What does it mean to be filled with joy?
A young mother of three with a new baby on the way just lost her husband in a car accident this past week in the small California town that our family calls home. Where is the joy in that?
A friend is working through the process to adopt a child who has called her, "Mommy," for about a year now and the system is getting more convoluted, not less, as time goes by. Where is the joy in that?
A beloved relative is in the hospital with bleeding in his brain. Where is the joy in that?
I have a nephew who I have only seen in pictures who is celebrating his 2nd Christmas and a trip to visit and take in that moment with my own eyes isn't in the budget. Where is the joy in that?
This Sunday, our church will light the candle of JOY on the advent wreath. First was hope, then came peace, now JOY. I have been reflecting on the idea of JOY in preparation for this coming Sunday, and frankly, no revelations were happening in my heart, mind or soul. But I kept looking. This morning, I picked up the devotional book (Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young
) and there it was. Staring me in the face on the page designated to read on December 10th of each year. Even so, I didn't recognize it right away. It was couched in a lesson on security. "Make Me the focal point of your search for security
," it started. My mind started to wander. Clearly, this wasn't going to illuminate the Bible's teaching on JOY for me. Alas, I kept reading, albeit a little miffed and disappointed.
"Make Me the focal point of your search for security. In your private thoughts, you are still trying to order your world so that it is predictable and feels safe. Not only is this an impossible goal, but it is also counterproductive to spiritual growth. When your private world feels unsteady and you grip My hand for support, you are living in conscious dependence on Me. Instead of yearning for a problem-free life, REJOICE that trouble can highlight your awareness of My Presence. In the darkness of adversity, you are able to see more clearly the radiance of My Face. Accept the value of problems in this life, considering them pure JOY. Remember that you have an eternity of trouble-free living awaiting you in heaven
." - taken from the inspiration Isaiah 41:10; Psalm 139:10; James 1:2.
Could it be that JOY and security are tightly bound together? The newly widowed mother whose life suddenly looks nothing like she planned, the friend called "Mommy" by a child born to another waiting on the legal system to make it so, the uncle in the hospital whose physical health is fragile and uncertain, the aunt who has no assurance of when she will see her nephew. We all have something in common. We all lack the security of knowing the future. This devotional reminded me that we can all have something else in common too, if we will choose it: a heightened awareness of the presence of God that others on more seemingly steady ground cannot know. These areas of our lives where security is stretched thin and it feels like we are walking on spider webs where they should be pavement, these are the moments, the days, the seasons where we can experience what it is truly like to be carried in the arms of God.
I remember as a little girl, as I was getting a bit too big to be carried places on a parent's hip or shoulders. I would take utter delight in the moments when I could "trick" my Daddy into believing that I had fallen asleep on the couch in the evenings. Without fail, he would scoop me up and carry me to bed. Tucking me in and kissing me on the forehead, while I pretended not to notice, as I faked sleep. Once he was out of the room, I would open my eyes and smile, relishing the moment. There was something so special about being physically carried by someone who loved me so tenderly.
We don't have to fake neediness on earth. We are
needy. Sometimes our neediness is more obvious than others, and in those moments (as others feel sorry for us) we get to stop pretending that we have it all together. We get to stretch up our hands, with tears in our eyes and cry out, "Daddy, God, I NEED you!" And after He has carried us for a season, through things we couldn't handle on our own, we can open our eyes as we find ourselves resting in the evidence of His security and smile in a knowing way that others can't. We can remember the feel of His strong arms and the sound of His heartbeat and His kiss on our cheek, and His loving words, and we will know a deeper joy than we could ever feel without having been carried.
Consider it all joy, if your predictable, safe world is anything but predictable and safe this Christmas season. Your Daddy will carry you through it.
He sent His one and only son, Jesus, to be born of a virgin, to live a sinless life, yet die a sinner's death on your behalf and to be resurrected from death to eternal life just to make a way for you to run into the arms of His perfect Father and call Him your own at such a time as this. I pray that you will let Him.So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. - Isaiah 41:10
7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you. - Psalm 139:7-12
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds - James 1:2
When our son was a toddler, we learned a nifty parenting trick. After suffering through meltdown after meltdown whenever it was time to transition from one activity to the next, we discovered that if we gave our son a 5 or 10 minute warning before the transition was about to happen, the meltdowns were a thing of the past. "Tim, it will be time to help clean up toys and say goodbye in ten minutes
." "Tim, dinner will be in five minutes, so get ready to stop your video."
As long as he knew what was coming and when, he could cope. When he had time to wrap things up or finish on his own terms, he was golden. If the meltdown wasn't completely averted, it was at least lessened in severity.
Don't you wish we had the luxury of those kinds of warnings in life as adults. "Carla, in six months you will not be living here any more and you'll have to start over
." "Carla, within the year, that person that you are so attached to will pass away
." "Carla, in the next week someone in your family will become ill
." Just a little warning, wouldn't that be nice? Just a little heads up so we can wrap our minds around what is coming and finish or adjust on our own terms.
The thing is, these little advance warnings weren't the most valuable things we could offer our son. Yes, they made life a little more bearable in the moment, especially as he was making his way through those toddler years, but it was never meant to be a way of life. After all, we wouldn't always have a warning ourselves. Sometimes we would need to make a transition with little to no warning and we would need him to trust us and spring into action before his emotions could catch up.
What we really wanted him to learn were things like - Your Mom and Dad love you and we are in charge. We know what is best and we are working with an agenda that includes more than your immediate happiness, things you just aren't prepared to understand yet. The more you trust us, the more you will see that we have your best interest at heart. We may ask you to do some things that you do not want to do, but it is never out of cruelty. At the end of the day, what we really wanted him to learn to do was to rest in our trustworthiness, and to respond based on our relationship not on an attachment to an established, predictable routine.
The same is true with our walk through life. The routine will inevitably vary, so putting our trust in things always being the way they have been in the past is foolish
. Many times God will
orchestrate situations in such a way as to soften the blows of painful change. Other times, however, we will be called upon to simply respond in faith-filled obedience, when there is no resemblance of the normal routine anywhere in sight, no promise of how things will be resolved or how long the transition to a new normal will take.
In the end, through the pages of scripture, I have been given three things that are of greater value than a glimpse into the immediate future:
- I have been given a glimpse into eternity. "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." John 14:3
- I have been given a guarantee never to walk alone. "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6
- I have been given a promise of God's unending love. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16
At the end of the day, this is what has been offered to me and it is what I have to offer the world. It isn't a safe, predictable routine, it is a relationship with the One who created all of us and has a vested interest in our future. It isn't an advance warning system of difficult changes that lie ahead and it isn't a promise that life will be easy or pain-free. It is the message of the gospel and it is enough.
In February, when it became clear that we would be moving out of rural America, where a monthly mortgage payment on a 2,400sf house was right at $1,000, into one of the most expensive urban areas in the country, where you can't even find a tiny, one bedroom apartment in a bad neighborhood with rent at that price, we had to adjust our thinking. What had been unacceptable to us for the previous 13 years (aka: the thought of apartment life), shifted to becoming highly desirable as we began to get an idea of what it would cost to live in the DC metro area. An hour long commute to and from work, would have been completely unthinkable in any other context and yet here, shockingly, it doesn't seem so bad because it would save thousands of dollars each year. Our perspective had to be altered to suit our new reality.
It was funny to me today to hear myself tell Jason how much I was loving apartment life. I love it because the apartment is small so it is easy to clean. I love that we have absolutely ZERO responsibility for keeping up a yard or maintaining the exterior of our dwelling. I love that we don't accumulate too much "stuff" because there is just no where to put it. I love that it is easy to heat and cool. I love that we have free access to a swimming pool (that we don't have to maintain) and a fitness center. I'm just altogether completely pleased with something I DID NOT WANT in the first place. Go figure.
When Jason and I got married almost 15 years ago, we lived in an apartment for two years. We hated it. We complained about it. We desperately wanted a house, where our neighbors weren't so close and where we would have more space. We then rented two different houses for 3 years total and we complained about each because, although each had their merits, neither was "our own place." We then bought our first house and the excitement quickly wore off and we complained about all the things that needed to be done to fix the place up and make it more modern and more "us." After three years, and a lot of home improvement projects, we moved across the country and bought a bigger, nicer house and thought we had arrived. Turns out, bigger, nicer houses take bigger wads of cash to maintain. They can also be harder to sell, and when it was time to move on from there, it took two and a half years to find someone who wanted to buy our bigger, nicer house. Boy did we complain about that! In the meantime we came to know the joy and heartache of renting OLDER homes (80-100+ years old). Everyone who visited us raved about "the character" and "the potential," while we put off saving for Tim's college education in order to pay the astronomical heating bills for those old houses and , you guessed it, we complained.
So here we are living in an apartment - back to square one - and paying more for it each month than we ever dreamed of paying for housing in our lifetime, and we are happy. It is up to us now, to catch a clue and stay that way, and stop complaining. Obviously, each living arrangement has its ups and downs - but at the end of the day, it is a roof over our heads and a place to sleep, prepare and eat meals, and be a family. It could be better and it could be worse.
Someone posted this quote on Facebook today: "That thing you are taking for granted is the very thing someone else is praying for." I'm taking two lessons from that today:
1. Habitual complaining is lame. It shows utter disrespect for those who are going without and a lack of trust in the One who directs our paths. May I learn contentment and joy in the here and now, whatever and wherever that may be.
2. I should always examine why I am praying for the things that I am praying for. Bigger, better, cheaper and easier aren't the goals of life. If I am praying for something that someone else is taking for granted... maybe it is because they are self-centered... but maybe it is because it isn't really worth praying for to begin with.
"This then is how you should pray:
‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one."
Amen. Have I told you how much I love our little apartment?
What in the world goes on inside our brains any way?
Could there possibly be anything more complex on the Earth than the human brain? It controls our breathing and bodily systems without us even being aware or focusing on those things. The brain is where we process numbers, letters, language, emotions, theories, philosophies, and ideas. It is where we ponder purpose, meaning, and God. We talk about the "heart" and "matters of the soul and spirit" but all of these are processed in the brain - as far as I know there is nothing in my chest or abdominal cavity that is contemplating love, friendship, hatred, sin, or sacrifice... nope, just oxygen, blood, and the Nutter Butter I just snacked on.
I was recently doing some research on the work of the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex of the brain, specifically looking at scientists' observations of the threat/reward impulse and what some call the "Amygdala Hijack
." Fascinating dinner conversation, I can assure you. As scientists observe the brain's activity during different scenarios, they have noticed several consistent patterns:
- Your prefrontal cortex is where logic and reasoning happen.
- The prefrontal cortex is a small portion of your brain.
- Relatively speaking, if the prefrontal cortex was capable of holding 1 square foot of information, the rest of your brain - where subconscious thought and processes occur, apart from our awareness - would hold a Milky Way Galaxy amount of information.
- When you take in stimuli (sights, sounds, sensations, tastes, odors), its first stop in the brain is the thalamus. If the thalamus perceives the stimuli as intense it bypasses the rational prefrontal cortex and sends that stimuli straight to your limbic system (where you amygdala resides).
- The amygdala regulates what scientists call the freeze, fight or flight impulses to threatening or exciting new stimuli. Basically, it is survival mode, and it floods the brain with electro-chemicals that take effect immediately. Heightening our senses with a readiness for action to preserve ourselves.
Here's the deal, the amygdala gets hijacked, and rightfully so, when someone cuts us off in traffic and we are afraid we are going to crash, when we slip near the edge of a cliff and nearly fall, etc. Basically when our lives are at risk. Here's the deeper deal, the limbic system is also subconsciously creating physical reactions in us for social survival
too. It reacts strongly when things like: our status, our ability to predict the future, our sense of being in control, our ability to feel relationally close to others, or our sense of fairness are threatened.
Before we can ever have a rational thought about these things, our brain has established pathways for classifying something as good or bad in relation to these areas.
This is fascinating to me. Science is great! Observing the world around us and even our own bodies and functioning is worthwhile, however, observation of what has been created alone, cannot bring full understanding - in fact it can lead us astray unless we seek the wisdom of the creator to temper it with.1. Science observes: Status is important to people's happiness.
If the brain perceives that social status is being threatened, it reacts strongly. If the brain perceives an increase in social status, being elevated above others, this is desirable. Brain scientist's answer: Elevate yourself.
Seek ways to minimize the threats to your status and maximize the opportunities to get ahead of others. The Bible says: Status belongs to God alone.
We are to reject impulses to elevate ourselves and rather humble ourselves
and allow God to exalt us in due time as He sees fit. (James 4:10, Psalm 145:3, Philippians 2:3
)2. Science says: Knowing the future and living in certainty brings feelings of comfort and security
(increases in dopamine). Brain scientist's answer: Proactively organize your life to reduce uncertainty
, plan, plan, plan.The Bible says: The future belongs to God alone
. He alone knows what it holds and He alone is the source of lasting comfort and security. We are to trust him and release our claims to knowing the future
. (James 4:13-17, 2 Corinthians 1:3-5
)3. Science observes: Having choices and a sense of control is vital to mental health. The Bible says: Releasing control and choosing God's will is vital to spiritual health.
The most important choice is choosing God and that choice leads to relinquishing control, not grasping on to it. (Joshua 24:15, Romans 12:2, 1 Peter 4:1-2, 1 John 2:17
)4. Science observes: Being in relationship with other people and having safety in those relationships frees you to think freely.The Bible says: Offer your friendship to those who may have nothing to give you in return.
Relationships are important and safety in relationships is good, but they aren't all about what's in it for us. (Ephesians 5:21, Romans 12:13-16
)5. Science observes: Do what you can to pursue fairness in your world to reduce your feelings of threat.The Bible says: Life isn't fair because sin is a part of our world.
We need not feel threatened by a lack of fairness because we serve a just God who will right wrongs perfectly in time. We pursue justice, not to make our own path easier or straighter, but to aid those who cannot help themselves.
We do not demand fairness for ourselves because we know that if we were treated fairly, ultimately we deserve death. (Deuteronomy 32:4, Romans 12:17-21)At the end of the day
, we are not bound to the inevitable chemical reactions of our brains. 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 NIV says, "The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgement. 'For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?' But we have the mind of Christ."
One of the ways scientists have observed to avoid the long lasting effects of a hijacked amygdala is to reframe your reality and experience. As Christians - God has given us a frame for our worldview with which to talk ourselves off the ledges of life. It is given in His Word. Let's fill our minds with the truth of scripture and in doing so re-train our brains to perceive what true threats and rewards really are.
Then we will be ready to take risks, look outside ourselves for fulfillment, sacrifice freely, and basically have a life that counts for something, not just a life that is comfortable.
That's all I have to say about that.
My day started off with a problem yesterday. Don't you just love it when that happens? Yeah, me neither.
Our family car has been on its last legs for awhile and its latest malfunction finally forced me to call a mechanic yesterday morning. The key has been getting stuck in the ignition for quite some time (this is the original problem
), but we've always been able to eventually get it out, but lately getting it out hasn't been quite so easy. In fact, Monday night I couldn't get it to come out at all
, so "Old Yeller" sat outside with the key in the ignition all night. The next morning when I went out to start-er-up, the battery was dead as a door nail. That was the first problem
of the day. My son needed to get to school and the bus had already come by our house. That was problem number two
. I called a dear friend and neighbor and she came over at once to take Tim to school for me (problem two solved
). Then she came back with jumper cables and a can-do attitude. Only issue was - we couldn't get the hood latch to release on my car. You got it, problem numero three
. She called her husband and he walked us through the process and before we knew it problem three was history
and the hood was open! We got the car started in no time flat - and when I say WE, I mean SHE - (problem one alleviated
) and she left to begin her day. Problem four
reared its ugly head when I realized that I had less than an eighth of a tank of gas and I couldn't leave the car idling for very long to get the battery fully charged. I attached a battery charger to it and hoped for the best. The best was not in the cards and the car refused to start when I needed to take it to a mechanic (Problem #5 - which is basically a do-over of problem #1
). I called another good friend who came over with jumper cables and a "can you really do this?
" attitude. I assured her I was capable (I had after all just watched friend #1 jump-start the car and had quickly watched a youtube video on how to go about it right before she showed up. I was practically a pro!). Thankfully I got the car started without anything blowing up (problem five solved
) and my friend followed me to the mechanic's shop, because she's cool like that.
To continue making a long story longer - here is what happened after that:
So, what is the moral of this story? Take your pick:
- The mechanic showed me in less than five minutes how to get the key out without fail every time it gets stuck (original problem solved), and didn't charge me a nickel.
- Another friend pulled in to the mechanic's shop as we were wrapping up explaining that every time he turned on his windshield wipers, his horn would honk, and vice versa. Laughter ensued.
- My friend followed me to the gas station so I could fill up and she could be on hand in case the car wouldn't start up again (problem 4 alleviated).
- I drove home and thanked God that I am OBVIOUSLY, His favorite. No seriously, if you haven't heard - that is the word on the street.
1. It is good to have friends. It is VERY good
to have friends.
2. Problems aren't always solved in the same order in which they arise. Tackle one thing at a time, but don't get hung up
on the way
it all comes together.
3. Sometimes your problems might make other people laugh - go with it, we could all use a good laugh. Getting bent out of shape only robs you of your own shot at joy in the middle of junk
. (Shout-out to the windshield-wiper-horn-blowing friend, I do hope everything worked out!)
4. Don't assume the worst when a problem arises - you aren't God and you have no idea where your "stuck key" will lead you today
, perhaps at the end of the day you'll still have a key that sticks, but you could also have a way to deal with it, a comforting knowledge of how far your friends are willing to go to help you, and a small glimpse at how much God truly loves you.
It's Sunday. What does that mean to you? Another day to sleep in and relax before the next work week begins? A day to get up and put on the mask of the "good girl/boy" and go to church to fulfill your weekly duty? The busiest day of the week with family and church obligations out the wazoo? A blessed day of rest and reflection on the God who created the universe in 6 days?
For the last several weeks, Sunday has become (at least temporarily) for me, a day to cry. To weep. To sometimes sob. I didn't choose for that to be the case. I do not wake up each Sunday morning and say to myself, "Well, get ready for a good cry. Today's the day!" In fact, most Sunday mornings I wake up refreshed and excited about spending the day at church and with my family. Nevertheless, I have found myself in tears each Sunday for the past 5 weeks or so. Part of it is the weekly reminder, as we step into the church we are attending, that things are not as we planned them to be. Each time I enter, as I sit in the pew, as I listen to the orchestra and the choir, as I hear the announcements and reflect on the message from the Pastor, I am faced with the reality that it was never in my plan to sit in that congregation as anything other than the Associate Pastor's wife, but that didn't happen. I haven't quite figured out how to sit there without that memory invading yet. Another layer of my tears has come from the keen awareness in that environment of the goodness of my God. Yes, there is pain reflecting on how things were "supposed to be," but there is also tremendous peace and joy coming from the God who has revealed Himself to me during this season in ways so tender and precious and awe-inspiring that I can't help but cry each week as I sing about His goodness and acknowledge His perfection.
As I have processed my unexpected and yet consistent Sunday tears, I can't help but think that it is all okay. That I am not pathetic, rather I am broken and blessed. That, in reality, this is how it should be. Each and every week, we should all have moments to be reminded that "This is not how it should be." This world is not our home. We are strangers and aliens in this place. Yet, we should also have moments of pure awe at the goodness and GREATNESS of our God. It is these moments that keep us grounded in the spiritual reality in which we live. It is these moments from which worship arises. It is these moments wherein we declare our dependence on God and the insufficiency in ourselves.
I'm so glad it's Sunday.
"You and I are in little (our sins excepted) what God is in large." - A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God.
I am pondering this quote today. Genesis 1:27 tells us that we were made in God's image. With the exception of our sin nature, the stuff that makes us up is a minute version of the stuff that makes up God. That is worth a few moments of reflection, and could even change the way we view ourselves and others forever if pondered with the proper weight!
If you are single, you have probably been asked what you look for in a potential date/spouse. If you are married, chances are you've had a single friend ask you what they should look for in a mate. How do you answer? Our laundry list of desirable traits might read like this:
- a sense of humor
- good with children
- spiritually mature
- attractive (to you)
- a good communicator
The list could go on and on. Look back over the list for a moment. Is there any trait that does not apply to God? God embodies the most complete, perfect, holy version of every trait that is attractive to us in another human being. The qualities in others that draw us to them, are the very qualities of God; the qualities that God himself possesses in FULL MEASURE.
The challenge that comes with this knowledge is three fold:
1 - To view God accurately - not to withhold from him in our minds the very characteristics that we admire in others, not to downplay His perfection or His ability, not to make Him something that He is not in our thoughts - something that is on the same level as what we have observed here on earth. He is entirely other, beyond what we can fathom in His perfection.
2 - To view ourselves accurately - not to beat ourselves up for having emotions (our God experiences emotions), not to accept a lower standard when a higher one has been set by our Creator, not to see ourselves as greater than we are - no matter how much we excel in a given trait, God is greater still to the nth degree.
3 - To view others accurately - to admire their positive qualities without elevating them to the place of demi-god in our minds, to expect and hope for the best in others because we know they are made of "god-stuff," just as we are (even if they aren't demonstrating it for a season), to refrain from judging them for the qualities that are lesser developed in them than in ourselves - to quote a former Sunday School teacher of mine: "Comparing my vertical leap with my neighbor's is pretty foolish if the moon is the goal." No one can can jump to the moon and the few inches that I may have over my neighbor in my vertical leap is a pretty ridiculous comparison when I consider the actual goal. (Thanks for the illustration, Doug Bridges, I've never forgotten it.)
The lyrics to this song say perfectly some of what I have just stumbled through trying to explain, I hope it blesses you and increases your scope of who our God is and how great He is:
To My 20 Year Old Self,
Hi. Do you have any idea how much potential you have? No, you don’t; I know because I was you 17 years ago. Let me enlighten you a bit from this side of 35, sweet girl. God has wired you uniquely, hand-crafted your personality, your talents, your intelligence, and your creativity for a purpose. Please, don’t get hung up on what that purpose is right now or how it will play out throughout your lifetime. Please don’t let it paralyze you. Please don’t lie awake at night fretting over whether or not to change your major or whether or not you’ll be able to get a job when you graduate or whether or not you’ll ever get married.
Stick with what your prayers and your gut are telling you for now, for today and trust God with the future. Concentrate on your character right now more than your path. “The second half of a man’s life is made up of nothing but the habits he has acquired during the first half,” (Dostoevsky). In the meantime, don’t pretend that you have got it all figured out, even if people expect you to. Yes, your future may very well include things like a successful career, marriage, motherhood, influence, ministry and more; but it may not look anything like what you imagine those things to be right now – and that is a good thing.
A successful career might be that position at the law office downtown or a low paying job that pays the rent and finds you doing something that you never knew you were made to do. Marriage might mean a white wedding dress followed by 50+ years with a godly man or perhaps remaining loyal to God and God alone for the rest of your days. Motherhood may include bringing up sons and daughters who come into your life through childbirth or adoption, or it could look more like mentoring girls and boys younger than you or foster-parenting for a season. Influence may involve writing that book that everyone reads and raves about or it could be displayed more quietly as you devote time and attention to the handful of special people God puts under your care. Ministry may involve travel and large crowds and the salvation of many, or it may be quietly holding the hands of those who no one else notices and introducing them to a Savior you’ll never be sure this side of heaven if they completely accept.
Whatever lies ahead for you, rest assured, IT IS GOOD. It is so good, that you can’t imagine something better, no matter how hard you try. You can’t make it better by worrying about it now either, so don’t bother. God is the one who makes it good and His work in your life isn’t dependent on your planning or fretting or manipulating your situation. It is only dependent on your obedience. Walk with Him. Trust Him. He knows the way.
“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.’” Jeremiah 29:11 NIV. Believe Him that this is true, even when things are hard.
“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4 ESV. Trust that He knows your heart better than you know it yourself.
“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” Psalm 119:105 KJV. Learn to love God through relying on His word, the Bible. It is relevant and it is breathtaking.
“The Lord directs our steps, so why try to understand everything along the way?” Proverbs 20:24 NLT. Don’t be afraid to ask God “Why?” when you don’t understand the detours, but be willing to accept and keep moving forward when he answers with “I’m not going to tell you right now.”
Above all, commit to laying all of your plans and hopes and dreams at His feet on a regular basis. Some of them He may one day give back to you, wrapped in his beautiful grace. Others he will discard, because of His infinite mercy, replacing them with something that He desires you to have even more. Either way, you will have your treasure – a life of meaning and purpose, and a relationship with the God who planned it that way from the beginning.
Today during the discussion we had in the Sunday School class that we attended, I was reminded of a habit that we have gotten into as a family. A good habit! Every time Timothy has a birthday, Jason and I give him a new privilege and a new responsibility based on his age and ability level. Hmmm, what does that have to do with Sunday School...? I'm glad you asked.
We were discussing how grateful we are that God doesn't confront us with every single sinful attitude and action in our lives all at once. We were comforted with the fact that sanctification is a lifelong process and that His grace is sufficient through it all. That made me think of Timmy's birthday privilege and responsibility, because as Christians one of the worst things that we can do is compare ourselves with other believers. That comparison either leaves us gloating in our privileges and mastery of our responsibilities or leaves us feeling like dirt... neither attitude is godly.
Here is a practical example: On Tim's 10th birthday, his new responsibility was to make his bed daily. He was finally tall enough and his arms were finally long enough to do the job right.
- Does this mean that Tim's bed had gone unmade for the previous 10 years? No. We took care of it until we were convinced he was able.
- Does that mean that we were secretly harboring anger toward Tim for the previous 10 years because beds need to be made and he wasn't making his? No. We hadn't asked him to do that yet, nor did we feel like he was ready for that responsibility. There were other things we had him working on in the meantime (setting the table, picking up dog poop in the yard, vacuuming, putting away dishes, etc.).
- Does that mean that the 7, 8, and 9 year old friends that Tim had who had already been making their beds themselves were better than Tim? No. They had been given different responsibilities by their parents that had nothing to do with what was between Tim and his parents.
If that makes perfect sense to us, why do we not always carry that principle with us into the spiritual realm. Why do we look down our noses at people who "call themselves Christians" but still sin in ways we don't? Or, on the other side of that coin, why do we look at others who have mastery over something and declare ourselves worthless because we aren't there yet. God convicts us all and equips us all as He sees fit as we grow up and mature in Him. He doesn't expect everything from us all at once and we shouldn't expect it of each other.
The moral of this story?
1. You may be making your bed daily, but don't gloat over your brother or sister with the unmade bed... chances are he/she has been busy picking up dog poop. Want to trade?
2. Thank God for His grace that is sufficient for every task and every mistake we make along the way. He knows what we are capable of and He never asks more of us than we can accomplish with His strength and support. What a loving Father!
2 Peter 3:18 (NASB): "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen."
Ephesians 4:15 (NIV) "...speaking the truth in love we will all grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ."
We are up to our ears with packing tape, boxes, bubble wrap and sharpie markers at the moment. As we prepare to move to Ohio in 5 days, our house looks the part. Today as I was packing up my kitchen, I gave myself some excellent advice... I'm not the only one who does that right? Internal monologues are kind of a specialty of mine.
Any way, as I was individually wrapping and packing up several glass vases, I thought to myself, "I should label this box as one not to unpack." You see, we are hoping to eventually buy a house in our new city, which would mean we will eventually have to pack everything back up again from the rental home we are moving into and move it all. Again. So as I was packing up all of my vases, I had this "genius" thought that I'd save myself the trouble of unpacking and repacking that particular box. Vases, I thought, are non-essential items. If we just unpack the essentials, there will be less to repack when we do buy a house. Pretty smart, I know.
Here's the deal though. My internal monologue turned into an internal dialogue and another voice rose up inside me to fight back against the pragmatist. This voice said, "Don't you dare leave those vases packed! Why in the world would your husband bring you flowers if you don't have anything to put them in?! Don't you want flowers?!" Oh, I do! I do want flowers! Fresh flowers are something I've had far too few of in my home over the years.
That thought led me to another simple and obvious thought - How many times do I miss out on blessings in my life because I don't want to put in a little extra effort? Unpacking and repacking the box of vases and finding somewhere to put them in the rental house will take a few minutes of time and energy, but seeing fresh flowers on my kitchen table over the next year will bring many days worth of pleasure.
As I pondered that, another less simple, and less obvious thought dawned on me. How many blessings has God been prepared to give me, that I have inadvertently failed to receive because I had safely packed away the very vessel I would need to hold them? How many friendships has He been willing to prosper in my life that I refused to pursue because I kept my time safely packed away? How many times has He been willing to bless my generosity only to have me keep my money safely packed away when I could have given it freely? How many times has He had a Word to speak into my heart and mind that would have brought encouragement and growth, but I kept my Bible safely packed away on a shelf?
You better believe that when we start unpacking boxes at our new home in Ohio in a few days, I'm going to unpack those vases! More than that though, I pray that God will help me to remember that He has a plan to bring beautiful things into my life as well as my home, and that I need to be ready to receive those as well.
Don't leave your vases packed! Lesson learned.