I began writing this post 3 months ago after a series of events sparked my thinking on this topic.
This is how quite a few of my blog posts begin - just some random thoughts I've written down.
I needed to read it today.
I'm tired. Tired physically, emotionally, even spiritually.
It's been a challenging few months.
I don't feel like blogging today. I feel like napping. I feel like wallowing a bit on the outskirts of my default setting.
Instead, I open my saved, but unpublished, blog posts, and found this one.
It's excruciatingly appropriate.
Back on that day in February when I started this post, I read this blog about being afraid to use our gifts. The author reposted this June 2008 post on his Twitter, and the words really dug into my heart.
That was the first impetus for my thoughts beginning to churn.
Then, also back on that day in February, I read this entry from "My Utmost for His Highest". Also thought-churning.
I can totally understand what the blogger spoke about concerning being afraid to use our gifts. There was a time I was a very prolific songwriter. It was my main means of communicating my overwhelming feelings to God and to others. And then, there came a time when God asked me to stop writing.
God did this by gently nudging me. He loves my songs. But He wanted me to learn to communicate in other, healthier, life-giving ways. Like sitting down face to face with someone who loves me & cares about me and telling them what I was experiencing.
I'm able to do that now. Well, most of the time. 90% of the time. That's quite a bit of progress over 0% of the time.
Then the Oswald Chambers entry opened my eyes to a frightening truth. When I'm insecure about what I can take on or achieve, I'm really saying that Jesus isn't able to help me. I'm saying my insecurities and weakness are too much for Him to fix and/or work through.
The entry says: "Beware of the pious fraud in you which says - I have no misgivings about Jesus, only about myself. None of us ever had misgivings about ourselves; we know exactly what we cannot do, but we do have misgivings about Jesus."
He goes on to write, "My misgivings arise from the fact that I ransack my own person to find out how He will be able to do it."
Back to the above blog post. I feel as if God clearly spoke to me through several means a decade ago concerning how He wanted to use my gifts. I've allowed Him to use some of my gifts in limited capacity, but for lots of reasons (fear, shame, pride and letting Satan win being among them), I have not been and am not living in the fullness of all God has for me.
Add my family to the mix. I can think of a million reasons that God's call is not doable or even feasible given various family circumstances. What about God's call for my husband? My kids? These are excuses - yes. But they are pretty convincing ones. This would be a great example of the "how" Oswald Chambers referenced.
The reality, for me, is the biggest enemy of God's gifts being used in my life is me.
It's not just Satan (he plays a part, certainly). It's not my life circumstances. It's not money or time or anything else.
It's me and all my rationalizing and explaining away. It's me and all my small sighted-ness. It's me believing the lies Satan is speaking and forgetting to tell myself the truth.
It's the very stuff I pound into your heads week after week that I seem to not be able to hear right now. It's the very things I usually can put into practice. But I feel as if I'm hitting a roadblock in this area.
For my family, I have felt for quite some time as if God is pushing us out of our comfort zone in several areas and we need to really seek Him without fear. I laugh at that. Seek God as a family? I feel as if my husband & I barely have time to sit and figure out our schedules, much less seek God in concentrated prayer.
What are your excuses? God can't use you until you're healed? You're too busy? Too tired? Too.....?
What are your misgivings about Jesus, as Oswald Chambers asked? Evidently, mine include having to pray a certain amount in order to hear from God about what's next. Hmm. Treating God like a vending machine where I need to put in a certain amount of something in order to get something in return is never a good idea.
I remember when God made it clear He wanted me to talk about my struggle with overcoming same-sex attraction. I was like, "Really, God? ARE YOU INSANE? You want me to tell Christians about this? I'll likely end up ex-communicated!" And look at me now :) Yet there are clearly other areas that I need to surrender and be obedient in.
What gift is God asking you to use? Does the very thought of being obedient terrify you?
What big dreams is God asking you to fan the flame of?
Are you the enemy that is keeping you from obedience?
I want to end with a prayer, for me & for you. Feel free to pray it aloud.
God. I choose to trust You. I choose to trust that the gifts You have given me & the plans You have for me are Yours, not mine. I surrender the fact that sometimes, Your plans & gifts won't even make sense to me. I release them to You to figure out the "how". Forgive me for my complacency, my falling into despair and indifference. Forgive me for only looking at things through my eyes and not asking for Your eyes. Help me to stop being my own worst enemy. Re-deposit Your spirit & Your Word into my heart to encourage me, to challenge me, and to spur me to action. I love You. You are good. Thank You for caring for me as only a perfect Father can. Not my will, Lord, but Yours - really. I pray this is the mighty name of Your Son, Jesus. Amen.
Friday, May 27, 2011
Friday, May 20, 2011
Think of the biggest struggle in your life right now, the thing that plagues you. The issue you've dealt with for so long that you can't imagine ever feeling free of it.
Now imagine yourself in a place of great victory. You are finally learning to walk in freedom as it pertains to your struggle.
You have overcome obstacles that used to appear to be Mount Everest. Now you feel as if you have conquered Mount Everest!
I'm rapidly nearing the end of Joshua. Today, I read chapter 23.
It's exciting to imagine the Israelites in the Promised Land. The land had been divided; the Israelites had received their inheritance. They were settling in to their new homes.
We hear Joshua imploring the Israelites to continue to follow God with everything they have.
So be very careful to follow everything Moses wrote in the Book of Instruction. Do not deviate from it, turning either to the right or to the left. Make sure you do not associate with the other people still remaining in the land. Do not even mention the names of their gods, much less swear by them or serve them or worship them. Rather, cling tightly to the Lord your God as you have done until now.
Put yourself back in that place of great victory you envisioned at the beginning of this post.
Now imagine you are an Israelite.
You have stepped into your Jordan.
You gathered your stones of remembrance.
You have seen challenges through God's eyes.
You have learned the importance of consulting God in all things.
And now you are living in the fullness of God's specific plan for you.
No wonder you feel as if you've conquered a giant mountain! Surely now you can exhale and finally relax.
Now, imagine you are facing another obstacle that makes you wonder if you made up the Promised Land. What feelings rise up within you? Hope? Fear? Trust? Or Despair?
The reality of life is that we are bound, just like the Israelites, to face challenges. We don't have control over that. But we do have control over how we respond.
Despair used to be one of my default settings. And it's no surprise. I've had a challenging life. The circumstances and situations I have faced could easily point me to despair. Many of those things seemed hopeless.
But slowly, by seeing God's faithfulness, by learning to tell myself the truth, by choosing to trust in God's goodness, my tendency to despair is something I've slowly been able to overcome.
Now, when the despairing thoughts come, I replace them with truth.
When I worry about the details, I say out loud: "God will take care of me. He doesn't give His kids stones when they ask for bread. I am worth more than many sparrows."
I remember 2 Corinthians 4:8: "We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed." Then I pray through it:
"God, help me to be perplexed, confused, but not to fall into despair. Persecuted, yes, but God, You NEVER abandon me. Struck down, but Lord, you are my strong tower, a refuge in times of trouble, an ever-present help in time of need. Lord, thank You that the lions may grow weak & hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing."
In that moment of maybe, I have a choice: despair in my circumstances or trust in my God.
As I finish up Joshua, I'm excited and apprehensive concerning not only what the Israelites will face next, but more importantly how they will choose to respond.
How will you respond today? When trials come, will you rely on your feelings to dictate your truth, or will you once again choose to trust in Your Creator, the Freedom Giver? Will you choose to believe the father of lies or the lifter of your head?
The old hymn "Before the Throne of God Above" comes to mind.
When Satan tempts me to despair,
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end to all my sin.
Looking up, as Joshua did, not looking at our challenges, but looking at our God. The God who hung from the cross, who gave up everything for you & me, surely He is trustworthy. Are you, as I wrote about last week, choosing to hold on to hopelessness and despair, or are you willing to unclench your fists, open your hands to God, and see what He has for you?
Friday, May 13, 2011
1 a : having no expectation of good or success : despairing
b : not susceptible to remedy or cure
c : incapable of redemption or improvement
2 a : giving no ground for hope : desperate
b : incapable of solution, management, or accomplishment : impossible
— hope·less·ness noun
That dark place we resort to when things are not turning out the way we thought & hoped they would. The place we go when we had dared to hope and those hopes were dashed.
Despair. Fear. Isolation.
I'm reading Breaking Free by Russell Willingham (highly recommend this book, and even more so recommend Relational Masks). Breaking Free is geared more toward heterosexual male sex addicts, but don't let that deter you from reading it or continuing on in this blog post. I am neither male nor have I dealt with sex addiction, but Russell Willingham is such a powerful speaker & writer that I am getting a ton out of it.
The chapter I'm on, "The Myth of No-Fault Victimization", discusses the following verse: "When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me." 1 Corinthians 13:11
Russell Willingham talks about how in many ways, the sex addict is stuck in childish ways of relating. I think many of us, addicts or not, can relate to this. I heard someone recently refer to it as "Arrested Development": a part of us or an aspect of our personality can get stuck at a certain age & never mature past that point.
Russell breaks each aspect of the sex addicts arrested development: talking, thinking and reasoning.
I'm going to quote from the book now.
"I thought like a child." Many of us can't use the past tense as Paul did, because we are still stuck in childish beliefs, perceptions and notions that protect us from having to take responsibility for our choices. In another place Paul calls these strongholds (see 2 Cor 10:4-5).
He goes on to outline the various ways of thinking that children exhibit, such as egocentrism, centrism, animism, and hopelessness.
Hopelessness? That seems somewhat out of place. Listen to how he explains it (bolded emphasis mine, italics are the authors).
Hopelessness is not only a response to traumatic losses; it can also become a habit-forming coping mechanism. Children may lapse into hopelessness because they don't have all the information. My daughter once cried uncontrollably because her balloon popped. To her, all was lost. Because of her sobs she was unable to hear me telling her I would get her another one out of the bag. It wasn't until it was blown up and placed in her clenched fists that she opened her eyes and chose to hope again.
For many of us a popped balloon was the least of our worries in childhood. Some of us had childhood years that were filled with parental abuse, rejection or just plain indifference. In order to keep our sanity, many of us had to let go of the dream of ever having our needs met in these relationships.
Is hopelessness your default setting? Think about it. Are you, like Russell's daughter, holding on to that hopelessness with clenched fists? He goes on to say:
Two things can be said about the sexually broken. First, their hopes for love & protection were often shattered in childhood. And, second, they refuse to hope even now even though the Son of God is pleading with them. They cling to the familiar feeling of abandonment and rarely venture outside into the open spaces of God's love & grace. Why? Because they don't really believe it exists, or, if it exists, they believe they are not eligible for it. This is a repudiation of what they claim to believe.
I don't have much more to say about the above. Hopelessness is not from God. There is a reason He is called the God of Hope. Look at what it says in Hebrews 6:
Now when people take an oath, they call on someone greater than themselves to hold them to it. And without any question that oath is binding. God also bound himself with an oath, so that those who received the promise could be perfectly sure that he would never change his mind. So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.
If God is real, if He is who the Bible says He is, then hopelessness is not an option. If His promises are true, if He doesn't change, and never lies, then we have to reverse the pattern in our lives of getting sucked into hopelessness.
If you see a pattern in your life of hopelessness, if that is your default setting, start to choose to trust today by beginning to tell yourself the truth. Ask God to show you how to see your situation with His eyes. Read about hope in the Bible. Memorize those verse and meditate on them when you find yourself sinking into hopelessness.
I'll leave you with a few of my favorites:
"We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love." Romans 5:3-5
"Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see." Hebrews 11:1
"I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe." Ephesians 1:18-19
"This is why we work hard and continue to struggle, for our hope is in the living God, who is the Savior of all people and particularly of all believers." 1 Timothy 4:10
"Through Christ you have come to trust in God. And you have placed your faith and hope in God because he raised Christ from the dead and gave him great glory." 1 Peter 1:21
Friday, May 6, 2011
I recently had an interesting conversation with a group of friends about whether or not God has a specific plan for our lives.
It seems many were brought up in a generation that was very focused on uncovering your specific "plan & purpose" that God created you for. Having prayed for years, hoping to discern this purpose, some have given up on finding it.
As you all know, I'm reading Joshua. Slowly.
I have to admit that getting in the later chapters, it can be a little tedious to read all the town names and valley names and which tribe got what land, etc.
But as I read, I can't help but think about how specific God's plan is. He spelled it out for them. It was His job to make His plan clear, not their job to somehow locate it.
I used to kill myself trying to find God's plan. I understand the brand of frustration my friends shared about. I'd get on my knees and tell God I wasn't moving until He spoke to me & told me everything I wanted to know about my future.
Then, one day, in May of 2004 while teaching at a student ministry conference, He spoke. Here is part of what He said.
"I do have a plan for you - a wonderful plan that will shock, delight and surprise you, a plan that will blow your small ambitions out of the water." He then went on to tell me I wasn't ready to hear about that plan.
This wasn't what I wanted to hear.
God spoke to my heart that day that I needed to be still and experience Him as God, that He is so different than any other relationship I've ever experienced. He called me to climb up into His lap and allow Him to change me, to lean back & rest my head against His heart so I might know & experience all the wonderful things He feels for me.
God didn't primarily want to "use" me, as in have me do great things; He primarily wanted to change me. His goal for me in that time was to deposit in my heart His love, the new identity He died to give me, and His vision for my wholeness.
It's amazing to look back on that time in my life, and see what God has done in those 7 years. When I look at His children now, I wish I could literally take what God has deposited into my heart (His deep & passionate love for each of us, His tender care & compassion, His desire to see us walk in freedom & live abundant lives) and transplant it into someone else's heart. I now do this little by little, bit by bit, through teaching, writing, and blogging. I would not be able to do that now if I hadn't allowed God to work in me for the past 7 years.
Let me be clear. I absolutely believe God has a specific plan for each of His children who call Him by name.
But we can kill ourselves (and kill our faith) trying to "find" it.
Jesus said my sheep hear my voice. Period. The God who spoke the whole world into existence can make His voice heard by you when you need to hear it.
God does not give us a road map. It would be easier in some ways if He did, but then we wouldn't have to trust in Him and cling to Him so tightly; we'd simply have to trust in the map.
I don't want to get to know a map. I want to purpose to know my Creator, the One who shaped me & formed me & laid out my life.
I'm not going to argue over whether or not God literally maps out every minute of every day. What I do know is that God created each of us with gifts & talents, passions & desires, that He wants to use in specific ways.
Rather than strive to find the map, it's been much healthier (as my friends mentioned above have also realized) for me to try and follow His commands and teachings, to love Him and continually surrender to Him, to dream, and to keep living life while doing that, rather than always seeking after the next big thing or sign. In the midst of that, as I cling to God, as I read His Word & spend time with His people, God will show me what He has for me.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
If you're looking for help discerning whether or not you are hearing God's voice, this blog post might help.