My Buddy Bart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Share your outcomes!

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

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

~~~~~~~~~

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

3. Don’t forget to praise God!

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

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

LAST ONE! Hang in there!

4. Be real and get real

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

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

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

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

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

How To Be Miserable

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

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

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

HOW TO BE MISERABLE (By Joyce Meyer)

*Think about yourself constantly.

*Use “I” as often as possible.

*Mirror yourself continually by the opinion of other people.

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

*Expect to be appreciated by everyone.

*Be suspicious.

*Be jealous and envious.

*Be sensitive and easily offended.

*Never forgive criticism.

*Trust nobody but yourself.

*Insist on respect and consideration at all times.

*Demand agreement with your own views on everything.

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

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

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

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

 

Don’t Be Fooled By The Stink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*your career?                *a particular relationship or friendship?

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

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

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

*your will to live?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

You Do You

Disclaimer: actual scripture-focused post coming very soon!

Each Wednesday morning during the summer months, our local library hosts an arts and crafts activity for young kids. My tiny buddy and I love these and have gone to them all. Last week, as we stood lined up in the hallway, awaiting the opening of the meeting-room door, I overhead two moms talking. Both ladies were mothers to 3-4 kids each, of varying ages, and both were wholesome-looking moms with natural faces and adorably messy mom-hair. They were discussing the quintessential “stay-at-home mom” topics: essential oils and diets free of unprocessed foods, gluten and sugar (by choice, not necessity). One of these moms not only managed to feed her children and presumably keep them happy while running a sugar-free establishment, but she even disallows sugar substitutes (i.e. Splenda, Stevia, etc.). Despite it being abundantly clear that this mom was a witch (maybe both moms?), I began playing that deadly game of comparison. Y’all, my kid eats a popsicle and a cookie EVERY DAY OF HER LIFE. She’s never met a Lucky Charm marshmallow she didn’t annihilate, and I can only pray she loves her future husband to the extent that she loves as a French fry. Compared to these moms (of more than one kid!), man, I was falling far behind the curve.

So, time came for us to go into the craft room and put together our mosaic. While waiting for my child to stop people-watching long enough to actually complete our task (she get it from her momma!), I happened to glance behind us where these two earth-mothers and their broods were clustered. One of the kids (of the sugar-nazi mom), a boy of about three years old, was sitting in the floor, very near a large dark stain that for my own peace of mind I decided HAD to be a previous crafter’s spilled drink. As I looked at him, this kid reached out, plucked a piece of something right off the top of that mystery stain, AND ATE IT!!!! Zero exaggeration. Obviously, I continued watching until I was finally able to determine what he found so utterly irresistible: paper. Yep, this child who ate only clean, unprocessed foods, who was refused sugar and sugar substitutes except on Friday night family nights, was eating pieces of paper straight off one of the nastiest, dirtiest floors in this city.

Now, let me clarify. We’ve all been there. If it’s not paper off the public library’s decades-old indoor/outdoor carpet, it’s a booger. I mean, kids are weird. They’ll eat anything. Seeing this, I had ZERO judgement toward this mom. Instead, this let me off the hook with regard to judging and comparing myself. No matter what it seems like to someone else, none of us are 100% awesome. None of us are total rockstars. But you know what? We try hard. That lady, those ladies, are doing a great job as moms. And as hard as it is to say it and as much as it chokes me on the way out, I’m doing a great job, too. Hey, you…yes, you…the mom who questions herself and feels inadequate pretty often…you are doing a great job too! We don’t all make the same choices, but that’s okay. We aren’t the same people, and we aren’t raising the same people. God gave us the kids He chose for us ON PURPOSE. No one could be the mom to your kid(s) that you are.

So for us here in the Thomas household, we’ll continue eating that daily popsicle, and we’ll have those cookies. As for those others folks, well, you do you, kid…eat that paper off the floor. All my money says you turn out just fine regardless.

Ps. Our mosaic took forever, but it turned out beautifully.

Go Again

This past Sunday was one of those days where nothing special really happened, but it was a glorious day all the same. It was one of the first weekend days in a while were my little family of three got the whole day to ourselves. We spent the day just playing and spending time together, but it was while we were outside in our “pool” (it’s a 4×4 blow-up kiddie pool that the adult–it only fits one at a time– must vacate if Her Majesty wants to “swim”) that I took a minute to simply praise God and be intentionally thankful. I was thankful for my covered back porch, for my shady backyard, for that $15 kiddie pool that was keeping my feet cool, and I was so overwhelmingly thankful for the sweet girl swimming around in it. My greatest thanks at that moment, however, went up on behalf of the amazing man I get to share my life with. Despite being enamored with all of his muscles, I was somehow able to look past those and think about his character, his heart, and all of the qualities that make him so wonderful. But before I cause you all to throw up in your mouths a little with more syrupy sweetness, let me fast forward. Somewhere between thinking about what a great husband and father Nathan is, I started thinking about what it means to be a godly man. That line of thought had me thinking about a couple of men in the Bible who are either a little less well known, as in one case, or almost too well known, as in the other, and what they have to teach us. So, a little more thinking along those lines, and here we are.

Now, I know that 99.9% of the twelve of you who read these blog posts are female. I know that men in the Scriptures get way more than their fair share of the focus, but bear with me. With Father’s Day right around the corner, it’s worth a deeper look at two men in particular; however, let’s worry less about the gender of these two individuals and more about the lessons they learned, and most importantly, what we can learn from them.

ELIJAH

There are many scriptures and stories in which Elijah is discussed, but for our purposes I want to focus on his story found in 1 Kings 18:41-46. I know this is kind of long, but let’s look at these verses together first.

“41 And Elijah said to Ahab, Go up, eat and drink, for there is the sound of abundance of rain. 42 So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he bowed himself down upon the earth and put his face between his knees. 43 And said to his servant, Go up now and look toward the sea. And he went up and looked and said, There is nothing. Elijah said, Go again seven times. 44 And at the seventh time the servant said, A cloud as small as a man’s hand is arising out of the sea. And Elijah said, Go up, say to Ahab, Hitch your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you. 45 In a little while, the heavens were black with wind-swept clouds, and there was a great rain. And Ahab went to Jezreel. 46 The hand of the Lord was on Elijah. He girded up his loins and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.

I know that the constant “go up, go down” is a little distracting but try not to get bogged down. They’re on Mount Carmel, hence the upward and downward movement, and for our focus, it’s unimportant. We want to zero in on Elijah starting in verse 42. It’s clear that he’s separated himself from the others for the purpose of prayer. We see him bowing reverently before God, and although we don’t know what he asked of God, the following verses make it pretty clear he’s asked for rain. Here’s where Elijah’s behavior becomes so elevated beyond that of what you and I often do. He’s expectant and he has faith that God will bring him rain (that’s even apparent in verse 41). If you’re like me, you’re even good at this yourself sometimes: you go to God, you ask, you expect, you have total faith in His response. But a couple of days pass and still nothing. Around day three of waiting on God, we start backpedaling on our faith, wondering why God’s not answered, berating ourselves for not praying the right words or in the right way, blaming our mistakes for getting between us and that prayer we were so sure God was going to answer. Check out Elijah, though. He sends his servant to go see if it’s raining yet, and the servant comes back, “that’s a negative on the rain, sir.” And Elijah sends the servant again. Nope. And again. Still nothing. SEVEN TIMES Elijah says “Go again” in earnest anticipation before the tiniest cloud appears far out on the horizon, “a cloud as small as a man’s hand” as it’s described in verse 44. Take a second to search the above scripture again for missing details between verses 43 and 44. Surely God left something out, right? Surely there are major details here about what Elijah did every time the servant returned with a potentially discouraging report about Elijah’s as yet unanswered prayer. But there’s nothing missing, is there?

How do you act when you pray expectantly and faithfully for something and God doesn’t deliver it when you think He should? Or in the way you think He should? Y’all, I’m here to tell you I revert back into a baby Christian with toddler-esque emotions. I get irritated and frustrated. I get mad and tearful. I start feeling sorry for myself, wondering why God’s out there answering all these other prayers while mine–WHICH WAS PRAYED IN FAITH, HELLO!–is being ignored or dismissed. I get mouthy and doubtful. Do you recognize these behaviors, too? Elijah does not. At no point does he change his prayerful, respectful positioning. At no point does he get up, start walking and mouthing about how he doesn’t understand why God isn’t answering his prayer when it was prayed so earnestly. He simply maintains his faith, maintains a respectful posture, and he waits. He KNOWS God is faithful. He KNOWS God will answer. He knows that rain is coming, and even when the sky is void of clouds, he continues to rely on faith, not sight.

And would you look at that? Not only did Elijah’s faith earn him that small-as-a-man’s-hand cloud, but verse 45 reports that he got so much rain–such an abundant response from God–that the heavens were black and it poured from the sky. Praise God that His faithfulness doesn’t mirror our own, amen? Praise God that He’s willing to wait on us with love and patience instead of growing angry at us when we trade our faithfulness for doubt because He doesn’t do what we want or think He should. I pray that I grow to be more and more like Elijah, that when I boldly approach the throne of God, I trust Him to answer me. I pray that when I don’t get a reply as quickly as I’d prefer, I’m able to simply tell my spirit, “Go again,” maintaining my faith, my expectancy, and my respectful posturing until that answer, no matter how small it might seem at first, appears on the horizon. Lord, help me to be more like Elijah.

NOAH

While Elijah might not be a biblical figure that you easily remember, I’d be willing to bet that Noah is. Since we were all knee-high to a grasshopper (where did this ridiculous saying come from?) we’ve heard the story about Noah building the enormous ark, his loading up two of every animal and sailing to safety as God flooded the earth. We know that eventually the waters went down, a dove indicated that dry land was indeed available again, and after disembarking, Noah was given the rainbow as a symbol of God’s promise never to destroy the earth by flooding ever again. So, in an effort to avoid repeating all the parts of the story we all already know, how about we talk about the man named Noah? How about we focus on the small details, the ones that so often get overlooked because we’ve all heard the story a million times and know all of it by heart. But do we really?

The story of Noah, a good man who trusted God and believed in God, can be found starting in Genesis 6. If you’ve never really read the story for yourself, if all of your knowledge of Noah is based on children’s books or your 1st grade Sunday school teacher, I highly recommend that you read it for yourself from its original source. I can’t really explain it, but it’s just different when it’s read that way for some reason.

There’s a lot of scripture that covers the story of God choosing Noah, God instructing Noah, Noah building the ark, and the subsequent flooding, water recession, etc. Because of this, I’ll leave the scripture reading up to you, and we’ll spend our time focusing on the details that make Noah a man from whom much can be learned. For example, did you know that while scholars and theologians aren’t in total agreement, they do agree that somewhere around 100 to 120 years passed between when God instructed Noah to build the ark and when it actually began to rain? WAIT, WHAT?! Can you believe that?? Do you know what kind of mess would be happening in my head if I heard  what I believed was a word from God only to have ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY YEARS pass before it came to fruition?! How wise God was that He didn’t choose Lindsey Thomas to build His ark! (Can I get an amen??) Y’all, think about this small, frequently overlooked detail. Think about the faith that this conveys. Noah didn’t get all up in his feelings when he finished that ark and the rain didn’t start. He didn’t get himself convinced two or even fifty years later that he’d misheard God, that he’d fabricated the vision God had given him and the Word He’d placed in his heart. I do NOT handle things this well. I get frustrated and doubtful and impatient. Why is this not part of the ark story when they teach it?

But as remarkable as it is that Noah waited so long to see his contract with God fulfilled, there’s something even more significant that I learned from his story. God said, build an ark. Noah said, okay, I’ll get right on that. And at no point did Noah say, maybe I’ll wait until I see there’s a little rain starting before I totally decide to believe that God’s going to do what He said He’s going to do. Nope, Noah was immediately obedient. Oh how I desire to have that level of immediate obedience in my life! I so often fail at being immediately obedient because I need those first sprinkles for my sight to confirm that God really is doing what His Word says He will. I need to think it over for myself, reason out God’s plan and make sure I’ve ruminated on all aspects of His instructions. And sometimes, more than any other reason for stalling, I need to consider what everyone else would think if I did whatever it is that God’s asking me to do. But not Noah. God said, build an ark because I have a plan. Noah said, yes, God. He didn’t worry that it wasn’t raining. He didn’t worry that his neighbors and friends and family might think that this giant boat he was building under a sunny sky was absolutely insane. God spoke; Noah obeyed. Immediately. Now THAT is worth a Sunday school lesson or two, is it not?

Dear Lord, thank you so much for the examples You have given to us in both Elijah and Noah. They have such strong, long-standing faith, Lord, and I ask that You help me to study Your Word and develop my relationship with You so that I, too, can be an example of unwavering faith and belief. I want to take the time right now, Father, and state that I KNOW You do as You say. I declare that I KNOW You are always faithful. Help me to listen to Your promises and close my ears and my heart and my mind to Satan’s lies. And maybe above all, Lord, I want to be the kind of Christian who is immediately obedient when I hear Your voice. When You speak, Father, I will listen. When You instruct, I will obey…immediately. Thank you for Your patience with me, for continuing to work with me in order to help me develop into a mature believer. Thank you for hearing my prayer, Father. In Jesus’s name I pray this and all my prayers. Amen.

#FixItJesus

You know, I knew it was coming. I knew it was inevitable. I’d seen it happen to many, many people; I knew that no one escaped it. Heck, I’d even seen it happen to my own husband. But even with all that expectation, I was ill-prepared for it to happen to me. And it did happen…just a couple of short weeks ago. It’s a painful, difficult story to tell, so bear with me–

It was a regular day, unremarkable in most ways. Then, everything changed. I thought to myself, is this really happening?? Is that what I think it is?? Despite my ferocious denial, there was no pretending this away. I knew life was never going to be the same because there it was, right in front of my disbelieving face: MY FIRST GRAY HAIR!!! RIP, youthfulness. RIP.

Okay, so maybe I had a slight overreaction (I said slight, dang it!), but feeling insecure about my appearance is certainly nothing new for me. I want to take a minute, though, before going forward and blame this all, all of my insecurities based on appearance, on my friends. Y’all, all my friends crawled out of the same weirdly mutated pool apparently. They’re all vampires who have figured out not only how NOT to age, but they’ve obviously signed some seriously binding contract with the devil that allows them to look BETTER as they get older. What is this nonsense?! In a fun turn of events, they’re all smooth skinned and youthful looking (literally not a single one looks her age–it’s ridiculous!), and I’m saggy and baggy enough for all of us. I mean, if ever a case deserved #FixItJesus, it is this one.

All joking aside, struggling with my self-worth based on my appearance and setting my personal value based on how I felt I looked is something I’ve struggled with my entire life. It’s a stronghold (it’s actually a sin, believe it or not) that God has really been helping me to be loosed of, but full disclosure: I have a long way to go. While you might not struggle to the same extent that I do, I’m guessing that you, too, have felt insecure, not good enough, or less than simply because of your appearance too. That is certainly not a godly way to think and feel, so please join me in trying your very best to begin thinking about yourself as God does.

As it turns out, there’s this great book called the Bible (you might remember my mentioning it before) that helps us understand God and His character, and most importantly for today’s topic, how He feels about us, His creation. In Ephesians 2:10, we are described in one translation as “God’s handiwork,” in another “God’s workmanship,” and in yet another, we are referred to as “God’s masterpiece.” I know you have better things to do than listen to me quote Webster, but just sit tight for a minute. If you look up the word masterpiece, you’ll find that it’s defined as “a person’s greatest piece of work.” Let that sink in for a minute. God made every single thing. All of it. And yet we, not only collectively but each of us individually is His masterpiece. Imagine what it must feel like to have created something you love so much that you’re willing to give up what’s most precious to you for that creation, only to have it picked apart and fussed about and taken for granted. Y’all, I really and truly pray that the next time I start fussing about my thighs or those fun skin-wings that my arms are rapidly growing, I’ll remember instead that every single part of me is a masterpiece made by the God I so love. I pray that that thought stops me in my mental tracks, switching me instantly to gratitude instead of grumbling. After all, the truth is, my God loves me so much that He sent me a message letting me know just how much intentionality went into my being created: “I chose you before I formed you in the womb; I set you apart before you were born” (Jeremiah 1:5 CSB). You were no accident. Your crooked nose? No accident. Your thin lips or balding scalp? Not those either. All of you was on purpose. And all of you was for a purpose.

Yes, you say, I know God loves me and I know that I shouldn’t focus on my appearance, but when I’m around others and I feel like the ugliest one in the room or the heaviest person in the group or the least desirable of all my friends, it hurts and I can’t get past it. First of all, I think it’s important to acknowledge that every single person, no matter how beautiful he or she may be in others’ eyes, has felt insecure over appearance, probably way more often than you think. In fact, just the other day I read an interview with a stunning TV actress who seemed flawless but who admitted that some days she has to remove herself from social media because of how bad it makes her feel about herself, about how she looks. Do what?! Y’all, none of us are immune. That being said, an overly negative mindset full of self-hate is completely wrong and goes against all the Bible tells us should be the focus of the children of God.

In 1 Samuel 16:7, the Bible addresses our human, yet faulty, tendency to place value on our own (and others’) outward appearance, saying, “But the Lord said to Samuel–‘Don’t judge by his appearance…the Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart.'” Oh how wrong we get this…on both counts! We judge ourselves too often based on what’s visible on the outside and we unfortunately pass that useless judgement on to others as well. It’s such a problem for human beings that even Jesus addressed it in John 8:15, “You judge according to human standards [just by what you see]. I do not judge anyone.” So let’s think about this logically: If Jesus isn’t the judge, that means God is, and we’ve already established that God made it clear He’s interested in our hearts, not our looks when passing judgement over the lives of His children. I believe the logical conclusion here is that the only judgement we should be concerned about is from our Heavenly Father AND He cares ZERO about our physical appearance. ZERO! Don’t believe me? Can’t follow my logic? Try this on for size: “Don’t let your beauty consist of outward things…but rather what is inside the heart–the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Peter 3:3-4). Where’s that mic? I need to drop it.

Look, people, I know we are constantly bombarded by people and companies and products that both directly and indirectly tell us that we’re not good enough as we are, that we won’t be successful without this change, that we aren’t really beautiful unless we look this way. The disease of self-value based on physical appearance that so many of us have contracted, me included, is eating us all alive. Take what I found on statisticbrain.com for example: 91% of women are unhappy enough with their bodies that they resort to dieting. NINETY ONE PERCENT! That’s not the worst part though; 80% of women say the images they see on social media make them feel body-insecure. But we sure don’t put it down and pick up our Bibles do we? Nope. This is no formal study, but I’m guessing we’re all more likely to immediately Google some product or fad diet that we think will help us become more like those images we’ve just poured over instead of putting effort toward changing our thinking so we feel about ourselves more like God does.

Tragically, these women who are so undone by their own appearances (that’d be you and me, friend) are allowing this insecurity and self-loathing to trickle down to our precious girls. On that same site, it stated that 90%–let me repeat that…90%– of 15-17 year old girls desire to change at least one aspect of their physical appearance. How sad God’s heart must be over this. To pour His time and love and purposefulness into our sweet girls (and it’s boys and men, too, let’s not pretend) only for us to teach them that they’re not perfect just as they are. And honestly, I’d like to just tsk-tsk at this, say what a shame it is that these girls feel this way, chalk it up to their moody youthfulness, but I’d be hard pressed to limit myself to only one physical attribute I’d like to change. Their self-disapproval and my own self-disapproval is a slap in the face of the God we claim to love and serve and glorify. Shame on us.

So what do we do? How do we change? How do we fix this mess? First, as we discussed before, I think it’s so very important that you know how God feels about you–what He literally says in His Word–and that you pass that along to your children. When we hear our girls or boys complain about their bodies, when our brains instantly go there about our own bodies, isn’t it pretty simple to just remember that, 1. God loves me and made me on purpose, and 2. God REALLY likes me, just as I am. God doesn’t care if your eyebrows look microbladed. He doesn’t care if the skin under your armpit is bumpy or splotchy (in your face, Dove!). He is completely happy with how He made you, and not one bit of how He formed you was accidental.

The second step, in my opinion, is to know what God says about valuing outward appearance. There are so many verses that encourage us to spend our time focusing inwardly, ensuring that our hearts are right before worrying that our hair looks perfect. The average woman spends 335 hours a year, that’s TWO FULL WEEKS of her year, working on her appearance (Today.com). I cringe thinking about how much time would be represented if women were asked how much time a year they put into strengthening their relationship with God…reading their Bible…spending quiet time in prayer with their Savior. In Joyce Meyer’s book How to Succeed at Being Yourself, she doesn’t mix words over the importance of getting ourselves back into a godly mindset with regard to our thoughts about ourselves: “How we feel about ourselves is a determining factor in our success in life and in relationships.” There’s not a single area of our lives that’s not immediately and negatively affected when we have a poor self-image. Our dreams fail, our spirits fail, our marriages fail, our children fail. And Satan gets a hearty, satisfying laugh. I’m not good at this, y’all, but I desperately want to be. And lucky for us, we serve a God whose grace and mercy are all we need when trying to align our thinking more with His. I absolutely cannot do this alone. But I know that if I study what God says about me, if I bury those scriptural truths down in my heart and I use those to shut up the devil when he presses me to feel unworthy and insecure, I CAN defeat this attitude. I can reconstruct my brain so that my self-worth comes from knowing I was perfect enough AS I AM that Jesus died on the cross for me.

And before I finally shut up, let me say this. Some of you might be on the opposite side of this coin. Maybe you’re beautiful. Maybe you’re successful and athletic and you feel REALLY good about yourself. Good for you–if you put forth the work it requires to be those things, you should be proud of yourself. HOWEVER, you shouldn’t be convinced it was all your doing, and you shouldn’t allow yourself to feel superior or to base your self-worth, despite it being positive, on your appearance either. The Proverbs 31 woman is such a great example because it carefully reminds us all that “Charm is deceptive and beauty does not last but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised” (vs. 30).

Let me reiterate, if you struggle with this in any form, you are not alone. God knew we would and the Bible is filled with scriptures to help us turn to Him for guidance and the renewing of our minds. It won’t happen overnight, and it won’t be something that you pray about once and walk away changed. And moms, a quick, non-judgmental word to you: please, please, please stop criticizing your bodies in front of your daughters. They are your children, they have your DNA, and when their hair or nose or ears or breasts or thighs or whatever turn out to be just like yours, how do you think they’re going to feel about themselves then? God doesn’t focus on our external appearance, and neither should we. Now THAT deserves a #FixItJesus.

Dear Lord, thank you so much that You have crafted me with such precision and with great purposefulness. Father, please forgive me for all of the times that I’ve set my value on such a superficial and fleeting thing as my appearance instead of, like You, valuing what’s internal. God, I ask for your help in changing my thinking; please deliver me from this negative mindset, and help me to see both myself and others as You do. Lord, as your Word says in Romans 12:2, I pray that I stand strongly against copying the behavior and customs of this world, but instead let You transform me into a new person by changing the way that I think about myself. I love you, Lord, and I know that to feel good about myself I must see me as You do, and I’m beyond grateful to be so loved. Help me to share that love with myself and with others. Help me to find balance, Lord, so that I can care about my appearance enough to keep myself healthy and well cared for, but not so much that it becomes priority. I desire to care less about physical training and more about training for godliness (1 Tim. 4:8) so that I might be blessed by You. Thank you for hearing my prayer, Father, for it’s in Jesus’s name that I pray. Amen.

 

Shadrach, Meshach, and a Billy Goat

I began writing this blog post a couple of weeks ago, pretty much immediately after posting the most recent one about secrets. However, about the time I got ready to sit down and actually type it out and upload it, my sweet 92-year-old grandmother passed away. As weird as it sounds, her passing actually made this post even more special, and I can feel God’s hand on it after seeing how these events aligned. I’m about to tell you a story that begins with an old country church. It just so happens that this very church is the one where we laid her to rest–right beside my grandfather–last week. Because of her death, I was able to visit the exact spot where my story took place all those years ago. Isn’t it amazing how God uses regular life events to confirm His presence and activity to us?

So back to this super cute, very quaint country church. It was in this church that my dad, as a boy, attended both Sunday school and church services, although it wasn’t really Sunday school like many of us think of it. This church, Beaton United Methodist Church, was only one building: the sanctuary. That meant that Sunday school was conducted right there where they’d later hear the sermon and sing their hymns. All of the Sunday school classes. Right there together. The adults gathered up at the front near the pulpit; the older kids gathered in one back corner, with the young children in the other. Needless to say, that level of focus and attention has dissipated with our generation.

Well, it was during Sunday school one Sunday that my six-year-old dad overhead some of the adult class’s lesson. He explained to me that while he was “listening” to his teacher, his attention was caught by the adult teacher (which was likely my grandfather) discussing some very strange names from the Bible. He said he heard Shadrach. Then, he heard Meshach. But it was this next one that had him really tuning in, because after naming these two guys, my dad heard, “and a billy goat.” He then continued to listen closely to figure out what a billy goat had to do with anything, but obviously the Bible never addressed that within the story. So time passed, and young Ricky went on wondering about these two oddly named men from the Bible and their billy goat.

As the years passed and this story was told in Sunday school and church from time to time, my dad carried that mental image around in his now teenaged head of this strange group: two men and a billy goat. He said he always listened to hear that explanation of why these guys lugged this goat around everywhere with them, but he just never did catch it. Then, during one sermon in which he was following along with his Bible, the truth was illuminated (in my head this involves bright lights and singing): there was no billy goat! It wasn’t Shadrach, Meshach, and a billy goat. It was Shadrach, Meshach, and ABEDNEGO…a third strangely-named guy! Pretty incredible what you can sort out by opening that Bible, huh? 🙂

As I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, I want to spend some time with you today talking about these three guys (no billy goats included!) and the story from Daniel that shows what mighty men of faith they were. All of today’s discussion is coming from Daniel 3, and if you’ve not read this chapter for yourself (no excuses–it’s pretty short), I highly encourage you to do so. But before we start in on the circumstances facing these men and the decisions they made, as much as I hate to spend your time simply summarizing the Bible for you, I think that’s best so we have a clear picture of what’s taking place when these men enter the picture.

Daniel 3 begins with King Nebuchadnezzar instructing the creation of a golden idol. And not just a small gold statue for people to bow before. It was enormous: 90 feet tall and 9 feet wide. And with this idol, King Neb (no way am I typing that name multiple times) created this rule: when those within his kingdom heard any of a variety of musical instruments being played, they were to immediately “fall down and worship the golden image” (vs. 5). And being a narcissistic king, there was, of course, a consequence for anyone who refused to do as he commanded: “And whoever does not fall down and worship shall that very hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace” (vs. 6). Okay, so clear enough. Music plays, you drop what you’re doing and bow to the golden statue. If not, you burn. No questions asked, no excuses accepted, no exemptions made.

Enter our three main characters. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were brought before King Nebs because it was brought it his attention that they refused to bow to his idol, and it infuriated him. Once they’re before him, he questions their refusal, reminding them again that a fiery death awaited anyone who met his command with disobedience. To me, I picture the king with his puffed up chest, convinced of his own power and ability to scare these men into doing exactly as he desires. However, these three aren’t having it. They serve ONE God, and ole Nebby’s idol is NOT it. I love their response to the king’s threats. It says that they answered him saying, “…it is not necessary for us to answer you on this point. If our God Whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image you have set up!” (vs. 16-18) I love that first sentence: it is not necessary for us to answer you on this point. In other words, King, this is not up for discussion. Ha! We don’t care what you threaten us with, we don’t care what you demand, we aren’t even considering doing what you’re asking us to do because we serve God and that’s that.

How often do you and I get this part wrong? How often do we find ourselves selling out and worshiping those “golden images” of wealth, status, popularity, self, convenience, fear, worry, etc.? How often do we bow our heads and bend our knees in front of those things while pushing God aside? Thank you, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego for lesson number one: if we expect God to save us from pain and anguish and even certain death, we must bow to Him and Him alone. He must have first priority in our hearts and our lives, no matter what it appears to cost us.

In those verses above, I was also struck by another indicator of their attitudes in the midst of difficulty. You’ll notice that they have full confidence in God’s ability to deliver them from the fire they’re facing. HOWEVER, they’re also convinced that it’s fine no matter what God chooses to do. “But if not…” I don’t know about you, but I need to adopt this mindset much more often. When I’m facing something unknown, something uncertain and upsetting, I need to set my mind on the mighty God I serve and His ability to deliver me, but at the same time, I need to remember that if God chooses not to remove this fire from before me, I will still believe in His goodness and His love. I will still trust His plan and His promise to do good for me. Pssst…that was lesson number two.

Okay, so surely by this point you know enough about King Neb’s personality to know that an outright refusal by these three guys to do as he commanded wasn’t met with happiness. He was furious, and in an effort to punish them even more for their disobedience (because apparently burning to death isn’t tough enough), he demands that the furnace be heated seven times hotter than normal. Just to give you an idea of how hot this was, the king’s men who were tasked with throwing Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the furnace were killed immediately by the radiating heat. And then the miraculous happens…

Starting in verse 24, King Nebuchadnezzar is astounded, in total disbelief because, despite being clothed and bound, these three men are still alive! But that’s not even the most shocking part! Looking into the furnace, the king declares, “Behold, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt! And the form of the fourth is like a son of the gods!” (vs. 25) Hmmmm, wonder who that fourth man is in that fiery furnace with our three friends? Hint: IT’S JESUS! And just like that, we have lesson number three. Friends, no matter what “fire” you’re facing or even right smack in middle of walking through, you are not alone. The God that these men served, the God who literally protected them from the fire under their feet is the exact same God you serve. He is the same today as He was yesterday. There’s NOTHING that He can’t save you from, and if He allows you to face that fire, it’s because He has a plan and because He knows you can do it with His walking right beside you.

Because of Jesus’s protection, “the fire had no power upon their bodies, nor was the hair of their head singed; neither were their garments scorched or changed, nor had even the smell of smoke clung to them” (vs. 27). Look at what your God can do for you! With His help and His presence and your trust in Him, He can not only get you through that fire, He can do so without any harm coming to you. You can emerge victorious on the other side of that furnace without a single injury, even without the smell of smoke clinging to your skin. Because our three friends clung to God’s power and refused to turn their eyes from God no matter how dire their circumstances looked going in, their faith allowed God’s power to be recognized and glorified. After witnessing this miracle, the king declares, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Who has sent His angel and delivered His servants who believed in, trusted in, and relied on Him!” (vs. 28)

Lesson number four, my friends. Can you imagine what God is doing through whatever affliction you’re facing right now? Can you imagine the pride and thankfulness you’ll experience if you hold steady to your Jesus, to your faith in Him, through your “fire” so that He can be glorified through YOU?! Can you imagine the life-changing lessons your circumstances and your decision to trust God can teach your children? Your coworkers? Your spouse? Your friends? God is working. God is for us! Some of us might get to avoid that fire altogether…this time. But for most of us, God’s simply going to walk right through it side-by-side with us, holding our hand if need be, so that when we come out on the other side, we’re greeted by His abundant blessings. Not only will we be alive when it’s all said and done, but like these three guys with funny names, we’ll be unbound from anything holding us back, anything meant for our harm; we’ll be unharmed by those around us and those circumstances that seem to be lapping at our ankles; we’ll have been so protected through it all that there’s not even a leftover hint of that trouble that threatened to do us in. There will be no baggage for us to carry, no smoky smell to wash from our clothes. And most importantly, others will know Him because of what they’ve witnessed through us. Praise the Lord!

Dear Lord, thank you so much for loving me so much that You’ll never abandon me. I ask, Father, for Your deliverance from the fire I’m currently facing, but God, mostly I simply ask that, no matter what, You help me to feel and recognize Your constant presence. Help me not to question You and Your plan but to trust that at all times and in all situations You’re working for my good and protecting me when the going gets tough. I love you, Lord, and I ask that You use my life to witness to others, no matter what that might cost me. Help me to stay strong in my faith so that I don’t ever give in to the temptation to bow my knee at worldly idols. I declare today, Father, that You are my number one, and I ask that You guide me through Your Word to be strong enough to make that choice despite the furnace in front of me. Thank you for the faith of these three men and the lessons I can learn from them. Thank you for hearing my prayer. It’s in Jesus’s name that I pray. Amen.

(No billy goats were harmed in the writing of this blog post.)