Striving After Wind

“Stop Striving and Just Abide”

That was what I ‘heard’ as I sat on the deck of the condo we stayed in during Fall Break.  Do you have a special place that speaks to your heart?  A place where you feel you hear God more, or maybe you just have clearer thoughts?  The beach is that place for me.  As I prayed I kept getting this same phrase in my heart over and over.  “Stop striving and just abide”.  So…I researched a little.  Please forgive the stream-of-thought-rambling-nature of this post.

Striving vs. Abiding

Striving:  exert oneself vigorously; try hard; make strenuous efforts toward any goal;    Thesaurus: bend over backward; break one’s neck; drive; go all out; fight; go the limit; labor; make every effort; knock oneself out; do one’s best

Abiding:  continuing without change; enduring; steadfast; remain; continue, stay, to wait for; submit to;       Thesaurus: constant, steady, persistent, concede accept, sit tight, suffer, tolerate, withstand

When I looked where ‘striving’ is used in the Bible it referenced the book of Ecclesiastes.  I have never read or studied much in this book.  The phrase “striving after wind” occurs nine times and most often couples with “this too is meaningless”.  In 2:22 it says, “What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun?”  In other words, What do I have to show for all my striving?

The Hebrew word used for wind is – Ruah – which means ‘sense of purposelessness, uselessness, emptiness’.

Isaiah 45:9: “Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots!  Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘what are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles?’”  How much do I fight God, the one who formed me, and strive against what he is doing.  Strive against how he is forming my journey.

So what about Abide – where is this word used in the Bible?  Depending on what translation of the Bible you are reading you may see ‘remain’ instead of ‘abide’.

In Numbers 9:22 “Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for 2 days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out.”

John 15:4 “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.  No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”

The commentary in my Bible under these verses in John say: “remain in me” was clarified by the added statement in vs. 7 “and my words remain in you”.  Christ desired that His disciples continue to obey the words that He had spoken to them so that their lives would be full of joy.  Dependence on Christ, communion with Him, and obedience to Him will result in a fruitful life for the Lord.

1 John 2:24-25, “See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you.  If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father.  And this is what he promised us – even eternal life.”

What about the word remain?  Definition: to stay, live, dwell

So…putting it all together after meditating on the above this it where it took me:

Where am I striving?  Where am I ‘chasing the wind’ which only leads to emptiness?

Strangely enough I think I’m striving in trying to find what I should be striving towards.  Let me explain.  I have been weighed down with trying to figure out my purpose and calling and what I ‘should’ be doing.  And it became a ‘chasing the wind’ task for me.  After talking to my husband and my mentor they gave me permission to give myself the freedom to do…wait for it…nothing.  I’m only 38.  My purpose can be broad.  Choosing to abide in God is my purpose and calling – it’s whatever He lays in front of me next.  My purpose and calling is to be in His will.  I have the rest of my life to figure out what fills my heart specifically – all the time for Him to plant, toil, fertilize and grow what that should be.  So I say:  Lord, I want to chase after you, not the wind.  I want to chase your will and what you might be calling me towards.  But the grander calling on my life, or the purpose of my life, well, it doesn’t have to be something narrowed in and specific.  Because it’s as specific as what you lead me to.  Sometimes you might lead me to the well of abundance, sometimes you might lead me to the city of productivity, and sometimes you might lead me to the wilderness of nothing – all are exactly a perfect and complete calling of purpose!  Amen.

So I wait.  I wait to see what the next thing might be.  I’m in the quiet and stillness of this space for Him to just guide me without giving him options.  How presumptuous of me to think I could give him options in the first place.  The LORD will direct me to the correct way.

So, I declare, LORD here is my hand – I’m stretching it out to you and allowing you to direct my path.  How perfect/ironic that you lead me back to the verse that has always been in my life:  “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) 

And again I say amen!

Questions for thought:

  • Where are you chasing the wind?
  • Are you abiding in Jesus? Are you waiting and submitting to his will?  How?
  • Or maybe the very first question you should answer is have you ever extended your hand out to Jesus and submitted your life and will to Him?  If so, reflect back on that time in your life.  If not, I would suggest you explore it deeper and further.

Force vs. Flow

Last December as I was being asked to decide whether I was going to recommit to my role within CBS (I have mentioned Community Bible Study (CBS) many times before) I felt uneasy.  I wasn’t sure why, but I didn’t really explore it.  There was already some transition going on in the leadership and I chalked it up to those changes and didn’t think it had to do with me personally.  More conversations.  More stirrings.  More doubt.  But it was more convincing myself it was because of more change that came in the leadership and the class.  I didn’t understand and knew there would be no way God would call me out of my role because I adore the ministry and loved my role.  But as the summer started the struggle became stronger and the joy became weaker.  That should always be the sign when the struggle becomes stronger than the joy.

Please don’t read that and assume that it applies to everything.  I would not apply that to my marriage.  I would not apply that to my children.  Or my relationship with God.  And sometimes there is a season where you have to endure a stronger struggle and it’s hard to find joy, but when we have committed to the Lord we can rely on his promise that joy will come in the morning.  So when it is not an oath that you have sworn in the presence of God and it comes to your service in ministry, your job, your volunteer commitments, your hobbies, and just commitments in general that when you are manufacturing energy instead of it providing you energy a change may be on the horizon.  And that is what it came to with me and CBS – I was manufacturing energy to fuel me to serve rather than it fueling me.

I had always been told, “When you don’t feel like you get a clear yes or no, lean into the yes and keep on the same path”.  But in this experience and I think for my future I can solidly say I don’t agree.  I now say, “When you don’t feel like you get a clear yes or no, lean into the no because you don’t know what he is freeing you up for”.  It may be the same exact thing you are saying no to.  That “position” will still be available because he still has it in his will for it to be yours.  But it may be something completely new and exciting and off your radar, but on His radar that he has already prepared for you.

This was the case with me.  I decided at a very inconvenient time within the ministry to lean into the no.  To put aside the fear of disappointing others.  To understand that God doesn’t work on the CBS calendar – he has the right to call and claim me at any time of his choosing.  So I made difficult phone calls.  Had hard conversations.  And ultimately did disappoint people.  But I know I was obeying my heavenly father and honestly that’s all that mattered.

So the day after these excruciating conversations (I shed A LOT of tears – I did not understand, but I chose to trust) I got a simple text, “Ashley, you interested in filling in for my assistant while she is on maternity leave?”.  It came from a friend of mine that I had worked with previously at church who had recently stepped into the campus pastor role.  Cue more tears and A LOT more of them.  This was not on my radar.  I wasn’t thinking about going back to work.  I didn’t know if it was what was next, but I chose to step into finding out.

A lot had to be figured out regarding carpooling the boys to school, Garrett’s childcare, the hours, my planned vacations being approved….I could go on and on.  And each and every detail was solidified easily within 24 hours.

My late mentor Regina always used to tell us, “Force vs. Flow”.  We, in our humanness, can tend to force things, but God is in the business of sweetly flowing things our direction so all we have to do is ride.

And so, that is what I have been doing for the last 11 weeks.  I have been working about 25-30 hours at my church and with that came early mornings and some crazy coordination of schedules, but it also came with some sweet quiet times, lots of laughs, and some needed discipline in my schedule.  Some days it kicked me hard in the pants.  But most days I surrendered to the one who provided the opportunity and flourished.

I officially transitioned everything back over to the stellar gal that holds that role yesterday.  As much as I loved the job and the job responsibilities, she is a rock star at what she does and I’m thrilled I could play a part in holding down the fort until she returned.

<and just so you know – God provided an awesome replacement for my role in CBS at just the perfect time (of course!) and she is killing it!>

As always, here are my closing questions for you to reflect for yourself:

  • Is there an area in your life you are manufacturing energy?
  • Where should you lean into the ‘no’ and make a difficult decision?
  • What are you forcing to happen, rather than surrendering and allowing him to make it flow?