Friday, August 30, 2013

Let Yourself Imagine

I had a meeting this morning that started with a moment of imagination. In that one moment, however brief, I saw what could be. I saw where things could go if God moved, and if we really let Him take hold of us, of our lives, and of our time. It would change a lot of things, and it would require a lot of adjustment, but it would so incredible to see!

The possibilities are a bit daunting. Our current ideas would no longer be entirely adequate, our resources would need to expand. But isn't that what God is all about? Isn't He constantly bringing us to places where we need to stretch ourselves and our beliefs in His ability to provide?

As soon as I embraced the possibility of what the future could hold, the ideas flooded in. Sure, things would be different than they are now, but they wouldn't be too different. The reality is that, when we follow God, when we allow Him to grow us, we can trust that He will also provide us with the space and skills we need to accommodate that growth. Why should we limit ourselves to what we have when God may be waiting to do so much more?

What might God be calling you to imagine? What more does He want to do through you?

Today's Verse
Ephesians 3: 20-21
No to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Praise and Petition

One of the reasons that I love the Psalms is that they are such a real and honest depiction of what a relationship with God is like. David's prayer life reflects his heart, and his heart was often troubled and conflicted, even while he praised the Lord. When I find myself in similar mindsets, I try to remember to look to the Psalms as an example of how to pray honestly. I can bring my cares and concerns to the Lord, but I also want to remember to praise him, to recognize his awesome glory and power. I don't want my prayer life, my discussions with God to be all about me.

I think about my conversations with people and about how few relationships last when conversations are consistently only about one of the people involved. I don't want to inflict that kind of relationship on God when I wouldn't want to stay in one like that myself.

The Bible says we should do all things to the glory of God and that we should pray unceasingly. When I do this, when I consistently have God at the forefront of my mind, and don't confine Him to a few minutes in the morning and a few minutes before I go to bed at night, I am much more likely to bring praise in addition to my petitions. I remember to thank Him for the good things, to recognize the blessings in the moment and point to His goodness. In this way, my cares and concerns don't overshadow the good things in my life, instead, by the end of the day, I've seen so many blessings, that the cares and concerns seem few and small in comparison.

Are you praising the Lord in addition to your petitions?

Today's Verse
Ephesians 5: 15, 20
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Learning Contentment

In Philippians, Paul says, "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances." I love this concept of learning contentment. Contentment isn't something that just happens. We can't simply decide to be content and expect it to immediately occur. It's almost a skill. We have to develop it, practice it, learn how to do it. Becoming content is a process.

My process towards contentment has spanned multiple areas of my life and involved pain, endings, and what has felt, at times, like giving up. I've seen my health falter, I've struggled in relationships, and I've totally changed the course of my career, and that's just in the last several months! But through all of that, I have learned what I do and don't truly need. I have learned what it is to be content with what I have. I have learned what truly matters, what problems are worth my attention and energy, and what it is to be positive and to smile regardless. God has taught me to focus on what He wants me to focus on. He has placed a desire in my heart to see the world and people through His eyes rather than through my own. By changing my perspective and attempting to develop one that more closely resembles His, I find that my personal concerns are much less important, much less overwhelming, and much easier to deal with and then move on.

It is true that we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength, and with Him on our side, pulling for us, working through us, guiding us, there is no need to let any circumstances steal our joy or contentment.

Are you pursuing contentment?

Today's Verses
Philippians 4: 11-13
I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

When We Blunder

Yesterday I read a news story about a young, very conservative, Christian family who, taking their two children (both under the age of four), left the United States and set sail for a developing country in the South Pacific seeking religious freedom.  They weren't experienced sailors or navigators, and several weeks into their journey they found themselves adrift in the Pacific Ocean.

Reading this story, as an outside observer, it seems so easy to judge this family for their choices and their interpretations of Scripture. But what really struck me is that, when they were adrift at sea and running out of food, the woman involved stated that she always knew that God would provide for them. And He did. The family was found by a boat and transferred to shipping vessel and taken to a US Embassy in South America. They survived. Their two young children survived.

Even if their journey was a massive blunder, and even if the Lord never intended for them to make it, He still protected them through it. He never abandoned them or forsook them. He was there in their time of trouble. I'm thankful that God is big enough to handle all our problems, but small enough to find us in the middle of the ocean, and direct help straight to us. I am so grateful that I serve a God who is right there with me, even when I make mistakes, and especially when my mistakes are incredibly huge.

Today's Verse
Deuteronomy 31:6
Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.

Monday, August 26, 2013

It's Not the First Day

For me, today is not the first day of a new school year. For the first time in 21 years (more, actually, if you count preschool), I won't be heading to a classroom this fall. I won't be buying notebooks and pens or spending an exorbitant amount of money on textbooks. I won't be impressing new teachers or teaching new students of my own.

I thought not doing these things would feel strange, especially since my life plan, the one I'd held since high school, was to get a PhD at the very least, and become a professor myself at the most. I thought I might be disappointed or at least a little sad to know that I'm really, truly, not doing that, and that the Lord has definitely taken my life in a different direction.

But, I'm not. There isn't one iota of my being that is sad this morning. I'm elated. I'm free. I'm filled with joy. I've spent the last week doing some of my best work, my most enjoyable work, and it was work I never thought I'd ever sign up to do as an actual job. I was speaking to a wise friend last night and I expressed to her my amazement that following God's leading could lead to such fulfillment and joy and peace and contentment!

Cheesy as it may sound, today isn't my first day of school, but it definitely feels like the first day of the rest of my life, and that is cause for celebration.

What are you celebrating today?

Today's Verse
Galatians 5:13
For you were called to freedom, brothers only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love to serve one another.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Summer Days, Drifting Away

As summer comes to a close, and the new school year begins I've been reflecting on all that I have learned and seen God do. I am overwhelmed by His grace and provision in my life, by His attentiveness to my needs and His willingness to deal with me on a personal level. I've learned how amazingly trustworthy He is, how ready and willing He is to satisfy me, and how desperately He longs for me to rely on only Him.

As I move into this new chapter of my life, I am so excited to see what He has in store! I am already seeing Him open opportunities up for me to join Him where He is at work and to make a difference in the world around me. I am praying that He will continue to do these things and will continue to provide the means for me to succeed in those endeavors.

What did you learn this summer? What are you looking forward to as fall approaches?

Today's Verse
Psalm 74: 16-17
The day is yours, and yours also the night; you established the sun and moon. It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth; you made both summer and winter.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Fill Me Up

In recent days I have begun a new strategy for finding satisfaction in the Lord alone. I have stopped waiting for the end of the day to pray about the ways in which I felt insecure and the ways in which I felt that my needs weren't met that day. Instead, I am starting the day by telling the Lord what I am fearing, where I feel a lack, where I need Him to meet me that day. I have been asking Him to meet my needs, to fill up my emotional gaps, my spiritual holes, before I ever get out of bed.

I have found that, by doing this, my encounters with people have become less central to my emotional well-being. My emotions are less effected, less variable, when I rely on God to fill me up first. If I am supported and affirmed by my friends and acquaintances, that is fantastic. However, if I don't get exactly the right words from them, that is ok, too. When I need other people to fill my cup before I turn to God, I will always come up short, but when I rely on God to affirm and support me first, when I let Him fill my cup, anything else is extra, and my cup runs over.

Are you letting God meet your needs before turning to others?

Today's Verse
Psalm 90: 14
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.

Monday, August 19, 2013

God With Us

When the angel appears to Mary and tells her that she is to have a baby, one of the names he calls the child is Immanuel. Immanuel translates to "God with us". Today I am reminded that, regardless of where we are or what we are going through, because of Christ, God is with us.

There are many definitions of the word 'with', and it seems like such a little, simple, common word. I don't think I've ever given it's meaning much thought before today. But, when I realize that "God with us" means that I am accompanied by God himself, that God is a participant with me in my life, that He is on my side, that He is present with me, I find hope and strength. Everything else seems, if not small, at least not overwhelming in the face of his presence.

I am not alone, and neither are you.

Today's Verse
Psalm 23: 1-4
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Practical Things

Now that I am a 'real' adult, I am finding that there are practical spiritual lessons to learn along with the more intangible ones I have become used to. As I exercise self-discipline, developing spiritual self control, I encounter practical opportunities to engage in spiritual practices. The lesson I learned today? I don't need a new dress.

Now, yes, that is overly simplified. In reality, what I am learning is that I need to be a good steward of my money. Could I have bought have bought a new dress today? Sure! I could have rationalized it, I could have made excuses. There wasn't anyone there to stop me, and I do have an event I'll be going to where I will need to wear a dress. However, I want to actually act like a 'real' adult instead of just saying that I am one.

I actually want to learn to be a good steward of my money. I realized today that I've never really done that before. I've never quite had to. Sure, I've had bills that had to be paid, rent that needed to be sent in on time, but the nature of being a student, of being my parents' dependent, was such that true stewardship of my money is something I've neglected to develop. Now that I have the opportunity to develop those skills, I want to take full advantage. I want to grasp the chance that God has placed in front of me to grow, even though it may be difficult, even though it stretches me beyond my current skill set.

How is God stretching you?

Today's Verse
1 Corinthians 4:2
Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Live On

When I think of how the Lord answers prayers, even small ones, as we simply live and abide in Him, I am filled with joy. It amazes me that He can answer us with what seems like so little notice! When I want to make something happen, I need to plan, to prepare. I often need a schedule and a game plan. I need to know what small steps need to be accomplished first so that other, larger things can fall into place later. However, the Lord knows all things before we ask, and He is laying the foundation for His plans before we are ever aware of them.

I found myself awake early this morning and spent the time in prayer. I prayed for things that I had sadly neglected over the last several months, but as I sit here several hours later, I find that God didn't need me to be praying all that time. While I may regret my own forgetfulness and lack of diligence, God didn't need my reminders. I didn't have to spend months of prayer time laying the groundwork for the answers to prayer I received today. I simply needed to live my life according to the grace and faith to which God has called me, and for that I give thanks today.

What are you giving thanks for today?

Today's Verse
Colossians 2: 6-7
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Humbled by Ease

I am intimately aware of the truth that, just because God wills something, doesn't mean that it will be easy to accept or accomplish. However, I often find myself struggling to balance this truth with  when I find myself blessed by surprisingly easy things.

I know what to do when things are difficult. I know the stages of acceptance that I go through. I know that I resist God's prompting, that I have to deal with my fear, that I have to struggle to submit. I know that I have to remind myself of His sovereignty, His goodness, His faithfulness. I know that I need to be looking for small blessings, for silver linings. I know that acceptance and accomplishment is often an uphill battle, and that I may slip backwards numerous times before I reach the summit.

However, when things are easy, I find myself floundering. I don't have a formula for response when it feels like I am simply handed something. I find myself backing away, consumed with the need to be extra cautious. Even if I do move forward, it feels like walking over creaking ice, just waiting for it to break from underneath me. Surely it is too good to be true? Surely things are supposed to always be hard?

Today I am simply humbled by the way God makes some things easy for me. There are many things I struggle with, but God makes other things incredibly easy in very unexpected ways. I am blessed to not have to struggle in all areas of my life. I am not deserving of His favor, and surely there are others who could benefit from those blessings as well, but I am thankful that He has seen fit to provide them for me, even when I have not earned or even attempted to earn them.

How is God unexpectedly blessing you?

Today's Verse
Psalm 32: 11
Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

All Dressed Up

I read a brief description of fear today that I found rather profound. It said that we don't face a whole list of fears, long and varied, but merely a few fears that dress themselves up so that they appear to be numerous and different. I think this applies to many of the enemy's strategies for undermining us and the plans God has for us.

Whenever I attempt to move forward, I know I have to be on guard against fear. I know that each step of faith I take will be met by God as He wills, but that it may also be countered by the enemy. Adversity is to be expected; things are not easy just because God asks us to do them. Part of walking in faith is recognizing when our fears are dressing themselves up, attempting to look bigger and stronger than they are.

The reality is that, because of Christ, we are so much stronger than fear. We are stronger than anything the enemy can throw at us. But we must own that strength in order to overcome. We must claim it, and rely on God to help us wield it. We must know that it is ours, belief we have received it, and not shy away when fear rears its ugly head.

Do you recognize when your fears are just dressing up?

Today's Verse
2 Timothy 1: 7
For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

Monday, August 12, 2013

God's Question

On Sunday our pastor presented us with an interesting concept. He said that it is likely that the most common question that we ask God is, "Can I trust you?" but that, if God had one question He could ask each of us, it might be the very same question. Can He trust us?

I know that I constantly fall into the trap of seeing God's faithfulness over and over in my life, and yet still asking Him, "Can I trust you?" I beg and plead for Him to show me again, intimately aware that my spirit is willing but my flesh is weak. Now I have this other image in my mind, this image of God looking at me, and wondering the same thing.

Unfortunately, I am not constant as He is. I am not the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. My faithfulness, my trustworthiness is not a certainty. When I look back on my past, there isn't a single moment or example where God proved himself unfaithful or unworthy of my trust. But when God looks back on our relationship, on the times He asked things of me, my record is not nearly as clean. I can only imagine the number of times I took advantage of blessings, squandered opportunities, turned gifts into points of pride, and worked for my own benefit instead of others.

As I now, officially, enter a new phase of my life and as I ask God for provision and blessing and guidance I want Him to be able to trust me with those things. I want Him to be working in my heart, to be renewing my spirit, so that I can be trusted to work for Him and not for myself, to do His work as He wants it done. I want a better record going forward than I have left behind me.

Can God trust you?

Today's Verse
Luke 16: 10
Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Sickness of Selfishness

I read a fascinating speech today that has been making the rounds. You can read it here if you so desire. I am unused to hearing graduation speeches about our humanity. In my experience those speeches say, "go do things", "go excel", and "go work". This speech was a bit different in that it basically said to go be a better person, a kinder person, a less selfish person. It said that success in work can take a long time to achieve but we can start being kinder, being less selfish, right now.

I love the selflessness that we are called to through the Gospel, yet the lack of selflessness that I often see in the Church, in Christians, is one of my biggest discouragements. I know that I myself am selfish and unkind much too often for comfort. Intellectually, we know that we are not the center of the universe, and that no one should treat us as such. But how often do we behave as though God and Christ come first, and we come second, just after them?

This is not how we are called to think. Loving others as we love ourselves means putting them first. Doing for them before we do for ourselves. It doesn't mean being a doormat, but it certainly means not being a diva. It means being a team player. It means each person plays their role and is there to pick up the slack when the others falter, supporting them and making sure they have what they need. Everything still gets done, tasks are still accomplished, but we do them together rather than at the expense of others.

Are you attempting to give up selfish things today?

Today's Verses
Philippians 2: 3-4
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Gift of Sleep

Today I am gifting myself. In the large scheme of things, it's a small gift. It costs me nothing. I don't even have to leave the house to get it. I don't even have to leave my room. Today, I give myself the gift of sleep.

Sleep has become oddly conceptualized in US culture.  It's not something we give everyone. We don't think about it as something we deserve. We certainly don't treat it as something we need. In fact, in many arenas (I have found that graduate school is particularly guilty of this) going without sleep is a badge of honor, something to be proud of, proof that you are working harder, striving longer, doing better than your peers.

For me, however, sleep is another facet of living with fibromyalgia. Living with chronic pain means never being comfortable, which means never quite relaxing, which means never quite resting as well as I should. This means I don't get good sleep. This also means that I reach a point where my body is too tired to go through its daily tasks and, instead, needs to catch up on its sleep. My sleepy days are all about giving up control. They are all about admitting my body's limitations. They are all about admitting that I'm not as healthy as others, that I don't have it all together, that I can't manage on my own. They are about admitting that I need God.

On the numerous days when I do get out of bed, it isn't my own strength that makes it possible. It's His. On the days when I can't get out of bed, it isn't my own strength that keeps me from feeling like a failure. It's His. Everywhere I turn, it is Him, not me, who gets me through.

Who is getting you through today?

Today's Verse
2 Corinthians 12: 9
But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Community Lessons

One of the greatest things about living in community with other Christians is the way I am consistently encouraged to do better and be better than I am. I love seeing God work in other people's lives and hearts, inspiring me to let God do similar work in my life and in my heart.

I have a friend, wonderful, sweet, and gracious, who has recently faced an unexpected measure of interpersonal conflict. She shared this struggle with me, and I was able to encourage her, and inform her just how petty I thought the others involved in this conflict were being. Instead of joining me in dismissing their concerns, however, she expressed a desire to at least try to address the things they had brought up to her. She wanted to make an effort, to potentially open doors for future communication, future congeniality between herself and these others who had hurt her. I jokingly offered to confront them on her behalf (quite the joke given my own avoidance of conflict) and, even as she laughed good-naturedly, she said the most beautiful thing. She said that she had been praying for these people before this happened, and she didn't want to stop now. She knew where they were spiritually, knows that there are still areas where they need God to work in their hearts and lives, and she doesn't want to stop caring and praying about that. She said that when she remembers to pray for them, she isn't as hurt, and she isn't as angry about the conflict.

I find myself so inspired by her heart for these people. How often do I encounter conflict where, rather than praying for the person or people involved, I imagine and practice the confrontation over and over in my mind, stirring up my own emotions, anticipating and expecting the worst. Even if I choose to forget about the conflict, and shove it under the rug, bottling it up or attempting to let it go, it comes back later twice as strong when the same thing crops up again. She has shown me another situation, another opportunity, where prayer is the answer. When we lift others up in prayer, we invite God into the situation and into our hearts and feelings about the circumstances we face and the other individuals involved. When we manage our conflict through prayer, it doesn't mean we don't have to deal with issues or talk things out, but it may help us conquer our emotions and keep ourselves from being ruled by hurt and anger.

I'm learning a lesson in conflict from the members of my community today, what lessons are you learning from yours?

Today's Verses
Matthew 5: 43-48
You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Right Response

When we face situations where we have questions about what we should do, I think we often struggle with what our response to the unknown should be. We tell ourselves that we don't know what to do. We worry about the potential outcomes of any course of action. Sometimes, we are stalled, unable to see a way out, a way that doesn't cause us intense anxiety and worry. Other times, we pick a course of action and go full steam ahead, forgetting to be grateful when things go well. And then, even when things go well, we often find ourselves in new places saying, "Well, ok, but now what?"

"I don't know what to do!"I think this thought is one of the enemy's most insidious and effective weapons.  It underscores our lack of confidence in ourselves. It highlights our anxieties and insecurities. It shows us that we don't have all the answers, even for our own lives. And it offers nothing in return. It strips away all our comforts and support, and leaves us there, blowing in the wind, unable to stand alone.

But this is where God comes in. Because, in uncertainty and in triumph, the Bible is clear. The right response to this kind of thinking is always prayer. In times of uncertainty and worry we are to call upon the Lord. In triumph and success we are to praise Him. These are two sides of the same coin. When we don't know what to do, or where to turn, or how to process where we think our life is going, we need to pray. When we can't contain our joy or when happiness is abundant, we need to praise God. Prayer provides the answer to the enemy's destructive thought. When we say, "I don't know what to do", God says, "It is what I will do that matters". When we don't know where to turn, God says, "I will never leave you or forsake you." When we don't know where our life is going, God says "I know the plans I have for you."

What is your usual response when you aren't sure what to do?

Today's Verse
James 5: 13
Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.

Friday, August 2, 2013

So Long Status Quo

As all my school things have wrapped up and I have found myself with very short to-do lists I have kept telling myself that things will feel different once I establish a routine, once I find the new status quo. Lurking in the back of my mind is the thought that scheduling myself, finding that rhythm of work/play/relax, is the answer to this feeling that I'm not doing enough, not being busy enough, not pulling my weight in the grand scheme of things.

Today, however, I had a new thought. What if I just...don't? What if I avoid that kind of scheduling? What if I avoid busy-ness? Not in a sleep all day, never leave the house, watch trashy television kind of way, but in a way that leaves me open and available? What if I get up each day, do what I must, and then go looking for God and the opportunities He might open up for me so that I can invest in something other than myself? What if I say no to conventional wisdom that says scheduling is where logic is, and embrace something much less tangible, much more elusive, but potentially much more fulfilling?

At Bible study last night we asked ourselves, "What keeps us from saying yes to God when He calls us?" My answer? That I always want to finish the task I have in front of me before doing what God is calling me to do. My graduate schooling was the perfect example. God kept calling me to leave, and I kept saying, "Ok, I will, just wait a bit, I have to finish this first!"

I want to stop putting my tasks, my concerns, my chores, before Him and open up my life so He can truly move.

Are you making room in your life for God to move?

Today's Verses
Matthew 8: 19-22
Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go." Jesus replied, "Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." Another disciple said to him, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus told him, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead."