Consider the Source

I have to share this story because I just got so tickled over it. I have an aunt who is so supportive of my blog; she reads them all, comments on them all–encouraging me and sharing even more insight into whatever topic I’ve discussed. She’s been one of my greatest cheerleaders since I took on this blogging endeavor a few years ago. Well last week she messaged me and asked if I’d double-check my blog’s email list because she was concerned I’d posted blogs that she’d not gotten. That’s how on top of things I’ve been. It’s been so long since I wrote a blog post, my Aunt Sheila thought she’d been accidentally removed from the mailing list! 🙂 I assured her that was not what was happening, I was just trying to figure out how to balance blog posts with a working-from-home husband and one computer. We do have an iPad, but 2020 has taken enough of my sanity as it is; therefore, I will not attempt to type out my wordy messages via that iPad screen. I feel certain it would result in my burning this whole place to the ground, which we do not want. Can I get an amen?!

Speaking of 2020…y’all, what in the actual world?! Can you imagine not being a Christ-follower during all of this?! The other day, Beth Moore tweeted, “Jesus, come get us” and it made me want to laugh and cry and praise and wail all at the same time. Never have I ever longed for the peace and love of Heaven like now. I am surely not the only one. It feels so important–now more than ever before in my lifetime–to be loving examples of Christ, to share His message of hope and salvation with those hurting around us. But in order for us to do this and do it well and effectively, we have to make sure that we get our minds under the control of the Holy Spirit, so that He is able to guide us as we go forth into this damaged world to share Jesus.

Before the events of the past couple of weeks, I had already been thinking over this topic but on a much more superficial scale. Today, I still feel those thoughts are relevant, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t speak to what’s currently happening as well.

I want to take a minute before I go anything further and make one thing very, very clear: Black. Lives. Matter. This is not a political issue. This is not a government agenda. This is not simply a social media platform. This is a Church (with a capital C) issue. This is a human issue. This is a crucial issue. For those of you who follow The Samaritan Woman’s Facebook page (or my personal Instagram page), I’ve made my stance on this very clear. My job and your job and the job of EVERY SINGLE CHRISTIAN is to love your neighbor just like you love yourself. It’s not to love your neighbor IF their skin matches yours. It’s not to love your neighbor IF they vote like you do. It’s not to love your neighbor IF they love you first. Friends, the Bible is abundantly clear that Jesus loved us so very much that He died for us BEFORE we could even accept Him, before we could love Him in return. He modeled the way we are to treat each other, and it sure didn’t involve waiting until someone was nice to us or loved us or smiled at us first.

I also want to make it abundantly clear that I am so very grateful for all of those who put their lives in jeopardy every day to serve as officers of the law. I don’t think for one second that all cops are bad. I think that 99% of them are excellent people; the ones I know certainly are. There are bad apples in every single bunch; this applies to every skin color, every profession, every group of people. I am so impressed with the police officers I’ve seen taking knees with protestors, praying with them, and speaking out against the murder committed by those four bad-apple Minneapolis cops. Throughout the Bible Jesus puts His arms around multitudes of people from all walks of life, loving them all, but He does this while simultaneously calling out and holding accountable those living in a manner opposite of God’s will. He is especially hard on those to whom much responsibility and power has been given, and I don’t think it’s a strike against us to hold people in positions of power today to those same standards. However, the more time we spend pointing fingers or calling out others, the less time we have for bettering ourselves, which is a major detriment to the Church. It’s absolutely crucial to speak up for those hurting and those being oppressed, but if you’re not taking time to make sure you’re not doing some of that hurting and oppressing yourself (whether accidentally or intentionally), you’re sort of missing the point. Take responsibility for you FIRST. (Remove the log from your own eye.) Then, after the Holy Spirit has prompted you to move outside of yourself, go beyond yourself to hold accountable those around you. (Then you can see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.)

Today, I’d like us to look at this idea of getting ourselves right in our own minds so that we can be more effective Christians and stand up against hate and stand for love. As I said, it starts on the inside, with each of us individually. Here’s what I mean:

In my last blog post (which was obviously ages ago!), I mentioned I’d been riding the roller coaster of emotions during this Coronavirus mess. For the most part, as we’ve settled into this new normal, I’ve come to grips with it all. However, as we start talking about what school will look like come August, I feel some of those same initial emotions slipping back in, with fear and worry leading the charge. To overcome this, I’ve had to practice 2 Corinthians 10:5 so very many times (often multiple times a day–can I get an AMEN from all the slow-learners out there!). Here is what this Scripture tells us to do when these negative thoughts/emotions first appear: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”  The Bible tells me that confusion and fear do not come from God. Worry isn’t from God. Those come straight from the enemy (John 10:10), who steals our peace and joy. So as I recognize these emotions multiplying, I have to stop and remind myself to consider the source. “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7). I have to take captive those thoughts that make it seem like things will never change, like everything is one gigantic dumpster fire that’ll never stop burning, and force my mind to focus on Jesus. I have to force myself to think about how Jesus is hope, and with Him all things are possible. How nothing is too big an issue for Jesus to show right up in the middle of, and although it might look bleak right now, all it takes is one single word from the mouth of our God and it could all change instantly.

I think it’s of utmost importance that we apply this same idea to our own attitudes toward people who are different than we are, whether it be because of skin color or political party or religious affiliation (etc. etc. etc. etc….). Spoiler alert: hate is not from God, and pride/superiority is not from God. When we have a negative thought about another group of people, we need to (1) stop and recognize its negativity, holding ourselves accountable for what floats around in our heads; (2) take that thought captive, offering it over to the Lord so that He might help us recognize its true, satanic source; (3) make it obedient to God. Let me give you an example to better communicate what I mean. If you find yourself generalizing an entire group of people and being angry at them because they don’t vote like you do, it’s time to take those negative thoughts and the venom that goes with them straight to Jesus. It’s in these moments when we ask Him to help us with our anger or even hatred toward ____________ group, that He’ll be able to show up for us, share His love with us, remind us that HE DIED ON THE CROSS FOR EVERY ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE YOU FIND INTOLERABLE, and soften our hearts toward our opposite-side-of-the-fence neighbors in ways we’ve not experienced before.

I recently ran across this quote of Dr. Caroline Leaf’s, from her book Switch On Your Brain, and I felt like it was so timely and relevant. She states, “As we think, we change the physical nature of our brain. As we consciously direct our thinking, we can wire out toxic patterns of thinking and replace them with healthy thoughts.” Y’all! I feel like this is the best news because it literally joins science with Scripture. The Bible explains this exact same mind-renewal concept in Romans 12:2: “Do not copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” Friends, whatever way our thinking falls currently, whether it’s born out of love or loathing, God is waiting to help us see others, love others, treat others as He does. He loves us all. He has told us time and again how to treat each other. He has warned us of what can happen when we decide our race, our desires, our lives are more important than those of another.

I wrote two legal-sized pages of Bible verses in preparing for this post. I’ve used a few, but the majority I’ve not been able to fit in. But of them all, one has jumped out at me time and time again. It’s so applicable to the racial divide that I assume we are all diligently working to correct, with regard to our own role in it. But it’s applicable to life in general. We live in a culture of ME! ME! ME!, which is vastly opposite of how God intended us to live. So before I pray with you guys, I’d like to leave you with a verse that I whole-heartedly encourage all of you to spend some time meditating on (as I will be) in the coming days.

Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourself.” One more time for those of you in the back: In humility, value others above yourself. Yes, Lord, make it so!

Dear Lord, thank You so much for sending Jesus to save me before I ever got my act together. Thank You for that example of how I should live my life. Help me, Father, not to expect others to love me before I’m willing to love them. Help me not to make excuses for being distant or angry or judgmental. Instead, Lord, give me a heart like Yours. Help me to see every single person in my line of sight today as You do. Remind me, God, when I get prideful and superior, that You love them just as much as You love me. Remind me, God, You died for them exactly as You died for me. I love you, Lord, and I so desire to be a good example to others in Your name. May my behavior, may my treatment of others–especially those with whom I share the greatest differences–glorify YOU. Help me, Lord, to look inward, so that I might spend time correcting my own thoughts and feelings first and foremost. Give me the courage to reach out to those around me who are hurting, in an effort to share You. Help me to listen and learn instead of constantly running my mouth. I love you, God. Thank You for helping me grow. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.

Shared Emotions

Happy Easter, my friends! I pray this finds you healthy and well and rejoicing in the risen King. No greater gift has ever been given and no greater victory has ever been had!

Throughout this week, while reading the story of Jesus during his final earthly days, I found myself identifying more this year than ever before with the emotions the disciples must have been feeling. I don’t know about you, but emotions have been really abundant for me lately, and I’ve ridden the roller coaster from “We got this!” to “This is horrible!” more than once. Sometimes more than once a day. After reading the Easter story this year again and comparing their experiences to the strange circumstances in which we find ourselves, I truly believe that the disciples were no strangers to this emotional roller coaster.

Over the past few weeks, I have felt all of these at one time or another (or all at once), and I believe the disciples felt them, too. I’m betting that you, too, might recognize a few of these shared emotions yourself.

Disappointment–Can you imagine being full of expectations, excitedly planning a big event or championing a cause you felt very passionate about, only to have it erased from the calendar because of something outside your control? The disciples can, and I bet if you know a kid planning a spring birthday party or looking forward to the end-of-the-year celebrations at a school, a senior planning prom and graduation celebrations, or a person expecting to celebrate an upcoming birthday at a favorite restaurant, you can too. So many of us have experienced great disappointment during this quarantine. I’ve talked to parents of kids who were planning exciting things that have been stolen away, and my heart breaks for them. If we were to ask Peter or Mary or John how they felt when, suddenly, death stole from them their expectations and plans, they’d most certainly list disappointment (to the point of heartbreak) among the emotions they experienced.

Confusion–Please raise your hand if at any point since the middle of March (which was seventeen years ago by my calculations) you’ve thought, What in the whole wide world is happening? You know the disciples had to have been so confused, too. No way some of them weren’t asking the exact same question. How many of us have wondered, Where did you go, Jesus? What are You doing? How are death and confusion part of Your plan? The disciples might not have been confused about how to get toilet paper and hand soap, but unanswered questions and jumbled, unsettled minds are something we no doubt share.

Fear–I think of all the emotions, this one I’ve had to battle the most. I have found many things to be afraid of during this pandemic (anyone else hate this word?), and it’s taken A LOT of mental energy some days to shut it down. I bet the disciples get this, too. In fact, I know they did because I read Luke. Sometimes Jesus’s friends were terrified by what they saw outside His tomb. Other times, they felt afraid for their own safety, their own well-being. Same, disciple friends. Same. What happens next feels very up in the air right now, and after the death of Jesus, I’d guess it did for them, too.

Sadness— No one can argue the disciples’ love for Jesus. Sure they weren’t perfect, but love isn’t borne through perfection. Their hearts were good, and their hearts were full for Jesus Christ. And then He died and seemed to leave them alone and brokenhearted. No doubt they were sad because they felt the rug had been ripped right out from underneath them. Surely they also felt saddened by the betrayal of Judas, because even though Jesus paid the price, Judas betrayed his brothers in Christ as well. Through all of this, I, too, have felt such sadness. Sadness over those who are sick or who have lost loved ones. Sadness over those in assisted living facilities and nursing homes whose visits from family and friends have been cut off. Sadness over the kids trapped at home, kids for whom school was an escape and a few hours of safety. Sadness over families who can’t feed their kids without the help of free school lunches. Sadness because we can’t worship at our church or hang out with our family. Sadness because there’s just a lot of darkness right now. And can you imagine a darker time than the day Jesus died and remained entombed? So. Much. Sadness.

Inadequacy–I won’t ask for a show of hands, but how many of you have been gripped by feelings of inadequacy while trying to homeschool your kids and work from home and feed everybody and make sure you are on time for every Zoom meeting and do laundry and feed everybody and feed everybody and feed everybody? Y’all, the disciples felt this too. Even though they jawed back and forth about which of them was the greatest and trash-talked each other, there was ZERO question that Jesus was the leader among them. He was the decision-maker, the guide, the glue. And then one day, He was no longer there. The disciples had no resources. I mean, hello! They weren’t sons of God like Jesus was. What exactly where they supposed to do now?! For crying out loud, you’re not a teacher! What are you supposed to do now?! Yep, this, too, was an emotion we have in common with the disciples.

But as you know, as every meme has reminded us these last two days, Sunday was coming. Victory was about to show up and show out in a MIGHTY way, and the emotions those disciples were about to experience were far from those listed above. Now, friends, we’re not quite there yet. We are still in the midst of that time of waiting, where the darkness and the loneliness and the sadness and fear still fill our hearts. But we can hold strong to what happens next in Luke because it shows us exactly which emotions we are about to have in common with the disciples, and boy, do these sound WAY better!

Hopefulness–Rejoice, friends, because we already know what the disciples were just learning: Jesus won! Jesus always wins! Those guys (and gals) had to learn as they went, but we have seen the way that story ends. We don’t have to wait to see how this virus mess ends to have hope. Today more than any day we can declare loudly and fiercely: HOPE IS ALIVE AND HIS NAME IS JESUS! We might have to wait a little longer, we might have to work harder at pushing out the lies fear whispers about our current circumstances, but we have full hope because of Jesus Christ. I think it’s beautiful to imagine what it must have felt like for those disciples to go from being so dejected and achy to being swollen full of hope and restoration.

LOVE–“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). You are Jesus’s friend. It was for you that He gave His life. To be totally honest, those disciples were a bit of train wreck sometimes…both collectively and individually. Aren’t we all? There are times when I’ll try my very, very best and still blow it. And when I do, God says, “I love you. It’s okay.”

I simply cannot imagine what it must have been like to witness the sacrifice Jesus made, to have heard His cries as those nails were being pounded into his actual body. My stomach knots just typing that. I would never want to personally witness that horror. But I love to imagine what it must have felt like for Jesus’s disciples to come to the recognition that THEY were why He did it. “But God demonstrates His own for love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God hasn’t once taken His eyes from us during this scary, unprecedented time. He’s not forgotten what He promised, and He’s not walked away. Yes, we may be suffering disappointments of varying degrees. And we may be fearful and struggling to feel adequate in the midst of a brand-new (not our choice!) normal. But just like when God was hard at work on the behalf of the disciples even though they couldn’t see it, He’s hard at work on our behalf, ON YOUR BEHALF, too. You, friend, are in the palm of His hand. Choose hope. See His love. Know that abundant goodness is yours for the taking through a personal relationship with Him. God hadn’t disappeared when Jesus was lying dead in that tomb; He was preparing. I am convinced, y’all, that this is exactly what’s happening now, too. I love you all tremendously, and I wish you the happiest of Easters. If it gets dark today, or in the coming days, just do what my BFF Lauren Daigle says to do and look up, child. Please pray with me.

Dear Lord, thank You for Easter. Thank You that when things looked bleak and dark and hopeless, You were preparing SALVATION for me. I trust You, Lord, and I know that You haven’t deserted me. I know that I can seek You and You will comfort me. I admit, Father, I frequently visit those more negative emotions, especially lately. I don’t want to listen to the lies fear whispers, so I ask You, Lord, to please give me Your peace, Your comfort, and the hope that can only be found in being Your child. I KNOW good things are coming because You are a good God. Thank You for Jesus. Thank You for His resurrection. Thank You for loving me and saving me well before I got myself together. You are worthy of every and all praise, Lord. I love you. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.

 

Jesus, Not Germs

Well, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, with emphasis this time: America is drunk. What have you people done to this place?? Last week we were all going about our business and going to work and school and buying groceries (albeit too much toilet paper for some of you–you know who you are), and now look at us! You jokers need to get it together and get this train back on the tracks. Pronto.

In the meantime, like most of you, I also want to use this time to reflect and learn as much as I can, like the mature adult I often pretend to be. So today, I’d like to start off by sharing with you a few lessons I’ve learned (and am learning) during this Coronavirus situation.

*Far too many people think they are experts.

*God is fully in control. We, on the other hand, have zero control. Despite my Type A personality needing a straight-jacket over this, it is as it should be.

*I use too many squares of toilet paper at a time.

*Some really wonderful people work at Walmart!

*I rely too much on regular everyday securities instead of God.

*Healthcare workers are saints! Although I’ve known this for years, it’s been reinforced to an infinite degree: I could NEVER be one.

*Toddlers are WAY better at sharing than adults who think they *might* run out of paper products.

*God is fully in control.

*I’m a stress-cleaner. While that’s not new news, I have learned that if you’re planning to stress-clean your way through a lengthy quarantine, 1400 square feet ain’t gonna cut it.

*Social media is keeping me going.

*Social media is killing me.

*God is fully in control.

*My regular life is eerily similar to being in quarantine. (Will be giving this some more thought at a later date)

*Occasionally one of my neighbors comes out on her back step to feed and water her dog(s)…wearing only a bra and shorts.

*I make a lot of little trips to the grocery store during the week.

*God is fully in control.

*Dogs around here do not get walked unless their owners are on lockdown and looking for excuses to take a break while working from home.

*Sitting around the house all day makes me “hungry”

*I am thankful I don’t own a small business. Or a big business. Or am in any way in a position of leadership that requires big decision-making during this unprecedented craziness.

*This new normal means that I know, at any given time, exactly how many rolls of toilet paper are in this house.

*When God slows us all down and removes our distractions, we are actually kind to each other and pay attention to each other’s needs. We will actually see AND help out a neighbor in need when we’re not rushing around all day, focused solely on ourselves, our kids, and our schedules.

*People are hilarious. These Coronavirus memes are STELLAR.

*And last but not least, GOD IS FULLY IN CONTROL.

Friends, I sure do not have the answers. (I am NOT one of those people who starts their posts, “I’m no expert, but…”) I waiver between feeling confident and secure in knowing God’s in charge and stressed/anxious/worried about all the what-ifs. This morning I was talking to a friend with two special-needs sons at home who don’t quite understand what’s going on, and we were talking about how overwhelming it is to think about these next few weeks. I can tell that the more I think about anything past today, the more I stress and lose sight of what I do know. I want to make sure that I focus on Jesus, not germs. I want to let Him be my Provider, my Protector. I want to give Him the reigns and do as He instructs in His Word by focusing only on today. This is FAR easier said than done for me, but with practice, I can get there. And if through all of this, I come out on the other side way stronger and better able to let God be God, what a glorious time this will have been.

I am praying for you all, and I hope you’re spending intentional, personal time with God during this upheaval. Don’t haphazardly toss out wishes; instead, go to the feet of Jesus and lay every single one of your concerns at His feet. He’s already been victorious over anything and everything that might ensnare us. He’s just waiting on us to get that through our thick skulls, as our Southern mamas used to say. Thank you for reading, and after taking a quick second to pray the following prayer with me, please don’t miss the (very short) note after it. Love you all!!!

Dear Lord, thank You that You are solidly, constantly in control. I pray, Father, boldly and confidently, that You knock out this virus just as quickly as it showed up. I declare Your sovereignty, Lord, and I recognize that You don’t need my help in meeting my family’s needs. Take control, Lord, and help me not to repeatedly attempt to take it back from You. While I wait on You to restore work and school and social interaction, God, help me to learn whatever it is You’d have me learn. Search me, Father, and point out what I can work on while life is a little more quiet. I love You, Lord, and I am so VERY grateful to be Your child, especially in a time such as this. It’s in the mighty name of Jesus that I pray this prayer. Amen.

*Reader note: If you’re not already following the blog on Facebook, please feel free to check it out. The page is The Samaritan Woman, and I’m posting some of the great devotionals (they’re quick to read, I promise!) God’s putting before me during this time. I pray it can be a place of encouragement and faith during this dark time. Please, also, feel free to email me with prayer requests: lindseydt@gmail.com. I’d be honored to pray over you guys. Big hugs!

Seed-y Faith

I recently read the story of Charles Blondin, a long-ago thrill-seeker and tightrope walker from France. A few years back in 1860, Mr. Blondin not only walked a tightrope across Niagara Falls (that’s a span of over a quarter of a mile, in case you were wondering), but he did so back-and-forth with a variety of props, so to speak: in a sack, on stilts, while blindfolded, in the dark, etc. Each time he reached the other side successfully, and the crowd roared their praise (relief?). Mr. Blondin then decided to up the ante a bit, and for one particular trek across the tightrope, he chose a wheelbarrow. He asked the crowd, “Do you believe I can walk to the other side, over the tightrope, with this wheelbarrow?” (I’m paraphrasing because I wasn’t there, you see.) Of course, he received a unanimous response of Yes! Mr. Blondin wasn’t satisfied with simply walking an empty wheelbarrow over a quarter of a mile on a tightrope, oh no! How would that be enough when he’d just done it blindfolded and in the dark and on stilts and so on and so forth?! Mr. Blondin wanted an assistant, so he asked his burgeoning crowd, who had just shown their faith in his ability to make it across with the wheelbarrow, who would volunteer to RIDE in the wheelbarrow as he pushed it across the tightrope. What did he get in response to his question? Crickets. Well, probably not the sound of crickets since Niagara Falls is super loud and all, but you get my point. Breaking News: not a single person volunteered to ride 160 feet above Niagara Falls across a tightrope in a wheelbarrow.

Isn’t this how we are with our faith oftentimes? I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve believed in God’s ability, have trusted in His might and power, only to quickly put my hand down when it came to volunteering to actually let God carry me across “the falls” of whatever I was facing. It’s like I KNOW He can, but I’m still too chicken to let Him BECAUSE WHAT IF I ACCIDENTALLY GO OVER. (Yes, you’re right, I’m very chill.)

It’s times like this, though, friends, when I’m struggling to have significant faith, that God has already prepared for (of course He has). At times when I need my Heavenly Father but I can only catch the tiniest glimpse of Him, I remember what Jesus said in Luke 17:6: “‘If you have faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘May you be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.'” Praise the Lord for that promise!

Not to get all Negative Nancy on you guys, but there’s a flip-side to this mustard-seed faith. There have been times, I fully admit, when mustering up (ya see what I did there…mustard, mustering…I’m a comedian!) big faith might be possible, but it would take work and require sacrifice on my part and it wouldn’t be immediate. So instead, I lean perversely on this promise, allowing my laziness to boast in and feel confident in small faith, because after all, didn’t Jesus Himself say that all I need is faith the size of a mustard seed? Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to seed-y faith at its greatest.

Because you’re far smarter than I am, I know that you know Jesus wasn’t giving us an easy way out with this verse. He wasn’t excusing us from working on growing our faith. He wasn’t negating the necessity of going from tiny baby Christians with tiny baby faith to mature Christians with big faith. It wasn’t until I found Matthew 13:32 that God helped illuminate His plan for our faith. That Scripture says this about the mustard seed: “Of all the seeds it is the smallest, but when it has grown, it is the largest of the garden herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and find shelter in its branches” (emphasis mine).

Did y’all catch that? Yes, it’s okay if we start out with small faith, if the most we can conjure up in the face of fear or tribulations is faith the size of a mustard seed. But at no point, under no circumstances, should our faith remain that size. A literal mustard seed might start out as the tiniest of all the seeds, but through intentionality and nurturing, that seed grows into the largest of all the garden herbs, large enough even to be considered a tree. So, too, should our faith. Yes, it’s okay to start out small (hello, little baby Jesus) but with God’s help and by walking hand-in-hand through life’s challenges with Him, our faith should grow and grow and grow. So let me ask you this, friend: has your faith grown lately? Are you applying a new kind of faith, a bigger, more powerful faith to whatever it is you’re facing right now?

Look one more time at that Scripture from Matthew. Did you notice that it says the mustard seed grows large enough to become a tree and provide shelter for birds of the air? This, too, is a benefit, a purpose, of our growing faith; it a shelter to us, a security and place of protection and solace in the midst of those rainy and/or stormy seasons of life. Can you imagine what life for a bird would be if there were no trees in which to seek shelter? Those mustard seeds aren’t very protective, friends, but those trees, with their wide, outstretched branches, they’re a place to huddle when the storms come.

The Bible addresses our faith many, many times, and more often than you might realize it wraps it up in the expectation of growth. To better explain what I mean, I’ve collected for you a few verses, ones that help us as believers to understand the process of moving our faith from seed-sized to tree-sized. Please read these with me.

2 Peter 3:18“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”

2 Thessalonians 1:3“We ought always to give thanks to God…because your faith is growing”

Colossians 2:6-7“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in faith as you were taught…”

So, friends, I guess this brings us (and I close with this) to the question of why. Why, we might ask, is matured faith important? Why does the Bible encourage us to cultivate our faith and grow it as we walk with God? As an answer, I give you two additional verses.

Hebrews 11:6“And without faith it is impossible to please Him

Ephesians 6:16“In all circumstances, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.”

Your faith is a weapon. Let me say that again in case you didn’t catch it. Your faith is a weapon against Satan and his schemes. And if that’s not reason enough, it is through your faith that you please the Lord. You cannot beat those two reasons. If we do nothing more with our lives, with our time on this earth, than please God and defeat the devil, I have a sneaking suspicion that upon arrival in Heaven we might get to hear something like this: Well done, my good and faithful servant (Matthew 25:21). Bless it!

Dear Lord, thank You so much for this day, for this life, and for all of the many, many blessings You bestow on me and my family daily. Father, I recognize that while it is okay for my faith to start small, it is NOT in my best interest that it stays that way. I ask for Your help, God, in growing my faith. I ask that You guide me as I choose faith over feelings, as I put my faith to work against the schemes of the enemy. Help me to hold firm, Lord, so that with each challenge I face, my faith grows a little more and a little more. Help me to be patient with myself, Lord, as I know all good things take time and effort and sacrifice. I pray that when it gets tough and I get tired, Father, I will choose faith (and pleasing You) over ease or comfort or convenience. I love you, Lord, and I want to grow my faith so that when others see how I handle the curveballs of life, it points them directly toward You. Grow me, Lord, and grow my faith so that I might, in turn, grow Your Kingdom. It’s in Jesus’s mighty name that I sincerely pray. Amen.

Practical Pants

G’day, mates! (I hope you read that in a pitifully done Australian accent because that’s certainly how it sounded in my head.) I’ve come to you today with the purpose of having a wee discussion, and in order to do so, it’s going to require that we all put on our practical pants. Can we agree to do that? Fabulous! I’ll give you a minute to locate yours and change.

On the heels of our discussion in the last blog post about New Year’s resolutions, I’ve been thinking a lot about the process of improvement, especially with regard to our lives. So many people have such incredible intentions when it comes to resolutions and such, but then life gets in the way, plans peter out, and by March we’re all right back to doing whatever it was we were doing in November when we decided THINGS ARE GOING TO CHANGE! I’m always curious to see what people decide to change about themselves and their lifestyles, and more often than not, the resolution or goal or “lifestyle change” (I’m pretty sure every time someone uses that worn-out phrase a vegan is force-fed a hamburger) is in such contrast to how that person lives now it’s no wonder people go back to their same old ways.

In order to make this topic less massive and in an effort to focus it toward the area of our lives that’s most important, I want to talk with you today specifically about goal-setting in your spiritual life. Maybe you’ve not been where I have, but I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve set goals to read my Bible more, to wake up and pray before I start my day, to journal all my prayers and catalogue each way I see God throughout my day only to have these things either 1) not happen AT ALL or 2) not stick around must past February. In examining why I found myself struggling so much to maintain these useful–albeit lofty–new “habits” I discovered that I cared much more about the action itself than I did about the result I was getting from it. In other words, my focus was on the time on my clock (that I woke up at 5:30am or that I spent at least 15 minutes praying); it wasn’t on whom I was supposed to be doing all this for: God. And in addition to that, I wasn’t even taking into consideration my personality (um, yeah, 5:30am is NOT gonna happen for this gal). So my chance of success was already greatly endangered before I ever got my resolution or goal off the ground. I’m guessing something similar has either happened to you before or is maybe even happening to you as we speak. Without judgment, let me ask you this: being fully honest with yourself, how is that resolution working out for you? Has it lost some of its newness already? Can you feel it shifting from an exciting, bold “lifestyle change” to a tedious, burdensome “one more thing to do”?

So with regard to spiritual goal-setting, maybe we can take a second and discuss just a couple of things really quickly. I pray that as we do, it will be relevant to the good you’re doing in your life, the changes you’re making to honor God, and that it will help keep those changes on track long after all your buddies stop going to the gym. First, I think it’s important that we discuss what types of goals it’s necessary to set if you want long-term success. Now I know we all had roughly 2.5 “guest speakers” during our school years who attempted to bestow upon our less-than-interested teenage selves this information, but you and I both know we were writing notes and folding them up in weird not-quite-origami shapes instead of listening. Hopefully it all makes a little bit more sense (and is actually applicable) this time around. So without further ado, here is what I think goal(s) must be in order to even begin journeying toward success:

Spiritual goals must be

*reasonable/realistic for YOUR personality and schedule

*measurable–do you have a way to determine if you are or are not succeeding at your goal?

*rational and/or practical (look, you get to wear your practical pants again!)

Now, to make this as clear as a I can and hopefully as concise as I can, let’s apply these requirements to spiritual goals in three main areas: Bible reading, praying, and finances/tithing.

Bible reading

Let’s pretend that you’ve decided that 2020 is going to be the year that you read the ENTIRE BIBLE front to back. It’s a good goal, right? It’s measurable. Check. Is it practical? We’ll, let’s see. Do you have reading plan? No? Okay then. Do you know what time of the day you’ll read? No? Okay. Do you own a Bible? Yes? Oh okay, great. That’s a good start. So, tell me about your current Bible reading. How often to do you read the Bible? Zero, you say? Let me make sure I understand. You currently do zero Bible reading and without any type of reading plan or pre-planned method of attack, you’re going to take out the entire Bible when you’ve somehow not managed to even read a single chapter up to this point? Hmmmmm. I mean, I am well aware of the abounding sarcasm here, but how well do you expect this to go? Friends, you and I both know this just ain’t gonna happen. How do I know? Because I’ve tried it!

My intentions were good. At the time I wasn’t a Bible reader and I wanted to fix that. I read A LOT, but I had never read the Bible cover-to-cover and I thought that since I had recently entered my 30’s, the time had arrived. I was going to get up early, I was going to magically shake off the sleepiness, and I was going to make it through with no problem. Well, I did this about five or six times before I realized that I had a tendency to sleep-read and 5:30 was really dang early. And do you know what I did when my goal failed? I beat myself up over it. I felt like my Bible reading HAD to be done in the morning; I felt like God wouldn’t speak to me clearly if I wasn’t reading my Bible the very first thing every day. But, y’all, I did that to myself. Sure, it’s wise to start your day with the Word, to have it fresh in your mind so that as your day presents itself, with all its struggles and surprises, you’ve got Truth fresh in your mind. What I’m here to tell you today, though, friend, is that GOD JUST WANTS YOU. He’s not upset if it’s on your lunch break. He’s not angry because your Bible reading happened in the car waiting in the pick-up line. He just wants your heart tuned to His frequency during your day. He wants to bless you with the peace and encouragement that you absolutely cannot get anywhere but in His Word. If you’re in a season of life where you can’t do early morning Bible reading, cut yourself some slack. Find the time that works for you (FYI—I still don’t do mine first thing) and commit to being more interested in the Bible you’re reading than the time of day that you’re reading it.

And one last thing about Bible reading goals before I move on. Try not to get caught up in the specifics: what book to read, how long to read, etc. I started out by getting a devotional so that it could help me work my way through the Bible. Then, after I did a devotional or two, I began feeling more comfortable forging my own way through various chapters. You can’t go wrong with Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, either. Again, God isn’t sitting on His throne, stop-watch in hand. Ask Him for His help in finding the time, try out various times of the day and various reading plans, and keep at it. You’ll get there.

Praying

A few years ago I decided that I was going to wake up every morning at like 5:15 or 5:30 or some other dumb time and I was going to pray before I started my day. Seemed like that is what preachers always talked about doing and I was pretty sure that’s what both Joyce Meyer AND Beth Moore did, so obviously by not doing this I was already terrible at this Christian walk thing. So, I set my alarm and when it went off each morning, I would flip on my lamp, lean back in bed against my pillows, and pray. Y’all. I did this for about two weeks and NOT ONE TIME did I stay awake. Not once! I had a very young child who barely slept and it was a time in my life when I got very little rest and/or sleep. Was this goal a rational, reasonable, realistic goal for me? Well of course it wasn’t. It was another r-word: ridiculous. Yet another spiritual goal I failed because I was so busy focusing on these crazy rules I’d put on my walk with God. Self-regulating instead of God-regulating my prayer life was never going to lead me to success.

If you’re here too–or if you’ve been here before and since just given up on the whole thing altogether–there’s a really simple way to do this. Talk to God about it. Pray more. Let that be your motto. Work prayer into your day at a variety of times. Practice taking your issues to God when they crop up throughout your day instead of ignoring Him until 5:30 each morning when you utter two words to Him and then promptly fall back asleep. God just wants to be with you, to be invited in. With His help, start slowly and reasonably. Decide that instead of listening to a podcast or satellite radio on your way to work each day, you’re going to pray. Struggling to stay focused? Switch your regular radio out for praise music and then pause for two minutes on your way out of the car and into work to thank God for something in your life. Starting small isn’t insignificant. And I’m telling you because I know from experience, friends, God will bless even the smallest efforts when the desire for Him is genuine and present.

Tithing

Watch out, everybody, Lindsey’s talking about money!!! Run for your lives!!! Calm down, you nutballs. We’ll save the “to tithe or not to tithe” post for another day. Today, let’s just assume some of you have set the spiritual goal of giving back to either your church or other worthy charities/causes that further the gospel. If you have never ever tithed, or if you’ve resolved to do so only to take that money and put it toward other things after the “new” wore off, let’s apply that same logic, reason, and practicality to this goal as we have the previous two. So yes, the Bible states that a tithe is to be 10%. However, given what I know about God, about His love and His compassionate understanding and His slowness to anger, I’m going to go out on a limb here (insert sarcasm emoji here) and say that if you go from giving nothing to giving something smaller than 10%, you will not be struck down dead where you stand. If 10% seems astronomical to you, if the whole concept of tithing is hard to get your head around but you feel God prompting you to start somewhere, then do exactly that. Start somewhere…somewhere small. Okay, so maybe 10% gives you hives. Does 5%? Still feel like you’re wearing a sweater your great-aunt Nadine knitted you? Then what about 2%? Surely by now you’re starting to see my point with regard to ANY spiritual goal you set for yourself: it’s not about the rules, it’s about the relationship you’re building in the process. Talk to God about your finances. Ask Him to show you where that money can come from. Ask Him to bless your giving. Ask Him to show you that your tithe counts toward good. I can tell you from SERIOUS personal experience many, many times over, God WILL show up. He will bless your efforts, and He will take pride in helping you move from a 1.567% tithe to a 10% to a who-knows-what percent.

**Okay, money talk is over. You can stop covering your eyes.**

While I know many of you probably don’t need this post because you’re knocking it out of the park in these areas, maybe it’ll be something you can apply to other ones that aren’t going quite so well. I find myself sometimes getting certain aspects of my walk with Christ on track and then losing ground in others. Sometimes I can need to be reminded that these concepts–be realistic, measure your progress but don’t harp on it, start small–can be applied to a variety of goals, skills or areas in which I’m attempting to strengthen my faith. Whatever you are doing well or blowing up completely, friends, God loves you with an unstoppable love. You are NOT disappointing Him, even when you disappoint yourself. When we stumble in our efforts to do better, He’s not there waiting to chastise us and remind us of our failures. He wants to offer His hand, His help up, and His love. Let’s be mindful of the goals we set; let’s cut ourselves some slack; let’s get right back on track when we get off. And most importantly, let’s remember why we’re doing this in the first place: Jesus. Not once has He ever left someone to better themselves on their own. Let Him help. Oh, and one last thing, let’s try wearing our practical pants a little more often. 🙂

Dear Lord, thank You so very much for Jesus, that He’s available to help me as I try my best to mature my walk with You and strengthen our relationship. I ask for Your help, God, because I know that I can’t readjust my life without Your help. I want to do better in many areas, and I offer those up to You today. Help me to stay consistent in my Bible reading, Lord, but help me also to be more interested in what I’m learning about You than I am about how much or how long I read. Father, I ask too that You would help me come to You more often in prayer. I want to talk to You throughout the day, Lord, but I also want that important time alone with You as well. Help me to take an honest look at my life and my schedule so that I can better use it on what’s most important: You. And lastly, Lord, be with me and my finances. Help me to see my money as Yours. Help me to give it cheerfully, knowing You will bless me, Lord. Right now tithing seems like giving away money, but I know that it’s really just handing back to You what’s rightfully Yours. Be with me, Father, as I learn this tough lesson. Help me to see the fruits of my labor. I love You, Lord, and I know that You love me, too. Draw me closer to You. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.

Seek God

Good afternoon, friends, and Happy New Year! I pray that this post finds you all still stuffed from all you ate at Christmas and looking optimistically into the things God will bring your way in 2020.

This time last year I wrote a post that discussed the importance of focusing on the spiritual aspects of our lives as we make resolutions and attempt changing our lifestyles, and today, I want to reiterate that somewhat. I think going into this next year with new goals and plans is a FABULOUS way to do life. I mean, if you can’t dream about your future you’ve got big problems! But I think it’s foolish to walk forward without giving thought to how things went for us last year, how we did with those areas most important to our lives as children of God, and how we plan to do better this coming year in those same important areas.

Now, before I begin getting into the scriptural meat of all of this, I want to make sure my tone/intention is clear. While it might sound a little bit like it, I’m not opposed to those resolutions or goals or plans that include the fun, trendy ideas like veganism, Keto dieting, and yoga with goats (this last one is pretty much how I envision Heaven). But, if you are doing these things without inviting God to be a part of it, that’s where I see a problem. No one cares if you’re vegan if your soul shrivels.  You know what I’m saying? You can Keto diet until you’re so tiny strong winds are a fierce threat to your welfare, but what good is that skinnier thigh if your heart is hard and Jesus is a distant acquaintance? (Somebody better say AMEN right here)

Here today, at the start of this blank slate, this fresh year where we have so many new blessings and opportunities heading our way, I want us to meet together and remind ourselves where our focus should truly be. I want to ask you a couple of questions, friends, and please know I do so gently and without judgment. Please take a minute and answer these for yourself as honestly as possible.

With regard to 2019:

  1. How much time on a daily, or even weekly, basis did you spend in personal Bible reading? (Sermons at church don’t count–those aren’t personal reading times.)
  2. How often did you turn immediately to scripture when you felt upset, troubled, or stressed?
  3. How often did you air your worries/concerns/upsets/grievances on social media but not in prayer Jesus?
  4. How often did you talk to others about Jesus? How many people did you witness to in 2019?
  5. When you do talk about Jesus to someone, how do you feel internally? Is it easy and comfortable, or do rivers form in your armpits?
  6. Which scriptures did you commit to memory this past year?
  7. What biblical principles can you say you definitely have worked on during the trials and tribulations of this past year?
  8. On a scale of 1-10, with ten being “BFFs,” where do you and Jesus rank?
  9. What character traits of God’s have you seen most throughout the challenges you faced this past year?
  10. And finally, if those closest to you were asked about your spiritual growth, would they be able to provide evidence of an increase?

Y’all, this list of questions, when I answer them with complete honesty, humbles me tremendously. It’s not that any of us are bad at being representatives of God, but spiritual maturity is such a “two steps forward and three steps back” process that we’d be remiss to move forward into another year worrying about things like weight loss and budgets when our spiritual selves are what they are. {Side note: if you get your spiritual self strengthened and nourished, those others areas of your life that are out of control (finances, diet/health, emotions, marriage, etc.) are WAY more likely to work themselves out with the help of the Holy Spirit. A distant heart mutes the Holy Spirit, so we’ve gotta get that part sorted out first.}

So now maybe you’re tracking with me, you understand the point I’m making about what areas of our lives our goals and resolutions should address foremostly (that is not a word, but I feel like that’s a grave error on the part of humankind so that joker is staying), but although you get what I’m saying, you’re just not sure how to improve spiritually. You’ve resolved to read your Bible more in the past and it’s never happened. You’ve resolved to pray more, but that’s never materialized either. You’ve made lists and bought apps and set earlier alarms and borrowed everybody else’s plans, and you’re still the same ole you; you still don’t read your Bible much, you harbor guilt over your prayer life, and sleeping in is ALWAYS preferable. Well good news, friend–I have a solution for you! And, it’s an easy one that involves only two words: SEEK GOD.

Yep, that’s it. Seek God. In thinking about New Year’s and its resolutions and everyone’s need to set goals and decide what in their lives should be changed or altered or eliminated or added, I suddenly wondered, How many times are these plans being made because we first sought God and asked HIM what we should alter or change or eliminate? Being totally honest, I bet it’s not very many. That’s my encouragement for this year: before you make decisions about your life, before you set goals or rearrange your budget or alter your diet, seek God. Maybe those areas are exactly the ones that need the most work, but maybe God sees things you don’t and feels your time, efforts, money, and mental energies would be better spent in other areas with greater impact for His kingdom. Yes, being healthy is definitely of utmost importance. There’s no arguing that, especially in today’s culture. But what if you invited God into those dietary decisions you’re making? What you if asked Him to show you what changes you needed to make and asked Him for His help in becoming a healthier you? I’m guessing that since He made you, since He is fully aware of every molecule in your body, He’s a pretty good resource for guidance in that area.

One verse that I’ve spent a great deal of time with this year is Proverbs 3:5-7. I used it recently in a post, but it definitely applies here as well. It says, “Lean on, trust in, and be confident in the Lord with all your heart and mind and do not rely on your own insight or understanding. In all your ways know, recognize, and acknowledge Him, and He will direct and make straight and plain your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes…” HE will direct your path. HE will make straight your path so you’re not tricked or deceived or led astray. HE will make your path clear and plain to see, not convoluted and foggy. We cannot do those things, friends. We don’t know what God knows (His ways are higher than our ways). We cannot see what He can. Isn’t it best to let Him be in charge?

Seek God. “Seek FIRST His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given unto you” (Matthew 6:33, emphasis mine). Y’all, there is no time of the year, no aspect of our lives when we shouldn’t wait to move until we hear directly from God. There’s no aspect, no matter how minute, that we shouldn’t lay bare before Him and ask Him to guide and bless. Can you imagine what your 2020 would look like if you truly chose to seek God before anything else, including Him in all areas? His blessings are great; His favor immeasurable. He is always faithful; He cannot go back on His Word; His ways are always good. In Jeremiah 29, God tells us exactly what He has up His sleeve if we’ll only partner with Him in the coming year, letting go of our own plans and ways: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’–this is the Lord’s declaration–‘plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give a future and a hope. You will call to Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.'” (verses 11-13, HCSB) Instead of seeking those things that we’ve not consulted God about, instead of seeking those earthly goals or devising our own “wise” plans, how about we all decide that this year, in 2020, we’re simply going to seek God and let Him direct our steps (Prov. 16:9). Are you with me, friends?

Dear Father, thank You for letting me see another day and another year. Thank You from the bottom of my heart for the many, many blessings in 2019. I ask, Lord, that You pour out Your love, favor, and grace over my 2020. May You bless my family, my friends, and all of Your children, God. As I begin 2020, I desire to seek You, Father, above all things. Help me to push aside the things of this world that crowd my mind for attention. Help me to seek Your input, Your guidance, Your voice, and Your will above all other things. Lord, I don’t want to participate in or waste energy on a single goal or plan or resolution that’s not been okayed first by You. I ask that You please make clear to me those areas in my life that YOU choose to have me work on. Grant me clarity and discernment, Father, so that I am able to line my heart and my life right up with Yours. I thank You that, because of You, my future is hopeful and full of promise and blessing. I look forward to a deeper, more substantial relationship with You in this next year. I pray that when 2021 arrives, my spiritual progress, though it is slow, is recognizable to anyone and everyone who knows me. It’s in Jesus’s mighty and holy name I move and pray. Amen.

Worship and Wait

Y’all know that feeling when life is going along just fine, everybody in your household is doing well, then suddenly one thing happens, creating a snowball effect, and before you know it it feels like someone’s pulled the rug out from under you? Well, welcome to the Thomas household lately. As with most seasons like this, we’re not facing anything life-threatening or catastrophic, but lately it just seems like it’s been one thing after another. Our routine has been disrupted (this Queen Of All Type A’s right here is NOT handling that so well) and our usual daily flow–and the peace it brings–has been disrupted right along with it. For me, when this happens, I feel like my insides begin to match my outsides: my thoughts are all over the place, my blood pressure is high, my ability to settle down internally has flown the coop. Often during times like this, I find myself crying out to God over and over, begging Him for deliverance from whatever issue I feel is most contributory. I ask Him repeatedly, God, what do You want me to do?! How can I fix this (or stop this or help my child)? And while I believe each difficult season of life bring its own lessons, in this current one, I’ve heard God whisper (VERY quietly), “Worship and wait.”

Friends, what a concept (and a terribly difficult one!) this is. When our lives seem crazy and hectic and it feels like everything is out of our control, what does God want us to do? Wait?! I’m sorry, but the mother in me, the Type A personality in me, the “fixer” in me is not thrilled with this response. Pardon me, Lord, all due respect, but You cannot be serious. I mean, internally it feels like I’m running around with my head on fire, and Your almighty response is to tell me to settle myself down and not do anything? Um, clearly there’s been a misunderstanding, so I’m going to pray that “Lord, please tell me what to do to fix this!!!!” prayer again…you know, see what I get this time.

Me: So once more, Lord, what do I do here? How do I make this stop?! I need answers right this very instant! (foot stomp)

God: Worship and wait. Focus on Me and let Me handle your life. I’ll give you what you need, I’ll share My wisdom and My methods for solving your problems–those small actions you can take on your end–as I see fit, but in the meantime, wait on Me. It’s where the greatest blessings are found.

You ’90’s children remember Alanis Morrisette and her album called Jagged Little Pill? Yeah well, that’s what this instruction was to my all-in-a-tizzy self, a VERY jagged little pill to swallow. However, I know that the Bible tells us that our obedience shows our faith, and it’s when we first step out in faith, BEFORE anything in our situation changes, that starts the ball rolling for God to work in our lives. So, I’ve been giving this a shot. Disclaimer: I’m failing (sometimes miserably) at it, but even though I’m taking one step forward and three (four?) steps back, I’m learning. Despite what Satan is telling me, I know that God isn’t expecting perfected faith from me; He is pleased that my goal is obedience to Him. He is blessed by my decision to believe His Word and to choose to shut down those negative thoughts even when it takes all the mental and emotional strength I’ve got some days. We don’t have to get it all just right, friends. We just have to decide in our hearts that Jesus gets more weight than our emotions, and we’ve just got to push through and work those faith muscles, if you will, until we find ourselves facing these rug-out-from-under-us seasons with less mental and emotional chaos.

As with anything, our strength to handle these trials in life comes from God, and more often than not, He provides clarity and peace, joy and contentment through His Word. It always astounds me how He speaks to me so intentionally through my daily devotion or even through the devotional we read with our daughter at night. If you seek God, friend, and you turn to His Word for your help, God will never not show up. Never. It’s impossible for Him to abandon us. So when the devil starts telling you that things will never change, that your situation won’t ever improve, that all of the good of your life is in the past, use the Truth that you find right there in the printed pages of the Bible to remind him (and yourself) that God is not absent. He is not late. He is not unfaithful. He is present; He is good; He is working on your/your family’s/your child’s behalf. Things are getting better and better, not worse and worse, and while you wait for those trials to pass, set your heart on worship mode. Choose to praise God, to celebrate Him, to thank Him for all He’s doing in your life BEFORE you ever even see it.

I have gathered together a few verses that I’ve been returning to lately to help remind myself that when it’s bleak, it won’t stay that way. I find great comfort in these promises from my loving, provisional God, and I pray that you do, too. I invite you to read through these carefully, letting God settle them into your spirit. If, right now, you aren’t facing times of challenge and trial, I encourage you to share these with someone who is, maybe even save them so that when you come up against something in the future that attempts to steal your peace, you have TRUTH with which you can fight back against the darkness. And as always, I hope that you’ll pray the closing prayer with me (out loud if you can) because we know that God works through our prayers. We also know that intercessory prayers are incredibly powerful, so offer that prayer and the ones that God lays on your heart for others you know or hear of who need some comfort and peace during a tough time. May the hand of God be so very obvious in the lives of every single one of us!

(PS. The Word of God is especially powerful and active when spoken out loud. It might feel kinda weird, but don’t be afraid to speak these verses out loud over yourself or your family!)

Micah 7:7–But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.

Psalm 46:10–Be still and know that I am God

Exodus 14:14–The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.

Zephaniah 3:17–The Lord your God is with you….He will quiet you with His love

Isaiah 23: 2-3–Surely God is my salvation. I will trust and not be afraid.

Isaiah 23:4–Give praise to the Lord, proclaim His name

Philippians 4:4-5–Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! The Lord is near

Philippians 4:6-7–Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, WITH THANKSGIVING, present your requests to God

Isaiah 40:31–But they who wait for the Lord will renew their strength…

Psalm 27:13-14–Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!

Lamentations 3:25–The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him

Proverbs 3:5-6–Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding

Psalm 130:5-6–I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His Word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning…

Psalm 33:20-22–Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in Him, because we trust His holy name

Dear Lord, thank You so much for Your Word, for its guidance and encouragement. Thank You, Father, that whether life is a fierce struggle or a wonderful celebration, or even just a contented daily grind, I am never alone because You walk through it all right beside me. During this tough time, Lord, I ask that You please make Your hand visible. Help me to see evidence that You are moving in my situation. And during those times when Your work isn’t clear, help me to trust You anyway. Lord, bring me closer to you through these challenges. Help me to learn what You’d have me learn while I go through this, and please, Father, as Your Word promises, use this season of life to bring good to me and my family. I choose to believe what Your Word says, not the nasty joy-stealing lies that Satan whispers in my ear. I rebuke him in the name of Jesus, and I praise You, God, even though I can’t quite see what You’re doing just yet. I trust You, Lord, and while I wait on Your deliverance, I will put my energy into praising You for Your constant goodness. Thank You, Father God, that I don’t have to know the “how” to believe that You are making a way for me. I love You, and I am so incredibly grateful to be Your child. Might that title, Child of God, be all I need to feel joyful through the storm. In Jesus’s name I pray and in Jesus’s name I believe and receive Your blessings. Amen.

From “Aw” to “Ugh”

A few weeks ago, a video went viral after a woman posted herself going out of her way to do a good deed. In this video, the “star,” who was an Uber driver, went out and bought her female client some clothes, after learning of her passenger’s need for clothes before dropping her off that morning at her fast-food job. The driver even delivered them to her right there in the drive-through, and she did all of this while running her phone’s camera. My initial reaction to this video was, “Aw, that’s so sweet,” but my feelings whip-lashed before I knew what was happening. My thoughts went from “Aw!” to “Ugh!” in a matter of seconds. And here’s why: I started thinking about the logistics of this scenario, about exactly what transpired in order for this woman to have her good deed recorded.

If we’re going to be the kind of people who sit and watch life happen on tiny screens in front of our faces, the least we can do is actually *think* about what we’re watching, and this video had me thinking about how desperate we can often be for acknowledgement and/or attention. Take this “videographer” if you will. Here is a lady who had a very, very kind and generous idea to provide her client with something the client was unable to provide for herself. Nothing wrong with helping a person in need! That’s taking a page out of Jesus’s own book for crying out loud. However, things took a turn the second she began setting up her camera so that she could record and then post her goodness. Granted, I’m guessing here because I don’t know her, but if you take video of yourself doing something good and kind and then post said video, the person you’re attempting to highlight and for whom you’re looking to gain notoriety is Y-O-U.

This lady did many nice things, some on-camera, some off. She listened to her passenger and engaged with her passenger enough to identify a need. She then went one step further by providing for that need, exactly as Jesus expects us to do. But. The moment that she began setting up that camera just right in her car so that she could capture her generosity on camera, things went south. And that’s what I was thinking about, the staging, the orchestrating, when I shifted so rapidly from aw to ugh.

The good thing to come out of this, though, was some time spent considering how often I want recognition for the good things I do for others (and it’s way more often than I’d like to admit). God knew that as humans we’d be largely tempted to take moments like these and soil them. At our core, we tend to be selfish and vain, but God’s not shocked by that, nor is He upset with us. He made us; He knows exactly what we’re like and what worldly challenges can, and do, trip us up. He also wants to make sure we understand the error of our ways and our thinking, and in an effort to do that, He’s tucked some lessons and guidance into His Word. (Psssst! There’s not a single issue you have faced, are facing, or ever will face that’s not addressed in the Bible. So there you go.)

I’d like for us to look at a few key verses on this topic, and I’d like start with Luke 14:7-11. In these verses Jesus is directly speaking and warning us against thinking too highly of ourselves. In verse 11 He cautions, “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Excellent advice for many, many a situation.

Then, Proverbs 25:27 says this: “It is not good to eat too much honey, nor is it glorious to seek one’s own glory.” It is not glorious to seek one’s own glory. Let that sink in for a minute.

God doesn’t stop there, though. He offers us more wisdom on this topic of self-glorification later in Proverbs when He encourages us to “Let someone else praise you, not your own mouth” (27:2).

But the verses that really caught me, the ones that seemed to speak directly to the heart of my human need to brag on myself or seek recognition any time I do something that I think might exalt me in the eyes of others is from Matthew 6: 1-4. Read this carefully, friends. It’s packed full.

“1 Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in Heaven.

2 So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets…to be honored by others…3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Wow! In other words, your good deed should be so private between you and God alone that even your non-giving hand, the one not handing out provisions to the needy, has no idea what’s happening. Videoing our “righteousness” and posting it online for others to like, comment on, and share? Yeah, not so much.

In one of her publications, Joyce Meyer tells a story about this exact concept that is so practical and relevant it’s always stayed with me. (I’m going to do a pitiful paraphrasing of her story, but hopefully you can track with me enough to get the gist of it regardless.) In her story, Joyce (I call her by her first name because we’re BFF’s) goes into a salon to get her nails done, and on that particular day, she’s wearing a broach on her blouse (maybe it was coat? I don’t know.). A fellow nail-salon patron sitting next to her comments on this beautiful piece of jewelry, and Joyce says she feels the Lord urging her to take off the pin and give it to this lady. She starts to obey, but about the time she plans to hand it over to the woman, both of the nail technicians leave the room. Wanting to make sure they see her act of generosity, Joyce waits until they are both back in the room before giving this woman her broach. Of course, as expected and desired, everyone oohhs and aahhs over Joyce’s kindness. She feels good about herself, but for only half a second because as soon as exits the nail salon, she hears God say, “I hope you enjoyed that because that’s all the reward you’re going to get.” Think that wasn’t God speaking to her? Take a quick second to re-read Matthew 6:1 above. I’ll wait.

You see, our job as Christians is to glorify God and direct others to Him. That’s it…full stop. We have no other purpose that tops pointing unbelievers to Jesus Christ, and as soon as we turn something loving and kind and gracious and compassionate into something that’s all about us, we’ve damaged that. If we exalt ourselves, we get the glory that should’ve been used to shine a light directly on Jesus. We can’t glorify ourselves AND God simultaneously; it’s a one-or-the-other kinda deal. As followers of Christ, we are to use our lives to become more like Him, to behave more and more like He did, and Jesus never once glorified Himself. Not once. And look at what all He did.

Before I close, I want to share with you a quote from Dr. Tony Evans that I ran across while preparing for this post. I felt like it was both a simple and a very profound way of looking at our desire for self-glorification. I pray it’s one that sticks with you, too. I love you all, and I think you’re all REALLY great.

“If you want to lead the orchestra, you have to be willing to turn your back on the crowd.” -Dr. Tony Evans

Dear Lord, thank You so very much for continuously drawing to my attention the areas in my life that can use a little work. Father, I understand and recognize fully that my purpose here on this planet is to bring others to You and to glorify You in all I do, think, and say. I need help with that, though, Lord, because sometimes I want recognition and accolades for my good deeds. Please help me, God, to spend much more time focused on the honor and attention given to You than to myself. Help me to worry only about glorifying You so that You can be responsible for glorifying me. I know that life will be much better and my blessings much larger that way. Let others see You through me, Lord. I love You, Father, and I am so grateful for Your constant love. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.

 

One Foot In Front Of The Other

I have been working very hard getting a blog post prepared. I’ve been thinking about my wording, which scriptures to include, how to get started, etc. This, however, is not that blog post. For whatever reason, I’ve felt a burden on my heart to say a few things that aren’t planned, that haven’t been prepped, but that I feel God truly wants me to share. Basically, God wants me to tell you this: YOU ARE DOING JUST FINE! We are so often so hard on ourselves, assuming everyone is doing life and all its parts perfectly while we’re over here drowning, wearing floaties in a tsunami and trying to survive it. You know what though? You’re doing a good job.

You are a good person.

You are a good parent.

You are a good spouse.

You are a good friend.

You are a good coworker.

You are a good neighbor.

You are a good son or daughter, niece or nephew, brother or sister.

You are good.

I know that we’re not all right in the midst of the greatest seasons of our lives. I know that some of us are struggling to get up each morning, to show up for work, to mentally tune in to what’s happening in front of our faces. But you know what, it’s a season. It’s ONLY a season. And the God of the ENTIRE UNIVERSE who holds galaxy upon galaxy in the palm of His hand is lovingly aware of you. He is working for you. He is moving and shaping in order to work ALL THINGS you are facing into good for you!

Hear me, please! He isn’t mad at you. He isn’t teaching you a lesson. He’s not punishing you because of some sin–whether real or imagined. He’s not letting you suffer. He’s not causing your pain.

As you face whatever’s on your plate, as you continue to put one foot in front of the other, Friends, God is proud of you. He sees your heart, He notes your progress, and He loves you with a love you cannot even possibly comprehend. So hang in there. Good days are coming. Answered prayers are coming. And in the meantime, God promises to be right there with you, to give you His strength, His courage, His power to get through the day.

And when you think you just can’t get through whatever you’re facing, when you feel beaten down or overwhelmed or just defeated by life, remind yourself that you don’t have to currently possess what it takes to make it through the trial. The Bible tells us that God provides us DAILY with the strength and grace we’ll need to get to the next day. So today, Friday, you’re absolutely right–you do not have what it takes to even make it through the weekend. You do, however, have exactly what you need to make it through Friday. And then, when you wake up on Saturday and seek the Lord, He’ll show right up and give you exactly what you need to make it through Saturday, too.

He loves you, Friend. He delights in you, and He looks forward to blessing you after this storm has passed and your faith has held strong. He looks forward to showing you just how much you grew in Him while your faith was being built through the waiting. You’ve got this, and God’s got you. Praise Him, thank Him, bless His holy and mighty name even when it seems you’ve nothing left, and watch what happens. First one foot, then the other. You’ve got this, and the best is yet to come!

Thrive

If you’re not familiar with the Christian band Casting Crowns, I highly recommend that you rectify this error immediately. Recently, while listening to KLOVE radio, I caught just a couple of the lines from their song “Thrive” and that was all it took to get me thinking deeper about the word thrive. Does this ever happen to you: you hear a word or phrase you’ve either never heard or maybe haven’t heard in long time, and suddenly, that word or phrase is everywhere? You’re hearing it constantly? That’s what happened as I began meditating on the word “thrive” after hearing those powerful lyrics. It stuck with me so much it even had me thinking back on times when I’d seen people put this concept into action.

One such recollection came in the form of an episode of Naked and Afraid. Calm down, kiddies, this is not porn. Naked and Afraid is a survivalist-style show where one man and one woman are dropped off into the worst outdoor environments with zero supplies and zero clothing. Their task is to survive for 21 days on their own and complete some sort of physical challenge to reach their “exit,” which is usually either a beat-up pick-up truck or a helicopter, depending upon where they were located.  Now, normally I refuse to watch “reality TV” of any kind. Truth be told, I’d rather sell every television in this house than watch anything involving a Kardashian, a housewife, or a rose ceremony. But for Naked and Afraid I make an exception. (Just to reiterate, don’t let that term “naked” fool you into thinking this is some racy, sexy show. It’s the exact opposite. Think hundreds of bug bites (per person!!), lots of vomiting, the eating of weird shouldn’t-be-eaten plants and animals–hence the vomiting, and horrifying, wild-animal noises in the dark.)

Okay, now back to my original point. One episode of Naked and Afraid featured a guy who was insanely resourceful. He had a long back-story of the many things in life he’d survived, and he came into this challenge with a determination not just to survive his 21 days in the wilderness, but to THRIVE during those days. I can’t remember all of the details, but I know that he spent a large number of those days alone (his female counterpart got hurt or sick or “tapped out” and left for the comforts of home). I also remember that he made a sign on which he carved the word “thrive,” and he hung this sign over his shelter. And, y’all, let me tell you what an enormous difference there was in his 21 days and the same 21 days of those whose goal was simply survival. It was unreal. I mean, at one point, Thrive-guy killed an alligator WITH THIS BARE HANDS and feasted like a king. Um, yes, I do believe that’s called thriving in the wilderness.

What I’m asking you to consider today is whether you’re going through life like this guy, determined to do what it takes to thrive, or whether you are just trying to survive your life?

Friends, our God is a God of thrival, not survival (guess who just invented a new word!). Our God wants to bless us and do so abundantly. He is so good, y’all, and if you were to ask Him which approach He desires for His children, simply surviving life or thriving at life, I’m pretty sure we all know what His answer would be (pssst, if you’re not sure, the answer is in the Bible).

You know those Casting Crowns lyrics I referenced earlier? I’d like to share those with you, and I’d like to spend a few minutes digging into what scripture says about this idea of thriving. This is the tiniest portion of their song, but it impacted my thoughts in such a powerful way; I’m praying it does the same for you, too.

We know we were made for so much more than ordinary lives/ It’s time for us to more than just survive/ We were made to thrive.

Let that sink in: we were made to thrive. How many of you could take an honest look at your life (your marriage, your job, your season of life, your parenting, your church participation, your relationship with Jesus) and say, without a doubt, that you are thriving? Friends, that’s a tough order. I’d wager a guess that for most of us, while we might be excelling in an area or two, in many others we are simply trying to survive.

It’s important that we fully understand what is meant by the word thrive, so, despite the fact that all my English-teacher friends are sighing and eye-rolling, I’d like to present you with an actual definition:

thrive: 1. to prosper, fortunate, successful; 2. to grow or develop vigorously, to flourish

Whether you’re starting your college years or fully established in your career, whether you’re newlywed or have been married for years, are you flourishing, friends? Can you look at your choices and decisions, at the words you speak and the actions you take and say, without reservation, “I am thriving”? If you’re doing life and relationships without Jesus, without a personal, daily touchbase with Jesus, you are most certainly simply surviving. (Side note: if you go through the motions on Sunday only to move through the rest of your week without spending time with Jesus and in the Word, that is NOT doing life with Jesus. That’s called going to church. Those two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Watch out, toes, I’m comin’ for ya!)

But as Jesus instructs, take heart, my lovelies! There is hope. And like another great worship song says, “Hope has a name, His name is Jesus!” And all God’s people said AMEN!!

You know, we all go through seasons of survival, where we literally just have to take it a week or a day (or an hour) at a time. And you know what? That’s okay. But if you spend your every day of every week of every month of every year just slogging through so you can go home, go to bed, get up the next day and do it all over again, let me be the one to tell you, that’s not what Jesus died to give you. If what I just described fits you perfectly, I want you to do me a favor. Get yourself a Sharpie and about five notecards and write John 10:10 on them: I have come that they may have life and have it to the fullest. Put those notecards all around your house and your car and your office at work. Say those words out loud. Declare that promise from Jesus over your life, friend, because simply surviving, simply enduring life as though it’s a miserable affliction, is NOT why the blood of Jesus was spilled. You, through your belief in Jesus, get to experience so very much more.

Please take a minute to read and absorb these promises from your Heavenly Father:

The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of His bounty…to bless all the work of your hands (Deut. 28:12).

A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap (Luke 6:38).

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19).

Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us (Eph. 3:20).

The key here, friends, is found there in the last verse, the one from Ephesians. Yes, y’all, God can do immeasurably more than ALL we would even ask of Him or imagine He could do. BUT. It’s all from the power of His Holy Spirit at work within us. You’re no dummy, friend–you know that you can’t keep running yourself ragged between home and work and eight different kids’ sporting activities a week and all your many other obligations and expect God to just make things happen for you. Sure, He can. He’s able to do anything He wants, but He’s not a wishing well and He’s certainly no genie. He’s a relationship, and it’s in the relationship with Him that you’ll go from merely surviving your life to thriving at your life. Wouldn’t it be so nice to look back at our lives one day and to feel like we really conquered life? Can you imagine? To be able to look back at the various seasons of our lives and see how God’s supernatural peace and joy was injected into each one? I don’t know about you, but I have zero interest in simply surviving my life here on Earth. When I walk through Heaven’s gates, I want to hear Jesus declare over me, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:23), instead of simply saying, “Welp, you made it.” I want to thrive.

Dear Lord, thank You so very much that You have given me a life that includes a relationship with You so that I can thrive and not just survive the day-to-day. Help me, Father, cultivate a life that blossoms, a life that glorifies You and encourages others to want to know You for themselves. Forgive me, Lord, for squandering this time on Earth that You’ve given me by being so caught up in myself and my obligations that I haven’t even attempted to do more than survive. I want that to stop, Lord, and I want it to stop now so that I can THRIVE in all areas. It’s a big order, God, but I know You’re a big God who blesses those who come boldly before Your throne. I know that I don’t have to worry about doing or being anything because when I’m in a relationship with You, I can hand my life over to You. In Your all-powerful hands, Lord, it’s impossible for me not to thrive. I love You, Father, and I am so grateful to be Your child. It’s in Jesus’s powerful name that I pray. Amen.