Encouragement, My Life

Other gods

“You shall have no other gods before Me.
You shall not make for yourself a carved image – any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God…”
Exodus 20:3-5

Very often I pray, “Lord, tell me what to do and I’ll do it. I just want to do your will.” It wasn’t until this week that I realized I spent more time trying to figure out what to do and less time hearing and learning from Him. I desired the feeling of accomplishment more than Peace and Joy from resting in His Presence. I desired accolades and approval from others rather than the love and approval of the Father. Doing the right things had become an idol to me.

Delight yourself also in the Lord,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him,
And He shall bring it to pass.
He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light,
And your justice as the noonday.
Psalm 37:4-5

In response to this revelation, I have intentionally spent time in communion with my Creator God – being still and seeking Him just to know Him better. I am more aware that I serve and love a God who desires me – so much that He is jealous for my time and affections.

When I think about that – that He wants me, knowing the person I am, the things I have done, said and thought – I can’t help but want to understand why.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
John 3:16

“It’s love,” He whispers.

There’s nothing I can do, nothing I can check off my checklist, that can make me deserving of His sacrifice – the pain, the suffering and the shame. As I envision my Jesus hanging in agony caused by the pain in His physical body and separation from the Father, I can’t help but crumple to my knees with tears in my eyes. I realize I’m so unworthy.

For what is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that you visit him?
For you have made him a little lower than the angels
And You have crowned him with glory and honor.
Psalm 8:4-5

I don’t have to be afraid of not meeting the expectations of God because, honestly, I have already missed the mark.

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin…
…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
Romans 3:20, 23

The blood Jesus shed for my sins has placed me in right standing with God. I can stand in His Presence without fear. I can come to Him in all my mess and distress. I can cry and laugh, sing and dance. I can experience the joy of a life lived in Him. Most importantly, I can rest, assured of my future – eternity in heaven with Him.

“…In quietness and trust is your strength…”
Isaiah 30:15

Encouragement, My Life

Time for Thanksgiving

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

I was having one of those days, you know the kind when all you want to do is pull the covers over your head and sleep for a good portion of the day. And any waking hours, you want to spend catching up on chocolate and your shows On Demand (in case you’re wondering, I like reality TV – Bar Rescue, Kitchen Nightmares, Marriage Bootcamp…don’t judge me).

However, with two small children, a husband, a home and schoolwork, there are always things to be done and people to care for. But honestly, I was too exhausted to do anything and even thinking about my to-do list was making me more tired.

My husband looked at me and said, “Take it easy today.” To which I replied, “I can’t. I have too much to do.”

And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
Colossians 3:17

I pushed through my day, trying to be perky, energetic and patient with the kids, but I just wasn’t feeling like myself. I thought, “Okay. After I workout, I’ll feel better.” Wrong. I could barely focus enough to make it through a short workout.

I put the kids down for naps and came out to the front, my eyes welling with tears. I couldn’t figure out why I felt so emotional, but I felt like I was completely unhinged, going crazy. The fact I recognized that I didn’t feel like myself made me even more upset. Ignorance is bliss, I guess.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-8

I started to pray. I began praying for other people, because I was tired of thinking about myself and trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I paced the room, praying for my church, and anyone else that came to mind, but I still felt off. My neck and back ached. I couldn’t concentrate. I felt empty.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.
Psalm 136:1

“Thank Me,” He said.

“I’m too tired, Lord.”

He insisted, “Just thank Me.”

Every good and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.
James 1:17

I began praying, “Thank you, Jesus,” over and over until I started realizing how blessed I am. I have a home. I have a husband who is loving and supportive. I have two rambunctious, intelligent and healthy children. I have family close by who come to help at the drop of a dime. I felt the weight lift off my shoulders.

And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.
Colossians 3:13-14

Even if I didn’t have all those things, I have a Savior, who took the form of man so that I could be free to live for Him and enjoy an abundant life in Him.

I was so consumed with being tired and busy that I forgot to be thankful.

…singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 5:19b-20

I have decided to be more thankful. When I feel myself slipping back into old habits, I turn up the worship music and sing. Nothing can lift your spirit and place things in proper perspective like worship.

Encouragement, My Life

A Weeping Workout

The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
James 5:16

“Lord, order my steps today. Let me think thoughts that are pleasing to You. Let me not be distracted by my to-do list, but help me do all the things You want me to do today and none of the things You don’t. Help my ears to be sensitive to Your voice, so that I can hear all that You’re saying. Amen.”

A word of warning: When you pray a serious prayer like that, be sure you know what you’re saying. God will make Himself known to you in a powerful (and most likely, unexpected) way.

Fast-forward to lunchtime. I had set the kids up with lunches and checked into my home gym. I had a good workout; I felt strong and not tired, so I decided to do some more cardio.

Fifteen minutes into my second workout, I started to weep. My first thought was, “Well this hasn’t happened in awhile. I don’t feel angry with anyone, or hurt…” but the tears continued to fall and picked up speed.

I punched, jumped, kicked and cried for the woman I thought I should be by now, for the opportunities I thought were taken from me and for the fear that crippled me. It was that last thought that surprised me and I stopped.

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.
2 Timothy 1:7

Here I am, sweating, spending all this time, exerting all this effort and putting all this focus on getting back my “wedding body,” knowing there were times I gave up too quickly on something that God wanted me to do because it got hard for a second. I realized that my physical self-discipline outshined my spiritual self-discipline by far. This made me angry.

No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life…I will never leave you nor forsake you…Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.
Joshua 1:5,9

Still crying, I punched, jumped and kicked harder, praying, “No more, Lord. No more will I be stopped from doing the things You have for me to do. No more will I allow what other people think of me define who I am and what I am capable of. “

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.
Jeremiah 1:5

Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
Psalm 139:16

In that moment, the tears stopped. I immediately understood that God wanted me to work and pray through all that emotion. My morning prayer made my spirit attuned to Him, and enabled me to get to the place where I could face something that was buried deep inside me.

It was (and still is) time for me to not only recognize God’s sovereignty with my mind, but put this belief on display through my actions. I have to stop acting as though I’m in control of anything, much less everything, and stressing myself out.

“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 hope and a future…You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
Jeremiah 29:11,13

All I need to do are the things that God has set before me (being a mother, a wife, a student, a daughter) and keep seeking Him for each step. I’ll get where He wants me to go as long as I take the steps He wants me to take.

Encouragement, My Life

Oh, Martha…

Now it happened as they went that He entered into a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”
And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Luke 10:38-42

I am such a Martha.

I had huge plans for my Spring Break week – cleaning out the dreaded closet in my kids’ room, organizing/re-organizing their clothes and toys and any other number of cleaning and cooking tasks around my home.

Then reality came crashing in as sickness – that “I don’t want to move,” “kids, please stop yelling,” “yes, you can watch more Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” sickness. I didn’t get to a single thing on my extensive to do list, and I was feeling guilty.

Throughout the entire week I could hear “only one thing is required” reverberating in my spirit, easing back the guilt with perfect peace. I took care of the kids as best I could and took care of myself, with cold medicine and quiet time, alone in prayer and in the Word. I’m recovering, but I admit that I’m frustrated with the “unproductive week” that I have had.

I find that there are times when we need to be still and rest. Sometimes because He desires to speak to us and other times because He knows what’s ahead and we need the rest. Either way, we would do well to accept the rest He offers.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Matthew 11:29

How can our souls rest if we continually create massive to-do lists that seemingly have no end?

How can we take His yoke and learn from Him if we barely eke out a “Lord, please help me today” prayer in the morning as we leap from bed already contemplating our to-do list for the day?

This week of sickness has taught me a few things: 1) Chores will wait until tomorrow (or the next day); 2) I can pull together a healthy and delicious dinner that is relatively uncomplicated when in a pinch; but most importantly 3) The value of resting without feeling guilty or lazy.

In my time this week, I have prayed that I would be super-saturated with His peace and love so I can reflect that to the world around me. As I pressed in, He revealed that I needed to be disentangled from some of my past to be completely free.

Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.
John 8:36

And now, I’m walking in that freedom – declaring, proclaiming, reminding myself of that promise. It’s a new level of joy fulfilled.

I pray that we learn to slow down, do the “one thing” that is required and spend the rest of our time fully engaged in worship and prayer with our Lord.

Encouragement, My Life

The Golden Tightrope

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it.”
Matthew 7:13-14

At a crossroads, I look to my left and see a wide path – well paved, well travelled and open. On the path are people laughing, dancing and having a good time. To my right is a narrow path, a path where there is silence, appears to be rocky and brush overhangs. I must make a decision – my mind says, “That’s easy. Go where the people look happy and the way is clear.” I hear a whisper, “Not that way.” Heeding the voice, I choose the narrow path.

As I get to the point of no return, I see the path isn’t a path at all, but a golden tightrope and I’m afraid. The whisper urges me on, assuring me this is the way to go. I take my first step, the rope wobbles and I tremble. I look to the other path, and what I see is terrifying. Not too far away from the entrance, past the seemingly happy people is impenetrable darkness.

For I am the Lord, you God,
who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
I will help you
Isaiah 41:13

My eyes well with tears and my heart fills with fear. I hear, “Look up,” and I see a hand reaching down from heaven to take mine. As I grasp it tightly with both hands, I feel myself being pulled forward along the tightrope. I look ahead and see the brightest light, and am met with overwhelming joy and peace.

Feeling confident, I hold the hand from heaven with just my right hand and begin to walk slowly, but steadily. Something below the tightrope catches my eye and I avert my gaze; I wobble, but the hand from heaven tightens its grip and keeps me upright. The whisper says, “That’s not for you.” I understand and I continue on.

Again, I am distracted by something below and I stop to get a better look, even daring to let go of the hand from heaven to reach for what I see and I begin to fall off the golden tightrope.

In my distress, I called to the Lord;
I called to my God for help.
From his temple he heard my voice;
my cry came before him, into his ears.
Psalm 18:6

Screaming for help, I am caught from a terrifying free-fall and placed back on the tightrope. I look up and the hand is there, waiting for me to take it again. I do, and I begin to walk again.

“…The Lord your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.”
Zephaniah 3:17

Life as a Christ-follower is not easy. God expects so much from us, sometimes things that are contrary to our desires. He expects us to live transformed lives, not conforming to the pattern of this world. And that’s hard.

There’s a warring in our souls – when we want to be angry, He calls us to forgive. When we want revenge, He calls us to feed, clothe and bless our enemies, the same ones who persecute us.

How can we live in this way, with this constant inner turmoil?

“This is the word of the Lord… ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.”
Zechariah 4:6

Call out to God in those moments when the battle is too long and the enemy too strong and He will strengthen you. He will lift you up. He will quiet you with his love. He will sing sweet songs to you, His beloved.

Encouragement, My Life, Our Father's Love

The Empty Space

It’s amazing how much I have learned about the Father and His love from being a mother.

My beautiful, strong-willed, two-year-old daughter was being disobedient in the bathroom. Instead of handling her business, “Mommy, I go pee-pee,” she was doing and touching everything her little preschool hands could get into – toilet paper, toilet brush, scale, towels, soap – all while describing what mommy does with each item. I would have (in retrospect, I should have) been impressed if we hadn’t been experiencing some minor potty training setbacks of late. I just wanted her to use the bathroom, so I yelled. That didn’t have the effect I wanted; instead I got that cute, but disobedient eyebrow raise that makes you want to smile and growl at the same time.

In a moment of wisdom, I tried a different tactic – I turned my back to her in the door, leaning on the doorframe. She called me, “Mommy, you there?” and I answered, but minimally and very quietly; she knew I was there, but she knew I was upset and quickly adjusted her behavior and apologized.

While she was finishing up in the bathroom, I could hear God telling me, “She’s just like you.” He didn’t have to say much more than that for me to understand.

We all do things that are disobedient, and, seeing His wayward creation, God’s heart swells with love and hurt at our disobedience. However, unlike my initial reaction, God doesn’t boom from the heavens to get our attention. He retreats – He pulls back a bit of the closeness we enjoy as His children. He is still there, and lets us know that, but there is a widening space between us and Him as we continue in unrepentant disobedience.

 Do not cast me away from Your presence,
And do not take You Holy Spirit from me…
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and a contrite heart –
These, O God, You will not despise.
Psalm 51:11, 17

When we begin to notice the distance, we should seek Him earnestly, in humility and with repentant hearts. However, how soon we notice is dependent upon the strength and closeness of our relationship with the Father.

Have mercy also upon me, and answer me.
When You said, “Seek My face,”
My heart said to You, “Your face, Lord, I will seek.”
Do not hide Your face from me;
Do not turn Your servant away in anger;
You have been my help;
Psalm 27:7-9

Sometimes we attempt to fill that space with things to do, other people and things, but the void remains. Nothing will fit in that space but the Presence of the Living God. We will again experience joy and peace as we seek Him and not external things.

You will show me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Psalm 16:11

Encouragement, My Life

Praising in Prison

But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed.
Acts 16:25-26

After setting a slave girl free from the spirit that controlled her, Paul and Silas found themselves beaten and imprisoned. Sore from their beating, bound by stocks and in the deep darkness of the inner prison, Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns to God.

Prayed and sang hymns?!?!

In the same situation, I would have been crying and giving God the “What for.”

My prayer would have sounded like, “Lord, I set that slave girl free, but I didn’t do it of my own power. You enabled me to do that. Didn’t you want me to do it? Don’t you want your people free? Now here I am, imprisoned after setting her free. What’s going on here?” There would be no sound of singing from my cell, only the sound of weeping, moaning and complaining.

My reaction would have been based in the bleakness of the reality around me. Paul and Silas had the ability to lift their eyes above their situation and focus on the truth – the sovereignty of God. They were willing to face discomfort to share the truth of the Cross.

As they lifted their eyes, they were able to pray and sing. What a testimony to the other prisoners who were listening. I imagine Paul and Silas’ attitude of worship pervading the prison and the other prisoners finding hope and solace in the words they sang and prayed. Maybe they even joined in – in their hearts or aloud.

In the midst of worship in what seemed their darkest hour, God showed up – in power and strength. He loosed their chains and opened doors.

So often we want God to work in the opposite way, “Set me free, Lord and then I’ll praise you.” However, Paul and Silas’ example was left for us for a reason – sometimes we have to praise Him in the most difficult of situations, trusting He knows all that is going on and has everything under control. He is not unaware of our struggles, our pain and our tears.

By stepping outside of ourselves and praising Him in those situations, we surrender to His sovereignty. No doubt He will move on our behalf. We will be freed from bondage, no longer dragging the chains of pain, deep hurt and rejection, but leaping and dancing with joy from the knowledge of Him and who we are in Him.

I will lift up my eyes to the hills –
From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
Psalm 121:1-2

You number my wanderings;
Put my tears into your bottle;
Are they not in Your book?

When I cry out to You,
Then my enemies will turn back;
This I know, because God is for me.
Psalm 56:8-9