In writing this final post in my three-part blog series on, The Three Fruits of the Spirit with Which I Struggle, it has become apparent to me that the three fruits with which I struggle most are quite related--they all have to do with me trusting in God and His timing. They all have to do with me relinquishing ultimate control to Him. Comically and casually-speaking, they all have to do with me, "chilling out!" All three of my problem fruits, peace, self-control, and patience, seem to also have a great deal to do with my personality. I am a driven, "perfectionistic," worry-wart, goal-oriented, somewhat restless, and high-stress person by nature. I want things done, I want them done right, and I want them done now--and I don't want anyone or anything causing any problems in the interim (and even if nothing or no one is, I'm worrying about that changing)!
In looking honestly at the nine, Fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, I bet you would find that the three lowest grown fruits on your personal tree would also have some similarities. When we are low in one fruit, it can readily affect other fruits that are similar in nature. I am guessing those who struggle with joy, probably also struggle with kindness and gentleness. If you are a serious-type soul, you probably prefer to keep to yourself and you secretly wish others would do the same. You probably struggle to find humor in day-to-day life, and therefore, laughter isn't something heard from your lips often. Perhaps you are even borderline crabby much of the time and a bit cynical in life. You prefer to think in private and keep those thoughts to yourself--and you wish others would just do the same. In line at the grocery store, you are one of those people at whom I purposefully try to smile, and you look at me like you'd rather eat me for lunch than return the nicety. You prefer to handle your own problems--and wish others would do likewise. Your jaded soul does not understand people who compliment you or others, and assume it is flattery driven by weakness or impure motives. You find yourself putting your foot in your mouth often, and privately glean sick pleasure in preying on the weaknesses of others. People who wear their hearts on their sleeves deserve it, in your view. They are, "easy targets." You tend to say things in a, "tell it like it is" manner, and may not have many friends due to that. Oh, well...that's less trouble for you, in your mind.
If you are someone who needs more love, goodness, and faithfulness, you perhaps struggle to treat your spouse or family in ways that show them they are second only to God. Perhaps you have lost touch with relatives and friends because you just do not know how to maintain good relationships or show others they are loved and valued. It all takes so much energy, you would rather just let those relationships go by the wayside than exert any effort in showing others they matter to you. Maybe you don't really understand God's love or His personal love for you. Therefore, you aren't very faithful in your walk with Him or anyone else. You might even view God as a strict, distant disciplinarian Who expects too much of you. Since you cannot find the faithfulness to live-up to His grand expectations, you have given-up trying. Maybe you aren't even very faithful, loving, or good to yourself. Perhaps love and faithfulness are things you have not been shown by many people in life--so you do not have them readily available for others. Maybe you view relationships as avenues for superficial joy and fun, but the moment it gets tough or real, you are gone--or you run others off. Your love is superficial, selfish, and lofty. You by all means expect people to be good to you, but you do not spend much time trying to be good back to them. Forgiveness is easily afforded to you, but you do not desire to return the favor. You make goals for yourself and rarely see any of them come to pass. You are flighty, easily bored, and self-concerned.
I do not say those things to be harsh. The simple fact is, none of us exhibit all nine, Fruits of the Spirit 100% of the time. If we did, we would be perfect like Christ (and we know that is a far-fetched notion)! I say those things only to get you thinking about your own need for God's fruits in your life. All nine fruits are related--they are all traits God desires for us to grow abundantly in our lives through the power of His Spirit. They are for our betterment and blessing, and more importantly, for that of those He has placed in our lives. But I believe they can be grouped in threes by further similarity. For example, there are many kinds of apples--whether they are Galas, Fujis, or Honey Crisp, they are still apples and are all related. But some apples are even more similar--some are better for baking and some are better for raw eating. Likewise, the Fruits of the Spirit are all related, but some more closely than others. I believe the lack of any of them in our lives is easily linked to a deeper sin-issue or tendency. But they are all fruit and we are supposed to exhibit them, or at least, work to exhibit them if we know Christ. They are the product of a life lived knowing God. They are a sign to the world that we are different somehow.
The Pastor of my church, Jim Congdon, began the New Year with a sermon series entitled, "Simplify." In our quest to create New Year's resolutions, Pastor Jim asked us all to, "keep it simple," and pick ONE WORD to carry with us through the year. He encouraged us that by having just one word upon which to strive, we would be better able to improve and less likely to give-up. When we try to tackle too many goals, we tend to quit, and hence, fail. The word I chose for this year is fittingly, patience. It happens to be the last fruit on which I am writing for this blog series. My husband and a few close friends know this is my word for the year, and it has already been a great help (as well as, great comedic relief) to have that word present itself as the need arises. Just the other day while taking my friend out for lunch, I began to lose my cool with another driver who pulled out in front of me, and she lovingly, softly said to me with a wink and smile, "Paaaaatienccccce." We had a big chuckle! The word presented itself a few more times that day (hey, it's not my fault the people of Lawrence don't know how to drive...pray for me, people)!
I have written about patience at length in a former blog post entitled, "While We Wait." In that post I share of the fact that we are all waiting on things in our lives. None of us ever really "arrive" at having every personal need met and every desire fulfilled. I don't need to bemoan or repeat myself with the same thoughts here, and you can easily put that blog title into the "search" tab (to the right on this blog page) if you want to read more on, "waiting." Essentially, we all have small issues of needed patience in our lives and we have big ones. In some of the big areas, God is teaching us patience and then some! Perhaps we have waited many years, even decades, for some prayers to be answered or fulfilled. But I believe the main reason God wants us to exhibit patience is so we will learn to let go of trying to control our lives and just trust Him. If we got everything we wanted or needed every moment we asked, we would be intolerable, spoiled brats (I already am one, and I certainly don't get everything I need or want)! God wants us to see that He can sustain us regardless of the things we are lacking in this life. He wants to prove to us that He is all we really need (because He is).
When I think about my moments of impatience, some of the things that are going through my head (or that have gone through my head and are now fueling the impatience) are the following:
"Well, crap. I am going to be late--as always!"
"I swear--I never have enough time to do ANYTHING."
"Why is this happening to me?"
"Why did God give that to him/her and not to me? He/she doesn't even want it or value it. They squander it. They take all credit for it."
"This person is doing/saying this on purpose to hurt me."
"I am so tired of being manipulated and used."
"Do I have a sign around my neck that says, 'Make fun of me?!'"
"Do I have a sign around my neck that says, 'Kick me--I don't kick back?!'"
"I don't deserve this."
"This could turn out disastrous."
"All my hard work is for nothing."
"This is never going to change."
"This person is never going to change."
"There is no way God will ever turn this around."
"This situation is hopeless."
"I'm not going to get this done now."
"I'm never going to get this done."
"This is going to set me back."
"If I don't get this done today, tomorrow will be worse."
"If God doesn't change this, life won't be right...and it's just going to get worse."
"I should have been able to tackle all this--I am such a loser."
"Why does it seem others can juggle way more than I?!"
"I'm just so tired, Lord. I'm just beat."
"I can't do this anymore, God. I'm done."
"God, I sowed 'good' in that person's life. Why I am reaping 'bad?' It isn't fair. I thought You were just? Your Word says, 'We reap what we sow.' Come on, God!"
"There was no point in that, God. What were you thinking?!"
"What is the point of any of this?! It is a waste of my time!"
"God, why am I everyone's whipping post?! I get so tired of being everybody's door mat."
Now, please understand that these are not thoughts I have daily, weekly, or even monthly. In my desire to be vulnerable and transparent, the last thing I need is someone reading this and thinking, "Oh, my. She REALLY has issues!" My answer to that would be, "Yes, I do. And the fact that you are thinking that, tells me you do, too, friend," (i.e., critical spirit and opinionated negativity)! I only share this list with you to help you recognize mental triggers that will start you down the path to impatience. Many times they are subtle thoughts I don't even realize I am having. Some times I believe they aren't even my thoughts, but the whispers of the enemy spurring me toward impatience and negative discouragement. I do think we have to be cautious giving too much credit to the enemy. We get ourselves into plenty of trouble, too! As I look over the list though, I realize yet again what a fearful, over-driven, type-A, people-pleasing, do-list-crosser-off-er I am. I see clearly what a worry-wart I am. It is obvious to me that I need to spend more time, "chillaxing," so to speak! I can see a few items on the list that display doubt and a lack of trust in God (as well as, the prideful boldness to think I can bargain and argue with Him). It is also very sad to me to see how the actions and words of others too often
provoke negative, hurtful, angry thoughts in me that then manifest as
impatience. Impatience is simply me trying to be God of my own life--God of my time, my do-list, my relationships, my plans, my ministries, my work, my everything. Yes, friends--I'm a control freak in recovery. If you have ever struggled with impatience, you are, too.
When we get impatient, we display the ugly side of ourselves. It comes out as anger and perhaps even some choice vocabulary words. But the essence of that is an impure heart--and we ALL have one of those from time to time. When we exhibit impatience, we are essentially saying that we don't have the desire or the time to deal with things or people who are beneath us (ugh) and our much more important lives and plans (ugh, again). We are self-absorbed and greedy with our time and our desires. When we have to wait on something--even something little--and we are impatient, we are basically demanding something of God in utter greed for ourselves. We possess the fast food mentality of, "Give it to me now and give it to me my way!" It is pure ugliness. It is rotten fruit.
Honestly, a severe lacking of any of the nine, Fruits of the Spirit, brings ugliness. People who refuse to return a smile suffer from it. People who refuse to offer up a kind word of encouragement but constantly expect it, suffer from ugliness. People who are nice to your face but "talk smack" on you behind your back suffer from it. People who are always looking for the negative in others and critically picking apart everything and everyone in life suffer greatly from it. People who cannot be faithful to their spouse, their family, or their friends suffer from rottenness. As I thought about the rotten ugliness that comes from a lack of fruit, and the opposing beauty of a healthy tree or vine filled with luscious, ripe fruit, I was reminded of what Jesus said in John 15:5, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing." Without living a life in Christ the ugliness will rear its head--and the fruit will either not grow or it will rot. Perhaps you're thinking, "Well, I've succeeded at a lot of things in my life and not lived 'for Christ.' So I'm doing just fine, thank you." My response to that would be the following: Evaluate your heart and your life seriously and honestly. Ask God how you are doing, and listen patiently for His reply. I believe any successes we have that aren't done for the glory of God or done with a heart that has given all credit to Christ may be fruit, but they are rotten fruit. What good did it do anyone that you succeeded if you have given the wrong person credit?! It is all folly and all in vain. It will be dust one day and no one will care. Nothing good we do here will make any difference in the lives of others without a legacy of Christ being left behind with it. That is a fruit that never rots and it multiplies a harvest of sound-living for generations to come.
In closing, I leave you with this prayer:
Thank You for loving me in spite of my constant battle to grow more fruit in my life. Thank You for Your mercy, patience, and forgiveness in my life. I feel like I am a loser-Christian many times, Lord. I fail you daily, and I have been an embarrassment to the throne of God many times in my life. But I feel Your love, care, and provision in my life, and it keeps me going. I know that apart from You, I will either be fruitless, or I will drop rotten fruit from the branches of my life. I'm sick of doing both, Lord. Help me this year to remember my word, PATIENCE, and immediately relinquish control of my life to You whenever I am tempted to fret and stew with negative, worrisome thoughts. You will take care of all the things pressing upon me and my life in Your time and in Your way. I trust You, Lord. You are the best time-keeper of my life, and I know You want only the best for me. Nothing and no one can harm me without it going through Your hand first--and even then, it will only bring good and betterment to my life. So I relinquish all fear, and ask You to shelter me and my life from things and people that bring harm and pain, and that are not helpful to me. I trust that You know what is best and will bring what is best. I ask You to close and lock doors that are not Your will, and remove those things and people in my life that/who are not good for me and are stifling my growth of fruit. I ask You to bring only those things and people that/who will spur me on to growing more fruit abundantly for Your Name and Your purposes. I praise You, God, for giving me just what I needed in a husband. Thank You, God, for Matt~that he
helps me to relax quite regularly, and that he has such a calming presence and is a precious, laid-back soul. Thank You for giving me someone with whom to share this life who is all that I am not. Help me to never take him for granted. Help me to never take YOU for granted. Help me to do everything in Your name, in Your strength, and for Your glory so that I am not tempted to become impatient. Help me to stay closely connected to Your vine so that my branches produce a harvest that will make You proud. I love you, Lord. I need you every second of every minute of every day.
I ask all these things in Jesus' Name,
Be fruitful, friends. Much love in the harvest to you!
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
"A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls."
Proverbs 25:28 (ESV)
In my prior blog post, I stated that out of the nine, Fruits of the Spirit, found in Galatians 5:22-23, there are three with which I struggle to possess. I discussed how, peace, is one fruit I don't always have ready for the picking. Today I will share the second fruit upon which I prayerfully hope to have an increased harvest--that of, self-control.
As I came across the key verse above in my study of this fruit, two things stood out to me. One, I found it interesting that a lack of self-control in your life is as if you have been violated (or, "broken into"). I tend to think of self-control by its name--an issue of being able or unable to control yourself. But this verse hints that it is not only a, "self" issue, but also one of being controlled by an external force. Something trespasses your boundaries and invades your space. Two, not only has a breach occurred, but you are left vulnerable (you are, "left without walls"). In researching Scriptures on self-control, I found many more verses that spoke to the idea of choosing to control oneself than I did verses like this which include the power of the external issue. It makes sense to me that there is more involved in the matter of self-control than just me. It typically involves being under attack.
Even Jesus, Who was perfect and never succumbed to His temptations, was not just dealing with a, "self" issue when tempted. Scripture makes it clear that He was being prodded by the enemy. Since Jesus was perfect and had full access to God the Father (He was God the Father in the flesh--John 10:30; Colossians 2:9), He was never provoked to sin by Satan (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15). We, however, are human and sinful. Therefore, we are not only easier to prod, but we also get provoked to sin quite readily.
Friends, I desire to share with you the areas in which I struggle with self-control--not because I view you as priests to whom I must confess. I don't need a priest--I've already got a perfect One (Hebrews 4:14-16). I am desirous of sharing because it will perhaps bring to mind your own particular areas where improvement is needed. When we do not have "get real" moments with ourselves, our progress is stifled. To reach any goal, specific targets must be identified. I am also sharing in order that my words may bring life, peace, hope, encouragement, and help to someone else. So here goes...
The areas with which I particularly struggle with self-control are as follows:
*Over-eating. Let me be clear--I do not struggle on a ridiculous level with this. I have never been someone who eats an entire box of cookies (or even desires that) or half a bag of chips in one sitting. I don't struggle with improper snacking. Chocolate even gets stale in my candy dish (and I crave chocolate). But I have a healthy appetite at meal-time. My stomach prefers three squares a day and I want them to be reasonably hearty. I don't want "seconds," I would just like to eat around 1,800-2,000 calories per day versus 1,400-1,600, as is recommended for a woman my height, age, and activity-level. Therefore, I have a battle with maintaining the preferred weight at which I feel the best. Since turning 40, I am perpetually trying to manage 5-10 pounds. Middle-aged women cannot eat three squares a day--certainly not average or hearty ones. Health experts say we should instead eat five tiny meals throughout a given day, or 2 to 3 light snacks and one smallish, healthy meal. Basically, none of the food I love qualifies (Mexican, Asian, Italian, BBQ, etc.), because a typical meal in any of those food genres is well over the suggested calorie max for one meal (unless you take two bites and call that a feast). Well, I think this stinks. But it has become apparent to me after a discussion with my sister in-law, that it is an issue of self-control with which I know God desires to help me. It doesn't help that in my twenties (and even thirties) I could pretty much eat whatever I wanted and not gain much, if any, weight at all. It came off much easier, too. You get spoiled with that blessing and it becomes a curse later.
* My thought-life (worries/fears/harboring hurts). When your personality is such that you are prone to certain sins or destructive behaviors, look out. They can become fierce bad habits and we all know that our minds are the control-centers for everything else--our emotions, our mental/physical health, our behavior, and our beliefs. The Bible says we all have sins to which we are susceptible, and my mind is my biggest obstacle. God has been dealing with me on these things my entire life, but I praise Him for the strides I have made with regard to worry and fear in the past year. I am also done with regrets and holding grudges--I honestly have none. I figure God is best suited to deal with everyone who has ever wronged me intentionally or who chooses not to forgive me for my wrongdoings. I can also happily deduce that those who have chosen to walk out of my life made the right choice for them, me, or both. When we truly know God, He is our ultimate Protector. He is fair, just, and knows more about all our hurtful situations than even we do. So He is best-equipped to manage who stays and who goes. He promises to fight our battles and we only need to sit still (Exodus 14:14).
* OCD tendencies/perfectionism. Okay, people. It's, "get real" time, and I would plead for your discrete grace, maturity, understanding, and ethical mindset here. I have never been diagnosed with any mental illness. But if I am utterly honest, I know I have had times where my perfectionism has been borderline OCD, at best. When you cannot put your groceries away until they have been wiped-off (because those items have been touched by Lord knows who and will eventually end up on your kitchen counter), and the labels are facing front for quick location, you probably have an issue with perfectionism. (Now you perfectionists can make fun of me for that, but you probably have your own odd annoyances, too. I once was mocked for being a germaphobe by someone who takes her own sheets to every hotel and puts a huge scarf down on her movie theater seat)! But God has been working with me the past several years with the realization that perfectionism is a colossal waste of time. I am still battling this. My church's Head Pastor, Jim Congdon, once shared a sermon on perfectionism. I recall him stating that if we, "perfectionists," could learn to just be happy with doing every task to our own 80% approval-rating, we would still be doing them to a much higher level than the majority, and saving ourselves an enormous amount of time, energy, and stress. I have often used that grading scale when I am doing tasks that I would rather do, "perfectly" than a mere 80% (Lord, help me)! Our time and lives are short, so it is time to get real about the idiosyncrasies that bug us--are they really worth the effort?! All OCD really is, is an issue of over-control (that could be an alternate for the acronym)! OCD is self-control on acid. It is a lack of trust in God on meth. You are motivated by pure fear and therefore, trying to control your life so that you don't have any ridicule, illness, pain, trials, problems, more work later, and so you can feel better about the stuff you cannot control. It is a desire to over-compensate (ah ha, another alternate for the acronym) for things that are really bugging you. The sad reality is that you are not in control of any of it anyway. If your family or friends are going to mock you for not making your bed with hospital corners or not keeping your car tires glowing from Armor All, they need to get a life--and you need to get new friends and tell your family to step-off! If you get sick, who cares?! There's always a great film on Netflix you haven't had time to watch! Friends, if any of this is ringing true for you, please know that I have prayed in advance for any and all who battle this on any level. I give you a sisterly hug and much love via this post! I don't know about you, but I don't care to be remembered as the lady who could serve you dinner off her immaculate floors. Dear Lord, I pray I have more influence and more to give in this life than that.
* Diligence with health/fitness. I am probably being too hard on myself with this one because I know for a fact that I workout more than most. I am also one of those crazy people who actually loves to workout! But on the days when I would rather be lazy, those are the times when I especially need to get off my hiney and drag myself joyfully to the gym. Why be so fanatical? Because those are also the days when the above issues tend to begin to surface. When you are sluggish in one area, it can be a slippery slope (as the key verse states--your city is without walls). I want to be a disciplined athlete--and diligent people do things even when they don't "feel" like it. Any doctor will tell you that every human needs to be physical and sweaty at least three times a week. I am faithful to this many weeks...then there are other weeks...
* Faithfulness with reading God's Word. I have made significant improvements in the past few years with having a daily quiet time where I at least read a devotional and have my own prayer-time. Intercession is one of my spiritual gifts--I am a person who readily prayers throughout the day (and I don't even want to know the kind of person I would be if I didn't--I need it)! But as for serious Bible study, I need to work harder at making my time with God less of a, "do list" item. He cannot speak to me when I rush through my relationship with Him.
* Controlling my temper (in my car) & watching my tongue (set a watch over my lips, Lord, Psalm 141:3). I have previously shared of these sin issues ad nauseum. They are not major issues, but yes...my 1/4 Latina does rear its ugly head from time to time.
It is funny yet sensible that a few of these areas of mine are so closely related to my other weaker fruits--peace and patience. I mentioned in my prior blog post on peace that to get victory over bad habits, you have to replace them with good ones. It is truly about choices--what are we going to choose to do with regard to our self-control: Are we going to suppress bad tendencies, or go with them? Are we going to let our borders be violated and open to further breachings, or set-up boundaries and guards? Are we going to create disciplined choices that bring life to our beings, or follow the same old unsuccessful patterns we are trying to beat? Are we going to do this in our own limited strength, or utilize the endless power of the Holy Spirit given to each of us who know Him...?
Some of the stuff with which we need to exercise self-control is going to require us to control our own behavior. Some of it will require relinquishing control over it to God. What did Jesus do when tempted? He prayed asking God to deliver Him from it (invoking God's help and protection). He quoted Scripture to the enemy (setting His mind on the right things, reinstating the boundaries, and using the strongest weapon He had against His nemesis). He fled the temptation (shoring up His borders and changing the setting so as to secure the best outcome). We have to do the same things. Just as with the fruit of peace, we have to choose to exercise self-control, as the word itself suggests. We have to guard the borders of our personal city. But we are never alone in that battle--God is always with us and there to help us. We first make the choice, and then use His wisdom and strength to bring it to fruition and harvest. Help us all, Lord--especially me. Thank You for loving us regardless of our imperfections, quirks, and failings. Thank You that Your grace is enough. Amen.
* 2 Corinthians 12:9, "But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me."
* 2 Timothy 1:7, "For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control."
* 1 Corinthians 9:25, "Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable."
Monday, January 20, 2014
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
In my previous blog post, I shared that out of the nine biblical, "Fruits of the Spirit" found in Galatians 5:22-23, ("But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law"), there are three with which I struggle most. For my next three posts and in an effort to share my personal study as I seek to improve upon them, I will highlight and share further about those three fruits.
The first Fruit of the Spirit that I need to grow and possess is the fruit of, "peace." Merriam-Webster's online dictionary defines peace as, "a period of time or state in which there is no war or fighting; an agreement to end war; a state of tranquility or quiet; freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions; and harmony in personal relationships." On a personal level and where our daily lives are concerned, I would guess most of us are best acquainted with the last three definitions. Sure, like good pageant contestants, we all want world peace and can certainly be concerned with our nation's level of it. We Americans value the benefits liberty affords us. But unless you are a member of the U.S. Armed Forces (or a family member of one), you probably more often think of being, "at peace," in a more internal way.
Just as there are many definitions for, "peace," in the dictionary, we can also find many Scriptures on peace in God's Word. I have chosen one of my favorites for the key verse, but there were many others I could have used (listed at the bottom). In looking over these verses, I found a few recurring themes which are good steps toward having more peace in life. First, in order to have real peace, you have to know God personally. He cannot fill you with His genuine peace, the kind mentioned in the key verse above, if He doesn't even know you as His child or you are running from Him instead of toward Him.
Second, if you want peace, you have to pray about everything. That's right--everything. Nothing is too big or small for God, and nothing is too sinful or taboo. In 1 Thessalonians 5:17 we are told to, "Pray without ceasing." Does this mean we are to literally be praying all the time? Of course not. How would we ever be able to have an intelligent conversation with another human being, get anything done, or sleep?! I believe that verse is telling us to be so close in our relationship with the Lord that not speaking to Him frequently through the day is an oddity. In Hebrews 4:6 it says, "Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." God desires for us to come boldly to Him with our needs and concerns. This tells me that nothing is off-limits--God already knows everything rolling around in our heads anyway. He wants us to share with Him our needs and struggles. He is not afraid of our emotional baggage or our personal issues. We are told in Scripture to confess our sins to God regularly (1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness"). If you let the mistakes you make in your life pile-up, before long you are going to be weighed-down with a lot of baggage and your peace will be gone. It's just the way we are wired. Whether we want to admit it or not, when we fail God and others, we feel badly about it. When we hide stuff from God (or attempt to hide stuff), we feel like phonies. The stuff we do against God and others hurts us, too. But when we confess our sins to God, He not only forgives, He heals and blesses us. In time, He even rights many of the wrongs. God just wants us to recognize our need for a relationship with Him and for His forgiveness, mercy, and help. He wants our open and honest communication just like any of our other loved ones do.
The third recurring theme I found in my study of peace is to, trust God. Once you pray about everything, you have to then trust God to take care of your sins and concerns. When I was just eighteen years old, I was married, caring for a baby, managing a home, going to college, and just really overwhelmed in about every area of my life. I called my mom one morning bawling and poured my heart out to her about my concerns. She shared something with me that I have never forgotten. She said, "Steph, when you pray to God, this is what you are doing: You kneel down, pour out your heart to Him, lay all your burdens at His feet, and then you pick them all back up and walk away carrying them again. You have to figure out how to lay them at His feet and leave them there." I sat on the other end of the phone and could actually visualize myself doing just that every time I prayed. She was right. I wept and wept with my mother that day as she prayed with me on the phone. I was carrying the burden of my past sins of being a pregnant teenager. I was carrying the burden of maintaining a perfect home. I was carrying the burden of being the perfect student. I was carrying the burden of raising the perfect child. I was carrying the burden of having the perfect marriage. And none of it was going perfectly. I felt like an utter failure on every possible level. I was at the end of my rope. But God told me through my mom that day to just trust Him. All we can do in this life is the very best we can do in our human strength and weakness, and trust God with the rest. We have to trust Him when He says that He has forgiven us. We have to trust Him when He says to bring our burdens to Him and He will carry them for us. To this day, when I try to do everything perfectly and fail miserably at it, I recall that day and how God told me to just trust Him. He told me stop carrying burdens that I am too weak to carry because He wants to carry and handle them for me. Now when I pray I visualize myself leaving them there at His feet...and I try my darndest to walk away empty-handed and with much trust and hope.
The fourth recurring theme I found was to, be thankful. If you truly want peace in your life, you have to learn to start appreciating the good stuff God has given you. We've all heard the phrase, "count your blessings," but do we truly do this regularly? We need to do this as often as we brush our teeth. I personally brush mine three to four times a day, and I am going to try to make an honest effort to count my blessings while I do. If you are focused on the positive in your life, the negative will seem much smaller. It is a proven fact that grateful people are happy people. Furthermore, happy people are peaceful people. It's simple math really--if you want peace, joy, and positivity in your life, choose peace, joy, and positivity. That's really all being thankful is--looking at the positive instead of the negative, and thanking the Person Who gave you those positives.
The fifth step toward peace I found was to, seek and pursue God. When we are not at peace, we oftentimes are seeking or pursuing things that are stealing our peace. We may not even realize it. We typically think the peace-robbers are after us! But when we are restless, struggling with a relationship, battling a fear, or fretting over something dreadful, we are actually pursuing those things. We choose to allow things to steal our joy. We choose to exert energy in pondering and stressing over them. So in order to have real peace, we have to actually pursue God instead. We are told to replace bad habits with good ones, and there is a reason for that. You can stop doing something bad for a time. But in order to truly defeat the bad habit, you have to take it a step further and fill the void. Likewise, we have to rid ourselves of worrisome thoughts, actions, and words and seek God in those areas instead. When you pour yourself into God's Word, into praising Him, into His music, and into praying to Him, you are actively choosing God. When we choose God, we turn from the bad to the good--and before long, the things robbing our peace are gone. Psalm 34:14 says, "Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it." We all personally need to come to the realization that without God, our lives are a slippery slope of pointless pursuits, chaos, and sin. The fact that, nothing else satisfies like Jesus, is the one thing that keeps me coming back in pursuit of Him. When I honestly think about the time when I am truly happiest and most at peace, it is when I am spending time with my Father. Whether I am sitting in my church listening to another awesome sermon, leading worship with the dear friends I have there, reading God's Word while cuddled up in my favorite blanket and sipping coffee, kneeling on my living room floor pouring my heart out to Him, or alone in my car jamming and praising Him with my favorite Christian music, I realize one thing--GOD is my best, great escape. He is my only real peace. Everything else satisfies me superficially and temporarily. But my Lord is a thirst-quencher unlike any other.
In summation, I realize in looking back over the five key themes or steps to take toward peace, we have to choose peace. To steadily and readily grow the fruit of it in our lives is really up to us. Peace doesn't just happen--we make it happen by choosing God and actively choosing to intentionally follow the steps He has shown us to attain it. When I don't feel like choosing those steps, it is usually due to laziness, apathy, or pride. But none of those traits will give you peace, so why go there?! I want peace, and I want the kind that, "guards my heart and mind in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:6-7). Amen.
Psalm 29:11, "May the Lord give strength to His people! May the Lord bless His people with peace!"
Psalm 85:8, "Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for He will speak peace to His people, to His saints; but let them not turn back to folly."
Psalm 37:37, "Consider the blameless, observe the upright; a future awaits those who seek peace."
Isaiah 26:3, "You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in You."
Matthew 11:28, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."
John 14:27, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."
John 16:33, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
Romans 14:17, "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit."
Romans 15:13, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."
Thursday, January 2, 2014
"The unfailing love of the LORD never ends! By His mercies we have been kept from complete destruction. Great is His faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each day. I say to myself, 'The LORD is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in Him!'" (NASB)
As we find ourselves at the start of a brand new year, there are a few ways to perceive it. Some view it as just another time stamp and desire to continue on with life without any emotional rebirth or recalculation of plans for the future. Many regard it as a fresh start, with a renewed sense of purpose, fierce anticipation, and an impassioned hope of what lies ahead for them in 2014. Then there are those who consider it a time to not only reflect, but also realign and reset goals.
After Christmas ends, I always chuckle at how promptly the fitness and gym commercials begin to air. A few weeks ago, I was thinking about how we, as women, are awfully hard on ourselves. After having numerous conversations in which I had heard women degrade themselves based solely on appearance (and I am horridly guilty of this, as well), it struck me how overly concerned we girls really are with outward beauty. You rarely hear another woman say, "Gosh, I wish I could learn to love people more," or, "Man, I really wish I could stop being so jealous," or, "Boy, I really need to work on my critical spirit." But you often hear, "I've gotta lose 10 pounds," or, "I wish I was taller." God's Word says we need to be more concerned with our internal beauty than our external (1 Samuel 16:7, "The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart"). So I wondered to myself weeks ago: If I stood on a downtown street corner and asked women what their Christmas wish for themselves would be, how many would give me an, "inward beauty" wish as their answer?! And how would I answer that question...???
There are many things in the, "outer beauty realm," that I wish I could change about myself by just wishing (praying) or even harder work--thinner thighs, thicker hair, less adult onset acne, no crow's feet, and taller stature, to name just a few. But what does God have to say about those things? He couldn't care less. Of course God wants us to look nice and be a good representative for Him and for our husbands and families. He wants us to maintain reasonably good physical health to make an effort to care for our bodies--the vessels He terms in His Word as, "the temples of God" (1 Cor. 6:19-20, 1 Cor. 3:17). However, I personally do not believe physical fitness should be at the top of our personal do list--God's Word tells us it is important, but not above spiritual fitness (1 Timothy 4:8). I do believe we cannot serve God fully or effectively if we are physically unhealthy or unfit. But what GOD cares most about is my continued efforts to work on the, "inner beauty realm"--my mental, emotional, and spiritual health. If I am honest, I have more important issues here. Personally, I need to work on self-control (namely with eating), patience (especially behind the wheel of my car), and peace--Fruits of the Spirit that do not come easily for me (Gal. 5:22). I also want to be bolder for Christ this year, praying more fervently for better opportunities to share my faith with others. I want my life to be more about God and less about me. Though I have made some significant improvements with fear and worry this past year (the aforementioned and much-needed fruit of, "peace"), I also still need to keep working on letting go of both and fully trusting God with everything. He wants me to stop fretting about the details in my life that only He can handle. He wants me to be less-concerned with pleasing people and how others view or treat me. He wants me to only concern myself with pleasing Him and handling just those things for which He has given me to manage. He is the only One Whom I should truly fear (Proverbs 31:30, "Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting: but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised").
Sometimes, the things on which we think we need to work aren't truly issues with God at all. In fact, I believe some things that people find unattractive in us are actually things that God put there in His design of us that we should embrace instead of disgrace. Over a year ago in my quest to find a working band, I sought some advice and counsel from someone well-respected in the music arena. In fact, this man once worked for Atlantic Records, and I met him through another music friend. He was very kind and encouraging to me, but he told me that if I wanted to be taken seriously in music, I needed to stop being so, "supplicant." I had no idea what he meant by this, so I asked him. He said, "Stop acting like others are doing YOU some favor. Stop begging them to work with you. If they don't want to work with you, it's their loss. Move on. When it's right, it's right, and you don't have to suck-up to get valued." Then both my mother and a close girlfriend told me to stop self-deprecating all the time and apologizing for things for which I don't need to apologize. So I have tried to work on these, "supplicant" behaviors this past year. It's funny though--in praying about it further, I have felt the Lord saying over and over, "Just be you. Stop believing what others say and just be who I made you to be. Believe what I SAY is true about you." If you really want to know what God says about you, who you truly are, and who you were created to be, Google, "Scriptures on, 'Who does God say I am?'" and you will find out some amazing things about your own identity. Though I believe the area of being overly people-pleasing or, "butt-kissy," (let's just call it what it is), is an arena in which I needed some change, I do think being supplicant is sort of who I am. I also happen to believe it is a trait of which our world of unapologetic entitlements and ego complexes could use MORE not less. We are all called to live lives of humility and seek to get along with others in unity. Yes, balance is needed there, as with everything in life. As Christian author and renowned speaker, Beth Moore, has stated, thinking too much OR too little about oneself is self-absorption on two opposite ends of the spectrum. Either way you spin it, it's all about you. But thinking of others more highly than ourselves is what we are called to do in God's Word (Phil. 2:3).
So why did I share that story with you? Because some of the changes you would wish for yourself may need changing and some do not. Some may only need a little tweaking--or maybe a fresh perspective. There are things about you that others despise, that you may despise, or that others try to get you to despise about yourself--but perhaps God does not. Like Eve in the Garden with the original sin, it is the nature of who we are to be discontent at times (hopefully not all the time). God gave Eve plenty of other yummy stuff to eat, but she wanted the one thing for which He said, "No." God gives us everything we really need, but we still think we need or deserve more. Only with God's wisdom can you truly discern what things you should work to improve or change. God has been whispering to me to just be content in some areas of my life. Sometimes contentment is actually harder than changing.
We live in such a critical, discontent world. We are overly critical of others and we are overly critical of ourselves. If you post too many blessings, joyful, or good things about your life on Facebook, someone will be offended that you are bragging, faking, or overcompensating for something else. If you post honest, transparent, real, or sad things, you are deemed negative, melodramatic, attention-seeking, and needy. If you post boring recipes or YouTube links, you are annoyingly filling-up feeds with senseless information, obsessed with the internet, and probably have no real life at all. In this world, you really can't win where others are concerned. Someone is going to have a problem with you. It would behoove us all to remember: God's Word says that many times the things that bug us about others we often do ourselves (Romans 2:1)--and if we don't do them ourselves, they often bring out other sin issues we DO have (jealousy, gossip, selfishness, pride, ridicule, unmerciful spirit, etc.). Due to our sin natures, we are never going to be fully at peace with others or ourselves. But praise God, He is not as hard on us as our fellow man or as we are on ourselves. As the key verse at the top says, God's great faithfulness to us, in spite of our repeated failures, gives us immense hope. His unfailing love and His endless mercies give us the gumption to work to get things right in our lives--or at least try. So today I praise God for giving me another year and another chance to get it right. Will I succeed? Sadly, no. But I will die trying! None of us is perfect and we never will be. Thankfully God doesn't require or demand that--He only wants our honest effort at living for Him, and showing others the same faithfulness, mercy, and love that He has shown to us (Micah 6:8, "He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God"). That's really all God expects of us in this life, and I praise Him for it! I wish you all peace, joy, love, and only God's best. Happy and blessed New Year, family and friends!
Friday, December 20, 2013
"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope."
The other night I enjoyed a nice evening out with my husband finishing-up our Christmas shopping and dining at one of our favorite spots in Lawrence, KS--the town we consider, "home." I have written many times of my love for Lawrence with all its quirkiness and unique appeal. It is a rarity to see a town of its size thriving with such a sublime dichotomy of old, hometown charm mixed with hipster art, music, diversity, and culture. It seems there is always something interesting happening in Lawrence and the other night was no exception. As we walked down Massachusetts Avenue, a pack of about 150 people were on what they call, "The Jingle Jog." This group was running up and down "Mass Street," as it is typically termed, while festively adorning all sorts of Christmas attire--from Santa hats to battery-powered Christmas lights and Rudolph noses. One guy was speed-walking and wearing one of those head-light hats. He was emphatically reading aloud from Dr. Seuss' famous Christmas work, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Right as he breezed past me he read the line, "Mr. Grinch, the words that best describe you are as follows, and I quote: Stink, stank, stunk!" I died laughing. It was a good reminder that though I am a bit overwhelmed right now with the approach of Christmas and how behind I am with pretty much everything, I need to watch my attitude and remember the real reason for this season.
I have since thought about some of the other beloved Christmas stories that I read as a kid. Charles Dickens' classic, A Christmas Carol, came to mind as I worked on my Christmas cards the other day and pondered Christmases past. In working to finally update my new address book, I shed a few tears of grief at the awful reminder of so many special people who have gone on to be with the Lord since my last updating. Even in just the last year, there have been several changes of lives lost, as well as, family members and friends who have moved, and those who have, "moved on," so to speak. As we all know, things change, people change, and we just lose touch with each other at times for various reasons. Life happens.
I know I am not alone when I say that this time of year brings to mind all the memories of the past year and of prior Christmases, as well. Perhaps it's a natural tendency for us to reflect as one year closes and another begins--or maybe I'm just a sap! But many of us do find ourselves thinking of all the memories of Christmases past--good and bad. We also desire and work ourselves silly in hopes of giving our loved ones a wonderful Christmas-present (both the literal and figurative). I came across a poll the other day which found that American women spend approximately 86-hours preparing for Christmas during the month of December, and American men spend approximately 67-hours preparing (and I found myself wondering who those men are--sorry, guys)! But obviously, we all work very hard to prepare for this season and bless those we love in great and memorable ways.
Why do we do this? To impress people with how Martha Stewart-like we are? To wow our family with our creative, gift-giving abilities? To over-compensate for our failings during the rest of the year? God forbid! Our motives to bless our loved ones, friends, and the less-fortunate should be wrapped-up in one person--the Person Who is the true reason for the season, and Whose name the season bears--Jesus Christ. Without Jesus, this holiday is pointless and meaningless. The commercialism, the chaos, the stress, and the pressures just aren't worth it without Him. But if we know Christ, and if we make Him the center of our focus for this holiday, suddenly it all makes sense--we show love to others because HE first showed love to us. When we place all our hope in Him, we can easily share joy, love, and blessings with others because we know a Savior Who was born just to die for us. Regardless of how our actual Christmas turns out, it's already a fantastic one with that free, priceless gift from above (2 Cor. 9:15)! I recall a friend (one who happens to sadly have, "moved on"), telling me that religious Christmas music was depressing because not everyone feels joyful at Christmas. My first thought was, All the more reason to relish that music and cling to the Person for Whom it was written.
As I thought about those whose names I did not rewrite into my newly updated address book, I took great comfort knowing that they are all in heaven celebrating a Christmastime unlike any we have ever had here. They have not had to wait in long lines buying things that won't be given a second thought in a month. They have not battled illness while attempting to cheerfully serve in ministry capacities. They have not felt loneliness, sadness, or exhaustion at a time when they should feel only joy and peace. They are WITH the Person for Whom CHRISTmas is celebrated. What a grand and perfectly glorious time they must be having! As I think about Christmas-future, I not only pray for many more blessed Christmases with those who remain in my life, but I look so forward to the day when I can celebrate with the actual Birthday Boy. I am convinced that Christmas-future is where it's at! God bless and Merry Christmas to you all!
Thursday, December 5, 2013
"Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you."
When we think of, "leadership," we typically think of people in management positions, levels of high-rank, or those in authority. But in reality, God has placed us all in leadership roles to some degree--even if we are only leading ourselves in our personal lives. In thinking about the above verse, I am reminded of the various leaders in my life--those who have mentored me, counseled me, guided me, shepherded me, and been in direct authority over me. I also think about those over whom I have led. At first glance, this verse can make you cringe at the words, "have confidence," and "submit," because if we are honest, we all have had leaders in the past, or even currently, for whom we have no ability or desire to do either. But after reading the entire verse, we quickly see that this verse is not just about being a good subordinate. It also tells the leader a couple of things: to keep watch over their subordinates, and to be prepared to give an account for how they do that.
Based on God's Word, Godly leadership first, carries a high responsibility for the well-being of others, and second, recognizes it is in direct submission to God (which is the underlying motive for the first). So what motivates leaders to truly care about the well-being of their subordinates and to truly fear God's authority over them? Love. Love of God and love of others.
This flies in the face of what most secular books on leadership will tell you. You can read a lot of books on leading and leadership, and they say a lot of the same things--being firm, fair, consistent, honest, reliable, confident, an effective delegator, a utililzer of talent, and so forth. Those are all crucial leadership traits. But I believe the one thing that makes a good leader a great leader, is leading in love. If God IS love, and love comes from God (1 John 4:7-8), there is no way to be a loving leader without being a Godly one.
Being a Godly leader will many times mean personally taking the hard road so someone else can have the easy one. It may mean letting go of how you want something to be done so that the majority of others involved can be pleased. It will mean demoting yourself at times so others can be elevated. It will mean letting go of your fears and your desire to control things due to them, and just trusting God. It will mean letting go of what is, "fair," and letting God deal with injustices. It will mean looking at the bigger picture, and choosing unity and peacemaking over proving points, teaching lessons, & winning (ugh...will that word ever carry the proper connotation after being taken captive by Charlie Sheen?)! Being a Godly, loving leader will demand having many, "get real" moments, as I call them--meaning, having honest evaluations with yourself in areas where you are giving yourself passes but holding others hostage to their infractions. It will require comparing yourself to Christ and not to others. It requires giving-up the temptation to play, "conviction-police," to those beneath you, proudly touting and twisting Scripture in true, God-complex form to subordinates who you believe need your expertise, opinion, and control. Instead, a Godly leader desires to spend more time tweaking and perfecting their own life, and praying fervently for those they lead.
We have all led and we have all been led. When you think about the leaders who have most effectively led you and shown you in turn, how to lead, what do they all have in common? A personal drive to claw their way to the top? Ambition, visions, and dreams so deep and wide a canyon is left in their absence? Confidence & smooth talk? Flashy appeal and book smarts galore? Nope. They had a pure love for their service (and that is how they viewed it, it was not "work"), and they had even more love for you and others beneath them. They were trustworthy, immovable, and steady--which gave you security, peace, and made you trust them all the more. They had a humble peace about them--resolute in their decisions, but not with an attitude of showing, "who's boss." They possessed inner strength and joy in all circumstances, good and bad. They humbly listened more than they talked. They truly cared about what was going on in your life and sought to understand you. They were fair and honest--which earned them your deep respect. They were grateful for your service, and told you so. They humbly desired to glean wisdom from those beneath them in order to reap a better harvest. They were quick to admit mistakes or admit when they were wrong--and they said they were sorry. They were willing to change things that needed changing and could be changed. They helped develop you and lovingly pointed-out areas where you could improve. They were immovable in areas of black-and-white, and highly flexible in areas of grey. They entrusted you with stuff and showed you they believed in you. They never diminished those beneath them, gossiped, picked sides, jabbed, double-talked, belittled, played favorites, bent the rules for those favorites, or used passive-aggressive tactics as punishment--which by the way, are all quick ways to lose the respect and trust of subordinates and encourage criticism, anger, decreased job performance, and even rebellion. The truly effective, great leaders in your life worked to gain and maintain your trust and respect, realizing that both are earned.
One of the most important leadership roles a person can be given, is that of parenting. I've blogged previously about this in a blog post entitled, "Few Parental Regrets." In this post, I share about how our only child, Allie, never rebelled against my husband and me, even with our very strict rules (which by the way, flew in the face of how others around us were parenting). I believe this is due to two things: she had no doubt of our immense love and value for her and her life, and she knew we were in direct submission to God. It sure wasn't because we were perfect parents or strict, wise authoritarians. When pure love is the source of the leadership, the subordinates trust and respect. They love in return. We would all follow a deeply loving, trustworthy leader just about anywhere--and we would do it with a wink and a smile. As Hebrews 13:17 states, we desire to make their job easy and joyful, in return. It is amazing how quickly points of contention and strife diminish when we believe we are being led in love and when we know we are valued, heard, and understood.
Perhaps you are reading this and thinking, "I don't have any position of leadership, so how does all this apply to me?" Or worse, "So what?" Well, friend, as I stated initially, you are in the least, in leadership over yourself and your life--and we will all answer to God about that, as well. And chances are, you will be given another leadership role at some point. In summary, I believe being a truly great leader means helping others reach their potential by humbly entrusting yours, and only yours, to God--and you can do neither without love.
Thursday, November 21, 2013
Romans 12:15, "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn."
As I write this blog today, I can't help but think about the silly journey I have been on for the past six months battling Plantar Fasciitis from a runner's injury early last May. Suffice it to say, it has not been a fun one. I recently had the privilege of enjoying some time with a dear friend who asked me at length about my feet and how my physical therapy is going. I could tell she was very concerned about my situation and truly cared that I am struggling greatly with pain-management and healing. It meant the world to me that she was more concerned about my issue than any of her own--and quite honestly, my issue is not that pressing in the scope of life. But I thought a great deal about this verse in Romans 12 that day, and I thanked God for this friend who has always been the kind of fellow sojourner in Christ to be genuinely happy for me in my successes and joys, and sincerely sorrowful and concerned when I am hurting.
We have all come across people in life like this--faithful friends who place more interest on us than themselves. They are the ones who after spending time with them, we almost feel guilty that we would receive such an undeserved blessing in another human being--someone who behaves as if we are more important than they are. We also feel remorse because we did most of the talking, as is typical in the relationship (these folks rarely want to speak at length about themselves). Likewise, we have probably all met people of the contrary, who seem to bask in our sorrows and mourn selfishly in our joys. These "friends," who disappear or hide when things are good, suffer from the all-too-typical-green-eyed-monster-syndrome, and they would rather play counselor than cheerleader where we are concerned. These are the friends who cannot muster up a genuinely kind word about good things in our life, but place great demand and expectation on us to bask at length in the glory of theirs. Last and on the opposite end of that negative spectrum, there are people whom we could term, "fair-weather friends." They are the ones who only want to be around us when things are good. But once they aren't, they are no where to be found. They have no time or patience for anything less than fun and smiles. But we are called by God directly in His Word to be loyal, faithful friends in every circumstance, regardless of the current situations of others or ourselves. Not just when it feels good to us or is convenient for us. Not just when God is blessing us equally. Not just when things are in our favor.
Though I have truly despised the past six months due to the pain, time, and expense of my injury, I know that the Good Lord has used this for my personal betterment. I know that my empathy for those who deal with constant pain has heightened immensely. My empathy for those who battle weight loss issues due to be unable to exercise has increased significantly (I am still wearing 6 of the 10 pounds I gained last winter, and here we are approaching the good ol' holidays again)! My awareness of how blessed I am to even be able to walk has risen greatly. My appreciation for doctors and therapists and the genuine care and support they give, has gone through the roof. I have come to realize that patience, peace, and self-control are the three Fruits of the Spirit upon which I need to work much harder. Before my injury, I was feeling pretty self-assured that I was working on all the fruits pretty consistently and effectively (funny how a hardship brings out the reality in us)! This injury has brought me to deeper prayer and forced me to rely more fully on God in order to do my work and my ministry. This is a humility all of us need, but to which none of us ever look forward. When you spend the first two hours every day holding onto counters and furniture just to endure pain as you work, you learn humility really quickly. When you lie awake at all hours of the night because your feet are throbbing, you learn to pray harder. As it turns out, feet are pretty important. I won't be taking them for granted again.
So what does my stupid, petty feet-injury have to do with Romans 12? Well, for starters, I am hopeful that I have learned to have more mercy for my fellow believers who are struggling with things--namely health issues. It is easy to be quick to judge others who gripe and complain about their aches and pains until you have them yourself. I am grateful for those who have genuinely cared about me--in my joys and sorrows. I am humbled by friends who are suffering and warring right now with much bigger battles than I, and doing so while exhibiting all nine Fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), unlike me. I am blessed that God has provided my needs during this time (physical therapy and orthotics aren't cheap) and allowed me to continue in my work and ministry in spite of my pain. I know my Lord is teaching me peace, patience, and self-control in this journey and He has my best interests at heart--even though there have been days where I am just really weary. He does not desire for me to view this as His wrath upon me (a clear epiphany given to me by Him one day after I threw myself before Him in anger and despair about my feet). Though this is a small but greatly annoying battle, I believe God is also preparing and teaching me things about aging. None of us are immune to that, and in the, "pride of life," I know deep down I was not really wanting to face the inevitability of it. We girls are told in all forms of media that we are supposed to be timeless, and that our lives and looks should show that in every sense of the word. During this second half of my life, I am going to have to learn to deal with health issues gracefully in God's strength--not my own. I am going to have to let go of vanity and the arrogance of youth and life--aging will remove both whether I choose to let them go or not. I've said it before and I'll say it again, "This ain't heaven, folks," and, "There are three things you can count on in life: death, taxes, and change." So though the wrinkle in the middle of my forehead is now deeper from furrowing my brow from pain all summer and fall, I am reminded of how it really doesn't matter. One day all pain, all struggles, and all wrinkles (can I get an, "Amen," up in here?), will be gone forever.
I pray that I can be the kind of friend who supports, encourages, and blesses in joys and sorrows--even when I am hurting or it is not reciprocated. I pray I can be the kind of believer who never criticizes or judges someone else's lot in life until I have walked a mile in their moccasins. Though I have to admit my fear and trepidation about it, I desire for God to continue to prune me to the point where I just love people. But I ask Him now: "Father, please prune me thoroughly, but gently. Help me to be able to rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn--regardless of their situation, regardless of mine, and regardless of how they treat me in return. Amen."
Wednesday, November 6, 2013
"Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, He gave thanks and broke them. Then He gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people. They all ate and were satisfied"...
Nearly every day, I begin my morning quiet-time with a bowl of cereal and reading Rick Warren's, "Daily Hope," e-devotional before plunging into my Bible to read on my own. On October 14, 2013, I was reading Pastor Warren's post, "God Breaks, Then He Multiplies." That devotional has bugged me ever since.
In it, Pastor Warren discusses how God has to break us before He can bless us and then multiply our gifts and service. I have thought a great deal about this, "breaking" part. Why does God have to break us before blessing and using us? What is the purpose of that? Then came the classic, pity-party, Stephanie-question: Why is God so hard on us at times?
When we ponder Christ breaking that bread in order to bless and multiply it, we first see that the bread had to become smaller in order to grow bigger. At first glance, this may seem harsh--to tear the bread and rip it apart. But it couldn't be shared if it wasn't first broken. In the same way, God breaks us so we can be shared and multiplied. It is important to notice that even though the bread was torn, it was still bread and still served its purpose--and an even greater one at that. So when we are broken, we can likewise trust that God isn't going to break us beyond ourselves or to the point of uselessness. He actually wants the exact opposite. He is making us smaller or humbling us so that we can be shared and multiplied. He wants us to also recognize our great need for Him and for this greater purpose in our lives.
It is also important to notice that before Christ actually broke that bread, He prayed over it first to thank God the Father for it and, "bless" it. If Jesus did this for a loaf of bread, how much more does He intercede on our behalf to the Father before God breaks us? I am guessing loads more. I imagine Christ saying of me, "Father, thank You for this child. Thank You for what You are going to do in her life once You break her for the sharing and multiplying. I ask You to bless her and this process, Father." We can rest in knowing that we are much more valuable to God than mere bread.
God's Word says that He loves humble servants and resists the proud. Part of this breaking process also involves us viewing ourselves as we should--as sinners who are helpless without His blessing and aid. When we are broken, we are also typically much more willing to submit to God--that is, we should be. There are times when we proudly rebel and fight the breaking-stage. No one likes to have their life torn apart on any level. But eventually, we must come to terms with our need for God's help, strength, wisdom, grace, and mercy in that which we are striving or struggling. Oftentimes, when we are strong and feeling overly confident, we seek to do things our own way instead of giving them over to God first. When we are broken, we are also much more focused on giving God the glory for any successes because we can easily recall that it was not our effort that brought them. We are better able to see God's hand in our lives when we are humble versus proud.
Over and over in Scripture we see examples of God using broken, humbled people--sinful people with big issues. God loves to take broken things and turn them into beautiful ones. Why? Because this is His character. It's the entire essence of Who He is. He is a fixer. We had a major problem in The Garden with the initial sin, and what did God do about it? He brought another fixer. He sent His own Son, Jesus Christ, to give us a solution to our problem. God loves to fix things for two main reasons: to show His glory and to show His great love for us. It may not feel like He is loving on you when He allows you to be broken. But we know that we cannot fully appreciate the good things God does in our lives if everything constantly goes our way. This isn't heaven and we have much to learn before reaching it. We all have character flaws which we don't even want to face or admit. But they need removal. This removal does not happen when we get everything we want.
Sometimes in our walk with God, we hear things many times and they are not new to us. But for some reason, we read them later and they strike us differently. In reading Rick Warren's devotional, I realized with fresh eyes that to serve others or be used by God on any level, we have to be willing to be broken. When you begin to put yourself out there for God and attempt to serve Him in ways that He is urging you, you have to prepare yourself for some pain. First, the enemy will be ticked-off, and he will begin to work on you and use people you never dreamed he would use to hurt you in order to stifle you in your service, ruin your attitude towards it, and discourage you from even doing it. Secondly, people you love may not support or understand what you do for God. But as we know, we are here to please God not people. Thirdly, not everyone will value your work. Again, if your identity and purpose are not in the Lord, you will falter in your mission and perspective. The ONE THING you must always tell yourself: other's opinions of you are not your business. It's their business. It's their issue. Your only responsibility is to God and what HE thinks of you. It is also important to mention that when you are in God's will or trying hard to find it, oftentimes you will reek of joy. Others, who are NOT in God's will in their own journeys (or who aren't even trying to be), may be turned-off by this. They are not at peace, but do not allow their discomfort and discontentment to begin to seep into your heart, poison your purpose, or plague your mission. Taylor Swift's song, "Ours," speaks to this:
"And don't you worry your pretty little mind
People throw rocks at things that shine
But they can't take what's ours, they can't take what's ours, they can't take what's ours
The stakes are high, the water's rough, but this love is ours."
When we have been burned or hurt in the past, it feels easier to withhold our love and service to others. We may even say, "What is the point? It did me no good last time, God." Well, God is the point. When others don't reciprocate or fully appreciate your love and service, you can focus on two things: First, there is always someone else who needs your love and service, and who will value it. If you are spinning your wheels in your ministry or service to others, perhaps you need to find a less-muddy road. Secondly, God sees, values, and reciprocates your love and efforts--far above anything you ever give or do for Him. So regardless, we are here to give in God's name for His purposes. We are not here for ourselves, for reciprocation of our efforts, or to hoard our love and gifts. They cannot be blessed, used, and multiplied unless we are willing to be broken.
For nearly seven years, I avoided putting myself out there in ways that I knew God could use me. One of these ways was in blogging and getting on Facebook. Now there are many reasons I despise Facebook and I stand by them all (i.e. people spending more time on it than in God's Word; people spending more time looking at it than having real conversations with those in their presence or current life; people using it to be passive-aggressive; people "meeting-up" with those whom they have no business reconnecting; etc.). But one honest reason for my lengthy refusal to succumb to the societal pressure of becoming a, "card-carrying member of the social media world," was that I did not want anyone to know anything about my life. I was afraid of being judged, ridiculed, and simply wanted to avoid experiencing any kind of painful snarkiness posed by others. I had heard enough horror stories from others about the negative things that can happen in this realm, and made-up my mind that I would NEVER set myself up for unneeded abuse (the world is harsh enough in real-time). But one thing God has been painfully pruning off of me is the need to be loved, accepted, and affirmed by others. As I've blogged about repeatedly, fear and people-pleasing have ruled my life for too long now. God has shown me that both have to go--for good. Even though I still truly dislike Facebook on many levels, I know that I cannot be effective for God if I refuse to use the current-day capacities at my disposal for Him and toward areas He is nudging me.
Two of my biggest spiritual gifts are encouragement and intercession. I was not effectively doing either by hiding from people or avoiding getting to know others better. I am also done being afraid to put myself out there and share my faith with others. If I can do that more effectively by exposing my creative joys, my stories, and my life, then so be it. We cannot be effective for God hiding in our house and keeping 95% of the world at arms-length. We cannot be a light for Christ, an encouragement to others, or get to know others well for the purpose of intercession if we avoid people and keep our life hidden. We have to be willing to be broken in order to be used by God. Have I experienced some brokenness by putting myself out there? You bet. Do I really care in the scope of God blessing and multiplying me? No way. It's all part of the process--the process of God's work in me and God's work through me. We can trust His intentions in both.
There is risk involved in putting yourself out there to serve God and love others. God will challenge you when you agree to submit to Him. He will show you areas in your own heart that need challenging--and it is painful, at times. Serving others is an even bigger risk because people are not perfect. They are selfish and they are sinful--even Christians. If you get involved with people, you will be hurt--you can count on it. If you choose to do God's will, brace yourself--the enemy will be attacking you, as well. If you choose to love others above yourself--make sure you are operating off God's wellspring of love, not your own. Yours isn't renewable, and it will get sucked dry by others in a hurry. But God's love breaks you, and then it makes you. His love is enduring--it blesses, and it multiplies. Praise be to God.