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?
Bad things happen.
There are no disqualifiers here. They don't just happen to good people. They don't avoid bad people. They just happen.
They happen because we live in an imperfect world. They happen because this is not Heaven. This is not our permanent home. Imagine if bad things didn't happen at all, ever. How would we ever appreciate the good? How would we learn to rely on God? Why would we even look toward Heaven if we had it so good on earth?
God never promises us that bad things wouldn't happen. In fact, the Bible repeatedly warns us of hard times, and tries to teach us how to prepare for them.
One of my favorite songs in Sunday school as a child, was The Wise Man Built His House, based off the above verse. The song came complete with fun hand motions and everything, but an even more valuable lesson.
The storm was not diverted away from the wise man. The storm came to both the wise man who built his house upon the rock, and the foolish man who built his house upon the sand. The storm hit them both. The only difference was that the wise man was better prepared with a stronger foundation.
Life is hard. Bad things happen...to everyone. This lesson is not only about how some bad situations are avoidable by making wise decisions, but also about preparing our foundation.
The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. ~Matthew 7:25
The storm still comes, with its dark clouds of sadness and difficult winds of change. You will still feel it sweep through, but you will not be broken. With God as your Rock, your Foundation, prepared with His Word, you will not fall.
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.
When I was growing up, my dad had a strongly opinionated stance against the phrase, practice makes perfect. He talked about it in teaching and in coaching, and he often used me as an example.
See, he believed that this phrase was inherently false, because if you practice something incorrectly hundreds of times, the result is that you do it incorrectly. Instead, he would often say that practice makes permanent. If I practiced shooting a basketball, the wrong way, hundreds of times, I would not have the perfect shot, but I would have a permanent one. My body mechanics would always return to that muscle memory I had created, whether it was correct or not. Then, if I wanted to correct that shot, it would take twice as much repetition and work to fix the error. The body doesn't let go of what we've told it so quickly, and it takes more discipline to change, than to stay the same.
I did not understand the depth of this lesson, at that young time in my life, on a basketball court.
We are born sinners into a world of sin. Even with the best of intentions, we tend to gravitate toward selfishness and act out of jealousy and unhealthy comparisons, in pursuit of our own goals and ambitions.
And the behavior that we practice, becomes permanent. I will say it again.
The body doesn't let go of what we've told it so quickly, and it takes more discipline to change, than to stay the same.
When I was a young teen, I had some corrections to make to my jump shot. In an effort to shoot baskets from a distance that my elementary school body was not ready for, I had spent the previous years practicing the shot incorrectly. I was pushing hard from my hip, and adding the push of my guide hand in the follow through. This may not mean much to those who don't follow basketball, but the concept remains; I practiced incorrectly for years because of selfish ambition. I wanted to be a 3-point shooter, and instead of allowing myself to grow into that correctly, I tried to speed up the process, and I created a much less accurate shot.
The process of correction was long and tedious. It involved extra time, extra repetition, and even extra equipment. I had to wear a strap over my left hand to keep it from turning incorrectly. It was uncomfortable, and for a long time, I missed even more shots than before because the correction felt awkward, and my body would rebel against it. I had to actually move back in, closer to the basket, to relearn the mechanics. I spent months, not shooting a 3-point shot at all. I wasn't right back where I started. I was actually farther behind.
However, I did, become the 3-point shooter I had set out to be. In fact, my 3-point shot was the main contributing factor to colleges recruiting me, and paid for my education. Had I not made the corrections, I would have perfected an inconsistent, mediocre shot. I would have worked hard, putting in a lot of time in the gym, doing the wrong things. I would have missed my goal because of stubbornness and refusal to change.
But just because something is harder, uncomfortable, or it doesn't feel natural, doesn't mean that it is incorrect. It could just mean that you have trained yourself to believe that the wrong way was the correct way for so long, that the change is hard. When we apply this to our spiritual lives, it can be mind blowing. God often calls us out of our comfort zones. He often asks things of us which are uncomfortable and feel unnatural, because they were never before a part of our practices.
Call to action!
Let's pray about what practices in our lives need to be changed, to direct us toward God's calling. It might be difficult. It might be uncomfortable, but let's open our hearts to those corrections. Ask yourself what the ambition is behind what you're practicing, and if it is anything less than Godly, ask Him to change your heart and your ways.
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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