) to find another strategy while maintaining my focus. There have also been times when I’ve had to refocus because my heart and mind weren’t where they should’ve been.

2 Samuel 7 tells of a situation where King David’s plans didn’t work out, but everything turned out for the best. If you don’t have the time or energy to turn there, I understand. It’s a lot of reading, so I’ll summarize it here.

David was talking to Nathan, and he said how it didn’t seem right that he was living in this nice, cedar house while the Ark of the Covenant stayed in a tent. (Imagine sleeping in a five-star hotel while God’s down the road a bit in a sketchy motel whose biggest draw is that they have colored TV.) Nathan tells him to do whatever it was he had in mind and that God was with him. But that night, God tells Nathan to tell David that He hadn’t lived in a house since He brought His people out of Egypt, and He never complained about it. He tells Nathan to remind David of where God brought him from, how He’s always been with David, and how He’s handled David’s enemies. He says He’ll appoint a place for the Israelites to live. And He says that He’ll give David a family and establish David’s son’s kingdom. David’s son, not David, will build God a house, and he will be a son of God, and God will be a father to him.

Nathan tells David, and God’s words humble him. He recalls what all God has done for him and praises God. David proclaims God’s power and God’s love for His people, and he takes heart in God’s promises.

Nowhere in the story do we see that David is upset that he isn’t the one who is to build God a house. We know that he wanted to and probably had his heart set on it after Nathan gave him the green light to do so. But instead of being crushed that God doesn’t want him to do it, David praises God for what He’s already done for David and what He’s going to do through David and his son.

David’s plan changed, but his focus never did. His focus was on God and His will, and that’s exactly why it didn’t bother him in the least when God told him not to build Him a house.

It’s not our plans that matter as much as our focus.

When I think of my failed plans, I realize that maybe they were a little selfish. I didn’t exactly consult God before making them. Had I done so, I would’ve saved myself a good bit of heartache. I wanted what I wanted, and I didn’t consider God’s input until after my heart was already set on it.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t make plans that we actually want. We should. We should just consult God as well.

If your plans change, don’t worry about it. Even if it’s not part of your plan, it’s certainly part of God’s plan, and He’s not going to lead you anywhere He won’t go or that won’t benefit you. Sure, it may not be what you imagined. In fact, it probably won’t; it’ll more than likely be better. Take it from someone who’s learned that the hard way.

By Carrie Prevette

Who Am I? Where Am I? And What’s Going To Happen?

I remember the day I bought my favorite Bible. I was browsing the Bible selection at Barnes & Noble. I saw one that was a translation that not only wasn’t KJV (I was looking for literally any other translation), but it was also one I hadn’t heard of before. It was the New Revised Standard Version (the version I usually use for the blogs, if you haven’t noticed). I picked it up. It was a lovely gray with a beautiful cross and Psalm 46:10 on the front in black. I turned to some of my favorite verses, and I just loved the way they were worded. It’s one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. That Bible has been a lot of places, and it’s been through a lot, including getting caught in the rain with me and being shuttled back and forth from Jonesville to Cullowhee.

There are many great qualities about this Bible. For instance, the NRSV translation is the most historically accurate. My Bible doesn’t really have a concordance in the back of it. There are some recommended verses for when you’re feeling a particular way, but you can’t really look up verses based on their diction. It has some prayers in the back of it, including one of the greatest prayers I’ve ever heard or read. It’s written amongst prayers by saints and prayers from the Bible, but you won’t find its words on a stained-glass window or across plaques. It’s by a man named Thomas Merton.

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

I could go on and on about the great qualities of this prayer, but I won’t. Instead, I’ll just hit on a few of them: the concepts of who we are, what we’re doing, and the unknown.

I’m a huge fan of Shakespeare. I’m not even kidding. I have his complete works, which I acquired after buying several of his plays individually as well and a book of his sonnets. I intend to read everything he’s written before I die. I have a book titled A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare that I also aim to read eventually. And my dog’s name is Othello (although it was my dad’s idea to call him that, not mine). This is a picture of him.

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Anyway, one of my favorite Shakespeare plays is Hamlet. Of the Shakespeare plays I’ve read, it’s the one I quote the most. For those of you who haven’t read it, I’ll sum it up as quickly and simply as I can. Hamlet is a prince in Denmark. His father has recently died, and his mother has remarried (to the deceased’s brother, if I’m not mistaken). The ghost of Hamlet’s father comes to Hamlet and tells him that he was murdered by Hamlet’s stepfather. He wants Hamlet to avenge him. Hamlet then begins his journey to seek revenge. Hamlet begins acting crazy, but as the play goes on, even the reader (or watcher, I suppose) is unsure of whether or not it’s just an act. There is a well-known line from the play that, although it is not addressed to Hamlet, is significant and ironic. “To thine own self be true.”

Well, I’m sure Hamlet would do that if he knew who he was.

I’m sure everyone would if they knew who they were.

The question “Who am I?” is one that has been around as long as humans have, and I’m just about certain that every human has asked this question before. Some people spend their entire lives trying to find the answer to this question, and sadly, some never obtain it. There are people who think they know who they are but aren’t entirely sure. Then there are people who feel they know exactly who they are, and a portion of those are even comfortable with the answer they find.

I’m not trying to get into a large discussion here. Knowing who you are doesn’t make you a better person or a better child of God. It’s just something to discover for yourself. The point I want to make here is that regardless of whether or not we know ourselves – accept our personalities, habits, tastes, and purposes and decide whether or not we want to change who that person is – we find our truest selves in God.

Knowing the One who created us and who knows us better and in more ways than we could ever know ourselves allows us to discover who we are. We have a longing to be or become the person we were created to be. It’s a relationship that both reinforces the qualities we should keep and shows the qualities we need to work on.

The next issue the prayer addresses is knowing what we’re doing. Of course, we know what we’re literally doing, right here and now. But what about the path we’re taking in life? Is it the one that God wants us on for the next few miles or does He want us to take the next exit and get off as quickly as we can? Are we pleasing God with the way we’re going?

The path God wants you to take may not be the one you want to take. At least that’s what you think now. I assure you, God’s not going to make you take a road you don’t want to be on. He won’t force you to stay in a place forever if it’s not bringing you happiness or serving a purpose of some sort.

I believe that anyone who truly and actively seeks the will of God will find it. When we search for God’s interests and plans in our lives, we will ultimately find them, even if it’s not in the place we thought it’d be or within the time frame we were hoping for.

This is in close relation to the third quality of the prayer that I want to discuss: the unknown. I’m sure I don’t have to list the reasons the unknown is scary. And people have a right to be afraid of the unknown.

But there is always more comfort when you’re walking with God. For one, while we don’t know what’s coming up, God does. Secondly, God only has our best interests in heart. God isn’t going to lead us somewhere sketchy or harmful and leave us there. No, God will be with us every single step, every single minute.

As you guys may have picked up by now, I tend to see things a little differently than most people. (I get told by my brother at least once a week that I’m weird. I wear it as a badge of honor). My favorite translation of Matthew 28:20, the very last verse of that Gospel, that I’ve come across so far is the King James Version. It’s Jesus talking, and it reads, “…I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

Most people read that as Jesus will be with us until the world that we are in ceases to exist. And I read it that way as well, but I also take it a different way. I take it to mean that Jesus will be with us through legitimately everything, through everything in the world, and that he’ll be with us even when our worlds start to fall apart.

We need not be afraid of the unknown because while we don’t know what is to come or what will happen, we know God is right there with us through it all.

By Carrie Prevette

Bigger Plans and True Worship

Being a huge fan of The Walking Dead, you can imagine how happy I was when AMC had a three-day marathon of the show over the 4th of July weekend. I had forgotten about it until running across the second or third episode from the first season early that Friday morning. I grinned as I settled into my chair and prepared to watch as much of it as I could. Not too much later, a character said something that really struck me.

For those of you that don’t watch the show, I’ll summarize as concisely as I can for the purpose of this blog. A guy named Rick is in the hospital when the zombie apocalypse started. He wakes up, gets out, and finds that his wife and son have already left. Rick sets out to find them. He goes to Atlanta, and while there, he meets a group of people. They save him; he helps save them. They go back to the group’s camp, and it’s there that Rick is reunited with his family.

Later that night, Rick describes to the group what he felt when he woke up in the hospital. I don’t recall what word he says comes closest to describing it, but I do remember him saying how there’s not really a word that accurately and entirely fits the feeling. Then Dale, a member of the group listening to Rick, says that words are “paltry things.”

For whatever reason, that really struck me. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a writer, if it’s because it was so wonderfully phrased, or if it’s because it’s so true. But one thing’s for sure, Dale isn’t wrong. Sometimes words fail. Sometimes they’re just worthless.

When I showed up to church on Sunday morning and found out that there was just going to be worship and no sermon, I began to think about how plans can also be “paltry things.”

I could go on and on about the plans in my life that have failed or changed dramatically. I’m sure we all could. If you can’t relate, I’m very interested in talking to you because you’re probably the first person I’ve ever encountered whose life has gone perfectly according to what you have planned.

That’s just it, isn’t it? Our plans have the capacity to change and fail and ultimately lack meaning. God’s plans never do.

Adjusting to God’s dreams for my life instead of my own has been one of the most difficult parts in my relationship with Him. I get this vision of how I want things to go, and I build them up so much in my mind. I think it’s going to be excellent. Then God steps in and says, “Carrie, that’s actually not what’s best for you. It’s not happening.”

“What do you mean, God? Of course it’s the best thing for me. It’s the best thing period! Don’t You see it?”

The thing is, God does see it. The only difference is, He sees it from an objective point of view and a much broader point of view. He knows the other possibilities and the consequences. And He loves us enough to give us what’s really the best for us, no matter how much it might break our hearts at first.

You may recall that Abstract just recently started a sermon series called Idols. Last Sunday would have been the second of a four-part series. But it’s hard for a pastor to preach when he can barely talk. Hearing a sermon was part of our plans, but God had a better idea. Instead of hearing the sermon that God and our pastor have prepared, we spent the morning in worship.

If no one else needed a service full of worship, I certainly did. I needed it, and I didn’t even know it.

The significance of worship cannot be overstated. It’s how we show God that He is the most important thing in our lives.

Worship is a product of loving something a lot. I’m not talking about I-really-enjoy-this love or even holy-smokes-Batman, this-is-amazing love. It’s more along the lines of where-has-this-been-all-my-life, I-would-rather-die-than-live-without-this love. (Words really can be paltry, huh?)

Worship is great in theory, but it’s even better in practice. I’ve been in services where the preacher or worship leader said, “Okay. Let’s praise God and worship Him,” and I listen and praise God and enjoy myself. The experiences were good, but they didn’t exactly change my life. (That’s just me, though. By no means am I saying that those services weren’t moving and deeply meaningful for other people.)

I’ve also been in services, some with that exact same little intro, where I’ve felt the presence of God so strongly and I’ve been so moved by what I heard. Those experiences have stuck with me. Some of them took place years ago, and to this day, I could take you to the exact place where I stood with my hands held high to God and my heart completely captured by Him.

There is no better feeling than being completely lost in worship to God.

When I think of worship, the first thing I think of is a Bible verse that doesn’t even use the word “worship.” Psalm 42:1 (NRSV) says, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.”

Isn’t that how we feel when we truly enter into worship? We aren’t satisfied with where we are with God. We want to grow closer to Him and feel more of His love. We know we need to be refreshed and refilled by Him. Not only is God a source of happiness and relief, but He’s also our source of life. It’s a moment when we realize just how much we need God.

And by worshipping, we express not only that we realize all of this, but we take a moment to thank God for being all of that for us.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I do something for someone, and they thank me for it, it feels fantastic, especially if it’s something that I worked hard on. It’s nice to hear that someone’s actually grateful for something I’ve done.

Imagine how happy it must make God for us to worship Him for everything that He’s done for us, especially in a world where people blame Him more than thank Him.

Maybe God’s done something really big for you lately. Maybe you’ve recently gotten a job or you’re car has been repaired or you’ve made a friend and you don’t feel lonely anymore. Don’t forget to take the time to really thank God for that blessing.

You don’t just have to thank Him for the big blessings either. Maybe you’re just happy that today wasn’t as bad as yesterday or you read or heard an encouraging word somewhere that you desperately needed. Then again, maybe you’re just having a really good hair day. If it’s a big enough of a deal to make you think about it or smile about, it’s big enough to thank God for.

Worship starts with love and ends in gratitude. Things may not be going the way you planned, but that doesn’t mean it’ll all end badly. God has better things in store for you. And that is certainly something to praise and worship Him for.

By Carrie Prevette

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