Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Shifting From Empty Prayers: For Moms

Nothing causes a momma’s heart to ache more profoundly than watching her children hurt. It doesn’t matter how old her children become, her kids will always be her “babes.” When they encounter various trials, it will always affect her deeply. 

Through the years as a family, we’ve gone through several life-altering periods of pain with our kids. Some of that pain was devastating beyond words and stemmed from events that remain too difficult to describe. In my experience, there’s been nothing as agonizing as knowing I couldn’t help them when they needed me most. 

When kids are small, their problems are often small and easy to solve. They can’t reach their toothbrush on the counter, so we provide a stool. They can’t balance a bicycle so we run behind them and hold them steady until they learn. They fear they’ll fail a test at school so we stay up with them until the wee hours of the morning, helping them study. They don’t know how to drive a car so we send them out to learn with dad (or some other brave soul), while we hide in our closets and pray. (At least that’s how the driver’s training looked at our house).

Soon, whether we’re ready or not, their problems begin to stem from their own decisions. While it breaks our heart to enforce punishment, we do it because we must. Above all, we do it out of love. Sometimes we watch our children suffer because of decisions others make. Their pain might involve victimization, or abandonment. Perhaps they lost a friend to drunk driving or another tragedy. Our hearts break along with theirs, and we often feel like we’d give our very lives to help them avoid the anguish. 

Moms want nothing more desperately than the ability to protect our offspring. When something threatens to harm them physically, emotionally, or spiritually, the lioness inside of us comes out with teeth bared and we’re prepared to fight to the death. God’s love and sovereignty are not often our first thoughts when the unexpected happens.

We may never understand why He allows some things, but we can find comfort in knowing that God’s purposes stem from His nature of love. He loves us, and He loves our kids with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3). He knit our children together in our wombs (Psalm 139:13) and all their days were written in His book and planned before a single one of them began (Psalm 139:16). From the depths of His love, God desires relationship with our kids. As their moms, we desire that for them too.

Frequently, however, we try to pray away any discomfort, pain, or sorrow that the Lord may choose to allow in their lives. These are heartfelt prayers, but they are also empty, meaning that they don’t contain substance, power, or purpose.  Please know that I pray daily for the safety and comfort of my kids. But our prayers should go to a deeper level as we seek God’s purpose in their lives.

What we must remember is that God uses every single moment for His glory and for the good of His children. Each time our children face hardships, it brings endurance so that they may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:3-4). Our personal trials shape our testimonies and most of us have experienced profound victories that come out of the deepest pain. So too, the trials of our children are part of their own personal testimonies, used by God to strengthen them and draw them to Himself. He promises to work all things together for the good of those who love Him, those whom He called according to His purpose.

I find great peace in Isaiah 43:2 and the Holy Spirit’s reminder that we cannot avoid hardships.  Neither, by the way, can our children.  The Lord said, “Do not fear for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine. I will be with you when you pass through the waters, and when you pass through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you. You will not be scorched when you walk through the fire and the flame will not burn you.”

When the lioness inside of us comes out to fight for our children, we can take on a stronger posture of prayer on their behalf. Instead of praying, “spare them from pain,” we can begin to ask the Lord to strengthen them for what He’ll allow in their lives. Let’s begin to ask for victory over the schemes of the evil one and pray that the Lord will keep our kids fully armed with spiritual armor.  Let’s petition Him to use any trial they experience to further the Kingdom and to strengthen the faith of those precious offspring we hold so dear. 

Dr. David Jeremiah says it this way:  “Do not pray for easy lives; pray to be stronger men. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers; pray for powers equal to your tasks.”

I have a dear friend who lost her very young daughter to an illness several decades ago.  This is a mom who knows immeasurable pain and the beauty of surrender to the Lord’s will in the lives of her children.  From a place of healing in spite of her loss, she encourages me to pray that the Lord do “whatever it takes” to draw my children to Himself. That is an extremely difficult prayer and honestly, it’s hard to imagine even uttering such words. But it’s a prayer that the Lord honors with His tender mercies. 

The bottom line is this:  Do we want our children free from pain and any discomfort or suffering? Or do we want our children to know the steadfast faithfulness of the God they serve?  Is our hope that they’ll grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? Do we trust the Lord with the lives of our children enough to surrender every moment to Him? Do we trust Him enough to pray, “Do whatever it takes, Lord”?

Be strengthened today, by His Word,

Psalm 119:28

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

2 Simple Truths to Remember When We Carry Too Much

Let’s face it. Life has reached an extreme pace – and the more I wait for things to slow down, the faster they seem to spin out of control. I know I’m not alone; perhaps you’re feeling as overwhelmed as I. We have too much to carry. As women, we serve in countless roles, we say yes too freely to those who rely on us, and we often struggle with setting limits or boundaries. Why? Often it’s because we love those we serve: our husbands, our children, our church families, our friends, even our co-workers. Sometimes it’s because we don’t want to disappoint others.  Occasionally it’s because the expectations we place on ourselves are too high.  We believe we can “do everything,” and we’re afraid to fail (that’s called pride, by the way).  There are times when demanding schedules and task lists are self-inflicted because we’ve said “yes” far too frequently. Other times, a perfect storm hits and our life goals – things we’ve dreamed of and prayed for – all reach a fever pitch at once. That’s what’s happening for us.

2014 is going to be an unusually busy hectic year for our family. This is the year that my husband is running for county sheriff and coordinating a time-intensive election campaign.  Our church (where we are members and I am a staff member) is embarking on a building project.  These are both enormous projects that have been covered in prayer for many, many years.  We’re grateful that the wait is nearly over for the HUGE endeavors, but we’ve certainly got our work cut out for us.  I sense that the Lord is moving me toward a new and very deep level of commitment in the ministry I founded in 2011, Strengthened by the Word Ministries.  A second book is burning inside of me, and I feel I’ll soon explode if I don’t release my words.  Much awaits on the quickly approaching horizon.  Why the Lord chose to bring it all together at once… well, that’s a mystery.

On top of what’s coming professionally, there are many things to achieve in my personal life. I have a goal to lose 30+ pounds in 2014 (yes, again…). I have a goal to read 2 books each month for spiritual and professional growth with an occasional book added in for pure, wholesome entertainment. The Holy Spirit is prompting my next large writing project to cover a life practice I do NOT have mastered and must approach as a student first and teacher second. It’s going to take a lot of focus and dedication throughout the next 12 months and beyond.

How will I squeeze personal goals into such an overwhelming season of life? That’s a great question. While I don’t have a firm, definitive answer, I’ll share two verses that the Holy Spirit recently prompted me to memorize:  

1)      Zechariah 4:6b:  “Not by strength or by might, but by My Spirit, says the LORD of Hosts.” 

2)      Luke 16:10a:  “Whoever is faithful in very little is also faithful in much, …”

These words from the Lord are like salve to my soul. They remind me that there’s no way I can pull it all off by relying on my own strength. Jesus is the only good that there is in me, and without the power of His Spirit, I cannot accomplish what He has called me to do.  No way, no how. 

A saying I often use is, “My pants are too big.” (Oh, that my literal pants were baggy. That’s not at all what I mean.) The expression shows that the job the Lord requires is too big for me. When I put on the figurative uniform to perform the project He’s directed, the pants are too big to fill in my own strength. To accomplish what He asks, I must rely on His strength every second of every day. If He called me to a task that I could do easily, I’d be tempted to do it in my own power, with my own resources, my own skills, and forget my need for HIM. So as difficult as it is to wear such baggy, figurative pants, I enjoy them because they keep me moving by His Spirit, and not by my own strength or might.

Next, when I focus on doing the little things right, the big things fall into place.  (I’m intentionally listing the following sentences in “declarative” statements. Please know that I don’t always do them perfectly!) For example:  
  •  I protect my quiet time with God and try to keep it free from distractions. When I do so, I am better able to receive His instruction, inspiration, creativity and motivation, and my work projects flow more smoothly.
  •  I spend daily time in prayer. When I am faithful to give the Lord this time, He is faithful to protect my time throughout the day. Often I think “I’m too busy to stop and pray,” but when I obey regardless of how I feel, I am consistently amazed at how much I accomplish throughout the day.
  •  A silly “little” thing I started doing a few weeks ago is hanging all of the clothes in my closet in the same direction. I’m shocked at how much time this saves in the morning by helping me quickly put my hands on the particular blouse or pants I’m looking for. The little details are important.

When I feel overwhelmed, I call truths of these two Bible verses to mind.  I remind myself that I can accomplish nothing worthwhile without His strength.  I focus on doing the little things right knowing that the big things will fall into place when I do. I concentrate on two certainties. Two truths that fix my attention on the bigger picture instead of the overwhelming task list. They help me say with confidence, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” 

Your turn:

How do you cope with feeling overwhelmed?

What are some of the “little things” that you try to do faithfully?

Be strengthened today, by the Word,

Psalm 119:28

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Why Its Time to Ditch Isolation

I’m often encouraged by the pastors and elders at our church, knowing that they reach out on a personal level to those who make a decision for Christ. Part of our mission statement is to glorify God by equipping disciples of Jesus Christ. I love the emphasis that our leaders place on guiding people to follow Jesus, and walking alongside them through the journey of faith.

When I gave my life to Christ while in high school, the decision seemed so simple and clear (something I thought everyone in the world should do), I didn’t mention my decision to anyone. I knew immediately that choosing to follow Christ was right, and I really didn’t put much thought into it. I made the decision to accept Jesus and His rescue from an eternity of damnation just as easily as I made the decision to tie my shoes and spare myself from tripping over my shoelaces. It was the right thing to do and really I didn’t know what there was to talk about. 

I didn’t fully engage with a church congregation as a new believer, and no one taught me to dive in to this life we call Christianity. In my early walk, there was no one to model a Christ-honoring lifestyle for me – no one advising me to taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8). I stayed stagnant in my faith for many years, trusting in the truth that God so loved the world that He gave is only Son that whoever believe in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. 

Eventually, two women came into my life and shook my apple cart. About 15 years had transpired since I’d given my life to the Lord. In my work in commercial real estate, I hired a sweet, young receptionist who lived and breathed Jesus Christ. I’d never met anyone like her. She talked about Jesus all day long. He was obviously a huge part of her life and she loved Him – anyone could see it! This young girl showed me a level of commitment to the Lord that was new and fresh to me.  

Sometime later, my husband and I joined our very first Bible study and one of the teachers was a woman who truly walked out her faith. Under her mentorship, I began to see that God’s instruction through His Word was as important in my personal life – right now – as it was to those in Biblical times. I never looked back. My faith journey finally had legs and progressed toward the Lord, responding to His call, in new and remarkable ways.

Prior to this, I didn’t know there was more to the Christian faith. I didn’t realize I could hope for – and expect – a deeper relationship with the Lord. But now that He has shown me and now that I see how much He offers even a simple women like me, I want to shout it from the rooftop and leave no woman behind! 

One of the things I’ve learned in this particular journey is that we must abandon isolation to grow in the Lord. An introvert by nature, it’s easy for me to withdraw from the crowds and hide myself in seclusion. But the Lord created us to fellowship and work together as a unified body of Christ. We receive encouragement and motivation to grow when we gather with other like-minded believers. Our swords are sharpened not only through our time alone with the Lord but through the testimonies and real-life stories of those around us.

The process of coming out of isolation is twofold:  
1.     Allow ourselves to learn from those more mature in the faith, and
2.     Share our lives and faith lessons with those around us.

As difficult as it feels sometimes, we have to attend more than a weekly worship service.  We must train ourselves to say, “YES” to invitations to Bible studies, small groups, ministry teams, and fellowship gatherings. We have to get out of our comfort zones and into real life situations where God is moving among those He dearly loves. We learn from each other, whether we’re new believers or seasoned warriors of the faith. We have much to give to and receive from the body of Christ and we rob ourselves of many gifts when we choose isolation over fellowship.

Choosing to follow Christ is an eternity-altering decision and immeasurably more profound than deciding to tie our shoes. Our decision to follow Him must pair with intentional action to know Him and build relationship with Him. Part of our service to Him comes through spending time with others of the faith.  That’s where our mentors and role models are.  It’s where we touch the lives of others and share our testimonies.  Let’s bless others and receive their blessing in return.  Let’s resolve to start reaching out for all that Kingdom living has to offer, to recognize and embrace God’s best for our lives. 

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.  Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.  Ecc 4:9-12 (NASB)

Your Turn: 

In what practical ways can you ditch isolation?

How have you mentored others or received encouragement from others in the faith?

Be strengthened today by the Word,

Psalm 119:28