Tireless Moments Of Grace

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I was recently struck with an illness that left me in unrelenting and excruciating pain for a period of days. I’d never experienced anything like it. Among the worst symptoms was nine and ten level pain that shot through my ear like a knife.

Through this experience, God has given me tireless moments of grace that have equipped me and have demonstrated how tenderly and completely He loves me.  Allow me to share them with you!

“Come and hear, all who fear God, and I will tell of what He has done for my soul.” ~Psalm 66:16

JESUS MAKES THE DARKNESS TREMBLE

He reminded me that SONGS ARE WEAPONS!

One night when relentless pain came crashing in, the song “Tremble” by Mosaic MSC came to my mind.  About 10 seconds later, my husband said, “Honey, do you want to listen to praise music?”

So we listened. “Still. Call the sea to still. The rage in me to still. Every wave at your name.”

Every wave. Every symptom, every pain, every potential lingering effect.

As the truth in those lyrics sank into my heart, a quietness, an assuredness, entered the room. My fears faded and the pain subsided for a time.

I was reminded that JESUS REALLY DOES MAKE THE DARKNESS TREMBLE - that truth transcends any sickness or circumstance we may endure even as we’re enduring it. That’s why we can anchor ourselves in it in dark and uncertain times.

I have carried these words with me throughout this experience and have found comfort and promise that only Jesus can give.

A DECLARATION THAT DEFIES CIRCUMSTANCE

As a songwriter and worship leader, you can imagine that my hearing is important to me. So when this illness caused diminished hearing in my right ear, God brought yet another song to my heart, another weapon to wield… I’d recently written a song with my dear friend Haylie Allcott, called, “Forever And Ever,” taken from Psalm 145.

“I will exalt You, O God, my King. And I will bless Your name forever and ever.”

I sang it over and over, a declaration that no matter what circumstance I face, I will exalt my God forever and ever! In this earthly life and for all of eternity through Christ my Savior.

I need not fear.

HE WATCHES OVER US

During the most intense times of pain, my husband would simply sit beside me and watch me. Silently. Intently. Ready to meet any need I had at any moment.

During one of these times, I looked at him and was impressed that this is exactly what God is doing for me all the time.

We know this, right? We know God is always watching over us and caring for us. But in that moment of grace, God gave me a visual I could liken it to.  It made the truth of God’s watchfulness tangible to me.

You see, from that moment on, I was able to lay down, close my eyes and picture God watching over me intently. With undivided attention, ready to meet any need I had. It took all the worry away. I could feel my whole body sink peacefully down into rest. I knew He had everything under control. I knew He was watching me.

TIME TO SHIFT MY FOCUS

Then the day came. I woke up with renewed energy, not fully recovered, but better. I started out the day in Scriptures about how He is with me and to not fear.

He stopped me.

You see, I already knew He was with me and I wasn’t afraid. I already knew and saw daily evidence that He was healing me. He instructed me to stop focusing on getting something I already knew I had, and focus on ministry, guided by this Scripture:

“My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples.” ~ John 15:8

It was a mind-set shift. I knew to have wisdom to continue resting so I could continue to heal. But I also knew to move on from it, trust Him, and focus on serving Him.

TIRELESS MOMENTS OF GRACE

I am grateful. Grateful for the moments of grace that He has shown me, that I carry with me and anchor my faith in. Thankful that this illness wasn’t worse than it was. Thankful for good doctors and medicine. For a comfortable home to recover in. That I have a husband who has cared for my needs inexhaustibly. That I have faithful friends who have demonstrated the power of prayer.

That I serve a God who loves me tenderly and completely.

To God be the glory, Forever and ever!

Mile Markers Of His Faithfulness, Part 2

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It was such a simple idea. I'm still amazed at how profound the impact has been on my walk with Christ.

As each year comes to a close, I ask the Lord what He wants me to focus on in the coming year. Although the topics He’s given me have varied quite a bit, I’ve found two things to be true, no matter what it is.

First, it’s always relevant.

I can always apply it to my life in practical ways. (See Part 1 )

Second, it always fits.

It always fits in with what has come before and what He has planned to come.

The benefit of doing this over a period of years is the hindsight it provides…I can see mile markers of His faithfulness as I look back. And I can often see how things fit together.

I remember one year, He had me hone in on learning how to better control my thoughts and manage my emotions.

The following year He had me focus on relationships and leadership.

Did you know that...

the health of your relationships and the strength of your leadership

are limited by

how disciplined your thought-life is and how well you manage your emotions?

Makes sense, right? But He knew to give me these topics of study and application in the right order.

He wants to take you on a journey. He wants to build on to what He’s done in the past in order to prepare you for the ‘here and now’ as well as for what’s ahead.

Can He do that without asking Him each year what your focus area should be? Certainly. Philippians 2:12 says to, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.

Each of us is responsible for our own walk with Christ and what that looks like. And what works for some may not work for others. You may have a different way of staying pressed into God than what I’ve described here.

What we do know is this…

No one can walk with Christ for us. No teacher. No pastor. No mentor. Not our spouse nor our parent.

It’s quite something to see how the Amplified describes working out our salvation with “fear and trembling.”

 “…with reverence and awe and trembling (self-distrust, with serious caution, tenderness of conscience, watchfulness against temptation, timidly shrinking from whatever might offend God and discredit the name of Christ).”

Does that mean our walk with Christ has to be intense all the time? Not at all. But it does need to be deliberate.

What I’ve found by hitting the “re-set button” each year is that it helps me stay intentional and consistent in my walk with Christ.

It also keeps God in the driver’s seat.

I don’t choose the topics. He does.

I don’t know what’s coming down the line. He does.

It’s extraordinary, really, to look back and get a glimpse of how purposeful and deliberate our God is as He takes us on a journey. How loving and sure.

These mile markers serve as reminders of His great faithfulness in our lives.

As 2017 comes to a close….

I want to challenge you to ask the Lord what He wants you to focus on in the coming year. He may surprise you, as He often does me.

Mile Markers Of His Faithfulness, Part 1

I don’t know where the idea came from.

I just remember coming to the close of a year when I asked the Lord, “What do you want me to focus on this next year?” And He told me.

I got into the habit of doing that each year, not as a new year’s resolution, but as a way to stay pressed into Him. The topics He’s given me have varied over the years.

Sometimes it’s a character flaw He wants me to address.

Sometimes it’s a truth He wants to reveal.

Other times it’s simply a groove He wants to carve more deeply into my soul.

But I’ve found two things to be true, no matter the topic. Here's the first...I'll save the second for a "Part 2" blog later this month.

First, it’s always relevant.

I can always apply it to my lie’s circumstances. And that's the key, isn't it?

So, this is how it plays out for me...

1. Once I have a topic, I start with Scripture…

I want to understand what the Word says about the topic He’s given me. I want to know what the parameters are in which that truth operates so that I can walk it out safely and in the way He wants.

I look up relevant Scriptures and write them down in my journal. I look up different translations and even find the original Greek or Hebrew meaning of key words in a concordance to help me better understand.

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” ~Psalm 119:105

2. Then I look for other Christian resources….

It’s funny. I often don’t have to look very far to find the right resources. It’s not uncommon that they find me…a podcast I subscribe to does a series on the topic, or a friend unwittingly tells me about a new book that’s out.

“And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.”  ~Ephesians 4:11-12

3. All the while, I’m sensitive to the Holy Spirit…

I wait. I listen. I’m not in a hurry when I’m reading Scripture or listening to a podcast. I don’t want my own reasoning to become my guide.

I keep relevant Scriptures in front of me consistently throughout the year unless He leads me to a different topic along the way. I'll listen to the same podcast or sermon series multiple time if it's piercing my heart. And I don't mind reading the same pages of a book over and over if it's ministering to me.

The goal is not FAST. The goal is CHANGE. The goal is INTIMACY with Christ.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”  ~Proverbs 3:5-6

4. I think about how it plays out in my life…

What is it that needs to change in my life, in my behavior or thought process, to apply this truth? God is really good at making this clear, I will tell you. The key is being intentional about incorporating it into the day-to-day routine.

“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”  ~James 1:22

I remember light shining so brightly on my conversations at work and with friends a few years back, revealing the extent to which my own insecurities were driving them.

Once I saw it, I could intentionally change how I interacted with people because the Lord had given me the tools to do it.

Sounds intense, huh? Not always. But it can be, depending on what He’s trying to do in that season.

What I can tell you is that it’s worth it.

It’s worth it to be close to Him.

It’s worth it to see Him moving intentionally to free you from strongholds you may not even realize you have.

To prepare and equip you for something you wouldn’t otherwise know how to handle.

I know I’m suggesting a very simple thing – to ask the Lord each year what He wants you to focus on – but I’ve found it to be a practical and powerful means of staying close to, and in-tune with, Him and where He’s taking me. It keeps me on a forward path. 

And as I look back, I can see mile markers of His faithfulness along the way.

As 2017 closes, what might He want you to focus on in the coming year? Just ask Him. He’ll be faithful to tell you.

Stay tuned for “Part 2” later this month!

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Finding Rest

Are you desperate for rest?

You know. The kind of rest that lulls you to sleep at night.

Rest that shoos away the knots in your stomach and the wrinkles on your forehead.

Sustaining rest that doesn’t shatter when your circumstances change or when the path ahead is unclear.

The kind of rest that puts the smile on your face that you weren’t expecting.

I don’t know about you but I, for one, am just naturally wired pretty tight. This has benefits as well as challenges. I’ve had to be very deliberate about finding sustaining rest and uprooting what once were main-stays in my life…worry, anxiety and fear.

Finding rest ultimately comes down to surrender. But surrender isn’t just waiving the white flag and praying for rest. We have a part to play in it.

Let’s look at this familiar passage in Matthew:

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  ~Matthew 11:28-30

I grew up not really understanding how to apply this passage. I thought if I just prayed sincerely for rest that it would just come. After all, Jesus said to come to Him and He would give us rest.

But in order to find sustaining rest, there are two things we need to do: 1. Trust Him, and, 2. Walk in His ways.

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Trusting Him

Can I say something that might sound shocking?

God’s not going to take the weight of the world off your shoulders.

You have to give it to Him. The Word says we are to cast our burdens upon the Lord. Psalm 55:22 says, Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you...” 

Notice that we are the ones who have to do the casting.

Another passage says, Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.” ~John 14:1

Can we really find rest if, after we pray, we continue to worry and fret about our circumstances? Has that burden really been lifted?

Isn’t it up to us whether or not we’re going to carry a burden?

We have free will. If I decide to pick up a brick and carry it around all day, I can do that even though the only consequence is that my arm is going to be awfully sore.

This is where trust comes in. When we come to Him, we have to trust that He is working in our behalf, so much so, that our rest is not dependent upon what’s happening in our lives or how a situation turns out.

“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You.” ~Isaiah 26:3

Walking in His Ways

But there’s another component to finding rest that takes intentionality as well.

Jesus says in verse 29 of Matthew 11 to Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…”

The yoke that Jesus is referring to is a wooden beam placed around the necks of two oxen to pull a load together. Jesus is saying that we are to take HIS yoke upon us and learn from Him.

In other words, we are to walk in His ways. And by walking in His ways, we find rest.

Can we find rest if we harbor resentment or bitterness?

Cam we find sustaining rest if we’re easily offended?

Can we find rest if our hearts are hardened by pride?

Can we find rest if we have habitual unrepentant sin in our lives?

In our fast-paced, grab and go society, we want to, well, quickly grab what we need and go. Move on to the next thing so we can get to the next, next thing. But we know it doesn't work that way with matters of the heart.

Hit the pause button on your life. Ask the Lord what areas in your life may be keeping you from finding rest. Real sustaining rest.

Pray from Psalm 139.

Search me O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in m, And lead me in the everlasting way.” ~Psalm 139:23-24

He will be faithful not only to show you, but also to help you uproot anything that may be keeping you from finding rest.

The word “hurtful” there in the Hebrew means idol; also, pain and wicked.

Having hurtful or wicked ways and harboring idols in our hearts is a much harder way to live than walking in His ways. In fact, walking in His ways is how we find sustaining rest. That’s why Jesus said, “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” ~Matthew 11:30

Grace in growing

Growing in deeper levels of trust and surrender is a life long process. No one arrives. And it doesn’t have to take decades of soul surgery to find rest.

In I Corinthians 15:31, Paul said, “…I die daily.” And Peter charges us to “…grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” in II Peter 3:18.

One of the things that make God so beautiful to me is how much grace He shows us in our weakness. I remember hearing Chuck Swindoll say something years ago that’s always stayed with me…

“Isn’t it beautiful how, when you do your part, God does the part that only He can do.” ~Chuck Swindoll

We press into Him, earnestly seek Him and His ways, and He does the heavy lifting. He’s the One who ultimately gives us rest.

“Come to me all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” ~Matthew 11:28

 

Pursuing Peace

Has anyone ever disappointed you?

"Of course," is the obvious answer. So here's a better question.

Have you ever been disappointed in yourself for how you responded to disappointment?

I have. Not so long ago, I remember reeling with frustration and hurt because of something someone close to me had done.  And I did what many do.

I thought about it. A lot.

Then in my quiet time with the Lord, He did what He often does.

He took me to a scripture I wasn't planning to read or study that day.

In Ephesians 4:1-3, Paul teaches that we are to "walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Well, this immediately made the angst in me disappear. A calm assurance flooded me.

First, conviction came. I mean, how could it not? Here are verses 2 and 3 in the Amplified version:

“Living as becomes you] with complete lowliness of mind (humility) and meekness (unselfishness, gentleness, mildness), with patience, bearing with one another and making allowances because you love one another. Be eager and strive earnestly to guard and keep the harmony and oneness of [and produced by] the Spirit in the binding power of peace.

I knew instantly that my heart wasn't right and I was grieved that I'd developed such a haughty attitude in such a short period of time.

It was all that thinking I'd been doing without consulting the Word about it! Our minds can turn disappointment into offense in a nano second. Then it becomes all too easy, to forget that we've disappointed people before too.

The beauty and power of scripture is that it doesn't bring condemnation to the believer. It brings conviction, correction and guidance when we need it.

He may have me in the throws of powerful conviction, but I am, at the same time, utterly assured of His great love and tenderness for me. He loves me. He's not rejecting me. He's correcting me because He cares for me.

The duality of conviction and assurance brings freedom in and of itself. His kindness leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). And repentance is ultimately what brings us into relationship with God through Christ Jesus.

With my heart now humbled, I could see in the passage what He expected from me, what my part was in addressing the situation....to have humbleness of mind, to be enduringly patient. He also gave me a goal that was more important than the one I had. Mine was to make sure this person understood what they did and tried not to do it again! God's goal for me was to stay in peace with them.

When we find ourselves on the receiving end of disappointment, we need only to respond in the way He instructs and leave the outcome to Him, knowing He is the keeper of our souls.

Now that's freedom, my friend. That's freedom.

One Thing

In Psalm 27, David declares in V1, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid?”

Bold. Sure. Fearless. David has seen God come through for him and has learned to put his confidence in the Lord, as we see in the verses that follow.

Psalm 27:2-3
“When the wicked came against me to eat up my flesh, my enemies and foes, they stumbled and fell.  Though an army may encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; Though war may rise against me, in this I will be confident.”

The very next verse is one of my favorites in all of scripture but it seems out of place in the context of deliverance at first glance:

Verse 4:
One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and enquire in his temple.”

To “dwell” implies intimacy, familiarity. This verse is a love song! The one thing David desires is not deliverance itself, but relationship.

Of course, David wants to be delivered, too. But he understands that deliverance comes out of relationship. And relationship is what he desires most.

Back in verse 1, David says that God is the “strength” of his life. “Strength” in the Hebrew there means, “a fortified place, “or “a place of safety.” David’s place of safety was the Lord Himself!

It was because David learned to put his trust in God that he could recognize the greater desire of his heart. And so it is with us.

We get distracted by the things that make us afraid, and that becomes our focus. Our desire begins to center around seeing the outcome we want and we find ourselves in angst. Sometimes our desires are based on inherently good things. For instance, desiring to fulfill God’s purpose in our lives is noble, but fear of failure even in that, can become a driving force that makes success an idol.

But when we lean into the Lord, and remember all He has done for us, that He has been our shield, our defense, our guide, our comforter, our provider - our faith rises up as we put our trust and confidence in Him. Our problems become small in the light of Who He is. It is then that our hearts become free and we remember that, truly, the one thing we desire is simple. Relationship with God.

We remember that all of our circumstances in life are just that....circumstances. They will pass. Big and small, they will pass. Some tragic, some overwhelmingly joyful, but they will pass.

Seek God Himself, not for what He can do for you but for Who He wants to BE to you!

Only God can satisfy your soul.