In my quest for freedom from back pain there has been a lot of hard work. I’ve been rowing for three months now. There were many days that I didn’t feel like doing it. At all. But, the payoff has been huge. I was able to go to my mom’s this weekend and do very labor-intensive yardwork, only coming away with minor aches and pains. Praise Jesus! Before, this type of labor would have left me with debilitating pain for months. I am so thankful to be feeling well — it has been worth the work!
When I think about this journey, I am reminded of the man Jesus healed by the pool in John 5. The man has been an invalid, laying by this pool, for 38 years. That’s almost the whole of my life. When Jesus meets him, he asks him this question, “Do you want to get well?” This seems like a wild question to ask someone who has been laying invalid for 38 years! Of course he wants to get well! Or does he want to BE well?
You see, rather than answering Jesus with the resounding “YES” we expect, he immediately makes an excuse. “There’s no one to help me into the pool.” Ahh, how many times have I made a similar excuse? Sure, I want to BE well, but there’s no one to help me GET well. So many people, myself included, want to BE healthy, but we don’t want to put in the effort to get there. Or we want to be a mature Christian, but we don’t want to put in the effort to get there.
Despite the man’s excuse and misdirection from the question, Jesus chooses to heal him, immediately. His power is more than enough for the man’s healing. But there is work on the man’s part that must be done in this healing process. Jesus gives him three instructions: Get up. Take up your mat. Walk.
Can you even imagine the amount of effort and faith that it must have taken for this man, an invalid of nearly 4 decades, to stand up? To lift his mat? To take those first steps? What if Jesus had offered him healing, but the man chose to remain in his crippled state? What if he continued to be unwilling to engage in his healing process? What if he just sat there? He would never have walked into the healing that Jesus offered him.
This is where so many of us live spiritually. Jesus has given us eternal life through his death, and, by the Holy Spirit, everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). He has given us the means to BE well spiritually, to be right with God. Are we going to continue sitting in our crippled state, or are we going to walk forward into healing?
Do you want to BE well? Then you have to want to GET well. Jesus has done everything to conquer sin and death so that we are no longer crippled by those. (This is not a matter of earning our salvation through works, or being perfect enough to atone for our own sin.) But we won’t stumble into holiness or patience or faith or forgiveness or humility. Getting well spiritually is a process just like getting well physically. We have to put in the effort just like the man in John 5: Get up. Take up your mat. Start walking.
What this looks like for me is going hard after spiritual wellness by tackling study in the Word in areas where I am weak. I chose rowing because it would target my core, where I was weak, and it is actively strengthening me in that area. If there is an area of your life, spiritual or physical, where you need to be strengthened, follow Jesus’ instructions and go for it. Remember that it is his power that unlocks your healing, but it is your effort that is required to walk out that healing.
As Easter was approaching this year, I’ve been contemplating the magnitude of Jesus sacrifice anew. It is almost impossible not to sanitize the crucifixion narrative, because the reality of it is so horrific. Even the sanitized version is hard to contemplate. Jesus was a real person, who suffered real pain, who felt real fear and real stress over the torture he suffered. And he did it for me. That’s the part that wrecks me every year. He did it for me. The thought of anyone suffering for any reason is hard for my heart to bear, but the reality that he suffered his torment out of love for me brings me to tears.
The verse that I’ve been dwelling on during this Lenten season (like the Easter version of advent at Christmas, Lent is when we prepare for Easter) is a phrase from Isaiah 64: “All our righteousness is as filthy rags.” Earlier this spring, God convicted my heart of pride and a sinful desire for my own fame. This verse reminds me that even on my very best day, I am not enough to earn true righteousness on my own. All of the good things that I do are just like filthy rags compared to the surpassing righteousness and perfection of my Savior Jesus Christ.
This week I completed my deep clean of my kitchen rags. About every three months I soak them in a super-duper laundry detergent so that all the deeply absorbed gross dirty mess can come out of them. What appears in the water after this soak is pretty gross. This is such a great visual for what I’m talking about.
My righteousness = these filthy rags. Gross. There is no room for pride here.
When I realize the depths of my own sinfulness and my complete and utter inability to ever be good enough on my own, my heart is overwhelmed with thanks that Jesus did indeed pay it all for me. And through my faith in him, I can be clothed in his righteousness. Paul writes about this in Philippians 3. He presents his amazing pedigree and spotless record when it comes to the law. But in the end, he realizes none of that counts compared to the righteousness Christ offers us.
He says, “8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith inChrist—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.”
This is what I celebrate this Easter. Even though I am a lost and hopeless sinner, I can have a righteousness that is not of my own that comes from being perfect, but I can have a righteousness through faith in Christ Jesus. His astonishing sacrifice makes that possible. It hurts my heart to think of all that he suffered for me, so that I could receive his righteousness as a free gift. And all I can really give him as thanks is myself. My life lived for him, for his glory.
Whether you don’t know Jesus at all, or you’ve been walking with him for years, remember this Easter that he’s not asking for your righteous acts. He’s not asking for your perfection. He just wants you. Your salvation is free, unearned and paid in full because of his loving sacrifice.
This winter held some very busy weeks and weekends for my family. I am a staunch protector of our time for margin and rest. But there are seasons where the schedule gets away from me, and we find ourselves over-committed. In these seasons, life begins to feel like running on a hamster wheel. I’m doing all the things, and I’m getting really tired, but I’m not actually going anywhere. And the more I spin, the less productive I become. But the list never gets shorter, so I just keep on spinning, trying to catch up. Am I the only one who feels this way about life?
Surely there must be a better way.
After a couple of months on the hamster wheel, I said to myself, “Enough is enough.” I am taking a day off.
How could you possibly do that? How could you step away from your to-do list knowing that with each passing day, hour, moment, it only grows longer and longer? Taking a day off means a day for all of the things to continue accumulating into an even larger pile for tomorrow. How can taking a day off be the remedy for the hamster wheel when it just makes more work for the next day?
I know, I know.
But here’s the thing. If we only rest when the work is done, we will never rest. Because the work is never done. God doesn’t tell us that we must first earn our rest by completing our to-do list, or by working 40 hours, or 60, or whatever insane amount of hours you’re working. He doesn’t mandate that our homes be spotless before we take a break. He doesn’t require all our projects to be wrapped up first. No, by example, God mandated rest, for an entire day, and he commanded it for us as well. Why? He certainly didn’t need the rest… He’s God! But, WE do desperately NEED rest in our lives. Resting is a good practice, regardless of where we are at in our massive to-do lists!
So I took my day off. To-do list, be quiet. Mess, you can wait. Work, I will get to you tomorrow. What a wild idea, you guys!
But guess what happened when I obeyed God’s mandate to rest? He provided.
I had no way of knowing what the next day was going to hold when I threw caution to the wind that Monday and took the day off. Tuesday should have held plenty of things. But, God gave me a surprise snow day. Wait, what? Your kids were home, adding to your chaos and this was somehow provision? Yes, in fact, it was. Because it meant that the hours I spend providing the mom taxi services were suspended for the day, and it meant that the two older children were home to entertain the preschooler, and it meant that I could DIVE IN, refreshed from my day off, with no interruptions, drop offs, lunches to pack, etc, and tackle my massive list. And it was an incredibly productive day. Because I chose the rest that God knew I so badly needed, he provided a way for me to accomplish all that I needed to do.
How often do you rest? Do you have a day off? Or is every minute of every weekday filled with activity? Is every weekend booked up from now until eternity? Do you ever have days where you just leave the schedule open so you can do nothing? If you haven’t tried this, you need to. I know that some people out there just “love to be busy.” That’s so great, for you. But here’s the thing, just because we love something, that doesn’t make it good for us in boundless amounts. Case in point, I love ice cream. But if I consume boundless amounts of it because I love it, I will have major problems in my body. You may love to be busy, but the reality is, your body was created to have one day out of seven that is just for rest. Period.
When I take a step back and look at the typical schedule for most American families, I am, to be totally transparent, filled with horror. I would never ever want to be that busy! Now, don’t get me wrong, I am an incredibly productive person. I love to get things done, and I really do get a lot done. I am not a “sitting around all day” type of person! I have my mother to thank for this. She passed the gene to me. We are high-output, productive people. But we are not burned out, usually. Because we do protect our margin. We do make time for rest. We do say NO to things that overcrowd our family schedule. We limit our children to one activity at a time (such as a sport, club, team, group), and they are not allowed to begin an activity until they are in first grade, and fully adjusted to going to school full-time. Call me crazy. That’s fine. But I refuse to have my children’s lives overcrowded by too many sports practices and activities AND HAVE THEM THINK THAT THIS LIFESTYLE IS NORMAL. We need time for family. We need time to rest. We need time to take care of ourselves. We need time for church. And we need all of these things REGULARLY, not as the exception once every couple of months.
I hate when I get into a hamster wheel cycle of life. But I love that God offers us a remedy when we get to feeling so drained and manic in our activity. He gives us the gift of rest. We need it, our children need it, and quite frankly, our world needs it.
Here are a couple of my favorite verses about rest:
Psalm 127:1-2 “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.”
Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Isaiah 30:15 “For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
Hebrews 4:9-11 “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.”
I know that for some of you reading this, what I’m talking about feels impossible. Your hamster wheel is whipping along at about 90MPH. If you try to get off, you’re likely to break a leg in the fall. I understand that for some, this busyness thing is really out of hand. But this is not unattainable for you. Start small. Here are some practical ideas for you:
Make one night a week a family night, where you eat together and no one does an activity, goes out, has a friend over, etc. (Contrary to their belief – kids won’t actually die if they have to miss an activity!)
Schedule your rest wherever you keep your calendar (paper or electronic) so that when you are tempted to schedule something in that “empty” hour or day, you’ll remember that you’re scheduling a break for yourself and your family.
Leave one weekend a month open, unscheduled. Or if that feels too dramatic, try for one of the weekend days. And make it Sunday so you can go to CHURCH!
Remember that rest doesn’t equate with: sleeping in (not possible in homes with small children), or doing something totally mindless such as scrolling on your phone or bingeing on Netflix. Real rest is something that restores your soul. For me this is making time to write, or read, to pray, or worship with music, or to be outside in nature in some way, to play with my children, or sit and enjoy their presence, or even to do an organizing or decorating project. These are things that restore me. Restoration is always the goal of rest. By all means, take a nap if you need to, but do things that are good for your soul too!
One step at a time, we can reclaim our lives from the busyness that has totally overtaken them. Are you ready to rest? You’re going to love it! It’s so great!
A few weeks ago, I was highly focused on my exercise routine on our rowing machine when my five-year-old daughter came bursting into the room. She hopped up on the spare bed in the guest room and said, “Mom! Look what I can do!” These words always bring a certain feeling for parents. We hear them a lot. Kids love to invent moves or master talents that they can show off to win their parents attention and praise. So sometimes, the feeling parents get when we hear these words is a bit of an eye roll feeling. But sometimes, these words garner excitement for me as a parent. Because my kids do some weird things. They make me laugh. And I love to give them that verbal praise and affirmation.
But in this particular instance, I was so focused on my exercising. I’m new on the rowing machine, and I still need to really focus to make sure my stroke is correct. As it turns out, you can, in fact, row incorrectly, even though it seems fairly straightforward. You can also row in a way that doesn’t engage your core as much. As I am learning the skill, my focus on my body position is intense. So, I gave my daughter a sideways glance and said, “Okay.” And then I continued to focus on my stroke.
Hannah began to show me her new move, but she quickly realized I wasn’t actually looking at her. She said, “No, Mom. Put your eyes fully on me.”
It just so happened that I had the song, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” on the brain that day, and so her words really struck me on a different level.
Hannah wanted my eyes fully on her moves so she knew I was giving her my full attention and focus. She didn’t want to be in my peripheral vision. Guess what? Jesus doesn’t want to be in our peripheral vision any more than my five-year-old wants to be in mine. He wants the focus of our lives to be completely on him. He’s not off to the side, where we glance occasionally, say for 5-15 minutes a day when we pray or read a devotion. No, he wants to be front and center throughout our whole day, our whole life.
Who is leading as you go throughout your day? Are you following Jesus? Or are you leading yourself? If you are on a journey and following someone, it’s best to keep your eyes on them, otherwise, you might lose your way. Jesus is our guide through this life, but in order to follow him well, we have to fix our eyes and our focus fully on him. We can’t allow life’s distractions to lead us astray. Oftentimes, these are very good things that we shift our vision towards – I want to make sure my kids have a good childhood, OR, I want to attain financial security, OR, I want to focus on getting healthy. Some distractions are disguised as very good things. But they are still distractions if Jesus is not at the center of your gaze.
Hebrews 12:1-3 says this: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
What entanglements do you need to cast aside today? Is there sin you need to deal with, like this Scripture passage mentions? Or have you just turned your eyes onto a very “good” distraction of some sort? What is taking the place of Jesus’ leadership in your life? Who or what is guiding you? Place him at the center today and trust him to lead you. He blazed the trail for you, and he’s a good guide. But the guide of your life shouldn’t be living in your peripheral vision. Where is your life’s focus? Is it on your kids? Yourself? Your finances or career? Bring Jesus back to the center, turn your eyes fully on him. There’s no better guide to help you navigate life’s path.
We’ve all heard it said before that pain is actually a gift, because it alerts us to the reality that something is wrong in our bodies. I have been a long time struggler with back pain. When we are in our 20s, we sometimes do stupid things. These things can hurt our bodies for so many years to come. If only we realized that when we were 20something…. My back problems began one snowy winter’s day when I was in grad school and living with three girlfriends. Two of those girlfriends were not in grad school, but were workin’ ladies, and they had to go to work despite the snow. (It was indeed so much snow that college classes were canceled, if that tells you anything.) Being a dutiful friend and roommate, I purposed myself to help the gals get their cars cleaned off and on the road. But four ladies living on their own for the first time don’t happen to own a lot of snow removal equipment. So we turned to the only things we had: cleaning tools. 20 something Catherine thought that shoveling snow out from around the cars with a dustpan was a good idea. Stupid. So that is where my back problems began. Ever since then, I’ve had issues with my hips rotating. As I approach 40, my body just doesn’t want to cooperate, more and more. It’s really frustrating to live with back pain. It prevents me from doing the things I want to do with my kids…. It keeps me awake at night…. It interferes with my gardening…. THE NERVE.
This fall my chiro took some new x-rays because my pain just wasn’t improving. She showed them to me, and even with my untrained eye that has no medical background whatsoever, I let out a low gasp and said, “Oh my!” My hip was horribly rotated. No wonder I was having so much pain! The pain was an indicator to me that something wasn’t right. So my doctor began treating my hip with this new knowledge in view. She told me in no uncertain terms the things that I was not to do which would put undue strain on my hip and cause rotation. For months I was vigilant about these no-no’s. I was SO careful. I continued my exercises and stretches, and I stayed away from the restricted postures, movements, etc. And my hip got better! It was amazing to be pain free!
But as the months passed, I got lax. I didn’t stop exercising or stretching, but I ventured into some of the no-no positions, like crossing my legs while seated, or getting down onto the floor to play with the kids in certain positions. I cocked my hip as I was making my shopping list. I lifted with my back, not my legs. I wasn’t vigilant any longer because there wasn’t any pain. You probably aren’t surprised to hear that the pain came back.
Isn’t this just like my walk of faith? I am a faithful Bible-reader, morning and night. I pray. I listen to worship music. I attend church and Bible study. But sometimes, I also venture into postures that God says I should not take. Sometimes I grow lax against wrong behaviors. I notice that this is especially true when I am not walking through something painful or difficult. Just like I grew lax when my back pain went away, it’s in the good, easy times that my faith can become lax, that my posture can slouch before the God of the universe.
The painful times emotionally and spiritually often serve as an intense motivator for me, spurring me on towards growth in Christ. So I’m thankful for those hard times, for the pain, because it keeps me vigilant. It keeps me careful to avoid wrong things. It keeps me moving in the right direction, rather than the wrong ones. Pain motivates growth.
James 1 speaks to this: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (vv 2-4).
I have been noticing in myself lately that I’m not terribly good at “considering it pure joy whenever I face trials of many kinds.” But when I take a step back and consider the issue of physical pain in my life, I know that I should be grateful for the trials in my life, because they keep me from becoming lax. As the text says, they do produce perseverance in my faith. They do make me mature. The trials I experience are to my benefit if I face them with joy and perseverance. When I meet a painful trial, the choice is up to me:
Will I face it with joy and faith? Or will I grow frustrated and anxious?
Will I persevere? Or will I give up and give in to defeat?
Will I allow it to produce growth and maturity? Or will I become angry and bitter instead?
Just like the pain in my back spurs me on towards physical growth and healing, I want the trials of my life to spur me on towards spiritual growth and maturity. I want them to make me better, not bitter.
Is there a trail in your life that you need to view with new eyes today? Ask the Lord to show you how it can be to your benefit and do your best to embrace it with joy. Even behind hard gifts, the heart of the Giver is good and is always for you.
I guess God really has some things to say to me about my words lately. I shared recently about what God showed me when I caught one of my kids moving her messes instead of cleaning them up like she was supposed to. God convicted me that I was guilty of moving my messes with my words when I spread negative talk about situations, or when I vented too much about others instead of going directly to them with my offense. Shortly after this thought-provoking clean up session, I had an experience where someone showered me with the kindest words. It was the icing on the cake to this lesson. I know what negative words can do – I’ve experienced that so many times. But the generosity of this stranger’s words really showed me the impact of being so generous with kind words.
Hannah and I were recently out shopping in Home Goods. We had some time and some gift cards to squander. We were looking at all the pretty things. Feeling all the soft blankets. Wandering to our hearts’ content.
In the kitchen organization aisle (one of the BEST aisles in the store!!!) we happened upon a kind older woman with her little dog. We exchanged a bit of small talk about the dog and the store. And then she proceeded to ask me if I was Hannah’s mom or sister. I chuckled and told her I was mom, and I appreciated her kindness so much because my 40th birthday was fast approaching. She was dumbfounded! Truly flabbergasted. She gushed on about how I “couldn’t possibly be….” I looked “far too young to be…” Now, she was a complete stranger to me, so maybe her eyesight wasn’t the best?! But I will never know! All I will know and what I will remember forever, was how kind she was to me, how generous, how lavish her words were. And she was a complete stranger.
There are many wonderful friends and family members in my life who are generous with their kind words towards me. I know the balm that the words of a friend can be. But I have rarely been so positively impacted by a stranger’s words. Until this experience, I never considered the potential of my impact as a stranger to someone else. What I realized through this encounter is that every person I cross paths with, stranger or not, is an opportunity. There are three choices on the path: I can say nothing, leave no impact. I can be rude, and leave a negative impact, or I can be lavish and generous with kind words. That stranger in Home Goods left me feeling like I was walking in the clouds that day. To think, I could have that kind of impact in another complete stranger’s day, if I took the time. I’m often in a rush when I’m out and about, or working, or just doing the daily grind. What if I slowed down enough to really see people? What if I was generous with kind words, intentional about lavishing them on others?
Proverbs 16:24 says, “Kind words are like honey— sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.” I certainly learned how true this verse is on that day in Home Goods.
Both of these lessons on my words – the messes of negative words, and the power of kind words – are also reflected in a well-known Proverb. Proverbs 18:21 says, “The tongue can bring life or death.”
Every word is an opportunity. If only we were more careful when choosing what to say! What would your world be like if you considered your words each time you opened your mouth, if you filtered them through these two verses:
Are these words bringing life, or death?
Will these words be sweet to the soul of the listener?
Because of this experience, I want to slow down, to see people, to be intentional, and to see the opportunities to lavish kind words on another, to choose words that bring life and sweetness to someone else’s soul.
It costs you nothing to be generous with your words. And you never know the impact you may have on some nearly-40-year-old’s day!
We have a nightly routine around my house to help stay on top of the kids’ mess. About 15 minutes before their bedtime routine begins, play ends and clean-up begins. Anything that’s left out after the clean-up session ends and the bedtime routine begins, Mom picks up and takes possession of for the next 24 hours. So if the kids want to keep their toys, they’ve got to clean them up off the playroom floor. Otherwise, they’re mine.
This has been a fairly effective policy for managing the messes around my house. However, the littlest cleaner found a loophole last week. After our clean up session had ended, we moved to the bedrooms to start getting ready for bed. And what did I discover when I entered the girls’ bedroom? The floor was covered with items that had formerly been littering the playroom floor. Hannah had not actually been putting her toys away; she had just been moving the mess.
“Hannah,” I said, “moving the mess is not the same as taking care of the mess. You’ve only created more problems for yourself now, because the stuffed animals that you want for bed are not in your bed, but still all packed up in this backpack. And clean up time is over. Now we’re getting ready for bed, and you won’t have the things you need for bed.”
A resigned answer followed, “Sorry Mom.”
Yes, it was a quick fix to unpack the stuffies from the bag that she needed for bed. But a spiritual lesson hit me as we talked about moving the mess. Something I have struggled with in the past is spending too much time venting my frustrations or spreading outright negative talk when I’m upset. If you think about it, this is just like moving the mess. I’m upset about something, but instead of actually taking care of the mess, I’m just offloading it onto other people. There are certainly times where it is appropriate to discuss a problem or emotion with a close trusted friend. I have a few of those friends in my pocket, and they are more valuable than gold to me.
But what I’m talking about here is the times we unnecessarily bring negativity into an environment by being overly negative about something or someone. For example, on a recent Sunday, I was frustrated about some issues we were having with a volunteer shortage. I was venting my frustrations to a coworker when another dear volunteer greeted me. He immediately sensed my frustrations and asked me about it. I tried to grin and downplay it, but the damage was done. I had allowed my negativity, my mess, to move into two other lives, instead of simply releasing it to the Lord and trusting that he was going to take care of my volunteer situation (which he 100% did!). I had lost an opportunity to have a positive conversation with my volunteer, and I moved my mess into his space.
In other instances, we may be upset with a specific person, but instead of going to that person, we go to someone else. We move the mess of hurt or frustration from our own hearts to someone totally outside the situation. As a verbal processor, I understand that this is sometimes helpful in working through my thoughts and emotions. But the words I choose to speak into existence about others have power. And they have the power to build someone else’s perception of that person, too. Wouldn’t it be better to do my verbal processing with God, and then go directly to the person who hurt me or upset me? Otherwise, I’m not really taking care of the mess, I’m just moving it. Case in point, my kids come to me ALL. THE. TIME. when they are upset with another sibling. They want me to handle the mess. Now that my kids are 11, 8, and 5, there are a lot of messes that they can handle for themselves. They know what to do when someone hurts their feelings, or physically accosts them, or won’t share! So when they come complaining to me, I’ve started to send them directly to the person who offended them. I listen and decide for myself if they can appropriately handle the dispute, and usually they can. I’m not the one who needs to know about their hurt feelings – the one who hurt them is! How many times have I been guilty of moving my mess in the same way? Instead of going to the person who upset me, I unload on someone else. The mess isn’t taken care of because the person who upset me never even knows about it to be given the chance to fix it. Then the hurt stays in my heart and the relationship is damaged. There’s no advantage to moving messes in these situations.
Ephesians 4:29 is a verse I memorized a long time ago to help deal with this wild mouth of mine. It says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
What if we all did this? What if we did our verbal processing with God and then went directly to the person who offended us so that our relationship could be strengthened through forgiveness and grace and open communication? And what if, when circumstances disappoint us, we take those feelings to God, and speak positively, with faith, about the situation even when it doesn’t look good? Think of how uplifting our conversations would be if we quit verbally dumping all the time and instead tried to meet the checklist in Ephesians 4:29!
Helpful for building others up.
Focusing on others’ needs.
Benefitting anyone who is listening.
This is a hard list for me. But I know it’s good. If all believers put this into practice, our world would be a very different place!
Are you guilty of moving messes too? Is there a mess you can take care of today? Seek the Lord for an opportunity to clean up your messes today so they don’t cause more problems down the road.
I recently had the privilege of bringing an advent message on living hope to our church family. The need for hope extends beyond the walls of my church, so I am sharing bits and pieces of it here on my blog as well. I pray that this Christmas you find a living hope that changes the way you live your life. It is found in Jesus. I know because I have it, through him.
What is hope? As I went to different definitions of the word, I came away with three components that I think are vital for real living hope: expectation, trust, and confidence.
As I was preparing this message, I contemplated those three-ingredient recipes that are so popular right now. For instance, sugar, peanut butter, and eggs. Combine those together and you’ve got a tasty peanut butter cookie. But if you minus one of the ingredients, then you won’t have the right product. I think our recipe for hope is similar. To live with hope that is real, deep, meaningful, impactful, you need all three – expectation, trust, and confidence.
I like this three-ingredient definition of hope because it conveys something deeper than, “I hope it doesn’t rain today,” or, “I hope we aren’t getting sick.” These are like statements of wish, chance, or luck. Real hope is not built on wish, chance, or luck. Real hope is built on confident expectation, rooted in trust. Living hope changes our mindset and changes the way we live. Real hope makes an old man and an old woman in Luke 2 keep showing up day after day at the temple: because they actually EXPECT that day to be THE DAY. They are confident in the ability of God to fulfill the promise he made to them, and they trust his character to fulfill it, too. It has been 400 years since the promise of a Messiah was last offered, and yet here they are living like the promise is coming true each and every day.
Simeon, verse 25 says, was “waiting for the consolation of Israel,” which is the Messiah. And verse 26 continues, “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” You don’t wait on something unless you believe it’s coming. I’m not going to stand in my driveway day after day and wait for a brand new camper to be delivered — because I haven’t purchased one or been promised one. I don’t believe one is going to show up. We have to expect that something is coming to spend our precious lives waiting on it! And this is one Simeon does.
He is living each day as if this promise is 100% true. This is hope. Living with expectation, trust and confidence that the promises God has made to us are 100% true. For Simeon it has to go beyond wishful thinking, because it’s affecting the way he lives his life. When we have living hope, it changes the way we live. We show up, every day, expecting good things, full of confidence and trust in what God is doing.
When Simeon and Anna saw Jesus, they knew he was their living hope – their promise fulfilled. Jesus is still our living hope today.Are you living like it?
Are you showing up each day like Simeon and Anna expecting the promises of God to be true in your life?
Are you living like you’ve been set free, like there’s no condemnation?
Are you living like every chain has been broken?
Are you living like you are loved?
Every circumstance you experience can be lived with living hope. When your eyes have seen your Messiah, you can EXPECT good.
Simeon and Anna lived each day in full hope, confident, expectant trust, on God’s promise to them that a Messiah was coming. What promise of God do you need to bring into view today? His Word is full of TRUE promises for you and for me. But do we live like it? I’ll share a personal example of how hope has changed my outlook on my circumstances.
Most of you know that my family has been going through a difficult time as my mom battles breast cancer for the second time in her life. This summer as her diagnosis came, and the news kept coming up worse and then worse still, despair would often creep in on me. I lost my dad in 2020, so my mom is all I have left, and on top of that, she is notably my best friend. My prayers were often filled with desperation: “Lord, I can’t lose my mom!” Whether you can identify with my situation personally or not, I am sure that there has been a time in your life when you’ve prayed a prayer of desperation. Your soul feels despair, not hope.
What God helped me to see was that when we are in the middle of these storms and we need to regain our hope, we can look up, we can look beyond our circumstances. Psalm 121 says, “I lift my eyes up to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Also consider: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor 4:18)
Look beyond your circumstances.
Look beyond your feelings.
Look to what is true.
What living hope looked like for me was God changing my desperate prayer of “I can’t lose my mom,” to a prayer of confident expectation: “I can’t lose my mom… she’s mine for eternity.” God’s word tells me this is true. There are countless scriptures that I can place my hope in.
John 10:28-29 “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”
if I believe these verses to be true, then I have HOPE no matter what the outcome is for my mom’s illness.
There is confidence for me in these verses, there is expectation, and there is trust. I am confident that God is ABLE. He is able to heal her here on earth, or in heaven. I trust that his character is good, and he will only do what is best for my family. I fully expect him to fulfill his promise that my mom is redeemed, chosen, loved, protected, etc etc. Do you see how this changes my outlook? Hope moved me from desperation to confidence, expectation, and trust.
How do you get there though? Maybe you have a desperate situation running through your head right now, and you’d really love to move from despair to living hope. How? I really want this message to be actionable for you.
I encourage you to recognize that hope is rooted in what is true. If your thoughts are dwelling in worry, fear, doubts, and lies, then you are not setting your mind on things above, as Colossians 3:2 instructs. Hope is a mindset that is built on things that are true about God. And just like with Simeon and Anna, when we have living hope, it changes the way we live, even if our circumstances haven’t changed. So whatever situation you find yourself needing hope, I encourage you to choose a truth about God that you feel speaks to your situation. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you to the right verse. Set your mind on that truth, rather than on the lies and worries crowding your mind. Memorize it, post it where you can see it, say it over and over again.
Allow the Holy Spirit to give you eyes see that God’s promise is true for you. He can turn your prayer of desperation to a prayer of confidence. From, “I can’t mess this up again” (desperate) to “I can’t mess this up because my God is in control.” From, “I can’t fix this person” (desperate) to “I can’t fix this person, and it’s not my job to fix them.” From “I’m never going to overcome this sin” to “there is no condemnation and I am more than a conqueror.” We serve a limitless God! A limitless God! There’s no need for desperate “I can’ts” in your life. Hope is available to you today.
Hope is available to you today because 2000 years ago this promise was fulfilled when a little baby was born. Our Messiah. This Christmas the words of his angels to the shepherds are his words to you: “Fear not! For behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)
Because your Messiah has come:
Your broken heart can be mended.
You are given freedom from captivity.
Your prison doors have been opened. Are you going to walk through?
And to those who are mourning this Christmas, your Messiah promises comfort.
You are not defeated.
You don’t have to live in fear and anxiety.
You are set free and not condemned.
Your chains are broken forever, sin has no hold on you.
You are adopted and chosen as part of God’s family. No one can snatch you from his hand.
Early this year I was caught driving in a rainstorm. I had a premonition, if such things exist, that it would be a doozy as the clouds rolled in. I’ve only seen clouds like that a few times in my nearly 40 years. (YIKES!)Why, you ask, did I go out if I knew a bad storm was on the way? It was time to pick my children up from school. And I thought I could beat it. Foolishness. I’ve driven for over 20 years, in a lot of bad weather. I mean, I live in Ohio! I got my learner’s permit (as it was called back in the day) in the middle of January and drove in snow in my first few weeks behind the wheel. Whatever was coming in that storm, I knew I could handle it. HA!
Never before have I experienced a torrential rain so heavy that it was literally blinding. As it first started to pour, I thought I should decrease my vehicle speed so as to see better and increase my wiper speed to move the water faster. Well, I did that, and it didn’t help much. So I slowed down even more. Now, keep in mind, this is a road I drive multiple times a day every day on the Mom Taxi service route. I know it WELL. You know the kind that you can drive in your sleep because it’s so familiar. But this day, the blinding rain was just that, blinding. I had literally no idea where I was on the road. I was waiting for a funnel cloud to descend at any moment and suck my van to the sky. I was shaking and terrified.
While I couldn’t see the road in front of me, I knew that to stop in the road would be equally dangerous, because anyone coming down the road behind me would not be able to see my white van. So I crept forward what felt like an inch at a time, looking for a place to pull off. Ahead loomed a shadow. Was it a barn or a tornado? I wasn’t sure, but I took a chance and pulled off, feeling certain I was driving straight into the ditch. Thank the Lord it was a driveway. I pulled closer to the shadow, a barn (not tornado!), and found the cover of some trees.
And I waited.
As the storm subsided and my shaking began to settle, I called my husband to let him know I was alright and to get back on the road. (And he told me about the baseball sized hail that had been falling at our house!) What an experience!
When I drive the road to school now, months after this experience, I can still remember it so clearly, and I still notice the barn that led me to the safety of a driveway in the blinding rain. But what struck me about this whole experience was the lesson on waiting. Sometimes, try as we may, we cannot see the way forward in life. We have the premonition that a bad storm of life is rolling our way, and before long, we can’t see straight through all the turmoil of that storm. Perhaps our circumstances are confusing, our emotions are blinding us, the choices are immobilizing.
As we considered cancer treatment options with my mom this summer, many of those factors – circumstances, emotions, choices – left us struggling to see the way forward. I loved my mom’s posture of faith: “I will wait until God shows me what to do. He has always been faithful. I know he will show me. Until then, I will wait.” Her faith has been an example to me, and because of her example I feel more confident when I choose to wait on the Lord instead of rushing ahead because I like action and forward movement.
Sometimes waiting out the storm of life – circumstances and emotions – is truly our best option. We can trust that God is still leading us even when we feel like we are blinded to the way forward. If we can’t see the next move (or the next inch of the road!) then perhaps the best choice is to simply wait, wait until he illuminates our next steps. Find a place of refuge, and simply wait on him.
For those of us who like action and forward motion, this can be difficult. But Scripture has many references to waiting on the Lord.
Psalm 27:14 says: “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”
Lamentations 3:25 says: “The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.”
Psalm 130: 5-6 says: “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.”
Exodus 14:14 says: “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
Isaiah 64:4 says: “From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him.”
If you find yourself blinded to the way forward right now, take some time to wait on the Lord and trust that he will show you the way forward. He always has before. And when you feel his direction, step out in confidence and faith, knowing that you’re not leading from your own will, but you’re following the One on whom you waited patiently. And all these things said about Him in these verses above will be true in your circumstances: The Lord will be good to you. The Lord will fight for you. The Lord will act on your behalf. His Word will bring you hope. Your heart will find courage. It’s ok to wait until you hear from him.
Two of my least favorite words in the English language are “I can’t.”
Of course it is disappointing to hear these words when you’re asking someone if they can get together with you or help you with something. But what I’m talking more about is when they are spoken in a self-limiting way. My kids say this all the time when they are facing something difficult. “I can’t understand this math homework.” Or “I can’t fix this toy” or “I can’t complete this chore.” As we grow older, the challenges become more difficult: “I can’t work out the solution to this parenting problem.” “I can’t improve my health.” “I can’t make this marriage work.” “I can’t find a job.” “I can’t lose this weight.” This list goes on and on. But I wish we would strike those words from our vocabulary.
As believers in Jesus, we serve a limitless God. With him, there literally is not “can’t.” So why do we limit ourselves or focus on our deficiencies or our lack when we are invited to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in us? Yes, some things are really difficult. But when we confess “I can’t” in a self-limiting way we are usually selling ourselves short.
Years ago I volunteered at a wonderful Christian camp called Cross Training Camp. Some of my favorite relationships were born there, and certainly my love of children’s ministry. On this campground, there was an obstacle course. It was somewhat infamous I think among the younger campers who were new to the program. The Obstacle Course. Dun-dun-dun! It had some challenges for sure, like a giant cargo net some 15 feet tall that had to be climbed, a zip line which crossed a creek from one steep bank to another, and of course, the WALL. The whole course concluded with a 10 foot wall that had to be climbed, but there were no handholds.
Often my role at camp was not as a squad leader but as a leader who supported the squad leaders and their squads. So when my squad leaders were first running the course with their groups, I’d head down with them to help support them through the obstacles. I’ll never forget one camper, 8 years old, Ashley. First year camper. She was totally overwhelmed by the obstacles. And so I took her for a walk. I really had no idea how to talk her through her fears. But I believe God spoke up when I asked her to not focus on “I can’t.” Rather, to spend the week seeing what might be possible for her, to focus instead on what “I can” do. It was like her brain flipped a switch mentally when she started to wonder what she was capable of instead of limiting herself. And of course by the end of the week, so was conquering those obstacles with the best of them. I’m quite sure I had tears in my eyes when Ashley popped over the wall. It was a beautiful moment.
I saw a lot of campers over the years do things that they never thought were possible when they started their week at CTC. Those years formed a valuable mindset for me to never limit myself as I met challenges, to persevere and to never give up. This mindset has been so important as I’ve faced the difficulties of special needs parenting, among the other challenges that adult life has brought my way. Let’s not focus on what we can’t do. Let’s just explore what we can do and see what happens.
Our mindset is vitally important in the way we tackle life’s obstacles. Are we focused on what we lack? On our limitations? Or are we focused on what we may be able to do if we try? When I get tempted to fall into “I can’t” thinking, I remind myself of the words in Romans 8:11 “The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you.” Yes, we are still limited by time, space, and our human bodies, but we don’t need to place limitations on ourselves when we’re up against an obstacle in life, because the Spirit of God, who raised Jesus to life, lives. in. us. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Paul asks later in the same chapter of Romans (v 31). When we are walking in the good works he prepared in advance for us to do (Eph 2:10), then we don’t need to think, I can’t make time for that, I can’t do that, I can’t start that, I can’t lead that, I can’t parent through that, I can’t overcome that. 2 Peter 1:3 tells us “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” Everything we need. It’s right there.
[Caveat: This is not a post against boundaries. I have firm boundaries in my life to protect my rest, my peace, and my sanity. This is not a “say yes to everything” post. Our human limitations are real, and we need to obey God’s mandate that we take time for rest in our lives. We say yes only to what He is asking us to do, the best yes. It’s ok to say no to things that are outside the scope of what he has called us to. It’s ok to say no when our lives and bodies need a break. I am all about boundaries and rest.]
What I am encouraging you to do is to avoid limiting yourself when you face a challenge. Maybe on your own you can’t, but you never know what you might be able to accomplish if you try with God’s help and his limitless power behind you. The next time you find yourself up against a wall in life, remember that God’s limitless Spirit lives in you, and you are equipped to accomplish all that he has called you to in Christ Jesus.