That Dreaded Dread

Since starting this blog, I’ve realized that the devil has a tendency to make me put my money where my mouth is by tempting me with whatever issue I’ve most recently discussed. He didn’t have to work too hard this past week, however, because worry is something I struggle with regularly. After the last post, I have tried to be very aware of slipping back into the “comfort” of worrying, but I’ve noticed that I’ve still not experienced the joy that I know God has in mind for me. And I know why. You see, this coming Tuesday my sweet, not-so-tiny-anymore girl starts Pre-K, and while I’m so excited to see her grow and learn, I am also aware that her tendency toward nervousness and anxiety might get high during this new season of our lives. I know myself, though, and I know that if I allow myself to worry, I’ll be irritable and grumpy come Tuesday morning, so I’ve been praying and asking God to just be with us as we begin this new chapter. I feel like, more than any time before, I’ve kept the worry under control. And apparently, this success isn’t a big favorite of Satan’s because he’s wormed his way in in a different way. I realized as the days passed I was very aware of each day and its nearness to Tuesday. I noticed that I was both clock-watching and calendar-watching, and neither was being done with a cheerful, positive heart and mind. I wasn’t worried, though, so I felt confused. Then it dawned on me–I was being visited by Worry’s equally thieving cousin, Dread. I wasn’t obsessing (per my usual) over possible issues that might arise come Tuesday. I wasn’t thinking and rethinking every single moment of Tuesday to make sure that no small detail slipped through the cracks and ruined our day. I did, however, simply dread the first day, and even the weeks until attending Pre-K no longer felt new. Needless to say, I took that dread straight to Jesus and asked Him to fill me with His peace and His grace so that I could enjoy each day, especially this long weekend, without Dread hanging over my shoulder.

I would love to tell you that this is my first battle with Dread stealing my joy before I ever get the chance to experience it, but it’s not. Like everyone, I’ve had events and moments in life that I have spent the days and minutes leading up to them hanging out with Dread: God-ordained break-ups, college exams, job interviews, surgeries, the pain of childbirth, every. single. dentist appointment, funerals, social events of varying kinds, etc. The kind of dread I experienced at those times were fleeting–once the circumstances were over or once the waiting was over and the event began, other emotions took over and Dread was history. At the risk of sounding absolutely awful and like the worst mother on the planet, I’m going to say this: it wasn’t until I became the mom of an infant that I entered into a daily, intimate relationship with Dread. In our defense, brand new parenthood in the Thomas household wasn’t exactly what many experience. All of those new parent challenges were amped up tenfold. We NEVER slept (we figured it up, and I slept 10 1/2 hours for the first SEVEN DAYS of being a mom!), we NEVER relaxed, and we NEVER knew what to do to help our sleepless, bothered, hurting baby. During this time, when I got up somewhere around ten times every night and got up each morning around 5:00 a.m., I began to dread each day. I loved my sweet baby, but I did NOT love what we were all going through. Because of our own decision to wait and have kids, coupled with a six year infertility struggle, Nathan and I had been married for almost ten years before becoming parents. Ten years is plenty of time to get very comfortable with a particular way of life. It’s plenty of time to get very comfortable being self-serving. When this tiny human came into our lives and changed EVERY SINGLE THING while also presenting very atypical challenges, it was, to say the least, not easy. What was pretty easy was letting Dread camp out in my life. I dreaded the morning because it meant a whole day’s worth of challenges was just getting started. I dreaded each feeding because they always created problems, each one unique and without easy answers. I dreaded nap times because my baby never slept more than a few minutes at a time, and I spent those minutes feverishly trying to clean or shower or eat or do laundry. I dreaded the afternoon because it brought exhaustion–both mine and hers–and it meant dinnertime was nearing and I was going to have to try to get supper on the table while also attending to this baby who I could NOT soothe. I dreaded the night because it was so long and so challenging and so full of wakefulness with zero rest.

One morning around 5:30 am, while out for a walk with my refusing-to-sleep baby, I realized that if I continued to dread each moment of each day, I was going to open my eyes one day and she was going to be grown. I was going to spend so much time with Dread that I was going to miss each precious stage of her life. I remember praying right then, as I pushed that stroller, for God to help me get a handle on dread. He helped me see that if I dreaded teething, eventually it would stop and it would be replaced by something like potty-training. And if I dreaded potty-training, it would be over and I would replace that with whatever new challenge we were facing. I heard the Holy Spirit whisper to me, there will always be something to dread if you let yourself. I’d like to say that suddenly, at that magical, spiritual moment I was touched by God and delivered wholly from my sins of worry and dread, but I’m no liar. I began praying to God when I felt those emotions, asking Him to help me find His peace and loosen this stronghold over my life.

Aside from reading my Bible and focusing special attention to verses discussing God’s peace, I began paying careful attention to my thoughts and my attitudes—something I really wasn’t doing at all. I noticed that what started as dread was morphing quickly into depression. I was feeling sad and discontent and jealous of others who did normal things with their new babies…like sleep. I also noticed how often I revisited the “days of old” in my mind, especially when things were tough. It was with shocking frequency that I longed for how things used to be, before all of these new challenges began. Like I said, I loved my baby. I wanted that sweet girl. But I so badly wanted the sleeplessness, the fussiness, the belly troubles, the doctor visits, the teething, the fill-in-the-blank to stop, that my “refuge” was to spend so much time reliving the life I used to have that I began to literally ache for what my life used to be. It was during this time that God brought my attention to Isaiah 43:18-19: “Do not remember the former things; neither consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs forth; do you not perceive and know it and will you not give heed to it? I will even make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Y’all!!! The salve that was this scripture! Not only did I feel like I was floundering utterly alone in the wilderness, but it was such a VERY dry time that terming it a desert was too oasis-y for what I was feeling. To have God speak directly to me in this way and remind me that no matter what it felt like, I could believe and KNOW that He was right there. To have God speak and tell me that all of what I was going through was His plan and had a purpose was knee-buckling. To be honest, it was at this very moment that I felt my life shifting and felt God moving more than ever before.

Again, I’d love to tell you that I was so anointed by God’s promises that Dread was eradicated from my life, that my spirit never again worried or dreaded the days and challenges before me. I struggled. I struggled big for a lot longer. (Psst, I still struggle) But each time when I thought I was literally at the end of my rope, God would direct me to scriptures like Philippians 3:13: “…but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.” It was through little moments like these where I realized I was once again living in a past life, a season that was over, dead and buried. A season I’d never have again. And it wasn’t until I decided that I was going to do what Paul suggested and let go of that past that I began to make progress in my future. Only a few months after I began living in the here and now, trusting God for the future and His decision to move me out of that former life of comfort, things finally began to progress. We learned that our sweet girl had some previously undiagnosed food allergies, she had some food intolerances, but the biggest breakthrough was just before her third birthday when, after a two-night stay at Children’s Hospital, we discovered the FIFTEEN stomach ulcers that were living in her belly. Once that issue was addressed and medicines were put into place, there’s no describing the improvements that continue to arrive and amaze us.

There is no way to include the NUMEROUS ways in which God showed His hand over us during all of these circumstances, especially those few days leading up to our hospital stay and diagnosis. With distance from this painful, scary time, I’ve continued to watch God’s plan play out in our lives. We still face challenges that get to me sometimes (those food allergies are NO JOKE), but I have found that when compared to what many other moms and dads are facing, we have nary a thing to complain about or to dread. The me of three years ago would have slapped myself silly over the audacity to dread something so simple and trivial as the starting of Pre-K. I would have been so happy to have something so minor on my mind. Can you imagine how many parents out there feel the same?

Dread is a thief, and he’s the jerky first cousin of Worry, two feelings I seem to struggle with more than the others. Thankfully, though, I have a God who has enough grace and mercy to walk me carefully through those feelings so that I am filled up with faith and joy and peace. Now, when I feel that dreaded Dread (is that a thing? Can I say that and it make sense? ), instead of reaching for those memories of how things used to be, I reach for my Bible. I reach for scriptures like Luke 9:62, where my Savior speaks directly to me, carefully reminding me that my life is not in the rearview. It is not in the future. It is here, right in this moment, and if I spend my time and energy worry about or dreading the future or aching over the past, I will miss all of the blessings waiting right here in the now. “Jesus said to him, No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back [to the things behind] is fit for the kingdom of God. I don’t know about you, but I certainly want to be fit for the kingdom of God.

Dear Lord, thank you for my life. Thank you for all of the blessings, both big and small, that You put in my every day. I ask that you help me kick dread to the curb so that I can live abundantly as You have planned. Please help me not to let my past hamper my present or my future. Thank you for forgiving me for living in the past and for not trusting You with my future as I should. When I feel overwhelmed, help me to turn to You and Your Word, Lord, so that You can remind me of the ways in which I should go. I love you, and I am so grateful that You have put my past behind me–even the good parts–so that You can do a mighty work in my future. Thank you, Lord, for the challenges I face and the opportunities they present for my growing in You. I trust YOU, and I walk confidently into what You have in store for me. In Jesus’s name–Amen.

Ceiling-hitters

If I asked you to make a list of sins off the top of your head, you’d likely list many of the larger, more recognizable sins: murder, theft, adultery. You might even hit a few of those sneakier ones like coveting, idol-worship, unforgiveness, and maybe even gossip. But one highly detrimental sin that would likely be left off of most lists would be worry. Maybe you’ve known for years that worry is a sin, but for me, I honestly didn’t really grasp that truth until just a few shorts years ago. It wasn’t until I became a mom and started an hourly/daily battle with {frequently overpowering} worry that I discovered I needed a better understanding of what God says about worry and the damage it causes.

If you’re reading this blog, I think I’m safe in assuming that if I were to walk up to you and ask, point blank, do you believe in God? your answer would be a solid yes. If I asked you, do you believe that the Bible is true? I bet I’d get another strong yes. It’s possible your answer to do you trust God? might be a little more wavering, especially if you’ve suffered rejection at the hands of others in your life, but I bet it’s still pretty close to yes. And finally, if I asked you, do you worry? an emphatic yes! would be what I’d get, wouldn’t it? Herein lies the rub, as Shakespeare would say. (What is up, English teachers?! Rejoice heartily at the Shakespearean reference!) As believers, we cannot both trust God and worry. Those two things aren’t friends. We either trust God–His Word, His promises, His goodness, His hand, His will–or we don’t. Again, I’m assuming, but I think I’m safe here when I say that we would NEVER verbally doubt God, especially in the presence of others, but don’t we do that ALL THE TIME and straight in the “face” of God when we choose to worry and fear over relaxing, being soulfully at peace, and trusting God?

If you are someone who struggles with worry, I highly recommend pretty much any resource by Joyce Meyer (especially Battlefield of the Mind). In a couple of her books, she has addressed the sin of worry in a way that has helped me really see it for what it is: doubt, mistrust, and disbelief in the power and goodness of God. The way she explains it is this: when we have a worry or concern, as a believer it is our job to take it to God in prayer. That prayerful petition between you and God is a positive action. It transforms your mind so that you’re focused on the positive power of God. Worry, on the other hand, is a negative action. It is in direct opposition to the positive power created by prayer. So, what this says to me is if I pray about my worries BUT I continue to worry about them instead of giving them over to God in exchange for peace, my negative worry actually cancels out that positive I had working for me because of my prayer. In other words, my power is essentially lost to the negative side because I’ve chosen worry over faith. My decision to worry soaks up all my spiritual energy and focus; therefore, there is none left for the faith required to allow my prayer to work.

The really good news here is that our human propensity for worry isn’t a surprise for God. He knows that we tend to worry, that we tend to stress, that we really struggle to hand our concerns and cares over to Him, without returning frequently to pick them back up again and worry over them some more. He was so prepared for our strong desire to handle things ourselves that He’s filled His Word with instruction after instruction to help us see worry as the sin that it is, and more importantly, make the decision to eliminate it from our lives permanently. There are multiple verses sprinkled throughout the Old Testament, but it’s in the books of the New Testament where we really see strong input from Jesus with regard to worry in the hearts and minds of His followers. In Matthew 6:31, Jesus cares for his stressed flock by telling them, “Therefore, do not worry or be anxious (perpetually uneasy),” and He follows these instructions only three verses later by expounding on His original words: “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of  its own” (vs. 34). The subject of worry gets even more attention in Mark 4:19 when we are told WHY worry is such a problem for the people of God: “…but the worries and cares of the world…creep in and choke out the Word, and it becomes unfruitful.” Wow, y’all. This is serious! If we let worry get ahold of us–in our minds and our spirits–it becomes so strong and forceful that it chokes out the truths and promises of the Word, forcing us to focus only on it. Worry turns our eyes from God and puts them onto our problem (or if you’re like me, your perceived problem…because frequently I’ll worry about a problem I don’t even have yet!).

You know how I mentioned that God’s not surprised by our worry and fear? He’s SO not surprised that He’s included a Biblical reminder for every single day of the year! Check this out: did you know that God instructs His children to “fear not” (that counts for worry, too) 365 times in the Bible? Are you also aware that there are 365 days in a year? Ta-da! God knows. What we seem to forget is that we have an instruction manual at our fingertips that guides us through this sometimes-harrowing thing we call life. It gives us detailed steps for handling the worry and fear and dread and upset that comes with being a human being on planet Earth. It’s really pretty simple: 1. Choose to trust God. 2. Continually pray, taking all of your cares and concerns to God while believing He will handle them for you (1 Peter 5:7). 3. Do not be anxious about anything. Be thankful. Be prayerful. Don’t let yourself worry (Phil. 4:6). As difficult as it seems, the good news is that we do have a choice about worry. We can wallow around in our worried thoughts, telling ourselves that we’re just “being prepared” or “being a good parent.” We can think situations through over and over and over and over and over and…you get my point. But you know what? WE ARE STILL SINNING! God is in control. God has always been in control. A favorite Joyce Meyer quote says, “The truth is we’ve never been in control when it comes to life’s crucial elements. We’ve always been dependent on the grace of God to carry us through.” We have never been in control. Gracious. If we could just get over ourselves (“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Prov. 3:5-6) . If we could just remember that worry does NOTHING for us (“And who of you by worrying can add one hour to his life?” Matt. 6:27). If we could just decide that maybe our being in control isn’t really best for us or our families or our kids anyway.  I mean, if given the choice, wouldn’t you really rather God be in control?

A few months ago, while I was getting my hair done, my hairdresser Jill and I were having a conversation about this very topic: worry. I had recently been reading about it in both the Bible and Joyce Meyer’s works, and I was sharing with her the analogy that a prayer is a positive and a worry is a negative that completely cancels out the power of that prayer. Jill helped me see this in an even clearer manner when she said that it’s her belief that those prayers we issue while still worrying or attempting to control the situation ourselves just hit the ceiling, falling right back down. I thought this was such an excellent visual for me, given I was struggling to let go of the worry despite my full understanding that it was sinful. I came home from that haircut with a new way of thinking about what worry does to the power I possess as a believer. The power that Jesus DIED to give me. Those prayers that hit the ceiling because our faith is so limited and our worry is so prevalent simply fall right back down on us, on our backs, where we struggle not to buckle under their pressure and weight. Because we refuse (or fail) to turn those cares over to God (His plan, His timing, His methods), we lug those burdensome cares around with us: the heaviness of the responsibility, the discontentment, the anger, the jealousy, etc. The weight of whatever it is that we’re not trading to God in return for His peace, “the peace that transcends all understanding” (Phil. 4:7).

Real prayers release things. They release our gratitude, our worries, our stresses, and they release God’s power because we bow before Him, humbling ourselves to His power, His plan, and His solutions for our problems. Real prayers don’t fall back on us. They don’t weigh us down. They lighten our load, lifting our spirits and our faces to the glory of God. Those prayers that come back on us? Those aren’t real prayers. Those are simply disguised complaints. Adult-style fussing. Because if we talk to God about our worries only to turn around and wear the weight of them anyway, aren’t we really just talking to ourselves?

Dear Lord, I am so grateful that as your child, I don’t have to walk through life controlling every detail and leaning on my own abilities. I ask you, Father, to please help me bring my worries and concerns to you and leave them there with you. Help me to no longer pray, then worry, then pray, then worry. Lord, I want to break this cycle of taking back my prayers and believing I’m more competent than You. Thank you for loving me and for being my helper in all aspects of life. I give you my life, Lord. I give you my marriage. I give you my kid(s). I do not want to run the show. I want to simply love you, honor you, and trust you with EVERYTHING. Help me to recognize when I’m choosing worry because it feels safe and familiar so that I might change direction and choose faith. Thank you for hearing my prayer. In Jesus’s name. Amen.

 

 

For the Love of God

Vile. Disgusting. Evil. Anti-Christian. These are just some of the words Nathan and I have used this past week while discussing the horrific events and mindsets on display in Charlottesville, Virginia. It is unconscionable that in this day and age people still have so much hatred toward another person simply because of the color of his/her skin. It is truly shocking. The part that messes me up the most, though, is that there’s an incredibly likely chance that at least one of those torch-wielding venom-spewers is a church-goer who calls himself/herself a Christian. Utterly mind-blowing. Let’s not spend time beating around the bush: hatred is in DIRECT OPPOSITION to all that is godly and all that involves Jesus. How do I know? Because I spent some time this past week researching what the Bible says to us, as people made in the image of Jesus, about our responsibility toward and capacity for sharing the love of God with others. And it doesn’t require that we be waving a Nazi flag at a rally to be in need of a reminder about our job as Christians, especially during trying times such as these.

First of all, it’s important to acknowledge that there are so very many scriptures throughout the Bible, especially in the New Testament, that discuss the love of God and the ways in which we are expected to share that love that I could never fit them all into this post. I found verse after verse describing how GREAT and unfailing the love of our Father is, and how it supersedes anything we could ever do or say, no matter how awful we allow ourselves to become. One thing we’d be remiss to overlook is God’s purposeful repetition of this topic. Why so many repeated instructions to His children about loving each other? Because, by nature, we are haters. We point fingers, we judge, we tear down, we shun, we hate. But for those who are TRUE Christians, who believe in our hearts that Jesus is the Son of God, who was crucified, only to be resurrected three days later, the following scriptures should be our daily manual for how to live our lives, no matter our circumstances or the beliefs and attitudes of those around us.

“If I [can] speak in the tongues of men and [even] angels, but have not love (that reasoning, intentional, spiritual devotion such as is inspired by God’s love for and in us), I am only a noisy gong or a clanging symbol. If I have [sufficient] faith so that I can remove mountains, but have not love (God’s love in me) I am nothing (a useless nobody). Even if I dole out all that I have [to the poor in providing] food…but have not love (God’s love in me), I gain nothing. Love endures long and is patient and kind; love never is envious nor boils over with jealousy, is not boastful or vainglorious, does not display itself haughtily. It is not conceited; it is not rude and does not act unbecomingly. Love (God’s love in us) does not insist on its own rights or its own way, for it is not self-seeking; it is not touchy or fretful or resentful; it takes no account of the evil done to it. It does not rejoice at injustice and unrighteousness, but rejoices when right and truth prevail. Love bears up under anything and everything that comes, is ever ready to believe the best of every person…it endures everything without weakening…And so faith, hope, love abide…but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13: 1-7, 13).

“For the love of Christ controls and urges and impels us…And He died for all…” (2 Corinthians 5:14, 15).

“This is My commandment: that you love one another [just] as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

If anyone says, I love God, and hates (detests, abominates) his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, Whom he has not seen. He who loves God shall love his brother also” (1 John 4:20, 21).

Y’all, I could list out the scriptures for you for at least another page or so. The bottom line is this: “God is love” (1 John 4:8), and anything that’s not exemplary of love is not exemplary of God. If you and I declare to be Christians, if we parade through life conveniently tossing about that title, then we must understand something: we are telling others that our hearts are full of Jesus. Jesus was and is love. Pure and simple. If what we put out there isn’t love–ACTIVELY loving our neighbors, no matter what they look like or sound like–we aren’t Christians. We don’t deserve and haven’t earned that title. In the above verses, God does not mince words. It’s clear that He feels very strongly about those of us using His name while displaying oppositional behavior. Take time to notice what He says: Are you so outwardly religious/spiritual that you can speak in tongue, yet you don’t have the love of God within you? God calls you a noisy gong or clanging symbol, two things that irritate others, grate on others’ nerves, and cause people to turn quickly from you. Nothing you say is of value; you simply make noise. Are you full of faith but without the love of God within you? God calls you a useless nobody. Despite all that faith, because you’re missing the crucial element of God (hint: it’s LOVE!) you cannot be used to further His kingdom. Do you give your money and possessions to the poor, but you do so without the love of God within you? You will gain nothing…no blessings, no heavenly rewards. Your deeds are without merit. And lastly, do you claim to love God while simultaneously speaking (or feeling) hatred toward someone else (for any reason)? God Himself calls you a liar. God Himself has deemed your declared love for Him a complete and total lie. While you hopefully don’t need it, let me sum this up for you: NO MATTER WHAT YOU CLAIM OR DO OR GIVE IN THE NAME OF GOD, IF YOU ARE WITHOUT HIS LOVE IN YOUR HEART, YOU CANNOT BE BLESSED BY OR USED BY GOD.

And maybe the scariest part of the whole thing is that our children are watching. They’re watching and they’re waiting for our reactions and our guidance. Silence is acceptance in many ways, so let your kids hear you tell them that while you can’t control everybody, your household serves the Lord. Your household embodies His love and believes in its purpose to share that love and not Satan’s hate. Choose to make your Christian stance on the hatred being displayed around our country very clear to your children. But you know what? They didn’t just start watching. They’ve been watching us. They watch us closely every single day: at restaurants, inside grocery stores, at the movies, etc. They’re listening to how we talk about others, especially those people who are different, in any way, than we are. Parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles, let’s all agree today to stop giving the kids in our lives “Biblical lip-service.” Let’s put those scriptures we so love to quote and share on social media into actual action. Let’s show our sweet babies what Jesus really looks like.

And before closing, I want to be clear: this is not a political post. This is a post (I hope) to remind us of our responsibilities as REAL Christians in the world today. It’s a post to remind us of what it means to serve a God who also goes by the name of Healer and Father, and, most importantly, Love. Look back at those scriptures. Our Father has made abundantly clear what He expects of His children, especially with regard to how we treat all our “siblings.” Those frequently communicated expectations aren’t just for times when it’s not too much trouble to show love, or when we’re dealing with the people most like us. The truth is this: we are all alike. We were all created by the same God who made us ALL in His image. We are all sinners in desperate need of the free-for-everyone saving power of Jesus Christ. Racism, sexism, ageism–all the negative -isms– have ZERO room in a heart that’s supposedly inhabited by Jesus. Our hearts should be so filled with the Holy Spirit that there’s simply no room for anything else. So, friends, for the literal love of God, let’s start doing a better job of exemplifying Jesus in this hate-infested world. Let’s use this divisive time to better ourselves and our families. The Bible tells us that God can use all things to our good, so let Him. It might be uncomfortable; it might even hurt a little. But I encourage you to pray the following prayer with me so that God can mature our walks with Him in a way that glorifies Him daily, showing others just how loving He truly is and what it really means to be honored with that title of Christian.

Dear Lord, thank you so much for sending your Son to this world in order to save me from the hate and sin that threaten my very life. Father, I know that I am a sinner, and I know that without Your help and guidance I will never rid my life of prejudice and hate. I ask, Lord, that you please gently show me these ugly areas so that I can work with You–through prayer and reading my Bible–to eradicate them from my spirit. I love you, Lord, and I want others to feel Your love for them through me. Help me to be the best example of what it means to be a Christian. Thank you for hearing me and for the honor of calling myself Your child. I want to treat all of Your children exactly as You would. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

 

 

 

Dry Bones

After being prayerful about what God would have me discuss in this blog post, I was lost. I had no ideas and felt that no topic was “the one” He was leading me to write about. Then I was peeling boiled eggs, talking to God (don’t act like you don’t talk to God while you peel your eggs!), and explaining that I was really trying but coming up empty. I said to Him, “God, I am trying to hear from you about this blog, but I’ve got nothing. My idea tank is bone dry.” And God replied, “How about you start there, with dry bones?” Can you believe that mess? He’s amazing. So I got out my Bible, turned to Ezekiel, and guess what? God led me straight toward what I felt He needed me to say in this post.

If you aren’t familiar with the story of Ezekiel and the dry bones, I highly recommend that you take a minute or two to read it for yourself. It’s a quick chapter but speaks volumes about the power God bestows in us when we speak His Word over our circumstances. The portion of the Bible we’ll focus on today is from Ezekiel 37, and before we start talking about what it means for you and me in today’s world and in everyday life, let’s look at the first few verses:

“The hand of the Lord was upon me, and He brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. (2) And He caused me to pass around among them, and behold, there were very many [human bones] in the open valley or plain, and behold, they were very dry. (3) And He said to me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, You know! (4) Again He said to me, Prophesy to these bones and say to them, O you dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. (5) Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath and spirit to enter you, and you shall live.”

Clearly, our friend Ezekiel was in a bad spot. You’ll notice in verse two that the bones surrounding him were very dry. I think it’s fully worth noting that God takes time out to specifically address the condition of these bones. These are not the bones from recent deaths. These are bones that have long been without skin and sinew, bones that are no longer in the process of drying out but that are very, very dry. We, too, find ourselves at times within our lives surrounded by our own “very dry bones.” What “dry bones” do you have in your life right now? What elements of your life have you essentially given up on, deeming them unable to be revived:

  • your love for your spouse?
  • your attraction to your spouse?
  • your marriage?
  • your health?
  • a friendship?
  • a relationship with a family member?
  • your finances?
  • your job?
  • your future?
  • your compassion?
  • your attitude?
  • your personal relationship with Jesus?
  • your gratitude?
  • your belief?
  • your trust?
  • your hope?
  • your belief in yourself?
  • your purpose?

You know what, no matter which of these areas you find that have dried up in your life (or some other area not even listed), Ezekiel teaches us exactly what to do. It’s time to quit living in the desert and start using God’s Word and His promises to bring life back to our circumstances. Let’s learn from Ezekiel, shall we?

Take a look back at verse one. No doubt that being surrounded by all of this death and dryness and barren landscape was a scary place. We’ve all been there–and maybe you’re there right now. It’s lonely. It’s isolating. It’s even terrifying at times. But notice what Ezekiel says from the very start: “The hand of the Lord was upon me.” Guess what…the hand of the Lord is upon you, too! He’s right there, waiting to guide you through your own personal desert, just like He was for Ezekiel. I know it might not feel like it, and I know it probably doesn’t look like it, but God is in the midst of this with you. Ezekiel didn’t see signs of life, either. He didn’t stand face-to-face with God, but he knew to trust God despite his circumstances, to believe that God was present despite the disparity of the situation. So on our mission to bring life back to our dead areas, it seems to me that a good first step is to choose to believe that God is right here with us.

Next, let’s think about our attitudes toward whatever it is that seems dead in our life, our feelings toward our spouse, our jobs, or our marriage, etc. Are we approaching God, asking and expecting Him to revive us? Are we trusting that He can breathe new life into our troubled areas? Or are we grumbling to anyone and everyone who’ll listen, complaining about our spouse or our finances or our coworkers? In verse three, God refers to Ezekiel as “Son of man,” and when we let our doubt and our discouragement and our resentment take hold and dry out various areas of our lives, that’s exactly what we are: sons of man. Plain ole powerless humans, with no ties to the power and supernatural ability of a God who can fix anything that needs fixing. In this verse, God asks Ezekiel a question, and Ezekiel replies by saying, essentially, “I don’t know, God. You’re the one who knows everything. Why don’t you just tell me?” I’ve been there…haven’t you? I’ve been hopeless, convinced of all those lies that the devil has told me, sure of the fact that I’m alone and that there’s nothing that will get me past my set of circumstances. Determined to wallow in my distress and make sure everyone knows just how hard I have it…just how dry my bones are. (Makes me cringe just thinking about my attitude and my serious lack of gratitude during these times.)

Look at what God tells Ezekiel to do: “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, O you dry bones, hear the word of the Lord” (vs. 4). Y’all, nothing is going to change in our lives, no life is going to reenter these dead areas, until we tell these areas about the might and promises of our God! We must be active; we must speak the Word of God over these problems. Grumbling and complaining removes our power, keeping our hopes and our lives dry. But as we can see in the Word, we’ve been given the power to speak life back into our hollow hearts and/or circumstances. Use it! Don’t let Satan fill your head and your heart so full of lies that God’s promises turn to dust. Fuss right back at him. Declare the power of Jesus and the might of His blood over your desert! Remind that devil and those dry bones in your life what the Bible says. With our faith and our decision NOT to give in the those feelings of death and hopelessness, we are promised that God will be there, that His presence will reinvigorate our lives: “Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath and spirit to enter you, and you shall live” (vs. 5). So that attraction for your spouse that you swear is gone and will never get back? Nonsense. God can and will breathe life back into that relationship. That job that you feel is going nowhere, that you dread going to every morning? God can rectify that dryness, too. Have a health concern that you’ve been dealing with for months or years without any relief? Speak those promises of God over yourself and your condition. Believe in the presence of the Lord and His ability to make those dry bones stand up and walk.

Friends, there is nary a situation, no matter how destitute it might appear, that God can’t breathe life back into when we ask and truly believe. However, we can’t ask God to work while also holding tight to a “woe is me” attitude, full of grumbling and complaining. Take a lesson from the Israelites in the desert with Moses: their journey was one that should’ve taken 11 days, but because of their poor attitudes full of ingratitude and their choice to focus on their problems instead of their God, they spent FORTY YEARS in their wilderness. Thankfully, you and I do not have to do the same. We don’t have to passively wait around for our situation to change. We don’t have to spend our time trying to figure out why it’s happened or what we did wrong or which aspects we can blame on someone else. If we are surrounded by dry bones in any area of our life, it’s OUR job to breathe new life into it. It’s OUR job to read the Scriptures and learn what God says about His promises for our lives, and it’s OUR job to speak those promises out loud over these desert-like conditions we’re facing. It’s very, very hard to hear God, to sense His mighty presence, when our heads are so full of the noise of our own complaints. You are better than that. You deserve better than that. And you serve a God who provides blessings so much better than the dry, brittle bones of our lives that we’ve allowed to remain for far too long. Let’s decide that this stops now: our poor attitudes, our hardened hearts, our hopelessness. Speak life over those dry bones, and watch God bring life anew back into these previously dead areas. Go ahead. Do it. I dare you.

Dear Lord, thank you so much for the promises that are in Your Word. Thank you, God, that when I call on You, I get answers and solutions and new life breathed into situations that seem dry and barren. Lord, help me to trust that You are with me, even when I look around at all the dry bones and feel despair. I no longer want to complain and grumble, Lord, for I am grateful for my life and all that is in it. Thank you for breathing life and spirit into every single aspect of my life, and help others glorify You when they see big, wonderful changes happening in my life and my attitude. You are great and You are powerful, and I choose to believe that You are currently working supernaturally on my behalf. I believe, Lord, that Your blessings for my “dry bones” of life are right around the corner. Thank you for hearing me, Father, and for guiding me with Your Word. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.

 

“If you had been the only person on the earth, Jesus would have gone through all His suffering just for you.” –Joyce Meyer

The Joy of the Lord

You ever been in one of those situations, be it big or small, where you have plans solidly in place, only for God to speak up and tell you to do something else or go in a different direction? Well, that’s what happened with this post. I had something else completely in mind, until I read a devotional a few days ago and felt God press on me a need to share and discuss a couple of verses in Nehemiah. But before we jump straight in, let’s take a moment to consider the time of the year in which we currently find ourselves . Trust me, it’s important.

For those of you who are teachers or parents of school-aged children (or both–bless them!), this time of the year is most likely consumed with back to school. Whether it’s prepping a classroom or prepping your kids (um, where’s the app that weans children off summer schedules and back onto school schedules? Hop to it, Mark Zuckerberg!), there’s a good chance that the upcoming school year and all the chaos it brings with it is foremost in your mind these days. I don’t know exactly how to explain it, but as a former teacher, I’m all too aware that this back-to-school season is its own thing. It’s not the freedom of summer, it’s not the coolness of fall, but it’s definitely something that warrants its own title. If you’re anything like me, this back-to-school season served as a very clear-cut line in the sand (oh, sand. A moment of silent for the beach memories, please……..thank you. You may continue.) between a more weightless, easy-going time period and a more chaotic, stressful, hectic period. When I was teaching, with the onset of these first few days of August, I could feel an internal bracing for the stress that I was anticipating with the rapidly approaching school season. Even five years of stay-at-home-mommery later, and I can still feel it; things are about to be a-changing, and my spirit knows it.

With this feeling in mind, and with my teacher friends in the forefront of my mind, I read Nehemiah 8:10-11 very differently this time around. In these verses, Ezra and the Levites are speaking to the Israelites, and Ezra says to them: “Go your way…for this day is holy to our Lord. And be not grieved and depressed, for the joy of the Lord is your strength and stronghold (vs 10). So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, Be still, for the day is holy. And do not be grieved and sad (vs 11).” Y’all, this back to school business is no joke. It is hard and it is tiring and it is stressful and it is draining. And it feels that way to parents and kids alike. But you know what? God’s joy is just as available to us in the midst of all this new schedule mumbo-jumbo as it was when we were lying blissfully relaxed on the beach in late June. Here’s the kicker, though: this time of the year, we are going to have to get REAL intentional about choosing it.

In those verses above, it takes Ezra AND the Levites to calm the people because they are so bothered. They were so attuned to their upset that joy was nowhere to be found. I don’t know about you, but when I’m upset, I don’t tend to do a great job at taking that exact moment to actively seek the joy of the Lord. But look at what Ezra tells the “Lindseys” of the Bible: be not grieved  and depressed, for the joy of the Lord is your strength and stronghold. Praise the Lord! It doesn’t even have to be my joy–which is great news, because stress and joy are NOT buddies in this girl’s world. They do not ever seem to coexist. But Ezra tells me that I can stop my upset. I can stop feeling overwhelmed and stressed and irritated and bothered and whatever other negative emotion tends to rear their ugly heads when I feel chaos like what occurs during this back-to-school season. But I have to CHOOSE JOY ON PURPOSE. It will not manifest accidentally in the midst of school strife. It will not manifest itself without your choosing it when it’s 5:30, no one’s adjusted yet to the newness of the school feeding schedules (WHERE ARE THE SNACKS?!), and you’ve been so wrapped up in making sure everyone got dropped off and picked up that you’ve forgotten they have to be fed tonight. In those moments, joy will not abound (shocker, I know!). But. It. Can. God has the power to settle our hearts and minds and replace that hectivity (that’s hectic activity, FYI. I just made it up, I like it, and I will use it again.) with HIS joy. The six-million dollar question: how do I get that joy?

I think we have to look at not only what Ezra says–which we just did–but what the Levites reiterate and instruct. They, too, tell the people not to be bothered and upset; in fact, in the NLT translation, the Levites literally tell the people to Hush! Then they continue with how to go about calming themselves and easing their minds in the midst of their upset: Be still… While there is a chance they meant for them to still their bodies, I think it’s far more likely that the people were being instructed to still their minds. To take a deep breath and regroup. To really focus on what they were allowing themselves to feel and how they were allowing themselves to behave. I think this is God’s direction for us in the middle of these hectic afternoons when no one has yet adjusted to this new back-to-school season: Be Still. And moms, here’s the honest truth: this is not something we can expect our tired, immature kids to do. This is something WE must do, something we must model for them so that they see how they, too, can gather their emotions up and choose to be happy and thankful in the middle of feeling everything but.

If you are a teacher, you know the necessity of being prepared. If you are a mom (or a parent at all), you know the necessity of being prepared. It doesn’t do you any good–in fact, it increases your stress–if you wait until “the moment of” before you begin to prepare for something. Y’all, adopting the mindset of choosing joy is no different. I encourage you (and am working on this myself) not to wait until you’re frustrated and flustered and overwhelmed to change your thinking. Honestly, I don’t think that really works…or at least not well, anyway. Instead, do what you do with all the other things in your life: prepare. Take some time before that school day gets started or before you pick those kids up from their first days, and spend some time with God PREPARING yourself so that when those tough moments come, you’re ready. So that in those tough moments, you’re able to tap into that spirit that you’ve already {spiritually} fed and grab hold of that joy. The joy of the Lord will be your strength. Imagine what your afternoons and evenings can look like if you don’t let Satan wear down your spirit. If you refuse to exhibit those same emotions that your tired kid does, but instead, you get still, taking a moment to breathe and ask God to give you His joy. Will it be easy? Nope. It never is. But then again, if that was a easy thing, we wouldn’t need God’s joy, now would we?

And for those of you who aren’t parents of school-aged kids, those of you not impacted one bit by this back-to-school season (aside from the traffic and explosion of school-supply displays inside Walmart and Target), this works for you as well. I’d be willing to bet that there’s a season of life that you’re in right now that has real potential to be overwhelming and upsetting and stressful and bothersome. Whatever it is that you find increases your blood pressure when you think about it, apply that joy of the Lord to it, too. It doesn’t have to be an outward chaos; inward chaos needs that stillness and joy just as much. And you know what, preparing yourself for it works just as well as preparing for those hectic schedules and “hangry” schoolchildren.

Psalm 94:13 says, “That You would give him power to keep himself calm in the days of adversity…” and there is so much adversity awaiting the person who’s traded his/her joy for those emotions the enemy tells us are normal, and fine, and warranted. But we can do this. We can recognize what’s happening in the midst of it, take that deep breath that stills our spirit and mind and emotions, and offer up a quick call for help so that we can strengthen ourselves with the joy of the Lord.

And you know what, sometimes we are going to royally blow it. We are going to raise our voices and fuss and cry and absolutely lose our religion right there in the middle of our kitchen. (Why, hello there, personal experience.) Jesus gets that. He knows what we’re going through, and He’s got enough grace to help us through this current situation, to restore our spirits, and to help us avoid that pothole the next time. He’s been there; He, too, has felt the desire to lose His cool. “For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to understand and sympathize and have a shared feeling with our weaknesses and infirmities and liability to the assaults of temptation, but One who has been tempted in every respect as we are, yet without sinning” (Hebrews 4:15). So this school season (or in whatever distressing season you find yourself), when we feel that urge to give in to those negative emotions and further the upset and strife in our homes/lives, let’s do what Ezra and the Levites instructed. Let’s turn to the joy of the Lord. Let’s get ourselves still so that we can push past those emotions and reclaim what Satan is so excited about taking from us. Let’s deep-breathe and cut ourselves some slack when we don’t do such a good job. God knows we need His help. God knows we can’t do this alone. Prepare yourself beforehand, and when things go awry, call on Him as instructed in Hebrews 4:16: “Let us then fearlessly draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy [for our failures] and find grace to help in good time for every need [appropriate help and well-timed help, coming just when we need it]” (AMP). Come on, y’all. We’ve got this.

Dear Lord, thank you so much for the joy that you offer to me any time I can’t find some of my own. I know, God, that with this changing of seasons and schedules I will need your help to stay calm and still and focused on You instead of the chaos that can sometimes ensue. Lord, I ask that you please speak to my spirit during these moments of upset and stress so that I can actively attend to my attitude and choose joy over the negative emotions that rise to the surface. I ask that you please help everyone to have a wonderful school year full of blessings and deep breaths. And I ask that you bless those and comfort those whose current season of life requires a very purposeful attitude of joy and thanksgiving. Lord, you are so kind and so merciful, and I am so grateful. Thank you for having your favor and your hand over all of us, and thank you for hearing my prayer. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.

 

“The grammar isn’t important; it’s the message that matters. Don’t be a judgey-pants.” –Lindsey 1:1

Not Today, Satan!

As I write this post, the noise level right outside the wall of this room is insane. We are having some home repairs done outside, and it apparently involves jet planes landing ON MY HOUSE and drilling through incredibly thick steel. I’m pretty certain that at any given minute this outer wall is going to cease to exist. Lord, help!

Despite all the noise distractions, let me start by being totally honest: this post isn’t actually for you. This topic isn’t actually for the purpose of public consumption. It’s 110% for me personally. God has really been working on me lately regarding the amount of security I place on the money in our savings account. I know that the Bible teaches us that God wants our all. He wants us to believe in Him, to trust in Him, and to rely on Him first and foremost and above all other things. In some ways, I do this; I get it right. However, where money is concerned, I absolutely do not. More often than not, my comfort and my security come straight from the dollars accumulated in my account. My tension eases any time that number increases. (Or at least I assume it would. That number never increases, so technically, I don’t know for sure.) What I do know is that when I stopped working five years ago, our savings account looked WAY healthier than it does now. And this latest hit to it, this home repair project that we’re currently undertaking, has got me feeling every single thing but joy and peace. I so desperately want that to change, and so today’s post is my attempt to remind myself of God’s promises and His plan, of His power and His presence, and to maybe help anyone else who finds himself/herself overwhelmed by the stresses of this world.

Just to give you some idea of how much God has been working on me about this, let me tell you what all we’ve had to have done to and around our house since we cut our income in half (literally) and went to one income:

  • new hot water heater
  • new thingamajig for the new hot water heater that helps it work better and brings it up to code (isn’t my knowledge remarkable?!)
  • new dishwasher
  • new roof
  • new garage door
  • new garage door opener/motor
  • replacement of various parts/plugs in the Trailblazer and truck, along with multiple sets of new tires
  • large medical bills, mostly from our sweet girl’s early years, including our two-night, multiple-tests-inclusive stay at Arkansas Children’s Hospital a couple of years ago

And this latest project involves siding removal and replacement, gutter removal and replacement, fascia board replacement and repair (don’t worry, you don’t need to know what this is. It’s expensive and labor intensive; that’s the gist of this story), new gutter downspouts (FIVE of those suckers!), and within the first hour and a half, 500 additional dollars were added to our overall cost because the problem was bigger than they initially thought, reaching all the way to the framing boards. What in the actual world?! Needless to say, the stress dreams, tension headaches, and stomach pains have arrived as expected.

Because I have felt my peace and sense of security evaporate over all this mess, I have spent some time trying to remind myself what God promises in His Word, about taking care of us and providing for us. I know, deep down, that I will NEVER feel at peace financially if my security comes from dollars, because life is really dadgum expensive. There will be continual bills and unexpected costs for as long as I live. I also understand that if I place my trust in things other than God, I will forever be disappointed and left with this aching stomach and clinched jaw. I don’t want to live in the “I’ll be happy as soon as we make _______ amount per year,” because as soon as we make that, we’ll find a need for just a little bit more. Life involves living, and as it turns out, living costs money. Scam!

It’s become clear to me over the last few years, thanks to the guidance and clarity of the Holy Spirit, that God has allowed these expenses in our lives because I must give up my grasp on the almighty dollar. If you know me, you likely know that I am a very, very frugal person. Large costs mess me up, especially now, when we’re all living on one income. But God has shown me that as soon as we add a second income, we’ll also have a kid who is older, who’s involved in costly activities, wearing costly clothes, and who will apparently expect to drive her own vehicle one day and attend that wallet-emptier called college. No matter where we are in life financially, if that bank account is where I turn for my peace and my security, IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN because there will ALWAYS be costs we can’t anticipate and plan for. And guess what else I’ve learned…Satan knows this! He is such a complete jerk that he knows and exploits just how much peace I derive from knowing my account is cushy. He sneaks around and as soon as we happen upon another repair or expense, he’s there whispering in my ear about how much this costs, how draining this will be on our savings. But he seldom stops there, deciding to up the fear factor by encouraging me to catalog every single thing around this house that might go wrong or that might stop working.

I don’t know about you, but I do NOT want to live like this. I am an adult. I own a home, some vehicles, and I have a child. There will NEVER EVER be a time that something isn’t costing me money. That’s literally all there is to it. I refuse to live in this up-and-down peace that fluctuates to the point of disappearing any time I have to pay money for something. Remember that phrase that Abraham and Sarah used to refer to God: Jehovah-jireh. It means “the Lord who provides,” and my Bible tells me that the same God who provided then is the same God who WILL provide for me now. But because I’m a headcase, I need to see those scriptures; I need to read those promises straight from God’s Word. I need to be able to yell, “NOT TODAY, SATAN!!” when he tries to steal my peace and joy via money, and be able to back it up with scripture that proves why I don’t have to stress and worry about a thing.

I found many verses in the Bible regarding what God promises about our prosperity and/or finances. There were several that helped me see just how involved in my monetary life God is. I couldn’t find room to embed them all in the post, but I thought that those of you struggling with something similar might appreciate seeing several of those promises for yourself. I encourage you to read them out loud. Read them multiple times even. Take a quiet minute to do this, and I know that you’ll feel God speaking to your stresses, just like I felt Him speaking to mine.

Deuteronomy 8:18–But you shall [earnestly] remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth…

Deuteronomy 28:8–The Lord shall command the blessing upon you in your storehouse and all that you undertake. And He will bless you…

Deuteronomy 28:11–And the Lord shall make you have a surplus of prosperity

Psalm 34:10–…they who seek [inquire of and require] the Lord, none of them shall lack any beneficial thing

Luke 6:38–Give, and [gifts] will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over…

2 Corinthians 9:6–He who sows generously will also reap generously and with blessings.

Philippians 4:18-19–I have everything I need and am amply supplied…And my God will liberally supply (fill to the full) your every need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

All of the aforementioned scriptures certainly got the message across, but it wasn’t until I read Matthew 6:25-27 again, in the midst of my stress and angst over money worries, that I really felt myself letting go of at least a little bit of my desire to control my money and my life. These words are straight out of the mouth of our Savior, so read them carefully: “Therefore I tell you, stop being perpetually uneasy (anxious and worried) about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink; or about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life greater [in quality] than food, and the body [far above and more excellent] than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father keeps feeding them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by worrying and being anxious can add one unit of measure to his stature or to the span of his life? (AMP). You know what? I am more important to God than a bird. You know what? I have never had to go without because God has always provided. You know what? God promises not to neglect us at any time in any way, and He is a promise keeper. You know what? Worry is a sin, and it cripples my faith. Worry doesn’t grow money; it doesn’t eliminate those unexpected costs and expenses; it doesn’t ease my mind. It is a deterrent, keeping me focused on my problems and the situations I’m facing instead of on God and His powers to provide exactly what I need when I need it.

In speaking with a friend about her own money worries recently, I told her to pray about it and let God have it. Needless to say, I also told her to do as I say and not as I do when it comes to this lesson. I encouraged her and her husband to do four things: 1– to pray specifically about their finances, 2–to tithe, 3– to spend their money wisely, and 4–to let God take care of the rest because HE WILL. Now, if I can just get this lesson into my own stubborn brain, I’ll be in much better shape for the rest of my life.

Dear Lord, thank you so very much for all that you continually do for me and all that you continually provide for me and my family. I am so grateful that you are a Provider and that I don’t have to worry about finances because you will lead me and safeguard me. Lord, I ask that you please help me to set aside my worries in all areas but especially right now regarding my finances, and I ask that you help me to focus on you and your promises instead of my anxieties and the lies of the enemy. I will not go without, God, and I know this because you have promised it. Also, Lord, I want a pure heart whose focus is You, not money. In Matthew 6:21 you tell me that wherever my treasure is, there my heart will be also. You, God. You are my treasure. You are my safety and security, and I ask you to please help me recognize this truth and live this truth more and more. You are kind and loving and a giving God, and I am so grateful to be Your child. Thank you for hearing me, for loving me, and providing for my every need. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.

 

Busyness Business

Before we begin, I need to ask you a question, one that no one has probably ever asked you. How much do you like your toes? Yes, you read that right–there is no typo there. I’m asking you about those nasty little digits attached to your foot. You know, the ones that are beyond gross on like 90% of people? Your toes. Now that we’re clear, let me repeat my question: how much do you like your toes? If you REALLY love your toes and are rather sensitive in temperament, I’m going to tell you straight: you might want to find something else to read. The topic that I feel God has really laid on my heart lately is one that I can guarantee will stomp on several sets of toes. For some of you, I’m likely to step on only one or two toes (you’ll be fine. You have several others…probably.). For some others of you, though, there’s a chance I’m about to step–maybe even painfully–on nine or ten of those suckers. While I certainly don’t ever aim to upset anyone, I trust that what God says in the Bible is Truth. That means that I believe that all the lessons taught to us in the Bible are the ones we should follow, not this pick-and-choose-to-suit-yourself-and-what-you-want mess that we so often do. If you feel sore in the toes (or spirit) after reading this, I highly recommend that you spend some time with God, asking Him why, because I’d be willing to bet there’s something in this that He’d like to discuss with you. And better Him than me, am I right?

If you aren’t familiar with the story of Mary and Martha found in the book of Luke, I highly encourage you to check it out. It’s literally only five verses (Luke 10: 38-42), but there’s so much wisdom and guidance in it, especially for a world like the one we face today. I’ll give you a quick summary, but it’s only five verses to begin with. Come on, people, you can handle that!

While traveling with his disciples, Jesus came upon the village in which Martha and Mary lived. Martha welcomed him and his fellow travelers back to her home for a meal. At her home, Jesus meets Mary, Martha’s sister. While Martha hustles into the kitchen, focused on the task in front of her, Mary chooses to sit at Jesus’s feet in order to focus on Him and His teachings. So to clarify, Martha’s goal was to do; Mary’s goal was to listen and learn. (This is highly important. You’ll want to remember it for later.)

The Bible tells us, though, that things went wrong quickly. Martha, bothered and frustrated and stressed, essentially asks Jesus to scold her sister for choosing to sit instead of helping her in the kitchen. Verse 40 finds Martha approaching Jesus and saying, “Lord, is it nothing to You that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me!” Oh the variety of times I’ve thought this in my life…times when I thought Nathan wasn’t doing as much as I was around here, and I wanted my “greater contribution” recognized. Times that I thought other moms didn’t have kids as needy and high-maintenance as mine, and I wanted someone to recognize just how much work I was doing. Times at work when I thought other teachers were being recognized for hard work but whom I felt had much easier students than I did. And this list could go on and on, I’m sure.

Before we go forward and see Jesus’s reply to Martha’s demand, let’s take a minute to pay careful attention to Martha’s behavior. We know Martha was upset with her sister. We know Martha felt she was left doing all the work while Mary relaxed and enjoyed leisure time with Jesus. But let’s read between the lines for a moment, really look closely at our friend Martha. First, I feel it bears noting that this whole “come over and eat…I’ll cook for you and all your friends” idea was actually Martha’s. The Bible specifically tells us it was Martha who brought Jesus and his disciples into her home. Mary is never even mentioned until after Martha returns home with Jesus. Second, Martha gets upset with her sister for not helping her serve the food to their guests. Anybody been there before? Anybody ever gotten mad at someone for not doing something you never asked them to do, something you just sort felt they should intuitively know you wanted them to do? Hands up, wives! (Why are women so bad about expecting their men to just read their minds??) We’ve all been where Martha is, regardless of gender. We’ve all expected someone to help us without ever being straight-forward about our need. Let’s not stop at this little mini-lesson, however. Let’s look a tiny bit closer.

The true motivation behind Martha’s upset is unclear. Maybe she was very, very set on impressing Jesus (haven’t we all fallen into this trap?) and was distraught at the thought of trying to handle that task without her sister’s help. But maybe it was a true goodness that caused Martha’s upset. She knew about Jesus. She knew He was the Messiah, and I feel pretty safe assuming she was beyond honored to have Him in her house. Maybe, just maybe, the reason she was so upset with Mary was because she was jealous of that time Mary was getting with the Savior while she slaved away in the kitchen. While Martha’s behavior in this story isn’t the kind for us to emulate, I can certainly understand and admire her desire to be so near Jesus and to hear His teachings and His words that she’s irritated by the other demands on her time. So maybe a sincere desire for Jesus, when it’s not accompanied by judgment of or anger and bitterness toward someone else, isn’t such a bad things after all? You mull that one over, and we’ll continue on with our Bible story.

After Martha asks Jesus to scold Mary, we get a chance to see His reply to her. In verse 41 it says, “But the Lord replied to her by saying, Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things.” HOLD THE PHONE!!! I AM MARTHA! You take out Martha’s name and insert mine, and this exact statement of Jesus’s would apply to me and my life more than daily. You are anxious and troubled about many things. Wow. I feel certain that if I could take a poll and ask those of you who feel this description fits your life right this second, all the hands would raise. “Lindsey, Lindsey, you are anxious and troubled about many things.” Yep, no doubt Jesus has spoken exactly this so many times. Look closely at that response from our Lord, at the tender way He says her name twice before getting to the real issue: Martha, Martha. When I picture this exchange I see Martha red-faced, sweating, hair askew from all of her frazzled preparations in the hot kitchen. I see her, hands on hips, standing in front of Jesus with that accusatory index finger aimed straight for her lazy, unhelpful sister. And then I see Jesus. I see Him reach for her, taking her hot, damp hands in His while calmly saying, in an almost whisper, “Martha, Martha.” But Jesus doesn’t stop there, He explains to further help Martha see the error of her ways: “There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her” (vs. 42). The teachings of Jesus: the one thing worth being concerned about. Boy, do I get this one wrong so very often.

I don’t believe that Mary had nothing to do but sit there. I don’t believe that Mary was oblivious that her decision was one that irked her sister. I do believe, however, that Mary chose quality over quantity. I believe that she weighed it all out and determined that no matter what was expected of her socially, her first and foremost priority was Jesus Christ.

(PSA: Hide those toes…here we go!) Y’all, we are messing this up BIG TIME. This busyness business that we all have going has got to stop! We are all Marthas. We are all overstressed and overworked and overscheduled and overdrawn and over it. Why are we constantly doing this? What are we giving up so that we can put our kids in 17 different sports each season WHEN THEY’RE FOUR?! What are we giving up so that we can checklist to our friends and post pictures on social media of all the things we do with our kids throughout the year? What are we giving up when we say yes to every single offer made on our time? I’ll answer these questions for you because they all share the same answer: Jesus. People, we are literally giving up Jesus–the presence of Jesus, the Spirit of Jesus, the peace of Jesus, the Word of Jesus–so that we can put more of NOTHING eternal on our plates. This busyness that we so idolize, these full-to-bursting schedules that have us eating out every night and exhausting ourselves, our kids, and our marriages, these things are NOT the things of Jesus. Being still, listening, resting in the presence of God…these are the things of Jesus. Don’t believe me? Do that thing you never have time to do anymore because you have no free time: read your Bible. You’ll be surprised at what you find in there that instructs us to settle ourselves so that we don’t miss God moving and speaking in our lives. Maybe you can’t give 30 minutes or an hour a day to reading your Bible right now, and you know what, that’s okay. God can speak to you in less time than that. BUT. It’s important that we get really honest about our time and our priorities before determining what we can and can’t do. Isn’t 5 or 10 minutes spent with God far better and infinitely more beneficial to you and your family than those 5 or 10 minutes you spend on social media? (And let’s not pretend you’re only spending 5-10 minutes on social media daily.)

Be a Mary, not a Martha. Don’t give Jesus reason to say your name over and over again, concerned because you are so stressed, so distracted, so distant from Him and such a stranger to His Word. I know I haven’t been a parent for very long, but I can promise you this anyway: nothing you enroll your kids in, nothing you haul them all over creation to participate in, nothing that you yourself volunteer your time for will impact them and the rest of their lives like watching their mom and dad carve out precious, necessary time with Jesus. Be a Mary. Stop the hustle and the excess of everything, and decide daily to sit at the feet of Jesus. You won’t miss out on anything. I promise.

Dear Lord, thank you so much that you give of yourself so that I can spend time in your peace, your presence, your Word, and your wisdom. Help me, please, Lord, to re-prioritize my busy life so that instead of an afterthought, you are my main priority. I want to spend time with You and then fit other things into my schedule when/if time allows. This is not easy for me, God. Please help me to heed the Holy Spirit’s guiding so that I can rearrange my life and become more like Mary. Thank you, Lord, for helping me and for hearing me. When it’s all said and done, Lord, I want to desire you and time with you more than anything else. Help me to slow down. In Jesus’s name I pray, Amen.

 

 

Philippians 2:3–Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourself.