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! ūüôā 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.

 

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.

Thrive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opposite Day

Who has two thumbs and actually managed to sit down and type a blog post? THIS GAL! I have had every intention of writing this for literal weeks now, but boy, does life interrupt my plans sometimes. I felt 110% confident I was going to get this written yesterday, but then I attempted to put some playroom furniture together and promptly lost my entire religion. Fear not–my attitude is better today and I no longer feel as though I might self-combust. Progress!!

Do y’all remember in school when kids would say and do things that were in complete contradiction with truth, only to declare “it’s opposite day!” and we’d all just act like that was real thing? For example, someone would say “I hate recess!” and after receiving dirty looks from his peers, he’d declare “It’s opposite day!” and we’d all laugh and laugh. Well as it turns out, opposite day kinda does exist after all. You see, God Himself operates on a very “opposite-day” system. Here, let me explain.

A few weeks ago, I was perusing Twitter and all its fussy discord (why do I do this to myself?!), and I ran across a post from a semi well-known evangelical figure’s feed. Her post really elevated my blood pressure; let me share it with you:

Today’s spiritual self-care looked like skipping church to drink an overpriced pour at a hip, L.A. cafe and stare existentially at the rain outside while attempting to finish a big project I’m working on (that I can’t wait to tell you about!)

Um, I’m sorry, what? Uh, come again? You’re telling me that you felt spiritually exhausted and overwhelmed, so much so that your soul was FED by being away from the house of Jesus? That your soul was healed to some degree by expensive coffee and working? I’m sorry but, like all the cool kids say, I just cannot with this. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! Silly me, here I thought my Bible said things like 28¬†‚ÄúCome to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29¬†Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30¬†For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.‚ÄĚ (Matt. 11:28-30)

This tweet was just one in a long line I’ve noticed lately that push, push, push this agenda of “self-care,” of making sure I/ME is well taken care of. While making sure you’re not neglecting yourself is a valuable use of your time, it’s certainly not what our Bible tells us should be our focus. I began thinking about how socially we’re encouraged to think “Me! Me! Me!” and “First! First! First!” while never considering what God says about where we should place our focus.

So, I took a deeper look at God’s economy and compared it with what we, as a society, believe is important, and –spoiler alert!–things don’t line up. I would love to input a chart here so that this next part could be graphically displayed, but because my computer screen and your phone screen aren’t the same size, that just doesn’t work out. Instead, I’ll list these, one on top of the other and just apologize in advance for the lack of neatness in this presentation of information.

In the following groupings, the mentalities/concepts that we as human beings value are listed first, with the Biblically-supported, God-ordained mentalities/concepts listed immediately after. Left side: what we value and promote. Right side: what God values and promotes.

(Us) Strength/ (God) Weakness in our humanity (Is. 40:31, 2 Cor. 12: 9-10)

(Us) Being first/ (God) Being last (Matt. 20:16)

Pride/  Humility (1 Peter 5:5)

Being served/  Serving others (Mark 10:43-45)

Being rich/ Being poor in the things of this world (2 Cor. 8:9, Rev. 3:17)

Focus on the outer (appearance)/ Focus on the inner character (1 Sam. 16:7)

Busyness/ Stillness (Psalm 46:10, Exodus 14:14)

Self/ Others (Luke 9:23)

Give up…quit….move on/ Persist (Gal. 6:9, Col. 1:11-12)

Indifference/ Compassion (Col. 3:12)

Instant gratification/ Slow, deep, sincere progress (1 Sam. 13:8-14, Rom. 12:12)

Y’all, God declared “Opposite day!” on us a long, long time ago, and for some reason, we just move right on pretending like self-care and personal-progress and monetary success and “not my problem” attitudes are desirable. But today I want you to ask yourself what I’ve been asking myself lately as well: what about God’s economy? Am I living my life in a way that promotes God or promotes me? Am I intentionally finding ways to serve others, to put myself second, to do what I don’t want to do so that I can show God’s love to someone else, or am I buying what the Twitter-verse voices are saying and focusing on serving me, myself, and I?

There are so many, many things to say about each of these pairings. Some of these concepts I’ve discussed in previous posts; some I feel led to save so that I might focus more in depth on them in future posts. Overall, for our purposes today, I feel it best to remove myself and my words, allowing God to simply press upon you the one (or ones, plural, if you’re like me!) you can spend some time talking to Him about later. Therefore, instead of focusing on these individually, let’s consider them as a group. Let’s focus on what they, as a whole, show us about behaving more like Jesus.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: I assume if you’re reading a scripture-based blog, you’re likely interested in becoming as much like Jesus as possible. If that’s the case and you are, the God-breathed fundamentals from the Bible that are listed above, along with a few additional verses can help us learn more about the character of Jesus so as to switch off the self-serving sermons. There is no one who exemplifies “Not me but You, God” more than Jesus.

Let’s explore these teachings as they appear in order of the books of the New Testament, starting with Mark.

**Mark 10: 43-45 But among you, it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever want to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give His life as a ransom for many.

**Luke 9: 46-48 For he who is least and lowliest among you all, he is [the one who is truly] great.

**Luke 22:27 For who is greater, the one at the table or the one serving?…But I am among you as the one who serves.

**1 Corinthians 1: 27-28 God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And He chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important.

**Philippians 2: 5-8 (MSG version)¬†Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn‚Äôt think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn‚Äôt claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death‚ÄĒand the worst kind of death at that‚ÄĒa crucifixion.

Let’s recap, shall we? According to these scriptures, which are obviously just a mere sampling of those that show our subservient, humble, selfless Jesus, God is most certainly in the “opposite day” business. God’s economy doesn’t operate like our self-centered one. We can’t gain one bit of joy or peace by catering to our own fleshly desires and excuses. The value of our own personal convenience seems to be completely missing from scripture. Friends, quite frankly, as Jesus showed us again and again and again, our time on this Earth just truly is not about us.

God is our portion. Jesus is our peace. Prayer is our true self-care, and a relationship with the God of the universe is our reward. Don’t buy into this internet mumbo-jumbo (and yes, that’s the technical term). Sure, you can get your toenails painted instead of cleaning your house; you can drink your wine with your friends instead of attending that “triggering” family gathering; you can even spend your down time reading self-help books in an overpriced coffee shop. And you know what, that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, if you’re looking for long-term renewal of your spirit or peace that surpasses the logical, you won’t find it there.

Friends, we were meant to be like Jesus. Not once have I run across a scripture where it says that when Jesus was tired and overwhelmed with the multitudes CONSTANTLY needing something from Him, He shut it all down so that He could do a little self-care. Instead, He said repeatedly to God, not My will but Yours. All I do for Your Kingdom. As a Christian, I so desperately want to get better at this. I want to set my goals on heavenly concepts; I want to learn to die to self daily, hourly, even by the minute if that’s what it takes. I want to serve others first and myself last. I want to learn to care for others in the name of Jesus and with the love He’s given me, relying on HIM to take care of me, to restore my soul. I want to be less worried about myself and more worried about what I’m doing on a daily basis to show Jesus to others, to serve others in His name. I want to say, Here I am Lord, send me, without worrying if it’ll be convenient. I just want to be able to live in a way that makes it obvious He who lives within me is FAR GREATER than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).

Dear Lord, I thank You so very much for the guidance provided in Your Word. I want to live my life, God, according to Your economy, not the world’s. I want to focus on what You say is important, on what You describe as being worth my effort. Lord, this world is confusing. Everywhere I turn there is new and different advice about how to be happy or at peace or more content or more joyful. I recognize, though, Father, that without You, none of those things is even possible. I fully understand that all peace, all joy, all relaxation, all contentment come from You, and I fully understand that unless I live my life more in line with how Jesus lived His, I cannot achieve anything for You. I want to be useful to You, Lord. I want You to use me to share Jesus with others, so I ask sincerely and earnestly, Father, that You help me recognize when I’m serving self so that I might immediately switch it off and serve others instead. Work with me, please, Lord, so that I can become still, compassionate, persistent, and more interested in making progress for You than instantly gratifying some human need I’ve conjured up. I love You, Lord, and I am so grateful that I don’t have to stay as I am. Rescue me from myself, Lord. In Jesus’s mighty and holy name I pray. Amen.

 

Whatever He Says

So is May just struggle-bus month or what? I’m not even in the classroom anymore, but May showed up and now I’m struggle-bus riding (driving, perhaps?) all the same. Here’s the deal: this blog is messing me up! Two years of blog posting, and suddenly I’m all up in my head about it. I have a notebook full of topic ideas, and relatively often, I’m still able to come up with new ones. However, when it comes to putting pen to paper–er, fingertips to keyboard–I get all convoluted in my noggin. My biggest problem is that I am so concerned with not repeating myself. But because it’s been long enough, I’ve written way too many posts for this old broken-down, mom-brain to remember what I have and have not said. So, struggle-bus. Then, just when I thought I was feeling better about it all, I read a well-meaning devotional about how important it is for any message you share to be God-breathed because if you share a message that’s not, you can ruin everyone forever. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t quite so severe, but you get my point: it did NOT help.

You’ve probably already noted what it seemed to take me a long time to understand: I’m focusing on myself, on my own abilities and power, not God’s. I’m not taking into consideration that God can make any message fruitful; He can breathe fresh new life into my words, even if I do repeat myself. With that truth in mind, let me step out from behind the struggle-bus steering wheel and turn your attention to the lessons and promises of God, brought to us today by Mary. Given the recent celebration of Mother’s Day, I thought learning a valuable lesson from the mom of our almighty Savior was a useful way to acknowledge motherhood.

Many of you likely know the story of Jesus’s first miracle, when, while attending a wedding, He turned water into wine after the bride’s parents miscalculated their party supplies. Maybe it’s a story with which you’re very familiar (maybe I’ve even written about it before. Who knows? Not I, said the brain-dead blogger). But even if Jesus’s actions are well-known to you, there’s much to be taken away from Mary’s words and actions in John 2:3-5.

Upon hearing that a near-catastrophic event was at hand (The hosts had prematurely run out of wine, and for some of you, this is a terrifying thought.), Mary knew exactly where to turn for help: Jesus. At this time, Jesus had performed zero miracles, and He even seems–dare I say–hesitant, telling His mom it’s not yet time. Does she listen to Him? Of course not. Like all good mothers, Mary recognizes that although Jesus is holy and a set-apart creation, He is still her son, she’s still His mom, and she’s asked Him to help. Guess what…Mary wins! Moms: 1; kids: 0.

Mary provides an additional example of excellent mothering. After taking her problem to Jesus, drawing His attention to the issue and asking for His help, Mary doesn’t hover and prod and provide possible solutions for Him to consider. Instead, she walks away, confident that He’ll figure it out and handle it. In fact, she’s so secure in her son’s ability, she goes to the servants and directs them, “Whatever He says, do it” (vs. 5). And there you have it folks, one of the greatest pieces of advice to be found in God’s Word. A life-altering piece of advice that you and I would be wise to take to heart and return to over and over and over again.

Whatever He says, do it. Sure, that sounds simple enough, but is it? Let me gently and kindly and without judgement ask you this question: If you’re not in a close relationship with Jesus (not talking to Him and not listening to Him) and you’re not spending time in the Word, how can you know what Jesus is telling you to do? How can you be obedient?

Within a personal relationship with Jesus, sometimes the instructions we receive are personal; they’re answers to prayers for guidance and direction regarding our own unique set of circumstances. As important as it is to hear God and do whatever He tells us to do in those moments (and we’ll come back to this), we also possess many direct instructions from the Creator of the Universe Himself throughout the Bible. It’s these expectations of true Christians I’d like to discuss first. And like all good little Type A’s, I now present you with a numbered list (woot! woot!) of the things we are called to do in obedience.

1. Repent–true, honest, never-intentionally-turning-back-to-that-behavior-again repentance (Matthew 4:17)

2. Follow Jesus (Matthew 4:19)

3. Be joyful/rejoice because of what God’s done for you–be the kind of person who’s so full of Jesus that others desire to be in your presence and to know Jesus for themselves (Psalm 126:3)

4. Glorify Jesus with your life–see number 3 above (Matthew 5:16)

5. Keep your mind like Jesus’s mind–think on the things He thinks on (Philippians 4:8)

6. Forgive EVERYONE always–no exceptions, no exclusions (Matthew 18:22)

7. Love EVERYONE always–no exceptions, no exclusions (Matthew 22:39-40)

8. Seek God, His will and His voice, above all else (Matthew 6:33)

9. Judge NO ONE ever–no exceptions, no exclusions (Matthew 7:1-3)

10. Do not fear (or worry)–this instruction is listed 365 times in the Bible, one for each day of the year. As a favor to you, I will not list them all here (you’re welcome) but if this is your area of struggle, please Google a few

11. Serve God and others (in that order) above self–Don’t neglect your own needs, but your own convenience and appeasement shouldn’t be a top-of-the-list concern. (Matthew 20:26-28)

12. Pray–Duh. (1 John 5:14; James 4:2)

13. Share the gospel! Share the message of Jesus with others and bring the unsaved into salvation–When was the last time you directly talked about Jesus with someone? What about the last time you did so with someone you knew wasn’t a Christian? As scary as it is, we will one day be held very accountable for those times we could have spoken up and shared Jesus but gave in to pressure and fear. (Matthew 28:19-20)

14. Tithe–Because every good and perfect gift is from above, and it’s our job to glorify God with EVERY part of our lives (Psalm 3:9)

Obviously it’s impossible and unfair to summarize what being in relationship with Jesus means by concocting a list of actions to complete, but as James 2 states, if we declare to be believers but our actions don’t support that, our faith doesn’t count. And God doesn’t want us to stop with just these “typical Christian behaviors;” He’s interested in our full obedience.

So back to that aforementioned comment about doing whatever Jesus says to do with regard to our own unique situations. What’s God been pressing upon you to do, my friend? Help a neighbor? Talk sincerely with your spouse about that issue you’ve both been avoiding for far too long? Or what about one of these: seeing a therapist, returning your grocery cart instead of leaving it for someone else to worry about, engaging someone in conversation, letting someone go in front of you in traffic or a checkout line, getting your spending under control, slowing down your life/schedule, taking that new opportunity, staying where you are and learning to fix yourself/your own attitude, eliminating the “victim” mentality you tend to readily adopt, making Jesus more of a priority, putting your phone down…and the list goes on and on. Y’all, there is not much in life that’s super easy. But we’re not here to do it all on our own. Let me give you a little advice that I once got from a pretty smart, godly lady: Whatever Jesus says, do it.

Dear Lord, thank You so very much for the life of Mary and all that I can learn from her. Help me to be like her when difficult, even seemingly impossible circumstances present themselves. Help me to turn to Jesus, to ask for His help, and to walk away from that encounter confident in His ability to provide and care for me. Father God, I ask for Your help with my obedience. I want to stop trying to figure it all out on my own, but more importantly I want to get my direction from You and to be immediately obedient instead of creating justifications and/or excuses for why I can’t possibly do what You’re asking. I love you, Lord, and I pray that I become more and more like Jesus so that my life, too, can glorify You in every way. May my own personal convenience be the last thing I worry about so that I might better care for those around me. It’s in Jesus’s name that I pray. Amen.¬†

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.

Getting Our “Buts” In Shape

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

{steps down from soap box}

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

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

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

Commander of the Syrian army.

A great man.

Accepted and acceptable.

Victorious.

A mighty man of valor.

BUT…

A leper.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proverbs 3:5-7 encourages Christ-followers to “Lean on, trust in, and be confident in the Lord with all your heart and mind and do not rely on your own insight or understanding. In all your ways know, recognize, and acknowledge Him, and He will direct and make straight and plain your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes.” This right here. This attitude and mindset is my goal for 2019. Not only believing IN God, but simply believing God. Believing He will do what His Word says He will. Swapping my pride and selfish expectation for God’s Will. Reducing self and enlarging God. Together, let’s make 2019 the year of getting our ‘buts’ in shape and getting pride out of our lives so that God can both use us AND heal us.

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

The Weary World Rejoices

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

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

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

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

Long lay the world in sin and error pining

Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

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

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

3. impatient or dissatisfied with something

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

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

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

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

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

Life our way ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†¬† ¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† Life Jesus’s way¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†

*Heavy                                                          *Restful/gentle

*Tiring                                                           *Easy/light

*Burdensome                                              *Refreshing

*Hard/difficult                                             *Relieves us

*Harsh                                                           *Full/abundant

*Sharp                                                           *Blessed quiet (internal peace)

*Pressing                                                      *Good/wholesome

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s promises/verses of encouragement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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