Getting Our “Buts” In Shape

Y’all. We are seven days into January, and I am already 110% over all this hot-air talk about resolutions. This is my least favorite part of the New Year celebrations (is capitalizing that correct? I have no idea). I do think it’s wise to self-evaluate, and I think it’s definitely worth your time to reflect on your life, your health, your choices, and especially your relationship with God, but if you’re only doing that once a year and only because it’s the trendy thing to do? Yeah, um, good luck with that. We’re a week in, so I’m guessing the fire’s already gone out of that plan, hasn’t it? (Don’t act like you haven’t already justified eating french fries in 2019.)

{steps down from soap box}

Since many, many people (and most likely some of you, dear readers) begin the new year with aspirations toward eating healthier and getting fit, just this once I’ll play along, too. See, I do play well with others after all. But before we strut into the metaphorical gym to begin working on our fitness (10 bonus points if you recognized that long-lost Fergilicious lyric), I’d like to introduce you to a friend of mine, Naaman.

Our new comrade Naaman can be found in the book of 2 Kings in chapter 5. The Bible tell us, “Naaman, Commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master, accepted [and acceptable], because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria. He was also a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper” (vs. 1). Wow, so impressive. Here is a man who is not only given favor by God, but his favor with God has led to his having favor with his peers and with his king. Perhaps I’m alone in this, but no one has ever described me as a person of valor (definition: boldness or determination in facing great danger; heroic courage or bravery). There are so many remarkable things about Naaman, many notable qualities that stand out so much he makes it into the Word of God. But. Then that small yet potent word shows up and everything changes.

Look back at 2 Kings 5:1 above, and as that scripture draws to a close, pay close attention to the pivotal shift following “but”….ah, there we have it. Naaman’s “but” is leprosy. He is smart. He is strong. He is a capable and noble leader. He is favored by God and man. He is a battle-wise, brave warrior. BUT. He is a leper. And just like that, all that we saw Naaman as, all of those touted character traits of this highly-regarded soldier are tainted because now he is diseased. Now that we know he’s infected, covered in ulcerated skin and deemed wholly unclean, now that we know all of this, it changes everything.

Commander of the Syrian army.

A great man.

Accepted and acceptable.

Victorious.

A mighty man of valor.

BUT…

A leper.

Friends, as it turns out, you and I aren’t all that different from Commander Naaman after all. Each of us has a long list of admirable qualities. Each of us has particular traits that others appreciate, respect, admire, and even envy. And like our new buddy Naaman, each of us has a “but” holding us back from reaching our full potential.

Now, I don’t know what your “but” is: fear, anger/bitterness, rejection, unmet needs, failing health/disease, insecurity, doubt, spiritual apathy, lack of passion/contentment, addiction, past failure, shame, debt, unhealthy habitual behavior, sexual sin, and the list could go on and on. Despite not knowing exactly what it is you’re struggling to put behind you as you go into this new year, this season of personal resolution and renewal, I do know that Jesus is the answer. I mean, if you need proof that God can use you, that He can help you rise above whatever it is that’s tethered you to a mediocre life, just look at Naaman! He was a leper for crying out loud. He was someone who, in biblical times, was considered an outcast, who people would avoid walking by on the street, and here he is in the Bible! He’s applauded and used by God to bring victory to a chosen people. He’s successful. He’s the very opposite of shunned: he was acceptable and accepted. A leper, and yet commander and right-hand man to the king.

There’s not a thing you’ve done, not a thing you could ever do, that would make you useless to God. He loves you. He sees your diseased skin, your outcast status, and He patiently awaits your turning to Him to shower you with favor. He can make you well; He can heal your physical, mental, and emotional hurt. But we have to give those things to Him. We have to decide that we’re no longer going to be held back by whatever we’ve been carrying around. We have to choose to believe that God is bigger than our “leprosy.” To put it in New Year’s resolution terms, we have to get our “buts” in shape so that we don’t prevent the blessings, the favor, and the forward progress for His Kingdom that God can bring to fruition in our lives.

And guess what else God can do–He can fully heal you! Skip ahead in 2 Kings chapter 5 to verses 11-14. At this time, Naaman has gone to the prophet Elisha in an effort to have his leprosy cured. Totally able to help Naaman, Elisha gives him simple instructions for how to be fully cured, and verses 11 and 12 show us Naaman’s reaction to these directives: “But Naaman was angry and went away and said, Behold, I thought he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and heal the leper…So he turned and went away in a rage.” I’m sorry–what? You have been told exactly what to do in order to cure yourself of this horrible, painful disease and you’re ticked? You see, Naaman had this other little problem, too, on top of the leprosy issue; Naaman was prideful. He was a great man, remember? And do you also remember he was a ranking official in the army and a brave warrior? Well then, how dare Elisha send a messenger and not come in person to cure him! How dare he suggest that Naaman the great and mighty wash in the filthy waters of the Jordan River when other cleaner bodies of water were nearby! Why was there no pomp and circumstance to the healing of such a man as Naaman?! (insert foot stomp here) And so Naaman walked away in a rage.

If you skip down to verses 13 and 14, you’ll see that after he’s cooled off some, Naaman’s servants are able to talk some sense into him, and he does eventually follow Elisha’s instructions. And because we serve a God who is so loving, who is the God of second (and third and fourth and fifth) chances, He doesn’t take back His power because Naaman acted like a toddler. Instead, once Naaman gets his act together and dips himself the required seven times in the Jordan, God heals him completely, “…and his flesh was restored like that of a little child, and he was clean.”

There is so much we could discuss from this. We could spend a long time discussing how leprosy in the Bible is always a symbol for sin. We would talk about this symbolic baptism, how Naaman took his leprosy/his sin, gave it over to the commands of God, accepted God’s sovereignty and ability, believed that God would do what He said He would do, and was healed. How he was washed totally clean in a river full of dirty water after giving up his pride and his own expectations, and simply placing his trust in God. For today, however, I think it best if we just focus on the near-miss of Naaman’s story. What if he hadn’t checked his pride and followed God’s instructions? What if he’d decided he was too important to dirty himself in the Jordan? What if he’d decided he knew more than God, that God couldn’t possibly be right to go about answering his prayer in this way? This story would’ve ended VERY differently, and, friends, if you and I don’t get pride eradicated from our lives, our stories might end very differently as well.

Proverbs 3:5-7 encourages Christ-followers to “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.” This right here. This attitude and mindset is my goal for 2019. Not only believing IN God, but simply believing God. Believing He will do what His Word says He will. Swapping my pride and selfish expectation for God’s Will. Reducing self and enlarging God. Together, let’s make 2019 the year of getting our ‘buts’ in shape and getting pride out of our lives so that God can both use us AND heal us.

Dear Lord, thank You so much that You are willing to use me just as I am. Thank You, Father, for Your unconditional acceptance. Help me, Lord, to give You anything and everything that holds me back, that encourages space between me and You. Father, I know You want good things for me, that You plan to bless me and prosper me. In this coming year, please help it to be one of health, of happiness, of restoration, and of healing. Father, I ask that You begin a work in me that doesn’t fade away with the coming months. Light a fire in me for You and Your Word, Lord, that never dims. Help me to get right with You, God, so that I can show You to others. May my 2019 be one of spiritual growth and maturity, but may it also be one dedicated to living for You. Please, Lord, help me to glorify You with each day. Thank You that perfection isn’t a qualification that You require me to have. I love You, Father, and I thank You for hearing my prayer. May Your Will be done in my life in 2019. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.

The Weary World Rejoices

Upbeat, fast-paced Christmas songs are my jam. I don’t care if it’s one I’ve heard a million times (although I could do without 149,000 plays of Mariah Carey wanting me for Christmas. No means no, Mariah!). This year has been a tiny bit different in the music department, however. I am still NOT a fan of “Where are you, Christmas?” (insert all the crying emojis here), but one song that I’ve always thought of as being slow and melancholy turned out, after I actually listened to it carefully, not to be that way at all.

Now I know you all can probably sing this in your sleep, but please read the first verse of “O Holy Night” below (I did leave off the chorus because this isn’t choir practice after all).

Vs. 1          Oh, holy night! The stars are brightly shining

It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining

Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

The reason this song caught my attention so very much this year is because of one tiny little word: WEARY. Sometimes, there is no better way to explain how you’re feeling about a situation than weary. According to my esteemed colleague Webster, weary can be defined in several ways, but definitions one and three cover it most thoroughly:

1. physically or mentally exhausted by hard work, exertion, strain, etc.

3. impatient or dissatisfied with something

Before I begin this next part, let me clarify that I talked this over with Nathan and got his permission to share this. I would NEVER betray his confidence, and in order to protect that, I am intentionally going to be relatively vague, but I know you can still identify with his experience.

Lately, Nathan’s work life has him feeling the fullness of both of these definitions of weary. He’s working harder at his job and for many, many more hours than ever before. It’s often times tedious, it frequently can feel purposeless, it has taken away his time with his family, and all of those factors have left him feeling both impatient and dissatisfied. Maybe your weariness isn’t job related. Maybe your weariness is due to a difficult relationship, maybe it’s because of a health issue you just can’t quite put behind you. Maybe you’ve been praying a prayer for so long you can’t even remember when you started and you’ve grown weary in the waiting. Watching our children struggle with their own problems (that we can’t fix!) can wear us down as parents. There is no end to the number of things we encounter on the regular in this life that can affect our souls and make even our bones weary.

But, friends, God knows this, and He knew what we needed. He understood what we were feeling from all the many, many pressures of this world, and so He gifted us with a beautiful, tiny baby who came to exchange our weariness and heartache and exhaustion and chaos for happiness and health and joy. Jesus: our thrill of hope, the reason that our weary, heavy-laden souls can rest. The weary world (that’s us!) rejoices because it is a new day once that baby is brought forth and laid in that manger. Our world was forever changed, and in the book of Matthew, Jesus Himself reminds us what His coming means for those who walk in His ways.

Do you feel that weariness, too? Are you entering this Christmas season just tired of what you’re carrying? Jesus understands you. In fact, He is so attuned to the soul-exhaustion we’re experiencing that He spoke out about it in Matthew 11, verses 28-30. When you read this, please know that Jesus is talking directly to you. He is saying to you, tired friend, “28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden and overburdened, and I will cause you to rest. [I will ease and relieve and refresh your souls]. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle (meek) and humble (lowly) in heart, and you will find rest (relief and ease and refreshment and recreation and blessed quiet) for your souls. 30 For My yoke is wholesome (useful, good–not harsh, hard sharp or pressing, but comfortable, gracious, and pleasant), and My burden is light and easy to be borne.”

Do me a favor (consider it your Christmas gift to me), and re-read that scripture again. Think about whatever it is that has you weighed down, and compare the traits of that burden you’re carrying to the traits of Jesus’s yoke.

Life our way                                               Life Jesus’s way         

*Heavy                                                          *Restful/gentle

*Tiring                                                           *Easy/light

*Burdensome                                              *Refreshing

*Hard/difficult                                             *Relieves us

*Harsh                                                           *Full/abundant

*Sharp                                                           *Blessed quiet (internal peace)

*Pressing                                                      *Good/wholesome

 

I don’t know about you, but one of these lists looks WAY better than the other to me. But you know what, I seldom set down those things that I carry, that I try to figure out myself. I seldom just hand those to Jesus and pick Him up. He’s right there offering that incredible exchange, telling me that He’s got it all if I’d only let Him have it and trade my worry for His wealth, but I’m so ridiculously stubborn sometimes.

Without going into all the nitty-gritty details (just read my previous blog posts for those), please know that I am fully aware of what life feels like when you’re weary. We all recognize that feeling, whether it’s present or past, and we all will face it again until we enter Heaven’s gates. That weariness doesn’t have to be ours anymore though. Just like “O Holy Night” says, Jesus is our hope, and when you take on His abundance and His will for your life, just like the Bible and those lyrics promise, you are entering a new and GLORIOUS morn. Lamentations 3:23 reminds us that “Great is His faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each morning,” and Isaiah 43:19 continues that promise: “See, I am doing a new thing! I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

I know that life can get exhausting. Just pretending you’re fine when you’re not sucks the life right out of you. Pretending your marriage is great when it’s not is draining. Going to a job each day that you can’t get excited about and feel zero joy toward is soul-sucking. Jesus says to us, though, Here, take me instead. I’ll give you my strength. I’ll give you my joy. And if you’ll invite me into your heart or your home or your marriage or your work day, I will ALWAYS show up. Here. Let me have that burden. Let me carry that for a while (and maybe even just fix it all while you’re off enjoying your life and not looking).

My friends, I want to encourage those of you who are weary because of waiting not to give up. I know what it’s like to tire your soul out praying for something for months and years. Exhausting isn’t a strong enough descriptor. It’s so crucial to remember, though, that just because life was one way yesterday and the day before that (and the day before that), and just because you got up this morning and it was still the same, it doesn’t mean tomorrow will be the same as well. Jesus is in your tomorrow, and tomorrow is a brand new day.

I was recently reading Liane Moriarty’s most recent novel, and a line in it just really stuck out to me. I felt like, given today’s world, she gave such an incredibly accurate description of the culture we in which we live. She was referencing society as a whole, American’s as a collective group, and she stated that we were the most overfed, malnourished people. What a sadly accurate statement! Our souls are malnourished, no doubt, but they don’t have to be. This Christmas season, spend some time with Jesus. Refresh and replenish yourself. Spend some time reading those biblical promises, reminding yourself–your weary self–exactly what the tiny baby in the manger means to you. Because it’s not a story from some history book. It’s a living, breathing Word that affects your day to day life here, today, on the cusp of 2019. Let’s agree that weariness will NOT over-populate our 2019. Let’s agree that, instead, we are going to exchange our earthly burdens for those of our Savior so that His birth and His death weren’t wasted on children who refuse to accept the greatest of all the gifts.

(Below the prayer, I have included some encouraging scriptures that I hope you’ll take the time to read. If you’re like me, sometimes those things go in one ear and out the other. So what I do is write down those that speak loudest to me. Put those verses on post-its on your bathroom mirror, on your car’s dashboard, on your kitchen cabinets so that as you go into tomorrow and next year, you purposefully choose a different, lighter, brighter way of doing life. Merry Christmas, and may God abundantly bless your 2019.)

Dear Lord, I am so grateful for the incredible gift of Your Son Jesus. I know, Father, that many, many times I attempt life at my speed and in my own way, and I get worn down and weary because I was not created to do life like that. I need Your help, though, Lord. Guide me, please. Speak to me, Father, and get my attention when times like this arise so that I might redirect my focus back onto Jesus and off of my circumstances. I greatly desire to exchange my pressing, burdensome way of life for Your peaceful, refreshing one. Thank You for Christmas, Lord, and for all that it means for me personally. Thank You that Christmas serves as a reminder to me that I have hope, that a new day is coming. Thank you, Father, that Your mercies are new every single morning. I look forward to tomorrow, Lord, because I know You’re already there. I love you, and I praise You. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.

God’s promises/verses of encouragement

Psalm 73:26–My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

John 14:27–Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you…Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

2 Corinthians 12:9–But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Psalm 55:22–Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you; He will never permit the righteous to be moved.

Psalm 107:20–He sent out His Word and healed them and delivered them from their destruction.

Isaiah 40:11–He will lead His flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in His arms, holding them close to His heart.

2 Chronicles 20:15–Do not be afraid or discouraged…for the battle is not yours, but God’s.

Psalm 16:8–I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With Him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

 

 

Be the One in Ten

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Don’t get me wrong, I love Easter and Christmas, but there’s just something about Thanksgiving that tops all that. I like the time of year; I like the fact that it’s food-focused (can I get an AMEN?!); I like that it provides a reminder to stop life and pay attention to our blessings; I like that it’s simply about getting together with friends and family, with no gift-buying pressure or the tarnish of retail take-over.

Most of all, though, I like how Thanksgiving is so in line with God’s Word. Gratitude, a grateful heart, thanksgiving, praise…all of these are such emphasized, repetitive concepts throughout the Bible, and this time of year forces us more into these mindsets and heart-itudes than we might normally experience.

A few months ago during a church sermon, I heard a Bible story mentioned that I didn’t remember ever hearing before. I checked into it after I got home, and sure enough, I don’t really recall having ever heard it. It aligns perfectly, however, with the Thanksgiving holiday, so I saved it for us to discuss at this oh-so-timely occasion. (You are welcome.)

The story is from Luke 17 and can be found in verses 11-19. It’s a quick read, and I encourage you to read it yourself. I’ll wait……………………………………………………See! So easy, this Bible reading thing. Just in case you didn’t just read it yourself (for shame!), let me give you a brief rundown.

As this particular story begins, Jesus and His followers are on their way to Jerusalem, passing between Samaria and Galilee. Upon arriving at a village there, Jesus is approached by ten lepers, all crying out to Him for help and healing from their horrible, painful, ostracizing disease. In verse 14, we see Jesus acknowledge them and their affliction immediately, instantly instructing them and healing them. But it’s really on the next verses, 15-19, that I want us to spend our time.

After the lepers have begun to depart from Jesus, having been made clean, verses 15-16(a) state, “Then one of them, upon seeing that he was cured, turned back, recognizing and thanking and praising God with a loud voice. And he fell prostrated at Jesus’s feet, thanking Him [over and over].” Let’s make sure we get this: there were 10 lepers, 10 souls in need of Jesus’s attention. Ten people were answered by Jesus, being made well after crying out to Him. One of them turned back to Jesus to acknowledge what He’d done for him. One. Just in case that’s tricky math, that means NINE people whose lives were forever blessed, whose health was fully restored, whose prayers were answered by the Son of God went on their way without so much as a glance back or a quick wave. Don’t think for a second that this behavior went unnoticed by Jesus.

“Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not [all] ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was there no one found to return and to recognize and give thanks and praise to God except this [man]?” (vs. 17-18)

Y’all, it hurts my heart to recognize this truth, but I am so often one of those nine. The number of times I’ve prayed a serious, heart-felt prayer and gotten it answered, only to forget to turn back around and give Jesus His due praise is innumerable. I don’t know about you, but I do NOT want to be one of those nine. I want to be the one in ten who can’t move forward with my new blessing until I’ve appropriately praised the One from whom all blessings flow! And you know what else I want to learn from the only former leper who showed his gratitude? I don’t want to do it quietly, either. Like it says in verse 15, I want to show God my praise, to offer Him my sincere thanks with a LOUD voice! Yes, He appreciates and acknowledges my quiet offerings of thanksgiving. He recognizes my whispered prayers of praise. But that’s not good enough for me. I want to be so humbled by His presence in my life, so gracious for His help or His healing or His guidance that I just can’t keep quiet about it. I want to be vocally thankful for all that God does in my life! HOW GREAT IS OUR GOD!!! I want my heart to overflow so abundantly with thanksgiving to my loving, compassionate God that I absolutely cannot keep silent about it.

Also, like our healed friend, I want to WORSHIP the Jesus who is so actively a part of my life and my needs. This man, so full of gratitude for what Jesus did for him, fell prostrate at the feet of Jesus in full surrender and worship, thanking Him over and over (vs 16). If you can’t imagine physically lying prostrate while worshiping Jesus, surely our hearts can be positioned in such a way. Friends, let us first and foremost reach out to Jesus with our needs and our afflictions. Let us pray for and expect His healing hand upon our lives. And when that happens, because it most certainly will, let us shout His name from the rooftops! Let us tell our friends and our family of the wonderful works He’s done in our lives. Instead of posting on social media about what color socks we chose for today (insert HARD eye roll here), let us share the ways in which God is working in our lives. Let us use any and every outlet at our disposal to exalt His name so that others can see our thankfulness and witness the God we just cannot stop bragging about.

I pray that each of you has a wonderful Thanksgiving. I encourage you to take just a few minutes and spend them with Jesus, thanking Him for all He’s done for you. But don’t stop there. Spend some time and thank Him for all He’s going to do, too. If your “leprosy” hasn’t been healed yet, go ahead and thank Him anyway, making it clear that you trust Jesus and know He’s got it covered. If you’re like me, you want to make this heart-itude of thanksgiving something that’s not seasonal. I want to wake up each morning giving thanks to God for who He is (not just what He’s done for me). I want to reignite my joy for the life He’s given me before my feet ever hit the ground in the morning. I want to be so full of thankfulness over being a child of God that I have to do a little happy dance so that I don’t explode. I want to be the one in ten.

Dear Lord, thank You. Thank You for who You are. Thank You that as Your child, I have the privilege of bringing my afflictions to You and that because of the blood of Jesus, I can boldly expect Your deliverance and healing. Father, help me to spend my life trying to outdo Your graciousness with my thanksgiving. Help me never to see Your movement in my life or recognize Your answer to prayer without vocally thanking and praising You for it. I love you, Jesus, and I am so incredibly thankful to be Yours. In Jesus’s mighty name I pray. Amen.

God Sees Me

I woke up the other morning with this portion of a scripture in my head: nothing is impossible for God. I wasn’t sure why it was on my mind. I was in the midst of full-blown garage sale prep (like all crazies find themselves at one time or another), so I wondered if maybe that verse was God’s way of easing my sense of being overwhelmed by the mounds of junk I’d somehow managed to hoard over the years. Praise God for a large attic, am I right?! A couple of days later this scriptural truth was still floating around inside my brain when the story of Sarai (you know, Abram’s wife before he came Abraham and she became Sarah) and her maid Hagar joined it. I couldn’t understand how these two things fit together. One was about a frustrating, unhealthy relationship between a woman and her maid-servant, the other was a simple phrase boasting the power of God. Typically, when things get really confusing, I go to my Bible, so that’s what I did here. I spent some time reading the story of Sarai and Hagar, and after a couple of read-throughs, things clicked (which is quite the achievement for this ole brain because I’m 99.9% certain a LARGE part of it got washed down the drain in the labor and delivery room at Baptist Hospital a few years ago).

The story of Sarai and Hagar can be found in Genesis 16. To avoid simply retyping the first several verses with an additional recap of background info, let me do some mediocre paraphrasing: if you remember, God had spoken to both Abram and Sarai, who were unable to conceive, and promised that He would provide for them a child. That all happened in earlier chapters of Genesis, and when we get to chapter 16, we see that several years have passed and Sarai still hasn’t borne any children. While once a believer, Sarai has decided that God obviously is no longer planning to fulfill His promise, because where the heck is He? It’s been years with no babies, and Sarai is over it. In today’s terms, Sarai “cannot even” with all this waiting around for a baby as promised. So, our impatient friend decided that she would fix this herself since God was obviously busy elsewhere and had forgotten about her circumstances. (Her impatience and need for control remind me of someone….pretty sure it’s the person I see when I look in any mirror…)

So basically here’s what happens. Sarai decides that God’s forgotten her and that if she’s going to be a mother, she’s going to have to orchestrate this mess herself. Therefore, she goes to Abram and says, “Look, I’ve got this servant Hagar, and I think chances are good that she’d get pregnant easily and we could keep the baby. So, I need you to go spend some “quality time” with Hagar (wink, wink).” Abram apparently does not argue against this idea (enormously shocking), and after one thing leads to another, Hagar finds her womb occupied. ENTER IMMEDIATE DISCORD! Friends, I know this might come as a great surprise, but did you know that if you send your husband to impregnate another woman and it succeeds, afterward you might not feel so great about that? Do what?! I know! It’s like God knew this wasn’t the best way for all of this baby-making to go down.

Upon getting EXACTLY what she’d planned, Sarai is ticked. She’s mad at Abram. She’s mad at Hagar. (I’m guessing she’s probably projecting some of that anger that’s really directed internally, but we’ll save that topic for another post.) You see, Sarai believed that Hagar felt superior because of her pregnancy…or as those of us in the South like to say, Hagar got too big for her britches. Sarai was having none of it. Now the relationship between these two women is incredibly contentious and strained, and because she cannot take any more of Sarai’s poor treatment against her, Hagar flees.

Friends, God is talking to us big time here. He is showing us the folly of our own “wisdom” and our own ways. He tells us His thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and His ways are greater than our ways, but for some reason we feel like that’s not always true. Sarai did nothing more than what you and I do all the time; she decided that it was taking God too long to bring to fruition what He’d promised her, so she had to intervene. She decided that God obviously had forgotten about her, that He had moved on to more pressing issues and, therefore, needed her help. Guess what–He did not. Guess what else–He does not my help or your help either. God brings about solutions to our problems. God answers us with love and goodness and abundant blessing. When we get involved and we try to control our outcomes, we get headaches, we get snowballed problems, we get delayed blessings. Trust me, I FULLY understand the temptation to play God when He’s taking too long to visibly move. It’s a legit struggle, but it’s one that God promises to help us overcome.

While this Bible story is certainly about these two women and the problems created by Sarai’s impatience and doubt, it’s so very, very clearly about the love of our God as well. To see just how incredibly patient and forgiving God is, we only have to look as far as the last few verses of this story. How exactly does God handle this mess that Sarai’s created?

1.The Lord found Hagar; He met her right where she was, in the middle of the hurt and upset and division that came forth because of her circumstances. In verse 7, it says, “But the Angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness…” God didn’t sit around waiting for Hagar to get herself together, to call out to Him, to pray the exact right words so that He could then help her. No, He did just the opposite. He showed Himself to Hagar right there in her wilderness, while her way was unclear and her heart was hurting and her head was jumbled. This “nobody,” this maid who got caught up in her masters’ crazy scheme with a baby in her belly and nowhere to go, was important enough to God that He didn’t sit twiddling His thumbs until she learned her lesson. Instead, He found Hagar before she’d even sorted things out enough to call out to Him.

2.While He comforted her and showed her His love, God didn’t excuse Hagar and pretend like she was solely an innocent victim. He instructed her in verse 9 to “go back to your mistress and [humbly] submit to her control.” Y’all, God has zero interest in spoiling us. He’s not going to shower us with a pity party so that we can play victim and never own up to our role in our circumstances. No matter how much someone else’s actions have affected our lives, God isn’t interested in casting blame and pointing fingers. He is interested, however, in using whatever He can to help us grow and mature and become more like Jesus. Never once did Jesus play the victim. Never once did Jesus feel sorry for Himself. And never once was the Jesus the cause of His own pain. We won’t get anywhere, friends, running away from whoever makes our life tough. Sure, Hagar had many reasons why fleeing was an acceptable response. But that’s not what God allowed her to do. Despite the unpleasantness she faced living with Sarai and Abram, it was what was best for her. Making life easy/easier for us is not God’s number one motivation; it shouldn’t be ours either.

3.But of course our God is one of blessings and goodness, so for BOTH of these women, despite the mess they’d created, God blessed them. For Hagar, the first blessing came when God showed up, proving to her that she mattered, that He heard, that He acknowledged her troubles. “The Angel of the Lord said to her, ‘I will greatly multiply your offspring, and they will be too many to count…You have conceived and will have a son. You will name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard your cry of affliction” (vs 10-11). Check that out! God could so easily have made Hagar’s life miserable because of this illegitimate child she was carrying, but instead, despite her mess, God chose to bless Hagar! Not only will you have a child now, but you’ll have many, many children (the greatest blessing for a woman at that time), and on top of all of that, she got to talk to God! Just a simple Egyptian maid, pregnant and mistreated, wandering through the wilderness, and God blesses her…even puts her name in the greatest book of all time!

But you’ll notice, God didn’t stop with Hagar’s blessing. Sarai, for all her situation manipulation and doubt, didn’t get overlooked. No one knows, of course, what God’s original plan was. Maybe Sarai would’ve gotten her fulfilled promise of a baby much earlier had she not attempted to play God by infiltrating Hagar’s womb, but then again, maybe not. What we do know for sure, though, is that God didn’t revoke His promise because Sarai was disobedient and sinful. Yes, her blessing was met with delay, a 14-year delay to be exact. But that baby God promised her did come, and 14 years after the incident with Hagar, Isaac arrived. Like Hagar, Sarai, too, was blessed abundantly by God despite her behavior.

In my thinking, it all boils down to this:

No matter what mess we’ve made or have gotten caught up in, God is able to bring about so much good from it if we’ll just trust Him (Romans 8:28).

There is literally no mess God cannot fix (Luke 1:37, Ephesians 3:20).

We can hold up under ANY situation because our strength comes not from ourselves, but from God (Philippians 4:13).

And, friends, God sees you. You are not forgotten, not ignored, not unloved, not a disappointment. Hagar named God “El-roi” meaning “God sees me” after her encounter with the Angle of the Lord, and that name stands true for us, too. Say that name. Make it personal. El-roi. God sees you, and He will meet you right where you are in the middle of whatever need you’re facing.

Sarai laughed at God’s initial promise of a baby. She decided He was an unfaithful God who had forgotten His Word, and because of that, she made a foolish plan to bring about what she thought God couldn’t/wouldn’t. She roped others into this sinful scheme to get what she wanted. She was mean and mistreated someone because of her upset with her own self. AND SHE STILL GOT GOD’S PROMISED BLESSINGS.

Hagar slept with someone who was not her husband, a man who belonged to someone else. She ran away from her problems instead of seeking God and facing what she’d done. AND SHE STILL GOT GOD’S PROMISED BLESSINGS.

“For nothing is impossible with God” Luke 1:37. There is hope for us yet. 🙂

Dear Lord, thank You so very much that no matter what, I know that You see me. I know that You love me and care for me. I chose to believe that despite what my circumstances might tell me, You are working on my behalf all the time, and You have so much good planned for me. Please forgive me, Lord, for all the times I have attempted to do what only You can do. I no longer want to spend my time and energy trying to orchestrate things in my life to go how I think they should go. Help me, Father, to trust in You. Help me to set aside my selfishness and my impatience. Work in my life, God, so that I can keep my eyes on You, allowing Your will to be done and not my own. Be glorified by how I live my life, Lord. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.

Plant Killer

“Hi, my name is Lindsey, and I’m a plant killer.”

{mumbled group response}: “Hi, Lindsey.”

So, is “black thumb” a thing? If it is, I have it. Maybe it’s not “black thumb.” Maybe it’s “dead thumb”? “Shriveled-to-actual-dust thumb”? Anyway, whatever the thumb that I have, it’s apparently not going anywhere. Roses left in my care? Dead. Plants given to me with the promise that I can’t kill them? Ha! Give me seven to ten days and watch the magic. And don’t get me started on my venture into fall-inspired mum-dom. That mum was full and beautiful and yellow, and I killed it. I don’t get it because I did exactly what the less-than-specific tag said!  I watered it. (Did I over-water it? Likely. Did I water it too little? Also possible.) I even nurturingly pruned it ON THE REGULAR, taking time to carefully snap off the dead blooms so that new, healthy ones could grow up in their places. Did it help? Did my mum grow big and beautiful and glorious like my neighbor’s from across the street? Negative, Ghost Rider. See what I mean. You know, I’m thinking “dead thumb” might be most accurate.

Given my pruning skills–or lack thereof, for the ten-thousandth time I’m reminded of how fortunate we all are that I’m not God (can I get an AMEN?!). That promise of “beauty for ashes” would’ve clearly been DOA. As it turns out, the Bible confirms for us that God is, in fact, a VERY “green thumb.” Check out Jesus’s words from John 15: 1-2. “I am the True Vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser. Any branch in Me that does not bear fruit He cuts away (trims off, takes away); and He cleanses and repeatedly prunes every branch that continues to bear fruit, to make it bear more and richer and more excellent fruit” (AMP). Look at all that life and pruning and growth–no dead mums anywhere!

A few short years ago, I knew absolutely zero about process mentioned in the verse above that God puts us through during the growth and development in our walk with Him. I didn’t know it existed; I didn’t know its name (sanctification). I recognized that God was working on me. I noticed that every time I experienced issues within my life, instructions for how to overcome those exact struggles suddenly appeared within my readings of the Word and/or my devotionals. It was too often and too dead-on not to be God at work on and within me, but I didn’t know it had a name. I had never heard the term sanctification. I had never heard a sermon on it, never read a book about it, never discussed it in small groups or Sunday school classes. But you know how once you hear a word you’ve never heard before it’s suddenly everywhere and being used by everyone? This is how the concept of sanctification was for me. That term showed up in Bible verse after Bible verse, scripture lesson after scripture lesson.

In an effort to shed brighter light on this process in which God plucks off our non-fruit-bearing parts in order for growth and healthier fruit to bloom, let’s turn (yet again) to my dear friend Joyce Meyer (some might even call us BFF’s). In her book How to Succeed at Being Yourself, Ms. Joyce explains sanctification as, “the state of perfect holiness, reached by degrees through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives” (pg. 254).

There are a couple of very important take-aways from her definition that, to me, help make this unfamiliar term a little more understandable. 1) Our end-goal is holiness.  2)We will never reach holiness all at once. It requires lots and lots of tiny steps (by degrees) in the right direction. 3) Most importantly, we cannot be sanctified of our own doing. The pruning of our destructive areas, our dead areas, MUST be done by God via His Holy Spirit.

Just to show you how important and essential to our spiritual maturity this process is, I want to provide for you several pieces of scripture where God speaks to us about it. I’m sorry to be list-y (ten points to Lindsey for excellent word creation!), but I truly believe that seeing and reading these verses will help God speak to you about this process so that you can better identify it and allow it fully into your own walk with Him.

Let’s begin with Leviticus 19:2, because, in my opinion, it truly explains WHY we need to go through this sometimes-uncomfortable process. “Be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” Surely this is clear enough. Our job as a child of God is to become more and more and more like Him, to strip off those things that encumber us, those sins that entangle us, that hinder us from preaching His message to those unsaved and unfamiliar with Jesus (Hebrews 12:1). If we keep all of our human faults, all of our “dead blooms” then this becomes impossible. As we learned from the Joyce Meyer definition earlier, our end-goal is holiness. Thus sayeth the Lord.

But of course God doesn’t just mention sanctification one time and hope we understand its necessity and importance. In 2 Thessalonians 2:13 it states, “…God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in truth.” Back up a little to 1 Thessalonians 5:23 and you’ll find this: “And may the God of peace Himself sanctify you through and through [separate you from profane things, make you pure and wholly consecrated to God].” Again and again, our Heavenly Father reminds us that sanctification is something we all must go through, that it’s something only He can initiate and complete within us, that we must allow this process to occur so we might become more like Him. “Sanctify them by the Truth; Your Word is Truth. As You have sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. I sanctify Myself for them, so that they also may be sanctified by the Truth” (John 17: 17-19).

The final scripture I want us to look at is Joshua 7:12-13, where God speaks to Joshua about the necessity of personal sanctification and the very real distance and danger we let into our lives when we aren’t constantly working WITH GOD toward great holiness. “I will cease to be with you, unless you destroy the accursed things among you. Up, sanctify (set apart for a holy purpose) the people, and say, Sanctify yourselves for tomorrow; for those says the Lord, the God of Israel: There are accursed things in the midst of you…You cannot stand before your enemies until you take away from among you the things devoted [to destruction].” Okay, so maybe you and I aren’t standing before golden idols as were those who this scripture references. However, you and I have PLENTY of strongholds: destructive habits that lead to our demise and keep us separated from God. And careful reading of this portion of Joshua 7 makes it very clear that not only do strongholds make us vulnerable to Satan and his attacks, but they make it impossible for God to draw near to us. I don’t know about y’all, but that is the OPPOSITE of how I want my life and my relationship with God to go! I want ZERO to do with Satan and his lies. I want EVERYTHING to do with Jesus. If that’s my true desire, there’s only one way to make that happen: sanctification via the Holy Spirit.

Chances are good that at least one of you reading this has had or is about to have a thought like this: well I don’t really think there’s any area that I need to work on right now because God’s not really pointed one out. To that I can only reply: GET BEHIND ME, SATAN! With all due respect, that’s the enemy talking to you and through you, friend. How do I know? Because you’re not holy. Relax, I’m not saying I am or others are either. None of us are…hence the need for personal sanctification in our lives. Prayerfully consider these areas in your life where God might be urging you to loosen some strongholds:

*Pride                       *Unforgiveness             *Hate/Prejudice/Racism

*Anger                      *Judgment                     *Worry/Fear

*Bitterness               *Selfishness                   *Doubt

*Worldliness           *Addiction (of all kinds)

And, y’all, this is just a very general list. It’s not person specific. God, however, is very individual. When He addresses issues with you that need work, He’s not going to give you a broad category. He’s going to be very, very specific to your behaviors, your beliefs, your strongholds.

Friends, our goal is progress; it is not perfection. Yes, holiness is what we’re straining toward, but we know we can’t reach that while here on this earth. But. We can get better. We can improve. We can work hard on ourselves, letting the Holy Spirit minister to us by pruning off those dead blooms. We can’t do it alone, and honestly, we don’t want to. We like comfort, and boy, sanctification is NOT comfortable. It does, however, bring us closer to Jesus, the same Jesus who promises to uphold us and walk hand-in-hand with us. The same Jesus, also, who restores to us, in degrees, everything that Satan steals from us.

It’s understandable to ask ‘why bother working so hard to rid my life of this stronghold or that stronghold when I know I have 12 more to address once it’s better controlled?’ but as with everything else, the answer is simply JESUS. Think about it like this: each stronghold is a wall, an opaque barrier between you and Jesus and all the good God has in store for your life. With each conquered stronghold (Romans 8:37), your mind gets stronger, your heart gets stronger, your earthly relationships get stronger, and most importantly, your relationship with Jesus and your testimony as a Christian gets stronger. While studying this subject, I came to understand something crucial: when we tear down in the name of Jesus the walls put up by our strongholds that stand between us and Jesus, it creates the opportunity for Jesus to re-erect those walls, instead, between us and Satan, protecting us further from the lies and schemes of the enemy.

Maybe you don’t feel like you’re currently working on yourself in any way in response to God’s process of sanctification. Maybe you feel like God hasn’t spoken to you so you’re good. Again, I don’t mean this like it probably sounds (although, I kind of do) but you are absolutely wrong. God is right there. He doesn’t teach us time and time again in His Word about the need for Holy-Spirit-led sanctification in our lives only to sit back and wait for us to do it ourselves. As He patiently reminds us, it requires the Holy Spirit, and more often than not, the Holy Spirit doesn’t yell. Being the wonderful, loving, provisional God that He is, tucked in Psalms is a portion of scripture that directly addresses what we’re talking about. If you know you need God’s sanctification in your life but you’re not sure how to even begin that process, adopt this scripture as your prayer (I’ve gotten you started below). God is waiting. God’s blessings are waiting. And Satan is REALLY hoping you won’t be brave enough to begin.

Holy Father, thank You so very much for loving me too much to leave me as I am. Thank You that I can grow and mature in my walk with You, that I don’t have to stay bound to these strongholds any longer. Father, I know that there are areas in my life where I desperately need the guidance of the Holy Spirit so that I might untangle myself from the enemy’s lies and strengthen my relationship with You. Just like it says in Your Word, Lord, search me and know my heart. Point out anything in me that offends You, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. Help me not to hear those lies of the enemy, the ones that tell me I’m fine like I am and the fault lies with others. I want to take responsibility for eradicating unfruitful areas of my life, Jesus, and I know I need You to help me make that happen. I thank You for hearing my prayer. Be with me, sanctify me, and help me become what You have designed me to be. It’s in Your holy name that I pray, Jesus. Amen.

 

My Buddy Bart

Let me ask you a little question. When was the last time you prayed? I mean really prayed. This morning? Last night as you put your kids to bed? Lord, PLEASE let them stay in the bed this time. Not too long ago, my answer to this same question at any given time would’ve been this: the last time I prayed was whenever I needed something I couldn’t make happen for myself. Shockingly enough (<–that’s sarcasm), that’s not at all how our prayer lives should exist. To help make my point about what God’s been teaching me recently about prayer and how my prayer life should look, I’d like to introduce you to my friend Bart. My buddy Bart–that’s just what I call him ’cause we’re buds; his real name is Bartimaeus–used to be blind. Yep! It’s true. He was blind until an encounter with Jesus healed him and restored his eyesight.

The story of blind Bartimaeus can be found in the tenth chapter of Mark, verses 46 through 52. Because it’s only a few verses long and because there are critical details within those verses that we really need to discuss, please take a quick second and read the following story so that my buddy Bart can become your buddy Bart.

46 Then they came to Jericho. And as He was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar…was sitting by the roadside.

47. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, saying Jesus, Son of David, have pity and mercy on me [now]!

48. And many severely censured and reproved him, telling him to keep still, but he kept on shouting out all the more, You Son of David, have pity and mercy on me [now]!

49. And Jesus stopped and said, Call him. And they called the blind man, telling him, Take courage! Get up! He is calling you.

50. And throwing off his outer garment, he leaped up and came to Jesus.

51. And Jesus said to him, What do you want Me to do for you? And the blind man said to Him, Master, let me receive my sight.

52. And Jesus said to him, Go your way; your faith has healed you. And at once he received his sight and accompanied Jesus on the road.

As it turns out, you and I have a couple of things in common with Bartimaeus: we both have needs that we can’t meet ourselves; we both have desires that must be taken to Jesus; we both agree that Jesus is a healer, a restorer, and He alone can solve our problems. But oftentimes, I realize, I’m not as smart as Bart. Oftentimes I try to “regain my sight” of my own power. Thankfully I have a Heavenly Father who is too interested in perfecting my faith to let me stay as I am. And lately, He’s really been working with me to develop a more substantial prayer life, one that sustains and emboldens my relationship with Him, instead of one that comes and goes as needs arise. It was during this time that God led me to this story about Bartimaeus and some of the very substantial lessons it teaches His children about prayer.

Per my usual, let me give you a little precursor before delving into the few points I want to make. First, I have always prayed. HOWEVER. My prayer life has ebbed and flowed depending upon my circumstances. Over the last few years I have gotten better about my prayers; I’ve prayed more often, prayed for more people, asked for God’s voice and spent time listening, but I’ve always struggled with the consistency. For me, part of the issue is that Nathan and I pray together every night before going to sleep. We pray for everything from our daughter to our friends and family, even offering up prayers for celebrities whose lives appear to be floundering. (They’re people, too. We got you, Demi Lovato!) Just being completely honest, I sometimes felt like that was enough. Actual truth: it is not. God wants personal time with each of us. Yes, PRAY OUT LOUD TOGETHER WITH YOUR SPOUSE! (Your marriage depends on this!) But don’t let that be the only time you spend with God. In other words, don’t be like Lindsey. Be like Bart. And speaking again of our joint friend, let’s take a minute to see why God felt it necessary to include his story in our Bibles.

So what exactly can we learn from a blind beggar’s story?

1. Speak up and speak out…loudly if necessary.

*In verses 47 and 48 above, the Bible says that when Bartimaeus heard Jesus was coming, he began to shout to the Lord. It also says that many around him tried to shut him up, urging him to be quiet and get it together in the presence of Jesus. But did Bart get self-conscious or start questioning his own faith? NOPE! It says he cried out even louder. Take that, haters! Y’all, we have GOT to be like Bartimaeus here. We must call out boldly to our Lord when we need Him. In fact, we must get to the point where we are willing to risk it all if necessary to be in the presence of Jesus. If those around you shame you or try to quiet you into apathy about your needs or desires, do not let yourself be held back; do not let your faith atrophy because you are afraid to exercise it in the presence of others. SIDENOTE: if the people you’ve surrounded yourself with make you feel uncomfortable about crying out to Jesus publicly or boldly, it is time to reconsider your relationships. (Amen? Amen.) Friends, big faith is born of taking big risks in the name of Jesus. When we have unmet needs, we must speak up. We must cry out, and we’ve gotta get okay with getting loud if need be. Jesus isn’t afraid of our voices. We shouldn’t be either.

*With regard to this same point of speaking out, it’s absolutely necessary that we purposefully vocalize our needs before God. WE CANNOT EXPECT GOD TO READ OUR MINDS AND CONSIDER THAT PRAYER. It is not. Our prayer activates God’s power. It is not the other way around. We must step out in faith and call on our Father. We must tell Him what we need. Check out verse 51 above. After calling out and being heard and recognized by Jesus, Bartimaeus approached the Lord, to which the Lord replied, “What do you want Me to do for you?” Um, hello. As if Jesus didn’t already know that ole Barti needed his sight restored. Of course He knew! But Jesus isn’t in the wish-granting, magic wand waving business. He requires and desires direct communication from us of our needs. What is it that you need from God, today? Have you been direct? Have you intentionally (and boldly and expectantly) approached God through prayer to ask very specifically for what you need? Simply wishing this, that, or the other will change isn’t enough. We’ve got to speak up, speak out, and verbalize what we need. Yes, God already knows, but our sitting and waiting on Him to answer prayers we don’t offer up is foolish. At the risk of being redundant, our faith activates God’s power. Prayer is an excellent projection of that faith (even if it’s a tiny mustard seed of faith). Speak up, friends, and be specific.

2. Share your outcomes!

*I’m sure we all know that AMAZING feeling when we’ve been praying and praying for something that finally we see come to fruition. What a joyous weight-lifter that is! But how often do we see and feel the hand of God move in our lives, only to keep quiet about it? After Jesus healed blind Bart’s sight, the story closes with this statement in verse 52: And at once he received his sight and accompanied Jesus on the road. You’re probably substantially less dense than I am and have already realized the significance of this last verse, but it took my slow self three full readings of this story before seeing it. After my second read-through, I thought the ending was kind of anti-climatic. I mean, here’s this guy who is blind, who gets loud and boisterous despite being hushed, who cries out to Jesus faithfully in his time of great need, who is fully healed for crying out loud (you see what I did there!), and then all of a sudden Jesus and Bartimaeus leave and the story ends. I couldn’t make that make sense. So I tried again, and…lightbulb! Bartimaeus accompanies Jesus on the road. Do you think for one second that our good buddy Bart went with Jesus on to the next stop and never told a single person about what Jesus did for him? NOT. A. CHANCE.

*You and I must do as Bartimaeus did. When we cry out to God, when God hears us and answers, we have a duty. It’s our job as His children to further His Kingdom, to win souls for Heaven. Y’all, answered prayer can do exactly that! And it doesn’t even have to be our own answered prayer. Yes, the prayers that you offer up and receive answers to are definitely used by God to strengthen your relationship with Him and build your faith, but your testimony can be used to build others’ faith, too. Share your story! Share your victories and help others understand that if God helped you, He’ll help them, too. Accompany Jesus on the road. Help spread His message so that others can see Him better.

~~~~~~~~~

While praying over this blog post, I asked God to help me communicate His message through it. The two points above are those from the Bible reading that I felt He’d placed on my heart. However, I also felt Him leading me to two others that weren’t necessarily from Bartimaeus’s story, but points that are definitely biblical truths about prayer. {Serious voice} Let us continue.

3. Don’t forget to praise God!

*As believers and children of God who want to grow closer to Him and get to know Him better, it’s crucial that our prayer time not be simply a presentation of needs. Yes, as we’ve seen, God truly desires that we bring our needs and lay them expectantly at His feet. However, if all we ever do is come before God with a “laundry list” of wants and needs we’re missing the point of prayer. If all we ever do is come to God ONLY once we’ve exhausted our own resources and avenues, we’re missing the point of prayer. Friends, PRAYER IS POWERFUL! Prayer was created by the CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE so that you and I could personally contact Him any time we wanted. Take that in for a second. But if we only ever exercise this immense privilege as a last resort or when we need something, we are handicapping our relationship with God. This is a lesson I’m currently in the very midst of learning, but it’s one of those that I can already tell is a HUGE game-changer in my walk with Jesus. We must devote time to simply praising God, regardless of what our circumstances look like. Y’all, I am testifying to this first hand: Praise is a heart-changer. It strengthens our bond to the Father in a way that nothing else can. It changes us from the inside out in a way that simply getting an answered prayer (that we quickly move past and often forget about) cannot.

*Recently I found myself praying about an overwhelming situation pretty often. On one hand I was doing well–I was taking my issues to the Lord instead of trying to work things out in my own power. But I was missing the boat still. I was so focused on what I needed and how much I needed and showing God that I was doing what I was supposed to (look at me, God! I’m praying and showing I have faith. Look, look!) that I forgot to praise God in the midst of my storm. I felt so convicted about my behavior that I decided for the next day, despite a great need, I would offer up only prayers of praise. Instead of begging for God’s hand, I simply thanked Him for His power. Instead of calling Him into action, I simply thanked Him for the work I was determined to believe He was doing even though I couldn’t see it just yet. I even made sure to thank Him for the incredible privilege of being able to cast my cares onto His shoulders so that I didn’t buckle under their weight. Words cannot describe the impact those prayers of praise had on me. No, my situation didn’t immediately change. But my heart did. I am not articulate enough to describe the internal shift within me after purposefully choosing prayers of praise, but I can promise you that if you’ll do the same, it won’t take long and you’ll know EXACTLY what I’m talking about.

LAST ONE! Hang in there!

4. Be real and get real

*Can we all just agree to talk like normal human beings when we talk to God? I promise He can still understand you if you hum-haw around or stutter or talk in circles. You don’t have to sound like the King James Version of the Bible in order to get your message across. You don’t have to sound like Beth Moore for God to answer you. Just be you. Say normal words in a normal way.

*Also, tell God what the REAL you is feeling. Do you feel too overwhelmed or upset to pray? Tell Him that and let Him help you. Are you too exhausted (mentally/spiritually/emotionally?) to pray? Tell Him. Do you feel too confused, too sad, too crushed, too hurt? He understands. Just be up front. You don’t have to hide those feelings from Him. Try this with me: Father, I want to pray because I know Your goodness and might are exactly what I need the most, but, Lord, I just feel too hurt to get my prayers out. I don’t know what to say because my emotions are too strong right now. Help me, Lord. I don’t want to feel this way.

*Are you so busy and your life so cram-packed that you truly do not know where to begin with praying regularly? I mean, sure it’s easy for this person or that person, but they don’t have your schedule, am I right? They don’t have your responsibilities. Let me ask you this: Have you talked to God about that? Here’s a start: Father, I truly desire to spend more time with You, but I don’t really know how to make that happen. Can you help me, please? Show me times in my day, Lord, that I can use for prayer. Help me, Father, to be obedient in using those times you show me to communicate with You in prayer instead of doing other things. Thank you for your help, Lord.

Before I close, let me apologize for this post being so lengthy. The topic of prayer is such a personal one because of how intensely God’s working with me on it right now, and obviously I had lots to say. If you’ve made it this far, thank you. You guys all bless me more than you know. Until next time…

Dear Lord, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the privilege to come to You in prayer any time. Thank you, Father, that I can be myself, that I can speak plainly and You will still appreciate my words. I want to do better with my prayer life, but I need Your help with it, Lord. Help me to seek You, not just what You can do for me. I love you, Lord, and I desire to be closer to You. I recognize that prayer is how to do that, and I ask that You work with me and within me to refine this area. You are so good, God, and as Your child, I worship You. It’s in Jesus’s name that I pray. Amen.

How To Be Miserable

Full disclosure: I have been struggling with my attitude lately. With the recent start of school, we have faced some new challenges, and because they seem so large to my limited thinking, I’ve let myself get consumed by them at times. Per His usual, however, God has been making this trying time work for my good by helping me see how crucial time spent with Him in prayer is, and He’s leading me into losing more of my focus on myself (man, I am SO SLOW at this lesson!!!).

Recently I was listening to a Joyce Meyer sermon (Y’all, if you don’t already know, she has a FREE app with radio shows, full sermons with video, various resources, etc. GET. IT.), and she was teaching on the dangers of being so caught up in ourselves, specifically the dangers of self-centeredness. This really struck me because I wouldn’t describe myself as self-centered. But you know what? I am! I focus on myself, on my life, on my problems, and on my wishes a lot. A whole lot. Even an embarrassing amount at times. Through this sermon I really felt God pressing upon my heart the necessity of getting outside my own feelings and my own mind. I felt Him encouraging me to stop ruminating on my problems. Ephesians 5:15 says, “So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise.” Praising God is wise. Celebrating His work in my life is wise. Pushing my emotions to the side and not allowing them to dictate how I’m going to go through my day or my life is wise. Keeping my mind stayed on God, the fixer of all my problems, is wise. Allowing my circumstances and my emotions to determine my course for the day/the week/the month? Very, very unwise. And even more importantly, it’s not just unwise, it’s sinful!

So, after listening to this sermon, I broke out my pen and paper to write down a little good-humored list that Mrs. Joyce gave during her teachings. No matter what’s going on in my life, I can usually (and unfortunately) find myself doing at least one of these things. Even on days when things are going well, I find that this list is a great reminder of what to avoid so that I can be the best me and share God more vividly with others I come in contact with throughout the day. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. (Prayer is below list.) So without further ado…

HOW TO BE MISERABLE (By Joyce Meyer)

*Think about yourself constantly.

*Use “I” as often as possible.

*Mirror yourself continually by the opinion of other people.

*Listen greedily to what other people say about you, and if it’s not what you want to hear, get angry.

*Expect to be appreciated by everyone.

*Be suspicious.

*Be jealous and envious.

*Be sensitive and easily offended.

*Never forgive criticism.

*Trust nobody but yourself.

*Insist on respect and consideration at all times.

*Demand agreement with your own views on everything.

*Sulk and feel sorry for yourself if people are not grateful to you for what you do for them.

*Never forget how much you’ve done for other people; think about it at all times….BUT, always remember what they have failed to do for you.

*Shirk your duty and seek at all times to entertain yourself, and do as little as you possibly can for other people.

Dear Lord, I see myself so much in this list above. I am so thankful, though, that I can come to You for help in getting over myself and that You always hear my prayer. Gently guide me, Father, so that I might be able to lose my grip on my own self-centeredness. I know that when I’m focused only on my life and my wants and needs I’m less useful to You. Help me to see those times when my focus needs to change, Lord, and help me be immediately obedient to You when You point those out. I love You, Lord, and I am so grateful to be Yours. Help THAT to be my focus, even when things are challenging and upsetting. Help me to keep my mind stayed on You; give me an attitude of gratitude, Lord. Thank You for the life I live, for my many, many blessings, and thank You for teaching me how to better serve You. I offer this prayer in the mighty name of Jesus. Amen.