Tag Archives: Spirit

Worth Repeating {6/2/15}

2 Jun

Often when I find that I’m learning the same old thing yet again, I pull up old blog posts that I’ve written. I’ve been thinking lately about my propensity to prioritize “getting things done” over serving people. What I realized is that the whole point of getting things done (in my case, laundry, dishes, house cleaning, dinner, etc) is serving my family! How often I lose sight of the purpose of those tasks, and just focus on checking them off my to-do list. I pulled up the following blog post and it was so exactly what I needed to remember that I thought I’d share it today. Enjoy!worth_repeating

{First posted on 12/13/11 as “Life is a Glorious Mess”} 

I woke up yesterday morning wanting at least 4 more hours in bed. Instead, I got up to make coffee – an hour after my alarm went off the first time. The kitchen counters overflowed with dirty dishes; the table drowned in Christmas presents, mail, and other things used over the weekend but not put away. The cupboards were conspicuously bare from my lack of grocery shopping. The fridge held potatoes from our garden and spinach from the store, wilting and rotting before I could use them. The dogs wagged their tails in hope of a walk. A temperature of 63 degrees revealed that the furnace wasn’t working again.

I was frustrated. Mad. Why is life so hard?

I do better when life is organized. When things are in their place. When I’m on top of what I need to be on top of.

I could have been there this morning – except I chose to relax and watch Christmas movies last night instead of doing chores.

And I’ve realized that my affinity for order and perfection has a price tag – it costs me Life. Joy. Peace. Patience.

When I admire people in movies (like J. Lo in The Wedding Planner) who have every piece of their life in place with predictable schedules and unvaried routines, I fail to realize that they’re paying for that perfection – with human relationships. I mean, how often do those same perfect people have an intimate marriage, loving kids, and open their homes to others?

To truly embrace the presence of others in my life, I have to let go of perfection. Because a life filled with relationships is messy. As Emily Walker wrote in her post The Messy Table:

My table is not perfect, but it has done the job it was meant to do very well. Life has been lived at it. Lessons have been learned at it. Memories have been made for decades, right there at that table. It tells the story of lives being lived, not life missed out on in the name of perfection.

That. Exactly.

When I think about what kind of mother I want to be someday, do I want my kids to remember how well-kept our house was, elaborate our dinners were, and how we were always running around doing stuff?  Or do I want them to remember how I played with them in our backyard, dropped whatever I was doing to listen or laugh, and didn’t get mad when they trampled little dirty footprints all over the carpet? Obviously, I want to be the latter.

And here’s what I’m learning: I don’t become the peaceful, patient, loving woman I want to be by being perfect and on top of things. Rather, I grow to be that woman as I learn to let things go. If I expect the house to always be orderly, I get frustrated when something is out of place. If I map out my schedule for the day and a wrench gets thrown in, I’m mad.

People who exhibit the fruit of the Spirit aren’t isolated from problems and frustrations. They have just learned to embrace the messiness of life. Be content in chaos. See each moment for what it’s really worth – not a time for getting things done, but a time to connect with and serve others, and to be filled with the joy of knowing Christ. Instead of running around checking off my own to-do list, I need to walk through each day with God, trusting that His grace is sufficient – He will provide the energy and wisdom to work when I need to, and to rest when I need to.

A comforting idea I’ve had in my head for several weeks now is that God is more realistic about my abilities than I am. Like QuatroMama writes in this post, I tend to set up my own (perfectionist) standards and then beat myself up when I fall short.

But God is realistic. “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”He doesn’t ask me to be Mega Woman. He understands that I only have so many minutes in a day and if I spend time doing this thing, I don’t have time for that thing. If I’m exhausted and want to veg instead of clean, He doesn’t accuse me of laziness and not being productive, like I do to myself. Unlike me, He is full of grace, understanding, and patience.

This is where the Gospel makes all the difference. The Gospel allows us to admit that we fall short of what we wish we were, but reassures us that we’re loved anyway. And God’s love for us isn’t despite how we’ve disappointed Him, or failed to live up to His standard. Because when He sees us in Christ, He sees perfect beings. We are completely and utterly righteous in His eyes. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgression from us.”

He doesn’t mutter “I love you” through gritted teeth while trying to not be mad over all the things we’ve done wrong. God’s love abounds for us. He lavishly pours out grace upon grace into our lives with delight.

In the words of John Piper, remind yourself, “I am holy and I am loved.” Even when life is messy.

Embrace Your Life {Or, Why I’m Writing a Book on Joy}

3 Feb

Just the other day, I was driving from Rochester to pick Travis up at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport and had found a Christian radio station to listen to. I’m not a huge fan of radio in general, but I usually choose to listen to Christian radio over Country or The Hits because 1) There are fewer commercials, 2) I don’t have to worry about the song lyrics, 3) I like at least 60% of the songs, and 4) Christian songs can serve as good reminders of Truth.

But every once in a while, I hear something in a song or some musician says something that I think is not entirely helpful. On Sunday, it was this statement:

“The only thing we have to fear is living an insignificant life.”

I disagree with this statement on so many levels, it gets me riled up. It’s statements like that that are the reason I’m writing a book on how joy in life is found in accepting the circumstances God allows, and embracing your current place as God’s will for you.

You see, I struggled for years believing statements like the one above. I thought that God’s will for me must be Something Other than what I was doing, Something Out There that I hadn’t yet discovered, and I went crazy running in circles trying to discover what God’s purpose for me was, and what I should be doing in order to be doing His will.

All the while, the Enemy (Satan) was laughing hysterically, thrilled to the core that he had gotten me to focus on Me and My Life and How I’m Living Out My Faith, instead of focusing on Christ and His Cause and His Power to change me from the inside out.

Here’s what I discovered: God’s will is that we focus on Him and let the rest go. We lay down our expectations and standards and ideas about what makes life significant, and we spend time at our Savior’s feet. As we grow in our relationship with God, we are inspired to pray more. Our eyes are opened to the way the Spirit works, and we start watching for His direction and guidance throughout the day, instead of living out our own agenda. The most amazing thing about living this way is that it brings us the most joy, and God the most glory. Because He gets to be all-sufficient, and we get to be all-dependent.

If you’re like me, you might be thinking “But if stop striving for things in my life and self to change and make a difference, how will anything get done?!?!” To that, I would answer: Make God your focus and it will happen. It is impossible to truly fix your eyes on God and stay the same. Like A.W. Tozer so eloquently put it in The Pursuit of God, “The man who has struggled to purify himself and has had nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his soul and looks away to the perfect One. While he looks at Christ, the very things he has so long been trying to do will be getting done within him. It will be God working in him to will and to do.”

Another question you might have is “What do you mean by ‘look to God’ or ‘fix your eyes on God’?” What I mean is: Study the Bible. Read commentaries and wise Christian authors. Pray about everything, even the menial stuff. Meditate on verses. Sing and listen to worship songs. Practice forms of fasting. Research what God says in the Bible about cultural issues. And I say all that with a caveat: The purpose of doing those things is connecting with God, not building up your spiritual resume or checking off things on a to-do list. If you feel guilty about not doing something, examine why. Maybe you’re just not there yet. If your desire is lacking, bring that very thing to God in prayer, and ask Him to change your heart.

Fixing your eyes on God also means turning away from your expectations and standards about life. You stop trying to determine your life’s worth. To borrow the words of Tim Keller, if you have been declared righteous by the blood of Jesus, accept that the verdict is in and get out of the courtroom. Then move forward in faith that if something in your life needs changing, or if God wants you to go in a different direction, He will tell you. Jesus says in John 10:27, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” If the message is truly from God, He will keep repeating it until you get it.

What is the result of living this way? Freedom. Rest. Joy. Peace. No more do you have to worry that you might not be doing everything God intended for you to do. No more do you have to agonize over the fact that you fall so short of who you want to be. God knows that you can’t do anything without Him — and He doesn’t expect you to. What He wants is YOU. He wants a relationship. He wants your honesty and humility that comes to Him and urges for Him to accomplish in your life through the Spirit what you want to have happen, but cannot do yourself.

He doesn’t want your failed attempts at living what you think is a significant life. He wants YOU, fully surrendered, willing to accept whatever He has for you — even if, especially if it’s nothing like you pictured it would be. Even if it’s nothing glamorous or monumental or earth-shattering. Even if it involves a dead-end job, or mounds of laundry, or tasks that no one appreciates or even notices.

Or maybe you’re one of those rare people who is called to something big (and you know specifically what it is), and it scares the poop out of you. Maybe you wish you could just stay in the shadows and not take a risk. Being faithful to God’s calling for you is taking that leap and trusting Him to be everything He has promised to be.

So instead of saying “The only thing we have to fear is living an insignificant life,” I would say:

The only thing that brings us true joy is living the life that God has for us, in dependence on the Spirit, for God’s glory and favor.

Keep your eyes on the Savior, and rest in the good that He has planned for you.

Harnessing Guilt for Good

19 Dec

A feeling I have often, but especially at Christmastime, is Too Much to Do and Too Little Time. I’m sure a lot of people can relate. This year, I had wanted to take some time everyday to sit down with our family and do an Advent activity. Here it is, December 19 and we haven’t even cracked our Bible. One day last week, I was thinking through all the things on my to-do list and thought, “Wait a minute. How did my schedule get completely filled up?” I thought that I was being modest with my Christmas plans but December has a way of filling up without you even trying.

And as it happens whenever I start feeling overwhelmed by one aspect of my life, I started thinking about all the other aspects of my life that I’m “failing” at – like prayer, Bible study, thoughtfulness for friends, exercise, organization, etc. – and then I not only feel overwhelmed, I also feel guilty.

guilt

At those times, I think most people (including myself) have two main reactions: 1) Try to do it all or 2) Stop caring. In a sermon I heard several years ago by Steve Shank of Sovereign Grace, he told of a 3rd option. Talking about Philippians 4:12, he said that apostle Paul had learned to be content with what he had, while also desiring more. How is that possible? When you recognize that the person who gets you from Point A to Point B, from the reality of your life to what you want it to be, isn’t YOU but GOD, then you can be content with What Is, while still longing for What Could Be.

So I don’t have to choose between trying to do it all or just not caring. I can stop trying even though I care. Instead of swinging to one end or the other of the spectrum, there’s a tension in the middle where I can recognize the things I want to be true in my life, but I don’t strive to make them happen. I don’t stop caring, but I do stop striving.

My reaction to that kind of statement 4 years ago would’ve been “Say what?!? If I’m not the one doing it, then how will it get done?” And the answer is the Holy Spirit. The presence of God. When we have a relationship with God through Christ, we not only have His promise that the verdict is in and we are righteous in His eyes – we also have His promise that He will make us into the people He has created us to be. “He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.”

The Spirit is the connection between God’s promise and the reality of it happening. He is the tangible, practical outworking of God’s power in our lives. So when I want to be more intentional about praying for people, I don’t have to say “Ok, I’m going to pray for 15 minutes every morning starting at 7:30.” There’s nothing wrong with that if God leads me to that, but my first response to a conviction shouldn’t be activity. Instead of seeing a problem in my life and determining the course of action to remedy it, God wants me to take that conviction and turn to Him in prayer. Ask Him to help me pray for others more often – and then TRUST that He will help me, by reminding me to pray for others, giving me the desire to pray for them when I do remember, growing my understanding of His love for me so that I think of myself less often and of others more often.

When God is the one leading, real change happens. When I’m the one determining what needs to get done, I eventually lose steam and end up right back where I started – and so the cycle begins again.

That’s why there are no specific commands in the Bible. Because the outworking of the Spirit’s conviction and the Christian life look differently for everyone. God says “Be hospitable” and “Give to the needy” and “Remember the poor” – those are pretty vague. I used to be frustrated and think “But what does that look like?” Answer: Only God can show you. Because it’s different for everyone. You might have the idea that to Be Hospitable, you have to open your home to exchange students, or invite your in-laws to move in. And for some people, it does mean that. But maybe for you, it’s just having friends over for lunch. Or hosting a baby shower.

So when I’m thinking about all the things that I want to be doing during Christmas, or the things that I wish I were doing in life but am not, or the things I would change, I don’t have to cast those things aside as “guilt producers” or stupid “expectations imposed on me by society.” I feel guilty about those things because I really want to do them. I want them to be true of my life. I don’t feel guilty about not going bungee jumping or not being a CEO. Because I don’t want those things. I feel guilty about the things I care about.

I read an interesting article about guilt in a parenting magazine the other day while I was pumping at work. The author said that guilt in the right degree is healthy because only sociopaths don’t feel guilt. That was interesting to me. I have always thought about guilt as a bad thing, as in I shouldn’t feel guilty ever. But now I can see guilt as a tool to show me what really matters to me. And instead of trying to deal with that guilt via self-improvement and to-do lists and productivity, or a Who Cares? attitude, I can recognize that I feel guilty because I wish those things were true about my life. At same time, I recognize that I can’t make them a reality on my own. I need God to help me, to show me the One Thing to do right now, and to trust that somehow, by following His leading on the Little Things, He is shaping the Big Picture into something glorious.

It’s hard to do in practice. Our house projects for moving have not gone according to our plans, and Travis and I both have responded poorly at times. Whenever that happens, I know that the cause is we’ve stopped trusting in God and started trusting in ourselves – in our actions, our planning, our common sense. God doesn’t work that way. His ways are higher. His plans are better. We need to trust and rest. “In quietness and trust is your strength.”

My body is not my own.

17 Nov

A while ago, I mentioned that I was going through the book Love to Eat, Hate to Eat with a group of women from church. My first realization was that my body does not represent who I really am. I am not the sum of how I look. There is more to me. That reminder has been very helpful over the last month, whenever I was tempted to think I should be skinnier.

But the past couple of weeks, I’ve swung the other way by letting myself eat whatever I want. I’m still eating mostly healthy with whole grains, lowfat dairy and fruits and veggies, but I’m also eating a bunch of extra crap – some Hershey’s kisses here, a cupcake there, a couple pieces of cornbread before dinner, a slice of ice cream cake from the break room. While I am in favor of diet freedom because I obsess less about food when I allow myself to eat whatever I am truly craving, these extras aren’t cravings – just convenient. I eat them because they’re right in front of me. I guess I wouldn’t mind a piece of cake right now.

Whenever behaviors like this go on for weeks at a time, they end up becoming habits. My habit becomes grabbing any sweet sitting out, instead of saying no to the “meh” ones. I eat a snack before dinner, even though the actual meal will be ready in 30 minutes. I have both wine and ice cream after dinner, instead of choosing one.

I realized this morning that these habits come out of my not recognizing that my body is not my own. I have been blessed with a genuine desire to eat (mostly) healthy and stay active so it’s never really been that much of a battle to take care of my body. Sure, I get off track now and then but I usually get back to healthy habits after a week or so because I honestly like it. But when I do get in funks like my current one, where I find myself eating more sweets and carbs than normal, I just brush it off saying, “This isn’t that big of a deal. I’ll get back on track soon enough.”

I started thinking, what if I did that with money? I’ll just splurge on this and that and next week I’ll get back on my budget. The consequences of my actions would still be around next week. Or what about with unhelpful books or movies? I’ll just watch Sex and the City this one time. The mental pictures don’t disappear the minute I turn the TV off.

Because I know that about money and unhelpful books and movies, I avoid them. I just don’t even go there. And I don’t feel restricted by not living beyond my means or watching inappropriate shows. I feel more free because I’m not encumbered by all the temptations and consequences that go along with those things.

Why is eating any different?

I know that I feel better and don’t think about my body image/weight/food as much when I’m exercising self-control and eating wisely. I know that eating a bunch of sugar in one day makes me feel gross. So why do I do it?

I’m pretty sure it’s because I don’t look at the consequences of eating poorly as being a big deal. Sure, I don’t feel the best when I eat too much food or too much sugar but the next morning, I eat some oatmeal, I go workout and I’m back to feeling pretty good. Easily solved, right?

But I forget that my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. When I go to church, I treat the facility and furniture with respect because it’s God’s house. I don’t pour garbage all over the floor and write on the walls, saying “Don’t worry. I’ll clean this up later. You’ll never even know.” Those behaviors would be disrespectful. In the same way, filling my body full of garbage that I’m not really enjoying but eating “just because” is treating my body, the temple of the Holy Spirit, disrespectfully. If I lived in the acknowledgment that my body is not my own because I was bought at a price, I believe my approach to eating would be different.

I do believe in balance and that God has given us delicious foods, including sweets and alcohol, to enjoy in moderation. But I know that when I eat too many of them, my enjoyment of them diminishes. Because they’re no longer a special treat – just a daily sugar bomb.

So just as I have been reminding myself that my body does not represent who I really am when I am tempted to base my worth on appearance, I am going to try to remind myself that my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit when faced with poor food choices. “Your body is not your own, for you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.”

Lord, help me to treat my body in a way that glorifies You as the only One that satisfies and that gives me life and joy, as well as energy and health for living with vitality. Health is an amazing gift and I thank You for it – help me to not to take it for granted or squander it on things that don’t satisfy.

 …………………………..

In other news, I signed up to participate in the Holiday Bootie Buster Challenge 2011 that starts this Saturday. (For the details, follow the challenge hyperlink.) Hopefully this will give me that extra kick of motivation to keep going on my training plan!

What helps you strike a balance in your eating habits?

Keeping an Eternal Perspective: Clothing

7 Jul

{This is the second installment of this weekly series.}

For the past several years, I’ve been wrestling through the practical implications of my faith in Christ. If I say I desire to glorify God and that He’s my greatest treasure, what effect will those declarations have on what I buy, how I spend my time, and what my goals are? While God has given me a lot of insight and I am more at peace about these things that I was before, I still struggle with feeling guilty for buying new clothes, spending 6 hours a week training instead of volunteering, and doing things I enjoy just for pleasure’s sake.

Last weekend while we were backpacking {sorry that I haven’t posted pics yet – last night was busy!}, I had some time Sunday morning to sit alone with my Bible. The passage in Matthew 6 caught my eye:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

These verses showed me the following:

1. God gave me these convictions – I didn’t come up with them on my own.

Ever since I started to analyze my motives and why I do certain things and don’t do other things, God has been changing the way I look at the world. It started out as guilt from buying another $25 t-shirt that I didn’t need when that same money would buy food for a month for a kid over in Africa. It morphed into guilt from doing anything with my time that I alone enjoyed – I was convinced that that was the epitome of selfishness. I couldn’t escape the guilt. It was everywhere. A caramel macchiato from Starbuck’s. A pedicure. A good book. A nap.

But looking at these convictions a different way, I see them as God’s way of inviting me into a life of infinite joy (to quote C.S. Lewis again) – a life of love, selflessness, freed from the snares of material possessions and keeping up with the joneses. He has given me a desire for a simple life:

  • to wear the clothes I own
  • to make wise purchases (after researching options nonetheless!)
  • to fully use everything I do spend money on (and make sure I’ll fully use it before buying it)
  • to treat my possessions well so that they last
  • to only replace things when they need replacing
  • to make the effort to be creative in making things last longer

Anyone who knew me in college would not recognize the girl writing this post today. I am that different in my approach toward money. And God has shown me that this is His work in my life, refocusing my attention on things that are unseen and eternal, rather than things that are seen and transient.

Oswald Chambers’ devotional yesterday said it perfectly:

God gives us a vision, and then He takes us down to the valley to batter us into the shape of that vision. It is in the valley that so many of us give up and faint. Every God-given vision will become real if we will only have patience. Just think of the enormous amount of free time God has! He is never in a hurry. Yet we are always in such a frantic hurry. While still in the light of the glory of the vision, we go right out to do things, but the vision is not yet real in us. God has to take us into the valley and put us through fires and floods to batter us into shape, until we get to the point where He can trust us with the reality of the vision. Ever since God gave us the vision, He has been at work. He is getting us into the shape of the goal He has for us, and yet over and over again we try to escape from the Sculptor’s hand in an effort to batter ourselves into the shape of our own goal.The vision that God gives is not some unattainable castle in the sky, but a vision of what God wants you to be down here. Allow the Potter to put you on His wheel and whirl you around as He desires. Then as surely as God is God, and you are you, you will turn out as an exact likeness of the vision. But don’t lose heart in the process. If you have ever had a vision from God, you may try as you will to be satisfied on a lower level, but God will never allow it.

It has been a long, hard struggle to get to where I am in accepting that God is in this. That God is calling me to a simple lifestyle and to give up caring about fashion, money, beauty, decorating, etc.

That said…

2. Sanctification looks differently for everyone.

I have just recently realized this on an even deeper level. For so long, I had been frustrated with feeling guilty for shopping “just because” because I had a list of reasons why I believed I could shop in faith. We tithed every month, I wasn’t spending an extravagant amount of money, and the biggest one, I saw other Christian women doing it. If they could do it, why couldn’t I?

A recent situation opened my eyes. There is a young married couple at our church whose wedding I attended. The toasts given by their families and friends all praised this couple for being very godly and strong in their faith. The time I had spent around them in a group setting seemed to agree with those assessments. I viewed this couple as two people who “had it together,” especially in their approach to money (which moved them up a notch in my book). Then I spent some time one-on-one with the woman and heard about their marital struggles, ones very common to young married couples. I realized that they were just human too.

And that got me thinking… those women with the latest fashions at church – I don’t know what’s going on in their hearts. They very well might be able to buy new clothes in faith, but that also could be an area of their lives that God hasn’t yet refined and sanctified.

All that to say, I can’t judge which of the Spirit’s promptings I’m going to follow or not based on what other people are doing. Oswald Chambers’ devotion for June 28 says, “At first, Jesus Christ through His Spirit has to restrain you from doing a great many things that may be perfectly right for everyone else but not right for you.” These things that I have been fighting may be perfectly right for others to do, but not me. I have to pay attention to my personal convictions.

All this time, I had wanted to go back to the way things were before. I was rejecting this new way to live. Instead of viewing it as God’s invitation to me into greater, deeper joy resulting from letting go of materialism and my own assessment of What I Should Be Able to Do With Christian Freedom, I had been fighting it and thinking there was something wrong with me, since I was struggling with this and no one else was. But as I drove to work yesterday, I realized that in doing that, I was assuming that I should be “above that.” I should be above materialism and selfishly using my time for myself. Well guess what? I’m not. God wasn’t fooled for one moment either. He knew all along what I’m really like on the inside. The joke’s on me.

3. For me, buying new things should be the exception and not the rule.

You remember my sandal post from a while back? I still haven’t bought any. I can’t decide which ones I want. Actually, I had decided which ones I wanted but then they were out of my size. Boo. I just don’t want to buy the wrong ones and then regret my decision. So I’m at a standstill on that one.

But I don’t feel guilty about wanting those sandals. The difference between this purchase and other past purchases that have given me guilt is that: 1) I’ve been wanting these sandals since I started my new job 2 months ago and 2) They wouldn’t be just another version of something I already have 10 of. So those are my new guidelines for purchases (notice that I said guidelines, not rules): Wait until I know of something I would really like and would be very useful to me. Research the options and pray for the Spirit to convict me if I shouldn’t buy them. Go purchase said item sans guilt. My other strategy is to mention all of the things I would like to Travis “just in case someone asks what I’d like for my birthday.” 🙂

My cousin is getting married on July 30th and I’ve been thinking about buying a new dress for the occasion. I might go peruse a thrift store to see if there’s anything good but otherwise, I feel like the best decision would be to wear a dress I already own – I have one that is great for summer weddings and I’ve only worn once or twice.

Oh and I’ll wear my new sandals. (I’m going to go look at some tonight.)

What does all of this have to do with keeping an eternal perspective?

For me, the question underlying all of this is: Where does my happiness lie? Is my happiness wrapped up in having cute clothes? Or is it in knowing that Christ died for me and I’m going to heaven someday? Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? When I see a chunk of my paycheck every month going to our church, Campus Outreach, and our Compassion child, am I thankful to God for allowing me to participate in growing His kingdom? Or do I wish I could use that money to go on a trip to Hawaii?

Christ didn’t say to store up treasures in heaven instead of on earth just because that’s a good thing to do, or because they really need more treasures up there. Instead, He said this: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” God knows our humanity. He knows that we focus on what we treasure. So He says, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” He wants us to keep an eternal perspective.

Ugly unbelief

9 Sep

Unbelief is an ugly thing.

My blog post yesterday is some pretty convincing evidence of that statement. Just writing that post made me depressed and discouraged – I can’t imagine what it’s like reading it!!

But instead of deleting it as the insane rantings of an emotionally unhinged lunatic, I am leaving it. This is real evidence of the struggle with unbelief, a struggle which everyone has, to some extent, every day. I just show what happens when you let it spiral out of control.

I woke up today planning to run 15 miles but since our race this weekend has been cancelled due to the Fourmile Canyon fire (and I really didn’t feel like running that much today), I decided to do that run on Saturday, when I will be better rested and can take a nap afterwards. So instead of lacing up my running shoes at 6:30, I cracked open Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest.

This is what I read: “A river is victoriously persistent, overcoming all barriers… [Has] an obstacle come into your life and you do not seem to be of any use to God? Then keep paying attention to the Source, and God will either take you around the obstacle or remove it. The river of the Spirit of God overcomes all obstacles. Never focus your eyes on the obstacle or the difficulty. The obstacle will be a matter of total indifference to the river that will flow steadily through you if you will simply remember to stay focused on the Source. Never allow anything to come between you and Jesus Christ – not emotion or experience – nothing must keep you from the one great sovereign Source.”

This is why I love reading Oswald Chambers. So often, his devotions are exactly what I needed to hear. I have been so focused on my problems that I’ve been saying “See how big my problems are?!?! How can God possibly help me with this?” When in reality, I was the one being the problem and God was the only answer.

After a little bit more rational pondering (and no doubt some inspiration from the Holy Spirit), I have realized that I am contributing to this problem of my job more than I was aware. There are 3 main issues:

1. Working from home has definite benefits – I love the flexibility. But it’s that very flexibility that has made me subconsciously feel like a slacker all the time and resulted in a huge burden of guilt. I don’t feel like I am giving a wholehearted effort in my job – I’m doing just enough to get by. That feeling, though subtle, has been wearing on me. And I think, in this instance, that guilt is a good indication that I am not glorifying God in my work ethic right now.

2. I also have been overwhelmed by feelings of not being able to do all the things that I would like to do – and I blame it on work. I think this feeling goes along with any commitment, since naturally, by doing one thing, you eliminate the possibility of doing another thing at the same time. So instead of letting this limitation breed discontentment, I am memorizing the verse, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). God has commanded that I focus on the positive things (Philippians 4:8) and be content (Philippians 4:11).

3. Last but certainly not least, I have been very fearful in my job. The modern term is “stressed out” but I’m pretty sure that’s just a fancy way of saying I’m scared. I’m scared about failing (volunteer coordination) and scared about what other people think about me (getting new timing clients). Instead of looking to God and saying “This I know, that God is for me… what can man do to me?”, I have been saying “I can’t handle this!!” These realizations seems so obvious that I feel a little sheepish for my previous blog rant. But that is the effect of unbelief – you can’t think rationally, you believe sinful emotions instead of the truth, and rely on your own very limited understanding.

So in response to these 3 issues, I’m going to take some practical and spiritual action:

With God’s help, I am going to maintain a more intentional work schedule. Instead of working just whenever, I’m going to try to sit down around the same time every day and work for a particular duration – say 9 to 4. I am also going to start keeping track of the hours I work so I will know whether my guilt is sinful (letting my actions dictate how much I’m worth) or godly (I am not glorifying God by being a hearty worker).

I am going to prioritize my non-work time. The things I really want to make a priority are, in no particular order: running (the marathon is only 2 months away!), getting in the Word, praying, reading, cooking healthy food (not frozen pizzas!), and blogging. I need to be intentional about not getting sucked into mindless TV – though I do still hope to watch my favorite shows, like Bones and Desperate Housewives. But that will come second to my other, higher priorities.

And when I feel fearful about failure or human approval, I need to run to God. I need to remind myself of the revelant truth that He loves me and nothing I do or don’t do can change that. And because He loves me, I can trust Him. Just like with sanctification, I am responsible for the practical, everyday matters but He is in charge of the final product. I am called to be faithful in my job, but He is the one who makes me succeed. “The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever” (Psalm 138:8). I can trust God with the outcome of my job.

Yet again, I am so incredibly thankful that God is who He is – faithful, enduring, patient, loving, gracious. I am ashamed of my unbelieving behavior over the past week and a half and yet, I can come into God’s presence through prayer as if nothing ever happened. That is amazing.

“Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him, for God is a refuge for us” (Psalm 62:8).

What it means to be born again

29 Mar

A couple weeks ago, I went through this period of spiritual doubt. I had a hard time understanding why the Christian life works. Whenever I heard stories about people giving up addictions because Jesus freed them, I thought, “How is Jesus enough for them?” When I hear of people who are going through a rough time of trials and they say they’re hoping in God, I wonder, “How does the knowledge of God aid them in their despair? How is it enough that God is a stronghold? Why does it matter that God cares for me? That I’m released from the bondage of sin? If I’m having a hard day at work and pray to God for strength, how does my prayer really matter? How does it change my circumstances? Why do I need to rely on God? What does relying on God do for me? Is it even possible to do? If I say that I’m relying on God and drawing down strength from Him, does He really do anything for me? Or are those words just a human attempt to make life a little easier, to make hard times a little better, to deceive ourselves that ‘everything is going to work out for our good’ when the dice could really fall either way?”

I guess you could sum up my doubts in one question: “How does my relationship with God affect my life beyond salvation?”

As I was journaling about these thoughts on March 15th, I had been reading Romans 7 where Paul says that we are released from the Law “so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.” And as I pondered that verse, I realized that the key to the Christian life, the thing that makes it “work,” is the Spirit. Without the Spirit, I am the same person before and after conversion. But with the Spirit, I am changed. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

My mind was comforted after that revelation given to me through none other than the Spirit. But what brought this again to my attention was something Pastor John Piper said in his sermon called The New Birth Produces Love. This is what he said: “As we enter Holy Week, the aspect of the new birth that I want us to focus on is the fact that new birth creates the connection between God’s love for us and our love for each other. If anyone ever asks, How does the fact that God loves you result in your loving others? The answer is: the new birth creates that connection. The new birth is the act of the Holy Spirit connecting our dead, selfish hearts with God’s living, loving heart so that his life becomes our life and his love becomes our love.”

When I heard Piper say that, it validated my personal Bible study. I wasn’t deluding myself with soothing words and vain hopes. This is true and real. My nature really is changed after conversion and I am enabled to do things I couldn’t do before. The Spirit empowers me to live for Christ, to desire God, to conquer sin, to be loving, to desire godly, eternal things over worldly, temporal things.

This is the hope that we have in Christ: “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1: 13-14)