Monday, July 20, 2015

Rest for All the Weary Women

Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. John 4:6 (NIV)

I’m exhausted. Overwhelmed. I’m weary, and the harder I try to figure out why, the more restless and frustrated I become. I’ve tried really, really hard to rest, but I don’t know how.  Ever been there? In the fourth chapter of John, Jesus is traveling from Judea to Galilee and scripture tells us he had to pass through Samaria. At noon, tired and exhausted, Jesus takes a break from his journey next to Jacob’s well. Come sit with Jesus for just a little while.

He waits for us at the well, because He knows what’s keeping us from true rest.

It doesn’t take Jesus long to meet a woman. She’s got her water jug, and she’s come to fill it. It’s scorching hot, but she knows she will be able to avoid the crowd this way, so she makes her way to the well… at noon.

Noon is the time to rest. This is a woman who does not know rest.  She chooses to haul her water jug to the well during the most uncomfortable and inconvenient time of day. This is a woman who is thirsty. She understands rejection all too well. She is failing and she knows it, so she hides. As she approaches Jesus, He invites her into a conversation that will alter the rest of her life.

Jesus: Will you give me a drink?

Woman: You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink? (Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

Jesus: If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.
(See John 4:7-10)

The town where she lives is called Sychar, meaning ‘drunken.’ I think about the words she hears Jesus speak at this place of shame and disgrace and frustration, and I wonder how many different drinks she’s tried until this man comes along and talks about a new drink she’s never tasted… one that will end all her trips to this well. 

Jesus: Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

Woman: Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.

Jesus: Go, call your husband and come back.

Woman: I have no husband.

Jesus: You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.
(See John 4:13-18)

Jesus’ words make her just a tad bit uncomfortable, so she steers the conversation towards something else: worship. Jesus knows she has a worship disorder, so He responds by defining true worship.

“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” John 4:24

Clearly she’s tried men.  I wonder where else she goes to quench her thirst. I wonder if she turns to other relationships, parched and dry, assuming this friendship or that friendship will give her what her heart longs for.  I wonder if she realizes how intoxicating this pattern really is. I wonder if she’s thought about how much effort it takes to carry that heavy jug. I wonder if she knows she doesn’t have to haul it around anymore.

Perhaps she believes that these relationships can meet her needs, but somewhere between Jesus’ offer at the well and His words about eternity and all the hidden baggage He so lovingly pulls out into the open without a shred of condemnation, she realizes it isn’t working.  Her efforts are futile and laborious, and even in spite of all her striving, she still feels rejected. And she can’t make her own heart stop throbbing.

I am this woman. I am at the well striving instead of resting. I haul around this awkward, heavy water jug. I’m so thirsty, but I’m constantly settling for something other than living water, and it never fully satisfies. In fact, it does the opposite of quench my thirst; it almost always makes me feel worse.

God created women- in His image- to be relational.  It’s who we are.  Yet our relationships were not intended to sustain us. God, in perfect love, designed it that way so that in our pain and brokenness and confusion and intoxication, we might turn to Him and set the water jug down.  No rope, no bucket, no effort required.  Just Jesus. 

Sometimes the most courageous thing we can do is set down our water jug at Jesus’ feet.  

 As Jesus invites this woman to step into the light, for the first time in her life, she doesn’t run away.  She doesn’t try to hide.  Because she realizes He is right. Jesus offers her something she’s never tasted before.  She hates coming to this well, and she hates feeling the ways she does. So she listens.  She finds deep within her the courage to believe this man who offers her living water, and she drinks.

She begins to learn what rest feels like and how it can ease her weariness. She chooses to trust Jesus enough to respond to His love. Then she finds that she’s not thirsty anymore. Somewhere along the way she realizes she has a story to tell, and her story draws others to Jesus. In the end, God shows her why He gave her relationships in the first place: to further His kingdom.

May we be women who trust Jesus enough to sit down and rest with Him. May we find the courage to abandon our water jugs and drink of His love instead. May we walk in the truth, aware that the only One worthy of our worship is Jesus and all other worship just makes us weary and exhausted.  May we cherish our God-given relationships and allow Him to use them to make the name of Jesus known.

And all the weary women who are flat out tired of trying said… Amen.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Difference Between Dreaming and Losing Hope

Just a square of paper creased here and there, the transformation wasn’t visible until it sat there completed. I wanted to walk away, up and quit about halfway through.  But my girl was patiently waiting nearby, so I kept folding the paper even though it looked nothing like a butterfly. When I placed it in her hands, I realized that in the middle of my frustration, I had only been one fold away from something beautiful.  I watched her fingers curl around its wings delicately, her bright red nail polish peeling back from the tips of her tiny fingernails.

Something stirred deep within me when she looked up and said, “Mom, it’s amazing. I want another one.” I grabbed a new blank square and started all over again. I knew what was coming, even though I still didn’t see it until that last fold. Dreams are that way, too.

There is no dreaming without waiting. If your heart longs for something beautiful, it isn’t automatic. Dreams take time to develop. They mature and grow one crease at a time. Lately, I’ve found myself stuck in the waiting.  Stuck trying so very hard to see the beautiful butterfly through the frustration and fear. I’m learning that the secret to waiting well is remembering.

Waiting looks forward with hope, yet waiting also remembers to look back without moving back. And this is the difference between dreaming and losing hope.

Simon Peter was a strong and courageous man whose profession required him to wait. The day Jesus showed up in Simon’s life was a day like every other. He was mending his nets in the early morning light after a long, unsuccessful night out on the water. Jesus told Simon to put the boat back into deep water and let the nets down again. It made absolutely no sense. But what he said to Jesus revealed his willingness to follow, and perhaps it was the very thing that Jesus saw in Simon when He called him out of the crowd.

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” Luke 5:5

Because you say so, I will.

The number of fish that were caught that day was so great that the nets began to break. And the boat could hardly hold the miracle. Simon traded his broken nets for a dream.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.”  Luke 5:10

Jesus changed his name to Peter, and he became a student of the Rabbi.  Peter hung on every word the Teacher spoke.  He also became one of Jesus’ closest friends. Peter even walked on water with Jesus. But then he denied he even knew the man.  Three times, Peter failed.  It was an unexpected turn in the story that everyone should have seen but no one saw coming. Jesus was crucified and it seemed as if all the disciples’ hopes and dreams died right along with Him.

In the midst of waiting, Peter returned to his fishing boat. Peter wasn’t abandoning his dream; he had to go back to remember. And he didn’t go alone.

Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.  John 21:2-3

Memories were refreshed out on the sea, because that’s where these men were when Jesus interrupted their lives. Out in the fishing boat, years before, they had heard Jesus speak this really big, really bold, impossible dream: I will make you fishers of men.  Jesus would do the remaking because it was Jesus’ dream.  

Peter had to look back to where it all started to remember that this dream belonged to Jesus, because there’s nothing scarier than dreaming alone. I wonder if that’s why Jesus began His call with the words, “Don’t be afraid.”

In looking back, we remember that the dream belongs to Jesus.

While the crew was out on the water, Jesus called to them from the shore. This wasn’t just Rabbi Jesus; this was Risen Jesus. He knew they were waiting for a catch, just like the day He called them to become something more. He told the men to let the nets down on the right side of the boat, and they did. One hundred fifty three fish were caught with one net. Yet this time the net wasn’t torn. It was stronger. If Peter was to go out and capture hearts rather than fish, only one net would do.  The gospel net.  This was the only net big enough and strong enough and guaranteed not to break. 

In looking back, we remember that the dream is impossible without the cross.

Peter tried to make the dream about him, and I’m no different. But without the cross there would be no dream.  Without the cross, Peter would be stuck holding onto his fear and failure.  And so would we. Later in the book of Acts, Peter is almost unrecognizable. I wonder how often Peter whispered to himself: Because You say so, Jesus. Because You say so. Our dreams are possible not because we’re smart, not because we’re talented, not because we’ve worked so hard, but because Jesus says so.

The butterfly effect is this idea that a single occurrence can change the course of the universe forever. It reminds me of God’s love poured out on Calvary. Without Jesus’ death our dreams would be futile, and without His resurrection our dreams would be impossible. Jesus changed everything for you and for me. His single act of Love causes our dreams to take flight.

The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. 1 Thessalonians 5:24