Jun 19, 2018

Friend, Don't Give Up

Thick heat pierced the stillness of the forest as a girl sat crying under the emerald canopy.  She thought back to years before, starting a project that had only continued to grow on her heart.  Long hours, endless study, revision and starting over.  And yet, in a few words, her hopes were crushed.  As the summer day stifled her tears in the humid air, she wondered if she should give it up.  Rocks bruised her feet as she shifted on a hard log.  Her eyes stared out into the endless green.

She was only one person.  Only torrents of tears that no one saw.  But across the country, the same feeling broke other hearts.

Someone tried hard as time raced too fast, but he failed anyway.

A relationship shattered, leaving a woman's life broken as she wondered if her life had purpose anymore.

Sometimes they wanted to just give up.

But what they didn't know is that they weren't ever alone.  In the darkest times, the hardest trial, they were loved.  And even in the stifling heat, a cool breeze was waiting to wash over them when they raised their voice for help.

Dear Friend,

Life is confusing.  It hurts sometimes.  But you are loved.

Recently, a discouraging message made me wonder if I should give up a writing project that was important to me.  I was that crying girl, hiding under the forest trees and wondering why my words were wasted if I had asked God to guide me in their writing.

But the point was that nothing was wasted.  Even though I wanted to throw the project in the leaves and leave them alone so no one could read them, they had a purpose.  My words - no matter how flawed - had purpose because I wrote them for Him.

They need revision, correction, and maybe parts need to be deleted altogether.  But I can't give up.  We can't give up.  Not when God has thrust us on an adventure to bring something to completion.

Every talent, gift, and longing has a purpose, even when we don't know what it is.

It doesn't matter how many people read your words, hear your voice, or see your name.  All that matters is that you live every moment for Him.

And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
- Colossians 3:17

 As one of my favorite bloggers wrote,

Sometimes you feel ordinary, and everyone seems to be able to do life better than you, and look prettier, and write better, and reflect Jesus more. But you share anyway because God is right there revealing Himself. He whispered that anyone can be used of Him, and no one is mediocre because He hand designed every facet of us all for a specific purpose.
- Jessica from Apples of Gold

No, we can't do it on our own.  But He never asked us to.  We can face trials and temptation because the One who is in us is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).  We can press on because Christ is our fortress, our tower, our shield (Psalm 144:2).

Friend, it's okay to be weak and see our faults.  But in our weakness, don't be discouraged; instead let the trials turn your eyes upon Jesus.

So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without His unfolding grace... The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.
- 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 MSG

Let us not grow weary in doing good (Galatians 6:9), because God has a purpose.  He knows our future and will carry us onto the day of completion.

Whatever it is - living out hard things, struggling to be still in His presence, or just getting out of bed in the morning  - press on, friend.  You are loved.  And you're never alone.

God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,
Even though the earth be removed,
And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.
- Psalm 46:1-2

(ps)  This song by Josh Groban inspired me in writing this post.  I will warn that there's some immodesty in the music video, but the message of the lyrics has encouraged me multiple times.


Jun 12, 2018

Be Still and Know | Psalm 46

This year, like most, my family is raising a garden.  Actually, we're raising at least three gardens.  It turned out that our main garden didn't have enough room for my brother's giant pumpkins, so that got its own plot.  And then the cabbage, melons, and garlic were moved to their own plot.  Basically, our family is raising a lot of gardens and vegetables and berries and fruit.  

The green beans are starting to twirl their vines upward, and we're beginning to find the baby cucumbers and tomatoes.  Yet for a while we were in a slow spot.  We planted the seeds, watered the ground, and waited.  And we wondered if we would ever be able to finally hold our produce in our hands.

Naturally, I've become impatient.  I busily spend my time and glance occasionally at the garden, wondering if it will actually ever be fruitful.

But my brother is different.  Every spare moment, I see him walking through his pumpkins.  He kneels to touch every minuscule plant, to know when to pollinate every flower.  He knows which fruit is budding and is ready with a hoe to attack the sharp weeds that press up on each side.

We've both worked in the garden, but there's a difference.  I'll do the hard work, but I won't sit still and wait patiently for the results.

He's tuned to the condition of his gardens, while I'm not.  And it makes me wonder if our spiritual lives are ever like that.

So often, I find myself rushing through life.  My eyes turn from one activity to the next.  I want to do hard things for Jesus, be bold, see fruit from my work, and yet I'm not willing to sit in the garden, throw back my hair, and let wind press against my face while I watch flower bloom.

We forget what the Psalmist wrote.

Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!
- Psalm 46:10

Be still and know; let Jesus be enough.

If you study the psalm, the context of being still goes even deeper.  The Psalmist, one of the sons of Korah, raises his voice in praise to God.  To summarize the song, he declares that even if something happened as crazy as the mountains being moved into the midst of the sea, God is supreme.  He is over all.

The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved;
He uttered His voice, the earth melted.
- Psalm 46:6

"Suppose the whole world was falling apart," the psalmist seems to be saying, "with a God like ours, why would we fear?"

Be still and know; give up fear.

The last verse of the psalm is a line repeated all throughout the piece.

The LORD of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah
- Psalm 46:11

We can live in victory, do hard things, and still forget that the King of the universe is with us.  He literally hears our prayers and knows our fears.  He knows how we spend our time.  He knows when we wake up, barely brave enough to slip out of the covers.

God Himself is our refuge.  But we'll miss that if we're too busy fighting the enemy to stop, turn towards His tower of refuge, and seek safety inside.

We can do all the right things and still miss the point if we are not being still and knowing that He is God.

Yes, we are supposed to do hard things for Jesus.  Yes, we shouldn't grow lax and lazy, living a meaningless life and not displaying the Gospel with our lives.  If we don't hoe down the weeds in our lives, fruit will struggle to grow.

But as I wrote in a post in April,

He is God, and He is in control. We can't let worry or tension invade our lives - be still. And we can't let our schedules rule our lives as we rush from to and fro without catching our breath - be still.
- 6 Ways to Rejoice in Jesus

My friend, if you want to know God in a personal way, let go of doing all the right things and be still in His presence.  Or if you struggle with fear and doubt, be still and realize that He is able to save.

And then step out.  Then do hard things for Jesus and with Jesus.

We need to do everything in life in order that we find more of Jesus.  Read our Bibles to find Him.  Do chores to find Him.  Respond to emails to find Him.

And sometimes, the best way to find Him is to be silent in His presence and know that He is God.  (read this post to discover practical ways to put this into practice).

Like we wait patiently for our gardens to produce fruit, wait on Jesus and let His presence be enough.  We could plow the ground, pull weeds, throw down fertilizer, and still miss the fruit if we don't take the time to kneel in the soil and be still.  Don't worry about the produce; give that up to the One who makes plants grow.

Savor His beauty and give up everything else.  It's not about doing all the right things.  It's about a relationship.

Friend, you're never alone.  And you are being loved.

You will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, who is with you... do not fear or be dismayed.
- 2 Chronicles 20:17

Be still and know that He is God
Be still and know He is our Father
Come rest your head upon His chest
Listen to the rhythm of
His unfailing heart of love
Beating for His little ones
Calling each of us to come
Be still.
- Steven Curtis Chapman in Be Still and Know


Jun 5, 2018

Why You Should Do Hard Things

I push aside beige and blue, blacks and grays, as the material brushes my fingertips.  Rough denim turns on the hangers with the scent of clean but used consignment clothes.  My hands turn from one to another article of clothes, yet I feel my eyes wandering.

Across the store, a darker-skinned woman with her back turned slightly towards me.  She picks up a pair of shoes and holds them up to an older woman.  Lines crease their face as she thrusts them back, and they wander down the aisle.

I stand watching, my feet stuck to the ground as everything within me begins to burn.  A still, small voice whispers in my ear, but I try to thrust it away.

Go to them.

I shake my head.  How could I approach two strangers with nothing to say?  How could I offer a smile to faces I've never seen?

Go to them.

The voice continues to prod, push me forward.  My face is on fire.  I feel like a racehorse is galloping in my chest with each thud of my heart.  And in the moment, I have to decide who to listen to.

I used to think I would be bold and brave when I grew up.  I would be that beautiful adult who faced the world without fear, living courageously for what I believed in.

But so far it hasn't happened.  I grow older, but I'm still me.  I still struggle, fear, and face decisions that that make my fingers grow numb.

The wonderful thing is that God is still God, and when I grow weak, He is only stronger (2 Corinthians 12:9).

That's why we do hard things.  Not because it's fun or exciting but because it allows us to admit our inability and let Him work in and through us.

This journey started when, as a young teenager, I read Do Hard Things by Alex and Brett Harris, and the book changed the way I saw life.  The pages made my hair stand on end.  God wants me to do hard, scary things?  He wants me to live radically?  How could I do that when I am so weak and afraid?

But ever since then, I've been on an adventure - seeking to do hard things because then Christ can work in me.

I fail more than I win.  But every time, He picks me up and lets me start again.

What if Noah in Genesis 6-8 had let fear get between him and God's perfect plan?  What if he hadn't walked with God amidst uncertainty, hadn't built the ark to deliver his family from a seemingly impossible death, hadn't stood strong when persecution arose?  What if the taunts and logical voices had drowned out the Voice that spoke truth before the storm?

But Noah did hard things because he trusted in God.  It didn't make sense, it wasn't enjoyable, but he pressed on anyway.

And, like Noah, we must,

...be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. 
- 1 Timothy 4:12

Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 
- 1 Timothy 6:12

Endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
- 2 Timothy 2:3

When I walked across the store and gave a hug to two strangers, it didn't make sense.  Everything within me wanted to run away and escape the burning feeling inside my heart.  But for once, I ignored the fear and did it.

There have been countless other times when I succumbed to the temptation and avoided the hard thing God brought before me, and every time I realized that it's more painful to disobey than to obey even when obeying seems to tear you apart.  Doing hard things is what we are called to as Christians.

Whether it's making your bed in the morning, smiling at someone who doesn't deserve it, not allowing "introvert" to define you, memorizing a chapter of the Bible, or sharing the Gospel, I challenge you to do hard things.  Be the Noah of our generation who stands up and walks with God.

It's always worth it.

Not long ago, I had one of the most lovely weeks of my life.  During the Glory Writers Retreat, I had the opportunity to fellowship with amazing ladies who have a passion for Christ and for using the gifts He has given.  But even then, I had to do a hard thing.

I had to make the decision to do something I've never done before.  I had to resist panicking when my dad drove off, leaving me with people I barely knew.  I had to take a deep breath, trust God, and know that He is always good.

But like Eric Ludy writes,

Heroes are not made through grit, self-determination, or by pulling themselves up by the proverbial bootstraps. True Heroes are the product of Jesus Christ's grace, His divine and loving determination, and His pulling us up from the depths of our sin.

Yes, we fear.  Yes, we are broken.  Yes, we're not strong enough.

But with Christ,

...I can run against a troop,
By my God I can leap over a wall.
As for God, His way is perfect;
The word of the Lord is proven;
He is a shield to all who trust in Him.
- Psalm 18:29-30

So I choose to do hard things, not because it's easy but because God is always good.

What hard things are He challenging you to do with in your own life, my friend?  Saying the word, sending the letter, giving the hug, whispering the prayer?  Don't give in or give up.  God is there, a shield to all who trust in Him.  Sometimes the smallest hard things can make the biggest differences in life.

Press on.

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear...
- 1 John 4:18