The Question I Never Asked

shutterstock_220508812It’s funny how God always gives us the answers we need instead of the ones we want.  Right now, there are many things in my world that are causing me great distress, and I have earnestly prayed for clarity in all of them, waiting for God to answer me.  I have been coming to Him with the right heart, but I didn’t know I was asking the wrong questions.  Instead of providing clarity on all my situations, He revealed to me what I needed in order to hear His answers, and in doing so, He answered the one question I wasn’t even asking: “How do I find clarity on HOW to get clarity?”

When we are walking through difficult circumstances, knowledge is not always power.  Sometimes we end up knowing things we really shouldn’t know.  When others share information or details about things going on around us, even if the information is correct, it will almost always color our opinions of those situations. Our opinion or perspective can be deeply affected by knowing what other people think or have done.  I’m not advocating for sticking our heads in the sand, but I’m saying that sometimes the phrase “knowledge is power,” couldn’t be further from the truth.  Knowledge can actually be destructive, especially to our spirits.  The deciding factor on how knowledge affects us is actually found in the source of that knowledge.  If it is knowledge of God’s word and what He wants from us in the way we live and treat others, then that knowledge is absolutely powerful.  On the other hand, if it is knowledge about what someone else has said or done, we are in danger of being swayed. Most of us want to know the details of all the situations around us, especially if they are “juicy.”  We try to rationalize this thirst and hunger for details as a way of helping us make better decisions.  Sometimes we even claim it helps us to pray better, because we can pray more specifically.  Really?  Do you really think that an omniscient God doesn’t already know all the details?   Trust me; He certainly doesn’t need you or me to fill Him in on them.

In my situation(s), I keep praying for clarity on what I’m supposed to do.  What is the solution? Am I supposed to stand firm?  Am I supposed to walk away?  I just want to know which way to turn, because I don’t have that direction yet.  I don’t want to do something I’m not being called to do, so it stands to reason that my heart would be searching for answers.  But what do we do when those answers don’t seem to be coming?

As people of faith, there is an endless number of quotes, verses, statements and sentiments we use for ourselves or share with others when difficult times hit us.  It’s not that these sentiments or statements are worthless, but often over time, they seem to lose something.  As Christians, it’s sometimes easy to find ourselves just going through the motions.  We know what to say and when to say it.  We know what to do, and we may even do it, but something is still missing.  We feel frustrated, discouraged and disappointed but keep pressing on because that’s what we’ve been taught to do.  After all, isn’t that what God WANTS us to do?  Aren’t we supposed to persevere and keep walking in faith no matter how we feel?   Well, that’s where the disjoint has been happening for me lately.  How do I know when God is trying to move me into something else or asking me to persevere exactly where I am?  Little by little, I found myself inching closer to that question I really should have been asking all along.

When we are truly seeking the right direction in our lives or circumstances, we go through a process of discovery.  We ask and ponder and sometimes even drive ourselves crazy trying to wrap our hands or heads around a plan that will work.  Our hearts can be in the right place, but the fog hanging over it can make it confusing, so we pray and consider all aspects of our situation.  For me, that consideration can actually bring up more and more feelings of discouragement and frustration.  Those feelings can then lead me to a place where I am ready to change direction or make decisions based on how I feel.  When we arrive at these places, we need to ask ourselves, “Do I feel called somewhere else or to something else, or am I just frustrated, bored, disappointed, etc.?”  If our response to that question is that we are frustrated and such, then it’s time to step back.  Being frustrated and disappointed is very different from being “called.”   I know because I’m experiencing it in my own life, and yet God has been quietly whispering to me, answering the question I wasn’t even asking:

“How do I get clarity on HOW to get clarity?”

Self-reflection is one of the most difficult things we can do in times of frustration or discouragement.  As humans, we are outward‑looking people.  It’s much easier to look at what someone else is or isn’t doing than to be honest about ourselves.  The more frustrated we get, the harder self-reflection becomes.  As a result of this truth, I realized I needed to step back and ask myself these questions:

  • Am I doing everything God asks of ME to do?
  • Am I loving radically?
  • Am I forgiving radically?

shutterstock_463471961I know we often look at the word “radical” as somewhat of a bad word, especially in churches, but how did Jesus command us to love each other?  And how are we commanded to treat each other?  We know the answers to those questions.  They are simple answers, and yet so difficult to put into practice because we are human.  We get tired of loving, forgiving and serving others when we get nothing in return from them.  Sometimes in the middle of my discouragement, I am reminded of how often Jesus must have felt the same way.  When I shared this with my husband recently, his response was, “I’m not Jesus.  I’m not divine.”  Although I completely understand the sentiment, it isn’t an accurate one.  We ARE divine.  My mind and body may not be divine, but my spirit is!  As believers, we have the Holy Spirit living within us.  Our spirit is HIS spirit, so we truly are divine in that one area of our own trinity (body, mind, spirit).  That means we CAN love and forgive radically, but we choose not to because it’s so hard to overcome our human nature.  It’s a battle, and we are always going to fail here and there because we aren’t perfect!  I often feel like the apostle Paul – I don’t do what I want to do and I can stop doing what I don’t want to do!

Where is your heart?  Where is mine?  Is it in the right place?  For example: How do you react if you plan something for the right reasons, and no one really shows up, even though it was something you felt God wanted you to do?  If you truly feel it’s the right thing to do, and nobody shows up, I can assure you the emotions of disappointment and discouragement will wash over you.  I’ve been there even recently, and it can be heartbreaking and frustrating, but that doesn’t mean we should let those feelings affect what we do next.  That’s much easier said than done, because we usually start drawing conclusions as to why some people didn’t show up.  That’s not how we are supposed to be!  We aren’t supposed to be judgmental, and when we are caught up in our own opinions, then we are missing the essence of what God is asking US to do.

shutterstock_507354892Our actions can certainly be evidence of our commitment or the commitment of others, whether it’s to our family, church, jobs, or anything else.  Talk is really cheap, but we need to remember that actions can also be deceiving.  We’ve all had times where we remained committed to our responsibilities long after our heart was no longer in it.  In these cases, it gives the impression we are committed, but the truth is we are just going through the motions.  It’s no different than those who constantly talk about being committed but won’t ever sacrifice or, as the saying goes, “put their money where their mouths are.”  Our service to God in EVERY area of life is between us and God first.  Only we can determine where God is calling us or in what manner He is asking us to serve.  Our responsibility is to Him first, and if we want to have clear direction, we must keep our priorities in order.  Like most of us, I need to humble my attitude more.  It’s easy to feel pious or like a martyr when we feel like we are the only ones doing all the work.  And guess what?  Sometimes you ARE doing all the work.  When that’s the case, it’s easy to fall prey to that mindset, but then we are letting our emotions take over.  God tells us that whatever we do should be done in love.  Period. (1 Cor 16:14) That also means if I am serving, it shouldn’t be out of obligation, and it shouldn’t matter what others are or are not doing.  What matters is whether or not I am doing things from a heart of true love, forgiveness and service.

shutterstock_294695897We naturally want things to be fair in life.  What we don’t consider is who determines what is “fair” and what is not?  God has commanded us to drop our own attitudes, even if they seem warranted and realistic.  It’s ok to feel angry, disappointed, discouraged and frustrated, but God tells us to let it go!  We know it’s true, but I sometimes act like a whining child and think, “Why do I always have to drop my attitude, but they never have to drop theirs?”  Have you ever felt that way?  Well, God’s response to that question is, “You drop it because you are mature enough to know better.”  Ugh – if that doesn’t hit you in the heart, I don’t know what will.  Sometimes the reason God asks so much of us is because we know better. He asks more of us because we are more spiritually mature.  After all, to whom much is given, much is required.  Go read about the concept of the “weaker brother” in Romans chapter 14, and consider that for a moment.  Sometimes being right isn’t always the right thing for us to do.  It really does all come back to love, but instead we sit and complain about fairness.  I have news for you, until you are hanging on a cross with people spitting on you and torturing you to death, you don’t have any right to complain that it’s not fair that you have to treat people with love and kindness in spite of how they treat you in return.

Look, we are commanded by God to love each other as He loves us!  We are commanded to forgive each other as He forgives us.  If we want clarity, then living as God has instructed us is not an option.  I can assure you that my heart is in the right place when I am asking God for clarity and wisdom in my own situations, but I’m not always approaching things with the right attitude either.  Doing so causes confusion that clouds my ability to have clarity.  Have you ever been close in your relationship with God and been asking for him to provide direction but then get confused when He doesn’t seem to be answering?  Do we think that He doesn’t want us to know what to do in life?  That’s ridiculous, but it’s essentially what we are saying when we get upset that we can’t see or hear His answers.

All communication involves a sender and receiver, a message, feedback and noise, but it’s the noise that comes into play here.  Noise is anything that interferes with the clear sending or receiving of a message.  If you are on the phone, it could be static.  If you are in a crowded room, it could be the sound of all the voices around you.  If you shine a flashlight into the dark, it could be a tree that gets in the way of where you are trying to shine it.  You get the point.  Right now, for me, it’s not my situations that are causing the noise that’s clouding my ability to be confident in where God is leading, but rather my attitude toward them.  If I keep saying to myself, “I am doing the right thing, and I’m going to keep doing the right thing, but it irritates me that I have to keep doing the right thing,” then I am displaying an attitude to God that He never wants to see in us as His children.  Others may not see it, but He does and he knows.  The reality, if I’m truthful, is that I am making my own noise and then wondering why I can’t discern the direction God is already providing for me.

shutterstock_756307036.jpgWhen we are faced with situations we don’t understand or are wondering why God doesn’t seem to be listening, we need to step back.  When we are trying to discern whether or not God is pulling and drawing us toward something else, we need to make sure we aren’t squinting through a fog trying to guess what or where it is.  When we know there are things God wants us to do, but refuse to do them because we don’t like them or think they are fair, then we are turning up the noise that prevents us from hearing what He’s trying to tell us.   If we will simply start loving radically and forgiving radically, regardless of what anyone else does, we can start to clear the fog.  When that happens, I can have far more confidence in the answers to my questions.  It’s definitely not easy to do, but it is the truth, nonetheless.  Clarity in the details can only come after we have clarity on the bigger picture.

When we start doing the things we know for certain that God wants us to do, and then we ask Him for clarity in the detailed situations of our lives, He will give it.  If I’m serving, loving and forgiving radically wherever I am, and still feel God pulling at me to move, then I can have peace in the certainty of that direction.  The truth is most of us don’t want to do those things because it isn’t easy, and it isn’t fair by our standards.

So if you are like me, and are currently struggling for clarity in your life, then maybe it’s time to take a deep breath and remember God is not hiding His will from us.  He takes no pleasure in making us guess at what He wants us to do or in us trying to solve our problems by trial and error.  It’s not that He is waiting to answer us; it’s that we need to clear the noise so that we can hear Him more clearly.  We need to clear the fog of pride, discouragement or frustration that is making it difficult to see where He is leading.  We simply need to get our eyes off the raging sea and look to the One who has shown us exactly how we should treat each other.  And then if He moves us on, we can do so in love rather than in frustration and discouragement.

Jesus was radical!  He loved people even as they were mistreating, mocking, abusing and rejecting Him.  He continued to love them in spite of who they were, and He does the same for us.  He forgave everyone, over and over, even though they didn’t deserve it.  He didn’t question their sincerity, or put conditions on His love or forgiveness, and He didn’t drag grudges around with Him.  As a result, HE had perfect clarity on how to approach the situations in which He found Himself.  He had clarity on what to do, how to do it and when to do it, and He followed that call regardless of His own emotions.

shutterstock_32845126We may not be perfect, but if we will become as radical in our love and forgiveness for others as He was, then the fog will begin to clear.  As it says in Proverbs 3:6, “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.”  We can’t cherry-pick the areas in which we follow and then expect Him to make the path clear to us.   He just won’t do it.

It’s amazing what we learn when God answers the questions we never thought to ask.

Blessings.

Misplaced Responsibility

shutterstock_670207864How many times have you found yourself overwhelmed and burned out?  If you are like me, it’s probably been more than once!  I say all the time that we get thrown into so many circumstances in life and even if there are a lot of good things (by our definition), the amount of activity just seems to keep increasing, and it totally wears us out.   That’s where I find myself now, and I’m sure many of you can relate.

So how do you know when the candle you’ve been burning at both ends is about to disappear?  Well, first there are the obvious clinical signs like:

  • Exhaustion – physical and/or emotional
  • Physical health issues – headaches, dizziness, chest pains, illness, etc.
  • Mental health issues – anxiety, depression, anger or hopelessness
  • Forgetfulness or having trouble concentrating
  • Apathy
  • Increased irritability
  • Lack of productivity, poor performance or feeling like you never accomplish anything
  • Pessimism or cynicism
  • Isolation

Although I have been here before, this time around has brought some enlightening revelations that I just had to share.

I will not go into all the many things that are wearing me out these days, but suffice it to say I am being hit from all sides in all kinds of different ways.  I have found myself in my car, heading to someplace I have responsibilities (work, church or home), sobbing and telling God, “I can’t do this anymore!”  It is simply overwhelming.  No one wants to live with a constant barrage of difficult circumstances, and yet when I look around me, it seems like so many of us are in that place most of the time.  So I started wondering what I am taking on that is not my responsibility, and this is where my thoughts had to unravel a little so that they could come back together more appropriately.

shutterstock_143745571I was raised with a sense of responsibility and accomplishment.  I have always tried to be the best at what I do, but more importantly I have tried to love and serve God and others in every way possible.  I’ve been active in church all my life, worked successfully at my job, and had all kinds of other interests and activities.  My point is that I am not one to sit on the sidelines, and it is important for me to feel like what I am doing makes a difference for others.  That all sounds great, until I began to realize my positive drive becomes warped when my sense of responsibility gets skewed.

Many of us take on far more responsibility than necessary for certain things in life.  I realize there are also a lot of people who take NO responsibility for anything which makes the rest of us feel as though it is our job to pick up the slack.  After all, if we don’t do it, who will?  There is some truth in that question, but we need to be careful that we aren’t falling in love with being the “doer” or getting our fulfillment from being superhuman (or thinking we are).  I admit fully I have been in that exact cycle at times in my own life.  It feels good to get all kinds of stuff done!  It feels good to help everyone.  It feels good to plan and execute events, etc., but lately there have been a few situations that have brought to my attention the fact I have started mistaking my desire for my responsibility.   That, my friends, is a dangerous mindset, because it means burnout is already upon us or barreling toward us at a high rate of speed!  I mentioned that I have been wondering what I’ve taken on that is not my responsibility.  What am I doing to myself that is adding to my own burnout these days?  The answer is that I have been taking on misplaced responsibilities.

We all have areas where we have to rely on a leader of some kind.   (I use the term “leader” loosely, as many so-called leaders do not actually lead.)  In our jobs, we have Supervisors/Owners.  In our churches we have Pastors.  In volunteer work we have Executive Directors.  You get where I’m going with this.  The problem is when leaders don’t actually LEAD, everything starts falling apart.  Even Proverbs 29:18 warns us, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”   There are countless examples of organizations, churches or companies that have died off because of a lack of leadership.  When that happens, people try to find all kinds of reasons for the failure of a company, church or even a family, when the truth is there was no leadership!  shutterstock_383113444When leaders become so engrossed in themselves, or so detached from the people they are supposedly serving, there is chaos.  That chaos may not always manifest in external ways, but internally it leaves people feeling alone and without support or direction.  That’s when you see informal leaders appear, and often those people are not always operating with the best intentions; sometimes they are seeking control.  I will add though, sometimes there are also very good people who are simply trying to step up and keep things going in the absence of appropriately placed leadership.  When leaders don’t lead, it begins a vicious cycle that only stops when the he or she takes a hard look in the mirror and changes, or you get a new leader.  Aside from one of those two things, “the people perish.”  Do you know whose responsibility it is to lead?  THE LEADER’S!

So back to the revelation about responsibility and burnout that struck me so hard it changed my thinking.  I realized that although the good I have been trying to do in certain areas of life has been sincere and from a heart of love, there was/is an extra element of compensating for what I perceive to be a lack of leadership.  I’ve been here before, but this time it was like God opened up the sky and shined a huge light right down on this perception.  You see, there are some areas in life where you can only do so much.  We should always do what God calls us to do and let Him handle the results, but when there is no life or passion in those around you, people are perishing.  There is no amount of effort you or I can put into an organization of any kind that will effectively substitute for a lack of leadership from the person who holds the official position of leader, regardless of the title by which it is called.  And if it IS possible for us to keep holding things together when a leader won’t lead, then we have much bigger problems than lifelessness or a lack of passion.

It is a hard thing to realize, no matter how much we love or care about our jobs, churches, volunteer work, etc., there is no amount of effort we can put in that will substitute for leadership.  I’m not saying we can’t step up and be leaders in some of these areas, but when THE leader won’t (or can’t) step up and fulfill their responsibilities, our efforts will so often result in a burnout that scorches us at the very core.  It not only burns us out, it changes what was intended for good into something that is unhealthy for us.  We can only keep pressing on when we realize that some things are not our responsibility.

For a person of faith, God is my ultimate leader and guide.  It is my responsibility to follow where He leads and do what He calls me to do.  The rest is up to Him.  What we do in life is important; there’s no question about that, but how we do it is even more important.  When I start feeling like everything rests on my shoulders, I have misplaced my focus and energy.  And when that happens, the fire within starts to suffocate and burnout is inevitable.  I have had the opportunity to lead others in many different endeavors and situations, and it is a responsibility I take very seriously.  I know what it is like to wither under a lack of leadership, and I know that God can do amazing things when we simply submit to Him and let Him do the heavy lifting.

So today I am struggling with the fact that I can’t fix some things that are broken.  I’m struggling with the possibility of what God might be doing or how/where He is moving because it is unknown to me, even though He sees what I cannot.  I am exhausted and discouraged by the path I have been walking and the lack of passion I see in others that I cannot ignite.   It is my responsibility and my honor to pray for the people in leadership that affect me.  It is my responsibility to love others and to forgive without judgment or condemnation.  It is my responsibility to follow, unashamedly, wherever God leads.  It is my responsibility to be and act as I am called to be and act.  I will continue to ignite passion wherever God calls me to be a light, but it is time to let go of the responsibilities that He has placed on someone else.shutterstock_82458775

It is my prayer that we will all take a deep breath and remember not everything is our responsibility.  It’s time to stop trying to make up for what is lacking in others and step back to refocus.  Without vision, the people perish.  A lack of leadership can be scary, discouraging, frustrating and depressing, but thank God He has promised to lead and guide us no matter our circumstances.   He is a God of passion not apathy, so if you are a leader, then lead!  And if your leaders are not leading, then seek God’s direction on the path ahead.  If we are seeking Him, He will make it clear.

Blessings!

The 11-Day Journey

Murmuring, grumbling, complaining.   We are all guilty of it, and we really don’t stop to think about what it costs us.   Not only does it turn us into people that others don’t want to be around, it can actually change the course of our journeys.  We say it’s just harmless venting, and yes, there are times that we need to vent a little bit, but spending our time complaining or murmuring about our situations, or about other people in our lives, is something we should not be doing.  Period.

shutterstock_614595179When God delivered Israel out of their bondage in Egypt, He intended for them to inhabit the Promised Land.  The journey from where they were to where they were going was an 11-day journey (Deuteronomy 1:2), and yet it took them FORTY years to make it (Numbers chpt. 14).  They wandered around in the desert for 40 years because they did nothing but murmur and complain at almost every turn.  In Numbers chapter 14, God even said, “How long will these people treat me with contempt?  How long will they refuse to believe in Me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them?  How long will this wicked community grumble against me?”  God goes on to say He was going to destroy them, but Moses interceded and asked Him to spare them.  God agreed to spare them, but then said not one of those who murmured and complained against Him would see the Promised Land.  The consequences these people experienced as a result of their complaining cost them far more than they would have ever expected, and an 11-day journey became one of 40 years.  God still took care of them during their 40 years of wandering, but it could have all been over much sooner, if only for a change of perspective.

How many times have you or I extended the amount of time we had to spend in certain circumstances just because we refused to stop complaining, gossiping, or getting caught up in the opinions of those around us?  Sometimes we can be swayed by group complaining.  After all, negativity is far more contagious than anything positive.  We get into situations where we feel justified in talking bad about someone, because we feel they deserve it.  People who have mistreated us, or even made poor personal decisions that affect us, are easy targets of our complaining, but we better be careful.  The more we complain, the more we “wander” until we change our perspective.  Israel eventually stopped complaining and trusted God, but it was at such great expense.  A generation of people (and complainers) died in the wilderness and never actually got to enter the Promised Land.  They missed out on the most amazing blessings and stayed stuck in a difficult and discouraging situation, because they chose to complain about everything instead of being grateful and trusting God to work things out.  Again, I ask how many times do we extend our own challenges because we do the same thing?

shutterstock_1017742099God tells us over and over to be grateful, but He also tells us to stop complaining!  Philippians 2:14 says to do all things without grumbling or arguing.  Ephesians 4:29 says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”  There are many other verses that tell us to speak words that lift up and encourage, not tear down and destroy, and even with all of this knowledge of what God expects from us, we just don’t seem to be able to stop the grumbling.   We can’t seem to let go of criticizing others around us for not responding to things like we think they should.  We walk around thinking our way is the best way, and eventually it diminishes our ability to actually listen to the people around us.   You’ve probably heard the saying, “God gave you two ears and only one mouth, because you should listen twice as much as you speak.”  We are losing the ability to listen for the purpose of truly hearing, and it is harming us and our society.

When we listen to others, we are able to discern far better the reason for their reactions and even emotions at times.  We learn each other and can read between the lines to the deeper meaning (or problem) behind the words someone is speaking.  But listening this way requires humility.  You cannot truly listen to someone else while being full of yourself.  Being so convinced we are right takes up all the space inside us that is needed for seeing things from another point of view, one that may actually be better than our own.  We have to humble ourselves in order to listen, and we need to listen as though we are trying to learn something.  When we have an interest in something, we listen to information and instruction about it completely differently.  We WANT to know all we can about the subject.  The same is, or should be, true about listening to others.  We should love each other in such a way that we want to know all we can about each other – not for the purpose of judging, but for understanding how to help and encourage each other more effectively.  Based on the way we listen, it’s obvious we aren’t nearly as interested in each other as we claim to be.  I recently came across a verse that has become a prayer for me, even though Isaiah 50:4 is actually a statement of something God has already done.  Two of the phrases struck me and have become this prayer: “Lord, instruct my tongue with a word to sustain the weary, and waken my ear to listen like one being taught.”   I want to love and care for others in a way that causes me to humble my spirit and speak words of encouragement.  I want to set aside my expectations of who or what they should be and listen as they teach me who they are, because that kind of perspective can change the world one person at a time.

shutterstock_294695897We all have situations in life that are extremely difficult at times.  We deal with all kinds of problems and challenges, some that are gut-wrenching or heartbreaking, and it’s easy to see why we might fall into a perpetual state of complaining.  When we are hit with trouble from every side, it’s hard to keep pressing forward or even to hold to our faith while standing still.  Romans 4:8-9 reminds us, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”  That sounds encouraging, but the truth is, in the heat of our troubles, we don’t believe those words are true.  Not only that, it feels good to complain!  It really is true that misery loves company.  We’ve elevated complaining to an art in our society.  We’ve become a people who actually tries to “one-up” each other in the difficulty of our circumstances.  It’s like we wear our troubles as a badge of honor!  We’ve all known people who seem to only have words of negativity about themselves or others around them.  They are the ones always looking to gossip or share negative things about someone else, often in an attempt to make themselves look better or seem more important.  We’ve known people who complain or grumble in order to look more like a martyr for doing something.  We’ve known people who also live like Eeyore with a “poor, pitiful me” mentality.  As people of faith, when are we going to wake up?!  When are we going to admit that our complaining comes not just from a place of feeling slighted by others, but by believing we have been slighted by God (though we probably wouldn’t admit that out loud)?

So how then do we set aside our tendency to grumble and complain?  We do it by changing our focus.  I realize that is easier said than done, but some of the best advice on what we should be doing is found in God’s word.  Philippians 4:8 tells us exactly what we should be thinking about.  “Finally, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good report, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”  This isn’t just advice for people of faith, but for all mankind.  How do we stop complaining?  By dwelling on THESE things!  I’m not saying it is easy to do, but we absolutely have the power to focus on whatever we choose.  We need to surround ourselves with friends and family who can listen to us vent for a bit, but then gently help us shift our focus.  Thinking on the things mentioned in Philippians 4:8 doesn’t mean we won’t feel the emotions that sometimes overwhelm us.  We will still get frustrated, sad or even angry, but we don’t have to continue ruminating on the difficulties we face day in and day out.  My great-grandma liked to say, “You can’t keep a bird from flying over your head, but you don’t have to let it build a nest.”  We can’t keep thoughts from popping into our head at times, but it doesn’t mean we have to let them take up residence!  And by the way, we also don’t need to let everything that pops into our heads pop out of our mouths!

shutterstock_228591001This world is in need of joy; WE are in need of joy.  That means we also need each other!  We need to focus on loving each other and helping each other, rather than “wallerin’ around in our troubles” (and yes, I just used the word “wallerin’”).  When we complain, we end up cutting off support we would otherwise have, because people don’t usually want to be around a complainer.  More importantly, it grieves God to hear us continually complaining about our lives.  He loves us and has promised He is working everything out for our good.  He just wants us to trust Him because He sees a much bigger picture than what you or I can see.  So often, we are just like the Israelites wandering in the desert, complaining about where or how God is leading us.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to risk wandering around in my own personal wilderness for 40 years, when I could have walked through it in 11 days by trusting God, focusing on the good, and simply biting my tongue.  Lord, instruct my tongue with a word to sustain the weary, and waken my ear to listen like one being taught!

Blessings!

 

Are You Parenting Your Gifts?

I wanted to write a post last week as we approached Mother’s Day, but life’s circumstances kept me from it.  Life isn’t what it used to be and it seems to be crowding out my passions more and more, but maybe the delay was there to give me time to think a little differently.  Maybe this post needed a “twist”

shutterstock_129320129Many of you who know me or have read my blog for the past few years know that I did not give birth to children of my own.  I used to say I was not “blessed” with children of my own, but I have tried to change the way I look at it.  Children are certainly a blessing from God, but so is every other gift with which God blesses us.  And just like it is the responsibility of a mother or father to nurture, grow and raise his/her child, it is our job to nurture, grow and raise our appointed gifts.  One gift from God is not greater than another and if we are living as we should, we will not treat them as such – in ourselves or in looking at those around us.  God entrusts all of us with specific gifts that require sacrifice, patience, responsibility, passion, love in order to raise them.  Those gifts also often bring us disappointment, frustration, and heartaches as we see them not turning out the way we planned, or when we make mistakes in how we raise them.

We need to start looking at our lives differently.  We need to open our eyes to the world around us and recognize where we are being called to serve.  It’s just so incredibly easy to get lazy and not walk out the path for which we are chosen.  It’s easier to become a lazy parent of our gifts.  It’s easy to feel those gifts tugging at us for attention but simply offer up something to keep them occupied so that we can go on living the lives WE want instead of realizing the importance of doing the hard work that comes with nurturing and growing that which God placed within us.  I admit, I have often found myself the lazy parent of my gifts.  This blog has many times reminded me of it.  The intentions are good but the execution is lacking.  I have made excuses in my mind for all the reasons that keep me from my writing, or working on my books, or doing something with my music, or reaching out to find opportunities to speak.  I’m not saying the distractions aren’t valid, because most of them are, but I am saying that it is easy to give up and stop trying whenever life gets too complicated or too busy.  Just like a parent with a child, sometimes I’m just too tired to put in the effort anymore.  In the long run, that not only makes me feel I’m failing as the parent/steward of my gifts, but it can also have lasting impacts on the effectiveness of those gifts or what they turn out to be.

shutterstock_782571799We really are all gifted in certain ways.  God has given to each of us the abilities and interests we need in order to fulfill what we are called to do.  He has equipped us to walk whatever paths are before us, and He has promised to go with us wherever we go, but there are times those paths (or those gifts) feel like a burden.  I don’t know a parent who hasn’t had times of feeling burdened by the responsibility of raising his/her children.  It doesn’t mean they don’t love their kids, but the reality of day-to-day living is far more challenging than anticipated.  There are discouragements and frustrations that come along that make them question if they are doing the right things or dealing with their kids in the best ways to ensure they grow up to be good people.  The same is true of our other gifts and talents.  We know what we are called to do, or we recognize the gifts within us, but it is a continual learning process as to how we need to nurture them.  We make decisions that involve our gifts and then second guess if that was really the best use of them.  Other times we make obvious mistakes in the direction we go and then beat ourselves up for it.

Living with purpose isn’t easy in the chaos of our busy lives.  Just like parents can become so distracted by everything that is continually pulling at them, we can get distracted by so many things the enemy devises to keep us from nurturing what God has given us.  We can become so overwhelmed by our lives that we no longer even see our gifts, let alone know how to use them.  We end up lost in a sea of fear, doubt, depression or anxiety and then feel like giving up.  Being overloaded with life makes us want to just zone out and not have to consider our never-ending responsibilities.

shutterstock_760829524There is another aspect of parenting that also applies greatly to our gifts: protection.  Parents must protect their children, and we must also protect our gifts.  Our talents, abilities and callings must be protected.  People can be so mean and so incredibly judgmental of what we do with our lives.  They can discourage us, or even try to forbid us from using our gifts when it doesn’t fit their ideas or beliefs about what we should be doing.  People may even belittle the gifts themselves, making them seem meaningless or trivial when compared to the gifts or talents of others.  For example, someone with the ability to be a great musician, speaker, athlete or business-man/woman are often lauded to have great gifts.  It is “respectable” or “honorable” to be a doctor, lawyer, singer, athlete, etc.   On the other hand, the man or woman who is gifted to understand people with disabilities, or to clean homes/buildings, drive a bus, or anything else that isn’t as “shiny,” are viewed as having lesser gifts.  What about people who have the gift of praying or service?  You know them, the ones who are quietly faithful to do whatever it is God has given to them to do, without accolades or applause.  Are their gifts any less valuable?  On the contrary, I’d say they have the greatest gifts of all!   My point is that we don’t know each other’s children as well as know our own, and the moment we start thinking our gifts are better than someone else’s just because they look different, we are treading on very thin ice.

Maybe we don’t think we received the gifts we should have, or the gifts we wanted, but they are chosen for us by the God who spoke the worlds into order and knows everything ahead in our journeys.  That’s a pretty impressive and special thing to consider.  God doesn’t expect us to all be able to do the same things because He didn’t equip us to do the same things.  We need to stop looking at other people’s “children” and comparing them to our own.  What matters is how you raise YOUR gifts!  If you are called to serve, then serve with all your heart.  If you are called to pray, then pray mightily without doubting (as James 1 tells us).  If you are called to encourage, then do it.  If you are called to be a doctor, then be the best doctor you can be!  Whatever it is that you do, it is important because God chose you to do it.  Your prayers, service, cleaning, listening, forgiving, helping are equally as important as the brain or heart surgeries, arguing court cases, landing planes, or anything else.

shutterstock_217599499So today, I hope we will all step back and consider the gravity of parenting our respective gifts.  It is a responsibility, and it can be difficult and disappointing at times, but it can also be a source of great joy!  You are not here by chance, and you are not here to just take up space.  We are here “for such a time as this,” and we need to turn our focus upward.  We need to live according to the love, grace, mercy and forgiveness that has been given to us by our Heavenly Father and extend those things to the world around us.  We need to encourage each other’s gifts, not envy them. We need to support each other, not tear each other down.  We need to recognize the specialness of our own gifts from God and feel honored to be entrusted with raising them.  There may not be a holiday here on earth to commemorate or honor us for the raising of our gifts, but if we do it humbly as we are called to do, there is coming day where we will be honored by our Heavenly Father when we hear the words, “Well done.”

Blessings!

A “180” Of Faith

543899230565I realize we are quickly approaching Good Friday and Easter Sunday, but this year I’ve been unable to stop thinking about Palm Sunday.  Believe me, I love the reminder of the resurrection and what Jesus did so that I can be saved, but I’ve not paid a whole lot of attention to Palm Sunday until this year.  Maybe it’s because I’m in a strange season of life, trying to determine where or what God is tugging me toward, or maybe it’s because I just needed to see something to shift my perspective a little bit.

Less than a week before Jesus was betrayed, brutally beaten and crucified, he had come into Jerusalem to a grand reception!  It isn’t called the “Triumphal Entry” for nothing!  He was riding on a borrowed donkey’s colt.  The disciples laid their cloaks on the donkey for Him to sit on and the multitudes came out to greet Him.  They laid their cloaks and palm branches before Him, shouting, “Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” as He rode to the temple.  Just think of that sight!  Crowds hailing Him as King and publicly acknowledging Him as Messiah.  So what in the world happened that caused them to turn on Him so quickly and strongly?  How do you go from one extreme to the other in a matter of a few days?  The answer really lies in one word: Expectations.

Expectations are interesting things.  The dictionary defines “expectation” as a strong belief something will happen or to be the case.  Our expectations in life depend on the information we have been given and the way in which we interpret that information.  For example, I expect that my husband is going to do the yard work because he said he would do it.  I believe he will do it, but I also have my expectations of when it will happen and what it will include.  When he does finally go out to do the yard work, he decides not to weed the flowerbeds or sweep off the sidewalk, and I get upset.  Why?  Because he didn’t do things the way I believed they would be done.  543900368135There may be a good reason why he did things differently, but all I see is my unmet expectations. In my original conversation, all he said was that he was going to take care of the yard.  He did not reveal other details of what he planned to do, and I created additional expectations based on the way I would do things.  My expectation that the yard work would be done rests on believing what he told me.  My expectation of HOW it would be done rests in everything else I assumed from his statement.   Our expectations are colored by our past experiences, and they deeply affect our emotions.  When we expect something bad to happen and it doesn’t, we get excited and happy.  When we expect something good to happen and it doesn’t, we become upset, sad, depressed or even angry.  We’ve all been there and have experienced the reality of that roller coaster.  We interpreted something differently and suddenly our world is turned upside-down because something unexpected took place.

So back to Palm Sunday, it was a day filled with people who definitely had expectations!  Some lived in Jerusalem and some were traveling there for the Passover celebration.  They had read the prophesies of old and knew that God was coming to deliver them.  They were being oppressed by Roman rule, so when Jesus, their “King,” showed up, they were excited.  Deliverance was on the way!  They expected Him to ride in and destroy their enemies, deliver them and set up HIS kingdom.  They expected fire and fight in Him.  They expected a political leader.  They thought their day had finally come, so they exclaimed his praises as he rode through town.  This was a GREAT day for them, but then things started to change quickly.  They listened to things he was saying and when His message didn’t fit their expectations, they turned on Him.  He said His Kingdom wasn’t of this world (John 18:36).  He didn’t argue or even defend Himself when He faced His accusers (Matt 27:12-14).  He didn’t answer the charges or even respond to them.  By all standards, He appeared weak.  He certainly did NOT look like a King about to take over!  As a result, it must have confirmed (in the minds of many) that He was not the Messiah, and if He wasn’t the Messiah, then He was definitely a blasphemer as charged.  So in a matter of days, the shouts of the crowd went from “Hosanna” to “Crucify!”  When given a choice of who to release, they chose to put a convicted thief and murderer back into their community rather than someone who had only done good to others.  They were THAT convinced it was impossible He was who He claimed to be, because a King would not come as He came.  A King would not just lie down to be slaughtered.

The crowds that shouted Hosanna on Palm Sunday found themselves with serious unmet expectations.  The Messiah they longed for and believed in did not show up like they expected Him to, but He DID show up, and He DID deliver them, and also all of us.  They just couldn’t accept that God had a plan far greater than their temporary political situation.  He had a plan far greater that was hard to understand after years, or generations, of expecting something different.  But God was at work on His master plan to change everything for humankind.  He was working things out for their good, even when they couldn’t see it or refused to see it.

543902470228How many times in our lives have we lived out our own personal “Holy Week?”  I have often been in difficult situations and was banking on the many promises of God.  I was believing that He knows and cares about what I’m going through, has the power to deliver me and is working things out for my good.  I have shouted “Hosanna” in my expectations and perceptions of what He has said, but then He starts working things out differently than what I expected.  He starts doing or allowing things that I just don’t understand.  I watch what’s happening and start to think that maybe He isn’t who I thought He was.  I look around and start getting angry that He isn’t doing more “smiting” of my enemies or my circumstances and is instead leaving me alone to fight for myself.  It doesn’t take too long thinking these things that I end up angry because He doesn’t care enough to take care of me.  In my own way, I go from shouting “Hosanna,” to shouting, “Crucify!”  I start letting my doubts or anger from unmet expectations drive my perspective and end up choosing to set free the worst of myself rather than to trust God knows what He is doing.

Life is hard.  We were never promised that it would be easy.  As a matter of fact, we are told repeatedly in the Bible that we will have trials and struggles, but that God is always working for our good.  It’s just so incredibly hard to accept that’s the truth when our reality feels so much like the opposite.  Yes, God has the ability to come riding into our circumstances, proclaim Himself as King and destroy whatever or whoever is oppressing us, but we can’t see the big picture.  Sometimes He is working on a much grander and better plan for our deliverance than we can see.  Just because it doesn’t make sense to us, doesn’t mean God isn’t who He says He is.

There are many beautiful pictures in the Easter story – pictures of grace and mercy, of sacrifice and redemption – but this year my prayer is that we remember the crowds.  I pray we remember how their unmet expectations of HOW God was going to deliver them caused such a drastic change in a matter of days. shutterstock_257497339 Unmet expectations can cause us to doubt what we know to be true.  When we hold so tightly to our version of what our deliverance should look like, or how it should come, we end up spending our lives looking for the next best solution.  We waste our energy trying to resolve it ourselves and end up sacrificing our peace and joy in the process.  Sometimes our deliverance comes through waiting.  Sometimes it comes through struggles.  And sometimes we are yelling “Crucify” at the very One who is delivering us – all because He isn’t doing it as we expected.

So look up, my friends, and I will look with you.  I will look to the cross and see not only love and redemption, but also a reminder that God is working a master plan for my good.  And when it seems like God is doing nothing, He is doing something exceedingly abundantly above all I could ask or think.  I just need to stop shouting my plans and trust in the fulfillment of His.

Blessings and a very happy Easter to you all!

Paradise Lost?

shutterstock_732751837Have you ever walked through tough times in your life and come out on the other side, only to be plunged back into difficulties?  It’s one of the most discouraging things in life to think you have finally hit some smooth sailing and then your boat overturns again.  In my life, these times have rattled and shaken me to the core.  I have felt defeated, like the sun was never going to shine again, and have often felt like maybe God is mad at me for some reason to have allowed more trouble in my life.  Of course, there are all the cute quotes out there that remind us God is always good and is always working for our good.  Heck, I even believe that, but man, sometimes I don’t feel it.  I sit and wonder what God is up to and why there are times it feels like He yanks me out of a pleasant place only to drop me into a difficult, depressing or downright terrible place.  If I’m being totally honest, it makes me question His goodness and wonder why He doesn’t just put me (or others) in that pleasant place and let us stay there.  Sometimes it is life circumstances that just hit us, but sometimes God actually calls us out of the good places for a reason.

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about a man named Lazarus.  Many of you may know of whom I am speaking, but let’s take a look at it for a moment. Lazarus was a dear friend of Jesus (and also the brother of Mary and Martha).  He became extremely ill, so Mary and Martha sent a message to Jesus telling Him, “Lord, the one you love is sick,” because they KNEW Jesus had the power to heal him.  It probably seemed like a no-brainer that Jesus would come and heal his friend, especially since the Bible tells us that Jesus not only loved Lazarus, but also loved Mary and Martha.  They were a dear family to Him, and you’d think He would immediately run to take care of it.  But He didn’t.  He told the messenger, “This sickness is not going to end in death.  No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”  Then He stayed where He was for two more days before telling the disciples “let’s go back.”  When they asked why, Jesus told them that Lazarus was asleep and He was going to wake him up.  The disciples crack me up because they told Jesus that if Lazarus was sleeping, then he would get better.  As usual, they missed what He was saying, so Jesus had to clear it up by saying, “Lazarus is dead and for your sake I’m glad I wasn’t there, so that you may believe.  Let’s go.”  That sounds a little harsh, but Jesus also knew his disciples needed some strengthening of their own faith.

When Jesus got to where Lazarus lived, He found that he had already been in the tomb for four days!  Martha hears that Jesus is coming so she takes off to meet him.  She gets to Him and says, “If you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died!” I always feel like Martha was irritated or even scolding when she said it, like “you took too long and now look what happened!”   So Jesus tells her that her brother will live again, but Martha misunderstood and thought He was talking about the resurrection.  After a brief conversation, Martha goes to get Mary.

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When Mary reached Jesus, she fell at His feet in anguish, crying “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.” Same words, different emotion behind it.  The Bible says it was her anguish that deeply moved and troubled Jesus.   He asked where they had buried Lazarus, and then He began to cry.  Yes, He cried openly.  As a result, some people thought, “See how He loved him,” but others started to criticize.  They said, “He opened the eyes of the blind, couldn’t He have kept him from dying?”  What happens next is best read in the verses themselves (John 11:38-44)…

Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.  “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”  Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”  When He had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.  Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Most Christians use this account to share the incredible miracle of Lazarus being raised from the dead, and it IS miraculous.  We hear sermons about how God always shows up right on time, even when we think He is “four days late.”  We hear preachers and teachers talk about Jesus’ love for His friend and the emotion He showed in weeping openly over the situation.  Those are all great things to consider, but how often do we look at how Lazarus probably felt?  If I was Lazarus, I would have been ticked off!  Think about this for a moment:  Here’s a guy who had been really sick and was miserable.  He eventually succumbed to his illness and died, but in that moment, he was immediately in the presence of God.  He was in Paradise!  He has no more pain and doesn’t have to worry about anything anymore.  As a child of God, he is finally home.  I imagine him hanging out with Moses and Abraham, or maybe some of his loved ones who had already died.  What a great homecoming!  What a great time!  All the crap he had to endure on this earth was finally passed, and he could relax.  But then, from beyond the grave, a voice calls to him, “Lazarus, come forth.”  If I was Lazarus, I would be thinking, “Are you kidding me?  After everything I’ve been through, You are calling me BACK?!!  I’ve attained more than I could imagine and You are yanking me back into a world full of trouble, evil, pain and suffering.  Leave me here!”  We don’t know what actually went through Lazarus’ mind, but I think of how I would feel if it happened to me.

shutterstock_427738096There was certainly a bigger purpose for bringing Lazarus back than just relieving the grief of his family.  God used that event to show who He is and that He IS who He says He is.  He used it to show His power, but also his mercy and love.  Look, there was no denying the miraculous nature of what happened.  The Bible tells us that Lazarus was in the grave for four days already and that he stunk!  No one could deny he was dead – I mean “dead” dead!  There was no way to say what Jesus did was a parlor trick or anything else.   It was most definitely effective!  Not only that, but the disciples needed their faith strengthened, and Jesus knew that bringing Lazarus back would accomplish that.  But again, what about Lazarus?  What good did it do HIM to be brought back?  He lost all of the perfection of Heaven, AND he would have to go through an earthly death TWICE!  Is it just me, or does that seem mean to anyone else?  I’ve felt bad for him on that piece, because it really feels like he got the short end of that stick.  I think that’s why we don’t often talk about this piece of the story.  We don’t want to think that God would purposely bring us back from something amazing – or even perfect – just to drop us back into something where we are going to have to struggle.  We can say all day long that we’d be ok with it since it for His glory, but I really don’t think that’s how our hearts react when it happens.

So what was in it for Lazarus?  Think about it this way:

  • Lazarus got to see Heaven and knew exactly what it was like.
  • Knowing what was waiting in Heaven, and that death was not to be feared, would most likely have caused Lazarus to live with a boldness and courage he never had before or might not have had any other way.
  • He got to experience what the rest of us have to take on faith. He believed God, but he actually got see his faith realized with his own eyes, ears and hands.  That would definitely give you a new certainty most people don’t get.
  • He was free when he died and went to Heaven, but he was liberated when Jesus called him back to this world. One of the definitions of being liberated is “releasing someone from a state or situation that limits freedom of thought or behavior.”  By coming back after experiencing Heaven, Lazarus was liberated from fear and anxiety over death.  He was liberated from any doubt that God’s word was true.  He had seen it and it changed him.

So back to present day and all the troubles we endure in life.  I don’t have the big view that God does.  I know that His word tells me that “all things work together for good to them who love God and are the called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28).  I know that God loves us and cares about everything we are going through.  When we cry, He cries (remember how He was moved by Mary’s grief).  He knows exactly where we are, all the time.  Jesus knew Lazarus was dead without anyone telling Him.  He told it to the disciples even though he had not received that message from anyone.  God knows what we’ve endured to get to those pleasant places in our lives – places HE has actually created.  So why call us back away from those places?  Because it can change us for the better if we let it.  It can liberate us if we look at things differently.

shutterstock_293580959When things are going well for me, I need to stop waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I’m sure Lazarus wasn’t worrying about things on earth after he died.  He was simply enjoying being in Heaven.  I need to do the same thing in life’s pleasant places.  I need to just sit back and marvel at how true God’s word is, and that He has taken care of me just as He promised He would.  I need to just relax in that place and not worry about what else might or might not happen.  I’ll be honest, that is NOT a natural or easy thing for me to do, but it would be so much better for me.  When we worry about what might be coming next, we drain all the joy and peace out of the pleasant places in life.  When we do that, we wring the joy and confidence in God out of our lives as well.  Then we wonder why we are so stressed or why God feels so far away.

In those times when we are called out of the pleasant places back into difficulties, it’s so easy to be frustrated and even angry with our Heavenly Father.  We may say, “it’s ok because I know He is working this for His glory and my ultimate good,” but it often becomes just words.  It hurts to be pulled back from the pleasant places.  It hurts when we have to endure challenges after we think we’ve conquered them already.  It is frustrating and so often causes us to immediately lose sight of everything God has done for us or how He has, in the past, brought us through trouble TO the pleasant places. We need to learn to think differently about the challenges.  Rather than seeing them as a punishment or reprimand, we need to recognize that God needs people in this world who have seen first-hand what He can and will do.  He needs people who have unshakable confidence in our eternity so that we can live liberated lives here.  He needs people living courageous lives, in spite of their circumstances, because that kind of life touches and changes the lives of others.  Through that kind of life, we have opportunities to share what we have seen and know to be true about our God who loves us so much.

One last thought about this story:  Notice that Jesus called Lazarus by name.  He didn’t just come back to the grave and say, “come out.”  Do you know why?  Because if He had done that, everyone who was dead would have come out.  He specifically called to Lazarus because God does not operate in generalities.  He operates specifically, personally, on a one-to-one basis.  He has specific plans for each of us, and each of us has a different journey to walk. In spite of our different callings, God wants ALL of us to have peace, confidence and joy.

shutterstock_82458775So the next time I hear, “Deanna, come forth,” I’m going to take a quick look around before I leave the  amazing place in which I’m standing, and consider all He did to deliver me from trials in the past. By doing that, I can walk back into this flawed world with complete confidence and security in the truth of His word.  Only then can I live a liberated life, free of worry and fear in my circumstances, because I have seen His glory and His fulfilled promises first hand.  THAT knowledge and experience in the pleasant places is what will change the way I live in every place else.

Blessings!

The Red Sea Or The Jordan River?

Sometimes you just don’t know what to do or when to do it.  Lately, it seems I keep finding myself in that position.  My grandpa used to say, “If you don’t know which way to turn, don’t turn.”  I know exactly what he meant.  I personally do not believe we should make decisions just for the sake of change.  I believe we need to have that pull from within and not be guided simply by emotion.  We need to listen to that still, small voice that whispers to us which way we should turn.  Waiting on direction is good, but this isn’t really about the act of waiting.  This is about the way in which we wait, and in the way God brings us through (or out of) very difficult and distressing situations.

Life is just hard sometimes.  We all go through stages where we don’t see a way out of situations that are draining us of our joy and peace.  It might be a relationship, a job, financial difficulties, our health or a host of other things.  No matter the source, we just can’t see a way out, and sometimes the “light at the end of the tunnel” really IS a train.  As a person of faith, I truly believe that God can make a way through any circumstance, no matter how dire it may appear.  After all, there is one account after another where He did exactly that for his people.  Sometimes they were grand deliverances and sometimes they were quiet, but what came to mind for me today were two specific stories of God parting the literal waters for His people to cross over.  Two miraculous times, and yet there is something very different about HOW He did it.  This is where I find myself these days: wondering if I am standing at the Red Sea or the Jordan River.

shutterstock_154498460Most of you have at least heard of the story in Exodus 14 of the people of Israel being trapped in front of the Red Sea with no way out.  There was impassible terrain on both sides, they were being pursued from behind by Pharaoh’s army, and there was a sea in front of them.  Death and destruction seemed certain, but God had actually led them there with a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night.  They didn’t end up there by accident; God purposely and unmistakably led them.   They were exactly where He wanted them to be, with no options of escape by their own power.  He did it because He wanted them to see HIS power and deliverance in a way they could not deny.  They were scared.  They were probably terrified when they looked up and saw the army charging toward them.  Moses told them to stand still and they would see the salvation of the Lord.  Then he reiterated that they just needed to be still because the Lord would fight for them. (Exodus 14:13-14)  God told Moses to stretch out his staff over the sea, and the waters would divide.  Moses did what he was told, and God divided the waters.  The people crossed over on TOTALLY DRY ground!  Amazing, right?!  There was no way out, but then a way miraculously opened up before them to be delivered from certain death.

None of us want to be faced with situations that seem like they will destroy us.  We don’t want to be in a place where we have to trust God to make a way.  We don’t want to have to wait and trust Him to deliver us in those times.  We just want out!  So we complain and grumble (just like the Israelites) about how God doesn’t see what we are forced to endure or, even worse, that He sees our struggles and doesn’t care!  I have experienced occasions where I had no way out, but God opened up a path for me that I couldn’t have opened for myself.  When it happens, it is thrilling!  It is a mind-blowing experience that restores and strengthens my faith.  It reminds me that nothing is impossible, and that God will always provide direction and make a way, even when it isn’t on my timetable.

Lately, I have been feeling pretty defeated in some areas of my life.  Sometimes I am discouraged, and sometimes I am downright overwhelmed and depressed.  Like many of us, I try to wait until I finally see the ocean part so I can walk through on dry ground to the other side.  I believe God will impress on my heart the direction(s) I am supposed to take, and I am convinced He will make a way.  So I stand and  watch.  The wind blows and the waves churn, and I watch.  I look behind me and see the enemies closing, but I hold to my faith and trust there will be a way.  I watch, but I have learned something very valuable along the way: Sometimes God doesn’t part the sea; He parts the river.  Let me explain…

shutterstock_303650477I mentioned there were TWO times where God parted literal waters to make a way for His people.  The first was the Red Sea, but the other was Jordan River.  The people of Israel were still journeying along the path God was directing them, carrying the Ark of the Covenant (Joshua chpt 3).  They arrived at the edge of the Jordan River, and there was no way for them to cross.  This was the time of year the river ran so high and swiftly that it would overrun its banks.  It was a rushing, flooding river!  God instructed Joshua that when the people come to the brink of the flowing waters of the Jordan, the priests who were carrying the Ark were to “stand still IN the Jordan.”  Joshua passed the message along, and they did as they were told.  As a result, the waters parted, and the people passed across on DRY GROUND! Sound familiar?  Wait until God tells you to do otherwise and He will make the way clear.  There is a glaring similarity in these two events: God’s direction was to “stand still” and He would provide a way.  On the other hand, there is also a glaring difference.  At the Red Sea, the people were to stand still and watch God open the path ahead. The sea parted before anyone stepped into it.    At the Jordan River, the men were told to stand still IN the Jordan first and then God would open the path. The waters didn’t part until AFTER they stepped in.

So back to my life (and probably some of yours).  I look around me, and most of the time I think “when and how can I get out of this?”  I am often exhausted, stressed and sometimes even afraid.  Sometimes I am angry, not only that God hasn’t delivered me from my circumstances, but that He actually LED me to a place where I can’t see any way out on my own power.  We all find ourselves in places like this where we are completely stuck.  It wears on us.  It wears on me, but then my faith kicks in, and I remember that God is always leading me.  Sometimes He leads me to wait, and sometimes He leads me to walk forward.  He IS leading.  The question is:  Am I actually following?

Many of us are “leaders” in one way or another.  We have positions in our jobs, churches and homes that require us to step up and lead.  Many people, however, do not see themselves as anything but a follower.  They have no desire to lead (in the traditional sense) or be responsible for others.  Neither of these types of people are better than the other, but for those who fall into the latter group, don’t fool yourself into thinking you don’t struggle with control issues.  The reality is that the vast majority of humanity desires (and pursues) the ability to control their own lives and their own journeys.  We may not want to lead others, but we do want to be able to direct our own paths.  Let me put it this way:  We want freedom.  We want to choose what we do and when we do it.  We don’t want to feel trapped or stuck in any area of our lives, and, too often, we view waiting as being stuck.  Waiting goes against our nature when things aren’t going well.  We are hard-wired to do something, or make something happen, and have come to view anything less as laziness.  We overestimate our intelligence (no matter how high or low your IQ may be) and set off in a direction based on a list of pros and cons.  We think through our options and make what we believe is the best decision.  In those rare occasions that we find ourselves temporarily without options, we may wait, but we do not do it gracefully.  As people of faith, we want to be delivered and for God to clear the path ahead the minute we face the ocean or the raging rivers of our lives.  We want to walk through on dry ground, but we cannot do that unless we first stand still.

shutterstock_86702158Standing still isn’t easy.  Waiting for God to open doors and paths in our lives isn’t easy, but knowing where we are supposed to stand still is an even tougher dilemma for us.  Are we (am I) standing at the edge of the sea or the raging river?  How do I know if I am waiting on God to move, or if God is waiting on me to step into the water first?   Are we at a standoff of faith?  Am I misinterpreting my role in this journey?  Questions flood our minds when we are struggling.  We question why God isn’t opening the path before us or why He doesn’t seem to be moving.  We strain our eyes for signs of where we are supposed to go or what we are supposed to do.  Do we wait or do we leap?  My friends, God is not the author of confusion! (1 Cor 14:33)  He is continually leading us in all different ways – some are obvious and some are subtle, but all are powerful if we are willing to follow.  God may drop a sign as obvious as a pillar of fire or cloud in front of you and say “follow that,” or you may have to rely simply on His words.  You may be led to a dead end and told to stand still on the banks of the ocean and wait, or you may be told to step INTO the waters first and wait for them to part.  I think most of us probably prefer waiting for the path to open before we embark upon it.  We like to see it before we walk it.  There are some, however, who actually prefer jumping into the river first and then seeing the path emerge.

I’ve been at the “Red Sea” before.  The stress of looking around and seeing no way out, while an enemy is barreling down on you to destroy you, is overwhelming.  There is an urgency and survival nature that kicks in and creates panic.  “GET ME OUT, I’M GONNA DIE!”  Standing still, feeling like a sitting duck, is terribly difficult in those moments.  We are in fight or flight mode, and being still is contrary to everything in us because time is not on our side.  That is precisely why God tells us to stand still at those moments.  We need to stop and quit freaking out over what is happening.  We need to stand still and remember God led us to this place for a reason, and if we will stand still at that point, we will see the “salvation of the Lord.”  Take a breath.  You followed unmistakable direction in good faith, and God just needs you to calm down and let Him do the heavy lifting.  Be still and let Him show you the way.

shutterstock_224938534The “Jordan River” brings a total different type of stress.  I’ve been there too.  There isn’t the same urgency of survival that happens at the “Red Sea.”  You aren’t trapped and no one is actively pursuing you to destroy you.  You are simply lacking direction.  It isn’t hard for us to stand still in these times because the status quo can be an addictive drug.  When there isn’t an urgent threat, it’s easy to just stick with what you know, but we find ourselves in situations where we are driven to fear, depression, and anxiety.  We know God has the ability to deliver us, but we can see different options or paths for that to happen.  As a result, we become paralyzed because we don’t want to give up what we have if God hasn’t shown us the path yet.  We don’t make the leap because we fear we will be worse off than we are now.  “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t,” right?  So we give up joy, peace and contentment for the sake of stability and safety.  The stress of the Jordan doesn’t come from having to calm yourself to be still in the face of a charging enemy; it comes from having to get the courage to let go of safety and stability FIRST and then wait for God to reveal the path.  Let me add one other thought here.  God told them to step into the raging flood waters and THEN to stand still.  He didn’t tell them to step in and keep walking.  Our tendency at the Jordan is to say, “I know God wants me to step into the river and He will show me the way.”  What we forget is the very next step after leaving the safety of dry land, is to stand still in the unknown.  The fear and anxiety that comes with the Jordan comes from letting go of a sure thing and seemingly risking everything.  It comes in doing making the leap and then having to calm yourself as the flood waters rush around you.  It comes in trying to stand while the force of your circumstances are trying to pull you under.  Instead of asking God “Why did you bring me here to be destroyed,” we ask ourselves, “What was I thinking?!”  We start questioning if we did the right thing, because destruction seems certain as a result of our decision.  We experience the elation of courage, only to be hit with the panic of survival.  We step in, but when the way isn’t immediately made clear, we step back out and wonder why we still don’t see a path.  That isn’t God’s fault; it’s ours.

So the question remains – Am I, or are we, at the Red Sea or the Jordan River.  To answer that question, you need to look at where you’ve been.

  • Have you been following God’s direction with a certainty in your heart that it is Him, only to find yourself in a place where it seems there is no way out? Are you frantic and worried?  If so, take a breath.  Remind God of His promises to take care of you (Deut 31:6; Matt 6:26-34).  Calm yourself and stand still and watch what God is about to do.  You will be walking on dry ground soon,  and the circumstances that were chasing you down to destroy you will be drowned in the sea behind you.
  • On the other hand, have you been following God as he leads you to where He wants you to be, only to find yourself faced with a barrier or circumstance that confuses you? Is there something in your way that is causing you to look at other options, thinking you must have misinterpreted God’s leading up to this point?  Are you stressed or anxious, but leaning instead on safety and stability, settling for less than what you know God has for you?  If so, take heart!  Remind yourself that God is not the author of confusion, and He is simply waiting for you to move forward and step into the water with confidence – even without knowing for sure the outcome at that point.  Just because it’s scary doesn’t mean it isn’t where you are supposed to be.  The waters may be pulling at you once you step in but stand still and watch what God is about to do.  (2 Cor 4:8-9 – 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed)  You, too, will soon be walking on dry ground, safely and with clear direction.

shutterstock_270894053No matter where you find yourself today, standing at the Red Sea or the Jordan, don’t panic.  God is with you, leading you forward.   He isn’t holding His will behind His back and making you play a game to try and figure it out.  If you truly want direction, and are in fellowship with your Father, then He will reveal it to you.  You may still be asking, “But how do I know?”  Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path.”   Notice the little word in the middle – “all.  That little word leaves no room for creating your own directions or forging your own path.  Are you the master of your destiny?  Yes, absolutely.  You have complete freedom of choice to live your life how you choose.  You can go it alone, bumping into walls, frustrated and always seeking direction, or you can acknowledge God in ALL your ways and He will provide the direction for which you are seeking.  If you want to know which way to go, then get humble, surrender your will to His in every area, and then listen to that still, small voice within.  He has promised He will lead us; we simply need to be willing to stand still first, and then follow where He leads.

Blessings!