Last week I talked about personal growth during this month, which is arguably the most self-centered month of the year. I do not necessarily mean that in a negative light, but January is a time of year when people are trying to better themselves. They are shifting the focus from the selfless giving of December, to pay time and attention to their own needs, most often involving physical health. Today, I'd like to share with you a less conventional way of shifting the focus to your own growth.
What if, while we are shifting that focus onto ourselves, we shifted our prayer lives a bit? I don't know about you, but the majority of the time, I am more likely to pray for others, than for myself. Sometimes there's guilt involved in asking for something for ourselves, but then there are also many times in our lives when we are faced with difficult people or circumstances. If our first instinct is to pray about them at all, our most common prayer is that God would take those difficulties away from us, or that God would change those people who are making our lives more difficult. I would argue that during times when we should be focused on our own behavior and decisions, is often a time when we deflect onto others.
Here's what I mean by that; what if, instead of praying for God to change other people, or change the difficult circumstances, we prayed, sincerely, that God would change our own hearts toward them? In the world, we often tell people to 'be the change you wish to see.' This can be reflected in our prayer lives too. It doesn't have to be either or, of course. Continue to pray for those challenging people in your lives as well, but often, when we shift the focus a bit, we can see more clearly how they need prayer. It might not be at all about how they are effecting your life, but rather about their own personal struggles that are causing them pain and difficulty. While God changes your heart toward them, suddenly it's easier to understand and love them, than to only see how their behavior effects your life.
We cannot take responsibility for other people's actions, nor should we, but we can hold ourselves accountable for our own reactions. I would challenge us all to shift our prayer focus to our own behaviors, our own decisions, and how we react to difficulties.
Some practical ways to apply this might be:
God hears all prayers, but I believe such prayers like these, with a genuine heart, are answered more readily. They show that we are seeking not just a magical genie in the sky to take care of all our problems, but rather to actively be more like Christ ourselves, and to be used by Him. Prayer is an area in which I have always struggled, but one of my goals this year is to revitalize and refocus my prayer life.
Remember, like I said last week, we are maker empowered. He is within us, and we should seek Him for ourselves, and watch how He can transform each of us!
New year, new me.
That's what they say, right? This is a phrase that almost always refers to a persons outward appearance. Sure, there is the occasional new year's resolution that involves the changing of behavior, actions, or habits (often still for the sake of losing weight), but most often, people focus on their physical health around this time. That is why there are so many fitness and diet ads, and so many gym membership discounts this time of year.
Physical health is a wonderful goal. We should all seek to be healthier for the sake of ourselves and our families.
But what I am talking about today, is a spiritual health; an awareness really, that what you have in you is greater than anything of this world. But you have to believe that.
There is a time for difficult conversations and convictions, but today, I want to uplift and encourage you in such a way, that you believe everything you set out to do is attainable through Christ!
I have spent way too much time and energy putting myself down, believing I'm either incapable, or undeserving. I often need to be remdinded of Who lives in me!
When people are in need of strength, they will often quote from Philippians 4:13; I can do all this through him who gives me strength. It is a wonderful verse, and no less true than 1 John 4:4. However, it is used so frequently, that perhaps some of us have forgotten just who it is that gives us that strength. Or, maybe it's just lost meaning as one of those way over quoted Bible verses.
Whatever the case may be, I want you to remember today that you are empowered by your maker. If you are making any changes this year, let this be the year that you know your value, know that which is in you, and seek His glory in all that you do.
As Christians in this world, we are told to be humble, and not to be vain. We are told to think of others above ourselves. We are taught, in this world, to be modest, almost to the point of self-deprecation. What we have forgotten, is that we may boast freely on the Lord! Boast upon Him who lives in you, for you are fearfully and wonderfully made and His works are wonderful. (Psalm 139:14) YOU are Maker Empowered, my friend!
As always, pray. Pray about what God would lead you to. If you are uncertain, pray and ask Him what gifts He has given you to use. Mostly, pray that you would learn to love yourself as He that is within you, loves you. No one knows you better. No one loves you more.
Last week we talked about our growth and spiritual maturity, in reference to toddlers. Today, I want to talk about teens. The truth is, our relationship with God often parellels that of children with their parents. With both, we begin as infants, relying on them for everything, trusting them with our lives. As we grow, and learn about the world around us, we begin to question them, and all that they've told us. We rebel, and often turn from their teachings in search of our own understandings. Then, as adults, we often gain a better understanding of how they raised us, and we come to appreciate their discipline and life lessons.
Many of us become stagnant and stuck in the unruly teen years in our relationship with God. I cannot even count the number of times in my life where I have played that part with God, giving Him the silent treatment because I felt like He wasn't listening, or He was never doing what I asked of Him anyway. It sounds silly and selfish when put that way, but don't we all go through that at times? We get tired of praying for the same things over and over again, to no avail. It can be infuriating, feeling like a confused teenager again, asking repeatedly for something, without an understanding as to why your parents won't allow it.
We can still find ourselves, in our rooms, shutting Him out, blaring our music, wrapped in a confusing variety of emotions because things aren't turning out the way we wanted.
But He is still there, waiting.
I found myself in just such a position this fall. I had just gotten over a case of MRSA, which was no fun at all, when my back, for about the 3rd time this year, quit on me. It is an area I have prayed for healing many times; more times than I can count. It is an injury my husband, my family, and my church have prayed for, on multiple occasions. I was sick and tired of the pain, and sick and tired of beating my head against the wall with God. I have never asked my doctor for medication, because I don't even like taking Tylenol, but this time, I was fed up.
In my moment of "I know best, and God won't do what I've asked anyway," I finally asked my doctor for something to help with the pain. I was prescribed a muscle relaxer and a pain killer I was assured was NOT a narcotic, only to get to the pharmacy, and receive all the paperwork warning me about this narcotic, and the potential risks of taking it. I didn't even pray about it. I took them anyway. At least the doctor was helping me, right?
I needn't have worried about a drug addiction. The medicine made me so sick, that it set my healing back several days. I couldn't move. I couldn't get out of bed. My husband had to work. My 3-year old was watching TV downstairs, and I couldn't even open my eyes. At this point, I finally prayed, simply, please help me get through this day.
There was a knock at the door. These days, people just don't "stop in" anymore, and especially not at 8:30 in the morning. I couldn't move, and I couldn't even open my mouth to yell to my daughter. She knew better than to open the door on her own, so she sat watching TV. My cell phone rang next to me, and I saw that it was a mom from our school, the mother of one of my son's friends, that I have been slowly getting to know. She was at the door. I answered the phone, and she knew from my voice something was very wrong. I briefly explained, and we talked Charlotte into opening the door.
This angel from God spent the day cleaning my house, and taking care of my child. Our daughters played, and their laughter and fun carried up the stairs to where I lay, and I knew we were going to be ok. But my pain didn't yet leave, and my struggle wasn't yet over. Still knocked off my feet the following day, another friend called; a church friend that at the moment, didn't know what was going on. She immediately took the afternoon off work and came to take care of my children, feeding them, and providing us all with dinner. The next night our school's principal arrived with meals and bags full of groceries provided by many of the teachers.
In my stubbornness, and eagerness to "do things myself," and in my anger and bitterness with Him, He could have shut me out, the way I was shutting Him out. He could have spitefully turned His back on me and walked away, but He didn't. He showed mercy and compassion in my time of need. I waited until I was completely out of other options before asking Him for help, and yet He came. He assembled an army around me to get me back on my feet and take care of my family in the process.
This is a lesson I have had to learn over and over again.
8Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me."
~ 2 Corinthians 12:8-9
When we think we know it all, and we know better than God, it doesn't make Him any less God. It simply prevents us from receiving the grace and the power of Christ.
Maybe God is preparing His army for you today. He's just waiting for your signal.
Our youngest daughter is less than 3 months away from turning 4 years old, and up until last week, we could not get her to use the toilet. There were none of the tell tale signs of being ready for potty training; no dry morning or post nap diapers, no warning signals as she was about to go. In fact, she didn't seem at all aware of when she was going. There was not a single motivating bribe that seemed to interest her to even try. I tried stickers, suckers, and chocolates. She would just say, "No, thanks." I bought fun, themed underpants of which she had little to no interest in wearing.
I actually gave up trying because my back wasn't well enough for the battles, and I could so much as dangle an M&M in front of her face, and she'd just say, "Nah," and proceed to use her diaper.
A little less than two weeks ago, she began telling us when she had to go, and suddenly, because it was hers, using the potty seemed like the best idea ever! And she didn't forget about those M&Ms tucked away in the cupboard either. After completing the task of using the potty, she exclaimed, "Yay! Now I can have my special treat!"
I had stopped bribing her. I had stopped offering her the candy. I had stopped forcing my own will upon her. She is living in a house with 5 other humans who know how to use the toilet. She has seen it done her whole life. She has had all the tools and all the knowledge she has needed, but until that very moment, she just wasn't ready.
How often do we turn away God's blessings; God's M&Ms if you will, because we are not ready for the responsibility? When we have not yet matured enough, spiritually, to do what God has called us to do, we are essentially saying, "Nah. No, thanks. I'm good just like this, sitting in my own mess." Nevermind all the M&Ms. Just the freedom alone that this task provides, is a blessing in and of itself.
My daughter may have felt that going potty was taking away valuable play time. She didn't realize that much more time was wasted on the changing table. She may have felt that the toilet was big and scary and loud, but really, it takes care of her messes for her, so she doesn't have to sit in them. She can be clean and free.
What does that sound like?
God has given us free will to choose. He has allowed for us to make our own decisions. But, He also has great plans for us if we follow His teachings. Sometimes that step toward His will can be scary. It can feel like we don't know what we're doing or we don't have the time. It might be loud, and it might be completely different from what we're used to. But if we lean into Him, there is freedom and cleansing in His will, and He is waiting there, with His blessing for our obedience.
When God holds that M&M out for you, will you be ready to receive it?
Last week we talked about how God is still working on us. We are a never ending work in progress. And instead of being hard on ourselves over the faults we have difficulty ridding ourselves of, we should use that opportunity to lean on Him even more.
We often have difficulty letting go of the things which have hurt us; whether they have deeply saddened us or angered us, that which has made us feel deeply, often stays with us, even if we don't want it to.
Today, in my daily devotional, I read some of Lamentations, which by its very definition, is about grief and sadness. It is understood that the book of Lamentations is a collection of songs written to express grief and suffering after experiencing the destruction of the city of Jerusalem, at the hands of the Babylonians. These are people of faith, crying out to God, putting their sadness and suffering into words, as they question why God would allow such a city to fall.
Yet, even these passionate expressions of deep grief, are not without hope.
The highlighted verse is often what Christians will quote. It is the hope that we hear of most frequently, and understandable so, but how much more might we relate to these people of the Bible, knowing that they struggled with the same doubts and sorrow that we do today? Here are the prior 21 verses:
I am the man who has seen affliction
by the rod of the Lord’s wrath.
He has driven me away and made me
in darkness rather than light;
indeed, he has turned his hand
again and again, all day long.
He has made my skin and my flesh
and has broken my bones.
He has besieged me and surrounded
with bitterness and hardship.
He has made me dwell in darkness
like those long dead.
He has walled me in so I cannot
he has weighed me down with chains.
Even when I call out or cry for help,
he shuts out my prayer.
He has barred my way with blocks of
he has made my paths crooked.
Like a bear lying in wait,
like a lion in hiding,
he dragged me from the path and
and left me without help.
He drew his bow
and made me the target for his arrows.
He pierced my heart
with arrows from his quiver.
I became the laughingstock of all my
they mock me in song all day long.
He has filled me with bitter herbs
and given me gall to drink.
He has broken my teeth with gravel;
he has trampled me in the dust.
I have been deprived of peace;
I have forgotten what prosperity is.
So I say, “My splendor is gone
and all that I had hoped from the
I remember my affliction and my
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
~Lamentations 3:1-21 NIV
There are 21 verses, before this often quoted verse; verses of doubt, bitterness, crying, blaming, despair, and yet, yet, there was hope. In my youth, I found this confusing, even contradictory.
How can someone seemingly blame God for their suffering, and still find hope in Him?
But this is real. That is real life. This is not hypocrisy. This is human emotion. We often express our sadness not only with this world, and the suffering around us, but with a God we cannot fully understand; wondering how He can allow suffering such as this, to happen.
God has actually shown us how normal this is! He has shown us that lamenting over our broken, suffering world is quite biblical. But because of God's great love, it need not consume us. Express your grief, your sadness, your misgivings and doubts. Cry them all out to Him; pour them onto paper. He knows them anyway!
Then remind yourself of the hope you still have in Him. Remind yourself of His blessings, big and small. Take comfort in His word; even the laments. They were included in His scriptures for a reason! Know that you are not alone in your emotions.
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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