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.

10 Things I Don’t Do (& 1 Thing I Do)

I write on the side. For love

Three days a week, I am gainfully employed outside of the home. Another day and more is joyfully invested in ministry and treasured scheduled times with my girlfriends. And feeding and clothing and making this house in the woods a home for Jim and the two sons we’re training up to be men takes time too.

Because I wear so many hats, now and then friends will ask, How can you do everything you do?

But what these friends might not know are all the things I DON’T do.

So if you ever feel rotten because you can’t do all the things that a friend of yours can do, this post is for you. On the gateway of the year, pause and remember: there’s a lot of things that person you’re comparing yourself to DOES NOT do.

Like these 10 things, for example, that I DON’T do🙂:

  1. Care for pets. But Dinah and Zippy were delightful parts of past seasons.
  2. Clip coupons, buy Groupon and find all the best deals. (I sometimes use Kohl’s cash, though.)
  3. Sew, knit, quilt and crochet. But I am super blessed by a mother-in-law, nephew, nieces and friends who do.
  4. Decorate my home.  Our walls are (mostly) monastery white, our sofa is 21 years old and that’s all right.
  5. Workout at the gym. In the time it would take me drive there and back, I can squeeze a jog or bike ride in.
  6. Watch TV and rarely a movie. I have never, not ever, rented from Netflix or Redbox or Vudu. Really. Truly.
  7. Make lasagna or salsa or pizza from scratch. Although, as in #3, I’m blessed by family and friends* who do.
  8. Scroll my way through Facebook. I post and run a lot, and Instagram and Pinterest are off limits for me.
  9. Pamper at the salon. A combination of Great Clips, Clairol and my friend Holly manage me swimmingly.
  10. Garden. And by extension: can, freeze and make herbal soap with lavender and thyme.  Caveat #7 applies.

That’s my list of 10 things I DON’T do.

They’re not good or bad, right or wrong. The point is not that I can’t or shouldn’t do these 10 things. It’s that, at least for now, I don’t.

It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. It does mean we’ll all find it easier to rest content with what we don’t do when we acknowledge God made us- intentionally-  fearfully and wonderfully different. We have different and unequal sets of skills, goals, interests, abilities, and resources.

Which means our lists could stretch to 10,000 things we DON’T DO. And that’s okay. Because our limits are built-in by God. They’re good.

Here’s how Andrea Dekkar closed her “10 Things I DON’T DO”  post that prompted this post:

I think the important thing is for each of us to realize what our skills and goals and interests are, and then focus on putting our time, energy, resources towards activities that align with our skills, goals, and interests.

If we can do that on a regular basis, our lives will feel simpler, more organized, less chaotic, and less stressed!

I like that and agree. Building on strengths and using gifts- rather than wishing we could do what we don’t- tends toward growth and joy.

But I can’t leave it there. Because, while my list of 10 will no doubt change with each season of life I’m in, there’s this 1 thing I do that I pray never ends.

Seek Him.

One of the first Psalms I set (back) into song 20 years ago was Psalm 105: 1-4. We four still sing it now, ending with verse 4:

Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.

Look to the Lord and his strength and seek His face. Those might sound like three, but it boils down to  one.

  1.  Seek Him.

Bing, bang, boom- some things are that simple. God’s children seek his face. They press on, they exert effort to get to God himself.

John Piper describes this sort of seeking as,

[T]o constantly set our minds toward God in all our experiences, to direct our minds and hearts toward him through the means of his revelation…

And there are endless obstacles that we must get around in order to see him clearly, and so that we can be in the light of his presence. We must flee spiritually dulling activities. We must run from them and get around them. They are blocking our way.

These things we must move away from and go around if we would see God. That is what seeking God involves.

That’s my 1 thing. I want move away and go around- some of my DON’Ts- to seek His face because I want to know Him more.

He still speaks.

Because how can you possibly love someone you don’t know? And how can you possibly know someone if you never listen? If you don’t seek?

To know God, we must listen to his voice. His sheep listen to his voice and follow Him (John 10:27).

We must hear God speak.

The spectacular truth is we don’t have to climb a mountain or sail the sea or even rise at 5 am in the quiet, dark to hear Him speak. Because He has spoken. His words are within arm’s reach right now. “The Bible,” AW Tozer wrote, “is not only a book which was once spoken, but a book which is now speaking.”

God wants to speak to us today through his Word. So let’s don’t say God is silent.

He wants us to seek Him and press on to know HIm.

Don’t say God is silent if your Bible is closed.

Tozer also wrote,

Everything is made to center upon the initial act of ‘accepting’ Christ . . . and we are not expected thereafter to crave any further revelation of God to our souls. We have been snared in the coils of a spurious logic which insists that if we have found Him, we need no more seek Him.

Spurious means false. It’s false to think that once we’ve come to faith and received Christ as Lord we’re done. As if once you’ve found a great friend you can stop seeking to know him.

No! John Piper says it like this, Go hard after the holy God. Isaiah, like this, Seek the Lord while He may be found. He may be found now in His Word.

But we silence the sound of God’s voice in our lives when we leave our Bible on the shelf (or ignore our Bible apps). As has aptly been said, Complaining about God being silent when your Bible is closed is like complaining about not getting texts when your phone is turned off.

Tim Challies puts a bow on it:

Apart from this, speaking by his Son, through his Spirit, in the Bible, God does not promise that He will speak in any other way

In other words, we can all believe that God will speak to us through the Bible. And all this JoyPrO stuff, I hope, is about how God does speak. About how we find Him when we seek.  

What’s on your lists? Do you have 10 things plus 1?

My list of 10 things I DON’T do will change. There might even come a time when I make soap with thyme and crochet.

But seeking Him by grace will – I pray- be my 1 thing. To begin and end this year and all others.

How about you?  What are 10 things you don’t do?

And 1 thing, so help you God, you do?

But one thing I do: 
Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 3:13b-14

Do You DIGLI?

“God loves inequality…

In terms of gifts, talents, abilities, opportunities, blessings, God is unequally lavishat least according to our standards, and that’s not a bug, it’s a feature.” 

Joe Rigney, Desiring God Theology Refresh Podcast, 10/4/13

Why Differences Are Good

Differences mean inequality. And while some would have you think otherwise, the inequality inherent in our differences is actually a good thing.

In stature and smarts, in wealth and where we’re born, we’re all different. But that’s okay. It’s not a design flaw. God made us and his wide world to work this way and since He doeth all things well. Including the scattered way he hands out gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.

The Lord is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made (Psalm 145:17). Since God gave his gifts this unequal way, and He’s always loving and righteous, unequal must not be bad. The opposite must be true. In God’s economy unequal equals good.

Sure, we’re equal in the sense of being God’s image bearers, fearfully and wonderfully made. But since differences were arranged by Creator-He clearly dispenses his gifts in diverse and disproportionate ways, He must love inequality.

The body analogy helps us if we stall out here. The body shows us unequal does not mean unimportant.

And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. (1 Corinthians 12:16-18).

God scatters grace and mercy as he wishes on whom he wills. He is lavishly, unequally loving toward all he has made.What do you with this truth?

What do you do when you brush right up against God’s gifts and blessings to others?

Do you say, It’s so unfair and envy? Or, As you wish, Lord, and DIGLI?

The Great Leveler

Inequality doesn’t need a fix. We don’t need to level the playing field. Five is not equal to three and that doesn’t make either digit a more necessary number. The world would not be better off with just fours.

Dorothy Sayers said, Envy is the great leveler. And that it always levels down. Envy and the resentment would have us lower the blessing bar to the lowest common denominator. If I can’t make a six-figure income, you can’t either. If my kid can’t be a champ, yours can’t be either.

The world does not dig our DIGLI. They don’t get our happy dance and would ban the chance to dance it if they could. Wealth we redistribute to make it more even and our fair women push to be combat-ready rangers. We used to have a valedictorian. Then came two and a few, and a dozen. Now we scrap the whole thing. And forget the solitary youth league MVP. Let’s give all the kids a trophy.

Whatever happened to the love of the game and enjoyment of excellence and savor the beauty? What when he got game, and it’s others’ excellence, and her beauty. Can we love inequality then?

If we believe the world’s lie, that unequal needs a fix, we can’t. But if we have eyes to see unequal as God’s gift, we can and will DIGLI.

When I DIGLI

I love to get secondhand gifts. When God’s grace to others overflows to me, I’m not too proud to DIGLI.

I DIGLI when Stephanie’s piano and song sing me up like a saint and when gaze at how another friend Shari can paint.

Shari’s Sheep

I DIGLI when a service tech looks under the hood and can fix the clunk while I wait and when from Jen’s backyard pool I pause and look out on her Edenic estate.

I DIGLI when one son soaks up a poem and recites it so easily and when the other knows just who needs a hug and exactly how firm it should be.

I DIGLI when my fingers get red and my stomach grows full picking berries in my parents’ garden or lay lost in Middle-earth or Narnia, in Dumas or in Dickens.

I DIGLI when I belly laugh at Hawkins’ yoga pants and how to raise my hands and serious, too, when Platt and Piper preach it powerful and true.

So DIGLI I do. Do you? Do you Delight In God’s Lavish Inequality? You’ve got to have faith to love God’s scattered grace, to believe that the Word is true. Eyes of faith see his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he

When I Don’t DIGLI

Sometimes I don’t DIGLI. I don’t dance that happy dance when with view askew I compare God’s mercy to others with God’s (perceived) mercy to me. Sin is crouching at my door, and when I start playing judge and jury, resentment and envy will have me.

God’s lavish inequality is revealed not just in scattered gifts, but in how he administers mercy, too. The way God relents and forgives, how he just swoosh erases others’ duly deserved punishment, that inequality, is harder for the Pharisee me to DIGLI. Like these three:
  • No fair, Mom! Gabe bellowed. Why does Sam get dessert? You said if he didn’t finish his broccoli he wouldn’t get dessert and now you’re letting him have ice cream. That is not right!
  • I’m not so sure that’s how it should be, I reasoned. Why did the boss give her that promotion, when she was the one who lost that big account last year? That is so unfair.
  • Isn’t this what I said? That’s why I made haste to flee; I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful… relenting from disaster…Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.

It’s harder for me when God’s lavish inequality comes in the form of lavish and unequal mercy. Then in a hard-nosed, self-righteous huff, I sometimes choke on the inequality.

Gabe couldn’t lick his ice cream because Mom let Sam have his. I couldn’t see them giving her the job when I had served my time. Jonah couldn’t abide God’s mercy to Nineveh when he knew how wicked they’d been.

Yes, God, we do do well to be angry. This is not as we wish. We will not DIGLI. 

How to Dance the DIGLI

Then again we’re pricked, the brute beast in us knows: we’d be so much better off back on our happy feet. These three have helped me to delight in God’s lavish inequality.

  1. Own the body analogy. When I see someone with gifts and abilities and blessings, which might be God’s gracious pardon, do I see God’s hand in it? Do I give thanks to the Giver of all gifts, who arranges all the parts of the body as he sees fit? Do I delight in secondhand gifts?
  2. See yourself in the Bible stories. Are you Cain or Abel? Saul or Jonathan? Are you Jonah fuming under the shriveled vine. Do you cry, “Your mercy is too great. No fair. Why?” If you do, and I have, repent. Ask God to help you say with John, “He must increase, I must decrease.”
  3. Give thanks. Anger and envy can’t dwell in grateful hearts. So anchor yourself in God’s grace with gratitude, says Rigney. Be grateful for gifts God gave them, including his mercy. No wrong has been done because God blessed them. There’s plenty of grace to go around. God won’t run out.

As You Wish

You all remember the beginning of Princess Bride, right?

Nothing gave Buttercup as much pleasure as ordering Wesley around, Grandpa read.

Farm Boy, polish my horses’ saddle. Farm Boy, fill these with water. Please fetch that jar.

“As you wish,” was all Wesley ever said.  

Then one day Buttercup was amazed to discover that when he was saying,

 “As you wish,” he was really saying, “I love you.” 
 
It is that simple. Wesley’s words of true love and devotion should be ours, too. When we trust God, we DIGLI and say, As you wish, Lord. And then, we’re really saying, I love you.

So Lord, please help us to be glad in the ways you dispense your grace and mercy. Help us to say, and mean. ‘As you wish, Lord.’ Help us delight in your lavish inequality. 
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weened child with his mother;
like a weened child is my soul within me.
Psalm 131:2

Prayers of a Lesser Thanks?

Are comparison prayers-could be worse, at least it’s not- a lesser kind of thanks?


On their backs, our thanks resound?
No! (We won’t boss Mack around.) 
Well, maybe for a chance, 
To boost our prayer stance,
Just enough to get thanks off the ground!

Beware of comparison thanks, I told the ladies. Our life group topic was, yes, gratitude. My shower that morning was lukewarm, spit it out, tepid. So I prayed a Yertle prayer. I thanked God that at least it wasn’t ice-cold. 

Even as I shared it, my example it didn’t sit well. In my lap. These prayers never do.

Like, Thank you God, that:

  • My kids aren’t as ___ (wild, rude, fragile) as hers. 
  • My husband doesn’t play video games like hers.
  • At least my wife doesn’t go shopping as much as his.
  • Even though the quiver’s not full, at least I’ve got one, while some have none. 
  • Even though the car was totaled, the injuries weren’t worse. 

Yertle prayers don’t often sit well. Maybe it’s because they remind me of the old adage, “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet.”

But haven’t you wondered about the man with no feet? Was he thankful? Is he still crying?

Do you wonder the gratitude invoked by could be worse comparisons is of the same quality as, say, Job’s, The Lord give, and the Lord takes. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Or David’s,  I will give thanks to You, O Lord, among the peoples, offered as he hid from Saul in a cave.

Still, who among us hasn’t prayed one of these? Thank you Lord, that least I have a warm house, a loving family, good health, freedom to worship in public. That my woes are so very first world. 

But they leave a funny aftertaste. What if my shower was ice cold? If work was dull, with no benefits? If the quiver is empty? If I was one of 60,000 starving in the Yida, South Sudan refugee camp? If malaria and malnutrition, without home and family are your lot? What then?  

There’s the rub. Yertle prayers leave an aftertaste because, maybe, they aren’t totally pure. They’re relative, contingent. Maybe a lesser thanks?

Guess what? It’s a fallen world. We grow weak and we see dimly. Motives are mixed. But, hallelujah! We have a gracious God. And sometimes comparing is the boost triggers a truly thankful heart. I think He can sympathize with prayers that aren’t 100% pure. We don’t, after all, have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

Since my “Beware of comparison prayer,” alert I’m rethinking. I’d love to read your comments, too. I think I wouldn’t be so wary. Here’s why. 
  1. Thanking God is good.  It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name O Most High (Psalm 92:2). Just plain good. 
    • Because we magnify Him with thanksgiving (Psalm 69:30), and
    • Because it’s God’s will, and that’s always good (1 Thessalonians 5:18). 
    • Because He commands thanksgiving (Colossians 3:15, Psalm 50:14), and 
    • Because thanksgiving guards our hearts and minds and brings peace (Philippians 4:5-7). 
    • And if that’s not enough, because thanking God is the very business of heaven (Revelation 11:16-17). 

2.  Thanking God is good, even if it means comparing. (As long as it’s not self-exalting, self-righteous, smuggery.)

As far as I can find, there’s only one biblical example of bad thanksgiving. You remember it. Jesus told the parable to some who trusted in themselves, and treated others with contempt. (Luke 18:9-14)

Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.


3. Thanking God is good. (As long as it’s not contingent on a physical set standard; as long as we adjust along the way.)

What I mean is this: Will thanking God that my boys’ are having school success in elementary school, be able to translate to thanks if they forgo college ten years from now?  And if my lukewarm shower is a cold shower after my next run?

Will thanking God in my 30’s that I can say, run for an hour without pain, translate to thanking him in the next decade (or day) that I can, walk to the mailbox with pain? And one day, if I’m unable to leave my bed, what then?

Where will I stand then to launch my thanks to the God?

Through [Jesus] whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 

Romans 5:2 
The same place as I am now.  This grace.
How about there?