Recently we experienced a physical plant malfunction at work. My explanation to our guests that afternoon was a tongue in cheek, "we have had a wee bit of a leak." Behind the scenes, our skilled management team carefully began to assess the scope of the situation and to decisively respond. Out front, the focus of the staff remained on calmly and attentively serving our guests.
On the exterior, that gap was bridged with exceptional finesse. Internally, however, it was a different story. I felt like I was clinging to the sides of a wobbly canoe, trying to maintain my center of gravity.
As issues continued into the evening, my attitude began to plummet. My mind swirled with the unanswerable questions of, "What if they?," "Why don't they?," "Shouldn't they have already?," "Why didn't they?," and "What if I?"
Dwelling on the myriad of problems that could potentially arise, my brain became as saturated with cynicism as the ceiling was with water. "They should have," "They didn't even," and "They always," accusations continued to drip as the sodden ceiling tiles of my thought-life began plunging toward the floor of my heart. The "thwack" as each one exploded into a soppy mess was both disquieting and unnerving.
Not surprisingly, I slept poorly that night. Waking up groggy the next morning, I whispered a prayer. Okay... more accurately, I whined. "God, I do not want to go in to work with the same crappy attitude I had when I left last night. I mean seriously, what if they still haven't..." and just like that, my Liturgy of Complaint was resurrected.
Let me just pause for a moment and say that Divine silence is an interesting thing. In my faith journey, I am learning to allow God's quietness to draw me to Him rather than to distance me from Him. So, in the face of His reticence as I grumbled, it occurred to me that perhaps I should stop talking. And lo and behold, when I did, He spoke.
With a warm, parental tone He asked, "Are you finished?" Acknowledging my childishness over the last 18 hours, I sheepishly responded, "I am."
"Son," He tenderly explained, "you hooked yourself up to an IV of negativity yesterday and you allowed the cynicism, sarcasm, and criticism of that situation to circulate throughout your entire body. And, you were unconsciously resisting the grace of the Holy Spirit when you allowed that poison to dwell in your system. That is why you are so physically and mentally tired."
Divine kindness was palpable as He continued. "While the circumstances at your workplace are true, what you are perceiving about them is not the Truth. Son, I am the Truth." [Selah]. "Child, it is time to remove your self-administered IV." And with gentle tenderness, He took my hand and carefully undid my “handiwork.”
Pondering that graphic imagery, it became clear that my viscous negativity about that situation had displaced the Truth of Who God was, and is, in the midst of it.
That is what makes Paul's counsel to the Thessalonians all the more compelling to me. "Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 MSG). I believe that exhortation is not a pithy spiritual panacea, but rather an admonition based on this understanding. Worship is a solvent that disintegrates pretensions that set themselves up against our knowledge of God (see 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 NIV).
In his teaching, “Overcoming Negativity through Rest,” Graham Cooke shares this simple truth. “We dilute negativity by rejoicing.” So, as I got ready, as I drove to work, and even as I clocked in, I invited the Holy Spirit to glorify Jesus through me. Engaging my heart and my mind, I felt prompted to praise God through the alphabet. "God, You are Astounding. You are Brilliant. Thank You that You Care so tenderly. I Delight in You. You are Eternally Faithful. You are the Glorious Healer. You Indwell me by Your Spirit. You are my Joy. You reign as King of kings and Lord of lords. You are Marvelous. You Never fail. You are Omnipotent and Powerful. You are Quintessential love. You are my Resting place. You are Supremely Sovereign and Trustworthy. You are Unflappable. You are the Victor. You are Wonderful and eXcellent. You restore my Youth. And You are Zealous for Your purposes to be accomplished in me and through me." When I got to "Z," I began worshiping through the alphabet again expressing other attributes of God that began with those letters.
As I focused on the Truth, gratitude began to bubble up in my heart. Expectation about the possibilities of the day began to displace the dread I was feeling about coming into work. To me, it was Romans 8:6 coming to life, “attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life” (MSG).
Perhaps that imagery speaks to you in your journey today. Are you weary from dragging around an IV pole laden with negativity? Are you tired of “forfeiting the grace that could be yours”? (Jonah 2:8 NIV). Hear the good news. “A mind focused on the Spirit will find full life and complete peace” (Romans 8:6 VOICE). I am so ready for that! Aren't you?
So what's the next step? Embrace Paul's counsel as a Spirit-whispered invitation to you, right now. In the midst of your situation, "...here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life - your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life - and place it before God as an offering... fix your attention on God" (Romans 12:1-2a MSG). “Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns." And what will happen, Beloved? "Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down." Paul ends this exhortation with an encouraging testimony. "It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life” (Philippians 4:6-7 MSG).
As we seize this challenge and as we walk in Spirit-granted grace to live it out, may our testimony be the same: "It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces negativity at the center of our lives! ’Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus - Just from sin and self to cease; Just from Jesus simply taking - Life, and rest, and joy, and peace!'" (Louisa M. R Stead). Thanks be to God. Amen.
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