Thursday, May 15, 2014

Counting My Omer: A Survival Guide for Seasons of Waiting

In case this is the first time you've read my blog, one thing to know is this - we observe the biblical calendar in our home. Not to appear hyper-spiritual, and not because we believe it has anything to do with salvation - We do it because we find that beneath these observances, there are pictures of God’s character, of His redemptive plan, amazing and insightful principles that reveal His nature and ours only as they are lived out... and that helps us to honor Him more fully. These "moedim," appointed times, have blessed and challenged us for the last several years as we have walked through them with open minds and hungry hearts.

These days, I find that the biblical calendar eerily - yet not surprisingly or even for the first time - aligns directly with my own personal hurdles in life and faith. In all ways, I am living in a season of waiting, hoping and longing for a harvest - and that's exactly what "counting the omer," as it has come to be called, is all about. From First Fruits to Shavuot, also called Pentecost, this fifty day period doesn't take up much explanation in the scriptures. The days are simply to be counted off, numbered. And honestly, I never paid quite so much attention to them. Until recently...

A Season of Waiting...

An Agricultural Event
This season of God's calendar is one of waiting. In its original observance, Israel spent these days waiting for the harvest to fully ripen. They had seen the barley harvest begin to bud. Now they waited for the promise of that first fruit growth to fully bloom into a harvest that would feed and sustain. Their survival in the year to come would depend on whether or not God brought it all to fruition. Had they not trusted God completely, it could be a very frightening time, a time when they focused on what wasn’t there, when they became negative or even lost faith.

A Historical Event 
In addition to an agricultural season, the feast is also a commemoration of a historical event in Israel's history - it marked the time between Israel's redemption from Egyptian bondage to their first direct encounter with God Himself - on the mountain of Sinai. It is believed that from their departure to the giving of the 10 Commandments, 50 days elapsed - and at that moment they heard God's voice, and a great gift was given from Him to the people.

A Pattern in God's Word
You may be more familiar with New Testament repetition of this pattern, found in Acts 1. From Christ's resurrection to the moment when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples in that upper room and history was made there was a waiting period of 50 days.  So again, we see a picture of the first of a great harvest promised (Christ resurrected to eternal life), a waiting period, and a fantastic and powerful encounter with God Himself among men (the baptism of the Holy Spirit) - which rendered 3,000 souls for the Kingdom that day.

I often wonder what life must have been like for those men and women of God during these periods of waiting. The Israelites left home and all that was familiar to wander in the desert with a man they didn't really know. The disciples watched the man who had become their friend and mentor brutally murdered. Was the movement over? Who would lead them now? How long would they have to wait? What would a baptism of the Holy Spirit look like?

One thing was clear: there was no going back - they would simply have to trust and obey.

Counting My Omer...

I don't always let down my walls to let readers peer in to my life and heart, but I feel that in this case, it's important to share that I am in that "50 days" season. I am counting my omer. There are first fruits of a harvest in my life that I’m waiting for God to bring to fruition – longings and gifting and promises and seasons of life that I yearn for, that I feel are necessary to my very existence here on this planet – and yet I have no idea when my 50 days will end. I’m like those scared Israelites in the desert, those frightened disciples – maybe some of you can relate with me on that….

Aren't we all waiting for something? Longing for things? Whether it's healing from a broken heart, waiting for circumstances to change, hoping for an answer to prayer or just wishing Jesus would hurry and come back, we are all craning our necks with hopeful expectancy for what lies next. And in the waiting, l
ife is happening: hearts are breaking, hopes are dying - because we have not learned, as a people, how to thrive in seasons of longing. But despite our instinct to clutch and control, there is a way, a biblical model, for how to long for something in a way that honors God and brings peace to our lives…

 Let it Go... 

 While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now."So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”  He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Acts 1:4-8

I can certainly relate to the disciples in this moment. Here is this culmination of the ministry of Christ, in which He is sharing this wonderful promise and giving them His last words... and all they want is the inside scoop. They want to know what He's up to, to have their hands in it, their minds wrapped around the purpose of it. Fredrich Nietzsche once said, "He who has a why can endure almost any how." Yet notice Jesus' response. It applies even today - it's not our concern to know the big picture. Instead, it's our job to focus on being the witness we've been called to be.

That's a tough truth for me. We have a desperate, carnal need to know, to understand, as if the criteria for validity is that we 'get it.' Even typing these words I feel how saturated they are with pride. But, friends, our calling is not defined by our knowing and agreeing. When we stop trying to figure out the plan – make the plan – run the plan – help the plan happen in a way that makes sense to us  - then we can focus on what our call actually is - to simply be His witness.

If God has given you a call, a desire, if he has set you on a course and promised you something, simply walk in that identity! You don't have to worry about placing yourself in the right circumstances or creating the perfect conditions. You don't have to map out your course...or justify His call on your life at all -  simply take possession of the promise and watch Him exceed your expectations as He paints your life into His masterwork. Sometimes in submission and surrender we will not fully understand, and that's okay. The important thing is that we know - and reflect - the Who. So choose to walk by faith.

Go Back to the Upper Room...

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away. When they had entered the city, they went up to the upper room where they were staying...
Acts 1:12-13

It’s interesting to me that "counting the omer" is what time and tradition have titled this season. An omer was a unit of measure and changed from one time period to another. But there’s an occurrence of the word omer in Exodus 16 that I can't help but bring up. Here we read about the Israelites crying out for food in the desert as they travelled to what, at the time, was an undisclosed location. They were frightened, they were tired. And they were worried they wouldn't have food to live in the wilderness. Then, God provides a miracle...bread from heaven. They called it manna. The Israelites were instructed to go out and gather their manna - guess how much they got each day? You guessed it. An omer.  

God still continues to provide His manna  for us every day. It's not laying out on the dew-covered grass every morning outside our homes. Instead, it's sitting on our bedside tables, hiding in drawers and on bookshelves. His Manna is His living Word - the Bible. It's Jesus, the bread of life, who fills and sustains eternally. Are we gathering our portion daily?

The holy scriptures were not accessible to disciples in that day. So they went to the place that they had experienced intimacy and the presence of their Savior. To the Upper Room. They went to the place of breaking the bread, the exchange of His words, to remember their story and His life. Since you and I do, let's be intentional about taking in our own God-given omer every day. Let's spend time, real time, with Him in honest prayer, intimate communion. Let's continue to cultivate our own Upper Room experiences by sitting at the table of the Lord, every single day.

Don't Wait Alone...

These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.
Acts 1:14

I have the sweetest husband in the entire world. He also happens to be one of the strongest individuals I know - not a complainer, and an excellent listener. When you're talking to him, it's as if you're the only person in the world. And he's never once diverted the topic of conversation to himself while I was in the middle of a story or a thought.

While this is a beautiful gift and such a blessing to me, as a pastor, he's always so busy taking care of everyone else, listening to everyone else, that every now and then, he simply reaches his limit, plops down on our couch after work without warning and says, "Honey, I'm no good." It's then that he begins to unravel the burdens and worries and challenges that he has carried around, alone, for weeks, sometimes months. And I'm always astounded, being a talker and someone who has to process my feelings vocally, at how much a person can carry alone.

My friends, God has not intended for us to carry burdens alone. That is why the body exists. To edify, strengthen, help and support in the bonds of Christ's love. It's one of the great perks of being a King's kid. Yet it's one of those privileges that is so often misused, because of corruption in the church, or even worse, unused, because of pride.

It's vitally important for believers to not only carry burdens but also to share victories together. John 4 recounts Jesus' encounter with the woman at the well. I love the end of the story, and I envy their Samaritan community in a way... because they celebrated her story, through it the faith of many was ignited and bolstered. Rejoice in the victories of others, remembering that this God is your God too! The more you encourage a sharing within your circles, the more you will see Him moving, and ultimately you will believe that He is, He can and He will do for you too.

Forward Motion...

From Israel to the disciples to the countless other individuals in the Bible who waited for a promise to be fulfilled - one thing in their stories remains constant - no matter how long they had to wait for what the yearned for, they all kept walking. The biblical principle is that in seasons of waiting, we go to the harvest, it doesn’t come to us. From Acts 1:15 on, we see Peter take the lead in continuing the work that had been entrusted to the group. And we must do the same. Continue the work you’ve been given – build the team, hone the skill set, carry on the work, be present in the tasks at hand rather than dwelling on what may or may not be part of the future.

Let me emphasize, also, that by forward motion, I mean - don’t get stuck. It is so easy to get mad, to grow bitter, to lose hope and focus. Many times rather than continuing to walk, we sit down and build fences, count our grievances rather than numbering our blessings and cry out "Bring it to me or I won’t take another step with you, God!"

But that is not the way it works, Beloved. There is no pattern or story in the Bible that justifies us stopping and demanding for Him to bring the harvest to us. It's His harvest. We must labor in the vineyard, keep walking on the road to the places He calls us, holding on to the promise of the Word:

Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting
Psalm 126:5

So walk steadfastly and obediently toward your God in your season of longing. What do I mean, you ask? I mean what we do while we wait matters – actions count!

Leviticus 26 sheds some light on what I verse three, God says, "If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments so as to carry them out..." and finishes the thought all the way down in verse 12, "I will also walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people." Sandwiched in between those bookends are the blessings, what happens when you walk in God's direction and He dwells among you. Now these are not conditions of salvation. These people were already redeemed at this point. This is all about how to live with peace and quality of life. God says if we concern ourselves with getting to know Him, learning what He loves, valuing what He values, and responding to that by acting in a way that honors Him - walking uprightly - then you are going to experience peace, abundance, fulfillment. It doesn’t mean the circumstances are perfect. It means regardless of the circumstances, those things can be yours. 

So are we constantly fixated on what we don't have? Resentful of others and always comparing ourselves? Living with anxiety? with pain? With constant fear and paranoia? Beloved, this is a sign that we are not walking in obedience, but rather sitting, pridefully and stubbornly. Nothing good can come of that, we'll never get where we desire to be if we refuse to move. It's time to get up and begin to walk toward Him once again. When we live “as though God were making an appeal through us,” as Paul says, then the fulfillment and blessing and joy and peace are just the natural result.

Speaking from Experience...

All the things I write today are lessons learned tearfully, painstakingly, slowly...I have longed, waited and yearned...I have cried out for the answer, for the all of you have...

For instance, it was not easy to hear words like "cancer" and "hysterectomy" as a newlywed and before the age of 35. They were big, scary words. Words that change courses and expectations for life. Thankfully, one was very manageable and the other unnecessary...for now. But they set my life on a trajectory of  manmade timelines and unnecessary fear that have recently collided into a new scary word... "infertility." The details are still nebulous and we are only at the beginning of a journey to I don't know has been frustrating and unexpected, and many, many times over the last two years I have sat down, shaken my fist at God and refused to move. I have allowed my faith to be shaken, have tried to control the plan, I’ve been fearful and completely focused on the obstacles rather than the carefully selected divine plan for my life. However - just because I can't see how the story ends, doesn't mean hope is lost. 

The fact of the matter is this: everyone has their own "scary word." No one knows what the future holds and we might not ever get to hear the why. We can use those as excuses to number our grievances, sure that God is spitefully interrupting our plan, or they can serve as reminders to count our blessings, to live in the present, to enjoy and be filled by our Omer each day, come what may. In my powerlessness and now my surrender, I have been challenged to accept that dying daily means to really give over my vision for my life...and to embrace His with gratitude and perfect trust.
I've learned, as I hope to impart to you, that to take hold of peace and satisfaction in the face of longing and hoping are to reflect our Savior. It's a divine call to become acquainted with grief, suffering and sacrifice and to still reflect joy and obedience. And through my own experience with those dark places, I have discovered Who Christ is in a powerful new way - I have become a daughter acquainted with her Father's sorrows. More than I want, more than I hurt, more than I hope - He wants me to trust His plan; He hurts when I rejected it, when I accuse Him of not giving me what I need. He hopes that today will be the day His daughter will finally stop fighting against Him and see that He is trustworthy and good. He can't wait to show us the harvest...He waits too. So every longing, for the human being created in God's image, is a way to connect and relate with the Creator.

Can you hear Him calling to you in the midst of your dark places and scary words? Can you hear His promise? Just keep walking, waiting in faith, counting your omer...and the harvest, my child, WILL be yours...

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
So you will dwell in the land, and enjoy security.
Take delight in the Lord,
And he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord
Trust in him, and he will act.
He will bring forth your vindication as the light
And your righteousness as the noonday
Psalm 37

No comments:

Post a Comment

Tweets by @AmandaTadlock