I’d Like to Buy a Vowel, Please

“I’d like to buy a vowel, pleaseIs there an A?”

“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish,  and it will be done for you.”  John 15:7

                Between the words inhibit and inhabit, phonetically speaking, there’s only a vowel’s difference.  But, semantically speaking, that single vowel places these words at opposite ends of the grammatical spectrum.  It’s funny how much weight rests on something so seemingly insignificant.  It’s just a letter.  It’s just a vowel.  It’s just a curved line rather than a straight line.  Surely words spelled so closely alike must have other similarities as well.  Hmmm….let me see…nope, notta, nothin’.  They are as opposite as blessings and curses, as life and death, as attending and abiding.  But, while their applications may be miles apart, all too often their similar appearance causes them to be misused and mishandled.

Recently, I took a day and played hooky.  It was a completely inadvertent and unexpected twist to my previously planned out day, but it was one of the best things I could have done because in that day I experienced the word abide.  I’ve long known its meaning.  I’ve often used its terminology.  I’ve frequently recited its usage in a Bible passage (John 15:7).  But on this day, I felt it.  Have you ever put on a word?  Have you ever gone deeper than its appearance or its practicality and actually felt its substance?  Some words, I believe, are meant to be worn, to be wrapped about us.  Words like family, freedom, and forgiveness; or gratitude, grace, and grief.  Some words must be stepped into rather than just stepped upon.  Abide is one of those words; inhabit is another.  As I experienced on my “day off”, before we can abide, we must first inhabit.

In Joshua, we read of the arrival of the children of Israel into the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey.  When God led His children to the borders of their new home, He told them to inhabit the land which He had given them; “every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses.” (Joshua 1:3).  Through Moses and then Joshua, God reviewed the rules of engagement, reminding the people to choose between life and death, blessings and curses; between inhabiting and inhibiting, attending and abiding.  As the Israelites prepared to claim their land, God knew there was much more at stake than just the removal of the current inhabitants.  Once claimed, the land would have to be maintained and managed, and this process would need to be repeated again and again if it was to become a place in which one would inhabit…and abide.

I think that’s where a lot of us get hung up.  At least it’s true for me.  Maintaining and managing too often become a way of life and, before we know it, our days are spent trying to keep up with all the upkeep and rather than becoming inhabitors of the land, we succumb to becoming inhibited by the land.  Instead of dwelling, we develop; instead of residing, we redesign.  We are a people who thrive on doing but who hold back on being.  As a result, we fail to enjoy the very things that have been given to us for our enjoyment.

Just think for a moment of all the areas in your life that you work to maintain:  your home, your family, your job, your friends, yourself…your faith.  All of these are gifts, all of these are territories God has given us to inhabit and to enjoy.  But, since they all require maintenance, too often we focus more on the upkeep than on the upside.  When this happens, our focus turns to managing that which God meant for us to own.  Jesus said we are to enter into the joy of our Master (Matt. 25:21).  Our joy isn’t found at the entrance or the perimeter of God’s blessing, but at its center.  When we step away from the borders of activity we step into the center of abiding.  It’s a long walk but a short fall.  It’s a place we can only get to once we stop moving.  And then, when we are still, we sink into it and we put it on.  Right foot, left foot, right arm, left arm…ahhh.  Feel it?  It’s warm yet breathable, soft yet strong, overwhelming but not overpowering.  It’s the feeling of abiding.  And as we abide in God, we inhabit His blessings; and when we inhabit His blessings, we praise His name, and when we praise His name, He inhabits our praises (Psalm 22:3).

I played hooky the other day and it was the best thing I could have done.  The sudden halt in activity allowed my feet to stop so my soul could move.  On a day in which I traded managing for owning and surveying for settling, I inhabited my territory and gave thanks for the blessings God has given me…and I put on the word abide…and it fit.

I Found out where God lives

Picture Perfect Praise

Picture Perfect Praise

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which                           You have ordained, What is man that You are mindful of him,                                                   And the son of man that You visit him?      -Psalm 8:3-4

Today, as I write this, I am nestled among the flowers in my backyard.  To my right, white narcissus are blooming and to my left, purple irises are straining to outshine their stately neighbors.  I brought a chair out here and placed it right in the midst of these flowers because I have had a suspicion about something for the past couple weeks and thought it was time to test this suspicion.  To do that, I needed to be as close to nature as possible.  (Granted, I would have been closer to nature if I’d been closer to the ground…as in sitting on it, but I’m not testing the strength of my laundry detergent, so the chair came out and my behind stayed up!)

My first inkling of what I wanted to test occurred about a week ago when I went out on the deck and did a little star gazing.  It was a cloudless night and the brilliance of the stars both pulled me in and knocked me down.  You know the feeling; the, “Wow, I had forgotten how beautiful the night sky is!” sensation.  It was both exhilarating and embarrassing.   How had I forgotten such beauty?  It’s not like I hadn’t seen it before, though it had been awhile.  Why had it been so long since I’d sought it out?  And, while I looked and wondered not so much at the stars, but at the One who created them, I didn’t want to go back inside.  There is something about viewing God’s creation that reminds me of His glory and, almost simultaneously, elicits praise.  I couldn’t help but think what a shame it was to live under a roof that covered up such grandeur!  What a travesty to have something so timeless and awesome so accessible and then to cap it off with something as temporary and ordinary as wood and shingles.  And then it hit me…I live under a lid.  I walk about ever so close to God’s glory while remaining light-years away from it.  I, a finite, fragile, foolish creature, cap off the glory of the omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God.  Uh-oh.  This was deep.  I had to go to bed and let this thought percolate.

So, today, the percolation process continues as I sit outside, in a chair, among the flowers.  I often look at my flowers through the windows and, from time to time, I walk along the edge of the yard and admire them from a closer proximity, but today I was right beside them.  From this vantage point, I notice more than purple and white petals with green stalks.  Now, up close, I can see the shading of colors on the petals, the thickness of the stalks, the old blossoms and the new buds, and even the insects that have been delighting far more than me in the livelihood of these flowers.  And, as I sit here, I not only see their beauty more clearly but I also appreciate their Creator more fully.  With every shading of color, I am reminded that God attends to details; with every scent, I am reminded that God enjoys aromas; with every insect coming and going, I am reminded that everything has a purpose.   And so, with this insight, the testing was complete and the results were conclusive; when uncapped, when un-lidded, when un-separated from creation, I am more enamored by God’s handiwork and more inclined to sing His praises.  That’s just what I had suspected:  to be close to God’s work is to be close to His glory; to be close to His glory is to delight in His splendor; to delight in His splendor is to praise His name.  In order to draw closer to God, close enough to have praises falling from my lips, I must first move out from under my lid.  I must stop looking at God as through a window or from under a roof; I must uncap my mind…I must unmask my eyes.

In C. S.  Lewis’ book, Reflections on the Psalms, he writes about man’s need to offer praise.  Lewis says, “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. “  He goes on to explain it is through our praising of that which we admire that we actually delight even more in the object we are praising.  Lewis goes on to say, “The worthier the object, the more intense this delight would be; man’s chief end is ‘to glorify God and enjoy Him forever’.  In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.” That makes perfect sense and it is easier to comprehend when sitting under a sky filled with stars or beside a bed of blooming flowers; wherever God’s handiwork is displayed, and enjoyed, His glory is revealed and He is praised.

Another author, John Maxwell, writes about “The Law of the Lid” in his book on leadership titled, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.  The point Maxwell makes is that we all have limits placed upon us which he refers to as lids.  To lift our lid, two qualities must be developed: dedication and ability.  When we increase our dedication and our ability, the result is that we become more effective.  Now, while John Maxwell uses this principle to explain how to become a more effective leader, since it is a principle it can be applied to other areas as well…say to our dedication to God and our ability to praise Him.  If we follow Maxwell’s projection, an increase in our dedication will broaden our relationship with God but it won’t deepen it; that will only happen if we also increase our ability to praise Him.  And, if we can increase both the areas of dedication and ability, we will become more effective…more influential…more (dare we?) Christ-like.   We will throw off the lids that prevent us from seeing God’s handiwork and we will pop the tops that hold in our praises.  We will praise the God of creation as we enjoy the creation of God.

I think Satan knows this.  I think he is in the business of lid-making.  I think he delights in keeping our eyes masked and our views roofed.  After all, how do you undo God’s glory?  You can’t, so you try to cover it up…to cap it off…to use time and space to put distance between revealed glory and concealed glory.  And, because of his dedication and ability to deceive, he proves to be quite an effective lid-maker.  As a result, we pass through this world…a canvas of God’s glory…failing to see, failing to delight, and therefore failing to praise.  Not a bad plan, for one who can’t create a star, but can block it with a roof; for one who can’t fashion a flower, but can keep it on the other side of a window.

So, how do we denounce Satan’s lids, defer to Maxwell’s principle, and delineate Lewis’ views on praise?  We accomplish all three by stepping out from under that which separates us from God’s glory.   Where do you feel closest to God?  Where are you awed by His greatness, by His creativity?  What makes your heart sing and, as a result, praise God?  That’s where you go…that’s what you do.  It may take you outside on a starry night or it may have you sit among the flowers.  It might take you to a planetarium or to a zoo.  It could take you to a symphony or to an opera. (Umm…I’m not so sure about the opera scenario, but I do want you to think I am refined and might possibly, if threatened, attend an opera.  After all, I did drag a chair to the woods to sit in…that shows refinement, doesn’t it?)  The point is, God has created beauty all around us and when we come out from under our lids and see it, we see Him; and when we see Him, we praise Him; and when we praise Him, we enjoy Him.  And therein is life in its finest and fullest; therein is where our dedication to seek God and our ability to praise Him not only raise our lids, but remove them altogether.