Are you a planner? Do you have an organized journal or calendar for planning? Do you make lists of the things you need to get done, day to day, week to week, month to month? Do you plan out quarterly or yearly goals?
I am a wanna-be planner. I pretend to be more organized than I actually am. I buy planners at the beginning of every year, and I start writing things down. But I inevitably become side-tracked, or plans continually change, and I lose track of my plans and my lists. Of course there are missteps, and there is often confusion. If I don't add things to the calendar or my lists, they are easily forgotten. But what I have learned is that God still orders my steps. Life doesn't stop because I have failed to write it down. The problem lies in my failure to consult with God about my plans.
Our human bains often visualize our plans, lists, steps, in a particular order. It might be a mountain, but generally it's still a straight line. And in our humanness, we often think our daily plans are too mundane for God. These are not the things He concerns Himself with. These are just unimportant details of our lives that need to happen. So often, we believe our plans have failed, when they do not go according to our own plans; when instead of a neat straight line, there are zigs and zags, and even drop offs where we lost the plan entirely.
Here's the thing about climbing mountains; it is almost never done in a straight line. You can map out a perfectly good plan in your own head, which seems efficient, and time saving, but some of that path might be dangerous. There may be patches of fog where visibility is poor. There may be areas of loose gravel, where it is difficult to maintain your footing. There may even be times when you have to wait out a storm before continuing on.
And while all you can see at the moment, is the base of the mountain in front of you, and in your head, a straight line up makes the most sense, God can see the whole mountain. He can see the fog. He can see the areas of danger.
Include God in your planning. Take comfort in the zigs and the zags, knowing that your Creator has mapped out the safest, most efficient path, whether you can see that in your humanness or not. Have faith.
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!
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.
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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