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?

A few days after I wrote my last post, I had a meeting that set the course of my life for the foreseeable future.  You see, a couple of years ago, I learned that there are approximately 27 million slaves in the world right now (and that number was actually upgraded this week).  That’s 27 million people who get up and go to work every day (and by every day, I mean every day!), but don’t get paid for the work they do.  That’s 27 million people working in brick factories, sweat shops, and brothels.  Those are men with wives and children, women sold by their families to try to pay off debts and children either born into that life, or kidnapped and forced into it.

Two years ago, this knowledge broke my heart and I asked God to allow me to help Him set them free.  Eight months ago, I took the first step toward that end and went to the Justice Conference.  There I learned practical ways I can fight against slavery, exploitation and human trafficking.  Ways like taking the time to research the products I buy most often.  Are they made with slave labor?  Do they support fair trade?  Does this hotel have a policy protecting its clients from trafficking?

But I wanted to do more.

I heard about an organization in my own county that is working to end sex trafficking of children right here in my own backyard (yes, here in the US!).  Their mission is to end sex trafficking through parallel efforts in prevention and restoration.  Their goal is to open a restoration home for rescued girls ages 10-18, and to help them get back what Satan has stolen from them.

I met up with them briefly at the Justice Conference and promised to keep in touch.  I did, and a little over a week ago, I agreed to join them in their fight and join their staff.

Going forward, I’ll be working to educate teachers, parents, policy makers, law enforcement officials, children and teenagers in my area about the methods, signs and dangers of sex trafficking.  I’ll be teaching them how to protect themselves, their families and others from this evil.  I’ll be telling them how to stay safe on social media, how pornography feeds into sex trafficking, and that there is hope for survivors.

I’m so excited about where God has placed me for this season, and I can’t wait to see what He does in this area through me and through my new friends.  I can’t wait to hear about lives saved, about new people joining the fight and about more protection for survivors.  I can’t wait to see lives redeemed through the love of Christ.

But as I start on this new journey, I know that I can’t do this on my own.

I need to lean on God’s strength because this fight is so much bigger than me.

I need God’s words to speak into the lives of decision makers, survivors, and fellow fighters.

I need God’s grace and forgiveness for the perpetrators.

I need God’s provision for my material needs because right now, this position I have taken is not a paid position (see Bullet #2 below).

I need others to join with me in prayer for our staff, for our volunteers, and for the survivors God will bring to our door.

Will you join me?  If you’re willing, would you please pray for the following?

  • Pray for me as I prepare to speak at our Summit next week.  Pray that God will give me and the other speakers His words for His people.
  • Pray that the IRS will approve our 501(c)3 application quickly so that we can start taking donations toward the home, our programs and to support our staff. (We’ve been waiting since December, 2012!!)
  • Pray for opportunities to educate others about sex trafficking so that we can protect potential victims, prevent potential perpetrators and provide more workers in the field.

Thank you for the work you’re already doing for the Kingdom, and thank you for praying for me in my new assignment!

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