“But first…”

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Larry and I have a joke. We were talking one day, years ago, about our to-do list of projects, and he explained that something was “our number one priority.”

Immediately, he took a breath and added, “But first, we have to…”

I don’t remember the “number one priority” or the “but first” assignments, but I do remember giggling as I commented that something wasn’t a number one priority if there was a but first.

For years, the words but first have made us smile.

This morning, they caught my breath as I ran across them in 1 Kings 17. Elijah goes out in a severe drought and finds a widow who is gathering sticks so she can go home and make a final meal for herself and her son. It’s final because after eating it, they will starve to death.

That’s her hopeless plan. She just doesn’t know what else to do.

Now enter Elijah.

He wants some water and some bread. The woman desperately wants to be a good hostess, but what he is asking is just beyond her ability. She doesn’t have the resources to make it happen.

She tells Elijah as much.

And he replies, in my paraphrase, “I get that. You can do that, but first make food for me.”

Take care of this stranger, this prophet, before you care for yourself and your son. It’s always seemed like such a harsh request. Elijah tells her that if she’ll do this, her flour and oil won’t run out until the rains return after the drought.

But first she has to obey.

I imagine sometimes what her other option was: to be selfish and say “we don’t have enough,” I guess. To explain that this plan Elijah was speaking didn’t make sense. What would have happened to her if she’d done that? Probably she and her son would have starved according to her hopeless plan and not been part of a miraculous story of God’s provision.

As I think about the widow of Zarephath, I can’t help but wonder how many times I’ve chosen my own hopeless plans rather than the good plans God has offered. How many times have I run right through the but first request — explained it away with “good common sense.”

I can’t give to this need because my checking account balance is lower than I like.

I can’t take time to listen to this person’s problem because my to-do list is long.

I just can’t _____, God. You don’t understand how _____ I am.

Crazy, isn’t it, that I just told the one who created me and who loved me before I was born that He didn’t understand? He knew exactly what the widow of Zarephath was facing and He had a plan to provide for her, but first she had to obey.

But first, we have to take a step of faith toward God for Him to meet us with open arms.

O, Lord, help us to listen for but first moments and to be obedient to what you would have us to do.

Snow? Who Knows. 

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I never feel more stereotypically Southern than when the weather forecast includes a winter event. I get a knot in my stomach and pray I can be home and safely inside before anything happens. 

I don’t drive well in wintry conditions and very much prefer to avoid the whole thing. Of course, it doesn’t help that I work about 20 miles from home so there’s always the fear of not being able to make it. 

Larry and I went to the store last night although we didn’t buy milk and bread. We just didn’t have real food in the house. We should be set come what may. 

Tonight, we’ve had freezing rain and snow and are comfortably settled in for a long winter’s nap. Here’s to a safe night and prayers that the power stays on.  

Morning Routine

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I read a blog post several years ago about the importance of establishing and maintaining a morning routine. I have no idea who wrote it or how I found it, but I remember the essence of the idea that a good morning plan helps us prepare for and meet our day. 

I have, over the past few mornings, begun shaping one of my own. It’s a mixture of quiet time with God, Bible reading, coffee drinking, and conversation with Larry. 

As I shape a good start to each day, I am trying to teach my mind to focus on God first. It’s amazing to me how many other things are my first thoughts in the morning: other people, work deadlines, writing needs, or even that thing I meant to add to the grocery list. These aren’t bad things, in and of themselves, but I want to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness and not get carried away with one thought leading to another and another and another until the day is done. 

Psalm 143:8 says, “Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.”

That is my prayer for each day of this year. 

One Good Cup of Coffee

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I went to Atlanta one day and had lunch with a friend. We ate in this garden just a few yards from a busy street, but it felt like another world. Tucked away in this restaurant’s patio, we chatted over tacos and French press coffee. 

I’ve thought about that coffee a lot and was tempted during the Christmas shopping season to get a French press for myself. I managed to refrain. 

Until after Christmas. 

The combination of an Amazon gift card and encouragement from a friend was the push I needed to do something I very much wanted any way. So I ordered it while still at the dinner table that night. 

It wasn’t supposed to arrive until Tuesday, my first day back at work, so I tucked it away as something to do this coming weekend. I was pleasantly surprised on Monday when I got a text that my package had arrived. 

After a trip to Kroger for Kona coffee beans, I unpacked my press and my coffee grinder and proceeded to make the most awful cup of weak coffee ever. The first one went down the drain, but I’ve been improving steadily ever since. 

This morning, as I am writing this, I am sipping on one good cup of coffee. I may still have some tweaking to do, but my French press is safe from being returned (it didn’t look good there for a while).

The French press is like many things in life: that elliptical I lost the battle with last night, the writing that I have such a love/hate relationship with, walking by faith. It takes practice, patience, and perseverance. It takes time. 

In our microwave or dare I say Keurig world, we want everything ready in just a few seconds. It’s easy to be impatient with ourselves, with others, and even with God. But He doesn’t work on our schedule and life isn’t controlled by a few quick pushes of a button. 

Psalm 27:14 tells us to “wait on the Lord and be of good courage.” And just a few pages over, in Psalm 34:8, it says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”

That’s better than my coffee. And He’s well worth the wait. 

Living in a Future World

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When I was a kid, there was a song about partying like it was 1999. We figured we’d all be traveling around in space by 2001. Those are distant memories, here in the future world of 2017. 

I marvel sometimes at the things my daddy witnessed in his lifetime: trading radio for tv for the internet, progressing from airplanes to space flight. It’s easy to marvel at the progress of it all, and I’m thankful to have been born in a time of doctors and indoor plumbing. 

But as I turn the corner from 46 headed squarely toward 47, I can’t help but wonder what changes are ahead. We’re heading to the 3-d movie theatre to see the new Star Wars so maybe that counts as research. 

It does make one imagine what wonders there may be out there somewhere beyond the horizon of this new year.