I woke up this morning with the same line of a song playing over and over in my head. It's a gospel song I've heard a handful of times over the years, and it was never really one of my favorites. It's a good song, but some songs you just really feel, if you know what I mean. With this one, I could really take it or leave it. It just wasn't the kind of song I was going to sit in my car to finish if I'd reached my destination.
But God often speaks to me through songs, and especially the unexpected ones; the ones I know are only from Him, because I do not hear them or sing them regularly...or at all. This morning, one line played over and over again, the second I woke up, "Sometimes you have to encourage yourself." It goes on to say, "Sometimes you have to speak victory over the test." Suddenly a song I hadn't previously given much thought, was speaking to my spirit.
I have been conditioned to fear punishment. I believe most of my friends who were athletes might feel the same way. I was conditioned to believe that if I wasn't good enough, I would get punished. If I didn't make that easy shot, if I didn't make that free throw, if I made a mistake that cost us the possession or a basket, if we lost the game, we would be punished. We knew we would be punished, but usually not right away. We would live in fearful anticipation of when we would be punished for not being perfect.
Some of this stemmed from my own form of self-discipline. Most athletes get to where they are in their athletic careers because of a pretty decent amount of self-motivation already. Then, when they have coaches who condition them in such a way, it is easy to live out the rest of their lives in a system of reward vs punishment.
When I met my husband, I feared (and still often do) that I wasn't good enough for him. I fear that I am not a good enough wife, daughter, sister, aunt, mother, friend. I criticize myself all the time. When I heard the lyrics of this song first thing this morning, I realized that in living this life of fear, I have created a breeding ground for negative thinking and speaking. I have made it easy to be critical of myself. I have told myself that this is who I am, and I have believed it.
And I have stopped caring for myself. Instead of living in victory, living like the loved and saved person that I am, I have been living a defeated life.
I share this with you not for sympathy, but because I believe someone else out there needs to hear this.
You cannot live your life fearful of
imperfection and punishment,
because it directly contradicts
the perfect love of Christ.
You cannot speak victory over your life while playing the role of the defeatist. Jesus' perfect love, already took the punishment for your imperfection. Amen?!
Now, because old habits are hard to change, and because I don't want to just leave you (or myself), with a powerful message without an applicable way to change, I want to wrap this up with a list of things you can do to change this behavior, and I'd like to join with you on this journey of self-love, self-care, and living a victorious life.
I also couldn't leave, without allowing you the opportunity to hear the song God used for me this morning. I hope this message finds you well and provides encouragement where needed. If you struggle with accountability, and need encouragement in your prayer and journal life, don't hesitate to reach out!
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You're driving along at about 72 mph in a 65 mph zone. You figure, not so slow that you're getting passed frequently, or drifting below the speed limit, but not so high as to risk getting pulled over with a high fine. Right? Don't lie. You've had this same thought process.
A car flies by you going at least 85, weaving in and out of traffic. You think to yourself, "He's definitely getting pulled over," yet 5, maybe 10 minutes later, when you see the lights and hear the sirens, they're for you. If we imagine ourselves in this situation, and many of us have actually been in this situation, it is easy to know how we might react. The almost immediate reaction is that of self-righteous indignation. How dare they! There are many others driving much faster than I am!
Another example: you are selling Disney trademarked items in your Etsy shop. You receive a cease and desist letter from the Disney corporation for using their intellectual property without proper licensing. You are ordered to remove some of your most popular items from your shop or they will take legal action. You're appalled. How dare they! How can your little side business possibly effect their sales? What's worse, there are literally hundreds of other shops still selling their Disney trademarked items and getting away with it. Your reaction again, is a sort of entitled anger. After all, you made those with your own hands, right?
We do this in our every day lives all the time. When friends or family express their hurt feelings, we become angry and defensive. Well, you did this, this, and this to me. How is this any different?! When someone cuts us off in traffic, how quickly we forget the times we have done this in great haste as well.
I could go on and on, but I share these things with you, because I, myself, have experienced them, and I believe I am far from the only one. You see, anger is a defense mechanism. This is not to say that there are not truly appropriate times to feel anger with this world and the evil in it, but so often in our day to day lives, we use anger to protect ourselves from the truth. Because conviction in our own hearts, is uncomfortable.
This verse is so frequently used in reference to relationship advice, as though we should be sure to talk everything over before going to bed. I believe the advice is much deeper than that.
Anger can very easily give the devil a foothold on your life. Anger stirs up bitterness, resentment, hostility, entitlement...really, nothing good. To be angry with someone or a situation allows you to focus on everything about that person or situation which makes you angry, often drudging up things from prior incidents which are unrelated to what's happening right now. This is not from God! This is a way of hardening your own heart to grace and forgiveness. This is a way of preventing your own growth. Because, as I showed you in some of the above examples, our anger is often a retaliatory response to being caught in the wrong ourselves.
When God's Word says, "Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry," what do you take that to mean? Sure, it could mean that we should talk it out with the offending party. But outside of a marriage, how often is that possible? You may not have the chance to discuss it before going to bed. You certainly can't hunt down the guy who cut you off on the highway that morning. Not everything needs to be, or even can be settled within our human terms. Don't forget who the actual enemy is, because it is not that person who hurt you. Through prayer, with Jesus, we need to push that anger aside to make room for grace. Because where there is grace, there is no room for self-righteous indignation.
It was about 8 or 9 years ago. I was sitting at my computer, and, in what used to be the trend of posting to Facebook in the third person, my friend's Facebook status read, "Jenna* is dead."
I woke up in a panic. It was still dark, very early morning, and I paused to listen. My baby wasn't crying. I wasn't at the computer. No one was dead, but why did I still have this awful feeling? It felt SO real. I didn't know why, but I prayed for my friend as I drifted back to sleep.
When I awoke at a more reasonable hour, I still hadn't shook the vividness of the dream. After feeding my children breakfast, I went to the computer to check Facebook. Was it a dream? I wasn't really convinced. I checked her status. It did not say that. But then a reasonable voice inside my head reminded me that if a person was badly hurting or, in fact, dead, you wouldn't typically find it on their own page. I check her husband's. He was soliciting prayer for his wife, my friend. She was in the hospital undergoing emergency surgery. There was a very serious medical complication in her intestines, which nearly killed her.
This was not the first time I had dreamed about someone needing help. But it was the first time that I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt that God had awoken me to pray for her. As I came to understand what had happened, the miraculous nature of this was astounding and humbling. God used me. In some very small way, He used me in the healing of my friend, who was miles and miles away.
This has happened a few times since then. Sometimes I discover what the prayer was needed for. Sometimes I don't. But when I wake up now, with someone on my heart, I immediately begin praying for them.
I say this not to boast about myself, but to brag on God.
He uses the weak, the small, the young, and the old...the sleeping. Could He have healed my friend without waking me to pray? Absolutely. He could have healed her without doctors. But He uses people for His glory. It is because we are human, because we are imperfect, because we are not God, that the miraculous becomes miraculous.
Similar to what we talked about last week, God could have parted the Red Sea before Moses and his people even arrived. He could have had it ready and waiting for them. Instead, he chose to use a man with a stutter, to show them the power of their God.
The Bible shows us time and again, how God uses the weak, how He speaks to and through the sinners, how He uses the least of these, for His purpose, His glory, His Kingdom!
When we talk about that which we should put into practice, after love, or rather as a part of love, prayer should be next. I am not anyone particularly special. I do not have a better direct line to God than any of you reading this. If you put prayer into practice in your daily lives, watch what He can do! Whenever a name lands in your thoughts, on your heart, or on your lips, pray. Lift them up. Put this into practice. He tells us that we need not know what to pray for. Just show Him that you are listening, and watch how He can use you.
*name changed out of respect for my friend's privacy. She is alive and well, and celebrating a birthday soon.
Recently I began two different devotionals on my YouVersion App. They are each about completely different topics, which I feel hold constant relevance in my life. One covers the impact of evangelism, and the other talks about fear. As a woman of faith, I'd like to tell you that these two don't intersect at all, but what I found while reading these two completely different devotionals, about completely different areas of faith, is that they not only intersect. They full on collide with each other.
Not only do I still deal with fear as a Christian, but I deal with fear about my faith. Probably not in the way you might think. I don't know about you, but I am constantly afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. When involved in conversation with people who don't share my faith, I struggle with fear so much, that I have a difficult time articulating my faith; why I believe what I believe, or why it is important to me. There is a very good reason I have taking to writing throughout my life. Public speaking is not my gift. I am awkward. I stumble upon my words, and tend to repeat myself a lot. If I have to talk about something that is not heavily rehearsed (like to the point of memorization), I tend to sound like a blundering idiot.
The above verse always made me a little nervous. Is it a requirement? No, I wouldn't call it that. We are told that our deeds are not what get us into Heaven, but rather just the acceptance of Jesus Christ as our Savior.
But yet, shouldn't our acceptance of Jesus into our hearts and lives move us toward this? I believe so. Then why am I still so scared to speak to people about Jesus?
This is where another verse, about a separate topic, collided for me this morning.
The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.
Like a breaking wave, this hit me, and washed over me today. I don't have to be a blundering idiot. I need not speak at all. I thought back on the people who have had the greatest impact on my life and my walk with Christ. It had next to nothing to do with what they said. It had everything to do with their actions.
For my 18th birthday, my older sister risked looking uncool, and without saying a word handed me a present. I opened it to find a Quest Study Bible. She wrote inside the cover, encouraging words and verses she had turned to in difficult times. That one, simple gesture, had and still has one of the greatest impacts on my life.
This is just one, clear example, but there are so many like this. Actions speak louder than words is such a cliche, and yet we are so often much more impacted by people who do not speak about their faith, but show us about their faith. And I am not talking about the social media, 'look what I did," posts. Not that we can't talk about our faith on social media, but the greatest impact you can have on people isn't in what you say, or even write; it is in what you do. How are you serving? How are you walking in your faith? Even, or especially when, you think no one's watching. In the quiet of your own room, how are you praying for the hearts and lives of the people you love?
The interesting thing here, is that this verse from Exodus is directly related to people being shown the power of God; not talked to about Him. Moses had great concerns about leading people. He even expressed to God that he was not eloquent, and he was slow of speech and tongue (Exodus 4:10). Here in Exodus 14, he now finds himself with a large group of doubting and fearful people. Trapped between the Egyptians and the Red Sea, Moses needed to act in faith! Surrounded by people lacking faith, he needed to stand firm. So Moses heeded God's Word, he raised his staff, and he showed the Israelites the power of his God, the power of faith.
Yes, go and make disciples of nations, but know that God will fight for you; you need only to be still.
Last week, we talked about what it could mean to practice the wrong things; how practicing something the wrong way over and over again, does not lead to perfection. I hope that you took my call to action and applied it, and this week, I'd like to talk a little about what we should be practicing.
It is an obvious one folks, and I'm going to keep it short and sweet today.
What should we be putting into practice?
Do you know how many times the word love is in the Bible? That's ok. I didn't either. It varies, depending upon the translation you might be reading. For me, I have an NIV, so I used this site to find out. From there, you can change the translation you're reading to find out yours.
The word love appears in the standard NIV Bible 574 times in 526 different verses. That's a lot. The names Lord, God, and Jesus appear more often. Also, there are less significant, two and three letter words which appear more often. But I have searched many words, and not even the word pray appears more often than love. It's not even close.
Of course, it is important to pray, but what is the one thing that plays on repeat over and over again in the teachings of Jesus, and the teachings of the New Testament? Have we ever read/heard/seen anyone love the way that Jesus loves? I can barely stomach being in the same room with someone who has the stomach bug, but Jesus didn't run from the sick. He didn't turn from the hurting. He didn't chastise the broken.
Jesus walked among the broken. He embraced the hurting, and he cared for the sick. He corrected, and he rebuked, but more often than not, He taught by example and parables, frequently revolving around loving people.
We read of him washing the feet of others, healing the sick, and feeding the hungry. We read of him laying down his life, in great suffering, for the sake of not just his friends, but his enemies as well. Page after page after page, we see examples of this love, and yet we so often walk around with chips on our shoulders, as though the world owes us something. We are quick to anger, quick to judge, and quick to throw tantrums when things don't go as planned. Why? Because those things come more easily to our sinning nature, because we have practiced the wrong things!
For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command:
"Love your neighbor as yourself."
What is it that we have "learned or heard or seen" from God? The teachings throughout the Bible, and more specifically the teachings of Jesus, are repetitive. So should our practices be. It takes work, and it takes repetition to make changes. It's a good thing we have a manual for that.
But don't take my word for it! A great place to start is the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus' longest sermon, found throughout Mathew chapters 5,6, and 7. Just like Paul stated in Galatians 5:14, even this can be largely summed up with love.
As a wife, mom of 4, and business owner, finding time to spend in the Word, can be difficult, so I get it! Come join me each Monday for a simple message of hope, faith, and encouragement amidst some honest mommy moments.
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