He is Closer Than We Even Know

I am taking a lot of time to pray this week for wisdom and direction.  To be still in my quite time and practice waiting, which is stinkin’ hard sometimes!!  Definitely not my natural bent.  I am excited and hopeful to see what God is going to do with this blog in the new year and how He is going to use what He has been teaching me.  Oh how I long to see how He is using these lessons for His glory, especially the really painful ones!

On this day before we begin a new year, I am working through a prayer that I believe God has given me, to pray back to Him:

“Dear Father, please show me how close you are.”

I am trusting and anticipating how God is going to work this out in my life in the coming year.  The promises He gives us, are not always fulfilled right away.  God often reveals things slowly as He teaches us each lesson.

When we were getting into camp (remember, 4 feet of snow!), it was dark.  AJ got out of the car first and walked into a mound of snow before I was able to direct him to the plowed path.  He tried to make his own way.  When he called out to me in a bit of a panic, he was not able to see how close I really was.  His panic escalated to fear and tears when he thought he was by himself.  The more He felt alone, the quicker he made more poor choices.

Have you ever felt like that?  When I am acting in fear, I do not behave wisely.

Here’s the thing though…I was by him the whole time.  I never once lost sight of him.  Before he even called to me, I was going to him.  

It is the same way with God, our Heavenly Father.  We may wander and try to make our own way, but God is closer than we know.  He never lets us out of His sight and He comes close to save us.  Oh how our day would be transformed, moment by moment, if we were just simply aware.

As AJ’s mother, I will do anything in my power to come to his aid and rescue him.  But, I am a person.  My power and skill set is limited.  As much as I may want to, I cannot be close enough in every single situation.  Unlike an earthly parent, God is close and at the ready every time.

God has a name, Jehovah Sabaoth, that means The Lord of Hosts.  This is His name of protection.  He is the ruler over angel armies and He is at the ready to come to our rescue.  God has every single level of power and authority and He is closer than we even know, especially in our time of need.  Not for a moment does He leave us on our own to make our own way or fight for ourselves.

“For He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways…Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name.  He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him.” (Psalm 91:11, 14-15).

My day and the circumstances I face will be handled differently if I am aware of how close God is to me.  So much of my behavior is often a reaction when I make my own way.  But, if I am actively looking for the hand of God, I will respond with the wisdom He provides.  The grace He lavishes.  The forgiveness He faithfully bestows.  The unending love He shares.

“But as for me, the nearness of God is my good.” (Psalm 73:28)

Welcome 2015.  God is on our side!

Begin with a Fresh Start

My family is at winter camp this week as we bring in the new year.  And by winter camp, I mean that it is about 11 degrees (with a -20 windchill) and 4 feet of snow!  We realized, as AJ was crying with snow up to his ears, that our children have never really been around snow!  Oh my…what an introduction it has been!

As I watch out the window, I see beautiful white snow.  It has transformed this land into a winter wonderland and brings with it a calm hush.  It is pure.  It is quiet.  It is inviting the earth below to began again.  Calling for a fresh start.

Just like the earth, covered in snow, I am longing for a fresh start.  In this new year, I have so many areas that I am laying before my Heavenly Father.  Praying for His covering of purity.  His covering of calm.

Rather than declaring resolutions, that just bring expectant pressure and stress of failure, I am choosing intentional simplicity.  I know areas in my life that need change.  But I have no successful resolve in my own nature.  I have stored up intentions.  I have failed attempts.  I have the sting of last year’s struggles.

It is GOD that brings a fresh start.  He has faithful promises.  He has forgiveness.  He has new beginnings.  He takes my intentions, my attempts, and my struggles.  He covers them with Himself.  He invites me to participate in the beautiful exchange that makes intentional simplicity possible.

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lordthough your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18)

There is nothing pure or white within myself.  I have sin that needs forgiven.  I have burdens I need to lay down.  I need purity that is like fresh snow or that of a lamb’s wool without blemish.  I do not want anything separating the Lord and I.

How would you like this year to begin?  What would you like to have distinguishable in the year of 2015?

As we open up new calendars, let us remember that God uses the earthly times and seasons that are set up, but He is not bound by them.  He is waiting.  He is longing for us to start this new year clean and forgiven, ready to walk in the good works He has prepared.

“For from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:16)

What To Do When Your Christmas Does Not Feel Like A Holy Night…

Holiday confession: Our tree is tiny and looks like Charlie Brown may have rejected it.  I have not baked a single cookie. And there is no Christmas card coming.

We’ve officially been immersed in “Christmas season” now for a couple of weeks, some of us more.  It seems like, as the years pass, “Christmas” comes earlier every year.  There are lights and banners downtown.  Many of us already sent our pictures and letters highlighting our year’s events.  I finished shopping and wrapping…because going small and doing it online are quite helpful.  We’ve decorated our home. The kids have tiny trees in their rooms and the beloved Fisher Price nativity set is in its prominent place on our coffee table.  What began as a few paper snowflakes on my window, has turned into a blizzard!  I pulled a book out a few days ago, recounting to my husband (much to his delight, I’m sure. Ha!) how I memorized one of its entries for a 7th grade speech competition.  I even snagged bright red snow bibs at Goodwill, for my youngest, for $2.99!  As the kids have gotten older, they are more invested and interested in anticipating the day.  Handmade gifts are carefully displayed under our tree.  They keep trying to convince me that I can put presents under the tree also, but I know they would accidentally be opened before Christmas…because I am their mother.  And I’ve tried it all!

While I really love anticipating these celebrations, there is the nagging reality of adulthood too.  Christmas songs make me cry.  Bills have to still be paid.  Families cannot always be together and are far apart.  Friends are still sick.  Even when you put out twinkling lights and hang mistletoe, life still hurts.  You just feel a little more awkward about hurting when the world is dressed up and there is supposed to be peace for everyone.

Somehow, in our minds, the problems or challenges of our year were supposed to be wrapped up by December.  What are we to do when we cannot bring ourselves to sing one more song, bake one more cookie, or RSVP for one more holiday gathering?  

Remember Emmanuel.

God with us.

I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch to believe that first Christmas was not how Mary planned either.  I don’t know about you, but at 9 months pregnant, there’s no way you would have been seeing me on the back of a donkey for countless miles.  And a dark, dirty, cave-like stable was most likely not at the top of her birth plan!  This young girl did not go into that year planning that this would be the year of a ruined reputation, of leaving her home, of being pregnant, or of delivering her baby in a stable…only to be fleeing in the middle of the night (later on) to save her baby from cruel government authorities. Jesus’ mother knew a thing or two about lost dreams and blinding fear.

But in the midst of lost dreams, Jesus came.  And, in her most painful moment, God opened the heavens for an ordinary girl to see His glorious display.  She may not have understood what He was doing, but her sacrifice was exchanged for a miracle.

As she embarked on her new calling…EMMANUEL.  As she cried the tears of loss and gain all at once…EMMANUEL.  As she relinquished her plans…EMMANUEL.  As she did not know what to do…EMMANUEL.  As she literally rejoiced with angels…EMMANUEL.  As she met royalty who had waited for her son (a son whom she did not plan)…EMMANUEL.  As she would flee in the night…EMMANUEL.  As her husband would die sometime before her (Scripture does not tell us more.)…EMMANUEL.  As she would love a son who would be poured out for the whole world…EMMANUEL.

In the moments of rejoicing and in the overwhelming moments of great struggle, God was in her midst.

This Christmas when your sadness floods over you or your fear is suffocating…EMMANUEL.  You do not have to do one more thing.  God is with you.  It is not about having a perfect tree or hanging beautiful stockings on a mantel (We don’t even have a mantel this year!).  It is not about buying extravagant gifts.  It’s not even about sending out beautiful pictures or joyfully attending one. more. party.

You can rejoice in the midst of your weariness…EMMANUEL.  You can have hope…EMMANUEL.  You can take one more step…EMMANUEL.  You can give Him your dreams and let Him exchange them for His plan…EMMANUEL.

God is with you. “For NOTHING is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37)

*You can read the entire account of Jesus’ birth in the Bible.  The book of Luke, chapters 1 and into 2, are my favorite.

Being Joy-Filled in the Real, Messy, Every, “Momma-said there’d be days” Kind of Days

I’ve been wrestling with this idea of having joy for quite a while.  It always seemed too hard to achieve or very short lived.  I never felt like I could really accomplish the art of being filled with joy…so I took the happy days and I was, well, happy.  And then I took the frustrated days, the grumpy days, the emotional days, the I-don’t-like-dishes days…and justified my emotions because my circumstances had shifted and I was entitled.

My husband would gently suggest ideas to try and help.  I would just complain that I didn’t have enough time alone or the kids had been hard that day or I was just tired.  I would schedule play dates or time with friends to distract myself.  It worked for a while.  The day off, the chat with friends, a new shirt, or even a clean kitchen would temporarily appease.  But, since I wasn’t actually dealing with the problem, I would soon need something else and my time with friends slowly became a complaining session.  Even my “public self” was becoming affected by my demeanor.

Jesus addressed this in Matthew 12.  In this chapter, He is discussing issues that the Pharisees had because Jesus was healing on the Sabbath.  Jesus rebukes them and gets right to the matters core here in verse 33 and following:

33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the Day of Judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

The only “good” in me, is Jesus in me because I received His gift of salvation (Romans 10:9) and I am saved unto the good works that He has prepared for me (Ephesians 2:10).  Jesus promises to complete a good work in me (Philippians 1:6).  If I am not learning and growing in the truth of Jesus, my heart will be filled with bitterness and evil.  Here’s where we get uncomfortable because no one likes to think of themselves as evil.  But, the truth of Jesus is that there are only two options.  We are either walking in the Spirit or we are filled with evilness. 

Oh but wait!  I thought this was a post about finding joy.  About feeling good.  About being satisfied…You may ask what this brood of vipers and what’s in our hearts has to do with having joy?  You ready for this answer?!   Everything!  Unless your heart is honest and repentant before God, you will never have joy!  You will never feel good inside or be satisfied unless your source is God!

Joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).  We cannot have joy unless we are abiding in the Spirit of God.  I may be able to display happiness on my own for a short while, but unless I am walking and abiding and filling my heart with things of God, happiness will fade and I will not possess joy.

In .37 seconds, Google gave me OVER 66 million responses when I searched for Joy!  The world wants joy and is trying to achieve it in all the wrong places.  Most of the answers that were provided were actually about trying to be happy.  The definition of joy, simply put, is to have inner delight, to be glad.  Biblically speaking, it is being glad despite your circumstances.  Happiness fades, but true joy is found in the Lord. 

Now that we know all of this, how do we work it out in our practical, everyday life?   This is what I was praying over and thinking about while I did an hour’s worth of dishes, plugged in my old laptop to charge, swept up breakfast crumbs, and refereed a handful of squabbles.  What do I do during my day to cultivate this much desired quality?

  1. I repent of my sin. If we have areas of sin in our life that we have not confessed, we are not able to grow.  Un-repented sin separates us from God.
  2. I ask God to give me joy. God promises to provide spiritual blessings to His children.  It may not change my circumstances, but it will transform my perspective!
  3. I look for circumstances in my day where I see God’s hand at work. I talk about them with my kids or I write them down in a family journal that we have just for this!  The more I focus on what God is doing, the more I will see.  God is always at work and as we grow in Him, we will be able to see it!
  4. Give praise and thanksgiving. Sing songs and speak thanksgiving.  After confessing my sins, I will still have to practice and make a conscious effort to speak words of life.  To be thankful.  As I praise God for all He is doing, I ask Him to put a guard over my mouth.   I practice making a choice to not complain about things, turning my eyes upward to Jesus.  It takes my focus off myself, my surroundings, and my complaints!
  5. I am careful about what I watch, read, or listen to. If I want the abundance of my heart to be joy-filled, then I don’t swallow garbage!  I need to be careful that I watch shows or movies that are edifying and godly.  I read books and magazines that are about growth and life.  I listen to music and participate in conversations that speak life and encourage truth!  Say no to drama and yes to building people up! 
  6. I go about my tasks. There is nothing that the devil likes more than to distract God’s children.  If he can’t have their souls, he will make sure their days are ineffective.  I have learned that the days where I stay on task and work at the jobs God has given me, are great days for the Kingdom!  When I’m eating healthy and exercising, my brain is clear to listen to the Holy Spirit’s promptings.  When I shower and get dressed, I am a lot more productive and I’m not lazy with my behavior.  My body was bought with a price.  I belong to God.  He cares how I treat myself.  Most importantly, when I read my Bible in the morning, it guides my entire day.  I manage my house well.  When I’m listening to God and am filled with joy, He gives me the strength to finish the dishes and laundry!
  7. I leave the rest up to Him. When I am filled with joy, I am at peace.  God takes care of the details.  When I’m being honest, there are not a lot of situations that are important enough for my stress, worry, and un-solicited advice!  If something matters to God and He plans to use me, it will be clear because I am already tuned to His voice.  I already know how He is guiding me, so I don’t need to pick up the cares of the world!

          So, you see.  I started out really concerned about my circumstances and how life just wasn’t suiting me.   But when I laid myself down and pressed into God, repenting and asking for His truth to wash over me, He started to heal me.  It had nothing to do with what was going on around me.  It was about sin.  And about His grace.  And His forgiveness that I desperately needed.  I was so desperate for His forgiveness that it was weighing me down.  I am still being healed by His hand and learning to make joy-filled choices.  But now, there is a quietness in my soul that comes from being content and having joy.  From learning to make choices of obedience.  He’s forgiven me and I cannot express my joy enough! 

If you want to read more about joy and finding true joy, check out these following verses:

Nehemiah 8:10

Psalm 4:7; 21:6; 30:5; 92:4

Isaiah 55:12

Habakkuk 3:18

Romans 15:13

Philippians 2:2

James 1:2

1 John 1:4

Now I’m off to go switch the laundry loads, separate fighting kids, and plan something for dinner…using the dishes I just washed.  But, I will have joy because I have the Lord!