Lent

Giving Up “Having It All Together”

Recently I had a chance to talk with a friend who just got back from teaching for 2 years in South Africa at an African school there.  As she shared about her experience she shared that one of the things she learned while there was dependence on God and the peace and freedom of giving up the desire/need to “have it all together”. She described things that happened in her classroom that caused her to freak out and yet no one around her seemed to think it was a big deal.  Some of these things would be likely talked about and cause concern for months or even years in our culture, but there they shrugged it off, moved on,  and didn’t worry about it. While balance is needed in everything, I was reminded as she shared these stories of my own desire for control and to come across to the world as someone who “has it all together”. We all like (or at least think we like) the false rest found in appearing to know what we’re doing and exactly how to do it all the time.

Confession time: I don’t.

“Having it all together” (whatever that even means or looks like), is just another form of the self-reliance I’m also trying to give up. We live in a culture of self-preservation. But in reality, none of us have it together and trying to preserve the illusion that we do is not only prideful, it’s exhausting.

Let’s give it up.  Let’s just admit today that we don’t have ANYTHING “together”, let alone everything.  What relief there can be in taking that pressure off ourselves and remember that JESUS is the one who holds us, and the whole world together.  Let’s abide in Him, lean on Him, and not worry about the rest.

Jesus said, “I am the Vine. You are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in Him, He it is that bears much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing. … These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”  (John 15:5, 11)

“And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
 (Colossians 1:17)

Jesus, teach us to give up fighting for the illusion that we ‘have it together’.  Instead, let us abide in and point to You, the One in whom all things hold together.  Teach us honesty and vulnerability with You and with each other.  Help us be our true selves, the ones who desperately need you and aren’t ashamed of that, but rather praise You in that truth.  Give us peace in being out of control, knowing that You never are.  In Your Powerful Name we Pray, Amenimg_1559-3

Lent

Giving Up Division and Disunity

Last words are important. The very last words of someone’s life seem to carry extra importance. This is one of the reasons John is one of my favorite books of the Bible; he gives nearly 10 chapters in his 21-chapter book to tell the story of the last week of Jesus’ life. Chapters 14-16 basically outline the last main conversation He had with His disciples. Chapter 17 is one of my personal favorite chapters as Jesus, still in the presence of His disciples, shifts His focus onto His Father in prayer. He prays about himself, thanking God for the work He has done through Him in His time on earth. He prays for His disciples there present with them. He wraps up by praying for “those who would come to know Jesus because of the word of the disciples there”… in essence, he prays for US!

These last words not only are significant, there seems to be a theme that comes out in them. Here are a few select verses from Jesus’ prayer:

“… that they may all be one, just as you, Father are in me, and I in you, that they may also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. … that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you send me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:21-23)

In just 3 verses we see time after time after time again where Jesus desires them to “be one” or describes His own “oneness” with the Father. In a word, he’s praying for:

UNITY.

What I find most interesting about this is that He says that unity is the way in which people will know about Jesus’ love. And it makes sense when you think about it logically.  Yet, sadly, in practice, unity is hard for us humans.  Satan gets us to focus on the differences, how we might do something better, or simply how “the other person/group of people is wrong!”  I have literally had young people tell me that one of the reasons they don’t want to be Christian is because, “if the Christians can’t even get along with each other, why would I want to be part of that?”   It all happens so quick… an under-the-breath comment, one word of gossip, one email with misinterpreted tone-of-voice … and division is present.

Today, I give up division and disunity.

Jesus, rather than looking so much at each other, help us your children, keep our eyes on You alone.  Unite our focus on the things that matter most and leave the rest up to You.  Give us courage to resolve conflict, honesty and humility to confront each other when necessary, and above all, Your sacrificial generous love for each other.  Through our love for each other, may those who don’t know You, witness Your unifying love!

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Lent

Giving Up Guilt

Sorry for the silence over here on the blog the past few days.  I was away at a middle school retreat and then ended up super sick and in bed most of the weekend unable to even hang out with the awesome youth. Between all that and other factors, blogging just didn’t happen.  It actually seems quite fitting that I had planned to blog today about giving up guilt.

While there are good and healthy places for guilt, like when it convicts you of sin, I often find myself struggling with unnecessary guilt placed on my shoulders most often by myself. This weekend had potential for a lot of that…

… Potential to, as I mentioned, get stressed about the things that didn’t get done, like not getting the blog up or things at work that didn’t get done before I left. 

… Potential to feel bad about not being able to be a part of the retreat and potentially getting other people sick.

… Potential to block out those who wanted to care for me while sick.

… Potential to see necessary self-care as selfish

But you’ll notice that in all those things, and many more I could have listed, I used the word potential.  I saw this weekend the work that God has been doing in my heart the past few weeks in this process of “giving up”.  Each of those were areas where I could have found myself overwhelmed with guilt and frustration. Yet, by God’s grace, somehow that wasn’t the case.  Before I even declared in my mind to give up that unnecessary guilt about things outside of my control, God was already working that in my heart.

He drew me into grace that things that most needed to be done would be, and the world would go on without a few dishes done or blogs posted.

He helped me see his hand of provision and protection instead of wallowing in pity or self-preservation.

He has surrounded me with awesome people who care about me whether I ask for it or not and brought me to a place of gratitude instead of guilt.

Some things we have no control of in lofe. Let’s give up the guilt that Satan tries to use to steal and kill and destroy our lives.  And for the things where we really ARE guilty, we can give up that guilt too as we run to the cross and find our amazing God ready and waiting to exchange it for His grace. 

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

“Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)

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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