To my Teacher Self: you are serving the Lord Christ

This week in my fifth grade class we are reading “This I Believe: Free Hearts and Minds at Work”, a radio talk by Jackie Robinson. This quote toward the end really stood out to me:

“And in the largest sense, I believe that what I did was done for me — that it was my faith in God that sustained me in my fight.” – Jackie Robinson, This I Believe: Free Hearts and Minds at Work

That got me thinking: How often do I think about what I have to do instead of what has been done for me by God? How often do I think about what God will do for me?

When my heart is focused on the work I have to do, expectations from myself and others, that student (or administrator) who seems to have it in for me, or the sleep I just can’t seem to get, my heart is overwhelmed and temped toward resentment, impatience, and worry.

As I was praying through today, the Lord brought this verse to me:

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”  Colossians 3:23-24 ESV

So that got me thinking through practical implications of how to address frustrations. Some of these apply to me at the moment, some do not. However, they are all possible in the world of teaching. I don’t voice these frustrations because we should dwell on them, but to practice meeting real frustrations and temptations to sin with the truth of what Christ has done for those who hope in him alone for salvation. In other words, I hope to address what I have to do with what Christ is doing and has done for me, because I am serving the Lord Christ.

When I am planning my lessons with my weekends or late nights, I am serving the Lord Christ who loved me and gave himself for me. (Ephesians 5:2)

When I write my agendas on the board every morning, I am serving the Lord Christ who is my strength and song. (Psalm 118:14)

When I am dealing with a defiant – or even just annoyingly talkative- kiddo, I am serving the Lord Christ who has shown me mercy. (1 Peter 2:10)

When I’m faced with a conflict with co-workers or supervisors, I am serving the Lord Christ who multiplies grace and peace to me. (2 Peter 1:2)

When my planning (or lunch) is taken up with petty annoyances or more serious, seemingly impossible issues, I am serving the Lord Christ who awoke my heart from death and sin to salvation and life- a work impossible for me, but not for him. (Luke 18:27)

When I am grading papers, I am serving the Lord Christ who has promised to never leave me. (Hebrews 13:5)

When I am having an observation that may or may not be going according to plan, I am serving the Lord Christ who has already placed his favor on me. (Psalm 84:11)

When I seem to not be getting answers to work e-mails, I am serving the Lord Christ who hears my prayers and answers them. (Psalm 116:1)

When I’m buying more school supplies for my classroom out of my pocket, I am serving the Lord Christ who deals bountifully with me. (Psalm 116:7)

When I’m talking with or being harassed by an upset, unpleasant parent, I am serving the Lord Christ who enables me to do what is right. (Philippians 2:13)

So my prayer for myself today, as well as for us all, is that I set the Lord always before me so that my heart will not be shaken with resentment or worry.

“Praise be to the Lord, for he has heard my cry for mercy.

The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.

The Lord is the strength of his people, a fortress of salvation for his anointed one.

Save your people and bless your inheritance; be their shepherd and carry them forever.” Psalm 28:6-9

And may God guard my heart and faith today against any lie that would tell a different story. May he increase my faith to believe in the good promises and hope of his word.

To love and good works

“Look Miss W. I put the encouragement up on the board so that everyone would know to do their best job today.” -G, 5th grade

I smiled at his sweet sincerity and helpfulness. I was also a little disconcerted. Had he known that Hebrews 19:24 was that morning’s “verse of the day” on my Bible app?

It got me to thinking. I had to ask myself about what stirs up my heart – especially as a teacher- to endure in loving others and doing good, even when I’m tired and discouraged. A couple things came to mind. Admittedly, it feels disjointed, but it is a beginning of the beautiful canvas of hope painted in Scripture. So, disjointed thoughts or not, I want to share in hopes that it can encourage us all to love and good works today.

The love of God

“God loves his people. If you are a believer in Christ Jesus, trusting only in His merits, God loves you as surely as He is God. There is no question about the matter. His divine love is yours as certainly as His power is displayed in creation. Set God’s lovingkindness before your eyes. Think of His faithfulness! God’s lovingkindness never pauses. It is as constant as the flight of time. Never a moment but there has been love for that moment. Never an hour but there has been that hour’s portion of lovingkindness.” C.H. Spurgeon

Since I am loved out of a never-ending abundance of pure, perfect love, I am free to pour out that love on my students and others, not worrying about keeping back for myself. May God use the conviction of His steadfast love to increase my patience and kindness- in short- my loving actions. May His love empower my mouth to speak gracious words that build up, my eyes to shine kindness, my posture and tone to show His patience. Out of the divine security of resting in his love, may my classroom hold security for the children who enter.

God’s Presence

God goes with me today and everyday. He has promised to never leave nor forsake His children. So I can go back to our classrooms and say “God is in this place” and know He is. He is just as much with me when I’m walking to pick up copies as He is when I am dealing with a student’s battle of the will, or talking with a parent, or writing (more) lesson plans, or trying to get 5th graders excited about writing a summary… again. The presence of God gives me joy that doesn’t depend on my circumstances. May that knowledge make me smile and laugh and take joy in the presence of God today. May my students get to share in that joy.

“Surely His goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.” Ps. 23

That includes today. May the recurring refrain of my daily thoughts not be worry or resentment, but the thanksgiving of remembering:

God is so good, he cares for me, he loves me, he is with me.

For days to come

May the Holy Spirit always bring to my mind the words of the Bible so that I can get through each day strengthened (because of his power!) to bear good fruit and “work good work” as one of my students says. May I always delight to remember that in the faithfulness of God I have “strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow” (hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness)

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

Galatians 6:9 NIV

What would have been

Psalm 139:16 tells me that God has a great plan and it will come to pass. A book of what has been, what is, and what will be.

This verse brings hope and comfort to me for the days that are and will come. It also gives me hope for the day that would have been.

Because today would have been my uncle’s 60th birthday.

Today would have been my friend Rebekah’s 30th birthday.

Today would have been a day my friend could laugh with her dad instead of burying him.

Like many others, I have shed tears over my book of “days that would have been”. And I wonder how the hard and even devastating days could be written in God’s book, a book I cannot yet see and know.

It’s then that the Holy Spirit whispers heart reminders- words from the book God has given me to know.

Words…

  • From Psalm 139 that say even the greatest distance and greatest darkness cannot diminish his hold or guidance.
  • From Psalm 23 that even in the valley of the shadow of death he is present.
  • From Isaiah 25 that promise one day that God will swallow up death forever and he will wipe away all tears.
  • From John 11 that God wept with his friends over the death of their brother.
  • From John 14 that promise his peace and love.
  • From Revelation 22 that the Alpha and Omega is coming soon.

In the certainty of his unfailing love and promise, I can rest in the certainty of the days he has planned. In the power of the Holy Spirit, I can submit my “days that would have been” to his greater “days that are and will be”. I can even grieve, knowing that His heart toward me is tender and that one day he will wipe away my tears. That day is planned for me and it will come to pass. So I trust Him with the days He has written for me… and the days He has written for others.

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” 1 Corinthians‬ ‭13:12

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Psalms‬ ‭23:6‬ ‭

Seeking Whole-heartedly

“For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:10-13

The Lord’s people had turned against him, rejecting his laws and seeking false gods and the fleeting pleasure of sin. And so he judged them, as he had promised.

In the midst of judgment, he reminded them of his promise of mercy. His people had broken faith, but the Lord would not. Their exile had a limit. The Lord was not finished in his plans for them. His plans were still for their good and their hope.

He promised restoration of heart. The people who once rejected him in their hearts would turn back to him. And He would not hide himself. They would seek and find, they would call and He would answer.

Just as He spoke to His beloved then, so He speaks to them now. So I have to ask myself, as His beloved, what are the promises He has revealed in His Word? What faithfulness is mine in Him? Having come to Him for salvation, do I believe He delights to grant it? Even in dire circumstances, do I trust that his plans for me are good and full of hope? Do I seek after him wholeheartedly in Bible-reading, prayer, and obedience?

…..

“And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

Acts 2:38-39

…..

“And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life.” 1 John 2:25

…..

“And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”

Galatians 3:29

…..

“But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” 2 Peter 3:13

…..

“Uphold me according to your promise, that I may live, and let me not be put to shame in my hope!”

Psalms 119:116

Saturday Song: Christmas Medley

Come Thou long-expected Jesus, born to set thy people free…

Just as we long for Jesus’ second coming, others longed for his first. The story and songs of Christmas are reminders that he faithfully kept his promises in the past, so he will be faithful to kept his promises for the future.

Songs (with links to lyrics): Come Thou Long Expected JesusCome Thou Long Expected Jesus, Angels We Have Heard On High, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, O Come All Ye Faithful

By God’s grace, arranged and played by Katie W.

Swirling Clouds and Songs

Great is Your Steadfast Love

Psalm 86 — A Psalm of David

1 Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
    for I am poor and needy.
Preserve my life, for I am godly;
    save your servant, who trusts in you—you are my God.
Be gracious to me, O Lord,
    for to you do I cry all the day.
Gladden the soul of your servant,
    for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
    abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.
Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer;
    listen to my plea for grace.
In the day of my trouble I call upon you,
    for you answer me.

There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,
    nor are there any works like yours.
All the nations you have made shall come
    and worship before you, O Lord,
    and shall glorify your name.
10 For you are great and do wondrous things;
    you alone are God.
11 Teach me your way, O Lord,
    that I may walk in your truth;
    unite my heart to fear your name.
12 I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
    and I will glorify your name forever.
13 For great is your steadfast love toward me;
    you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

14 O God, insolent men have risen up against me;
    a band of ruthless men seeks my life,
    and they do not set you before them.
15 But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
16 Turn to me and be gracious to me;
    give your strength to your servant,
    and save the son of your maidservant.
17 Show me a sign of your favor,
    that those who hate me may see and be put to shame
    because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.

In an Instant

He loads the thick cloud with moisture; the clouds scatter his lightning.  They turn around and around by his guidance, to accomplish all that he commands them on the face of the habitable world.  Whether for correction or for his land or for love, he causes it to happen. Job 37:11-13

It was sudden.  Even with sirens, there was no warning for what was about to happen. 200+ mph winds. Shattering glass. Roaring thunder. Pitch blackness.  Crying people. Leveled buildings.

And God’s amazing mercy.

This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life. Psalm 119:50

February 5, 2008

The first storm came that afternoon.

The forecasts warned of such strong storms that the city’s public schools let out early.  I was four days into student teaching.  My cooperating teacher and I were on the phone calling the numbers on our students’ information sheets to tell a parent – in Spanish – that school was closing early because of the bad weather.  The buses were leaving in 20 minutes.  Would someone be at home to let the child in?

As the children left, I held the door open for a group of second graders on their way to the bus. Wind gusts howled around the corners of the building and thunder stormed overhead from this, the first storm.  A little girl threw her arms around my waist, looked up with big brown eyes and asked, “Are we gonna be OK?” “Of course you are, baby,” I smiled at her. “But, you are gonna get awfully wet if you don’t go on.”  She laughed and move on.  The nagging truth of what I didn’t tell her settled in to my stomach.  I didn’t know if we were going to be okay, as we’d like to think of it.  It wasn’t my promise; it wasn’t her promise.

What was our promise that day? Safety? Preservation of possessions? Is it only with those realities we can say that God is good?

The First Song

Two songs stand out in my mind. The first was the last song I heard before the second storm came with its lasting changes.  On my drive back to my dorm room, Mark Shultz’s voice sang out,

You never said it would be easy, but you said you’d see me through the storm…

And even though I’m walkin’ through
The valley of the shadow
I will hold tight to the hand of Him whose love will comfort me
And when all hope is gone
And I’ve been wounded in the battle
He is all the strength that I will ever need

He will carry me…

“I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)  That was my promise.  I could plan, and prepare, and pray, knowing that at every second my God would be with me.  He would be with me for one of two ends: either to preserve my life or to bring me safely from this life into His presence.

The Second Storm

A little over three hours later, the sirens were going off.

In fact, they’d been going off for fifteen minutes.  Eight of us girls sat in the downstairs dorm bathroom (with our homework of choice), reading, talking, laughing.  Two other girls sat in the living room just outside the bathroom.  We’d been through this before.  The siren would run its course and nothing would happen.

Then we heard a train.

The lights flickered.

Our ears started popping.

We yelled for the other two girls to get in the bathroom just as they jumped in.  One of the girls slammed the door shut as the power went out and the windows exploded.

I remember when I first discovered how fast thoughts are.

I was a little girl trying to see how many thoughts I could think before four seconds went by on the microwave timer.  Even though the tornado only took a matter of seconds, it seemed as if time had stopped.  I wish I could say that I wasn’t afraid when I heard the train coming, but I was.  It got louder – sounding more like ten trains – then even louder, until it sounded like nothing I’ve heard before or since.  It felt as if the sound were vibrating through every organ, bone, and muscle in my body. The wall I was leaning against for protection shook from the tornado’s fury.

Surely I had mere seconds left to live.  For a moment, I was filled with awe that the time had come.  I was going to see my Maker’s face!  I had waited for this for most of my life!  Then, I remembered what might happen in those intervening moments.

And I was afraid… afraid die in a building torn apart by a tornado.

Then I felt a voice say, “But then you will never hurt again.”  I felt courage from that.  That was my promise.

A couple seconds later, the tornado was gone.  I was still there, and so was the dorm.

It was so dark in the bathroom that we could not see one another.  We called family members to let them know we were okay. We prayed. We cried. We sang to our God because He had saved us.

Then we heard the news being shouted from outside. “Hurt and Watters are gone!

Five simple words, but I couldn’t understand them.  How could two entire residence complexes – fourteen dorm buildings – be gone?  On our evacuation route we soon saw with our own eyes.  The tornado had gone right through both complexes.  The buildings that weren’t leveled were missing walls and roofs. People were trapped in the rubble.  Paramedics were loading students into ambulances.  Surely dozens of our friends were dead.

Was God still good?

The Second Song

And in the end, the end is
Oceans and oceans
Of love and love again
We’ll see how the tears that have fallen
Were caught in the palms
Of the Giver of love and the Lover of all
And we’ll look back on these tears as old tales.

‘Cause after the last plan fails
After the last siren wails…
There is love.

Andrew Peterson, After the last tear falls.

The second song softly played over the speakers of the van as we drove back to the university the next morning.

The EF-4 tornado had gone through the rest of the town, and the morning light revealed the damage left behind.  Whole houses were gone.  Roofs had been lifted off and set down in a neighboring yard.  Debris lay everywhere.  Cars were flipped upside down and dragged across parking lots.

The view behind my dorm

At Union that day, search and rescue crews went through the rubble of the damaged dorm buildings.  Around mid-morning we got the news that everyone had been accounted for… and no one at Union had died.  Did this mean God was good?  Was that the proof of God’s love for us?

My Final Hope

Scripture is clear: God is love and his love never fails.

In every circumstance, God is good. He shows His goodness in fulfilling His promises.  Sometimes He shows that goodness by extending mercy to save from physical danger.  If this life were all that there is, then saving my life would have been the ultimate mercy.  If, however, there is life after death, then the ultimate mercy would be to save me for that life.

The truth is, I was an enemy of God and destined for destruction. I was condemned, not because of my actions alone, but because of my sinful heart.  And I could never save myself.  God extended the ultimate mercy to me by awakening my heart and mind to believe in Him.  Because of Christ’s death for my sin, I am now saved from judgment to belong to God forever.

One day, I really will have only two seconds left to live, and then I will see my God.  And I will not be afraid, but stand before God as a beloved child.  That is my promise and I will rest in it because the steadfast love of God never fails.

 

His grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

 

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.  For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18