Sourdough Patience

Some years ago I took an active interest in baking bread. After having to eat a few failures, I started to get the hang of the whole process and found myself enjoying the making of homemade bread on a regular basis.

One day, I came across some sourdough starter in a specialty baking store and thought I would give it a try. I like sourdough, and I’d always heard that making sourdough bread was a bit more challenging than baking regular bread. But I felt like I was up to the task after mastering the baking of regular bread. But it didn’t take me long to realize how different and challenging it really was.

In my early experience with sourdough bread, I chose to draw upon my traditional bread making experiences, but I failed miserably in the making a decent sourdough round. I sought out different approaches and read up on how to make such breads (This was in the days before Google) and could not seem to find anything written for the total novice. Most recipes used terminology that I was not familiar with and referenced techniques that I had no experience with.

After numerous failures, I set it aside and decided I would come back to it later, as I was just getting frustrated and not making any real progress. Over the years, I would occasionally think about taking up the effort again, but the many past failures and my busy life precluded me from going after the challenge.

Last Christmas, my wife purchased some sourdough starter for me, along with a number of cool things, a special jar to keep my starter in, some willow baskets to form the bread, a scraper tool to help handle the dough, a book, and most importantly, her encouragement and belief that I could master the necessary skills to be successful.

In the intervening years in my professional life, I had also learned a great deal about business process controls, and how to diagnose and fix process failures. This combination of skills played a part in my ultimate success in learning to make a proper round of sourdough bread.

First, I cracked open the book my wife gave me. The book was supposed to be for beginners, and the author made an effort in that direction, but he still wasn’t writing at a basic enough level for me. But what he did do well was talk about the science and history behind sourdough yeast. His deep understanding of the biology of yeast, and how yeast functioned, and the different types of yeast were a game changer for me. Once I realized how different sourdough yeast was from commercial yeast, I felt more confident.

My wife had ordered live starter for me, basically some raw sourdough with active yeast in it. There were instructions on how to get my starter going and how to care for it. I followed these to the letter, and within  a couple of weeks I had before me some healthy starter. While the starter was doing it’s thing, I did some more research (By this time Google was invented) and found another book written by this lady that really spoke to me as beginner. I ordered her book and using her approach plus my newfound understanding of the science behind sourdough, I attempted my first round of bread. It was closer than anything I had ever baked in the past, which was a huge win, but it was still a far cry from what I considered to be a decent sourdough. The bread was a bit flat, the crust was overdone. So I went back to her book and did some more reading and learned more.

I documented my recipe and the process I was using to make my bread step by step. Using my understanding of solving business process failures, I took an objective look at what I was doing and documented the factors that were potentially causing my bread to turn out poorly. With each successive try, I learned more and more, and after nearly a dozen attempts, I finally produced an amazing round of sourdough bread!

Now the real test was around repeatably. Could I use my cleaned up list and my newfound experience to repeat the same process and reliably get good results? I made several more rounds, and each came out perfect, confirming that I had finally mastered the basics of making sourdough.

There will be new things to learn, as I now shift from making basic sourdough to making different kinds of sourdough breads. After all, learning never stops and that’s half the fun.

But why did success ultimately happen?

There were several universal keys that are applicable to all things in life, not just mastering the art of making sourdough bread:

  1. Patience and persistence: All of life skills take patience and persistence in the face of failure. Even if it means we stand back for awhile and then re-engage to get better. One of the things I learned is that sourdough yeast is much less concentrated than commercial yeast, therefore, one must patiently wait much longer for the yeast to do it’s job of making the dough rise. There was no rushing this.
  2. Encouragement from others: Being encouraged by my wife and family really helped me be more persistent during those many failures that I experienced. Of course they were happily eating my mistakes as well.
  3. Knowledge: Without study, without a deeper understanding of the science behind sourdough, and the processes suggested in the baking steps, I would not have been successful in my later efforts.
  4. Application of knowledge: Of course, knowledge is pretty much useless unless I can apply what I learned in real life. Experience and  application of what we learn brings the entire subject to life, giving it purpose and significance.
  5. Consistency of process: I had to work very hard on this one. Consistency in the manner in which I prepared the bread dough, the steps in rising, controlling the temperature during the rise itself, and finally managing the bake times and temperatures to the exact minute, all were all critical to success.

The result of all of this was personal satisfaction and growth in my skills as a better baker.

These universal keys apply to many areas of life. When I think about my spiritual journey as a follower of Christ, there have been times along that journey where I  felt like I’d hit a patch, a place where I was kinda stuck. God seemed kind of quiet at times. But then I would be encouraged by others and realize that this was really a normal thing:

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young. Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him.” (Lamentations 3:25–28, NIV)

In fact, I’ve had to learn that the grand meta-narrative that exists is really not about me at all, it’s really about God’s Kingdom and what it is that He has set out to accomplish. My part in all of this is to live out my life with Jesus, learn and apply his teachings, and allow my life to be used by God as a testimony of the Gospel itself.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24, NIV)

I know that along that journey, it’s absolutely critical that I must take the time to pray, to read the scriptures, and to seek to apply the principles that God teaches me to live out in my life. It’s only through this careful and consistent approach that one gradually builds a sense of who God is, which increases our sensitivity to His voice in our lives, this in turn allows me to make better choices that are more consistent with his will and direction. To be sure, when I say hearing “God’s voice,” I don’t mean in literal audible sense,(Although scriptures record instances where God has spoken audibly) rather, I sense that normally God speaks to me through impressions that touch my heart, or in an idea that comes to mind. (Particularly one for which I would not have considered as my own.) Of course, because we are fallible human beings, it’s always good practice to validate God’s direction through prayer, the reading of scripture, and to take inputs from fellow believers whom you know and trust to have God’s heart first. This way I can better limit my personal self-serving agendas and allow God to set His course for my life.

Life is a grand journey, and I hope that each person reading this will be encouraged wherever you are. Be confident that God does have a plan for how you will engage in his Kingdom. If you don’t know what that direction is at the moment, be at peace, God will communicate direction in His own time. But in the meantime, study His word, pray, and where appropriate, seek out the council of fellow believers.

In the end, your life will be ultimately be in alignment with Jesus, who himself is the bread of life.

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35, NIV)

 

Are You Following the Right Flight Plan?

The flight that left London for Dusseldorf, Germany was uneventful and routine in almost every respect. Many passengers slept while others read or busied themselves with work on their computers.  It wasn’t until the plane landed that much to the traveler’s surprise; they found themselves in Edinburgh, Scotland instead!

How was that possible?

It was later determined that the crew were given the incorrect flight plan, which they followed all the way to Scotland. The airline was quiet apologetic, and after a short stent to refuel, they immediately took-off for a second time for Dusseldorf and arrived without further delay. (1)

What I found most fascinating about this true story was that the passengers didn’t know that they were heading in the wrong direction. They thought they were going to Germany, and they trusted the pilot to get them there. From London, the pilot should have been flying South to arrive in Germany, but they were flying North, completely in the opposite direction.

I wonder how many people today think that they’re going in the “right” direction when it comes to their lives? Wouldn’t it be terrible to come to the end of one’s life only to find out that all along we’d been following the wrong flight plan of life? Unlike the flight that landed in Scotland in error, when our lives are over, they’re over. There is no opportunity to refuel and try again.

Thankfully, God has provided us with the means to know the correct “flight plan” to take in this life. His flight plan is clear and unambiguous. Better yet, once we agree to his flight plan, and we let him be the pilot of our lives, he will always be present to help us correct our course should we attempt to   fly through life by our own faulty sense of direction. He becomes our trusty compass.

What about you? How’s your flight plan for your life working? Do you sense that perhaps you might be flying “off-course” but you don’t know where to turn for a better plan?

The good news is that Jesus said that he came to this earth to “seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10) So it’s okay if you’re lost along the journey of life, just so long as you recognize it and change your course.  If you desire, Jesus, who loves you and is seeking you out, is available to set your life on the right and true course.

The news gets even better! Not only can we be on the right course though life, we can settle the question of eternity through faith, and know that our eternal life is set and founded on the rock of Christ, and nothing can dislodge it!

Furthermore, there is absolutely nothing you or I could ever do to earn the love that Christ has for us. His love is freely given to us through the grace of God. Our eternal standing before God almighty is given to us as a gift, a gift, which is transferred upon us by God’s grace. (Eph 2:8-9)

Jesus desires that each one of us experience life to the absolute fullness possible. He said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

Yet there are many that insist on being their own pilot in this life. For them, sadly there is a stark and harsh ending to that story. The bible tells us that when we die, God will hold us accountable for the lives we’ve lived based upon our own plans.

Our eternal standing will not be based upon what we’ve done, rather it will be predicated upon our response to the message of Christ and his offer of eternal life. No one is excused from this reality, no matter how many good things a person may have done in their life. The fact is, unless we place our trust in Jesus, unless we allow him to be our pilot, our plans are guaranteed to fall short before God. (Rom 3:23)

But the Bible tells us that if we surrender our lives to Christ, completely and fully, that one day when we stand before God, God will allow us to live with him for eternity. Our eternal standing will be justified entirely by God’s grace through Christ’s work on the cross. It will be Christ who will redeem our lives freely and completely. (Rom 3:24)

What’s your decision? Will you keep being the pilot of your own life, flying the course that you think is best, or will you surrender that job to Christ?

If you desire to surrender your life to Christ, then take a moment and pray, (Prayer is just talking to God, he will hear you.)

There is no magic formula to this prayer. It’s not the prayer that saves us, rather it’s your faith in the work of Christ who died and rose again. If you are unsure of how to pray, feel free to use the following prayer as a guide:

“Dear God in heaven, I acknowledge to you that my life has fallen short of what you desire, that I have not honored you in the life I have lived, that I am in your eyes a sinner in need of your forgiveness.

I believe that your son Jesus Christ gave his life on the cross for my sinful condition, that he died and rose again, and I am willing now to change course in my life, to leave behind those things that dishonor you.

I confess Jesus as the lord of my soul. This very moment I accept Jesus Christ as my own personal Savior and according to His world, right now I am saved.

Thank you for your unlimited grace that has saved me. Please Lord, transform my life so that I may bring glory and honor to you along and not to myself.

Thank you, Jesus, for dying for me and giving me eternal life. Amen.”

 

 

 

 

 

Notes:

(1) “Airplane Mistakenly lands in Scotland instead of Germany,” http://www.wdsu.com/article/airplane-mistakenly-lands-in-scotland-instead-of-germany/26931138, March 25, 2019