Hello friends! It’s been a while since I’ve added to my blog. For the last few months I’ve been in one of “those” seasons. Loss, heartache, questioning, along with so many conversations with God and His Holy Spirit. As James reminds us,
“Consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”
And ain’t that the truth.
We have a few roads from which to choose when we go through our difficult seasons. We can beg the Lord to go back to the familiar and comfortable. We can rush our minds to the other side of the trial either imagining an outcome far worse or far better than we hope or fear. Or we can learn a bit from Jesus’ brother and “let this perseverance finish its work so we can be mature and complete.” In other words, we live in this God-given moment right now, seeking His blessings, seeking His voice, and seeking the lessons to be learned.
The day I wrote this post my devotional reminded me to not work for food that perishes but for the food which endures eternal life. (Charles Stanley, Every Day in His Presence) I was admonished to change my point of view and not focus on the problems right in front of me but rather what God’s interest is in developing me for His eternal purpose. And very importantly, asking for help in learning His lessons quickly so that His peace and strength would again be my resting place.
During these last few months I’ve also been deep dive into Priscilla Shirer’s study on Elijah with my BSGs. As usual, God is using all of my life to teach me about standing firm in my faith and stepping forward in trust. And as I have prayed to God to reveal to me my next blog series I kept hearing the phrase: “Lessons from Cherith.” You see, Elijah had to spend a lot of time alone, facing his own trials before he was ready for the “big show.” In that time, some of which was in the area called Cherith, he had to choose to either trust God’s eternal plan for him or not. He had to remove so many well-honed cultural and religious thoughts of “the way things are supposed to be” and instead see how God works. And he had to decide to stand out amongst the crowd.
And although my “Cherith” hasn’t lasted for as long as Elijah’s or even as long as Jesus was in the wilderness, I learned some valuable lessons while communing with the Holy Spirit. In the next few weeks I’d like to share some of these with you. To hopefully help us realign our lives to be Christian lives, lived out for all the world to see. For our friends and neighbors and co-workers to be spurred to ask why we seem different.
Friends, we can’t keep wandering through the wilderness of this earthly world living up to its standards. It’s time to take our hard earned lessons from “those seasons” and put them to work for the glory of God.
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 1 Peter 4:12
There’s a famous line in the movie Animal House, “Thank you, Sir! May I have another!” which the college students must say as they receive a paddling in order to become members of the fraternity house. This scene always comes to mind when I read about the trials and tribulations we most certainly will face as followers of Jesus.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. James 1:2-3
James especially brings this message home – not only will we endure trials but we should enjoy them! Of all the lessons and directives in the Bible I think I find this one of the most difficult. In my more “infant” Christian stage it could take me months or years to see the blessings from a fiery trial. But as I have progressed in my faith journey I’m working to shorten that time span. My goal? To be in the moment of trials asking God to show me the lesson and blessing. And not only that, to try and be a blessing to others while things aren’t going so well for me.
The dark moments of our life will last only so long as is necessary for God to accomplish His purpose in us.
Charles Stanley, 30 Life Principles
I don’t know about you but I’m taking this to heart these days. I want to accept the lesson as quickly as possible. And while I’m not begging for trials, I know for certain they will come. I’m so thankful He has given us opportunities to improve our hearts and minds, our relationships with other people, and with the Creator Himself. I heard Joyce Meyer say the other day, “When we are in the midst of a trial we get thrown at God.” And I’m thankful when we are thrown into the midst of the fire He is right there reaching for us.
…yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.Habakkuk 3:18
According to Psychology Today we make an average of 35,000 decisions each day. That’s about 2,000 decisions per waking hour. I remember when I was working as a public relations and marketing executive at a mid-sized company. At the end of each day I felt exhausted. I couldn’t even think about what to make for dinner. I realized at some point I had decision-making fatigue.
So many of our decisions are ones we don’t really think much about – if we are going to get up and go to work, if we are going to brush our teeth before leaving the house, if we are going to get dressed. We just sort of do them out of habit or necessity.
But what about our faith lives? How many of us have, along our journey, made the decision to fade away from our faith? Not realizing we’ve made a decision to shut out God. For some people, because of issues at their church or maybe a difficult time in their life they actually made a conscious decision to completely turn away.
There are basically three types of people shown in the Bible. First there is the nonspiritual person who has not accepted God at all. Second there is the person who has accepted Jesus as their savior but still lives by the world’s expectations. And third is what is considered a “mature believer.” This person learns to do the will of God no matter how he/she feels or how difficult it is.
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.1 Corinthians 13:11
This is where the term “baby Christian” arises. It’s the second type person described. Picture how a baby lives its life. Crying and throwing a tantrum when things get uncomfortable. Babies are very self-focused people. They don’t care if you haven’t slept all night or exhausted from a long day at work. They want, they need, they demand. If they don’t get it, they aren’t happy. They live off feelings and wants and needs. It may sound harsh, but how many of us are living our Christian lives this way?
No matter what level we are on, we should want to grow , but if we find we are still in the baby stage of Christianity, we should certainly make a commitment to God to start working with His Holy Spirit toward maturity.
That’s why I like the verse from Habakkuk today. Prior to verse 18 the prophet lists all the things that are going wrong – the fig tree isn’t budding, there’s no grapes, the olive crop is failing, and there’s no livestock. Yet he will rejoice.
Great faith is maturing faith. Great faith is growing faith. And great faith is becoming stronger and great faith is standing on the truth of the Word of God. Not feelings, not other people’s opinions, not the past, great faith stands on the truth of the Word of God. Here’s what God is saying. And the focus is on God. Great faith is always focused on God.
And growing faith means choosing to be faithful. We humans don’t tend to like to be the cause of our problems. We want our lack of commitment to God to be about something that happened to us, an absence of the right feelings, or because of the world’s demands. But it’s really about where we have placed so many of our 35,000 decisions. In how many of them did we even consider God’s desires for us?
When you feel like quitting or running away, remember that you can’t run away from your troubles and you can’t run away from yourself. The solution is not running away; it’s running to. It’s running to the throne of grace and finding grace to help in time of need.
Take the time today to consider your decision making and how it relates to your commitment to God. Sometimes we are tasked to just decide to run to Him – not waiting for a feeling or some grand emotion to well up inside us. If we can make the decision to get up and go to work today or the decision to do the laundry or get the kids off to school we can make the decision to open our Bible. We can make the decision to have a conversation with Jesus.
Most of the 35,000 decisions we make today will be for the world of the flesh. How many can we carve out to be the ones that matter for all of eternity?
From the west, people will fear the
name of the Lord, and from the rising
of the sun, they will revere his glory. Isaiah 59:19
I admit it. I have a difficult time with authority. I don’t like being told what to do and when to do it. I’m not sure how this developed in me. It’s not like, as a child, my parents encouraged me to question. In fact, we weren’t to question at all for fear of punishment. I’ve heard it said that we either grow up to be like our parents or work so desperately to be the opposite. For me, I think I so wanted to be heard and to be “right” for once that the desire became my personality.
This desire has helped me in many ways. At work I was always seen as someone with new solutions and ideas. I could cut through red tape and simplify processes. And until I garnered some maturity, I did all that like a bull in a china shop. But this way of living life can make it difficult to submit, especially to a force that is unseen.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of
knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and
When you read Proverbs the very first words are about wisdom and instruction. And sure, we can study our Bibles, listen intently to our pastors while scribbling notes in our Bibles but true submission to our Lord is more than that.
For a long time, I really just didn’t understand the concept of “fearing the Lord” and submission. Of course, given my nature it wasn’t like I was interested in the first place. I also wonder how many pastors these days even talk about “fearing God?”
If God is love, then why does He command us to fear Him? The fear of the Lord isn’t about being afraid of God; it’s about revering Him above all else. When we do that, we position ourselves to receive all the benefits that come with putting God first in our lives.
Dr. Charles Stanley
We humans are afraid of a lot of things – some of which we don’t even realize. We fear being made fun of, we fear being left out, we fear being unloved. I saw a movie that really brought this concept home called Defending Your Life. The main character, played by Albert Brooks, is a worrier. His fears become so overwhelming that he is stuck in a never-ending loop of inaction and regret. And then he gets hit by a bus. He finds himself in a waystation of sorts where he needs to defend the pitiful life he had on earth. And he meets a wonderful woman played by Meryl Streep. She’s opposite of him – jumped in on all that life had to offer.
It struck me that our days are filled with decisions that are made either based on fear of the world or fear of God. Do we go about our lives trying to keep our head down so the world and people around us won’t take issue with us? Or do we acknowledge that our Lord is sovereign over all and He has behavioral and moral requirements of us? Do we submit to the flesh or to the spirit?
Jesus calls us to his rest, and meekness is His method. The meek man cares not at all who is greater than he, for he has long ago decided that the esteem of the world is not worth the effort.
I’ve come to acknowledge that while it is okay to call Jesus, “Rabbi,” or teacher I also need to call Him, “My Lord.” Because when I do it places Him above me, above all. When I call Him, “My Lord,” it means I need to submit to His will. My fear comes in as a concern that I want to be sure to serve Him and Him alone. Am I living a life that would please Him, not the world?
I don’t want to be like that Albert Brooks character when I face my Lord. Full of regret for having missed opportunities to place God as my life director.
I have a friend who is fascinated by all things British royal family. She knows just about everything you’d want to know about the monarchy. Shouldn’t we be that way about our one true Lord? Sitting in awe at His feet. Anxiously awaiting His orders. At the ready to do His bidding. Hoping to please Him at every turn. And fearing His disappointment.
By faith Noah, when warned about things
not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark
to save his family.Hebrews 11:7
If there were ever a man who had a lot to fear when it came to being judged by the people around him it was Noah. I mean, what a lunatic! Building a giant boat with no water to be seen. His “holy fear” kept him aligned with the will of his Lord.
It’s so easy to fall into a humdrum world-centered life. And it’s easy to make our prayer and worship life be rote. But if we can just picture that each morning when we rise, we step into our Lord’s magnificently built palace. Are you ready to approach His throne and submit to His Holy authority? Are you sitting in awe at His feet today, marveling at His awesome power and might? Let’s all sing at the top of our lungs today in worship of our Lord — and let the world tease us. We know who is smiling.
This is what the Lord says— your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. 18 If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your well-being like the waves of the sea.
We’ve all probably heard it from our parents at one time or another. And if you are a parent you are most likely guilty of saying the same – “I just want the best for you.” As your child (or you as a child) rolls their eyes. As humans we seem to have the propensity to want to cut our own path through the jungle and trip over our own mistakes. We grab random vines thinking it’ll help us swing through our problems or create fabulous opportunities.
It’s one thing to see our parents as fallible human beings that may not truly know what’s best for us but when we apply that same logic to God, we’re in for an Indiana Jones style bumpy and dangerous ride.
And we know that in all things
God works for the good of those
who love him, who have been
called according to his purpose.Romans 8:28
God has thoughts beyond our thoughts. He knows the past and the future and he has big plans for each of us. And when we lose sight and let go of God, we take a lot of unneeded weed- choked paths. So much of this behavior seems to come down to a lack of trust that God really does teach us what is best for us – or we think maybe He just doesn’t understand what is best for us.
God sees tomorrow – all of your tomorrows – and he is able to prepare you for whatever is to come.
Charles Stanley, 30 Life Principals, #9 Trusting God means looking beyond what we can see to what God sees.
All trusting relationships are built on time spent together, learning each other’s character, experiencing trials and joys and seeing how each person either stands up or lets you down. Have you assumed that God is going to let you down? Have you decided that God already has let you down? And yet, scripture reminds us of the promise that God is always teaching us what is best for us. Maybe what you were hoping for was not what you needed. Or maybe God needed you to experience that disappointment so you are tested for a future greater than you can imagine.
When we accept that:
God is God and we are not (PS 46:10)
God’s thoughts and ways are greater than ours (Is 55:9)
And God wants the best for us (Is 48:17; Matt 10:29-31)
We can have a perspective change during our times that might seem hopeless and instead know that God is working for our good. We just might not know exactly what that “good” is.
My BSGs are starting a new study called, “Everyday Theology.” Now it might sound silly for a group of devout Christians to read a book that reviews the basics of our faith: scripture, God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, salvation, etc. But each time we open our Bibles and truly approach reading it from a learning point of view we find out something new. The Bible is a living source of God’s Word which wants to guide us throughout our lives.
I used to be one of those Christians that had a very dusty Bible. When I did open it, I would close my eyes and then randomly pick a page. I figured that’s how it worked – God would point me to nothing short of a miracle of words. But would you ever take the phone book (if any exist these days), open it up and phone a stranger expecting to trust them with whatever advice you were seeking? It might be great advice but the likelihood that you would take it would be slim.
His Word holds great lessons for us to try and keep us moving in the right direction. We should pore over it like a treasure map. It’s a bit complicated because it has so much to accomplish. But once we start using the map and trusting that it is right, we find ourselves better able to navigate the twists and turns of life. And isn’t that a great way to start out a new year?
I want to encourage you today to read Psalm 119. It is a perfect example of how God provides order in the midst of chaos. It is the longest chapter in the Bible, composed of 22 stanzas with each stanza containing 8 verses. Each verse starts with the same Hebrew letter — pretty cool. Almost every verse contains one of the following words: instruction, decree, precept, statute, command, judgment, promise, and word. Here is an excerpt:
I have more insight than all my teachers
for I meditate on your statutes.
I have more understanding than the
elders, for I obey your precepts.
I have kept my feet from every evil path
so that I might obey your word.
I have not departed from your laws,
for you yourself have taught me.Psalm 119:99-102
Join me starting January 11 for my next series! Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to help create a vision of you! The words we speak and think and pray have a great impact on our life. We will embark on a journey of praying changes into our lives. New Year’s resolutions have nothing on what God can accomplish when we ask for miracles to transform us!
“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land; 20 but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Sometimes I feel like I’m in a bit of a tug-o-war with God. He’s trying to get me over that line and I keep resisting – pulling back to my way of doing things. Like a two-year old saying, “I can do it myself,” I resist the pull of God because I think I know better.
Have you ever been in a tug-o-war and the other side decides to completely let go? Your side is pulling so hard you all tumble to the ground. Even though the other side knows they’ll lose they think it’s hilarious to see the results. It’s a dirty trick. Thankfully God promises to never let go of His end. His grace and forgiveness keep me upright even when I pull on that opposite end with all my might.
When I am weak and give in to my earthly ways God gives me grace and forgiveness. I want to resist and rebel. He works in so many ways to pull me back toward Him.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
2 Corinthians 12:9
The context of that verse is Paul writing to the people of Corinth and sharing a constant pain he endured. He pleaded with God three times to remove the thorn in his side (we don’t know exactly what the thorn was). And God replied that His grace is sufficient. How many times have we complained, maybe just today alone, to God to remove something from our lives? That’s not to say that He won’t. But He reminds us that sometimes we must be weak to truly rely on Him.
Sometimes God does meet the need by substitution (ie health instead of sickness); but other times He meets the need by transformation. He gives us His grace so that the affliction works for us and not against us.
Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Commentary, New Testament
At times when we pray for God to remove something awful in our lives and He doesn’t perform the way we expect, we then enter into that tug-o-war game. Pulling into our own ways of “fixing things” ourselves, complaining, or even turning our backs on God by letting go of our end of the rope. We give in to our idols, our wants and needs.
We should remember the saying that God, through grace, gives us what we do not deserve, and in His mercy, He does not give us what we do deserve. So, when situations do not turn out as we have directed God, we need to pray to God to help us see what He wants us to see. To help us understand what He wants us to understand.
God does not require us to understand His will, just obey it, even if it seems unreasonable. Life Principle # 5
Dr. Charles Stanley, 30 Life Principles
When we allow God to pull us back toward Him, He showers us with His mercy and forgiveness. He cleanses our crimson souls to be white as snow. And another covenant agreement is balanced at both ends of the rope.
When my eldest was two years old (she’s now 27) I quit my career job. It was a big decision for me as I placed so much value in working. I had never planned on being married and having children so getting a good education and then a good career was my grand plan. And here I was, about 10 years after graduating college, quitting. One day, we were out for a walk. At a busy intersection, the crosswalk light turned for us and I pushed the stroller in front of a line of waiting cars. Halfway across a man yelled out of his car, “Hurry up and why don’t you get a damn job!” I was mortified. I wasn’t angry with the man for being out of line, I was ashamed. Ashamed I didn’t have a job to identify me as “worthy.” How he would know my job status could only be the work of the devil.
Sometimes we accept the word of satan much easier than the Word of God
My value, my self-worth, was wrapped up in a career. Here I had a beautiful baby, a loving husband, a nice home and yet I was unable to see these gifts from God. I had a plan and I had quit that plan. I was a failure. Each day my husband would come home and out of habit ask me what I had done that day. Boy did that get my hackles up! I started inventing things I had done or making what little I had done sound so exhausting and important. I mean a trip to the dry cleaning can really take a lot out of you. Instead of enjoying those precious moments of playing hide and go seek with my daughter I fretted over my future.
Life seems so complex and we want to control it. By making our plans we try to take the chaos out of our lives. We don’t want to be those “losers” who don’t have enough money to live on when we retire. We make grand plans for our bank accounts. We try to position ourselves so we are the ones that get that great promotion. We commit ourselves to long term goals with creating a family, losing weight, travelling, careers and so much more. And yet, we forget about today. The right here and now.
That doesn’t mean we aren’t to be good stewards of our gifts. I did a Bible study once where the entire focus was on being a good manager of what God has placed in our hands. You see it’s never about having money or not having money with God. It’s never about having a good job or not. It’s not about saving money to buy a home or not. God’s has all good things in mind for us. It’s always about our relationship with Him. When we submit to the will of God, it all starts to make sense.
I used to pray for God to bring me joy one day. That day was, of course, when I was financially secure, my kids were in good jobs and married, and I finally had the perfect lakehouse. Sounds like the perfect plan, right? I kept putting off joy. Instead of investing in my eternal life by appreciating today, I was investing in my earthly life by ignoring today. I was reading a sermon by Charles Spurgeon today called, “Waiting Only Upon God.” He tells this story about the Scottish novelist and playwright Sir Walter Scott:
“Perhaps there never was a mind more gigantic than the mind of Sir Walter Scott: a man whose soul was as fertile as the newly broken soil of the land of gold. That man was a good man I believe, a Christian; but he made a mistake in the object of his life. His object was to be a lord, to found a family, to plant the root of an ancestral tree the fruit of which should be heard of in ages to come; magnificent in his hospitality, generous in his nature, laborious in his continual strife to win the object of his life, yet after all he died a disappointed and unsuccessful man. He reared his palace, he accumulated his wealth and one sad day saw it scattered to the wind, and he had lost that for which he had lived. Had he fixed his eye upon some better object than the pleasing of the public, or the accumulation of wealth, or the founding of a family, he might have got the others, and he would not have lost the first. Oh! had he said “Now I will serve my God; this potent pen of mine, dedicated to the Most High; shall weave into my marvellous stories things that shall enlighten, convince, and lead to Jesus,” he might have died penniless, but he would have died having achieved the object of his wishes—not a disappointed man.”
In other words, God gifts us in so many ways – with different talents, with finances, with family, etc – but when we make the plan to succeed at those, without seeking His Will, we will surely be disappointed at the end. We work and we toil. We stress and we plan. And we forget this one thing.
It’s true. We all will die. We don’t know the day or the hour. Without God as our light, without God as our object of desire, we waste our days clutching and worrying. Spurgeon goes on to say that so many of us make our plans and then turn to God asking what we should do and then go do what we originally planned. Sound familiar? In fact, after researching for this post I finally realized I hadn’t prayed yet what God wanted me to say. I kept bouncing back to my notes thinking about what I wanted to write. I finally just opened my computer, put my hands to the keys and said, “Tell me what you want me to say.” I had done my research, I had quotes and verses to pull from so I was prepared. But in the end, I was also willing to do what God told me to do.
I heard a sermon the other day called “Crazy Faith.” The pastor started out talking about Noah. Here’s this guy, most likely a farmer, who the Bible called a “righteous man.” Meaning he probably honored his debts, paid his workers and did a bang-up job with taking care of his family. He had it all planned out. Toil away in the fields year after year and be a successful farmer. And then God. The great part of this story is Noah didn’t say, “But I have my own plan for my life. I’m a farmer, not a ship builder. Oh, and by the way, I don’t live by an ocean. I’m going to go out and plant some more seeds and reap my harvest. Go away.” I’m sure being a “righteous man” he prayed to God for good things to happen in his life. So, when God said, “Ok, here’s a good thing I want you to do.” He did it. Are we so willing? Or are we married, fully committed to our plan? We are so committed that we miss the God given opportunities to help and love others. We miss the doors He opens for an amazing life rather than the toiling life we have planned.
A few posts ago I mentioned the 100 Lunches Project. Each week for about a year God led me to feeding the homeless. It wasn’t about feeding the homeless really. It was about ripping that need to work and justify my daily activities out of my heart and mind. It was about not planning every single detail out. It was about going first to Him to check in on what He wanted from me. At the time I was working at a school counseling office. I worked three days a week. It made me feel worthy. And then He told me that I needed to deliver food regularly on one of those three days. When I went into the office the next day I said, “I know you are familiar with my 100 Lunches Project. Well, God told me I need to start doing it on Wednesdays so that means I can’t work that day.” Yep, I said that. And the response was, “Ok, sounds good. We are happy to have you whichever days you can give us.” My mouth might have dropped open a bit. Each and every time I went to God for direction, on money, on what to buy, on where to go, on the help I needed, He answered. And I obeyed. It was glorious.
So, you see, it’s not about trying to build up that big retirement account. It’s about asking God what you should do with that paycheck. And doing it. Charles Stanley’s Life Principles #2 & #5 say to obey God and leave all the consequences to Him – even if it seems unreasonable. EVEN IF he asks us to build an ark in the middle of the desert. He has great plans for us – we may not ever be famous or wealthy. But that plan will be good. And if He doesn’t answer right away, as Christians that live close to God, we already know to be good stewards of His gifts. We will have prepared for the day He does speak. Until then, He calls us to enjoy what we have right now. For tomorrow may never come.
They didn’t want to add to our current, stressful situation. My husband, their son, owns and operates residential Alzheimer’s care facilities and each day the state government was changing rules related to COVID-19. The staff were worried, residents’ family members were worried. And true to my in-law’s gracious ways, they didn’t want to pile on more bad news.
You see, my precious mother-in-law had been diagnosed with uterine cancer. When we talk about angels on Earth you’re talking about her. When I picture her I see love. I see goodness. She is one of my touchstones. She’s a lot of people’s touchstones. During the last 32 years she has quietly guided my faith journey. And she has cancer.
James leaps from the starting gate in his letter to the church with a challenging statement:
A few years ago, that statement might have received the response, “Are you ‘cray, cray’?” Meaning you’ve got to be kidding. Not only “joy” but “pure joy.” It reminds me of the scene in the movie Animal House — a pop culture film about a college fraternity. In it, actor Kevin Bacon is being initiated into the fraternity. He is required to be harshly paddled by its members. But not just paddled, he must also request the beating each time by yelling, “Thank you sir! May I have another!” The pain is evident on his face with each whack. Yet he knows he must ask for more to achieve his ultimate goal — membership.
While I don’t believe God wants us to be begging for trials, He knows in the course of our existence they will naturally come. In Mark 10, Jesus tells the disciples that not only will they receive a hundred times what they have given up to follow Him but also persecutions. Throughout the Bible we are encouraged to embrace our trials, whether from persecution, loss or affliction, so that our faith may mature.
A few years ago, I started hearing the term, “baby Christian.” The implication being that we are born with our commitment to Christ and then grow with our faith. We can choose to stay “baby Christians” just like we can also choose not to become mature adults. It seems more obvious to the world when we see people who have opted to not get a job, educate themselves, learn to live on their own, have a solid bank balance, and take care of themselves. You might have someone like that in your own family. Or you might be aiding in someone’s stunted path to maturity. What doesn’t always seem obvious is our stunted Christian spiritual growth. It takes much of the same concerted effort to grow in our faith. To be at the place James calls us to — finding Pure Joy in the difficult times.
With James’ simple opening salvo he blasts us into paying attention. We can either 1) scoff and choose to ignore him as a crazy person or 2) say, “tell me how.” In Luke 22:28 Jesus listens to a dispute among the disciples. They are arguing who is the better disciple (sounds like one of my PTA meetings). He interrupts and tells them, “You are (all) those who have stood by me in my trials.” His trials. You see, Jesus was sent to not only verbally teach us our Father’s ways but to experience our earthly ways to show us how to handle them. We mark our spiritual growth chart with each trial when we turn to Jesus and say, “you’ve been here, show me what to do.”
There’s lots of self-help books out there to guide us to being mature adults. But the best book to read for both spiritual growth and worldly maturity is the Bible. Every single book of the Bible talks about trials or persecution. And without fail the solution is prayer. Not just any prayer. A personal plea. A demanding of God’s blessing to rain down on us. A clearing of our eyes to see the joy. And then listening. He will speak to you.
God rarely just throws us first into the fiery pit. And even if he does, he is always with us. That alone is a blessing for which to be thankful. With each trial, each persecution, He expects us to grow more trusting of Him. Yes, expects. Dr. Charles Stanley’s Life Lesson #7 says, “The dark moments of our life will last only so long as is necessary for God to accomplish His purpose in us.” So, my advice to you, accept and learn early and as quickly as possible.
With each trial thrown in your path you gain perseverance, patience and clarity of God’s presence. But we must do the work of asking Jesus, “Show me.” I once told my Bible Study group we need to shorten the “ah ha moment gap” from years, to months, to days, to instantly. We all can look back at situations where maybe we didn’t get the job we’d hoped for or maybe even got fired from a job. Or a loss of a home due to fire, a friendship that soured, a marriage dissolved. How long has it taken you to accept the way God was working in that time? Have you seen it yet? He was there. He spoke to you.
Why is all this important? We know there will be trials so that means we can’t do anything about them, correct? When we dread what we think is to come, when we are poured into concrete boots of fear during trials, we’ve taken our eyes off Jesus. And if we are to grow in this project called Us we need a strong foundation of keeping our faith and trust in Him alone. This is not an easy task. For some of us it takes every minute of every hour re-focusing our mind on Him – especially when we are afraid. I’ve come to use the term, “Perspective Change Moment” with some of my friends. When we start in on our ills, fears, anger, dread it helps to have someone say to us,” Yes, that’s awful and…..”
With the same practice we put into doing our hair every morning or working out or learning how to use our smartphone or figuring out how late we can sleep and still get to work on time we need to attack the devil that keeps trying to pull our eyes away from Jesus. Show me, Jesus. Speak to me, God. It’s not enough to tell yourself, or others, “don’t worry” or “don’t be afraid.” We must fill our minds with something other than that fear and worry. In Luke 11, Jesus tells the story of an impure spirit coming out of a person and goes looking for a better place. When the spirit doesn’t find it he returns to find a nice, clean, empty house. And you know what that impure spirit does? He invites a few more friends to join him! Our lives end up looking more like a Weight Watchers check-in session – we have a week we are up and a week we are down and on and on. Had that person cast out the spirit with Jesus’ help and filled that home with God’s Word, Jesus’ love, and the constant presence of the Holy Spirit you can bet the evil spirit wouldn’t make it past the garden gate!
I have a good friend who was laid off from her church position about 3 years ago. It has been difficult for her to find the joy in that trial. For me, I can remember how unhappy she was in that job. But no matter how many times I told her how miserable she was, she still couldn’t accept it. Until she finished one of her journaling books. One day a week or so ago she started reading through her old journals from that time. In them she found her old self praying for God’s intervention constantly. Each workday entry was a distraught woman praying for God to fix the problems swirling at work. She finally had her “ah ha moment.” God was there, telling her to leave. But she kept holding on. That day she made a new mark on her spiritual growth chart. God had spoken to her and she had to joy of knowing He was with her. She could release all the negative emotions surrounding losing that job. It wasn’t where God wanted her to be.
So, here I was, working on being the best team member I could be for my husband as we waded through the throes of the COVID-19 lockdown and my in-laws finally decided we needed to hear the news. Cancer. Just a year ago this would’ve put me in a tailspin. But in just that year’s time, I’ve gone through a family death, putting on a distance wedding, accepting the fact that I’m not going to work anymore, and much more. With each trial I leaned into my Rock a little more. With each trial I started finding the joys. So, after the news I took my dog for a quiet walk in our nearby canyon and asked Jesus, “Show me.” I cried out to God the great Counselor, God my Comforter. I first pleaded and said, “You can’t take her.” I raised my hands high and begged for mercy for my sweet mother-in-law. I reminded Him she is a faithful servant. She is His loving daughter. And then I listened. He reminded me we all must pass one day, just as her own mother did a year ago. He told me He loves her more than even I do. He told me to just keep loving her and living out joy moments right now, today. He showed me that when her time comes, just as mine will too, she will join her mom in glory at God’s card game table. The battle of who is the best 31 card player will continue into eternity. And I laughed.
Are you going through a trial and need prayers? I’d love to pray with you. Have you gone through a trial and had your “ah ha moment?” Please share.
So here we are — Day 30 of 30 Days of Praise! And although my daily prayer praise of the Almighty doesn’t end with today, my challenge to find different ways to write about God’s amazing characteristics is complete. When I started this more than 30 days ago I was on a journey to help me learn a new way of praying. I felt comfortable with thanking God, asking God for help, and asking Him for forgiveness. But praising God seemed so strange and uncomfortable to me. True to His character He placed a challenge on my heart and mind to help me grow.
I heard a great comment about God’s character yesterday. “God never allows us to fail a test, he just gives us the test over and over until we pass.” It goes right along with Charles Stanley’s Life Principle #7:
The dark moments of our life will last only so long as necessary for God to accomplish His purpose in us.
Charles Stanley, 30 Life Principles
God Allows Us to Be Reduced to Brokenness
You see, I didn’t start my journey of learning how to praise God 30 days ago. I started the day God spoke to me in my bedroom a few years ago. While I sat enjoying my little pity party God said, “Enough is enough.” He shook me with the simple statement: “What have you really done?” You see I was whining about being such a “good Christian” and yet my life felt like a mess. He spoke those words loudly again, “Yes, what have you really done?” He had been letting me do things my own way for a long time. But He loves us too much to let us continue down destructive paths for too long. That day started my training. And it was intense. He taught me that the secret to a peace-filled life was a lot simpler than what I imagined. I didn’t need to be “doing” so much. I just needed to obey Him — no matter the consequences, no matter how outlandish the request sounded. 1 John 2:25 says:
But if anyone obeys His word, love for God is truly made complete in them.
1 John 2:25
Not only was I reduced to brokenness but God was right there to put me back together as a much more simple, faithful Christian with one goal: Obey.
God Re-Uses Lessons To Get Us to Listen
Throughout my continuing journey I have experienced many times when the same lesson pops up over and over. It’s when I give in and say, “ok, ok, I get it!” that He finally moves on. From podcasts, to daily devotionals, and songs on the radio to a Bible study, His Word weaves its way seamlessly throughout our lives. On August 1, I started with my devotional, “New Day, New You” by Joyce Meyer. The day’s lesson? “Simple, Believing Prayer” based on Matthew 6:7. “And when you pray, do not heap phrases as the gentiles do, for they think they will be heard for their much speaking.” Good start as I then turn to my “30 Life Principles” Bible study lesson for the day: “Listening to God is essential to walking with God.” In it the question was asked, “What does Jesus say about the use of many words?” Based on, guess….. Matthew 6:7. I saw a message forming here. I then decided to read a bit of my “Spurgeon on Prayer & Spiritual Warfare.” I don’t read it everyday but I felt led to that day. And lo and behold, the topic was approaching God with reverence, joy, submission, confidence and sincerity. Not babbling on with useless words intended to make myself sound “christian-like.” Point taken.
God Takes Trash and Makes It Into Something Beautiful
Each Sunday we would see him. A man in about his 40s dressed to the 9s. Not just full suits but “zoot” suits. Big shoulder pads, double breasted suits. But what was most impressive was his hair. I dated a guy back in the 80s who played in a 60s throwback band with that same hair — pumped up, rockabilly pompadour. He stood out among the mostly white, upper class 60-80 year olds. It came to pass we ended up in the same membership class. I told him how I enjoyed seeing what cool and interesting outfits he was going to show up in each week. And, I was definitely impressed with his hair. Both being named Chris/Kris we of course, hit it off. When it came time to tell our testimony I realized what a blessing it was that God put me in the same group as Chris. He told us how his family growing up were Christians. But he rebelled. He wanted long hair, hard rock and a free spirited life. One day when he was 15 his father came to him and said, “We are going to Africa to be missionaries. You have two choices, you can cut your hair and come with us or you stay here in California and find your own way.” He chose to keep his hair. He also decided that Los Angeles was the place to become a rock star. He played bass and guitar. He ended up on the streets, homeless. And he turned to drugs which eventually led to heroin. He told us he should’ve died at least 10 times. But God was not done with him. He pulled him from the fire after yet another devastating drug-fueled, car accident. And led him on the path to recovery. He now goes all over the country speaking on the perils of heroin and his faith in God. He jumped in to help mentor middle school and high school kids at our church. He’s one cool cat. Chris was like the trash that rolls along our city streets, finding its way into doorways. Crumpled up and seemingly useless. God transformed him into a true follower of Christ — a thing of beauty. His transformation story gives me hope for my, much smaller problems.
I praise God today for all the work He has done and will do in our lives. He whispers to us. He shouts at us. He shakes us and he nudges us. He will never force us to follow Him. And He will never fully let us go. Click on the photo below to enjoy the song, “Raise a Hallelujah” by Bethel Music — but here’s a hint, play it loud and raise your hands high!! I look forward to having you join me on my next challenge — “His Works Project”– coming soon!
Have you ever felt like your entire world is falling apart? Sometimes everything just feels broken. Marriages, children, health, finances – all the pieces of our life that can take turns for the worse. At times we might just need a little physical therapy on one part of our life. Or some psychotherapy. During smaller crises an aspirin will do the trick. During any of these large or small life emergencies one doctor is always on call – God.
Charles Stanley’s Life Principle # 8 advises, “Fight all your battles on your knees and you win every time.” It’s based on 2 Samuel 15:31. King David’s family was a mess. His one son, Ammon, rapes David’s daughter, Tamar. His other son, Absalom kills Ammon. Had it stopped there they might have been able to work out their issues. But David forgot the one action that managed to resolve so many issues – turning to God. What ensued was brewing hatreds, deceit, more murder, and kingdoms in peril. David needed to call the doctor, on his knees. In fact, after so many hurts and misunderstandings that’s what he finally did. And God began working out David’s trials for his good.
Praise God that he is the ultimate diagnostician. When we get on our knees first when facing life’s problems, it puts Him in charge of helping us fix them. We have such a limited view of solutions at times — our emotions and fears direct us rather than say, grace, mercy and forgiveness. God sees the whole body and what we really need. That doesn’t mean there’s always a quick fix. In fact, God frequently uses our brokenness to gain greater peace in our lives. I love what Joyce Meyer, who was physically abused by her father for many years, once said about God’s healing spirit:
“God has done so much in my life, and my desire is to help others who are hurting to receive his love and get the healing they need – mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I know the Word works and total restoration is possible in Christ because I’ve experienced it myself.”
Jesus, God’s earthly partner in His medical practice, came to heal all our deep wounds. Yes, he physically took away some afflictions but he came primarily to heal our souls and hearts. When he sat and ate at Levi’s house, along with a large crowd of the famed, evil tax collectors, the Pharisees chastised him: “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus’ poignant response was: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” When we come to him with our sins about money, unforgiveness, lack of humility, anger, infidelity, and so much more he brings out the ambulance to rescue us. But if we never call 911 we are left to our own meager and, at times, more destructive treatments.
What if, in the midst of your trial, your life emergency, you drop to your knees and call up the ultimate doctor? He might give you an answer you would’ve never expected. And just like our worldly antibiotics routines, we need to take all His medicine faithfully.
Enjoy this great song by Matthias Worship called “Every Bone.” Please share with us today how God has rescued and healed you.