Yesterday I was feeling a little overwhelmed about something and was trying not to let tears come. I went on the Wal-Mart to do my weekly shopping, and while I was passing through the produce, I stopped to look at the flowers. So pretty, and pretty cheap, and I almost picked them up, but decided against it. It wasn’t necessary, there were other expenses this week, and I hadn’t finished the shopping yet.
On this evening, Jesus had just finished his last meal with his friends closest to Him – the ones who said yes and followed, the ones who watched Him, failed Him, and loved Him.
They all went to the Mount of Olives, and Jesus went to pray. And not just any prayer, but some emotion-filled words to his Father. He had shared with his disciples that his soul was overwhelmed with sorrow, and now He was coming to the only One who could bring peace in the middle of the impending storm.
He asked God if there might be some other way. Some other way to save us all, other than his beating, his suffering, his death? Any other way?
Though nothing I’ve been through can compare with what Jesus went through, I will admit that there have been things God has wanted me to do – things I did not feel strong enough for – and in that moment, I wanted another way out. Something, anything.
“Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
In spite of the pain, ridicule, torture- He is on board. He isn’t backing out, though He could have. He loved us that much.
And if you are feeling there is something God is calling you to do, or something you are going through right now that just seems too much, run to the One who will provide you with what you need.
And God gave Him what He needed.
“An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.” -Luke 22:43
We were never meant to go through anything alone. God is there, providing. Don’t miss out on that. He is faithful, giving us strength when we are weakest.
Jesus got up from that prayer, and went on to do what He came here for. Thank You, Jesus, for your sacrifice, and thank You Father for your faithfulness.
“And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19
Last week I attended my first Ash Wednesday service. Growing up in a protestant church all my life, I am not in the loop on many liturgical practices, but over the last few years I have had friends who participate in the Lenten season. Their experiences made me interested and curious, and one year Noah and I actually did practice “giving up” something during this time. But the Ash Wednesday service was still foreign to me.
I remember another friend of mine mentioning she wanted to go to one this year, and so I messaged her and found out the time and place, and gave it a go. It was beautiful.
A bunch of protestant churches in our community combined to have a service at lunch time. The church was one of the older, formal-looking churches on one of the main avenues in our city. I found my way inside, just in time, and got comfortable, right before I began to get uncomfortable.
But it wasn’t the ashes, or the local reporter snapping pictures, that had me unnerved. The service was lovely, with singing, and very clear instructions on when people would be standing, what they would be saying, and the words to the songs. A local minister spoke about how the ashes remind us of our mortality, and of the cross, and the salvation offered to us. She said it reminds us of our anticipation of returning to dust, when we will be with Christ forever. It was precisely what I needed.
During the service however, there were passages of scripture read. And sometimes when I hear scripture read by someone else, it just comes at me in a new and different way. That’s what got me.
The scripture was from Isaiah 53:1-12 and 1 Peter 1:3-9. The scripture from Peter read, in part,
“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
Greatly rejoicing, even when suffering all kinds of trials? And there is a reason for these trials?
It is so hard for me to see the good in trials. 2015 was a kind of a tough year, and I anticipated 2016, excited to see what it would hold. We are on the upswing. But truthfully, it doesn’t feel like the upswing.
Many people around me are hurting deeply – some physically, some in all other sorts of ways. And my heart hurts as well – sometimes due to empathy and compassion, other times for selfish reasons.
I don’t want to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. I don’t want to go through a refining fire, and I don’t want that for my people. I like comfort, and I will work hard to avoid anything that takes that away. If I must go through something that I know will feel a little prickly, I dread it for days in advance. And during the reading of this Scripture, here is what I came to realize:
I have worshipped comfort instead of the Comforter.
After some tears and some soul-searching, I realized the root of my problem is putting too much stock in this life. Even in the scripture we just read, it says, “though now for a little while.” This life is so teeny-tiny compared to eternity; yet I find myself repeatedly looking at situations through eyes that only see the here and now. If I could learn to look at each circumstance in relation to forever, realizing what is happening now is only temporary, only for a little while, I could get my knickers out of a twist.
My comfort is not supposed to be my goal. Serving, loving, giving, caring – all the things that focus on others – my heart knows these are the most important. Sharing God with the hurting around me. But it is so easy for me to forget that, and focus on myself way too much.
For when we are sinking under the weight of the struggle, here a few tips that might help us:
1. When going through a hard time, accept the help and prayers that are offered. Sometimes it’s tempting to withdraw from people when difficult times happen, but don’t. God gave us the beautiful gift of community. If you have friends who will pray for you, or listen to you as you sort things out, you are blessed. Don’t waste that.
2. Look for the bigger picture – Is there some way this situation can point someone to Jesus? If so, it is worth it.
3. When I’m facing a tough situation, I need to look for the best way to let God work and be seen. If it’s through worshipping Him even in the dark and scary, then I will do it. If it is keeping an eye out for a lesson to learn and ways to grow my faith, then that’s what I need to do.
In Scripture, the apostle Paul, who suffered way more than I ever have, had this take on suffering:
“Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Good things can come from tough situations. Let’s look for them.
Noisy holidays are my favorite. When houses are full of people chatting, laughing – that’s the best. While ours wasn’t, we invaded one that was this weekend. Our friends had relatives in town, and invited us to come over for dinner and we joined them. Then we came back later. And again after that. And I think there was one more time. They couldn’t get rid of us. Food, conversation, game-playing. So much fun! Pie Face was happening, but I couldn’t bring myself to participate. I had just washed my hair, and while it probably would have been safe, I wimped out. The next game was Jelly Belly Bean Boozled.
I thought, “How bad can it be?” You give the spinner a spin, and then find out what color of a bean you have to eat. The tricky part is that each visually-similar bean is one of two flavors. For example –
Is it the flavor of pear, or the flavor of boogers? The flavor of buttered popcorn or a rotten egg? You don’t know until you bite into it.
However, my sister Monica affectionately says I am a rainbow-farter and that only good things happen to me, so I thought my chances were probably pretty good.
I was wrong.
I spun the spinner, and the arrow pointed to what might be a chocolate pudding jelly bean. Or…
A jelly bean the flavor of canned dog food.
I stuck that thing in my mouth, and the first hint of a taste appeared. I was hoping I was just imagining it. But no such luck. It was dog food alright.
And it got stuck in one of my teeth, lingering all over my taste buds much, much longer than I had hoped.
And lucky for my friends, the scent was wafting around the room, like a stinky, dark cloud.
After all the chewing and swallowing of that one bean, then picking it out of my teeth and more swallowing, a friend rushed over with a cup of water. The only problem is, water doesn’t really mask a taste, but just shoves it down for a minute. But that dog food taste was a fighter, and kept wafting its way back up. After two glasses of water, and two peppermints, a cinnamon roll and two cups of Pepsi, I thought the taste might be gone. No luck there either.
It settled enough to play a few rounds of Uno, then, against my better judgment, we sat down for a Tim Hawkins video. As it got started, the taste was valiantly making it’s way back up my throat, like a warrior unwilling to surrender.
A fog of flavor was coming back up in bursts, and the dog food wasn’t diminished. As I was recognizing it, my stomach was turning. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a northern or southern battle, but I was certain it going to happen. I tried to remain calm through Tim’s bit about Christian Cuss Words, and through his Athiest Church Songs, and then the rumbling of my digestion continued during his ballad of “Muffintop.”
I wasn’t sure I would make it home. We held out until after the DVD was finished, but I rushed home immediately afterward, got a cup of orange juice and curled up in my bed, hoping I could sleep it off. After just a few times of waking during the night with the turning stomach, I woke up Sunday morning feeling a billion times better. But even now, the thought of it turns my stomach (Similar to the effect mentioning “White Castle” has on me…*cue stomach rumblings*)
But it did teach me a lesson. A couple of them really.
#1 – Don’t eat things that could be grody.
#2 – Something seemingly small can have a much bigger impact than you know.
I had no idea that a tiny jelly bean could fill the room with it’s stinkiness, nor that it could leave me feeling sick for hours. But it did. It got me to thinking about how other seemingly small things can have huge impacts.
I have had people say things to me that I am sure were not meant to be a big thing, but the words stung and stayed with me far longer than I could have expected. Eating at me, and adding to my insecurities. And, on the flip side, I have probably said things that I didn’t think twice about, but probably caused some pain to the listener. Words that, had I known their impact, I never would have said. Neither is okay.
Our words matter.
Not everything that goes through my mind needs to be said, and that is something I sure need to remember and work on.
Our words have power. I think those monks have it right with their times of silence, every now and then anyway. I’m pretty sure I could benefit from this.
In the same way though, our words can have power for good. We have the power to brighten someone’s day, and to give them hope. I have sweet friends who are great at encouragement, and their words mean more to me than they will ever know.
If we learned something from a sermon preached, a lesson taught, or a song sung, we should let the person know. If we appreciate some help that might otherwise go unnoticed, we should let the person know we are grateful. If a meal was enjoyable, thank the cook. Thank your husband for filling up the car with gas so you didn’t have to get out in the cold early in the morning. Thank your wife for making the dessert you like. Thank your kid for helping unload the groceries. There are a million ways to speak good words. Look for those opportunities. I will join you. You have no idea the blessing you might be to someone today.
“The tongue has the power of life and death…” Proverbs 18:21a
“If we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.”
II Timothy 2:13
This has been a weird year. Last year about this time, Shawn made a New Year resolution to play more basketball. He loves it and it gives him some exercise in the process, so it’s a win-win. But the first game he played in January resulted in knee surgery, a new-used ACL and a meniscus repair, followed by 3 months of physical therapy. (His resolution the year before was not to wear pants… Neither lasted very long).
The year trudged on, with me going back to work some, difficult times at church that have brought me to a time of what feels like grieving, and a writer’s block that would leave me sitting at my computer with no words to spill out on my screen.
I’ve stared at the blank page far too many times to count. There was nothing to say that could benefit anyone who might read it. I prayed for words, but felt nothing.
I am not a patient person, and it’s hard for me not to get answers right away (and, by the way, they need to be the answers I want). And while it hasn’t been a terrible year at all (many good things have happened – Noah likes high school, I like my job, our family got away for a weekend trip to Tennessee, and God has faithfully provided), it has felt like a year of chipping.
A bit of chipping away at our self-sufficiency, when so many friends and family have given and blessed us in ways we never would have asked. A bit of chipping away at my selfishness of my time, time I was wasting and didn’t realize it until I had to fill those hours up with working. Some chipping away at my comfort, seeing that new or different isn’t always worse, even if it hurts a little.
And I’m learning some patience. If God has words for me to write, first I must spend more time with Him to hear what that is. If He wants me to wait on His words, and not just fill up a screen because I need another blog that week, that’s okay too.
But the waiting is hard.
I was reading in Luke this week, and in chapter one, Zechariah gets big news. He is old, and so is his wife. While we don’t know exactly how old, “well along in years” doesn’t sound like something you would say to a 40-year-old. But Zechariah gets a visit from Gabriel, telling him, “Your prayer has been heard.” He and Elizabeth are gonna have a baby! And not only that, but a baby who will do great things for God’s people, and who will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from birth. Now that’s an answer to prayer.
But it made me wonder, how long did Zechariah pray for this? How long did he go month after month, waiting to see God bless them with a child, only to find out that again, it hasn’t happened? Did his prayers lose their punch, as months and then years start to add up, without seeing any result?
Did daily prayers to God turn into weekly, then monthly, then an occasional, “Please God,” when he saw another new baby in the neighborhood? Until at some point, he just resolved that it was too late.
In verse 18, he questions Gabriel, saying, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” That didn’t sound like a guy who had just faithfully prayed that morning for a bouncing baby boy. And Gabriel responded with a bit of a punishment – he will be silent for the remainder of the pregnancy, “because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.”
God’s proper time is rarely what we want and hope for it to be. We are really like toddlers, wanting it now, sometimes throwing in a tantrum to show we mean it (just me?). But God is a good Father, and He knows far better than we do what we need, and when we need it. He knew Zechariah’s baby was going to be special. John would bring many people of Israel back to their God. He paved the path for the ministry of Jesus, then was blessed to baptize Him himself. God knew when this needed to happen. He knows best. He always does.
Don’t lose hope. Our prayers aren’t always answered in the way that we want, nor in the time frame we want, and sometimes it seems like they haven’t been answered at all. But we can trust our Father.
Remind yourself of God’s faithfulness in the past, and His faithfulness to others around you. He is a good Father.
Don’t lose hope in the waiting. There is always hope.
I am not the money person/bill payer in our family. We figured out that Shawn is the more “responsible” one in our marriage. I have said many times, “Just because it says ‘due date,’ it doesn’t really mean it has to be paid by then.” Clearly I had to step back and let Shawn take over, and all the utility companies are thankful that I did.
And while he does a great job, we still thought we had some stuff to learn regarding savings, so when Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace class was offered at our church on a night when we didn’t have other obligations, we said, “Why not?”
Dave is all for people having control over their dollars. One of his quotes is, “You’ve got to tell your money what to do, or it will leave.” He thinks every dollar that comes in needs to be assigned a place to go. It’s not something I have completely wrapped my brain around, but it sounds wise. If you have a savings or a stash of money that isn’t designated for bills, it is tempting to splurge and buy a Christmas necklace you don’t need because it feels like free cash. But if that stash has already been marked for a savings plan for the new washing machine you know you are going to need soon, you would have to think a little harder about whether or not you should spend the money.
*But if you decide to buy the Christmas necklace, you can find a super cute one here
Without thinking and planning in advance, it is easy not to pay attention to what something will really cost you.
In our neighborhood Bible study, we just finished up the study of Daniel, through Beth Moore’s series. We learned as early as Daniel chapter 1 that Daniel had resolved to live his life in a way that pleased God. He and his three friends made the decision early on to make choices that lined up with what God wanted for their lives. And when faced with a flaming furnace or a lion’s den, it was already determined that what those unbelievably tough scenarios would cost them, including their lives, couldn’t compare with what losing their devotion to God would cost them.
They counted the costs early on, and resolved to remain faithful to their God.
Jesus told his crowds of people following him the importance of counting the cost in the last ten verses of Luke chapter 14. Until recently, when I read this, I thought how silly it seems to first count the cost of following Jesus. Why count it? Shouldn’t we just say, “I’ll follow Christ no matter what”? But until that’s thought out, those are really just empty words.
If I’m committed to follow Christ while things are easy, saying I’ll follow Christ isn’t a tough one. But when things are harder and it starts costing me more, deciding moment-by-moment whether it is worth it can leave me teeter-tottering, not fully committed.
Is it worth it if God asks me to give up more of my time to serve someone else?
Is it worth it if God asks me to give up money to people whether or not I think they deserve it?
Is it worth it if people think I’m “too religious?”
Is it worth it if God asks me to move to somewhere without a Wal-Mart to tell others about Him?
Is it worth it if someday I have to go against a law to worship God?
Is it worth it if someday it could cost me my life?
Deciding early on that I am committed to God, resolving that in my heart, I can face a situation, even a scary one, with boldness and courage because I already know it will be worth it. No “easy way out” of a pit of lions could compare with losing out on an eternity with God.
Sometimes people (my past-self included) think that God really just wants us to be happy, whatever that takes. That this is what life is about. But that’s not why we are here. Our lives really aren’t about us. And our lives aren’t always going to be easy.
Jesus himself said we are to carry our crosses and follow him. That in no way implies easy. So is it worth it?
Take a few minutes and picture the scenarios that you fear most. Things that might make you question, “Would it be worth it?” And then compare that with the first time you get to see Jesus face-to-face. When you will spend days that never end with no more sickness, no pain, no tears. No more death. When He says to you, “Well done. Come on in!”
Count the cost and see if it’s worth it, and then let’s resolve like Daniel to stand firm no matter what.
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
I was one of those dorky kids who loved school, especially in my elementary years. But I think field trip days were by far the best. I can remember touring Heiner’s Bakery in Huntington when I was somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 years old, and the warm piece of fresh bread with melted butter, along with a Donald Duck pencil as a souvenir.
Another time I remember going to Carter Caves for the day, touring caves and nature-walking. If I think hard enough, I can still smell the whiff of cedar from the jewelry box I purchased as a memento.
And other trips to the Pumpkin Festival, Safety Town, and Camden Park. The best!
But not every day can be a field trip day. There are some things that simply have to be learned through reading or repetitious writing. There are things we must go over a hundred times, paragraphs that have to be memorized, and quizzes that need to be taken.
Those days seem pretty blah at best, and nearly painful at other times.
But sometimes it takes crummy and difficult stuff to learn the hard lessons.
I have been there – both in learning from my textbook and in learning to trust in my God.
Our lives are always going to be a mixed bag of the best and the worst and lots of in-between. We get the great days – the weddings, the births of bouncing babies, the promotions and pay raises. But we also get the bad times – the sicknesses, the layoffs, the misunderstandings.
But our God never changes. God is good, all the time. Period. And he never leaves us – it‘s true. Our circumstances are not indicators of whether or not God is with us. Sometimes He chooses not to keep us out of the scary parts, but to simply hold our hands through them.
In the Bible, Ezra reminds us that God doesn’t leave. The Israelites had been kicked out of their promised land, after turning from God, and many were relocated to Babylon for 70 years – a land of people who didn‘t worship or even know their God. A new guy takes over, and he permits a group of them to go back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. Just a few short months back home, and the Israelite men began marrying women who worshiped other gods.
Ezra heard about it and was devastated. He prayed, repenting for his people. He prayed and confessed and wept – and thanked God for not giving up on them already. In Ezra chapter 9, verse 9, he said this:
Ezra knew that even though their circumstances were not great (definitely not a field-trip day) – He knew God was with them.
If you are facing a situation that seems less than ideal, please know your God has not deserted you. He will bring good from whatever it is you are going through. There are lessons to be learned. Even if it is something you caused yourself, you can be sure that God can redeem it. He is so good at that.
So don’t give up. We are not promised easy paths, but we are promised that we won’t walk them alone.
Let me know how I can pray with you ❤