The Eye Of The Storm

shutterstock_1182832180We’ve all heard, seen, or even experienced being in the eye of a violent storm.  We’ve watched hurricane coverage on the news and marveled at those broadcasts that occur while the “eye” is passing over.  Things change drastically in the eye of the storm.  Raging winds calm down, torrential rains stop, and the dark clouds break to reveal the warm light of the sun.  It really is a beautiful pause, but the reality is that the storm is far from over.

In life, we encounter all kinds of situations and circumstances that begin to beat relentlessly on us.  It could be in a relationship, job, health crisis, church or spiritual upheaval.  When we are faced with extreme storms in our lives, our behavior often resembles that of someone caught in the midst of a literal storm.  We battle and struggle to keep our footing in the raging wind and rain.  We learn the direction in which to lean so that we have less chance of getting knocked totally off our feet.  We adapt as the elements around us change so that we can survive with the least amount of damage to us or what we hold dear.   Survival instincts are heightened and our scope of priorities seems to become more focused, and then it happens; there is an eerie calm that comes over us and a peace that allows us to breathe.

IMG_3002I said earlier the eye of the storm is a “beautiful pause,” because that’s all it is – a pause.  This temporary period of peace and calm is simply a chance to take a breath, gather yourself back together and think clearly for a little while.  It’s a moment in time in which we are reminded that there IS life out there beyond the storm.  It reminds us the sun is still shining and takes us to a place of hope that can strengthen our resolve in the face of knowing there is nothing we can do but endure the impending return of the storm.  This eye is where I find myself right now.  Standing in a place of peace, being reminded of how beautiful life can be, and creating an even deeper appreciation for every other time of calm when the storms weren’t raging.  In this place of peace, it is easy to see clearly the path behind and to gain perspective on the path ahead, even though I cannot direct it.

Facing the second half of the storm is inevitable when standing in the eye.  The peace and calm can be deceiving until we consider what is headed straight for us.  Survival is not guaranteed, nor can we be certain we will come through unscathed.  We may lose many things we hold dear before the storm is past.  We may find ourselves faced with decisions that require us to let go of what we have in our hands in order to hold to the things that might literally save our lives.  It may not be what we want, but if God did not open up an “evacuation route” before the storm hit, then our only choice is to do our best to lean into Him no matter how scared, discouraged or depleted we may become in the process.  He promised He would never leave us and that all things will be worked together for our good.  He didn’t say “most things,” or “some things;” He said ALL things.

Being in the eye of my current storms has provided both perspective and peace.  There is a shedding of things that don’t matter and a refocusing on the things that do.  Am I certain of what else is coming?  Not at all.  Am I certain the things I hold dear will be preserved or preserved in the way in which I wish them to be? No, I am not.  The storm is not over, but I am reminded that I know the Master of the wind.  I know the one who has the ability to say, “Peace, be still” to the raging storm and it will obey.  The best thing I can do is trust the One who is already working things out.  I know He will answer every question in His time and will sustain me through the remainder of this storm.

IMG_2995Sometimes we need the perspective that only the storm can bring.  We can become so complacent in our “ruts” in life, often assuming we will always be able to maintain the status quo.  We float through our days, almost mindlessly at times, and when the storms roll in, we are suddenly more alert.  We may be scared or disrupted by what is happening, but we are no longer able to be oblivious to what is going on around us.  We may endure the shakeup in our routines that come when the storm hits.  We may have seen it coming and tried to make preparations for riding it out, or it may have hit us without warning.  We struggle and react from a survival instinct, and it isn’t easy, but then the eye of the storm moves overhead.  It is then that we have that pocket of peace where we can take a deep breath and be reminded of what it feels like when there are no storms on the horizon.  We can be refreshed and even strengthened in these beautiful moments of perspective.

The eye of any storm is temporary.  It is wonderful and provides the much-needed calm we crave after battling everything that is bombarding us, but it is still temporary.  As a person of faith, the eye is a gift that reminds us God is truly in control.  It is a chance to turn our eyes back to Him and focus on everything good He has promised us.  It is a chance to reflect on what He has already brought us through and be grateful.  It is an opportunity for us to set in our hearts that He has not brought us this far to let us down.

Even if the storm causes you to lose things you wanted to keep, don’t give up.  No one said life was going to be easy.  As a matter of fact, our Father in Heaven told us trouble is a certainty!  “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble, but take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33)  This world is full of broken people, including you and me.  We are imperfect, and it doesn’t matter what positions we or others hold, what status we have in life or even the background from which we came; we all struggle.  You may be struggling with the stages of your own storms right now.  Don’t give up.  Even if the storm changes the landscape, don’t give up.  Most of us are creatures of habit and will do anything to keep from losing the stability of our routines.  We will go to great lengths to dig in our heels when God may be trying to move us forward.  This fight we put up internally is sometimes the exact reason we need the storms.  My grandpa always said, “If you don’t know which way to turn, don’t turn.”  That’s great advice and we should never react out of fear or even being uncomfortable.  I read a quote earlier this week that said, “Sometimes God closes doors because it’s time to move forward.  He knows you won’t move unless your circumstances force you.  Trust the transition, God’s got you.”

shutterstock_319293815If you don’t know which way to turn, don’t turn.  Be steady and listen for God’s direction, but then be willing to do what He leads you to do, even when you know He is leading you into an area you’d rather not go.  But if you are genuinely seeking God’s will for your life, don’t take any path off the table.  We cannot seek His will or clarity in direction but then tell Him which paths we will not take.  And if He is answering your prayer for clarity but you keep creating your own noise that is making it impossible to hear, then He may allow storms in to shake your priorities back into focus.  He will bring you through the first half of the storm into the eye where everything falls into place, and you gain the perspective you need in order to not only survive the storm, but to come out with gratitude for the clarity.  My prayer for you is the same as it is for me, that we breathe and press on with courage and total trust that all is already well, even though we can’t see it yet.  No matter what the landscape looks like when the storm is over, I pray we can find joy and peace in having made it through, and have a renewed sense of strength and clarity in learning what is truly important and what is not.

Blessings!

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!

 

Not Without Hope

Many of you have heard the Bible verse that says we sorrow not as those who have no hope.  I would assume that almost every occasion (if not all) was in reference to someone who has passed from this life.  Sure, it is a comfort to know that we can have hope in the midst of our grief when we lose someone we love, but these past few weeks or so have once again made me look at a common verse a little differently.  I recently lost my dear uncle Dewayne Hoppert, and it has affected me in the most profound ways.  Of course the verse I mentioned keeps coming to mind, but not in just the sense of hope I have of seeing my uncle again, but more in how my uncle lived HIS life.

dewayne happyMy Uncle Dewayne (or Uncle Wayne as I called him) was the most amazing man of faith and incredible teacher of God’s word.  He gave up a very successful and lucrative career in construction to answer the call to full-time ministry.  He earned a double Bachelor’s Degree in Theology and Bible Languages, as well as Master of Bible Languages and Doctor of Bible Languages.  He was not only masterful in his study of God’s word and everything associated with it, but also in relating it to others in the most easy to understand ways.  He was an incredible Pastor and Uncle, but he was an even more amazing example of what it means to live by faith.  Uncle Wayne lived with the effects of Multiple Sclerosis for many years.  He had continual health issues, eventually ended up in a wheelchair and often needed assistance physically.  By all rights, he should have been sad, depressed, and maybe even angry at God for allowing him to suffer physically after he had dedicated his entire life to His service.  Many people would have thought, “If this is what serving God and living by faith means, then I don’t want any part of it.”  But not Dewayne.  Nope, my Uncle Wayne always had a smile on his face and encouragement for everyone else.  You could always hear him laughing from the depths of his soul or whistling as he wheeled around the church.  At his Celebration of Life service, it was one of the most talked about aspects of his life aside from his faith, and yet it was his faith that allowed him to be so joyful and hopeful.  How in the world was he able to keep that attitude no matter what stresses came into his life (physical or otherwise)?  Well, for lack of a better statement, “He sorrowed not as those who have no hope.”

Grief and loss is such a terrible sensation.  Whether we lose a loved one, our jobs, a relationship or any other thing we value, it saddens us.  It grieves us.  It breaks our hearts.  I have lost a lot of people in my life who were dear to me, and I usually go back to this verse (along with others) to comfort me that I will see them again.  Some losses have been profound, but this is the first time I have been so confounded by one.  Maybe it’s because Dewayne was my “second dad.”  Maybe it was because, for 20 years as Music Director, I had the privilege of working so closely with him as the Pastor.  Maybe it was that he was so consistently there for me as my Uncle.  Maybe it was that he was a giant of faith in my eyes.  Or maybe, just maybe, it was simply because he lived every word he ever taught or preached.  Every time he said, “God is in control,” or “God’s got this,” he spoke out of the experience of living it.  He may have doubted now and then, but he never caved to that doubt.  Instead, he talked about how we can live victoriously over our circumstances through our faith, hope and trust in God.  And just like him, we can do the same thing by letting our love and gratitude for God drive our mindset.

shutterstock_672165244Hope is not easy to come by in a hopeless world.  Recently our Pastor brought a message on hope, and it reminded me of what Dewayne always taught:  The word “hope” used in the verse  “…sorrow not as those who have no hope,” isn’t the kind of hope this world has conditioned us to consider.  This is not just wishing for something.  We talk about hoping we get that promotion or raise.  We talk about hoping something goes well.  We hope our team wins the game.  We hope the weather is good.  We hope, we hope and we hope, but what we are really saying is we “wish.”  This verse, however, uses a word that does not infer wishing, but conveys the certainty of a positive outcome.   I’m not going to go into all the certainties of the resurrection or the certainty of our salvation as believers.  Instead, I want to talk about this idea of being certain of the positive outcome of a situation.  Romans 8:28 tells us that all things work together for our ultimate good and His glory, but when you are trudging through difficulties it’s hard to feel that way.

Having faith isn’t very hard in the good times, but when the rubber meets the road, we are so quick to complain and murmur.  We complain about our jobs, families, churches, traffic,  health, and everything else that doesn’t go the way we want.  We all have difficulties and challenges, but we don’t all go through them the same way.  The Bible is filled with verses telling us God can be trusted and that we need to trust Him.  It tells us He operates differently, and has ways that aren’t like ours, because He sees the big picture.  He knows all the paths in my life and sees it as a beautiful tapestry, where all I see is the mess of threads on the other side.  He isn’t doing things to harm me, but I can only see the threads, and sometimes it feels like He must be mad at me based on my circumstances. But in Jeremiah 29:11 He declares, “For I know the plans I have for you: plans to proper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Verse after verse tells us to seek God first, and He has promised He’ll take care of us in every way.  Dewayne used to say our problem with being totally committed to trusting God is that we KNOW He will take care of us, but we are afraid He won’t do it like we want Him to.  That’s so very true.  We want Him to lead us, but not if it takes us down a path that has difficulties.  We’ve twisted our perspective of God and who He is so much that it’s no wonder we struggle with our faith when things go wrong.

shutterstock_527029558I’m going to be a raw here for a moment.  I miss my Uncle Wayne more than I could possibly put into words.  At times it is an isolating sensation, even though I know others miss him too.  The sorrow over the loss of his physical presence is even more difficult than I imagined it would be.  I miss everything about having him here to see and talk with, whether it was laughing about old times, sharing music, discussing God’s word, or even just saying nothing while enjoying his company.  My heart breaks every time I realize I won’t have one more hug, smile, laugh or conversation with him.  It is a loss so profoundly difficult to process, but then in those moments it’s almost as if I hear his whistling drifting down from Heaven.  I am reminded of what he endured in this life and how he kept his faith no matter what he had to face.  I remember things he taught, but more importantly I remember what it looked like watching him actually live those very things through faith.  He wasn’t perfect, but I’ve never known anyone who was a more perfect parable of what it is like to be a sinner saved by the grace of God, living victoriously through trust and faith in Him.  I told someone recently that we have the perfect, sinless example of Jesus Christ on how we should live our day-to-day lives, but I was blessed beyond measure to have the most perfect example of what it looks like for an imperfect child of God to dedicate himself to learning God’s word, loving God’s word and living God’s word – even when he messed up.  I saw someone who asked for forgiveness when he sinned and understood that he didn’t have to beat himself up over it, because God forgives AND forgets.  I saw “perfect imperfection,” and it was incredible to witness.

My last visit with Dewayne was something I intended to keep private, but now feel compelled to share with you.  I did not intend to see him in the hospital because my previous visit at church with him had been so “normal.”  I was content with it, but less than two days before he passed from this life, God tugged at my heart, and I wanted to go see him.  I couldn’t explain why, but my husband and I headed to the hospital.   He was resting and not very alert, though he would nod and react to what we were saying.  There were even a few moments of laughter and responsiveness.  Before we left, I took his hand and told him I loved him.  He kind of mumbled that he loved me too, and then said, “Hey Mike” to my husband.  On the way down to the lobby of the hospital, my husband and I were talking about being glad we came, even though it was tough.  Suddenly I realized I had left my purse up in the room.  DANG!  We had to go back.  I wasn’t thrilled, but it ended up that my forgetfulness was a total gift from God.  When I walked back in the room, he was actually quite alert.  I got my purse, but then he started talking with me.  We spoke for several minutes, mostly about God being in control.  Here he was, still proclaiming God’s goodness even in his most difficult time.  He told me three different times how proud he was of me, which felt like warm oil soothing my heart.  As we talked, he said, “God’s got this.  There may be some challenges here and there, but He’s working it out and everything is going to be ok.”  He repeated those sentiments several times throughout our conversation.  Then he said, “Study,” and I told him the great thing was that he had actually taught all of us HOW to study through the rules of interpretation.  I told him he had equipped us, and that I would absolutely study.  I said, “That’s a great gift because you can listen to someone all day long but until you study things out for yourself, you don’t own it.”  He pointed at me and said, “That’s right, you’ve got to OWN it.”  He and I then clasped hands, and he pointed at me with the hand I was holding and said, “Now you’re responsible.”  Although my cousin and I laughed and joked a little bit, in my heart (and based on his expression), I will always believe he meant we are the next generation and we need to carry on in faith.  Before I left, we told each other “I love you.”  This time there was no mumbling, but the clear beautiful words that are etched into your soul in those moments.  As I left his room I turned around and pointed at him, and he pointed right back.  Then I gave him a thumbs up, and he laughed and gave one back to me.  That was the last image I had of him.  He was laughing with me and giving me the thumbs up.

I started this post saying I have never had a loss that affected me so profoundly.  It is because the way he actually LIVED affected me so profoundly.  It is a multi-faceted kaleidoscope of memories and lessons that is too massive for me to be able to wrap my head around.  My last visit with him was filled with more than what I could have ever imagined.  His ability to keep his faith, trust and joy was so strong that it filled the room in which he was staying.  It really was no different than how it filled every other room he had been in over the course of his life.  He was different.  He had HOPE!  He knew it didn’t matter what he faced, even when he had every right to be angry or bitter, because in the end he knew he was going to overcome.  He never sorrowed in this life as those who have no hope.  He had hope even when MS began to make it difficult to do certain things.  He had hope when he became confined to a wheelchair.  He had hope when his health faltered or when he had to deal with other challenges associated with life or ministry.  He didn’t just have hope, he LIVED hope!  And so can we!

Matthew 5: 14-16 is something Dewayne spoke about quite often.  “You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden, nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  So let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven.”  He always said those verses don’t say we might be light, but that we ARE light; the question is whether or not we are going to shine or hide.  We have a reason to hope (the certainty of a positive outcome), and it is our turn to shine.  We don’t have to reserve our hope simply for knowing we will see our loved ones again.  We can be certain every day and in every circumstance (no matter how difficult) of exactly what my Uncle Wayne last said to me:

“God’s got this.  There may be challenges here and there, but He’s working it out and it’s going to be ok.”

Blessings!

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.

shutterstock_1006999738

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!

24 To Life

Click below to listen to the audio version of this post:

This may be a strange way to start this post, but recently I saw a television show that chronicled the last 24 hours of freedom for people who had been sentenced to years in prison.  It not only evoked several different emotions, but it also caused some discussions about what you would do if you knew you were going to prison tomorrow.   After the show was over, I didn’t think much more about it until a few days ago.

shutterstock_342646817Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the spiritual battles we face in this life.  At times, I really struggle to hang onto my faith when the enemy continually tries to get me to doubt what I know to be true about God and His nature toward us as His children.  I mean, I know the right things to say and even think, but it is so easy to get caught up in fear, frustration, sadness and a host of other emotions when we are faced with life’s difficulties.  Even the apostle Paul shared his struggle with the battle between our human nature and our spiritual one.  He said, “What I want to do, I don’t do, but what I hate, that’s what I do.  I don’t do the good I want to do, but I do the bad that I don’t want to do, and then keep on doing it.”  Man, he sounds a a lot like me.  Paul explains that it is his sin nature that causes such a problem because once we are saved, we know what we should do, but we often struggle to follow through with it.  Not only that, we struggle what to think, which then causes confusion in our emotions as well.  It’s easy to see why we are so often tangled up within ourselves, walking the line between fear and faith or doubt and trust.

I’ve come to realize that every battle in life is a “spiritual battle.”  Every difficult circumstance I’ve faced has always come back to my perspective on my circumstances.  Whether it was physical pain/illness, financial, professional or relationship issues, the true battle comes not in something I can see or touch, but in my mind where I struggle with confusion and doubt about what to do or how to feel.  Our battles are spiritual!  We have an enemy, and you can call him whatever you want, but God has assured us he is the enemy.  1 Peter 5:8 tell us “Be alert and of sober mind.  Your enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”  Ephesians 6:10-17 tells us about the armor we need to put on in order to fight and defeat the spiritual enemy.  Even Jesus, Himself, had to battle spiritually with Satan and his influence/temptations.  (Matt 4:1-11).  There are so many scriptures that talk about the battle between us and sin, or us and the enemy.  So yes, we are at war with the evil influences and tactics of our enemy in this world, but why is he so relentless?  Well, to answer that in a more contemporary terms, he is living in the stage of his existence that is 24 to life.

shutterstock_234987922Our enemy KNOWS his eventual fate.  The judgement and sentence has been declared and sealed!  Revelation chapter 20 describes exactly what awaits him.  He knows how it all ends, and yet he still has his last 24 hours of freedom before it all comes to pass.  He cannot run or hide from his fate, so he is determined to wreak as much havoc as he possibly can until that time.  He is continually trying to keep the unsaved from believing in Christ, but his greater successes come in trying to keep saved children of God from living the abundant life God has promised to us.  I will always believe that Satan’s greatest accomplishments come within churches full of believers.  God has promised to reveal himself to ALL men (Titus 2:11), so Satan can’t keep someone from the reach of God.  He has a much better chance at getting Christians to fall away from the truth than preventing someone from hearing, seeing, or knowing it.  Satan loves to blind people.  He loves to turn believers into unbelievers.  2 Corinthians tells us that he blinds the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel.  I think we’ve done a huge disservice in taking this as referring to only those who have not accepted Christ as their Savior.  Yes, Satan can blind the unsaved so that it is harder for their hearts and minds to be opened, but he does NOT have the power to keep God from reaching them.  GOD IS ALL POWERFUL!  So then we have to look at that verse a little differently.

We, as people of faith, are often “unbelievers.”  We read the truth and know all the right words to say, but do we actually LIVE what we know is true?  Do we trust God in all circumstances or do we spend our time in worry and fear?  Do we forgive others, even if they don’t ask us, or do we hold grudges?  Do we let our ethical or moral standards fall in those times there is something we want?  Do we love others regardless of race, creed, religion, etc. or do we put conditions on our love?  Do we stand in the midst of life’s storms and get frustrated and angry, or do we put one foot in front of the other and follow wherever God wants us to walk, because HE knows what is best for us (Romans 8:28)?  This world is full of Christian Atheists who have accepted Christ as Savior, but then never live the abundant life He has promised because we let Satan blind US!  We become the “unbelievers!”  It doesn’t mean we are no longer saved or no longer God’s children, it simply means we have stopped believing what He says.

I have struggled with anxiety my entire life.  I have also struggled with physical issues since I was 18 months old that have been debilitating at times.  I worry.  I am afraid of something bad happening to people I love.  I struggle to hold onto peace in my heart during times of trouble, though most people wouldn’t know it.  Like many of you, I have learned to stand strong externally during difficult times but am often reduced to a fearful, frustrated heap that is full of doubt when no one is looking.  Thankfully, as I have studied and prayed more, God has continually revealed more of His character and how He interacts with us.  Being able to secure His word in my heart has changed me, not because someone preached it to me or even from simply reading it, but because I have sought to deepen my personal relationship with him as my “Abba Father.”  Abba is more than a pop group or musical!  “Abba” is the equivalent of our term “Daddy.”  shutterstock_419104021My relationship with God has shifted from a good relationship to an intimately personal one.  As a result, I have learned to relax IN HIM instead of relaxing because of Him.   There is a huge difference between knowing all the right verses and knowing Him.  There is a difference between seeing Him as a loving entity who can help you and recognizing Him as a Dad – as your “Abba Father.”

So back to the enemy for a moment…  He wants nothing more than for you, as a believer, to not believe.  He wants nothing more than to blind you so that you forget who you are and who your “Dad” is.  He is scrambling in this world because he knows he cannot win, and he cannot unseal his fate.  He is angry at God and wants to hurt him, but the only way he can hurt God is by distracting us and causing us to doubt the truth.  Satan’s fate is coming like a freight train. He knows it, but as long as he is still free and walking the earth, he is going to do everything in his power to destroy God’s reputation and steal our peace, joy and strength.  If he can keep us tied up in knots, then no one will ask us for the reason we have hope because we won’t look like we have hope!  When you realize that Satan is living HIS 24 to life right now, it can give you a whole new perspective on why he is so relentless.  His time is limited, and he has to mess up everything he can while he still has time.  He is DESPERATE!

Beginning to see the enemy as a powerful adversary, but also a desperate one, helps me understand why he refuses to give up the fight.  It explains why he keeps coming at me, trying to scare and frustrate me as I walk this journey of life.  He’s throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks, but I have the power IN CHRIST to stand strong and keep my peace and joy.  I have the ability to be content.  “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:13)  Those “things” aren’t material.  All through Philippians chapter 4, Paul was talking about attitudes and perspectives.  I CAN think on the good things mentioned in verse 8.  I CAN rejoice in the Lord always – in ALL circumstances.  I CAN stop worrying and being anxious.  I CAN have peace.  These “things” are not easy.  These “things” take continual reminding and refreshing in our hearts or we fall back into the abyss of fear and doubt.  THESE are the “things” I can do through Christ who strengthens me!

shutterstock_542670394I’ll leave you with this last thought: We are also living in our own 24 to life period.  We all have a finite number of years on this earth.  Once those years are gone, we lose our opportunity to reflect the love and nature of our Father in Heaven to those here on this earth.  We lose the chance to make things right with the people in our lives.  We lose the chance to leave a positive mark on our own little corner of the world.  I don’t know about you, but I want the people who know me to look at me and say, “She is her Father’s daughter.”  I want people to see His nature in me because I love and forgive.  I want them to see someone who struggles with worry and fear but who also steps back and remembers the truth so that I have peace and contentment.  I am living 24 to life.  Though that “life” means eternity of peace and joy in Heaven, I want my “24” down here on Earth to not only be abundant for me in all ways, but to be an abundant encouragement and strength to everyone around me.  I pray that for myself, and I pray that for all of you too.

Blessings!