On Comparing, Scarcity & Working Your Little Territory

Man planting little territory

Cut comma, delete clause, better word. First impression! No typos on this one, Abigail. Big breath. Triple check.

Read it out loud. Read it again.

Breathe. Post.

Scarcity

Is it wrong to want more influence? Is it bad to try to build your tribe? And is it sinful to want more opportunity to make a bigger mark for God?

It all depends.

It depends first of all if you’re being, what Paul David Tripp calls, a glory thief. If you’re craving the credit for what only God could create, or wanting your tribe to dote on you and hang on your words rather than worship God, you are a glory thief.

But there’s this other piece I’m learning. S L O W L Y learning. I am learning that while it isn’t wrong to approach Mom’s apple from a position of scarcity—because there are a limited number of pieces— it is both irrational and wrong to approach ministry and writing this way.

Because there is plenty of ground to go around.

Comparing

On Friday, I wrote the big **Intro Post** to the Hope*Writers group I joined four months ago. Four months of build up to make the perfect first impression that could connect me to the “right people” and help launch the MORE MEEK book before long. That’s what the deleting and cutting and breathing and re-reading were all about before I hit post.

Saturday evening I looked back at the post, back at the group. I looked back like Lot’s wife and I started comparing. Not only the meager likes and tepid welcomes on my intro post with the massive likes and red hot welcomes on Amy’s intro post, but my life with her life.

There, I said it. The Green-Eyed Monster still isn’t dead in me.

You see, Amy was working for the campus organization that I almost joined 20 years ago. She is doing what I love do as her job. Plus Amy has a real book published by a real publishing house.

Silent tears kicked off a short-lived, impromptu pity party on Saturday night.

Yes, I know. Ug-ly.

Tend Your Territory

Enter Jonathan Rogers into my ugliness. The words of his post were God sent for me that Saturday night, when I started comparing my writing with hers.

Rogers describes urges his writing readers to switch from a hierarchical orientation to a territorial orientation. A hierarchical orientation is fueled by comparison. Instead of comparing and thinking better than, more than, think of faithfulness tending your land. Because comparison, we know, is the thief of joy.

Writing, like running (and, for that matter, like football) requires discipline and work and a willingness to do hard things when a thousand easier things present themselves. But the goal of all of that work and discipline is to get better, not to get better THAN. Other writers are your allies, not your adversaries…

If you’re a writer, forget about your place in the hierarchy. You don’t have a place in the hierarchy because there is no hierarchy in any meaningful sense. What you have is a territory—a little patch of ground that is yours to cultivate. Your patch of ground is your unique combination of experiences and perspective and voice and loves and longings and community. Tend that patch of ground.

The Draft and the Marathon: Hierarchies and Territories

Please be encouraged. Because we all have a patch of God-given territory. It’s ours to tend. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.

So tend your little patch of ground that is uniquely yours. Tend the girlfriends who want to spend time with you. And tend the growing sons who need you even if they don’t want you. Tend the home that needs your gentle stability. Attend to the readers and listeners God sends you.

Tend, tend, tend. Tend them.

Two Prayers: Both/And

Remember the prayer of Jabez? It’s buried in an obscure passage in a rather obscure Old Testament book. The genealogy is humming along, when after forty-four names, the name Jabez breaks in. And in 1 Chronicles 4:10 we read,

Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, “Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!” So God granted him what he requested.

Jabez prayed for more territory—for me that might look like more people to encourage with God’s Word, more Bible studies, more readers, and maybe, getting that MORE MEEK book in print. What would enlarged territory look like for you?

Pray for it. But remember, too, the words of Psalm 131—that little prayer that King David prayed,

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
    my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
    too great and too marvelous for me.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
    like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child is my soul within me.

Both. Pray for an enlarged territory. Pray that your little patch of influence for Christ, please God, would increase.

And. Pray for a calm, contented soul that is not so preoccupied with too great things that it cannot give thanks in everything.

Fellowship With Christ Or (Pity) Party Alone

After a three month build up to that big first impression intro*post, which 5-6 hours of deliberation, I did the deed on Friday. Then came the sore dejection and deflation on Saturday when I compared my post, and my life, with Amy’s.

Then I got to tending. I started the Bible study prep in the Gospel of Matthew for my little Sunday afternoon territory. And as I prepared this little patch of ground that God has entrusted to me, I started to see that even though my envy is ugly, God isn’t afraid of ugly. So neither should we be. Jesus touched the unclean and made them clean. He deals in beauty made from ashes.

It was getting late and I was still straddling the fence. But my choice distilled to this: Do I stay at the party or blow the joint with the meek and humble Jesus? Do I compare or choose fellowship with the man of no reputation? I can’t do both.

Jesus grew up in Nazareth— as in Can anything good come out of Nazareth? — little backwater Nazareth. There was nothing in his appearance that would attract us to him. Not to mention that his own family thought he was crazy. Oh, sure, he didn’t feel the exact same deflation I felt at Facebook post. But in Hebrews it says, He was tempted in every way as we are but was without sin.

He knows. Which means he can sympathize with the likes of you and me.

All Glory Be To Christ

That was Saturday night. Then came Sunday morn.

God wasn’t done speaking to me about envy and legacy. He speaks through his Word. Sometimes his Word is expressed through man’s lips or song lyrics that remind us of God’s truth.

And it just so happened that on the first Sunday of the new year we sang a song that starts like this, and this pity-party throwing, would-be glory thief was all undone.

In the best of ways.

Should nothing of our efforts stand
No legacy survive
Unless the Lord does raise the house
In vain its builders strive
To you who boast tomorrow’s gain
Tell me what is your life
A mist that vanishes at dawn
All glory be to Christ

All Glory Be To Christ

Woman hoeing little patch of ground
My Mom tends her territory with a little help from the boys.

Make A Name, Or Praise His Name

Peter Bruegel painting Tower of Babel make a name
The Tower of Babel, by Peter Bruegel the Elder

We grow small trying to be great.

E. Stanley Jones

The whole earth had one language and the same words. And as the people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there…Then they said, “Come let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heaves, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” Genesis 11:1-2, 4

Fame… I Wanna Live Forever. Baby Remember My Name

Who doesn’t want to make a name for himself? Who doesn’t desire a little bit of fame? Not enough to attract the paparazzi. But just enough so people remember you, colleagues quote you now and then, and your name carries weight; so that with you can enjoy “Basking in the glorious wake of modest achievement”?

Who wouldn’t want that? (If you tend to agree, you might enjoy 9 Quotes for Glory Seekers).

Remember hunting through honor-roll lists to find your name?  Or buying the paper just to see it in print? We’re hardwired to seek significance. At least since Babel, we sons of Adam and daughters of Eve have sought to make a name for ourselves.

Juxtaposed Names

Many of us learned about the Babel confusion in Sunday school. And we’ve known Father Abraham had many sons for just as long. But have you ever noticed how God set the two side-by-side, juxtaposed?

Juxtapose means to place close together for contrasting effect. I think God uses juxtaposition for our instruction, to make things more obvious. And re-reading Genesis this week has me thinking that Babel and Abram can teach us a lot about making a name.

Maybe they way they’re placed is supposed to teach us that making a great name is bit like catching butterflies. If we run straight at them, they flit away.

Here’s what I mean.

Genesis 11 begins like this: Let us make a name for ourselves. Chapter 12 begins like this,

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  

Striving for fame, the tower building, name and fame seekers were dispersed. But Abram who by faith obeyed receives God’s unsolicited blessing: a great nation and a great name.

Do you see? Do I see? For the Christian, a great name is not self-made. It is given. 

We Don’t Make A Name—It’s Given

Throughout Scripture we see that great names are given by God, not made by man. After all, it was our Lord Jesus himself who said, whoever would lose his life would find it and whoever would be first must be last. This is our God, the Servant King.

The book of Ruth reveals the same. Do you recall the name of the guy who had first “dibs” on marrying Ruth? The name of the man who “took off his sandal“? The fellow who rejected Ruth for fear it would compromise his own name, his own inheritance?

Stop racking your brain. His name isn’t recorded. My Bible footnote says the Ruth’s narrator references this man with an indefinite, like “So and So.” In order that his name wouldn’t be remembered at all.

But you do know the name Boaz, don’t you?

Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people,”You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and Mahlon.  Also Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place.  You are witnesses this day.” 

Unconcerned with his own fame, unfazed by maintaining Mahlon’s name, it is the name of Boaz is remember. Boaz, the father of Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Judas And Mary: 2 More Juxtaposed Names

Mark records a gathering at Simon the Leper’s home. Mary the sister of Lazarus (John 12:3) and Judas were there with Jesus. Mary pre-anointed Jesus for his imminent burial with, “an alabaster flask of pure nard worth a year’s wages.”

What about Judas? On the verge spectacular sin, he scolds Mary for “wasting” the perfume. To which Jesus replies,

Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.  For you always have the poor with you and whenever you want you can do good for them.  But you will not always have me.  She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial.  And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.  Mark 14:6-9

And so Mary’s name is memorialized. Which explains why for ages “Mary” held the top honors for girls’ names, while, last I looked, “Judas” has never made it to the top 3,792 in boy names.

Mary’s name is remembered not because she sought fame but because she loved the One whose name is truly great. We don’t know who designed the Tower of Babel, but by faith Abram obeyed and God made his name great. We don’t know who the Sandal Man was, but we know Boaz. He was the great-grandfather of King David.

And we all know the name of Great David’s Greater Son. Because it is the only Name by which we must be saved.

Praise that name and you will live forever.

Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!

Psalm 134:3

10 Reasons I’m Glad I Married Him & 1 Marriage Tip

Bride and Groom married walking down aisle, hand in hand
January 4, 1997

1 Marriage (& Friendship) Tip

Hair fades, brows crease, and it is all grace that our marriage has endured to year 25.

But even with 24 years under my belt, I’m no marriage expert.

I do have one quick tip, though. I call it the THAT’S WHY I MARRIED YOU game; AKA: CALL OUT THE GOOD, or I LOVE THAT ABOUT YOU.

Single? No worries. It works with friends, too. Just call it, THAT’S WHY YOU’RE MY FRIEND.

In fact, I advise my single friends, Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, then half-closed after the wedding. This, I think, is an active way of keeping our eyes half-closed—closed to negatives we can’t change in others—and wide open to their praiseworthy ways.

To clarify, calling out the good does not mean we don’t see the bad. It only means we choose to dwell on the good, à la Philippians 4:8,

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Not Blind, Just Focused

So playing this “game” doesn’t imply you’re smitten down to the pinky toes. It just means you’re choosing to see the good in them. It’s not blind devotion. It’s proper focus.

But maybe you feel like you made a mistake in choosing your marriage partner. I hope this surprising quote from lessons for incompatible soul-mates encourages you.

Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates…But the ‘real soul-mate’ is the one you are actually married to.

Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, pp. 51-52

And you’re real soul-mate will thank you and feel more like your soul-mate if you practice this one tip.

Don’t save your loving speeches for your friends till they are dead; do not write them on their tombstones, speak them rather now instead. 

Ana Cumens

Do Not Withhold Good

Directions for use: Simply call out the good when you think it. You notice when a friend keeps her word when it hurts, call it out. Your husband unloads the dishes, acknowledge it.

Don’t save you loving speeches. Praise the praiseworthy. Don’t be stingy with it. If you think a complimentary, affectionate, kind-hearted thought about your husband (or friend) share it.

Bonus Points: Call out the good in front of others. I try to play “that’s why I married you” in front of the boys. It sounds like, “He gives great hugs. That’s why I married your dad.” Or when you’re having coffee with Meg and some mutual friends you casually ask, “Doesn’t Meg give the most thoughtful gifts?”

And without any more ado, here’s why 24 years after the wedding, I’m glad Jim’s my man.

10 Reasons

In no particular order, here are 10 reasons I’m glad I married Jim:

1. He makes me laugh. Refer to the infamous Stanley Park incident and ask him Inspector Clouseau at Walgreens.

2. He is a handyman of handymen. Look what he installed for forest-dwelling, sun-loving me.

3. He fears God. He greatly delights in his commands.

4. He is kind. And—shhh— I don’t even think he even knows about the 30-Day Challenge.

5. He is a tidy. He puts dirty clothes in the bin, though I still struggle to put the clean away.

6. He forgives me. Yes, to #7 of those 8 marriage quotes: A good marriage is the union of two good forgivers. 

7. He gives the best back rubs. ‘Nuff said.

8. He plays games. With the boys and with me, he plays to win (and usually does) and for that I’m glad.

9. He reads to me. It was Churchill’s Trial in bed last week.

10. He keeps his word. Jim’s word is golden; never have I ever doubted that.

That’s how CALL IT OUT looks around here on our 24th anniversary night. But remember, it also works wonders with friends.

Before I close, I’ll let you in on a little secret about this “game.” Playing it is a gift. But the gift of gladness is as much to yourself as it is to your spouse or your friends.

So do not withhold. Call out the good.

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.

Proverbs 3:27

At the Gate of the Year: A Message for Uncertain Times

Poem is read at 3:07.

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”

I think of these lines as December runs out. They’re from a king’s speech to his fearful people—people of one of the most powerful nations on earth in a time of great uncertainty and three long months at war.

More than eight decades have passed since King George delivered that message, but its truth is as needed as it was then. Because the times they are a-changin’. And the order rapidly fading and the roads rapidly changing isn’t all good.

It wasn’t so good then, either.

Peace In Troubled Times

Great Britain had entered the Second World War in September 1939. In the three months since, air-raid sirens had been ringing in their ears and tension was rising. Anxiety and fear over the New Year pressed into English hearts and minds.

King George VI was England’s reigning monarch in December 1939. As was the custom, the king addressed the nation on a BBC radio broadcast on a Christmas day when all was not calm and bright. He told the people of the only true source of peace in troubled times. King George concluded the message with the part of a poem introduced to him by his 13 year-old daughter, Princess Elizabeth.

The king read the poem to encourage the English people that even during the dreadful war their future could be bright and secure.

That’s why I share it with you on the gate of this year. If your hand in His, you will walk by faith in him, your way will tread safely and rest secure—come what may.

Here’s the poem.

“At the Gate of the Year”

by Minnie Louise Haskins (1875-1957)

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

So heart be still:
What need our little life
Our human life to know,
If God hath comprehension?
In all the dizzy strife
Of things both high and low,
God hideth His intention.

Gate

God knows. His will
Is best. The stretch of years
Which wind ahead, so dim
To our imperfect vision,
Are clear to God. Our fears
Are premature; In Him,
All time hath full provision.

Then rest: until
God moves to lift the veil
From our impatient eyes,
When, as the sweeter features
Of Life’s stern face we hail,
Fair beyond all surmise
God’s thought around His creatures
Our mind shall fill.

God knows. His will is best…Our fears are premature. He will provide for all time.

For all your days and times.

Our Days Are Numbered, And That’s Good News

All of our days are numbered. They were written in his book before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:16). Priest and missionary Henry Martyn said, You are immortal until God’s purpose for you is complete. And since God loves his children with great love, this is very good news.

So I echo the king at the gate of our year, May that Almighty hand guide and uphold us all. Amen.

Now heart, be still, and rest. For he holds our hand.

For I the Lord your God hold your right hand; it is I who say to you. ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you.’ I am the one who helps you, declares the LORD. Your Redeemer is on the Holy One of Israel. 

Isaiah 41:13-14

My times are in your hands.

Psalm 31:15