When Life Becomes too Much-


Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test  yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? 2nd Corinthians 13:5 NIV 

Social strife, race riots, job losses, censorship, inflation, lockdowns, school closures and the weirdest pandemic in history. The last few years have been unlike any other in history. 

Sigh. 

Tough times take a toll, psychologically, emotionally and financially. The tough times will begin to affect us spiritually if they go on for too long and it’s not always easy to know when stress has become too much for us and we have stepped over the line into a place of spiritual unhealth. In 2nd Corinthians 13:5 the Apostle Paul encourages Christians to “examine themselves” frequently. Times like ours demand frequent self-checks. Following are five indicators all is not well on a spiritual level. 

Beginning with:  

Prayer is a struggle or worse yet you gave up long ago-

Christians are commanded to pray about everything all the time (Romans 12:12, 1st Thessalonians 5:17, 1st Timothy 2:1-3). God does not need our prayers. God has no needs (Acts 17:24-25). We need to pray because prayer builds connection with God. Ongoing connection with God transforms how we think, feel and behave over time. Prayer also empowers fallible human beings to see people and events the way God sees people and events. Without a regular prayer life spiritual health becomes nothing more than a pipedream. A weak or non-existent prayer life is proof positive a spiritual realignment is needed.   

You have morphed into worst version of yourself-

Everyone has a unique worst version of themselves. Mine is introverted, distrustful, and weirdly obsessed with minor details. Yours might be dramatic, braggy and fixated on personal pleasure. Another person might be critical, unforgiving, and intolerant of differences of opinion at their worst. It’s vital we know who we are, and have a firm grasp on what our “normal” looks like. When our normal morphs into something different and less than healthy than our best selves it’s a sure sign we need a spiritual readjustment. Pronto.  

Politics take precedent-

Politics are not trivial. There is little in this life not touched in some way by politics. Furthermore, one facet of being a good Christian is being an involved citizen. That means taking our civic responsibilities seriously, which cannot be done without some understanding of politics. (1st Peter 2:13). That said, earthly kingdoms all pass away, eventually. It’s critical we understand politics are strictly an earthly issue.  (Philippians 3:20).  There will be no republicans or democrats in heaven. Therefore God calls His people to adopt an eternal perspective and remember it is only what we do in and for the Kingdom of God that truly has an impact. If you find your attention is entirely focused on the political realm I guarantee God wants to change your focus. 

You’re afraid all the time-

Fear and anxiety are a little bit like the check engine light in a car. Feelings of fear and anxiety are not the real problem. They are just an indicator there is another problem that needs to be found and addressed. Sometimes Christians get far too focused on the emotions of fear and anxiety and don’t stop to ask God why to reveal the real reason those volatile emotions are out of control. Fear and anxiety are almost always a sign there is an area of our lives we haven’t completely surrendered to God. 

Spiritual community is not a priority- 

Spiritual community is mandatory for followers of Jesus (2nd Thessalonians 1:3, Hebrews 3:13, Hebrews 10:25). Christians are called to meet together regularly, care for each other in times of trouble and love one another other deeply and sacrificially. The only way to do those things effectively is in spiritual community. Community is about more than church attendance although church is the place to begin building spiritual community. Spiritual community forms when a group of Jesus followers commit themselves to the good and growth of the rest of the group. There are layers to community. Every Christian should attend a local church. Christians should also have a group of fifteen to thirty Christian friends they routinely fellowship with. Christians also need a smaller group of three to five people we can go deep with and be real with on a regular basis. If any of those layers of community are lacking, there is a problem. 

Any one of the above is a sure sign all is not well with our soul.

In order to regain our mental and spiritual health we must be willing to cut empty, soul-sucking activities like streaming services, television and social media. Cutting those activities will naturally make time for the friendships and spiritual community that bolster our emotional and spiritual health. We must be willing to put our energy and time into the spiritual practices and people that refresh our spirits and feed our souls. Reclaiming spiritual health always requires more Jesus, more reflection, more family and friends and sometimes more repentance.   

God Gave Us a Crisis- Why We Can’t Waste It


When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways- 1st Corinthians 13:11 ESV

The popular quote “never let a good crisis go to waste” is nearly always attributed to Saul Alinsky. Mr. Alinsky may have taken the concept to new heights, but it was Winston Churchill who first said it.  But, in my view, it is God who deserves the credit for inventing the whole notion of never allowing a good crisis to go to waste.  We need look no further than the last ten weeks to see clear evidence of this reality.

 Think about it.

 Until recently most people have spent their entire existence enveloped in a never-ending haze of frenzied activity.  COVID-19 brought a hasty end to our frantic way of doing life. The pandemic has allowed individuals to see clearly, some for the very first time the lives they built in the midst of all their busyness. Much of it is decidedly not pretty. Many have been left staring at emotionally detached marriages, mountains of debt, shallow community, poorly behaved children, addictions, meager coping skills and myriad of other nasty issues that were easy to hide or ignore in a world without shelter-in-place orders. The result has been a deep sense of discomfort and distress for many. Everyone has been affected in some way. Many Christians have realized they lack the personal theology and relationship with God to effectively deal with their personal fears and answer the questions that arise when life suddenly gets difficult. Many non-Christians are seeing that every human life will have an ending point and that there are questions that cannot be answered by science or reason alone.

 God has used this crisis to bring all people to a place where they are asking the hard questions about life, death, and what it really means to have faith in God. I do not know if God caused COVID-19 or is simply using it for His purposes. I hate those kinds of debates (1st Timothy 6:3-5, 2nd Timothy 2:23, Titus 3:9). Silly arguments no one knows the answers to do nothing but distract from the things that really matter. There are two questions we have to be really real about right now if we want to make the most of what God is doing:

 First, what strikes fear in you post-COVID-19?

 Is it fear of death? That fear reveals something critical about our faith. Is it fear of government encroachment of your rights? If so, then perhaps, you have bought into the notion God is good because He allowed you to be born in country where you have rights. Are you afraid of losing your faith in persecution? That fear indicates something about the level of faith you have in your faith.   Do you fear poverty, loss of control, being alone or maybe you’re just scared spitless of losing the sweet little life He’s blessed you with?

 The second is a bit different:

 What is it about you or your life that makes you want to turn your head away? Is it your screwed-up kids, anger issues, shaky marriage, lack of faith, poor self-control or a past that haunts you? Maybe it’s the addiction you developed in an effort to ignore those things. 

 Here’s the thing.

Whatever IT is that keeps you up at night or makes you want to turn your head away, that’s where God wants to meet you. He wants to help you root-out the sin that is creating the fear so He can heal you. He wants to take your weakness or fear and turn it into strength He can use for His glory (Hebrews 11:32-35).  God can transform anyone into a stronger, braver, healthier and more faithful version of themselves. But God can only do that if they come to a place of decision and humility. To be changed we have to want to change. We must also be willing to admit our fears, weakness and problems. God will not heal us if we choose to run from our issues with busyness, drown them in alcohol, numb them with porn, pretend they’re not real or blame our choices on outside forces. We must take fears and problems to God as many times as necessary until we get to a place of freedom from sin and to where we can accept in faith that if our worst fear were to come to pass it would be okay because God is in control of whatever scares us.  

 God is using COVID-19 to make Christians and non-Christians aware of changes that must be made in their lives. He is stripping people of the coping mechanisms they have depended on in the past. This realty has resulted in personal discomfort, but discomfort is not the end goal. With God the end goal is always to bring people to a place where they are more dependent on His power and His strength than their own. God does this is to prepare His people for deeper relationship with Him and for new opportunities to serve Him with greater power and success.   

 Our responsibility is to cooperate with the process and then wait patiently for what’s next.

 

 

Winning the Battle Everyone Has to Fight at Some Point

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged~ Deuteronomy 31:8 NIV

It’s been a long couple of weeks and I have found myself in a nasty battle with the d-word:

Discouragement

 It wasn’t one great-big-awful-thing that had me feeling down. Rather, it was just a bunch of irksome stuff that coalesced into a brutal case of discouragement.

 Part of the problem is situational: I live in Washington state and it’s January. I have not seen even a glimpse of the sun for more than a couple of minutes at a time in months. The vitamin D tablets I’ve been munching on are simply not getting the job done anymore. I am in desperate need of some actual sunshine. Some other problems compounding that issue were a tense meeting, our beloved little dog died and I have a problem that affects me personally that I have zero control over. On top of all that a mean person said some hurtful things that hit a little too close to home and I had a hard time getting over them.

 I am keenly aware of the fact that none of my problems are truly significant. I have a roof over my head, a solid marriage, healthy children, a relationship with God and some close friends that I trust. In other words, all the truly significant stuff in is still okay in my world.

 However, knowing all that did not stop me from wallowing around in negativity like a pig in the mud. I spent the better part of a day eating my feelings and focusing endlessly on the negative.

 Just as I reached the apex of my pity-party, I had an uncomfortable but essential insight into the situation. I knew at that moment that if I didn’t find a way to get a grip on myself I was going to fall into pit of discouragement and stay there indefinitely, and the longer I stayed the harder it was going to be to get out.

 Discouragement left to fester is potentially dangerous from a spiritual perspective. Discouragement is not a sin (thank God). However, it is a reaction to circumstances that can easily mutate into something more permanent like despair or more sinister like bitterness (Hebrews 12:15). After my recent epiphany, I have come to believe that the key to dealing with discouragement effectively is to firmly grasp hold of the four following principles.

 Understand that discouragement is simply part of living in a fallen world-

 Admittedly, recognizing this reality changes exactly nothing. However, embracing the fact that EVERYONE goes through periods of discouragement does help put our feelings in perspective and it keeps us from buying into the lie that the universe is picking on us in a unique or personal way (John 16:33).

 Do not fall into the trap of focusing only on what can’t be changed-

 One of the truly dangerous things about discouragement is that it can blind us to answers that are right in front of us (Exodus 6:9). Discouragement transforms even really smart, really spiritual people into one of those annoying souls who always has a really great reason why whatever solution is offered (no matter how practical, workable or wise the solution might be) will not work in their particular situation. Unless you want to be that guy (or girl) it is essential we don’t let the emotion of discouragement drive our decision-making or willingness to apply solutions to our problems.

 Find something to be thankful for-

 Thankfulness alone will not magically transform an unpleasant situation into a pleasant one (sorry). That said, Christians are commanded to be thankful (Hebrews 12:28, Colossians 3:15, Colossians 4:2) even in less than ideal circumstances (1st Thessalonians 5:18). I think this is because the act of offering gratitude to God takes our focus off our problems and frees us up to see possibilities that we were previously blind to. Thankfulness reminds us that there is more to this life than problems and trouble, it reorders our focus and helps us to see the good in life. The ability to see something (anything) good in a bad situation really is a game-changer when we are stuck in a pit of discouragement.

 Trust that God is working on your behalf in spite of what circumstances are telling you-

This is obviously easier said than done, especially when negative circumstances look and feel insurmountable. But believing the truth of God’s word, rather than what circumstances are telling us, really is the essence of faith (Hebrews 11:1) and it is how we please God (Hebrews 11:6, Galatians 3:9).  

Another Church Peeve

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart~ Jeremiah 29:13 NIV

 I love the church.

 I believe with every fiber of my being that the local church is God’s chosen instrument for proclaiming truth to the world, training believers for works of service and transforming heathens and moral reprobates into faithful Jesus followers. For that reason, I am convinced that every Christian ought to regularly attend a local church and contribute their time, energy, and treasure into making that church a great place to worship, learn and grow.

 That said, I also have a whole host of weird pet peeves when it comes to church and how we do church at this time in history. Basically, I have an aversion to anything weird, gimmicky or shallow. Those things include (but are not limited to) fog machines, unfriendly congregations, worship songs that remind me to breathe, Pastors that dress like homeless people and a lack of relevant teaching or opportunities to learn.

 These peeves (and many others) have been well documented in some of my previous blog posts. I just sort of assumed (until recently) that I had discovered and explored every single one of my many peeves related to church and had nothing left to write about on the subject. I was wrong.

 I have discovered a new one.

 Everywhere I turn these days I am being told that I should speak the name of Jesus over my problems and worries. If I am afraid, I should speak the name of Jesus. If I have cancer, I should speak the name of Jesus. If I need money I should speak the name of Jesus. If I have a drug or alcohol addiction, I should speak the name of Jesus. This advice is usually followed up with the instruction to “just walk in it”.

 Whatever the heck that means.

 My concerns with this trend might appear to be a bit silly and trivial on the surface, but unlike some of my other peeves this one really isn’t all that petty. This one actually has some potentially serious practical and theological ramifications.

 Christians should understand that nowhere in the Bible are we told to speak the name of Jesus over anything. We are told to believe in the name of Jesus (1 John 3:23). We are told to openly profess the name of Jesus (Hebrews 13:15). We are also told to baptize people into the name of Jesus (Acts 10:48, Acts 19:5) and we are commanded to speak the name of Jesus as we teach the truth about God and call people to repentance (Matthew 28:16-20). Not once are we told to speak the name of Jesus over our problems, anxieties or doubts.

 Speaking a word (any word) over something in an effort to change it, is a practice that has more in common with witchcraft than it does with Christianity. I am NOT suggesting that someone who tells you to speak the name of Jesus over your problems is a witch or is active in witchcraft. I am saying that simply speaking the word ‘Jesus’ over a problem, worry or concern will not solve it and might even distract you from doing the things God wants you to do in order to solve your problems.

 I promise you that God does not want you to speak the name of Jesus over your bratty two-year-old, job loss, addiction, crumbling marriage or serious medical condition. That’s just not how God works. Instead, God wants you to do these three things:

 Understand that tests and trials are simply a part of this life-

 We live in a fallen world, and sadly bad things happen in our fallen world (1st Thessalonians 3:2-4, 1st Peter 1:6). People get hurt and sick, they lose their jobs, and sometimes they turn to drugs or alcohol to deal with negative feelings and traumatic experiences. Other times people are evil and cruel and the innocent get hurt or exploited. On the positive side of all of that, God will use those trials to make you a better, wiser more compassionate person if you ask Him to (James 1:2, James 1:12, 2nd Corinthians 1:3-6).

 Seek God on a deeper level-

 More than anything God wants you to work at getting to know Him better in the midst of your trial. He wants you to become a student of the Word and someone who runs to Him in prayer with all your fears, sinful inclinations, insecurities and problems. Doing that will give you a supernatural source of strength, knowledge and wisdom that will empower you to deal with whatever trial has come into your life, in a way that pleases God and benefits you.

 Become increasingly more obedient to God-

 We solve our problems in this life by first identifying areas of sin in our lives, repenting of those sins and then doing more and more of what God instructs us to do in His word. Romans 12:1-21, 2nd Peter 1:5-8, Colossians 3:1-26 and Ephesians chapters 4-6 give believers abundant instruction on the behaviors Christians should be embracing and eliminating in their lives. However, eliminating sinful behavior is not enough. We also have to ask God to help us (sometimes repeatedly) change our hearts, hate sin and see life the way He sees it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When You’re Ready For It to be Over Already

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength~ Isaiah 40:29-31a

For the most part my son was a sweet and obedient little boy. However, there was one area he struggled throughout his childhood. Alex was (and is now) a kid who routinely spoke his mind, irrespective of the appropriateness of the situation.

 When Alex was six my husband took him to a local home improvement store where he saw a man dressed as a woman for the first time. Alex stared at the man for just a second or two, gave a slight nod, as if he had made his mind up about something significant and loudly declared that if men were going to wear dresses they ought to at least shave their legs. Alex charmed everyone within earshot with his thoroughly naïve but straightforward appraisal of the situation, except of course, the man wearing the dress.

 My son’s inclination to boldly speak his mind was not limited to the questionable wardrobe choices of others. Nor did it start when he was six. It started in early toddlerhood. To my utter horror, He would routinely ask total strangers the most personal questions imaginable. He also made a regular habit of informing the parents of other children when he felt their kids were misbehaving. He was notorious for correcting or contradicting any opinion he believed to be based on misinformation. Regardless of the age or person giving the opinion.

 As awkward, embarrassing and downright irritating all that was, nothing matched the level of humiliation I felt when my son would decide was ready to leave a gathering or a play date. Once he made-up his mind that he had enough fun for the day, he would approach me (he never once did this privately) and announce loudly that he was “done” and “ready for it to be over”. Once my initial inclination to hide under the furniture passed, I was typically overwhelmed with a very un-motherly yearning to murder my own offspring. For nearly a year of his childhood most of our outings ended with a lengthy lecture on the importance of not actually saying everything we think or feel.

 Alex’s desire to be done with any situation he wasn’t enjoying anymore was maddening. However, I do understand his feelings. Sometimes even grown-ups are done with a situation or trial long before God has decided it’s time for us to move on.

Lately, I have found myself saying some things to God that sound remarkably like the things my toddler used to say to me.

 It is not as if the trial we’ve experienced has been the worst thing that has ever happened to anyone. We have a great deal to be thankful for. We have a steady income, our kids are healthy, none of them are currently using drugs or openly rebelling against God, we have a roof over our heads and food on the table. My husband and I are healthy and our marriage is solid. In other words all the stuff that really matters in this life is still okay in our world.

 All that said, having a house that has sat on a stagnant market for the better part of a year has been hard. Our lives are currently on hold. The youngest is struggling emotionally. Living apart has been tough (to say the least) and our checking account needs CPR. However none of those issues compare to the spiritual bewilderment we have experienced as we waited for God to act on our behalf.

 There have been many times over the course of the last eight months when I have felt as if we were being tested (and failing badly). I now know I was wrong, at least about the testing part. We have been reading the situation all-wrong. It’s not a test.

 It’s an opportunity.

 Like any trial the last eight months has been an opportunity to learn to love and trust God even when life is a lot less than easy and the answers are hard to find. It’s been an opportunity to trust and to proclaim the goodness of God even when He has felt far away. It’s been opportunity to show the world what faith really looks like (Hebrews 11:1).

 I know this likely won’t be last time I will be given an opportunity that feels like a test. I am hoping and praying that the next time an opportunity disguised, as a misfortune comes around I will have the wisdom to recognize it for what it is sooner.

The Hard Truth Concerning Forgiveness

I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept~ Genesis 50:17

 They have become ubiquitous on Facebook.

Photos of a man standing at sunset, back to the camera arms spread wide in an expression of complete and glorious freedom. Or sometimes the photo is of a young woman dressed in white strolling serenely down a long tree-lined path, suggesting a future filled with joy and endless possibilities.

 The quotes accompanying these images are sometimes spiritually questionable. Others are far too syrupy and sentimental for my taste. However, the vast majority of quotes on the subject are thought provoking and more than a little convicting…

 We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies~ Martin Luther King Jr.

 The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong~ Gandhi

 Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hatred. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness~ Corrie Ten Boom

 Over the course of the last few years I have had the “opportunity” to work through two unrelated and dissimilar situations, both requiring me to forgive some massive and very personal hurts. I concluded after working through those situations that none of the quotes I have seen tell the complete story of forgiveness. Sappy sentimentalities and inspiring quips extolling the virtues and benefits of forgiveness inevitably miss a core truth.

 Forgiveness is hard.

 Sometimes it hurts almost as much as the offense that necessitated the forgiving. If the offense was particularly personal or the person who did the hurting was someone we trusted. The act of forgiving that person can hurt to the point of physical agony. Forgiveness is tough because involves a release of the right to seek revenge on someone who doubtless has earned some sort of retaliation. The letting go of what is logically a right can feel overwhelmingly unjust.

 Forgiveness is a foundational (albeit sometimes unpopular) doctrine of the Christian faith. God forgives without hesitation, and He clearly expects His people to forgive in the same spirit. Forgiving is so important to God that it’s a prerequisite for obtaining His forgiveness (Matthew 6:15).

 God knows enough about people to know that when we refuse to forgive, unforgiveness transforms us in a profoundly ugly way. We eventually become incapable of focusing on anything but our wounds and resentment. The relentless emphasis on the negative causes our patience to shrivel and our irritation with everyone to increase. Over time we inevitably twist into a hostile, unsympathetic and nasty version of ourselves. 

 Regrettably, knowing all this does not make forgiving any easier.

 It is considerably more difficult (if not impossible) to forgive without God’s assistance and power. Some offenses are simply too great to forgive on our own; we acquire the help we need to forgive through persistent and sometimes prolonged prayer. Prayer keeps us connected to God, prevents bitterness from taking root in our hearts and empowers us to forgive the unforgivable. We pray until our feelings towards the person who did the hurting change.

 Prayer also prevents people from blaming God for situations He had nothing to do with. Oftentimes, when Christians have suffered a serious offense they struggle as much with anger towards God, for allowing the hurt to happen as they do with the person who hurt them. It’s important to understand that God is not a puppet master who controls the choices of people.

 Sometimes people hurt others because they are egotistical, callous or even evil. Most of the time people hurt others because they are stupid, insensitive or lack awareness of how their actions affect others. Either way, it’s profoundly unjust to hold God accountable for the actions of free people.

 Forgiving would be easier if people were capable of simply forgetting offenses. We cannot do that. However, over time, with God’s assistance, we can reach a point where we are no longer held prisoner by the anger we feel towards those who have betrayed us. Forgiveness is freedom that will empower us to live a happy, useful and God-honoring life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When You Hit the Wall

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith~ Hebrew 12:1-2

 There are a number of terms for it, some of them colorful. Sometimes it’s called “throwing in the towel” or “flaking out.” I generally refer to it as “calling it. ”The military calls it “deserting your post”, my kids call it “canning” and the English call it “bunking off”. I will not repeat the phrase my Father had for it; all you need to know is that it’s not the least bit appropriate.

 Runners call it “hitting the wall.” I am partial to that particular expression because “hitting the wall” is about more than quitting. Hitting the wall is a moment in a race that appears to come out of nowhere. Suddenly the runner is overcome with negative thoughts and overwhelmed by the enormity of the task ahead. Every muscle begs for mercy. The runner longs to just give up and go home.

 Hitting the wall happens for a number of reasons, some completely outside the runner’s control. Poor weather conditions, outside distractions, fatigue, illness or lack of proper training for that particular race can cause even the most seasoned athlete to long to bow out of the race and hit the nearest Five Guys. Whatever the cause, the bottom-line is simple. When a runner hits the wall, they have a choice to make. Do they give-up and go home or do they dig deep and muster the strength to finish the race?

 Runners are not the only ones faced with that choice.

At some point in the Christian life, every follower of Jesus hits a spiritual wall: a dark and ugly fork in the road where the walk of faith simply feels too hard and not worth pursuing. Deep down inside they don’t know if they can or even want to keep going. No Christian wants to admit they’ve hit the wall but everyone does at some point.

 Hitting the spiritual wall can come as a result of deep grief or profound personal loss. Sometimes it comes after a long period of remaining faithful in the face of what feels like endless disappointment. Mistreatment by other Christians can cause even the most mature believer to hit the wall. Other times, it’s a result of relentless attacks from the enemy. It can happen because of lack of attention to our spiritual life. Sometimes it’s a result of chronic overwork or discouragement.

 The causes matter, but not nearly as much as our response.

 There are two common responses to hitting the wall. The first is to get angry and run as far from God as possible. This reaction is born out of the belief that God could have and should have prevented whatever circumstances led to our confusion and misery. This all-too common reaction makes sense on a human level. However, it inevitably leads to spiritual disaster and is exactly what the enemy of our souls wants us to do.

 The healthy response to the hopelessness that occurs when we hit the wall is to run towards God. Running towards God begins with an honest conversation. We need to talk to Him about our situation and our feelings about it. This can be scary, many believers balk at the notion of being honest with God. It feels sinful and wrong to admit our anger and confusion out loud. Being real with God isn’t something we do for God. God already knows exactly what we think and how we feel (Hebrews 4:12). We get real with God for our own good, to keep from getting stuck in bitterness.

 Once we talk things out with God, it is time for an evaluation of our life and attitudes. We need to ask ourselves some hard questions:

 Is there sin we need to repent of (Acts 3:19)?

Are we spending time in prayer and reading the Bible (Hebrews 2:2-4)?

Are we isolating ourselves from other Christians (Hebrews 10:25)?

Are we blaming God for the devil’s work (Luke 22:31)?

Are we praising Him in spite of our circumstances (Psalm 22)?

Are we believing God will work out His plan for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28)?

Are we walking in faith or fear (Isaiah 41:10)?

 Once any necessary repenting is done, it’s time to trust. Trust that God’s love for you has not changed or faded. Trust that He is still on your side. Trust that this miserable, awful trial you are enduring will make you wiser, more compassionate and better able to serve. Most importantly, trust that God is good and believe that better days are right around the corner.

Because they are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

God’s Got This

 

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze~ Isaiah 43: 1-2

As a rule I am not much of a worrier. Nor am I super laid-back. I am definitely not someone who has conquered worry through spiritual efforts. Rather, my inclination to avoid excessive worry is strictly practical. I have learned the hard way that worry wastes time, squanders energy and has the power to change precisely nothing. I am an outcome-oriented person cursed with a bit of a lazy streak. Consequently, I typically avoid any activity that does not ordinarily result in some sort of payoff. Worry does not achieve any sort of tangible outcome. As a result, I typically don’t worry about all that much.

 Until recently.

 Over the last few weeks I have found myself worrying about all sorts of strange issues at the oddest times of the day and night. From a strictly commonsense perspective, some of these worries actually make sense.

 When we put our house up for sale almost five months ago, the market was solid and houses in our area were selling at a steady pace. Within what felt like minutes of putting OUR house on the market, it dried up. Only a handful of properties have sold in our area since August. My husband and I have been living apart for months and the arrangement is expensive.

I worry the house will never sell.

 My husband has been subsisting on microwaved popcorn and cold cereal for months now. I worry he will develop scurvy or beriberi or some other rare nutritional deficiency. My handyman skills are rudimentary (to say the least) and so all the chores my husband normally does are not getting done or they’re not getting done poorly. I worry the house will fall down on us while we are sleeping. Our eleven–year-old has began to revert back to some old behaviors recently. I worry about how all this is affecting her. I worry about moving in the middle of winter, I worry we won’t move until spring or summer or that we will never move. God has provided through this whole stupid mess but that hasn’t stopped me from worrying my head off about money.

 And those are just the worries that actually make some level of sense. The really weird stuff hits me hardest around three in the morning. That’s when I worry about how the dogs will adjust to the move, global politics, scary viruses becoming airborne, fiber and if we are getting enough of it and whether or not I remembered to shut the garage door. Once I exhaust those worries I move on to questioning every choice I’ve ever made and then I wonder if painting the entire house a different color will make it sell faster.

 The other day I came across some much-needed encouragement from an unexpected source. The seventh and eighth chapters of Daniel recount some rather peculiar dreams that foretell some unsettling future events. The implications of the dreams are at best a bit creepy and the content is so strange that it has kept scholars and theologians debating the deeper meaning of the text for centuries.

 It was not the content I found helpful. It was the context. Daniel recorded his dreams at a point in history that was both personally and politically chaotic. He was a slave who had served as an adviser to one king (Nebuchadnezzar) for all of his adult life. Nebuchadnezzar was not a great guy. He was a brutal narcissist with a capricious streak. That said, he was also a capable leader, teachable and had over time he had developed a healthy fear of Daniel’s God. Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson Belshazzar had proven himself to be an even more erratic and cruel leader than his granddad without the leadership abilities, teachable spirit or fear of God.

 I believe God gave Daniel a peek into a future he would never live to see, in the midst of what had to have been of the scariest times of his life, to remind him and, by extension, all of us. That God has this. Whatever it is, God has it. God has our future tightly in His grasp. Nothing surprises Him. He has whatever is keeping you up at night too. Whether it’s a house that won’t sell or a health problem or a job loss, or a kid that has gone off the rails, or something even worse.

 God’s got it and He has you too.

How to Hear the Voice of God-

You said, ‘Behold, the Lord our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice from the midst of the fire; we have seen today that God speaks with man, yet he lives~ Deuteronomy 5:24 NASB

 Most conversations about hearing the voice of God go in one of two directions. Some confidently claim that they hear from God all the time about every minute detail of their life. God speaks to them audibly on every topic imaginable, from the serious to the mundane.

 These lucky people do not weigh the pros or cons of any decision. They don’t agonize over which job they ought to take or whom they should marry. They don’t even worry about where they should go for dinner. They have all the answers because God tells them exactly what to do all the time.

 On the opposite end of the spectrum are the people who awkwardly confess that they have never heard God speak. They read their Bibles and pray on a regular basis but they admit that they have never actually heard from God. These folks typically feel like second-class citizens when compared to the first group. In their most honest and raw moments they wonder if God really loves them or if they are even Christians.

 I believe that God speaks to all of His people at least some of the time.

I also believe that there are situations when we don’t hear God’s voice because we have preconceived notions about how we think God should speak. Those biases can interfere with our ability to hear what God is saying. We want (and sometimes even demand) an audible voice when He is intent on using another, more subtle approach to speak into our lives. Following are the most common methods God uses when He has something to say.

 The Bible- Psalm 119:105, 2nd Timothy 3:16

 Contrary to popular belief, the Bible is still God’s preferred means of communication with people. God will never tell anyone to do anything that directly contradicts biblical teaching. If you want to hear God speak to you, begin with the Bible. Pick a book, before you begin reading ask God to open the eyes of your heart so you will hear what He wants to communicate to you through His word (Ephesians 1:18). Continue to pray as you read, if a verse sticks ask yourself how that verse applies to your situation. 

 People- 1st Samuel 25, Acts 17:16-33, 2nd Samuel 12, Judges 1:8-9

 When God wanted David to understand that his craving for vengeance would lead to his destruction, God chose to speak His words through the quiet wisdom of a young woman named Abigail. When God wanted to proclaim the reality of His existence to the people of Athens, He used the words of Paul to communicate that truth. God still uses men and women to communicate truth to one another. For that reason, it is critical that we prayerfully evaluate the encouraging as well as the not-so-encouraging words of our friends, family members, pastors and even the people we don’t really care for. Sometimes when people speak it’s not them speaking, but God speaking through them. We will do well to listen.

 Strong impressions and still small voices- 1st Kings 19: 11-18, Acts 15:28-29, Acts 16:6

 In my experience, God seldom says, “Do this” or “don’t do that.” But he does speak to His people through impressions or a strong sense that we should or should not do something. The only time we should ignore those impressions is when the activity or course of action we are considering violates principals of wisdom or clear biblical instruction.

 Circumstances- Exodus 2:5-8, Acts 8:1-8

 Little in life is more frustrating than feeling we are being forced into a course of action by circumstances outside of our control. Thankfully these situations are not always the tragedies they seem to be at the time. Sometimes seemingly adverse circumstances are really the just the hand of God guiding us towards His will for our lives.

 I honestly do not know if God talks to some folks more than others. It’s certainly possible; God deals with people as individuals and He is free to do whatever He pleases. I do know that God is good and that He never leaves us alone. I also know that if we need direction He will give it to us, but that direction may not come in the form we are expecting. It is our spiritual responsibility to keep our hearts and spirits open to God’s will in whatever way He chooses to reveal it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do

 One issue every blogger I know struggles with is transparency, or how much personal information to share with their readers. Everyone agrees that some personal sharing is clearly a healthy thing. Sharing allows readers to really know the writer and reminds both the reader the writer that life is a journey that none of us have completely figured out.

 Conversely, everyone ought to avoid the temptation to turn their page into a personal confessional. Assaulting an unsuspecting stranger with awkward private information borders on emotional abuse. Knowing personal details about a person you have “met” only in cyberspace can leave a reader feeling stunned and uncertain about what do with the information given. It’s a little like seeing your Grandmother in her underwear. No matter how innocent the circumstances, it can be difficult to shake the sense that you have somehow done something terribly wrong.

 I struggled mightily to balance all this as I debated where to go with today’s post. My angst has been complicated by my (undeniably prideful) desire to look like I have it all together even when I quite clearly don’t have a clue. The truth is that I am currently in a place where nearly everything in life feels ambiguous and I have more questions than answers about more issues than I care to discuss. Even after doing all the Christianly things I know to do (Bible reading, fasting, prayer, etc.) I still have no tangible answers.

 All that to say that I am not approaching today’s topic as an expert who has everything all figured out. Rather as one who is on a journey of discovery. I am learning that finding peace in the midst of the chaos of not knowing what to do next, by:

 Admitting I don’t know-

 There is something incredibly freeing about admitting to God and everyone else that I don’t know what to do next. Owning my cluelessness has allowed me to be open to possibilities that I would normally never consider. And I am beginning to suspect that God likes it when we come to a place where we have no other option than to trust in Him, rather than our own understanding and worldly wisdom (Proverbs 3:5-6).

 Taking time everyday to be still-

 Not knowing what to do about a valid problem is a nerve-wracking situation. When our nerves are wracked, the inclination is to run headlong into activity. Busy is not a bad thing, but frenzied, chaotic activity just leads to anxiety and a decreased capacity to problem solve. The answer is to get alone with God every day, fill your mind with promises from Scripture and meditate on God’s goodness (Psalm 46:10). It feels counterintuitive to be still when life is uncertain. But stillness recharges our batteries and empowers us to deal with the stuff we don’t understand and increases our ability to see our problems from God’s perspective.  

 Tackling the obvious-

 Not knowing what to do about a particular situation does not mean we should sit back and do nothing about everything. Make a plan and then prayerfully tackle the obvious stuff that you can do something about. If you are concerned about future job security or finances cut back on spending and polish up your resume, or take on a second job. If it’s your kids or your marriage that have you flummoxed, read a book or take a class and improve your skills. Choosing to be proactive will not provide magic solutions for every problem, but it will help you stay positive and it may prevent new problems from cropping up.

 Keep on keeping on-

 1st Corinthians 13:12 tells us that every Christian will experience times when direction is unclear. It’s just another one of the trials Christians are promised in 1st Thessalonians 3:3. The good news is that these periods of uncertainty can become the very thing that makes us stronger, wiser, and better able to minister to others. The key to becoming better, not bitter, in the face of a trial is to cling tenaciously to the belief that God is good and that He has your best interests at heart. Especially when circumstances are saying something entirely different.

 I have not enjoyed this period of my life. I’m a bit of a control freak and I like at least looking like I have all the answers. But even I have to admit that this period of my life has been instructive. Through it all I am slowly learning that faith is not about having all the answers. Faith is a journey of discovering, learning to trust and understand the one who does.