Lately, as I’ve been feeling sorry for myself in my boredom and frustration, and loneliness with my housemate gone, I’ve been reminded that this is an excellent time to focus more on God through prayer and getting into the Bible more (both of which I’ve been lazy about – what a fine “missionary” I am!). The overall theme I’m reminded of in my current situation (again! – I find myself learning this lesson over and over) is that it’s about my attitude, not about my situation.
This morning I had great intentions of giving myself plenty of time to have a good quiet time. I even woke up before my alarm went off. Of course the first thing I realized was that I had double-booked myself this morning. Right away I was focused on that and trying to get ahold of people I needed to to rearrange my schedule. Then I took a longer shower than I needed to and generally just putzed around until it was time to leave. And there went my morning. But I did read Oswald Chambers (love him!) and paused long enough to pray about my attitude toward prayer. I asked God to come into my day (obvious, I know) and give me a mindfulness toward prayer throughout the day and not feel like I had lost my opportunity for the day just because I hadn’t sat down with Him in the morning.
Now let me share what convicted me and encouraged me from Oswald:
“Does it really matter that our circumstances are difficult? Why shouldn’t they be! If we give way to self-pity and indulge in the luxury of misery, we remove God’s riches from our lives and hinder others from entering into His provision. No sin is worse than the sin of self-pity, because it removes God from the throne of our lives, replacing Him with our own self-interests. It causes us to open our mouths only to complain, and we simply become spiritual sponges— always absorbing, never giving, and never being satisfied. And there is nothing lovely or generous about our lives.”
Ouch. But good ouch.
Then I got to work and was told we had a staff development meeting, which we’ve never had as long as I’ve been here, but we’re restarting. A young pastor from a local Bible school came to speak to us. First of all he was the hippest-looking Mozambican man I’ve ever seen. Genuinely cool and fun looking. And I was amazed when he started speaking. For one, I understood probably 90 – 95% of what he said which gave me a huge feeling of accomplishment. More importantly, he just took us through Philippians 1, not preaching at us, not yelling, but guiding us through a discussion and teaching us through that discussion. Here’s what struck me from looking closely at that chapter:
Vs. 3 & 4 – “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy…”
He starts with thanksgiving. But what’s the context? He’s sitting in prison. And likely not an American prison with hot meals and an exercise courtyard. He’s addressing a church outside of prison. Given the context, in my mind, a more logical letter would be to describe to the church his uncomfortable setting and ask for encouragement, prayers, letters, visits, etc. I know that’s what I’ve felt I’ve needed this week and have wanted to ask for, and my circumstances are honestly just fine. But Paul understood what Oswald centuries later wrote about: “If we give way to self-pity and indulge in the luxury of misery, we remove God’s riches from our lives and hinder others from entering into His provision. …it removes God from the throne…”
How often do I start with thanksgiving to God when I remember my friends and family? How often do I pray with joy not because of their relationship to me but because of our partnership in the gospel? How often do I pray with joy period when I’m not feeling particularly cheerful or happy? And who are my prayers usually first focused on? Me.
It’s only noon, but you can believe my ears and heart are perked up now. And you can believe that my attitude toward my work, toward my social situation, toward my empty house is changing. And my attitude toward prayer. You can also believe that there will come hard times, frustrating times, challenging times, and therefore, self-focused times in the future where I will probably need to be reminded of these lessons again. But God will remind me. He always does. When I’m willing to listen.