The Way in the Wilderness; Streams in the Wasteland

Two things have been elusive to me: contentment and joy. The drive that pushes can also produce the anxiety that wishes. Wishes of better circumstances, less trouble, greater comfort or whatever can distract from the abundance of the moment. The feast that is evident with every meal when no meals are missed. The protection of shelter when the rain never gets on me as I sleep.

Never. Never a missed meal or homeless exposure. Yet, those things don’t seem to matter even though they are foundational to everything the rest of the things (according to Maslow). When they are overlooked, the top of the pyramid is always one or more anxious wish out of reach but seemingly within reach with a little more effort.

Lately, however, I’m seeing it differently. I’m considering the joy that is available within the problems. I’m intentionally orienting towards joy and contentment when the trouble squawks, opportunities tempt or worry taunts. I don’t have it figured out or mastered but I’m seeing the target and getting the words which are the ability to hit the bullseye.

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.” – Isaiah 43:19

The way is in the middle of the wilderness; not after deliverance from the wilderness. It’s right there among the wilderness and all the shadows that are inherent in wilderness culture. The streams interrupt the wasteland but they don’t overcome it. The enjoyment, relief, satisfaction and thanksgiving for the way and the streams are available within the context of the wilderness and wasteland. One doesn’t cease to exist because of the existence of the other; they co-exist.

I’m learning to sit in the stream and not care about the wasteland which is still looming. The emotions that are stirred from the observation of the negative possibilities that the wasteland holds don’t have to be given priority. The cool of the stream and sound of its trickling will prevail if they are given their due. The peaceful and consistent reassurance of their refreshment will be enjoyed right up until the point where I focus on the threats of the wasteland.

Peace is in the river despite the limits of the river banks but the shore of the wasteland will consume everything that I give it. Stepping out of the stream into the wasteland to fix the wasteland is a fool’s errand. In this world, we will have trouble; that’s not going to change. The way and the stream are not of this world.

Avoiding an Ambush

Years ago, when I was still single, I began to want more. I was living pretty fast, from one weekend to the next, and began to question where there might be more. I ducked into churches figuring that there would likely be some answers there.

At the time, I felt very inadequate by comparison to all the nice people who were there. After all, I figured, they were closer to figuring it out than I was since they were there before I arrived. My life and their lives had to be drastically different and I was sure they would disapprove of me if they knew more about me. I would sit on the back row and try to not engage with anyone, for fear of exposure.

At one of my visits to one of the churches, there was a powerful speaker and from what I could tell he was talking of things that were true. It felt like God was in it and the “more” that I was seeking was somewhere in or around this deal. Towards the end, with every head bowed and every eye closed, the speaker asked us to raise our hands if we thought or felt or decided something, although I truly don’t remember what that something was. In any case, I raised my hand from my seat in the back row.

The next thing I knew, there was somebody sitting next to me with a clipboard and a pen to get my information and ask me some questions. I was shocked at how efficiently they saw my hand that had been up for a few seconds and dispatched someone to close the deal, whatever the deal was. I felt tricked and ambushed and I never returned to that church.

Years later, what I know is that I am just as jacked up as the most confused seeker even though I’m there most weeks. I know that I speak and teach and minister and I am just as messed up as every regular attendee, seeker or critic. Whatever they are still figuring out, likely so am I as I still want to sit on the back row sometimes and just slip my hand up in the air without anyone converging on me with a clipboard.

We are all figuring it out and we don’t need to be tricked to take another step. We need to be loved. We need grace that displays itself as transparent honesty regarding our struggles and limitations. We need a knowing look of affirmation and encouragement more than we need our information captured. At least that’s what I need and I figure that I’m not alone.

The Final Promotion

The day before the surgery, I texted my dad to tell him that I didn’t have any peace with the plan to open his chest up. By a prophetic nudge, I was prompted to make my concerns known to him. He answered back:

“Son,

I can understand your concerns. I considered taking the stent route. Why would anybody think of having their chest cut open a second time? I just don’t have any faith that is a long-term fix and I don’t want to suffer a heart attack when one collapses.

Your mom and I both have prayed this thru and are at total peace with the choice. God has blessed us with good health and beautiful family and we have wanted for nothing. We believe he watches over us in all circumstances and our lives on earth will be as long or short as He wills.

I love you and take great pride in the man you have become. Take peace that we rest in the grace of God.

Dad”

I’ve re-read this text time and time again. I’ve copied it and saved it. I value it and don’t want to lose it. I love how he calls me “Son” in it. I can hear his voice when I read it.

He had voiced much of what was in the text to my mother. He didn’t want to live in fear of a heart attack and was seeking a fix that would afford him the freedom to live. He still had passion for his purpose on earth, but if the surgery didn’t work out, he was completely comfortable with eternity as his next stop. He was completely assured of his salvation in Jesus and the promise of heaven. It was a compelling assurance vs. the compromise of a life lived on earth in fear and reservations.

The total peace that he had was real. That eternal peace wasn’t assurance of temporal outcomes. He knew he could die. Yet, he would live.

There is no way to live life with healthy zeal until and unless we know that life on earth is just the first chapter. All of eternity is available beyond the experience we have here and now. The next step is one into promotion. My father had been promoted a bunch of times in his career but nothing compared to this one.

It hurts from this perspective but the joy we can have for the ones that are promoted is available in Jesus. Without Jesus and His promise of eternal life, there is no hope beyond the pain of death. With Him, however, the sting of death is softened as death gives way to new life.

I really mean that, and so did my dad. So does Jesus.

In Pursuit of Greatness

We were all born with shortcomings and limitations, but those same faults declare the glory and greatness of our potential. We are limited only by surrender to our limitations or abdication of our identity. Our destiny can be hijacked by either frustrated surrender to defeat or premature declaration of victory.

The journey is within us, not in the product of our efforts. Products come from raw materials and the raw materials of our destiny is in the ingredients of our character. Our character is composed of our soul and our soul is in need of transformation. If we’ll stay the course and allow for the transformation, we can reach the destiny of our design.

We buried my father at the end of last year. His was a life well lived and the declaration of his eulogy was that he was “the greatest man who I have ever known.” That declaration was only timely in a eulogy; anything prior to that is too soon.

My father’s greatness was a transformative process and the greatness he exhibited is available to us all. The eulogy we are crafting will be graceful to look past our flaws and proclaim our achievement to the extent that we are not defeated by our flaws nor impressed with our achievement before our greatness is ripe.

We are not intended to declare our wisdom or greatness, “But wisdom is proved right by all her children.” (Luke 7:35)

It’s the impact we make in the lives of others that declares our greatness. It’s the fruit of our investment in them that affirms us. As that investment is being made, it would be untimely to stop for the recognition of us as that would shift the effort from selfless to selfish. Selflessness is the posture of transformation, within us and around us. When we humble ourselves to give and serve, we will be transformed within as we change things around us.

My father’s greatness was developed in his humility, as displayed by his service. He gave of himself to others and their benefit is his legacy. Everyone he touched carries him to some measure and their multiplication of his investment declares his greatness every day of their lives and the lives they touch, into eternity.

Your time hasn’t come yet, but what you do with this time will define and determine your time. The declaration of your time won’t be made by you, but it will be affirmed by others. Your greatness is incubating, not to be prematurely declared. As we enter a new year, the consideration of time should lead to the posture of humility, which will foster greatness. Greatness and wisdom are declared later, by others, not today. Today we have things to do.

The Exponential Power of a Life Well Lived

My father passed away on Friday rather unexpectedly. There was a complication with an operation he had on Tuesday and he was gone quickly. On its face, all that is left is grief and questions; underneath the top layer, there is inspiration.

My father’s life was not his own; he gave it away. He had given his life to Jesus and the purposes of the Kingdom of God. He served in his church and community as his full-time job in his retirement years. He was looking for ways to bless and serve others right up to the end of his life. He made much of Jesus in the life that he lived.

He also gave his life to his family. My sister and I, along with our families, children and grandchildren, received the incredible inheritance of a living picture. A living picture of a life lived with integrity, humility, reliability and selflessness, among other things. We got to see what it looks like to finish well. We got a good look at the target of a life well lived. You’ve got to see the target to be able to hit it.

For 50 years, I enjoyed the steady and consistent teaching of shoulder to shoulder experience with a man who did it. There were no unanswered questions as his affirmation, love and support were both spoken and unspoken. That is an incredible gift and I am more thankful than I can describe. The heritage he crafted is a legacy to steward and multiply. It calls me into the purpose of generational impact. The context of generational impact is eternity.

Without context, there cannot be understanding. Understanding facilitates purpose. Purpose is collaborative in the sense that we all have opportunities to agree with others in our purpose to multiply our impact as well as theirs. Purpose brings us full circle back to context.

He was not afraid of what happens next. The reason he wasn’t afraid is because he was increasingly acclimated. He knew of heaven for heaven’s sake because his life was increasingly agreeing with heaven on earth. The lines between here and there got blurry as he sought a supernatural impact even in the restraint of his natural surroundings.

God blesses generations and generations carry momentum. The Kingdom advances with increasing momentum and we’ll realize it as we agree. When we have eyes to see beyond the visible, there is more than death; there is life from death.

We are grieving and that is good and right. The sadness is real; the pain is tangible. Context, purpose and understanding use grief as fuel for glory. “For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!” (2 Cor 4:17)

 

It Might Take Forever

As a practicing attorney, I once had a consult with a potential client. During our first meeting in my office, I realized that the task at hand for this particular client wasn’t as legal as it was something different. Her legal situation, while not particularly egregious, was grim. She had been convicted of a misdemeanor and was appealing the conviction as she wanted desperately to clear her record.

As she sat and poured out her problems, I eventually put my pen down and just listened. The facts surrounding the accusation were simple and the legal defense took just a minute to consider. The chances of winning were slim, at best. The facts surrounding the rest of her life were not nearly as simple. Without going into detail, she had taken some pretty tough hits in life and the result was financial stress, health problems and the challenge of raising two children on her own.

During that consultation, I told her how we would handle her case. As importantly, I tried to give her something to get a hold of for her to begin to handle her life, as well. Simple encouragement that brought hope and perspective. Just pointing out her positives and calling her vision to the truth of the hope of what could be.

We went to trial and lost. We tried – threw a legitimate legal argument at a legitimate legal problem. It was a long shot, though, and I was a little concerned about my client’s confidence and outlook as we left the courtroom.

I started to debrief her in the hallway and she interrupted me. She said, “Mr. Prickett, I am as full of hope right now as I have been in a long time. When I came to your office, I was scared and defeated but you were kind to me. Nobody has said the nice things that you said to me in my entire life. Those words were exactly what I needed to hear.” I listened and watched as a single tear rolled down her cheek. She went on to share that she had signed up for college classes even though “it may take forever to get my degree, but I’m going to be moving forward with positive steps to keep my mind off of my problems.”

There is more to this thing we do, whatever it is we do, than the stuff that we do. Sometimes we just have to stop what we’re doing, put our pen down, and agree with the life that is barely hanging on in the soul of another. Our agreement with hope in the life of another won’t fix all of their immediate problems but it might just get things going the right direction.