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!

Why Can’t You Let It Go?

shutterstock_251283712There is a very familiar song from a very popular movie that continually tells us to “let it go.”  Not a bad thought considering how many things in life seem to take us down in one way or another.   We are hit continually with circumstances beyond our control – jobs, family issues, health issues, even the political climate – all of it can just wear us down to the point we truly feel like we cannot get up one more time.  After all, why get up when life is just going to knock you back down again?  That seems like a very valid question, doesn’t it?  Of course it does, until you remember something all people of faith forget:  Our circumstances may be out of our our control, but they are never out of God’s.

I have written a lot about the struggle with trying to control everything in our lives, to mitigate the effects of the world around us.  We save to avoid financial collapse.  We work out and eat right to avoid illness and disease.  We go into professions that we don’t want to be in because they provide stability.  We do all kinds of things to keep from being at the mercy of the elements.  The truth is we can do everything perfectly and think we are prepared for (and protected from) almost anything, but we aren’t.  I’m not saying it doesn’t help, but saving won’t prevent a financial disaster if the conditions are right.  Eating right and exercising won’t keep you from getting sick.  There are people every day who are examples of perfect health who suddenly drop dead from a heart attack, or find out they have cancer or some other dreaded disease.  We don’t want to consider it, but it seems we really are at the mercy of the elements.  Or are we?  How do we walk through this life, bombarded with situations that shake us to our core or bring us to our knees?  How do we keep moving when things fall apart?  How do we press on, when we’ve been betrayed or let down by someone we love?  How do we lift our heads when we lose jobs, homes, or even families?  How do we actually let it go?

We tend to hold on to things; it is in our nature.  We even hold onto things that are harmful for/to us.  How many people remain in terrible relationships because they can’t let go?  How many jobs do we stay in because we can’t let go?  How many places do we live in because we can’t let go? We like the familiar, even when it’s bad.  We like to be in control, or have the illusion of control.  Sometimes the illusion of control is more powerful than actually being in control.  We mix up those two things often – actual control vs the illusion of control.  We rationalize our hoarding of things or relationships and then wonder why we feel so bogged down, stressed out or depressed.  shutterstock_218214685God never meant for us to hoard things in this world.  He never wanted us to put down roots here when our forever home is actually with Him.  “Yeah, yeah, but that’s just a nebulous concept when I’m living in the NOW.”  We really struggle with letting go of anything!  The things we consider “good” in life (money, secure jobs, good relationships, homes and possessions, etc.) are hard to let go of because we think if we “let it go” that means we lose it.  The things we consider “bad” (money, secure jobs, bad relationships, possessions we’ve acquired, etc.) are hard to let go of because they are familiar and serve a purpose for us – even if that purpose is less than desirable.  What we have is what we know, and we don’t like to consider the unknown.  We don’t want to consider that letting go means everything might change.  Letting go of the “good” means we lose and letting go of the “bad” means everything will be unfamiliar.  After all, either way, what if we let it go and then don’t make it?  What if we don’t survive? What if, what if, what if?

What if?  Therein lies the problem.  We don’t know the “what ifs,” but as children of God we know that HE does.  He knows what is around the corner and tells us over and over to trust Him even though His ways are not our ways.  As people of faith, we talk a good talk but our “what ifs” paralyze us and keep us from letting go.  We can’t let it go because we don’t trust the One in whom we claim to place our trust.  The truth is that it is impossible to let go without having trust in something higher than ourselves.  That is true not just for people of faith, but for everyone.  We tend to make our decisions from a place of emotion rather than a place of reason, but God wants us to look at what He has said/promised to us and then trust Him to keep His word.  Trust is not an emotion; it is a decision.  We can trust and let things go, even if we are fearful or apprehensive.  We can have faith even though our knees are shaking.  We can decide to let go and trust, even when we may feel like it’s crazy to do so.  Trust (or faith) and fear are not mutually exclusive.  We can let go and be afraid.  We can let go and be sad.  We can let go and feel all kinds of things, but we cannot let go without trust.  No one can – people of faith or not.

shutterstock_299434214Life is difficult.  We were never promised it would be easy, but it can be rich and fulfilling if we can learn to let things go.  When we learn to let go, we also learn to embrace.  Hurts that we have endured through various means or people can cripple us forever if we let them.  People who have let us down, angered us, treated us poorly or unfairly, or rejected us completely don’t have to diminish us.  Situations that have (or are) less than perfect don’t have to destroy us.  We don’t have to hold onto our grudges or hurts.  We don’t even have to hold on to our expectations that have gone unfulfilled.  We probably need to readjust those expectations anyway.  We, especially as people of faith, have a problem.  We hold ourselves in such high regard that we feel like we have a right to hold onto our anger and hurt.  We think so highly of ourselves that we feel entitled to NOT let things go.  We think it is our right to make sure everything is eventually evened out in our world and that we are treated fairly, and we spend a lot of our time, energy and resources to ensure it happens.  I have news for you: making things “fair” is not your responsibility.  Do you know what IS your responsibility?  Loving God, loving each other and letting things go.

The key to being able to let go is in rationally, reasonably and logically taking God at His word, in spite of our emotions or our desire for control.  It isn’t an easy thing to do, and I struggle with it continually, but it doesn’t change the truth of it.  Emotions are powerful things that can drive us into all kinds of states.  They are volatile and yet they are a very real part of who we are and how God created us to be.  Every emotion we experience, God himself has experienced.  Every betrayal and hurt, every anger and fear, He has experienced them all.  Yes, in the fleshly manifestation as Jesus Christ, He had to deal with every emotion we have dealt with – or ever will.  He was betrayed by those He trusted, his closest friends.  He wept with sadness and grief over losses during His earthly life.  He was terrified in the garden of Gethsemane as He looked at what He was going to have to endure.  But you know what?  He let it go.  He let all of it go and died for us anyway, in spite of how He was treated or how we would dismiss Him today.  He loved us even though He knew we would often reject, disobey and even hate Him.  How was He able to endure such emotion and still press on?  Because He knew the truth and rested in it.  He knew He had a higher purpose and the end result was worth it all, regardless of how he felt emotionally.  When we are able to live from a place of knowing the truth and being willing to walk in it, regardless of how we feel, THAT is when we are able to finally trust and let go.

So I guess I will leave you with what I desire for myself as well as all of you.  I pray we all can step back and realize just what we give up when we are afraid to lose what we already have.   BlessingStop trying to cling to the familiar or to your desire to see that others get what you think they deserve.  Quit holding onto your wounds as badges of honor and be willing to let the wounds in your heart heal.   Let it go.  Open your heart and let go of the pain from those who didn’t love you and embrace the One who does.  And when the circumstances in your life start overwhelming you, or you feel that need for revenge start to rise within you, let it go.  It isn’t worth it.  We were never meant to carry around the weight of the world with us.  We can do exactly what God’s word says in 1 Peter 5:7 – “Cast your cares on Him because He cares for you.”  When we do that, we can still see the sun, no matter how the storms may rage around us.  We can say, with great assurance, “Here I stand in the light of day.  Let the storm rage on, the cold never bothered me anyway.”

Blessings!

Change Is a-Comin’

As we start the new year, social media is a buzz with all kinds of things to help us reach our new year’s goals and resolutions.  There are websites, apps, and all kinds of other things to feed our addiction to improve our lives or ourselves – even if it is only temporary.

shutterstock_2175852582015 brought with it a lot of changes that have made me a better person.   God has worked through every situation, whether it seemed (to me) to be good, bad or somewhere in between.  It’s easy to look backward and see how things have changed us or made us think differently, which SHOULD help us as we look forward.  We don’t have to make sense of everything as it is happening, but rather we can be free to live in the moment and experience life as it happens.  Is it good to plan?  Yes, but that doesn’t mean we should become so concerned with planning and trying to figure things out that we miss everything that is working together for our good.

When we are experiencing difficult times, it is natural for us to expend all kinds of energy trying to make things better or easier, when we would be better off simply breathing through it and taking from it whatever lessons we need.  I’ve had things happen this year that have disappointed me beyond explanation or what I can truly express.  There have been things in every area of my life that have been painful and disappointing, but there have also been things in every area that have been beautiful and brought me great joy.  It all depends on where you choose to look and HOW you look at it.  When we look at our difficulties as an opportunity to reveal the truth about a person, situation, job, church or anything else, we become open to growing and changing through those difficulties.  Thankfully we get to make these choices daily on whether or not we will grow or shrink.  We don’t have to wait for the “New Year.”

shutterstock_257497339Inevitably, most of us take a time to reflect on the passing year and on what we hope for the next one.  We consider the mistakes we made or things we could have handled better.  We think of the opportunities we let slip and times we should have stood up when we didn’t.  Then we start making plans for how we will do things differently in the new year.   No matter the specific change we want to make, we determine to become a better version of ourselves.  I’m not saying it isn’t a noble endeavor to begin but somewhere along the way, we start to slip and end up back in the same old rut, year after year.  I must admit, it’s just easier to go along with the status quo than to get out of our comfort zone and develop a new habit…or a new me.  Every year I have great intentions for the new year, but often fall short because life happens, or at least that’s what I tend to say.

It’s time for me – for all of us – to expect more.  It’s time that we start following that still small voice within, no matter where it leads.  I am certain there will be changes in my spiritual walk because without it, no other changes will be accomplished.  For me, everything starts with where I feel God is calling me to be, and yet knowing it is only half the battle.  This year I need to not only listen, but then draw fully on His strength to carry out the things I know I need to do.  That’s the piece I sometimes miss because I take His will and then start making MY plans for how it will be accomplished.  This year I need to KEEP listening past the “what” and put faith in direction for the “how.”  Waiting and being patient do not come naturally when we are feeling desperate for change, but forcing the timing of that change can backfire on us and stall our progress.

shutterstock_15726439Change is going to happen for all of us this year.  It may be small change or it could be larger than we can even imagine right now.  For me, there are already changes in process that I did not see coming and, quite frankly, are not happy about.  It happens sometimes – circumstances take a turn and we are faced with decisions we’d rather not have to think about, especially when the only options we can see are ones that make us figuratively (or literally) sick to our stomachs.   It is like a rollercoaster that just keeps going until it comes full circle back to the station.  We ride it up and down, through the loops and around the corners, without really any control until we end up back where we got on.  The interesting thing is that once we get off, it’s up to us whether or not to get back on it again.  We can keep doing the same futile thing over and over, speeding down the tracks but getting nowhere, or we can walk away down a new path.  Sometimes neither FEELS good to us in the moment, but one will most certainly lead us nowhere but around the same track.  It’s time to get off the ride and get on with our lives.

So as we all look at where we are in light of where we have been, let us stop promising to change and start resolving to listen to that still, small voice within.  If we will pay attention to where God is leading us instead of where we are planning to go, rest assured the path will be revealed.  Yes, as the song says, “change is a-comin’, but everything’s gonna be alright.”

Blessings!

No Way Out

shutterstock_57395806Have you ever found yourself in a position where you have no control and it feels like everything in your life is crumbling around you?  Welcome to the club, and welcome to my week.  In the story of the great Exodus in God’s word, there is a place called “Pihahiroth” where the people ended up at a dead end with no way out.  (Exodus 14:1-30) It seems that Pihahiroth has once again become all too real in my life.  Most people are familiar with the story of the God’s deliverance of the Israelites from Pharaoh by the parting of the Red Sea.  It was a truly miraculous event where the people had been told by God to follow a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, but in doing so, God led them to Pihahiroth where they found themselves with absolutely no way out.  There they stood with Pharaoh and his army closing in behind to slaughter them.  To the right and left of them was impassible terrain, and in front of them was a sea they could not cross.  They had nowhere to go and could do nothing but sit and wait.  They knew what was coming.  They knew the end was inevitable.  What they didn’t know was there was something amazing just around the corner.

Life can really get us down sometimes.  We spend our days trying to do the right thing, for the right reasons, only to find ourselves feeling as though it doesn’t matter.   For me, I’ve always tried to do what I believed God was leading me to do.  I have not always been successful in that endeavor, as my humanity has sometimes gotten in the way, but since the age of about 17, I have been “all in” with my commitment to living a life of love and service – not just to God, but to others.  I have served the professional organizations of which I have been a part, whether as a career or volunteer work.   I have tried to love and serve others, to build them up and to create bridges instead of walls.  I have sought to take the high road when others wanted to drag me into the mud or when it would have been easier for me to retaliate against injustice.  Am I a great person?  No.  Do I always do the right thing?  No.  I don’t think anyone ever really does, but that doesn’t mean your heart can’t continually be turned toward the things that are right and just.

shutterstock_110043062When times are going well, it is easy to say you are a “person of faith” but what exactly does that mean?  God’s word defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen “  (Hebrews 11:1).  Faith is NOT easy.  Faith is believing God is in control even when the circumstances around you are spinning and crumbling.  Faith is knowing that God is a “rewarder of those who earnestly seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).  Even Galatians 6:9 tells us, “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”  But it is hard not to faint when you’ve been so let down by friends or family, churches or companies.  There is scripture after scripture that mentions these elements of faith, but how do you hold onto faith when you find yourself in situations for which there is no recognizable way out?  How do you stay calm and maintain your peace and joy when everywhere you look, you see nothing but impending doom or destruction?  What do you do when you are faced with the very real circumstances of Pihahiroth?

As I pondered these and other questions, I went back to the story in Exodus.  I thought of how all these people had been slaves in Egypt and how incredible it must have felt when they were freed.  I thought of how God led them in a way that was absolutely unmistakable.  It wouldn’t have taken a brilliant person to follow a pillar of fire or a pillar of cloud.  Today we sometimes struggle with discerning which way God would have us to go or what decision He would have us to make.  We pray and ask for guidance but then we have to listen to that still, small voice within that actually confirms we are in the will of God.  It isn’t always easy.  It would be much easier if God said, “I’m going to put a pillar of fire in front of you and all you need to do is follow it because it will lead you EXACTLY where you need to be.”  Following a physical sign that magnificent would not require any interpretation or planning on your part.  Your only decision would be whether or not to follow.  There would be no question which direction it was going.  iStock_000058072678_SmallSo I think about Israel and how it would have been impossible for them to doubt they were going the right way or doing the right thing.  IT WAS RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM AND VISIBLE.  So they did exactly what God asked of them and then ended up in the worst place possible – a place in which they had no control and all hope was shattered.  I truly believe at that point that even the smartest and most faithful among the people would have begun to doubt.  I can see someone scratching his/her head and thinking, “I don’t understand. It was perfectly clear where God was leading and there was no question about what was right.  So how did we end up HERE?  I must have missed something somewhere or we wouldn’t be trapped.”  How confusing it would have been to have seen God work in such amazing ways to bring you out of slavery but then PURPOSELY lead you to a place from which you could not escape.  Did He make a mistake?  Did you make a mistake in following?   The things the Israelites must have been thinking are questions we still ask ourselves today.   Did I do the right thing for nothing?  Did I follow where God was leading only to end up in a situation from which there is no escape?   Is my situation hopeless?   I can tell you the answer to all of these questions is a resounding “NO,” because the story doesn’t end there.

God had a miraculous plan for Israel just like He has a plan for you and me.  It was an amazing plan but no one knew the outcome except Him.  All He needed for them to do was to trust and follow the obvious direction in which He was leading.  He wasn’t leading them to a boxed canyon of death; He was leading them to the place where they would finally see there was nothing He was incapable of fixing or changing.  He led them to a place where the only resolution to the hopeless situation was the magnificence, power, and love of God.  He led them to a place where when deliverance did come, there would be no doubt whatsoever that it was ALL God and not anything else.

A number of years ago I left a situation that had been very difficult for quite some time.  When I made that change, it felt much like I was leaving my own Egypt.   It had gotten to a point where I felt enslaved and then seemingly out of nowhere God brought me out of it.  Things transpired in a way that it left no doubt it was Him moving in my life.  I look back now and think it looks a lot like Israel.  God said, “I’m going to deliver you out of this situation, and I’m going to promise you some amazing things.  All you have to do is follow.”  I believed that was true and that he had great things in store.  I believed strongly in the path in which God was taking me, and have continued to believed it all these years.   I have been focused on doing what I believe God has called me to do, and to do the right things for the right reasons.  His leading has been as unmistakable as a literal pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, yet I am now standing here in my very own Pihahiroth. shutterstock_331837391It doesn’t feel good.  It feels hopeless.  I feel like that Israelite standing there thinking, “I was doing the right thing, but I must have been wrong because look where I am now.  I’ve got an ocean in front of me and an army closing in behind me.  I look to the right and left and there is nothing but impassible terrain.  I’ve got nothing, no control.  I can’t make anything happen and I’m stuck.”  A few nights ago, as I couldn’t sleep, I literally cried out to God through my tears, “There is no way out of this!  Too much has already happened and it can’t be fixed.  It is impossible!”  And as I heard myself in my despair, I remembered Pihahiroth.  It really isn’t just pretty lyrics to say “God will make a way,” or that Pihahiroth is the place of freedom.   This actually IS Pihahiroth, where God can and will provide a way.  As a matter of fact, He has already made the way.  The question is: Am I willing to follow even when He has not revealed it yet?

We’ve all had Pihahiroth experiences in our lives.  These experiences that are so painful and difficult when you are at a total loss, are the same experiences that build your faith at the deepest level.  We know what God can do because we’ve seen in our lives and the lives of those around us.  We’ve seen it in the things we’ve experienced and lived.  We should remember them but we often don’t.  We should remember the times we stood at the sea crying, “There is no way out,” only to watch the sea just open up before us.  We need to remember the path it creates is not filled with mud that we have to trudge through, but one of dry, easily walkable ground.    When God freed Israel from slavery in Egypt he then basically said, “I’m going to lead you.  Just follow me because I have great things in store for you, and I’m going to make it really simple for you to know the way.  It’s not going to be complicated.  All you have to do is follow that big pillar because I’ve got your back.  You don’t need to worry about anything as long as you follow.”  When God makes it that clear, it does no good whatsoever to sit back and say to yourself, “Maybe that wasn’t the right direction.”  Because the truth is, it wasn’t a mistake then and neither is the situation in which I find myself in today.  It was purposeful for Israel and it is purposeful for me today.

I know if my situation changes, it will be only at the hand of God.  It will be a result of prayer and letting GOD do the heavy lifting.  In my faith, I know I did not simply wander into this place by accident or mistake, and when I am finally walking through on dry ground, I will know beyond the shadow of a doubt that it could only happen because God did it.  In my humanity I am confused, hurt and discouraged.  In my humanity I want to just sit down and give up, but then I catch my breath and remember that God can fix what cannot be fixed.  He can heal what cannot be healed and change what cannot be changed.  That pillar of cloud and fire does not mislead or confuse;  It clarifies.

shutterstock_181128083So as we all live through times of difficulty that appear hopeless, remember the truth of Pihahiroth and the ultimate freedom it brings.  Wait and let God move, no matter how futile it may seem sometimes.  Then follow where He leads and do what He is calling you to do.  Do not give in to your sight, but hold to your faith for we “walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).  Do the right thing even when it hurts, but take heart in knowing nothing escapes the eyes of Heaven, and God has promised to reward those who are faithful.  There really is something amazing right around the corner.  He has promised to always make a way, even when that way seems impossible when you find yourself staring at the sea.  .

Blessings!

Resolutions…Or Not

shutterstock_191672999As we turn the page on the calendar to a new year, it is almost impossible to not stop and think about where we have been and where we are going.  A new calendar year is often a chance for new beginnings and a time of recommitting ourselves to the things we believe are important in life.  It’s easy to get lost during the course of a year and January 1st brings with it a chance to wipe the slate clean and start again.  Of course, the reality is that EVERY day is a new beginning and a new year.  We have the ability to start with a clean slate at any moment we choose; it’s just that we are usually too busy to even remember we have that choice.

Reflection is a GREAT thing in which we should engage.  Taking even a few moments a day to get still and quiet can do wonders for our spirit (and our sanity) and we ought to do it more often.  I realize we are all extremely busy.  It is the nature of our society.  It doesn’t matter if you work at a job, home, in ministry or in some other volunteer capacity.  No matter what it is, the pace is almost impossible to maintain and is something I believe God never intended for us.  There is a reason He gave us a day for rest, and He even gave us an example of it in the creation of the universe.  He rested on the seventh day not because He was tired, but for an example to us that rest is important!  Rest allows us to contemplate, and we cannot contemplate very long before our spirits begin to consider God and His creation.  That’s a good thing!  When we consider these things, it puts everything else in life in perspective.  When we remember that there are things bigger than ourselves, it helps our troubles fade into the background for a while and brings new perspective.

shutterstock_224938534Reflection is really a two-pronged activity: 1)  We remember the blessings we’ve experienced.  2) We remember the mistakes we have made and the consequences those mistakes brought to our world.  There isn’t much danger in an over-consideration of how much we have been blessed in the past, but there is definitely a danger of over-considering all of our mistakes.  Reflecting on the things we need to do differently or areas in which we need to change can spur us to become better people.  It can also remind us of how far short we have fallen in what we wanted to accomplish in the past year (or in our lives).  How we react to these realizations and reflections will determine whether or not our next year is an amazing one or one that we will gladly be saying goodbye to next December 31st.

I’m not big on resolutions.  I don’t make them because I know they usually end up being more like wishes than commitments.  It’s easy to look at a new year and think about all the things I’d like to accomplish this year.  It may be a wish, a goal, or a dream but that doesn’t make me committed to it.  I can say, “I’m going to lose weight this year” (or anything else) and make that my “resolution,” but unless I actually commit to it long-term, it isn’t a resolution at all!

Commitment is an interesting thing.  It isn’t an activity that is loud or visible; it is something that is quiet, strong and steady when no one else is looking. It doesn’t need accolades or applause.  It simply needs a humble heart whose desire for sincere change runs deeper than a need for the approval of others.  Commitment is staying true to the path or changes to which you have been called rather than just “trying” it for a while before going back to your comfort  zone.

shutterstock_221511418So let us begin 2015 not with resolutions, but with resolve.  Let us not begin with promises, but with promise.  If we will look within and commit to simply living our beliefs rather than trying to conform to what we think others want us to be or do, we will find this year to be one of our greatest…no matter what circumstances it may hold.

Blessings!

I Like Big “Buts”…

And I cannot lie.  If you’re truthful with yourself, you could probably say the same thing.   Most of us have heard things like “If ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ were candy and nuts, we’d all have a merry Christmas!”  Boy, isn’t that the truth?  But where “ifs” come as a result of speculation and wishing, “buts” come from a very different place.  “Buts” come from a place of excuses and self-deception.  For example, we all like to sit around and wish and dream of things being different in our life or in our world (“IF I could just save more money, I’d be less stressed”), but we seldom do anything about it (“BUT I just love to shop.”)  The first part of that sentence is a factual statement about what you would like to do.  The second part, though also factual, is your way of rationalizing behavior that will always prevent your dream from coming true.

shutterstock_211760386“Buts” steal our joy and strength in every area:  emotionally, physically, financially and spiritually and cause us to waste our time always stuck in the world of “ifs.”  And I have news for you; that doesn’t make you a “dreamer,” it simply makes you lazy.  Am I a dreamer? Absolutely!  I love to think about possibilities and ways to make the world better, but if I never take steps to actually MAKE the world better, then I am no longer a dreamer;  I am an “iffer.”  A dreamer can stretch out into the land of possibilities and come back with amazing ways to do accomplish those things; an “iffer” simply lives in the land of possibilities with no intention of coming back and making things different.  We should never degrade the term “dreamer” by making it a costume for our “ifs.”  True dreamers seek ways to bring their dreams to life, where “ffers” simply seek dreams as a way of escaping life.   And that’s where the “buts” come in.

“But” is a conjunction that is used to introduce something contrasting with what has already been mentioned.  From a spiritual standpoint, it can often be said that whatever comes after the “but” is sin.  That’s because we use it in the following mindset (fill in your own blanks):  “I know I should do _____ but ______.”  We make statements regarding things that God has put in black and white (or red and white) that He wants us to do.  How many times have you heard these types of statements come out of your (or someone else’s) mouth?

  • I know I should serve God, but I don’t have the time.
  • I know God wants me to have a relationship with Him but it takes too much energy.
  • I know I should give, but I don’t have enough money.
  • I know I should love my enemies, but they don’t deserve it.

And then there are statements around things that we feel called to do, but cannot get a direct answer written in black and white in God’s word:

  • I believe God wants me to teach, but I don’t speak well.
  • I feel called to join the choir or worship team, but I just don’t have time to practice.
  • I believe God is moving me into another line of work, but I’ll make less money.

There are so many things that we miss out on in life because of the word “but.”   As a person of faith, it is one of the most damaging words we can ever utter.   It is far more damaging than other words we use because it neutralizes us.  It neutralizes our relationship with God, and it neutralizes our witness to others.  It keeps us confined and holds us captive, and yet I have to admit far too often that I like big “buts.”

shutterstock_189351380The truth is, “buts” make me feel better about myself, or at least create the illusion for me that I feel better.  They put a nice-looking coat over the rags of disobedience, unfaithfulness or even fear.  They make me feel better about acting wrongly or making improper decisions.   “Buts” also make me feel validated about things I fear.  Instead of admitting I’m scared to step out on faith, I use the word “but.”  For me personally, I have felt called to preach, teach and minister to others since I was about 10 years old.  Being a woman, there are some (maybe even many) who would try to tell me God reserves the call of any kind of public ministry only to men.  I, however, believe it is up to God to call whoever HE chooses to the service He has actually created them to undertake.  I have believed for over 37 years that God was calling me to a greater depth of service to Him in these areas, but I might lose friends over forging ahead especially when the opportunities may be scarce to do so.  People might criticize my choices, even if I believe I am following God’s call.  Actually there is no “might” about it; people WILL criticize my choices when it doesn’t align with their opinion of what I should do or be.  So instead of leaping completely into what I feel called to do, I dabble in it.  I go through stages of full commitment until the thought of what I might lose by going further scares me.  And that’s when my stutter returns.   “But…but…but…”

We use “but” like some kind of expensive perfume that we can pour over our fears, anger, disobedience, etc. to try and make it smell better.  I say expensive, because it really does cost us so much when we use it.  The truth is if we didn’t like “buts” so much, we wouldn’t use them so often.  It just goes on and on, and then we complain that our lives are full of stress, debt, poor health or poor relationships.  If we could remove the negative use of that word from our vocabulary – if I could remove it from mine –my life would start changing, because what we say becomes reality for us.  We need to start owning our decisions, including the thought process that leads up to them!  Quit making excuses, and start putting a period after the first half of your statements.   If you say, “I believe I need to do ____,” then put a period at the end of that phrase and consider how you can accomplish what you believe you need to do.  If you don’t feel strong enough to move forward yet, then at least call it what it is after the word “but.”  Say “I believe I need to do ____, but I’m too scared” or “but I choose not to.”

shutterstock_199190972I’ll leave you with this: there is a way to redeem the word and use it to EMPOWER you!  Change your thinking.  Start using the word “but” to contrast your negative statements instead of your positive ones.

  • I’m afraid to step out on faith, but God said He would always be with me.
  • I’m worried about my finances, but He has promised to take care of me if I seek Him first.
  • Someone hurt me, but I will not let them keep me from loving others.
  • I have wasted so much of my life, but today is a new day.
  • I haven’t fulfilled my dreams yet, BUT nothing is going to stop me now!

“But,” in itself, is neutral.  It’s what we do with it that makes it positive or negative.   It’s my prayer that we can all start living the life of which we’ve always dreamed.   It’s time to let go of the past and move forward.  It’s time to get off our “buts!”

Blessings!

Summertime and the Livin’ is…

shutterstock_125617796It’s hard to believe we are already heading into the traditional months of summer, yet here we are!   As a singer, I can’t help but think of the song “Summertime” when we reach this time of the year, though I’m not always sure we can all say the livin’ is easy.  Regardless of what actual season we are in, we have seasons to our lives as well.  Sometimes those seasons bring great times of abundance, and sometimes the seasons bring times of want/need.   In spite of this reality, we actually can live above our circumstances or in spite of our “seasons.”

Summertime is traditionally viewed as a time filled with fun and relaxation.  The daylight lasts longer, people take vacations, kids are out of school and there is an abundance of activities in which we can engage and enjoy.  Aside from the heat in some places, there’s not much to keep us from doing anything we want.  Wintertime, on the other hand, often prevents us from feeling quite as free to enjoy life.  shutterstock_182019791The weather is cold or wet, and it gets dark early so there’s less time for being outside, even if you can stand the elements.  Life is much the same way.  When the “weather” of life’s circumstances turns dark and cold, we have a choice in how we react to it.  We can bundle up and trudge out into it, determined to get where we are going, or we can snuggle up inside our homes and ride out the storm.  What we do NOT need to do is run out into the elements without any protection!  As children of God, we have the ability to lay back and rest in His arms and trust Him to take care of us no matter how the circumstances may appear.  He is our protection and has promised to work everything out for our good.  Sometimes the winters of our lives exist to help us reduce the frenetic pace of our lives and slow down.  In the “winter” of life, we are faced with difficulties that remind us our true power lies in letting go of our need to control everything.  Winter takes us down, sometimes against our will, but it sets the stage for the eventual summer that is just around the corner.

shutterstock_116510107Summer is, in fact, a wonderful time for most people.  I actually prefer the dreariness of storms and winter, but I love the longer days of summer and all that comes with them.  That being said, just because summer is here doesn’t guarantee the “livin’ is easy.”   When things are going well in our lives, we tend to be happier, more peaceful and even more content.  We are quick to praise God for His blessings and our faith seems to be stronger than ever, but as time goes on it becomes easier and easier to forget that all we have is a blessing from our Heavenly Father.  We start relying on our own abilities and strengths and even forfeit our time with God because we feel less and less need for Him.  After all, things are going great, right?  I don’t say this to pass judgment but to point out that we are ALL human and we ALL fall into these same patterns as believers.  And when we reach the point where we begin to think more highly of ourselves than we ought (Romans 12:3), we will quickly find ourselves in the midst of another storm that brings us back to our knees.

Like the apostle Paul, we need to learn how to live in times of plenty and abundance just as much (or even more so) than living in times of need.  In our times of need, we cling to God.  We refocus our priorities and get back to what is important.  We simplify our world as much as possible because we don’t have much of a choice.  Times of need have a tendency to bring us back to our true center much more than times of plenty.  In times of abundance, our human nature is to become complacent and comfortable.  We rely on our own self-sufficiency and lean less and less on God.  We are blessed with material gain but that gain soon becomes the reason we don’t have time to spend in study and prayer with the One who created us.  There is nothing wrong with material gain and it is not bad to abound!  God WANTS us to have a truly abundant life but that abundance comes through our faith and trust in Him and not in ourselves.   It comes in the peace and joy of knowing God is in control and is working everything out for our good, whether our circumstances seem “good” or “bad” to us.  If we can learn, like the apostle Paul, how to be constant and stable whether in times of plenty or of need, THAT is when our lives become filled with abundance.

shutterstock_150252494The actual season of summer is upon us and I pray it is a beautiful time for everyone.  But more than that, I pray it becomes a reminder that just because the sun is shining, doesn’t mean we should forget the storms we have weathered or the “winter” storms those around us may be trudging through.  Let us open our hearts and allow the summertime to remind us that even when the livin’ seems easy, the difficulties and pain our Heavenly Father endured for us to enjoy the warmth of the good times in life, cost Him more than we can comprehend.

Blessings!