Lent

Giving Up Too Many Words

Sometimes I just need to shut up and listen. Perhaps that’s a little blunt, but it’s true for me… and probably many of us.  I am somewhat of an external processer and so writing or speaking are helpful for me to process life and different situations.  Still, there are times when I’d be much better off listening to the people around me and gaining their insights before opening my mouth.

This seems especially true in my relationship with God. Ecclesiastes 5:2 challenges me in this area as well:

Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.

Sometimes I read this verse and wonder how it jives with other verses that talk about “pouring out” our hearts to God, or praying continually.  Those wouldn’t imply “few words”.  I don’t think that’s what this verse is talking about; no, it’s tackling the very problem I described above… times when I just need to be quiet and remember that GOD is GOD and I am not.  He’s up in heaven; He knows and can see ALL.  I am just one tiny human being here on earth.  If I can keep this in mind, the words that come out of my mouth are much more honoring to God.

This reminds me of something a friend was sharing with me recently about a book she read called “A Praying Life” by Paul Miller.  In it Miller describes both the fact that God is a personal God as well as a powerful, almighty God.  God is so much more than those two things, but when we can keep BOTH of them in view, we approach God in prayer in the best way.  We remember that He cares about us in a personal way and wants to know every detail of our lives.  He longs to be intimately involved with us.  At the same time, he is GOD! He is powerful. He is One to respect with awe and reverence.  He’s not just my genie to make things happen the way I would like them.  He’s not my servant. No, He’s almighty and personal all at the same time.  Sometimes, yes, He just longs for me to pour out my heart, every little detail.  But I also need moments where I stand in stunned silence at the God of the universe, capture in awe, speechless.

Lord, You ARE God in heaven, and I am just a mere human here on earth. Let my words be few as my heart finds awe in your power and majesty.  Quiet my lips when I need to be still and listen.  Open my ears to what you would have me hear.  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and My Redeemer! In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

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Lent

Giving Up Self-Deprecating Words

When it comes to giving up useless words (my theme for the week) Ephesians 4:29 remains one of my favorite passages:

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouth, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

It’s easy to read passages like this and see the implications for how we interact with people. It’s actually super clear: speak only words that build people up rather than tearing them down. Speak life-giving, grace-filled words as we interact with others.

The hardest part though, is realizing that nowhere in that verse does it limit our life-giving words to OTHER people. This verse must also impact the way we are called to speak to ourselves. Sadly, the challenging task of speaking grace-filled words to others actually can seem easy at times compared to speaking those words to ourselves.

Let’s take worry for example.  We talked about it back in the first week of Lent. It’s one of those things for many of us that seems hard to kick to the curb. We encourage other people not to worry. We point out one of the hundreds of times in Scripture God reminds us we have no need to worry.   We walk with them and help them figure out the uncertainties of life giving grace for their worry.  And yet, when it comes to us… we ignore all that and just worry!

The way we think and the words we tell ourselves get our hearts all in a knotted mess of anxiety and fear. The things I say often is evidence of what is in my heart and how I talk about the tough or uncertain parts of life impacts where my heart is at as well. Speaking words of worry does not give myself, the hearer, grace.

Or what about the other ways we tear ourselves down? We tell ourselves we’re not good enough, smart enough, then enough… just not enough. We berate things that we feel we messed up and down play the times when God’s work shines brightly in our lives. We struggle sometimes not as much with “not thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought” (Romans 12), but rather more so with thinking of ourselves LESS highly than we ought. Are the things coming out of your mouth building YOURSELF up? Are they offering grace to YOURSELF? Often, I think we’d all probably say no.

At first it seems like the antidote to these self-deprecating words is to just start talking better about yourself.  However, I’ve found that typically doesn’t work or swings me completely the opposite direction on the pendulum from insecurity to pride.  No, I’ve found the best component of giving up negative self-talk, is actually through talking more highly of God!  It’s through worship.

First, back with our worry example, as I try to change worry words into worship words, I find my anxious knot begin to unravel. I remember that while life isn’t always easy, I serve a God who has dominion and power and authority over EVERYTHING. He’s got this under control and as I worship him, my worry fades.

Also, worship helps me get a right view of myself. It allows me to keep God in the #1 position and therefore, I can see where I fall. I am not the center of the universe, but I am also not just some gum on the bottom of someone’s shoe. I am a beloved, treasured, child of the Creator, Savior, and Sustainer of the Universe! I have value! I am accepted! I am enough! I am chosen! I am sent! Worshiping my God reminds me not only of who He is, but who I am in Him.  Only because of who He is do I have value.

So today, let’s exchange our worry for worship. Let’s give up self-demeaning words, and speak words that build up and affirm our identity in Christ. Let’s give ourselves the same grace we might desire to give others.

Speak life… yes, even to yourself!

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Lent, Prayer

Giving Up Complaining

Lord,

Forgive me when my words are filled with complaints… to You, to others, to no one in particular. Forgive me when I get focused on the things that aren’t going the way I would like or imagine and get my heart focused instead on the many ways in which you have blessed me.  Forgive me Lord when my words which express desire for more or different get in the way of showing the world your abundant grace and joy.  Forgive me for the ways these complaining words have damaged relationships, hurt people, or given an inaccurate picture of You.

I can’t help but be reminded of the Israelites who grumbled their way through the wilderness, longing to go back to Egypt… forgetting the slavery they endured there. (Exodus 16, Numbers 11) Your provided freedom and they grumbled that it took so long.  You provided food and they grumbled that they wanted something different.  You lead them and gave them guidelines to help them live the best life possible and they grumbled.  Lord, I confess I do the same. Forgive me of my grumbling.

Replace my complaining spirit with a spirit of praise… a heart that longs to bless Your name and the many ways You provide for me, lead me, care about me, and use me.  May I not be conformed to the complaining pattern of this world but may my mind be transformed and renewed (Romans 12:1-2). Like Paul, may I learn contentment and praise in every situation, coming to you with any worry, concern, or fear, presenting requests with thanksgiving to Your glory by your grace (Philippians 4).

In the Mercy and Name of Jesus,

Amen… let it be so!

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Lent

Sunday Joy: I Choose Peace

In all the things I “gave up” this week … I still didn’t give up peace.  I gave up comfort and safety… I resolved to trying things even when the situation doesn’t quite seem “perfect… I chose to pray with expectation instead of sticking with “safe” prayers.

There is definite potential for uncertainty and anxiety in these resolutions. It seems as if praying for these things could potentially bring the exact opposite of peace.

Yet, the reality is that I can give those things up BECAUSE of the peace I find in Jesus. In tough times, I don’t need to just focus on the next best thing that’s coming my way; I can rest in God’s arms right now. If sharing my faith with a friend fails in epic ways, I can have peace that I obeyed what God was calling me to do and that’s enough. If the prayer I pray doesn’t get answered in the way or time I would desire, I can trust that God used those moments of prayer to draw me closer to His heart and will provide for all I need for the outcome.

I had a friend ask me this week how I felt about a situation that could have great potential for producing anxiety and fear… this situation brings with it a level of risk.  I surprised even myself by saying: “I’m so excited!”  I realize after the fact that I was able to respond in that way because I know that I’m exactly in the place God needs me in that situation and with that there is great comfort.

I gave up a lot this week, but in doing so, I choose peace. peace

Lent, Prayer

Giving Up Half-Hearted Prayers

A couple weeks ago I was in the store and decided to buy a baptism card.  That might seem totally normal, except I don’t know anyone being baptized soon.  In short, buying that card was a way to trust that God was going to answer one of my prayers for 2016: that I would get to see the salvation of souls… that I God would make me a disciple that makes disciples. Buying that card was a way for me to tell my heart to trust God that He will answer my prayers for new people to know the love of Jesus this year.

So often we I pray for something to happen, but then don’t actually expect God to come through. Sadly, at times, I pray for things and then find myself shocked when God actually answers.

Today, I give up half-hearted, unexpectant prayers.  When I pray, I’m not checking something off my list… I’m standing in the very presence of the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe!  I’m bringing my praise and my petitions before the One being in all Creation who really can make things happen and LOVES to do it.  I want to learn to pray with persistence and passion, but most of all, with expectation. While God may not come through in the WAYS or the TIMES I might desire or expect, He WILL come through; I can count on that! It’s in His very nature to be faithful to His children even when we’re not.

“…if we are faithless, He remains faithful—
for He cannot deny Himself.” ~ 2 Timothy 2:13

My God will show up and I don’t want to be left surprised. I want to be able to jump up and down, celebrate, saying,
“I knew You’d come through. I knew You’d show up. I knew I could count on You!”

… because we can!

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Lent

Giving Up Always Looking at What’s Next

“I can’t wait for this weekend!”

“I can’t wait for summer to get here.”

“I can’t wait for winter to be over.”

“I can’t wait for my next vacation.”

One thing I find facinating about our culture, including myself, is that we so often are looking to whatever’s next. Whether it’s “getting through” the workday or “surviving” another college semester or being able to celebrate that “finally” spring as arrived, it seems like we very rarely express our contentment for what is right here and right now. 

I really have been thinking a lot lately about things coming up.  Just talking about travel, I was sharing with a friend last night, I am in NE right now, next weekend I’ll be in Ohio at a middle school retreat, in April I’ll be traveling out of the country for a couple weeks, in July I’ll be in TN with my high schoolers and at the end of the month leading 19 high and college students on a mission trip to Belize. Throw in other events, daily life, and 8 concerts plus weekly rehearsals between now and May for the choir I’m in and there really is A LOT for me to both look forward to and prepare for.

Today, I’m giving up always focusing on what’s next; I don’t want to miss the blessings of today.  Sure, I don’t always enjoy the things of “today”… For example, I’d be okay with living in a place where there really wasn’t snow and winter and cold.  70 and sunny all the time would suit me well.  But if I’m constantly complaining about how cold it is, I’ll never see the beauty in the winter.  The tough seasons of life are, well, tough… But by just trying to ignore the hard parts long enough to get through that season takes away potential for growth that comes through facing trials head on. 

It’s true that there will often be some things I need to do in “today” in order for all of those things to happen.  (You can’t just “show up” in Belize with 20 people without any planning and preparation.) But at least for today, I’m focusing on TODAY.  I’ll enjoy the blessings of today, and thank God for the hard parts too. 

“… for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.”  (Philippians 4:11-12)

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” ‭‭(Matthew‬ ‭6:33-34‬)

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Lent

Giving Up Waiting for the “Perfect Weather”

Later today I will get a chance to be back on my college campus where I spent 4 of the most formative years of my life thus far. During my sophomore year I was a Resident Assistant on a freshmen girls’ floor. Our Resident Hall Coordinator, Jackie, picked a theme verse for all the RA’s in our dorm to center our year around. One of my most well-worn and favorite t-shirts of all time was our dorm shirt from that year with this verse printed on it:

“Those who wait for perfect weather will never plant seeds.” (Ecclesiastes 11:4) 

Whether it’s in trying something new, sharing our faith with someone near us, asking for forgiveness or having a tough conversation, we often feel the need to watch and wait for the PERFECT opportunitity. Solomon gives us some wisdom here that perhaps the “perfect” time may never come. 

Today is the day to plant. This is the week to sow some seeds. 2016 is the year to stop watching the sky, and to put a plan into place. 

The past few weeks God has been increasingly showing me the urgency of sharing the good news of His love.  It’s scary to think how people might respond but scarier yet is the outcome if I never even try.  I know I won’t get it perfect, but that’s what I love about the amazing grace found in this verse.  By God’s grace I can simply start planting.  

For the sake of accountability, I’m going to put it out there that my neighbor Jordan is one relationship where I feel God telling me to “stop waiting for ‘perfect’ weather”.  He doesn’t know Jesus and that makes me sad.  Unfortunately until recently, not sad enough to do anything about it. Today and the days ahead are each days God is calling me to plant seeds in his life and watch the way he waters and grows them.  We’ll see where God leads, but I think my goal is to talk to him at least once a week these next few weeks and then invite him to one of our services during Holy Week or Easter.  I often make excuses about inviting people on days like that because working in the church I am often super busy on those days as well and wouldn’t have opportunity to be as hospitable as I would like.  This year, I’m choosing to not wait for perfect weather and just see what God does! 

Where can you do some planting today, giving up focusing on the weather and instead focusing on the people right in front of you?!?

Let’s go plant!  

 

Lent

Giving Up Comfort

Last week, I mentioned a book I was reading called Killing Christians by Tom Doyle.  I cannot even begin to describe some of the painful, UNcomforable things the believers shared about their lives.  I have been challenged to pray for these brothers and sisters who have no option but sacrifice when they decide to follow Jesus.  I think what astounded me most was that in literally every single story anyone who was still alive at the time of the publication of the book said something to the effect of: “I’m still alive, but I know that my death will come soon.”  Even more incredible is that every sentence like that is almost inevitably followed up with, “But don’t worry about me.”

Being a Christian isn’t just a label for these people.  It’s not one of many options of how they might spend their time on a Sunday morning.  It’s literally life and death, every single day.  It’s fathers and uncles hunting them down to kill them for “dishonoring their family” by following Jesus.  It’s hiding in coffins to smuggle Bibles into their country.  It’s anything but a comfortable life.

When I say that I’m giving up comfort today, let me be clear, I am not asking to have to experience the things these people went through.  I actually pray I never experience them as I pray that the suffering would be ended for them and those around them.  However, I’ve realized that I can’t just keep turning my eye to the reality of things like this.  To be honest, it would have been much easier to never pick up this book, or to put it back down a few pages in.  Ignorance is bliss, right?

God may someday call me to make some life or death decisions in regards to following Him or to suffer because I bear His name. If that day comes, I pray for strength and courage to point boldly to Him.  Like Paul wrote:

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. (Philippians 12-14)

But whether or not a day like that ever comes, today, I can give up the comfort of ignorance and avoidance.  I can stop being an apathetic Christian. I can “sacrifice” time to pray for my brothers and sisters who are suffering things greater than I can imagine.  I can “sacrifice” some of the things that bring me comfort in this life and invest that money or other resources into things that last eternally.  It’s a scary, scary, prayer to pray, but today I ask that God would help me give up comfort that I may live passionately for Him.

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Lent

Giving Up Social Media

Many of the things I’ve given up this month have been intangible concepts.   I’ve found though that sometimes there are very tangible things that get me in situations where those feelings, emotions, fears or insecurities I’ve been blogging about the past few weeks are either born or quickly grow. One of those places is through social media and technology in general.

It’s nothing new, we all know it, yet we still feel the need to check our phones every 10 minutes (or 2) just to make sure we don’t miss anything. In reality, by doing that I’ve found myself falling for countless lies that Satan uses to steal kill and destroy my life.

Our insecurities get fueled when we see others who seem to have the picture perfect Pinterest life. We feel that pity-party coming on when we see a friend having a good time …with someone else.  Jealousy tries to join the party as we come across the 18th post about a friend’s Valentine’s Day engagement. We isolate ourselves even more while believing the lie that we are getting connected. And perhaps, one of my biggest struggles, I waste a lot of time, one of the only resources we can’t get more of.

So, while its not a permanent solution, I am going to give up social media for a while.  Maybe just today, maybe longer.  I’m going to choose to ignore how many people read this post.  I’ll refrain today from scrolling through page after page of what my friends are up to, giving up that felt need to “be in the know”.   I’ll block out a few of the things that tempt to fill my mind and heart with unimportant or even unhealthy things.   Oh, there is a lot of good in social media, but sometimes we just need a break and a few extra moments to focus on Jesus. And for me, today is one of those days.

Jesus, use this day away to let me focus in and hear YOUR voice louder than the rest.  Remind me of who I am and who You are.  Help me give up the felt need to be constantly connected to the world around me and be “in the know”, but rather focus on my connection with you. In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.  A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers. … The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I [Jesus] came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.  He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.  I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,  just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.  (John 10)

… And yes, this post and any Facebook/Twitter posts related were all written and scheduled BEFORE today. 😉  

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Joy, Lent

Sunday Joy: I Choose Joy

Joy is a facinating thing to me.  I don’t quite understand it and am thankful that it is a fruit of the Spirit’s work in my life and not something I have to muster up on my own.

But until recently I think that’s how I treated it…as something I must make happen.  People would say something like “choose joy”– a phrase I’ve heard, loved, and even used for years–but sometimes I wonder if my “choosing joy” really was more like “acting-like-nothing’s-wrong-and-putting-on-this-happy-Christian-face”.  (Which, by the way is not really joy at all.)

I knew I had experienced joy–true genuine joy–before and I knew I wanted more of it in my life, however I think a few weeks ago I finally understood it a little more.

In talking with a friend about a certain situation throughout the course of a day, my attitude had much improved about this situation from earlier in the day.  She commented, “You sound happy.”

I knew what she meant, but it still didn’t seem quite right. In fact I was anything but happy about the situation, and I suddenly realized, I wasn’t happy, but I WAS joyful.

I began to wonder if maybe “choosing joy” isn’t really a choice between “joy” and “sadness” as I had always supposed it to be.  No, more often than not, that just ends up with the fake smile plastered on your face.  Maybe, the choice is rather between joy and HAPPINESS.  Those are really the things that are at times in competition with each other.

As I talked about earlier this week in the post about giving up the pursuit of happiness, my definition of what will make me happy in life is first of all very unlikely to actually come through. More than that, the pursuit of happiness often ends up stealing my joy not fulfilling it.

Joy and sadness or pain or struggle on the other hand I’ve found often go well together. Because joy is not dependent on circumstances but rather on Jesus, our Joy-Bringer. And from what I’ve come to learn about this amazing God is that He loves to bring joy in EVERYTHING.

Habakkuk said it this way:

“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” (Habakkuk‬ ‭3:17-18‬)

So, as I told my friend the other day, at least in that situation: Happy? No. But by God’s Grace, I’m was filled with joy and for that I’m thankful!