Friday, January 12, 2007

New Year plans

Did you make any New Year resolutions? How will your life be different when January 2008 comes around--all too quickly? What plans do you have for the New Year?

We have plans--to see the newest show in Lancaster and also the King Tut exhibit. We want to visit my mom in North Carolina and to make our yearly trek to Ocean City. I hope to be a better wife, mom and friend as the fruit of the Spirit become more evident in my life. I want to fulfill whatever purposes God has for me this year, maybe hosting a child who has no home. In our small group we are all realizing our purpose is more than just friendship. We need to move out into the larger community and serve where God leads.

In my vast experience with plans that go awry, I tend to take the "wait and see" approach. If we can't do this or that, or go here or there, I take it in stride and just move on. Maybe I should take planning more seriously and be better prepared. I don't mean buying tickets or marking the calendar. This is the year I hope to PREPARE WITH PRAYER.

Last week we were reading Acts 1 in our study. Jesus had died and was resurrected and for the last forty days had spoken to many people and told them what they were to do after he left. He said to wait for the promise. "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." Acts 1:4,5

In obedience, one hundred and twenty of Jesus' faithful followers, including his own mother, gathered in an upper room in Jerusalem and waited. I was struck by the thought of Mary, an older woman, grieving the loss of her son, but sticking close with the disciples, ready for whatever was happening. It is likely neither she nor the disciples had any clue as to what this promise might mean even though Jesus had earlier said, "I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever, the Spirit of truth...he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you...But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have said to you." John 14: 16-18, 26.

While they were waiting for something to happen, "They all joined together constantly in prayer." Acts 1:14. Then they realized the task at hand was to appoint a replacement for Judas. So they prayed about that and chose one. Then they waited some more. Finally, the day of Pentecost arrived and the Holy Spirit came like a violent, rushing wind and turned the whole world upside-down. As Jesus foretold, his followers received power to spread the gospel to the remotest parts of the earth and have been testifying about him ever since. Acts 1:8, John 15:26.

So what does that mean to all of us? We too have access to the same Holy Spirit that filled the first believers--the Spirit that empowers us to be bold witnesses, the Spirit that purifies and changes us, the Spirit that brings the presence of God in our lives. We access this Holy Spirit (God himself) through prayer. We are to prepare with prayer when we don't know what comes next or when we make new plans. Like Jesus' parable of the Ten Virgins, how sad if we run out of oil. We can go back for more but we might miss our chance for something wonderful God has in store for us. Or we might run in a dim light and trip and fall. That's when we do things in our own strength and get into projects and plans that God never intended for us.

"To be filled with the Holy Spirit is to be filled with the immediate presence of God himself--feeling what God feels, desiring what God desires, doing what God wants, speaking by God's power, praying and ministering in God's strength and knowing with the knowledge God gives." (Wayne Grudem from Systematic Theology)

My New Year plan is to be vigilant, attentive, focused, and Spirit-directed. I plan to make time to pray as if my life depends on it. It does.


The other day Fred was reading aloud from Matthew 25, a familiar passage, but Jesus' words struck me in a new way. I said to Fred, "We're foolish virgins!"

Now that sounds ridiculous, so let me explain. Jesus was telling the parable of the ten virgins to warn us to be ready for his return. But this story is very applicable to me and to you right now where we are.

Ten virgins take their lamps and go to meet the bridegroom. Five were foolish because they took lamps but no oil, and five were wise because they took oil in jars along with their lamps. "The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight the cry rang out: 'Here's the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!'

Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.'

'No,' they replied, 'there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.' But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut." Matthew 25:1-13.

We're all waiting for the Lord. His return on one level, but usually we are more focused on our daily lives. Each day we're waiting for God's leading, his presence, and his answers to prayer. Every day we go here and there, make plans and decisions, interact with others. When we start our business every morning, do we take lamps with no oil?

Think of our lamps as our history with God, our knowledge of the Word, our faith built from past experiences. How far will the past carry us without refueling? All the virgins had faith. All were waiting expectantly--and all got tired and fell asleep. We're human, after all. But then something happened. He came! The opportunity arose! They needed to wake up and move quickly. Five were not prepared because they had no oil. They had nothing more to keep them going. On their way, the light began to dim as the oil burned out and then it was dark and they couldn't find their way.

When Fred was a chiropractor, he went to the office at 5:30 a.m. I used to get up then and read the Bible, work on my lessons when I was teaching, and spend time in prayer. Those precious times are gone. We are on a new schedule and I'm finding it so hard to get up early. I've been starting each day low on oil. It's not enough to get me through and my light starts to go out. Then I'm discouraged, irritable, overwhelmed, fearful and envious of others whose life is more orderly. But I can't get my oil from other people. It can't be borrowed. I have my lamp with me--my unwavering faith. But the fruit of the Spirit have withered and dropped to the ground. Running out of oil can ruin the engine of a car, and it's damaging to us and our loved ones too. But there is an even greater risk. Francis is the one who helped me see the bigger picture. I will write more on this next time. I need to head to the source of oil now.