Worship and Wait

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From “Aw” to “Ugh”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

One Foot In Front Of The Other

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

You are a good person.

You are a good parent.

You are a good spouse.

You are a good friend.

You are a good coworker.

You are a good neighbor.

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

You are good.

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

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

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

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

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

Did God Really Say…

To start this blog post, I’m going to need a little class participation, umkay?

When I say “Girl Scout cookies,” you say “of the devil”! Got it? Let’s go!!!!

Me: “Girl Scout cookies!”

You: “Of the devil!”

Me: “Girl Scout cookies!”

You: “Of the devil!”

{clap!clap!clap!clap!clap!}

Y’all, what is it about those things? I have a sneaking suspicion that those sweet little Girl Scout pushers know their products are crack-infused and are purposefully keeping it a secret. I literally can not even like a particular type of Girls Scout cookie, but if that flavor is sitting on my counter (I’m talking to you, Tagalongs!), I will eat it anyway. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?! And you know what’s even worse? I will sometimes eat the first one, think to myself, man, that wasn’t as good as a I wanted it to be, then eat another dadgum cookie like they’ll miraculously get better with a second one! Believe it or not, in most situations, I’m an intelligent person! Ugh, so stupid.

But, friends, isn’t this exactly how temptation works? We are such smart people. We make smart decisions in our lives; we understand how cause and effect works; we fully realize when foods/people/relationships/thoughts aren’t healthy for us, but you get us around any of those, and suddenly we are partaking of said temptation like it’s suddenly become a great idea.

Luckily for us, God knew we were weak. He knew that we would give in, that we would struggle to hold strong and steady when faced with something–big or small–that we really wanted but that we shouldn’t have. Remember that whole “And lead us not into temptation” part that Jesus taught His disciples to pray? Yeah, there was a reason for that. He knew that for His children temptation was going to be a big issue.  In fact, just like 99.9% of everything else we’ve discussed on here, God made sure to give us guidance and insight into temptation and how we’re expected to handle it within His Word.

There are a couple of scriptures I’d like us to examine, so let’s first start with James 1:13-14: “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” If God is not the source of our temptation, then who is? We are! Y’all, James is so good about coming right out with it, telling us the truth about our actions without sugar-coating it for our tender egos. In these verses, I imagine him pointing his finger in my face and telling me to stop tempting myself; stop putting myself in situations where I’m likely to face temptation and then blaming God for the temptation I face. It. Is. Not. His. Doing. Thank you, James, duly noted.

Fortunately, like all earthly roads, we aren’t expected to travel this one alone. Paul encourages us in 1 Corinthians 10:13 with these words on temptation: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” This verse is a little denser than the one previous, so let’s take a minute to unpack it.

First, Paul wants us to rest in the fact that regardless of the temptation we are facing–no matter how many, no matter how serious–we aren’t alone. There exists not a single temptation that hasn’t already tried its hand on someone else.

Second, GOD. IS. FAITHFUL. (I say “God!” You say” Faithful!” HAHA! Kidding! We did that already.) In all seriousness, though, God isn’t going to suddenly decide you don’t need Him. He created us to need Him. He desperately wants us to recognize our need for Him. If you reach out to Him in the midst of temptation, He literally cannot be unfaithful to you. It’s not possible.  Being the God of abundance, He’s going to go even one step further. Not only will He make absolutely certain that you don’t topple over into this temptation, but He promises to provide for you a way out. I love how His saving of us is described here: “He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” Friends, we will not be crushed by our temptations. We will not be defeated IF we make sure God’s facing off against it with us.

In the face of temptation, you and I have essentially two options: choose the temptation or choose to walk away. Let’s state this another way, though, that really drives home the fact that our choice in the midst of temptation is truly about whether or not we opt to let God be God. In the face of temptation, we have two choices: Trust (believe God and His promises for deliverance) OR Doubt (believe Satan and his lies that God can’t save us from whatever pulls so strongly on us).

As our verses from James told us, temptation isn’t from God. It’s from us, from our own inherently evil desires. And guess who ALWAYS has his nasty little serpent hiss right in our ears when our ungodly temptations get amplified. This isn’t new. In fact, this is the very oldest strategy of the enemy’s. You don’t even have to turn many pages in the Bible before you see Satan first whispering lies into the ear of Eve as she faces the first ever temptation. In Genesis 3:1, we are warned that “the serpent was more subtle and crafty than any living creature of the field which the Lord God had made,” and we see his plan for creating doubt begin with four simple yet life-altering words: “Did God really say…” How often I’ve fallen for this strategy. How often I’ve thought I was a believer only to realize, when the going got tough, that maybe I believed in God but didn’t believe God would do what He said He would. That’s exactly how Satan likes it. He knows that if he can plant that doubt in our minds, our temptation will sound out louder than the still quiet voice of our Father who offers so selflessly to help us through the fire.

My dears, let me share with you a list: doubt, confusion, anger, immaturity, resentment, lust, greed, unforgiveness, gluttony, depression, isolation, loneliness. Do any of these encompass what you’re feeling/facing today? Here’s a little secret…not a single one of these is from or of God. Not. One. However, every single last one–plus a whole bunch of other, equally awful ones–is straight from Satan himself. Aren’t you tired? Aren’t you fed up with deciding to stand strong against a temptation, caving, feeling awful about yourself, struggling with your shame, deciding unequivocally never to find yourself in that spot again…only to end up right back there time and time again? I am. I want to stop this cycle and tell Satan once and for all that YES, God really DID say that!

So how? When staring temptation in its dangerous eye, how do we ensure success over failure?

1. KNOW GOD–I mean, personally. Daily. Know Him well enough that your first knee-jerk reaction in the face of trouble (of any sort!) is prayer. Know Him intimately so that you can shut that devil up the second he comes at you with that “Did God really say…” nonsense.

2. KNOW THE WORD–Know what the Bible says about God because that’s the only way you’ll learn what His character and His heart are all about. Know what precious, faithful promises God includes in the Bible. Declare those at your temptation! Talk back to it and that jerk of a serpent! Let them both know that God won’t let you fail. You will NOT be sucked in this time. Stand on any and every promise that points you straight past failure and on to success.

3. KNOW YOURSELF–Know when you are most tempt-able. Is it mid-day when you’re home alone? Is it late at night when everyone else is in bed? Is it while you’re out running errands? Know your areas of weakness, be they physical, sexual, spiritual, mental, or a combination. Friends, it is imperative that you know yourself, because let me tell you this, you can bet Satan knows you. “Satan is the counterfeit god of perfect timing.” I recently ran across this statement by my other BFF Beth Moore, and I could not get that quote written down fast enough. Such truth. And we are absolute fools if we think otherwise. Know yourself and do something with that knowledge to protect yourself.

One last thing before I close us out with a prayer. And wouldn’t you know it, it’s another little dose of fabulous word selection and point-making from Mrs. Beth. “No weaker house exists than one that lacks authority. Lack of authority is a breeding ground for untold recklessness and sin.” Yes, this quote was written about our literal houses, but isn’t this also very true for our bodies? Friends, we have to let God have authority over our bodies and our minds, our hearts and our desires. We have to let His Word be law in our lives so that temptation and its pusher know their place. “And the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Romans 16:20). Know it. Declare it.

Dear Lord, thank You so much that when I am faced with a temptation of any sort, I am not alone. Thank You that You have promised to walk with me past that evil desire and to provide for me a way out. Help me, Father, to learn all I can about You, to develop such a closeness with You that Satan and his lies have no power over me. Help me to know Your Word so assuredly that I can declare it (out loud!) against the evil strategies of the enemy. Thank You, Lord, that You have already ensure my success if I simply hand my life over to You. I love You, and I am so thankful that You hear my prayer. It’s in Jesus’s name that I offer it. Amen.

Plant Killer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Pride                       *Unforgiveness             *Hate/Prejudice/Racism

*Anger                      *Judgment                     *Worry/Fear

*Bitterness               *Selfishness                   *Doubt

*Worldliness           *Addiction (of all kinds)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Don’t Be Fooled By The Stink

I feel like I have started off multiple blog posts by saying something like, “let’s try a little experiment,” and yet, here I am doing it again. (I am obviously incredibly spontaneous and creative.) Over the last few weeks, I have been mentally wrestling with the Bible story I’ve felt God leading me to address and the specific points within it that I hoped to make. I had too much I felt I needed to discuss; a good problem to have, but with a story that spans more than 45 verses, it was clear I had to figure out a more reader-friendly approach. CALM DOWN. I came up with a solution. I mean, who has time to read 45 Bible verses when all those unseen Facebook posts await, am I right?! (insert good-natured eye-roll emoji here)

In this post, I’d love for us to spend some time going over the story of Jesus resurrecting his good friend Lazarus, which can be found in John 11. So in order for us to dig deeper into the goodness of these scriptures, we’ll consider today a “Part 1” if you will, with “Part 2” to follow soon. Sound okay? As I told you…I’m super creative.

At the risk of repeating a story many of you already know, let me take a quick second and summarize our main characters and the situation taking place as we enter the 11th chapter of John.

We are back with our friends Mary (of feet-washing-with-her-hair fame) and Martha (of griping-about-her-sister-not-helping-in-the-kitchen fame), and they are urgently reaching out to their dear friend Jesus, asking for his healing help for their dying brother Lazarus. Because Lazarus is literally on his deathbed and because Jesus is the Messiah and because they are all three very dear to Jesus’s heart, they contact him for his help, fully expecting his immediate arrival and subsequent answering of prayer.

Verse four tells us, “When Jesus received the message, He said, ‘This sickness is not to end in death; but [on the contrary] it is to honor God and to promote His glory, that the Son of God may be glorified through (by) it.'” (Side note: Have a seriously sick friend? Are you dealing with a scary, challenging illness? This is a FABULOUS scripture to pray over it!) Now to me, this sounds exactly what I would expect Jesus to say. I mean, after all, his dear friends have reached out to him, asking for his healing, which he can easily give, and it’s all in an effort to save someone very special to him. I read a reply like that and think yep, Jesus has got this. But wait! In verse 6, it clearly says that although Jesus was aware this was a dire situation, he still remained TWO DAYS longer in the place where he was. Do what?! WHY???? Maybe Jesus knows something we don’t? (Um, yes, always true.) Maybe ole Laz isn’t quite as sick as his over-reactive sisters made it seem? Sadly, no. In fact, it was serious. It was VERY serious. “So then Jesus told them [the disciples] plainly, Lazarus is dead” (vs. 14).

Unfortunately, I know exactly how Mary and Martha must feel. They had been faithfully praying and praying for God to hear them, for Jesus to show up and heal, to prevent the death that was getting more and more eminent. And yet nothing. No arrival of Jesus. No healing of Lazarus. Only death, with its dark cloak and sharp scythe appeared at the door of their dusty home.

I’m guessing I’m not the only one who knows what this feels like…to watch things within our lives that once were so full of life, so healthy, wither and practically die. Let me tenderly ask you today, because man does this subject often hurt, what in your life has that look of death, that feeling of hopelessness? Let me guess…

*your health?                *your marriage?               *your ambition?

*your career?                *a particular relationship or friendship?

*your self-worth?         *your will power/self-control?

*your relationship with God?               *God’s favor over you/your life?

*your future?                *a particular dream you’d held onto for years?

*your will to live?

Friends, Lazarus was IN THE GRAVE dead when Jesus finally arrived. In fact, he was so very dead (four days dead…with ZERO embalming fluid, might I add) that when Jesus approached Lazarus’s grave, which was basically a cave with boulder against the entrance, and demanded that the stone be rolled aside, the Bible says “Martha…exclaimed But Lord, by this time he [is decaying and] throws off an offensive odor…” (vs. 39). In all her grief and upset, Martha is so aware of the finality of her brother’s condition that she warns Jesus: What are you thinking, Lord? He’s gonna stink so bad! Amen, girl! This sounds like some common sense I can get behind.

What is your marriage, your career, your self-worth smelling like these days? Are you convinced that Jesus didn’t get there in time to save whatever it is you’ve been begging him to heal for so long? Mary and Martha felt just as you do, as I have. You’re too late, Jesus. I cried out to you, and you delayed getting here and now look! I’m too sick. The love between my husband and I is too far gone. My current circumstances have completely killed my dreams and plans. You’re too late, Jesus. It’s dead.

Y’all there is NEVER an absence of hope, of possibility, when it’s Jesus who’s in charge. You and I? We are Mary and Martha. We can pray all day and beg and plead, but ultimately, we have no power within ourselves. We can’t heal, and for those circumstances having already crossed over into the grave, we certainly have no ability to resurrect. But let me hook you up with someone who does. When you and I allow Jesus to handle our dying parts in His way, with His power, He fixes things that we swore could NEVER be fixed.

“Jesus said to her, I am [Myself] the Resurrection and the Life…” (vs 25). What in your life desperately needs The Resurrection HIMSELF? You see, for us, things look dead. For us, things even smell dead. But for Jesus, death is no big deal. He’s already overcome it. How can Jesus, who mastered death and for whom death holds no power, be limited by it? He. Isn’t. He. Cannot. Be. Don’t stop praying and expecting! Don’t stop taking to Him your marriage or your career or your zest for life simply because in your human weakness you have decided it’s past the point of help. Lazarus was dead for four solid days. He was buried and starting to literally stink. His skin would have been beginning to decay. But then Jesus arrived. Mighty, mighty Jesus. And he simply spoke, “He shouted with a loud voice, Lazarus, come out!” and out walked Lazarus (vs 43-44). Whatever you think is dead and buried, friends, it is not. There is nothing too far gone for The Resurrection Himself to breathe life back into.

And for those of you going through something like this, I’m sure you’re feeling hurt and frustrated and confused about why God is even allowing something like this to happen to you, to your family, to your body in the first place. Mary and Martha certainly were. When my marriage was all but dead despite our praying and our counseling and our trying (see previous post), I felt so abandoned. I felt like God had turned His head and His ear; I felt like, instead of coming to help in response to my urgent requests, He was staying those extra couple of days where He was, just letting death win. But He wasn’t. He just wasn’t on my schedule, and Satan used that to whisper doubt into my heart and my head. The same was true for Mary and Martha, and the same is true for you.

You probably feel like screaming WHY WOULD HE LET THIS HAPPEN?!, and I get it. I’ve been there. Chances are, I’ll be there again someday. But God knew we’d feel this way. In fact, if you read this Bible story carefully, He even explains Himself to us.

If you look back at verse 15, before Jesus ever leaves to go to Mary and Martha’s, after telling his disciples that Lazarus is already dead, he says to them (and he says to us, too), “And for your sake I am glad that I was not there; it will help you to believe (to trust and rely on Me).” My friends, God is most interested in our relationship with Him. If when we have a problem, we pray, He snaps His fingers and all is set right, we don’t develop much character and we don’t develop a very deep relationship with Him, do we? It would make us happier and it would make our lives easier, or so we think. But you know what? Sometimes God isn’t interested in only affecting you and your family through your challenges.

The Bible tells us that others’ lives were changed when they witnessed Lazarus’s miracle. Mary was changed, no doubt. Martha was changed, for sure. And there’s zero debate that Lazarus was completely changed. But a number of other lives were affected for God as well. “Upon seeing what Jesus had done, many of the Jews who had come with Mary believed in Him” (vs 45). Whether you realize it or not, people are watching you. They’re watching your decisions and your life and your faith. Because you are Jesus’s friend, because you are a joint-heir to the throne of God with Jesus Christ Himself, you are a testimony to His power and His love. Yes, Lazarus was dead. Yes, it appeared Jesus was too late. But God is never late. He’s never without the ability, and He’s always able to use any situation, any circumstance, no matter how stinky it might be, for His glorification. Will you let Him use you? Will you stop declaring a time of death and prepping for a funeral and instead let Him breathe the breath of life back into your life? Keep your faith, friends. Don’t be fooled by the stink.

Dear Lord, thank you so much that I can ALWAYS count on You, that I never have to believe that it’s too late for Your power to work. Father, I bring to You today those parts of my life that I’ve mistakenly declared dead. I ask that You do what only You have the power to do: resurrect them, please. Help me to keep my faith, to trust that You’re at work even when it’s impossible to detect. Use me, Lord, use my life and my situations so that others may witness You and Your goodness and grace. Father, help me to remain patient, to stand firm when challenges and trials don’t get resolved as I’d like. Heal my dead parts, Lord. May all I go through in my life ultimately bring You glory and honor. I love you, God. Thank you for hearing my prayer. It’s in Jesus’s mighty name that it’s offered. Amen. 

 

Help.

Okay, everybody, who’s ready for an experiment?? {pretends all the hands are raised}

Keeping with my promise to always be upfront and honest, I’d like to say I have no idea how this blog post is going to go over. I’ve never done one like this before, but the concept it (hopefully) discusses is so very valid and useful; therefore, we’re going to just go forward with this, trusting God to help me clearly communicate and you to clearly understand. Off we go!

In the past couple of weeks, two of my dear friends have been dealing with very different but equally overwhelming struggles within their families. Talking with and praying for these friends has me thinking about those times in life when we are so entrenched in struggle, so eyebrows-deep in worry and darkness that we don’t even know what words to form to bring our requests to God. While talking it all over with one of those friends I mentioned, she expressed even feeling scared to pray because of the fear that with an already bad situation, things were going to get worse before they got better. And she wasn’t sure she could handle that.

We have ALL been there. Not one of us has escaped those treacherous times in our walk with God where we feel so overwhelmed and He seems so far away that we don’t even know the way back to closeness. When we feel so alone and so separated from God’s intervention and guidance that we’re not sure He’d hear us even if we did find the words somehow. And you know what I’ve noticed, too? Often times it doesn’t have to be dire circumstances that make us feel that way. Sure, it’s a lot harder to stand boldly before the throne of God when your back is so very heavily weighted down with the crosses you’re bearing, but it’s also complicated and challenging to face God in prayer when we’re at a crossroads… when we’re so struggling to detect God and His lordship that we don’t know what to do or where to go or even exactly what to pray for.

But there’s good news! Romans 8:26 brings us, during times like these, encouragement and hope. When you’re too upset, hurting too much, or your head is too full of noise to be able to focus enough to pray, you have help. “And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.” Take a deep breath, my friends, because the Holy Spirit is speaking to God on your behalf, and He knows EXACTLY what to say!! Please tell me you’re listening to this major benefit that accompanies the gift of the Holy Spirit, given to us upon Jesus’s ascension into heaven. YOU DON’T HAVE TO KNOW THE WORDS! People, you could literally bow your head in reverence and whisper “Help.” You could simply say, “Jesus.” Or if you really want to get crazy and choose a lengthy prayer you could put those two together: “Help, Jesus.” Simplicity is okay. Admissions of feeling unsure of what to say is okay. Just do whatever you can, no matter how much, and let the Holy Spirit do what He does best: intercede on your behalf.


Another thing that is so valuable and useful in developing knowledge of the scriptures and strengthening your prayer life (especially during these darker days) is to pray scripture. Using the already-formed words of the biblical greats when you can’t find your own words is incredibly effective. Often times, I will pray scripture, not because I’m upset or worried or bothered, but simply because, while reading my Bible, I come across a particular section that really speaks to my soul. In an effort to internalize that Truth and use it to bring myself closer to God, I will use that scripture as my own prayer, borrowing those sacred words as my own.

So, here we are at the experimental part I mentioned before. I want to simply show you how I pray scripture and what I mean by that term. All those years growing up in church, Sunday school, and youth group, I never once heard about the concept of praying scripture. It wasn’t until I did the Bible study by Beth Moore called Living Free: Learning to Pray God’s Word that I began to understand exactly how scripture-praying worked and how useful it is for my own spiritual growth. So for our purposes (our experiment), the scripture that pressed upon my heart and which I am going to pray is Psalm 34. Because I am not going to use that chapter in a word-for-word way, I highly recommend that either before or after you read my written scripture prayer (or both?!), you take the time to read Psalm 34. It’s not very long, but, especially for those of you going through challenging circumstances, it’s so very worth it. Your soul will feel rehydrated, your hope restored. Reading the scripture in conjunction with my prayer is really the only way to fully understand. These aren’t really my words; they are, but they’re not. These are David’s words, personalized for me. Trust me, I think if you just take the time to read Psalm 34 AND the prayer below, you’ll get what I mean. So, with no further ado, please share my prayer with me…

Dear Lord, I will praise you at all times, constantly throughout all circumstances, and I will boast only in YOU, not in myself. Father, I will exalt your name so that whether it is I who feels helpless or someone else, I will effectively correct those unreliable feelings with talks of your greatness and might.

Thank you, Father, that when I pray to you, you answer me. Every time. Even when that answer is different than what I want or understand.

Thank you, Father, for freeing me from my fears, for taking my shame and replacing it with your perfect joy, unreliant on situation or mood.

Thank you, Father, that when I am troubled and desperate, I can pray to you, you will listen, and you will save me from my troubles.

Thank you, also, Lord, for the angels you send to guard and protect me, for their surrounding comfort and defense.

I desire to taste and see that you are truly good, Lord, to be joyful in my refuge in you. Thank you that as long as I respect you and uphold my relationship with you, I will FOREVER have all I need, lacking in no good or beneficial thing. Thank you for this promise, Lord!

I desire, Father, to have a long and prosperous life, and I pray for your help in keeping my tongue in check, from speaking evil and/or telling lies (of all sizes). Father, aid me in turning from evil and help me settle solidly in doing good.

I praise you, God, for your peace! I cry out to you with a sincere desire for your perfect peace in all areas of my life, as well as in my heart, mind, body and soul. God, I recognize that peace requires constant, intentional effort, so please help me to desire it, to search for it, and to work to maintain it–especially when my human, knee-jerk reaction is far from peaceful/peace-keeping.

Thank you, Lord, for keeping your eyes on your children–on me!–and for keeping your ears attuned to my cries for you.

Thank you that when I am broken-hearted and crushed in spirit, you are always right near me. Always.

Father, please continue to rescue me from my troubles…every. single. time. Thank you for your refuge, your freely-given salvation, your redemption, and your constant love and protection.

I love you, Father, and I thank you for the scriptures which help me draw nearer to you. It’s in the matchless name of Your Son Jesus that I pray. Amen.