You Were Made To Do Hard Things

(Quick side note: My blog “location” will be changing at the end of April. Info regarding the change can be found following the prayer at the close of this post.)

When it comes to writing this blog, I often find myself under additional (self-inflicted) pressure to convey the importance of a Christian holiday, to make sure that I address it in a way that illuminates its relevance and value in the lives we live today. Easter is always the granddaddy of them all; it’s the time I feel the most weight of “getting it right” where it pertains to Christian blogging. Today, though, I don’t really feel that. Maybe that’s due, in part, to the fact I am not going to attempt to show you something “new” about the resurrection. As off as it might seem, I want us to spend today focused on the circumstances surrounding Jesus just prior to His crucifixion and resurrection. It’s an Easter message, I assure you, but not a very conventional one. I hope you’ll read on.

Recently, I decided to put my barely-mediocre crafting skills to work and create a wooden sign for my living room. This sign reads, “You were made to do hard things,” and OH. MY. WORD did the Lord make me live that little sermon 100% of the time I worked on that $%#@ sign!! It’s boring and too long to include here, but, y’all, not a single thing–I am not joking…NOTHING–went easily with that sign. It is finished, however. Does it look fabulous? No, it does not. Is it perfect? Not even in the slightest. Is it hanging on the wall and am I still proud of it, despite the challenge of getting it made? You bet, and honestly, even more so because of how hard it was to make. 

I wanted this sign up in my living room, because as we’ve grown more in our individual walks with God, my husband and I have had so many, many discussions about how detrimental, how truly dangerous the worship of ease and convenience is to the Christian faith. Over the past few years, we’ve begun noticing more and more the lengths people will go to in an effort to avoid a challenge, to make sure they don’t have to put themselves out or inconvenience themselves in any way. And HEAVEN FORBID we actually are inconvenienced for a reason that doesn’t directly benefit us, am I right?! I mean, most of the time instead of “Yes, Lord, send me,” we tend more toward, “Yes, Jesus, I will love my neighbor, but I will only do so when I have the time and resources and will not be in need of my own attention. I’m sure someone else will take care of it, but thanks for thinking of me.”

As with any lesson, however, it’s Jesus to whom we can turn to find how we should handle any problem or concern, any upset or difficulty. I want us to focus today on Matthew 26, in those hours just prior to the crucifixion, and I’d like us to begin in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus went to unburden Himself to His Father. Let’s begin with verse 36. 

 36 Then Jesus went with His disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and He said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with Him, and He began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then He said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” 39 Going a little farther, He fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.”

Friends, how many of us have wished with ALL our might that whatever awful thing directly in our path would just go away? That we’d be saved from ever having to face that circumstance…that death….that heartache…that incredibly difficult conversation…that new beginning. Jesus knows. He has felt that very same thing. In fact, He was so overwhelmed with sorrow, as this NIV translation puts it, so scared and burdened that He prayed for God to take it away, to change His plan. Look at verse 39. Notice Jesus’s posture before He ever speaks: “…He fell with His face to the ground…” When you are on your literal face before the Father, you are at the very, very rock bottom, y’all. You have no further left to fall, no reasoning left in your brain, no strength left in your soul. Jesus knows. He, too, just wanted God to take it away. “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me.” You and I have asked this exact thing of God many times, we just worded it a little differently. It might’ve sounded more like, “I can’t do this, God. I don’t want to, and I’m not sure I can make it. I am OVER every bit of this, and I need You to do something about it. Help me. Heal my loved one. Fix my marriage. Break this addiction. Save my child. Find me a good spouse. Find me a job. Bless us with a baby. Bolster my finances. Make me feel loved.” And in Matthew 26:39, Jesus says to all of us who’ve ever been there, “Yep, me, too, friend.”

I learned recently a GIANT important detail that I’d never heard before about this scene in the Garden of Gethsemane (will I ever be able to type that out without having to do it one letter at a time??). Did you know, when Jesus was praying here, He was within one hour of full and total escape? No? Well, same. Seems like someone should’ve told us all this before now, huh? So here’s the deal: off to one side of where Jesus is prostrate at the feet of His Father, there was an area of great wilderness. That means, if Jesus hadn’t been Jesus, instead of His walking sacrificially into the death He had coming, Jesus could have absconded and been free within the hour. He could’ve hiked down that incline (especially since His disciples were sleeping instead of praying) and been swallowed up in the wilderness, unable to be found by Pilate and his cronies. Y’all, if ever the mind-blown emoji was needed, it’s here! Jesus could have walked away from EVERY BIT OF THE PAIN, but instead, He offers this prayer: “Yet not as I will, but as You will.” Praise Jesus! Sometimes, when I realize what He did for me, I’m undone. I type this with tears of gratitude in my eyes, because what would have become of us all if Jesus had just been another Lindsey Thomas and tried His very best to escape every difficulty that came His way? Praise Jesus for His goodness, for His heart, for His love!!

And while Jesus is the greatest example of how we can and should do the hard things in our lives, the Bible is filled with others: Paul, Ester, Ruth, Peter, Daniel, David, the friends who lowered their paralyzed buddy down through the roof to Jesus, and several other unnamed women of questionable decision-making, just to name a very few. I guess, if I boiled it all down, the greatest lesson I want to take away from this Easter is this: Since Jesus didn’t avoid the hard, the inconvenient (understatement of a lifetime!), and the spiritually challenging, I shouldn’t either. Instead, I should do what He did. 

1. I should acknowledge how I’m feeling about what I’m facing. Jesus didn’t mince words with His disciples; He told them he was overwhelmed, that He was sorrow-filled, and it was clear He was afraid of what was to come. Don’t beat yourself up for feeling those same things. Just be honest with yourself. 

2. All of my feelings, good and bad, need to be taken to my Heavenly Father. I need to be honest with myself (see #1 above), and I need to be honest and direct with Him. There’s NO HARM in asking God to intervene and remove your problem. Remember, Jesus did that, too. But it’s crucial that we not act like infantile Christians if He refuses. Jesus got a big fat no, and not once, not even sort of, did He pitch a fit. We shouldn’t either. 

3. And lastly, in keeping with the right attitude toward God, we should approach the challenges before us being more interested in God’s will being carried out than our own ease being placated. Our goal should never be convenience. Our goal should never be just to do whatever is easier. Friends, our goal is a relationship–a good, strong relationship–with God the Father through Jesus, and the only way to get to that is for us to experience exactly what He’s planned for us on this side of Heaven. God doesn’t sugarcoat it; He makes it clear that we’re destined to have times of troubles and hurts and aches and pains, but He promises never to leave us. Jesus wasn’t excused from His painful burdens, and neither are we. Thankfully, more good than can be verbalized came from His suffering, and that promise holds true for us as well. 

Have you ever heard the age-old motto, “Only do the easy stuff. Forget having anything of value”? What about, “Resist anything hard and live as mediocrely as possible”? Of course you haven’t, because they’re not real mottos (today’s realization: I am awful at making up fake mottos). Wisdom is no fool, and she is very aware that hard work, inconvenience, and trials are what grow us. If we spend our whole lives, especially our whole spiritual lives, trying to outrun the hard stuff by running off into the wilderness where we can’t be found, we won’t be the only ones who suffer. No unbeliever ever met Jesus after being inspired by watching others skate through life doing only what served them and was easy. This Easter, friends, while you meditate on the incredible resurrection of Jesus, take a few extra moments to remember the death that had to come first. Remind yourself that without His pain and His suffering, Jesus’s resurrection wouldn’t have been possible. God is offering you a really wonderful experience by His side, but it won’t be easy, it won’t be comfortable, and it sure won’t be convenient. He’s going to expect you to do hard things. He’s going to expect you to do things that cramp your style and take up time that you don’t even think you have. He’s going to ask you to love people you don’t even want to look at. But He’s a God who’s chosen to leave the decision-making up to us. He’s not going to force us to say, “Not my will, but Yours, God.” I am curious, though. The next time you’re faced with choosing ease and convenience over the harder but more life-affirming way, where will your worship lie?

Whatever it is in your path that’s not the easiest route, whatever it is that’s going to take more of you than you are sure you can give, He’ll be right there every single step of the way. Friend, God made you to do hard things. He made you to worship Him, to honor His will. He did not make you to worship a life of ease. If it’s God’s will you choose, there will be blessing and breakthrough in your burden. Your Father guarantees it. 

Dear Lord, thank You so very much that You have promised to be right beside me no matter what trials I face. I have some big things going on, God. I have some scary things before me, and to be totally honest, I would much, much rather they go away than for me to have to face them. I relate so much, Lord, to Jesus in the garden because I ask You respectfully to please remove this burden from me. However, although it’s scary to say this and I’m struggling to feel it fully in my heart, I want Your will in my life more than I want my own. You know more than I do, Lord. Your ways and thoughts are higher than mine, and I trust that You’ll never lead me where You don’t follow. Be with me, Lord. Help me to sense You at every turn. Make Your comforting presence known as I choose the route You’ve determined for me, not just the route that seems easiest and most convenient. I want to worship You, Lord, not my own convenience. Help me to grow in this area. Thank You for hearing this prayer, prayed in the mighty name of Jesus. Amen. 

BLOG POST CHANGES:

Hi, blog readers/followers. I will post specifically about this really soon, but I wanted to let you know that as of June 1, my blog will be moving from WordPress to MailChimp and straight to your inbox! If you are already receiving my blogs via your email inbox, you will be automatically switched to my MailChimp serve list (there will be an unsubscribe option). If you are reading this and you’re not currently getting my posts via email, feel free to choose that option between now and April 30th. More info to come….

Thanks so much!!

“Wise Counsel or No?”

Years ago, around the time Nathan and I had been married three years, we hit a VERY rocky patch. You know, that’s kind of down-playing it. Maybe it’s more accurate if I say we hit a VERY mountain-sized-boulders patch. I’ve written previously about how we came within mere centimeters of actually beginning the process of divorce. During this time, we opted to separate in an effort to get our heads on straight, and I went to stay with a single friend for a week. By the grace of God, this friend of mine was one of moral character and uprightness. She knew Jesus personally, and the advice she gave came from that place. But y’all, she was out of her league, as would be anyone who was attempting to help someone through a major life event they’ve not had any personal experience with. Not to be repetitive but it’s literally BY THE GRACE OF GOD that she helped me wade through that difficult season. And I don’t mean that negatively in ANY way! Now that she’s been married for several years, I feel certain that if we talked to her right this very minute she’d attest to the fact that she was blindly trying to be my friend and my helper while not having any personal experience to pull from. The bottom line is this: it’s nearly impossible to help someone, to lead them well through a complicated set of circumstances that you’re personally unfamiliar with. When I think back upon this portion of my life, I’m yet again brought to my spiritual knees over the goodness of God and His hand over every single part of my life, but also, it reminds me of the necessity, especially for Christians, of choosing wise counsel when the bumps in the road start looking more like hills and mountains. 

It’s one thing for those of us who consider ourselves Jesus followers to be knowledgeable. It’s important that we know the Word. It’s crucial for our personal relationship with Jesus and the spiritual warfare we face. We cannot worship God accurately and fully if the only thing we know about Him is what we see in our limited experiences. However, knowledge is only part of the equation. Wisdom, our ability to take it one step further and successfully apply what we know, is what best indicates our spiritual maturity. And as we learn from various spots throughout the Bible, it’s this application of our knowledge–wisdom–that we should truly seek. 

I love Psalm 1:1, but it’s in looking at a few translations that its point really gets best made. Let’s start with the ESV. It confirms, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked…” Simple enough. But let’s look at the NLT translation in an effort to deepen our analytical understanding, “Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked [ungodly].” And last but not least, we get even more detail with the AMP version, as it calls those who avoid bad and/or misguided advice as fortunate, prosperous, and favored by God. Y’all, sign me up! I want to be considered all those things! I want anyone who looks at my life to see it as fortunate, prosperous, and favored by God, and if I was a betting woman, I’d bet those descriptions sound pretty good to you, too. So, how do we get from where we are now to there? We get smart. We increase our knowledge, but we also increase our wisdom. And when we come upon difficult decisions or circumstances we feel unequipped to handle, we seek WISE counsel. 

There is a two-step order to seeking wise counsel, and despite the fact that goldfish now out-perform humans with regard to attention span (it’s fact…look it up), I am pretty certain we can handle two steps. If you cannot, I can tell you with full confidence, this is not the blog that’s gonna help you with that. Peace be with you. 

Step one in seeking wise counsel is to seek the wisest of all counsels ever created: God. In asking God to help you with your conundrum, it’s imperative that you spend time with Him: read His Word (so much wise guidance there!), talk to Him during prayer time, just like you would any friend. Ask Him for His wisdom because He’s already promised that all you have to do is ask and it will be yours (James 1:5). But don’t forget, when talking with Him, to ask Him to lead you to others who also seek Him and His Word and who could provide you with wise counsel. Proverbs 1:5 promises, “A wise man will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel.” 

After seeking God and leaning on Him to direct you toward those who will spiritually hold your hand and walk you through your trial, as redundant as it might sound, step two is simply to reach out to whomever it is God’s suggested to you. BUT. Satan’s not going to sit around quietly while you make great strides to fix whatever he’s attempted to break in your life. He’s far too involved and cunning for that. You can bet that he’ll do his absolute best to steer you off course with regard to whom you seek for advice and guidance. Good news! There’s a way to evaluate whether or not a person you’re considering is, in fact, a worthy helper. The Bible tells us in Galatians that a righteous, godly person is known by his/her spiritual fruits, and because God’s awesome like that, He’s given us a list of those identifiers: gentleness, kindness, love, joy, peace, patience, faithfulness, and self-control. Therefore, when seeking help, if the person you plan to consult doesn’t display at least a few of these fruits in a variety of areas of his/her own life, perhaps they’re not your best option. 

Now please hear this: we are not seeking PERFECT wisdom in fellow humans. That’s a fool’s errand due to its non-existence. However, it’s crucial to note that godly, mature, self-controlled adults are successful in at least some of their long-term relationships. Let me say it like this: 

Seeking wise counsel for help with marital trouble? Seek it out from those you KNOW have a solid, God-centered marriage, NOT because someone’s Facebook or Instagram posts look good. Remember, we are seeking substantial spiritual fruit, not decoration. 

Are you perhaps seeking wise counsel for an issue with your troubled teen? Seek it from someone who has successful young adult/adult children. Does this include your sister who has a four and an eight year old? No it does not. What about your grandmother? God bless her but also no. She didn’t raise kids in this world. Yes, seek her input assuming she’s godly and wise, but don’t stop there since, no disrespect intended, her parenting relevance is nil. 

What about work troubles? Seek wise counsel from a godly, like-gendered co-worker whose work ethic, attitude, and behavior as a whole you respect. What about that mouthy co-worker who will jaw all day about how awful your company/boss/other co-workers are while offering zero Bible-based wisdom? Surely you know the answer to this one. Yep, correct–you shut that mess down. There’s zero wisdom in that person. 

In closing I’d like to share one last story. When my daughter was little, maybe two or three, we were trying to teach her how to properly use 911. We wanted her to understand when it was okay to call 911 and when it wasn’t, so we played a game called “911 or no?” We would give her a scenario, and she would have to tell us whether it was okay to call 911 or if not because it wasn’t considered an emergency. We’d range from statements like “You’re home alone with Mom, and she falls and hits her head and won’t wake up” (911!) to “You really wanted peanut butter and realized you’re out” (NO!!). In the spirit of our fun-filled “911 or No?” I’d like us to play a version of that today: “Wise Counsel or No?” I’ll give you an example of a person and a smidge of detail about his/her life or personality, and you tell me if they would be wise counsel or not. Here we go…

*Your BFF’s first cousin who always has the BEST hair in all of her Instagram posts, leading you to believe girlfriend must obviously have it together? NO!!!

*Your high school classmate who may or may not have lost a tooth or two to a former meth habit that may or may not still be “former”? NO!! Even if she posts pretty Bible verses despite spewing f-bombs in everyone’s comments? STILL NO!!

*Your adorable hairdresser who knows her Bible both in word AND in action and spends time daily in the Word? YES!!! (assuming she has some solid fruit-producing experience in the area in which you’re struggling)

Yes, this is really dumb. And yes, it doesn’t seem all that complicated–because it’s not. But how often do we intentionally seek out advice and help from those we know will back up our opinions. We don’t want actual wisdom; we want our own opinions mirrored back at us. How dare someone tell us that we, too, are responsible for the state of our marriage! How dare someone claim that not providing consequences for my kid might be the reason he’s got problems with authority as a teenager! How dare someone not tell me that all I do is perfect and everyone else is the problem! 

All I’m saying is this: the next time you have a problem you’re unsure of how to handle, be intentional in seeking wise counsel. Get off Facebook and open The Book. Seek God first, and then turn to someone you KNOW is godly. Someone whose life is proof (notice I said life, NOT social media posts) that he or she bears the Fruits of the Spirit. God will most certainly make these people available to us, and not to step hard on one more toe as I end, but if you can’t locate any of these godly, wise people within your circle, maybe that in and of itself speaks volumes. God wants to help you find those who can steer you and your decisions toward Him, but He’s a gentleman and will not force Himself and His ways upon you. Seek Him, friend, and the wisdom and counsel that He provides. Please pray with me. 

Dear God, thank You so much for the Word You’ve given me as a constant guiding light in my life. Father, I want to make wise, Bible-based decisions for my life and the life of my family, but I desperately need Your help to do so. I am seeking You, Lord, as the Bible recommends, for help with ____________. I am very unsure of how to walk through this trial, Lord, and I need Your guidance on who to consult. Provide me with wise counsel, Lord. Remove those from my life, my ear, my circle who don’t give advice based from Your Word. Close my ear and my mind to their jabber so that I’m not distracted and confused by counsel that doesn’t come from You. Thank You, God, for hearing my prayer. I am excited for those whom You’ll bring into my life. Help me not to miss them. In Jesus’s mighty and holy name I pray. Amen.

Jesus Roots

The concept of growth has been on my mind a lot lately it seems. I can’t say it’s been due to a particular verse or a portion of Scripture that’s set up camp in my brain. Not to sound hokey, but it’s more like God’s impressed upon my heart a focus for reflection: growth. I have said in previous posts that I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, and I am definitely not the personality type to “choose a word to focus on for the year” like what’s become trendy on social media (my eyes just rolled so hard y’all probably heard them). So this most certainly is not just a buzz word I’ve forced upon myself. In fact, for me it began well before we rolled from 2020 into its equally crazy twin 2021 (here’s to hoping 2021 starts taking some meds and levels the mess out…can I get an AMEN!). 

This idea of growth, of honestly evaluating where I stand as a person of growth–or stagnation–is directly related to this pandemic for me. After we made it into mid-summer, and when things got really monotonous, I found myself determined in my talks with God to learn something, even more so than usual. I started imagining what it would look like to make it through something so enormous as this COVID era, only to have the only growth in my life happen to my thighs (relatively certain that the 19 in COVID-19 is reference to how many pounds are gained during a year’s worth of quarantine). In my soul, I felt God solidly prompting me to focus on what I could learn, about myself and about Him, during this unusual time. 

As a Christian, I think it helps us to evaluate the rate of our growth in Jesus to look at our attitude toward the major moments in our liturgical calendar. For example, let’s think about this past Christmas. Was this Christmas more or less significant to you than in years past? Now, although it probably doesn’t seem like it, I do try my best (most days) not to step on toes if it can be avoided, but sometimes, it just seems worth it to be direct. So here goes… If this Christmas wasn’t one where you felt closer to God, where you had more gratitude and reverence for the birth of Jesus, why in the world not? Our country has been in absolute chaos, between the pandemic and the political mayhem, and to recognize that we have a God who is faithful every single day, who saw before time began what we would turn into and still loved us enough to press on with His plan and give up His only child for us, but NOT feel stronger toward Jesus as a significant moment like Christmas? Forgive me for being so blunt here, but I don’t see how that’s possible unless perhaps your eyes weren’t really on Jesus. If Jesus wasn’t the cornerstone of your holiday, what was? 

Now, obviously this isn’t a post about Christmas, and since it’s already passed there’s nothing to be done if we feel we didn’t approach it as we should’ve, but we can use it to help us recognize areas in our lives where maybe we aren’t growing as we should. If 2020 didn’t see you growing in your faith, growing in your personal walk with Jesus, growing in the priority you placed on spending quiet alone time with God daily, then I have encouraging news for you: today is a new day! Woot woot! And your God is so full of love and so interested in His relationship with you, He’s given us His Word to help identify what growth should look like. That way, we can determine where we stand–if we’re doing really well, if our progress has been mediocre, or if we’ve moved forward zero steps–and make the necessary adjustments, while praying the appropriate prayers in an effort to eliminate the space between us and Jesus. 

I want us to start by looking at Ephesians 4:22-24 because I feel like it expresses a solid, practical way of determining where we stand. It says this: “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitudes of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” As you notice here, if you are truly growing in Jesus, a couple of things should be happening. One, you should have two distinct selves, so to speak. You should have self one, which was more of the “I do what I want!” self, the one unconcerned about showing Jesus to others. But then you should have a second self, a self that’s much more in line with Jesus. A self that is distinctly different than the other. NOT A PERFECT SELF. We aren’t pretending here. Just a version of you that’s changed, that makes an effort that your old self didn’t. Someone who is growing in grace and knowledge–not getting it right all the time (or, if you’re like me, not even half the time most days), but trying and changing one molecule of progress at a time (2 Peter 3:18). 

For some of us, myself included, a change of this magnitude is scary. If we’re being honest, it’s weird to see someone you used to know as one way turn into something completely different, even if it is better. It makes us feel strange because we aren’t quite sure how to relate to that person. But, friends, growth and change, improvement and sloughing off of our old, less godly ways is biblical. First Timothy 4:15 puts it like this: “Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.” Our growth should be visible. In fact, it should be visible enough that it loses us some friends if they’re not secure enough to be okay with the new self we’ve put on. It’s not easy and it’s not comfortable and it’s not popular; worthwhile things seldom are, I’m learning. 

While researching what the Bible says about spiritual growth, I came across Colossians 2:7, and the NLT translation really resonated. I love the visual representation here, the depth conveyed: “Let your roots grow down into Him, and let your lives be built on Him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” What a picture of depth and strength and abundance, all of which are elements of a life lived in Jesus. I want to ask you a question, friends, and I ask that you think it over today. Don’t just rush right past in an effort to get to your next task (pssst, that’s not how growth works–it’s not fast). Really ask God to help you answer it in an honest way. My question is this: How deep are your Jesus roots? Are they deeper now than they were three months ago? Six months ago? At this time last year? Are your Jesus roots deep enough that they’re changing your structure as a person evidently enough that those around you can tell by how you live your life? 

I’d like to close out with one more Scripture, one that sums up nicely what our prayer as Christians should be and what deeper Jesus roots look like when lived out in our daily lives. These verses come from Paul’s words in Philippians 1: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God” (vs. 9-11). This portion of the Word sets a trajectory for us, showing us what proof of growth looks like in the flesh, when instead of just hearing the Word, we grow into doers of it. Spiritual growth looks like this: 

*Our love for others (no matter what they look like or who they voted for) is more abounding…it is more plentiful and abundant.

*We have greater knowledge not only of God’s Word but also His character. We can share God with others because we know Him personally. 

*We have a greater depth of insight, meaning our ability to discern the voice and the will of God improves, as does the wisdom visible through our actions and words. 

*We have increased purity. How is this made evident? Maybe the TV we used to watch or books we used to read without a second thought now have us feeling convicted. Maybe we stop letting our tongues wag quite so much. This one can look like lots of things. 

*Our lives display a greater number of the Fruits of the Spirit (see Galatians 5 for a list). And then as we grow a little more, the depth of these Fruits increases as well. 

*And lastly, the whole purpose in the first place, more glory and praise gets directed at God because of how we live our lives. More people recognize our change; they see us become less anxious and stressed out, less harried, less fearful, and they decide maybe there is something to this Jesus thing after all. 

So once again, friends, how deep are your Jesus roots? Or maybe a more important question, how deep do you desire to see them go? Pray with me, please. 

Dear Lord, thank You for this day. Thank You for all that You’re teaching me, for all the ways You’re guiding me to become a better witness for You. I need Your help deepening my roots, Father. I want to grow in You, I want to know You better, to know Your Word better, to be a true doer of the Word and not just someone who hears it and keeps doing what I’ve always done. Give me the courage to change who I am and how I do life, even when people reject my newness. Keep me encouraged, God, so that I can live life in a way that glorifies You and only You. Draw others to Jesus through me, Lord. Help me be a solid, unwavering example for You. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen. 

Arm-Twisting and Sob Stories

Who has two thumbs and is back writing blog posts? That’s right: this gal! I want to start this today by bragging on the incredible provision of God. I know you all have stories like this one, but let me encourage you, if you have a need you’re asking God to meet, He hears you and He sees you. Be patient; He’s working. Here’s how I know.

As I mentioned in my last post, my blog has been essentially inactive during this COVID fiasco because my husband is now working from home and using our office. We didn’t have a laptop or anything like that, so my only writing times were on the weekends, which isn’t super conducive to post writing. Once I realized that he was going to be working from home for quite some time (which I LOVE, by the way), I knew that if I was going to keep up the blog, I was going to have to ask God to provide a way. Usually, I’m a do-it-yourself-er and would’ve tried to make things happen in my own way, but this time I really felt God asking me to let Him provide for me. So, I asked the Lord to please provide a way for me to continue on with the blog. Unbeknownst to me, during this time, my husband was looking into a purchasing a laptop for me, but every time he’d decide on one to potentially buy, he felt unsettled. He felt God saying, “Not yet.” Now, fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. Out of the blue–we had not discussed this laptop situation with anyone–my mom emails to ask if there’s any chance we or our daughter needed a laptop because her work had some old ones they were GIVING AWAY FOR FREE! Y’all, I was so touched by God’s provision, so overwhelmed by His provision of something so essentially unnecessary, that I cried actual tears when my mom texted to confirm she’d be able to get one for us. Praise the Lord! Right in the middle of this smoldering dumpster fire of a planet we live on, God cares enough about something as minimal as a laptop for me. Just wow! His goodness and His attentiveness are so awe-inspiring.

I do not believe that God works in coincidences–He’s too intentional for that–so it didn’t escape my notice that the very topic on which I was preparing my next blog post when this gifted laptop arrived was tithing/giving. Now, I know that discussing money is no one’s favorite topic. I know that you’re probably considering hitting the X at the top of the page or the delete button on your email if you get my posts that way. But I promise I won’t step (too hard) on your toes. I want to be very clear from the absolute start–I am NOT telling you what to do with your money. Not even kind of. I am NOT judging you for the financial decisions you make or the debt you might have accrued. My ultimate goal today is for us to address this one question, so that you can eventually answer it in a way that glorifies God to the highest degree:

Can you really say that you’ve surrendered your life to Jesus if you don’t include Him in your finances?

As always, I want to be as transparent as I can be, so with that in mind, I have a confession: I am a substantial cheapskate. I do prefer the term “frugal” if I get to choose, but we all know it means the same thing. I am NOT a spender. I am a saver. And while that’s sometimes good and sometimes smart, it also sometimes requires my repentance to God for an ungiving heart and a clenched fist. Here’s where I get it very wrong: instead of God being my security, instead of trusting His provision in our lives, my security comes from bank account numbers and minimal bills. But deep in my heart, I understand that God desires to be my security. Sure, He’s given me a brain and His Holy Spirit to help make smart decisions with my money, but He doesn’t want me to idolize those bank numbers.

Like I mentioned before, my purpose in discussing this topic is not to tell you how to spend your money, or even where to spend it. But instead, I want us to spend time discussing what the Bible says about our finances, about our giving, so that if we aren’t currently surrendering that area of our lives to God, we can re-evaluate.

I want us to begin with the way tithing/giving is addressed biblically. **For clarification purposes, when the Bible uses the term “tithe” it means a specific 10% return to the Lord. We aren’t going to get caught up in numbers today, but I will try to keep the concept of tithing separate from giving, since tithing involves at least 10%. (Clear as mud? Ok, great. Let’s proceed.) The concept of tithing began appearing in the Bible almost immediately. You’ll see references to Abram’s giving as early as Genesis (14:19-20). It’s clear that while it doesn’t quite look like what we do today, it was intended to show gratefulness to God, thanking Him for His provision, and to be generous back to Him. Tithing makes a return again in Genesis (28:20-22) when Jacob dedicates a declared tenth of what’s his to God in an effort to say thank you for God’s care and provision. Moses and the Israelites also tithe a tenth in order to follow God’s commandments in Leviticus (27:30-34).

My point in giving you these three examples is simply this: 1) tithing is biblical and has been around since the beginning; 2) tithing is something the giants of the Bible even did, so you know it still applies to us; and 3) if you’re unsure about the concept of giving, you can and will find answers in the Bible. You have to be intentional, though, and ask God to help direct you so that you fully understand His teaching.

If you know me, you know I like to ask lots of questions, so let me ask you another one. Don’t you think God is deserving of your financial tithe? Look around, friends, at all you have because of Him. Have you ever opened up your pantry or refrigerator and just taken in all that you have? We do not have our needs met in such abundant fashion because we are awesome or because we deserve it. We have our needs met so perfectly because God is good, and He provides! (Praise break!)

Friends, giving back to God shows our loyalty to Him. It lets Him know that He’s our priority, that we worship Him, not all that we can own. It shows that our hearts are more interested in Him than our own desires. It focuses yet another area of our lives on God, which is our whole purpose for being on this planet in the first place, you know?

Remember how I mentioned above that Moses and the Israelites gave a tithe in response to a command from God? Well, there was a little more to it than just the amount. It was specified that the 10% given back to God was NOT to be a leftover 10%. It wasn’t supposed to be what they had remaining once all their other financial obligations were met. It wasn’t supposed to be just whatever they had left over after buying all the things on Amazon. The 10% tithe was to be considered holy. It was to be taken off the top, set apart for dedication back to God. A special gratitude-based, worship-filled offering that wasn’t made up of earthly leftovers. And while it’s been a minute since the days of Leviticus, this still applies to our giving today.

As always, it’s definitely worth our time to gather some words of Truth about giving/tithing from the Bible. I’d like to share a few scriptures with you, and then I promise to hop to it in wrapping this up. (Stop clapping. That’s rude.)

Proverbs, a book that’s always good for some wisdom, says this about giving in chapter 11: “Give freely and become more wealthy; be stingy and lose everything. The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed” (vs 24-25).

One of the most helpful verses, in my opinion, about God’s thoughts on giving/tithing is found in 2 Corinthians 9:7. “You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” I just love this verse because it’s so assuring. It lets us know that under no circumstances should our giving to the Lord be influenced by any outside organization or church or pressure. It’s SUCH a personal thing, and in order to meet His requirement to give with a cheerful heart, it must be something we talk to God about. Just like any other area we surrender to God, we have to go to Him with this. We have to ask Him to guide us, to show us where He wants our money to go. We have to confess–if you’re like me and aren’t always the most cheerful of givers–our stinginess. We have to ask for His help in honoring Him financially. I know what I’m about to say is a bold statement, and I recognize its potential for being offensive, but I think it’s worth saying anyway: if you only glorify yourself with your money, you are VASTLY limiting the blessings God can bring upon you and your family.

Do y’all ever read The Message translation of the Bible? It frequently cracks me up. It’s the Bible translation version of your crazy uncle who says stuff in the most off-the-wall way. The wording is sometimes downright nutty, but other times it helps clear things up so, so well. For this verse in 2 Corinthians, I think it helps gets the point across very well: “Remember: a stingy planter gets a stingy crop; a lavish planter gets a lavish crop. I want each of you to take plenty of time to think it over, and make up your own mind what you will give. That will protect you against sob stories and arm-twisting. God loves it when a giver delights in the giving.” I don’t know about you, but I sure would like to be protected from arm-twisting and sob stories. And more than anything, I want to honor the Lord with my WHOLE life, all the way down to each penny I spend. I desperately need His blessings over my life because I sure as mess can’t do this by myself. I want to use my finances to further His Kingdom, to help those He specifically tells me to help: the poor, the needy, the orphaned, the widowed, etc. I want to please Him with the things I do publicly and the things I do privately. Don’t you agree? If so, please pray with me.

Dear Lord, thank You so very much for the abundant blessings You continually bestow on my life. Thank You that Your Word makes it very clear how I’m to handle my giving or tithing. Help me, Father, not only to give back to You what is rightly Yours, but to have a cheerful heart while doing so. I want to please You, Lord. I want to honor You with every area of my life, and I know that includes my finances. Help me to begin somewhere, Lord. Even if I only give a little to start, take it, Father, and use it to further Your Kingdom. Talk to me, God, so that I learn more and more from You about how to maintain my finances with You in mind. This is such a tricky topic, Lord, but I know that if I ask for Your help with it, You will provide. Show me, God. Work on my heart and my mind with regard to giving You FIRST what’s Yours. I don’t want to treat my gratitude toward You like simple leftovers. Be honored in my life, Lord. Thank You for hearing my prayer. In Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.

 

 

Consider the Source

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shared Emotions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jesus, Not Germs

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

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

*Far too many people think they are experts.

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

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

*Some really wonderful people work at Walmart!

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

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

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

*God is fully in control.

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

*Social media is keeping me going.

*Social media is killing me.

*God is fully in control.

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

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

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

*God is fully in control.

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

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

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

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

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

*People are hilarious. These Coronavirus memes are STELLAR.

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

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

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

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

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

Seed-y Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Practical Pants

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

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

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

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

Spiritual goals must be

*reasonable/realistic for YOUR personality and schedule

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

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

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

Bible reading

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

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

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

Praying

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

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

Tithing

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

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

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

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

Seek God

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

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

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

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

With regard to 2019:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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