I’m a mess right now. I may not look like it from the outside (or maybe I do – who knows?), but inside I’m a screaming, crying, writhing ball of restlessness, fear, insecurity, discontent, grief…all the Things that have no business being in me.

I’m supposed to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Not the Things.

So when did this all start? When did the Things move in and He get pushed out? I don’t know, but I’m sure it happened little by little:

  • An uncontrolled emotion I chose to dwell on for a while.
  • A moment of self-pity that I allowed to linger.
  • A fear-filled thought that was left to fester.
  • A tiny seed of annoyance that I nurtured until it grew into frustration, then anger, then resentment.

Soon, my soul was a rotting pile of trash, rather than a spotless palace in which the King of Kings was seated on its throne.

 


 

Several months ago, one of my pastors did a talk for our young adults group about the “tattoos” we walk around with. He asked us to think about the one tattoo we’ve allowed to define us. I knew mine immediately. How could I not? It’s been there for as long as I can remember. He asked us to write it on our arms.

I didn’t.

This past week, we started a new series with our High School groups, talking about the thoughts that repeat themselves over and over again in our minds – the thoughts that have no business being there. We asked the students and leaders to write down some of these thoughts.

I didn’t.

Like so many other opportunities I’ve had recently to be honest with someone else, even if anonymously, I sat out both of those exercises. In both cases, I hid behind a wall of busyness and of doing things to make sure those events were running well. And it occurs to me that I’ve been sitting these things out all year long.

 


 

My job has provided so many opportunities to speak up about the Things: staff retreat, Life Group, leadership development group, worship nights, staff meetings…

I’ve been there physically, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually, I’ve checked out. I’ve stayed silent.

Why? Because of the Things.

They tell me to be terrified that the people I spend the most time with will reject me when they find out what’s been hanging out with me this year.

They pressure me to stay quiet and just do my job. (And oh, I have to do that job perfectly because what if someone else comes along and does it better?)

They constantly remind me that my job, my friends and my church are all the same place, and if I lose one, I lose everything.

 

Comfortable ThingsThe Things know that if I talk about them, they’ll have to move out. And they’ve made themselves pretty comfortable these last 10 months.

The Things thrive in Silence.

I try to talk about them with God. It’s not like He doesn’t already know the Things are there. In fact, He knows even better than I do exactly when they started moving their stuff into His throne room in my soul.

It doesn’t go well. The Things invite their friends over to party. Shame shows up with a veggie tray. Regret brings chips and dip. And the next thing I know, I’ve given up, walked away, and Silence wins again.

It’s a pretty vicious cycle as far as vicious cycles go. Which is why the Things are still taking up space, and why I feel like I’ll never be freed of them.

So I do the only thing I can still do: I write. I at least get them out and onto paper (virtually speaking). It seems that the Things don’t feel quite so threatened when I just write about them, maybe because they don’t realize that written words can be just as powerful as spoken ones.

Maybe if I keep writing, I can lure them out into the open and someday, the Holy Spirit will be able to slam the door behind them and lock them out forever.

do overI got to have a surprise lunch with my mother today. And it was nice. Really nice. We ate in a really cool old tavern with really good food just a mile and a half from our house. It’s been on the same corner in the same small town for over 200 years. I’ve been there once, just a few weeks ago, and she’s never been.  (That has me thinking about all the things around me that have been there forever, but which I’ve never enjoyed. Although that’s probably a post for a different day.)

We had a great conversation and got to talking about the fact that I’m unemployed. Again.  She sweetly pointed out, as only a mother can, that I’ve been here before. This is not my first time at the Unemployment Rodeo. She’s right. And she’s wrong. Yes, I have a Last Time, but I also have a This Time.

Last Time was hard. Last Time was incredibly painful. Last Time was terrifying. And Last Time, it was all my fault.

Last Time, I was angry, bitter, resentful and just generally miserable.  But that was Last Time.

This Time is different.

On Tuesday afternoon, I was introduced to this prayer.  The first time I read it, I had no words to describe how it impacted me.  It’s so comprehensive. It’s so powerful. It’s so scary. (What if God answered every part of this prayer every day I prayed it? Would I even be able to handle the things He did in my life? Mind blowing!)

As I started to work through this prayer this morning, I didn’t get far. The second sentence says this:

I honor you as my sovereign Lord, and I surrender every aspect of my life totally and completely to you.

That stopped me in my tracks. I sat there at the kitchen counter for a very long time mulling over those words.  I thought about everything I’ve been reading lately about the sovereignty of God (I’m on a bit of a Calvinist kick at the moment). The words of Piper, Pink, Edwards, and Stedman floated around in my head.

Do I believe God is sovereign? Do I believe He has ordained each of my days?

And if I do believe that, have I surrendered every aspect of my life totally and completely to Him? Because if I believe He is sovereign, and I haven’t surrendered to Him, I’m fighting against an unbeatable force.

Then I started thinking about Last Time and This Time and how they are so very different.  Unlike Last Time, This Time, as I wait for God to work out details, make decisions clear and move a mountain or two, I’m at peace.

This Time, I have chosen to trust in God’s goodness no matter how long it lasts, or what the outcome ends up being.

This Time, I’m taking regular time to rest because I recognize how exhausting this journey is and will continue to be until it ends.

This Time, I’m using my time wisely – serving others, studying Scripture very deeply, working on some new friendships.

This Time I’m happy.  This Time, I’m able to rejoice in the Lord (most of the time – hey, I’m still human…).

It has been said that we often repeat experiences because God is giving us the chance to do it right. True or not, it kind Do over 2of makes sense.  God sometimes uses trials to sanctify us, to help us grow, and to make us more like Christ. If, as we’re going through a trial we instead become angry, bitter and resentful, it would make sense that God would graciously let us try again. After all, He’s all about His glory, and anger, bitterness and resentment do not bring Him glory (shocking, I know).

The mercy and grace of God allows do-overs. The mercy and grace of God ordains do-overs. Because God loves us and wants us to be more and more like His Son, He gives us opportunities to move toward that goal. If we mess up and move in the wrong direction, because He is merciful and gracious, He lets us try again.

When we find ourselves faced with the same types of difficult circumstances over and over again, it can feel like God is picking on us. But what if He was using those do-overs to bring us to a place of joyful, complete and total surrender to Him and His will? What if those do-overs are a manifestation of His love and care for us?

How would we look at our trials differently if we truly believed that God is sovereign, that He loves us and that He only wants what’s best for us? Would we see do-overs as a chance to trust Him more?

That’s the approach I’m choosing to take This Time. How about you?

[Sidenote: This post reminds me of one of my least favorite movies and I find that pretty hilarious. : ) ]

Earlier this week, I was presented with a ministry opportunity at my church that I am, quite frankly, really excited about.  It was something I wanted to do, and was just kind of waiting for the opportunity to open up.  I knew that if and when it did, I would say “yes”.  Within hours of being asked to pray about it, I had already told my parents and a couple of other people that I was doing it.

So why did I wait more than 2 days after I had made my decision to tell the one person who needed to know?  I asked God about that, and two reasons popped almost immediately into my mind:

  • Pride: This could cover so much, but in this case, I didn’t want to seem too eager and at the same time, I guess I wanted to appear more spiritual. In all honesty, this particular opportunity had already appeared in both the S and T sections of my ACTS prayers the week before.  I knew the opportunity was opening up, it had been suggested that I’d be a good fit, so I’d already started praying that if this was something God wanted me to do, that it would be presented.  So why couldn’t I just say that I had already prayed about it and that it was a “go” instead of waiting and possibly giving the impression that I was still praying about it? The best I can come up with is pride, pure and simple. That and…
  • Unbelief:  By waiting to declare my decision, I was, in essence, giving God a chance to change His mind/take the opportunity away. This turned into a chance for my old beliefs about God to creep back up. Once again, the God in my mind trumped Truth, and I allowed myself to believe, even if briefly, that God is mean and is out to hurt me.

This is not the first time I’ve run head-first into these two issues. Oh no, we’re old frienemies.  In fact, I’m so familiar with them that I’ve become rather comfortable with them.  There’s comfort in hiding behind the lie of pride.  There’s comfort in blaming God when I’m disappointed.

And on the flip side, honesty and vulnerability are downright terrifying sometimes.  Real, genuine, not-backing-down-for-anything faith can be heart-stopping.  Honesty, vulnerability and faith require me to let go. Of my carefully crafted image.  Of my right to complain when things don’t go my way. Of the chance to hide behind a lie instead of being vulnerable.

The truth is, when we let go, there is that split-second of panic, but God always, always, always catches us.  He is unendingly faithful. He knows what’s on our hearts before we know it well enough to put it into words (Psalm 139:4). He knows exactly where we are prone to fail, and He shows compassion and mercy in those places (Psalm 103:13-14). More than that, He provides people who show His grace and mercy to us, just in case His Word isn’t enough.

I can’t promise that I’m breaking up with pride and unbelief, but I can say that I don’t enjoy them nearly as much as I used to.  I know that from time to time, I’m still going to hang out with them.  But I also know that every time I realize what I’m doing, God is already there, ready to catch me and ready to forgive me.

Moosen CrossingI’ve also learned to recognize the signs that I’m about to wander off the road of faith and into dangerous territory. Indecisiveness in the moment on something I’ve already firmly decided is a big red flag.  The temptation to deceive by appearing to be someone I’m not is a flashing light.  Pseudo-spirituality is the warning sign of a coming cliff.  I know the signs and I know what to do about them: Put my faith fully and confidently in the One who made me and knows me better than I know myself.

When our faith is rightly placed, many of our decisions will seem to make themselves because we know it’s not about us and what we want. It is all about our Father and His glory. Just the way He intended.

What are some signs that tell you you’re about to go off the road of faith?

The more daring the request, the more glory accrues to God when the answer comes. ~ A.W. Tozier

For the last 6-8 weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about prayer.  I say that I’ve been “thinking” about prayer because that’s the best way I can describe what’s been going on, although it’s really been so much more than that.

In October, my church went through a series on prayer that involved writing prayers down, reviewing them, watching for answers, and sharing those answers with others.  The purpose of the exercise was to make prayer a priority, to become more disciplined in prayer and to “practice the presence of God” (great book, btw – you should definitely get your hands on a copy at some point).

In addition to sitting under some great teaching on prayer, my Life Group worked through Bill Hybels’ Too Busyprayer NOT to Pray (yeah, go ahead and get that one too).  It ended up being a very needed opportunity for me to be vulnerable and honest about how and why I pray.

And because that all wasn’t enough, I also delved into Ray Stedman’s book, Talking With My Father (yup, that one too), and started listening to every sermon about prayer by every pastor I follow on Twitter that I could find. (Wow! You people talk about prayer a lot! Thanks!)

So why have I been doing so much research on prayer?  Why has this been where my spiritual energies have been spent?  The answer is simple: Prayer is our most powerful tool, and I wasn’t wielding it.

I have this nasty habit of intellectualizing spiritual principles.  One of the reasons I like Beth Moore’s studies and the reason I love listening to people like John Piper and other high-minded thinkers is because I love the academics of Scripture study.  However, it’s easy for me to get caught up in said academics, and fail to make any personal application from what I’m hearing.

So, for my benefit, and hopefully yours, here are five things I’m working on committing to heart, and not just to mind:

  1. Prayer that starts out focused on God, rather than on my needs and wants, tends to make my needs and wants less urgent.
  2. The Lord’s Prayer was not meant to be chanted. It was meant to be an outline for our conversations with God.
  3. Yes, we can pray anywhere, anytime, but it is critical to spend dedicated, intentional time in prayer every single day, and some of that time should be spent sitting quietly, not saying anything.
  4. The most effective catalyst for prayer is answered prayer.
  5. The bigger our prayers, the more opportunity we have to see God do great things.  The smaller our prayers, the more opportunity we have to be disappointed.

I love the quote at the top of this post.  The purpose of everything we do, and of our very being (!), is to bring glory to God (Isaiah 43:7).  Basically what Tozier is saying is that our bold, daring prayers not only allow us to see God do truly amazing things, but they fulfill the purpose for which we were created.  Our requests, made with audacious faith, allow others to witness the glory of God, and often strengthen others’ faith just as our own faith is strengthened through seeing affirmative and powerful answers to prayer.

All this reading and listening and thinking about prayer really has changed the way I pray in the last few weeks, as much as it has changed my consistency in prayer.  The last two weeks in particular have been a time of incredible blessing in every way possible:

  • I’ve seen God open doors I didn’t even know existed.
  • I’ve seen God provide in ways I never imagined.
  • I’ve seen God build and strengthen some key relationships in my life.
  • I’ve seen God give me opportunities to bless others in ways I wouldn’t have come up with on my own.

our-father-in-heaven-matt-6So I write this post today not only to encourage you, but as a memorial to God’s faithfulness, His character and His blessing.  There will be darker days ahead when I will need to remember what He has taught me.  There will be days when I will need to speak words of truth into a friend’s heart.  There will be days when I’ll need to remember why I pray in the first place.

I am in awe that the God of creation, the omnipotent, omniscient God listens to me, and more than that, wants to listen to me.  That’s just crazy! Why would I ever shy away from that?

What has been the most powerful influence on your prayer life lately?

The calendar is running out, and we’re in the final stretch of the year. These are the last days before our weekends start filling up with parties, out-of-town visitors and the craziness that is Christmas in the Western World. This is the last opportunity we have to take some deep breaths and enjoy just a little peace and quiet before time is no longer our own. In some ways, November is cozy, relaxing and comfortable.  november-trees-no-color

But there’s another side of November that is harder to think about. If you’re not in the Northeastern part of the US, allow me to paint a picture of what November looks like: At this point in the year, most of the leaves have fallen off the trees, leaving skeletons against a cold, grey sky. The songbirds have mostly finished their yearly commute to slightly warmer homes, leaving the harsh caw of crows and blue jays to fill the quiet of morning. The clocks have been changed, and darkness falls before many people get home from work. The first snow is still a month or more away. November here is ugly, cold, and unwelcoming.

Our souls have Novembers. Did you know that? We have times when our spiritual lives have grown cold and barren. We struggle to pray. We read our Bibles, but find no “ah-ha” moments. We continue in our spiritual disciplines, but they feel like pushing a boulder up a hill, rather than being wrapped in a cozy quilt. We’ve all been there, and it isn’t a lot of fun.

But here’s the thing about November: After three weeks of plodding through and missing the beauty of October, when Fall was new and fresh and beautiful, we enter what is, for some, the most wonderful time of the year.

Turkey BowlAt the end of November here in the US, we celebrate Thanksgiving. Those of us who take this holiday seriously (and it’s actually my favorite holiday) set aside a day to remember all the ways God has worked and blessed us throughout the year. It’s a day to enjoy time with family and friends, to eat amazing food, watch a whole lot of football, play games, and enjoy being in relationship with others.

At the end of a cold, dark month, we intentionally pause to give thanks.

Our souls, weighed down by our personal Novembers, need Thanksgiving. When we’re feeling cold and dark and distant from God, giving thanks is an easy way to bring back the warmth, light and closeness we crave. Remembering God’s blessings, worshipping Him for who He is, and looking for reasons to be grateful in every circumstance can refresh our souls and lighten our hearts.

Thanksgiving ushers in the Advent season – that season when we look forward to Christmas and all it symbolizes. Thanksgiving begins the reminder that every promise of God was fulfilled when a tiny baby was born and the heavens erupted with the praise of angels.

Giving thanks to God in all circumstances changes our mindset, and focuses our attention on Him. Giving thanks to God for who He is and what He has done can make even the coldest, cloudiest day seem bright and warm, and can rescue the human soul from despair. Thanksgiving brightens the November of the soul and prepares our hearts to receive the blessings Christmas makes possible. On those days when our hearts feel cold and hard, giving thanks is a simple way to bring back the warmth and softness we need.

What are you most thankful for today?

Have you ever woken up in the morning and just known that it’s going to be one of “those” days?  Before your feet even hit the floor, you’re already frustrated and grouchy, and your to-do list or something from the day before is threatening to trip you up all day long.  You’re ready to cry and you haven’t even had breakfast yet.

And then when you finally talk yourself out of bed, it just gets worse.  You drop a fork on your foot while unloading the dishwasher.  You forget to put sugar in your coffee and then spill it all over the front of you.  You have a bad hair day.

Lots of other things contribute to “those” days: car trouble, financial trouble, a disagreement with a friend or family member, uncooperative children or pets or computers, etc., etc., etc.  It’s never anything big on “those” days, it’s just all the small things that make you want to scream, cry, throw things, or simply go back to bed and hide all day.

I’m having one of those days today.

So what can you do with these days that, no matter what you do, just don’t seem to want to go right?  In some cases, you can change your circumstances, and so, naturally, you should do that.  But sometimes, you’re just going to have a bad day, and you just need to deal with it. Sorry.

On days like today, I pull out one of my favorite verses in the Bible and do everything I can to do what it says:

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. ~ 2 Corinthians 10:5

On days when little, compounding frustrations can so easily overwhelm me, I make some very intentional efforts to take my thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ.  Here’s what I do:

  • Listen to some really good worship music.  This morning, I have this song floating around in my head:
  • Thank God for every tiny thing I can think of, especially things that relate to what is frustrating me (Thank You that the fork just bounced off my foot instead of going through it. Thank You that I have coffee to drink in the first place. Thank You that the garage is within walking distance and it wasn’t raining that hard.).
  • Go for a walk and take that time to rehearse God’s attributes.  Praise God for who He is because He is so much bigger than today’s little frustrations.
  • Pray for someone else.  There’s nothing like focusing on someone else to take your mind off yourself.

And once I’m done with those things, I take a deep breath and dive in.  It may still end up being a frustrating, tear-inducing day, but at the end of it, God is still in control, and my eyes have been on Him throughout it.

How do you make bad days a little better?

I have the great privilege of attending one of the larger churches in my state, which means I have access to a whole bunch of amazingly gifted, spiritually strong leaders (and they’re pretty fun to be around, too!).  It also means that my church gets a lot of press, gratefully all for good reasons.

But we’ve all heard the stories of highly regarded pastors, usually of large and influential churches, who lost their ministries because they or a family member sinned publicly.  We’ve heard stories of pastors’ reputations being ruined and their ministries dissolved because of some sort of scandal.

Have you ever wondered “How could this happen to [name that fallen pastor]?” The answer is simple: Satan doesn’t like strong, Bible-believing, Bible-preaching pastors.

So, in honor of Pastor Appreciation Month, I submit the following 5 ways you can pray for your pastors.  And trust me, your pastors need all the prayer they can get!

  • Pray for their marriages

So many pastors have been taken down because they got involved in affairs.  And pastors’ spouses have a tough job, what with constantly being in the spotlight, sacrificing time with their spouses because of church commitments, and being subject to way more criticism than they deserve.  Pray that God will protect your pastors’ marriages, and that your pastors and their spouses would honor the sanctity of their marriages.

  •  Pray for their children

You know what’s harder than being a pastor’s spouse? Being a pastor’s kid.  Pray for your pastors’ children!

  • Pray for their friendships

It’s surprisingly hard for pastors to find good friends.  They spend so much time at their jobs (yes, church is their job), and most candidates for friendship are actually congregants (think, “clients”).  That can make it difficult to form good friendships, but just like you and me, pastors need good strong friendships.  So pray that God will bless your pastors’ friendships, and surround them with a good circle of true friends who can keep them accountable, share their joys and their struggles, and allow them to be themselves.

  • Pray for their spiritual protection

Remember what I said before about how Satan feels about good pastors? Yeah. This one’s pretty self-explanatory

  • Pray for their mental and emotional health

This may come as a surprise to some people, but pastors are people too. And because they are in high-profile, high-stress occupations with near-impossible standards of “success” (no matter what they do on Sunday, someone is going to complain on Monday morning), they too are subject to depression, anxiety and the like. Pray that God will protect their minds and their hearts.

Pray for your pastors regularly.  Let them know that you’re praying for them.  They need that encouragement, and they need you to stand with them and to bring them to the throne of God regularly. And once in a while, take the time to write them a note to let them know how much you appreciate them as individuals and as leaders.  They’ll like that. : )

What would you add to this list?

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