Cries From The Clay: I do not start at the truth, I am led to it.

“And yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, and you are the potter. We all are formed by your hand.”
 
Isaiah 64:8

I do not, this morning, have a gentle, submissive attitude that praises you for your wonderful works. Today, I’m upset. These are cries from the clay in the messy and pressure-filled work of molding.

I’m frustrated by this verse because as you formed my body, you allowed this genetic flaw that would make every pregnancy miserable. I’m nauseous. I’m hot. I’m tired of throwing up. I’m tired of how little control I have over whether our travel plans will actually work out or constantly need to be re-worked. I’m tired of the countdowns.

Countdown to second trimester? Done! So what? Other people get to bid the nausea good riddance and enjoy the extra energy. I throw up and spend my days in bed just the same. Countdown to going home? Meaningless. Travel is so tenuous now, it could all fall apart at the last minute. Countdown to the baby? It will mean no sleep and a torn up body.

Every countdown just feels like counting down to more problems that I do not have the capacity to take on.

We do not get to just enjoy your gifts. They are fraught with difficulty and brokenness at every turn. Relief is coming, but it is so far away. And I am living and trying to stay encouraged here and now. I am struggling to find tangible joy and hope for my tired hands to take hold of.

I’m crying out to you, my Maker. You, who have carried me through these waters before. You, who have set me on solid ground and given my heart new cause to rejoice. Forgive my angry outcries and restore my soul. I am breaking here and I do not understand your ways.

Outward, always outward I am reaching and searching for a source of delight and satisfaction and strength, but you use these moments of unrelenting hardship – not just to teach me to endure – but to teach me how you endure.

You, my light and hope and source of lasting contentment, you endure untarnished by the harsh realities I am walking through. May my heart be humble and wise enough to take you at your word that your grace alone is sufficient for me, especially in the frustrating moments when I do not feel it.

You gave your life for my freedom. It’s the message for all time, given at just the right time (1 Timothy 2:6). Freedom from condemnation, fear and worry. Freedom from the need for control. Freedom to surrender.

Oh Lord,

Help my heart to surrender to your care and rest, even in my disappointment, even in all that is uncertain. Lead my heart to contentment in you, Oh Lord, my rock and my redeemer. I do not start there, and when it gets rough like this, I cannot find the way myself.

But I can come to you and pour out my soul. I can admit that the truth doesn’t feel true and confess my need for help with my own heart, and you will faithfully step in to lead me. When I am blindly groping for a foothold, you are a faithful guide who makes my shaking feet sure, and you gently help me to believe again that you are a trustworthy potter. That what you are crafting is worth every second of the wait. And that in every moment of my difficulty, you hold me carefully in your hands.

“May the Lord lead your hearts into a full understanding and expression of the love of God and the patient endurance that comes from Christ.”

2 Thessalonians 3:5

Matchless – by Beka Burns

“So I’ll hold on for dear life, you are worth all it costs.”

Crawl With Endurance: on victory in hardship, even when it has you on your knees

We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father…”

Colossians 1:11-12

The first time I faced this, I was completely thrown. All I could see was a debilitating, life-consuming sickness that disrupted our plans and caused cracks in my faith. The nausea left the day I delivered my baby. But it took an entire year to recover my footing.

Now I see that every day I am sick is a battle for my heart – a choice to say “yet I will trust you” or to allow discouragement and unbelief to take root. Every difficulty I will ever face offers that same choice. And I have learned that I cannot afford to make the wrong one.

Hardship is an opportunity to build endurance – to wait with confidence, pushing through the discomfort for a little bit longer than ever before. Or, if we are driven by the wrong expectations, it will become the hurdle we collapse over. God’s Word has never glossed over what kind of race this is. May he shore up our hearts to run (or in my case crawl) with endurance.

Oh Lord Almighty,

You can do no wrong. Help me to prepare my mind for this ongoing battle. Teach me to strip away the entangling attitude that demands comfort and lives for my own desires. Give me a mind to suffer hardship in a way that honors your name. Shape my expectations by your Word so that I am strengthened to endure what is difficult, and I am content with where you have placed me and how you have provided for me. Help me to cling to the truth that you are trustworthy and good, whatever becomes of me.

I have pleaded with you for a different kind of pregnancy. Now I ask that you would make me different through this pregnancy.

Please help my heart to find you near and believe you sufficient. Transform the way I think about ministry and service. When I feel I have so little to offer, make my heart humble to see all you are capable of. When I struggle to see the big picture, make me willing to trust you and stay the course. Give my heart courage for the task, and use every hardship and discomfort as a precise tool in your hand to hone and shape me.

Carve away the pieces of me that resist you, that exalt myself, and that stand in the way of people seeing Christ alone. Me, the frail container, and He, the only one with the strength to strengthen me; the only source of all the endurance and patience I need.

Awkward: a new way to cut grass and do life

“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love…let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.”

Ephesians 4:2, 23

Let me tell you a story about a missionary I recently got to visit with here in Papua New Guinea.

After years of living in the jungle, learning language and culture, and the excitement of presenting the Gospel in their heart language, he was preparing to teach the brand-new believers in his village through Ephesians chapters 4 and 5.  During lesson prep, he was considering God’s instructions for husbands and wives and how mind-boggling and challenging they would seem to these couples who have never, until now, even attempted to build a marriage based on Christ’s example of laying down every right for the sake of the other. He knew that trying this out was going to feel awkward for them; it would be totally different from the way things have always been. So he decided to use cutting the grass as an illustration.

This people group grows a lot of their own food, and they often prepare the ground for new gardens by clearing the grass. Except they have no lawnmowers.

They use a blade attached to a long handle. It’s shaped a little like a hockey stick, and in Tok Pisin, they call it a sarep. To use it, they walk back and forth, back and forth, forcefully swinging this tool to chop the grass right at the level of the dirt. It is hard, tiresome work, and there is definitely a technique to it.

The missionary asked this brand-new church: “What if you had been cutting grass with your right hand, year after year, your whole life, since you were a child?”

His lesson went something like this: What if, suddenly, you were told that you need to use your left hand instead? When it came time to cut the grass again, it would feel right to reach for your tool with your right hand. Every time you went to pick it up, you would have to fight that habit and remember to stop and reach with your left hand instead. It would take slow, awkward growth toward doing this work in a new way. That’s what it’s like to “throw off your old nature and your former way of life.” That’s what it’s like to “let the Spirit renew your thinking and attitude.” When you go to do the work of marriage, you are used to reaching for your own strength and understanding, and that’s what feels right. But you have to stop and choose to reach for something better. You have to let the Spirit teach you a new way to cut the grass.

This week, I was listening to a video teaching session on Colossians by Ruth Chou Simons, and I jotted down this quote, which I thought explained really well why we so badly need to switch hands:

“I thought it would be possible to have enough self-control to be the kind of wife I wanted to be…but I couldn’t make progress toward [it] because I was motivated by my own reputation, my own ideas of success, and my own ability to achieve. Love on the other hand is a greater motivator.”

I loved the insight that we often tackle good goals with weak motivations. Scripture calls us to be humble, gentle, and patient; to plan on each other screwing up, and to plan on making allowance for that. To look at our relationships, and budget for the forgiveness we will need to extend.

Why? To look good? To get my family to change by what a good job I do? To guarantee an outcome? To secure God’s help?

No. Because of His love.

As I become more and more like my Savior, and do the awkward work of yielding to His way of doing things, I start to speak and act in a way that is driven by love. Not by outcomes, not by lust for control or approval, but by a determined pursuit of what is best for someone else.

That is not my normal way of thinking. I am used to a different mentality and I slip easily into old thoughts and attitudes. So I need to throw them off again and again, to fight against old habits, reach with my left hand, and let Him renew my whole mindset.

“Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.”

Ephesians 4:21-22

So here I am, learning right alongside these brand-new believers, the uncomfortable, humbling work of exchanging my weak motivations for the compelling love of Christ and my flagging determination for a source of strength that never grows weak or weary.

Oh Lord,

Please do this in me this morning. Humble my heart, draw me to the place where I behold your love and I’m awestruck by it. Let it flow through me so that in all my interactions, I am gentle, patient, and ready to extend grace. Change me more and more so that, because of you and your work in me, I cherish others.

As I decide how to respond to whatever this day before me holds, help me to lay aside the old way of thinking and my self-dependence, and to reach, however awkwardly, for you.

Reclaiming the Sweetness: what to rehearse when you’re dreading tomorrow

“We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith…”

Hebrews 12:2

Today is a Saturday and Cody’s here and I’m making cinnamon rolls and Abi is playing in the sand. It’s a sweet day, and I could just enjoy it. But I’m distracted by what’s looming ahead.  

Cody’s leaving Tuesday for a week-long trip to a bush location. In a month or two, he’s planning a trip to the States for his Kodiak training. He’d be gone for a month.

Right now, I’m fighting a cold, not sleeping great, and worried about handling just this next week well without him. I’m still new here. I still find walking my toddler to the market in the afternoon heat and keeping him out of the road while I buy veggies in another language…overwhelming. I rely on that hand-off when Cody gets home, and I’m tempted to compare and feel discouraged when it comes to parenting Abishai without the back-up. Cody would do a way better job, I tell myself. You can’t be all that Abi needs. He’ll be worse off for having spent all that time with just you, especially if you’re not feeling 100%.

This month, I’m going through a Bible Study called “TruthFilled” by Ruth Chou Simons.  One of her main points so far has been this: You are your own biggest influence. No one talks to you more than you do. How vital is it, then, to make sure that what you are saying to yourself is the truth?

This week, the challenge was to describe some of the worries I currently feel and then confront those emotions by drafting a mini-sermon to myself with the truth I already know, but need to work at rehearsing. Here’s what I came up with:

I don’t need to worry about my performance. I don’t need to dwell on all the things coming up and how I will meet them. I don’t need to be fearful because my body is not doing well and the demands are more than I can meet. Christ holds all creation together and that includes me and my life. (Colossians 1:17)

I can see the challenges and still look at these coming days with hope and expectation, and here is why:

“…We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord and your lives will produce EVERY KIND of good fruit. All the while YOU WILL GROW as you learn to know God better and better.”

Colossians 1:9-10, emphasis mine

It’s a prayer laying out what God alone is able to accomplish, what a maturing believer who continues to pursue a knowledge of God, even in their frailty, can look forward to and expect.

I will grow. My life will honor and please God, and I will produce every kind of good fruit as I develop in my knowledge of God’s will and spiritual wisdom and understanding, getting to know Him better and better. And that wisdom? That knowledge of Him? It is not a place I can climb to. It is a gift to those who ask.

“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and HE WILL GIVE IT TO YOU. He will not rebuke you for asking.”

James 1:5, emphasis mine

Even the next verse in James 1 brings it back to this one simple thing: “be sure your faith is in God alone.I am not called upon for my work, my discipline, or my understanding. I am asked to offer my faith.

“This is the only work God wants from you: believe in the one He has sent.”

John 6:29

And so, that which I am asked, I can most certainly do. I cannot know ahead of time what will happen or how to meet it. I cannot heal my body or perform perfectly. But I can trust Him. And that is my job. And as I trust Him, He gives me wisdom and understanding. And as I grow in wisdom and understanding, my life produces what He desires. All I am yearning for in my life springs as the outflow of a heart that decides to believe Jesus; to believe His work, to believe His words, and to depend only on Him, for this next moment, and the one after that.

There are tasks and challenges coming up that I don’t feel ready for. But my first priority is to trust the Lord. And I do that, even as I approach these things, by choosing not to worry. I choose to believe He will take care of me when I get there.

And when it comes to parenting Abishai without back-up? I never had a prayer of being what he needed anyway. Who he needs is not me. But it’s not Cody either. It’s Christ. And Christ lives powerfully in me, still faithfully cultivating growth, producing transformation, and holding out all the hope we need. I am never parenting all alone. Always, I carry about within me the treasure Abi most needs to take hold of.

Christ is sufficient for me. Christ is sufficient for him. Christ is sufficient for today. Christ is sufficient for tomorrow.

And when I do the work of deciding to believe it, He does the work of putting my heart at rest so that I can enjoy cinnamon rolls, breezy Saturdays, and my laughing, sandy toddler without any fear for tomorrow, next week, or any day after.

Frayed: grace to help us when we split under pressure

“You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake…We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.”

2 Corinthians 4:5, 7

We’re in the second stage of language learning here in Papua New Guinea. Instead of going to either the classroom or a teaching session out in the village, we’ve been cut loose to learn as much as we can by being with people in their daily lives. Sometimes this means helping in their gardens, washing clothes in the river with them, visiting their homes, or going on a walk and talking with whoever we meet on the way.

One difficulty I ran into last week was this: men and women usually spend their days apart.

Where Cody can pretty freely come and go, it takes a little more legwork and planning to set up a safe way for me get those same experiences. I was brainstorming and doing my very best to meet all the expectations I felt, but one day, my plan fell through and my heart sunk with it.

Cody had a long hike with the men planned that day and with my Plan A out of commission, several people would have had to change their whole day in order for me to get the language time I’d been hoping for. I got disillusioned with how unfair and complicated this process felt. I cried, hard. I miss the structure. I miss our teacher laying out our lessons and making sure everyone was right where they should be. I miss the freedom to just hop in my car and go where I need to go. I miss my mom!

The next morning, one of the sweet ladies here offered to watch Abi for a few hours, and I took the opportunity to reset. I could accomplish all kinds of language study, but if I’m driven by a fearful, panicky, proud heart…what would it be worth?

I asked the Lord to help me accept that part of learning this culture is taking it in stride when a plan doesn’t work out. Part of learning to be faithful is looking for how I can be faithful with what I can do, rather than stressing over what I can’t.

I’m adjusting to a lot of new limitations. And I realize that leaving campus for these language-learning experiences has become, to my heart, a need. An idol, that when threatened, pushes me to distress. I saw that there were pressures I was allowing to influence my choices and forfeit my peace.

I was fearful of falling behind in language. I hate how it feels when I struggle to understand. We do have a really important message and I want to communicate it clearly. But deep down, I think it’s more about my fear than my good intentions. It’s important to me to feel at home, and I’m just plain afraid that I’ll struggle to settle in and I’ll burn out if I don’t get this language down. So there I was, grasping for control and fighting like crazy to set us up here, when the Lord pointed out to me one startling fact:

I had place my hope for successful ministry and life here on adequate language learning instead of throwing myself upon His grace and strength. Somewhere along the line I decided again that this is up to me. And so, I was blowing a fuse instead of begging for help.

In that moment, I saw all over again that I am a fragile clay jar. And this is by design. It helps to make it crystal clear that any power, gifting, or ability that shows up in my life comes from Christ alone. I am not the savior or the solution to anyone’s need; I am just the stained and battered envelope bearing a message of inexpressible joy:

Help is on the way. You’re going to be okay. Not because I’m here, but because HE is. And look at what He was able to do in me, in spite of all the places I split under the pressure.

Oh Lord,

Please help me to shift my hope to you and you alone. Help my stressed-out heart yield to the rule of your peace. Teach me to surrender the things I am so desperate to control. You have not just set me aside to make sure Cody learns all that he needs. You have different things to teach us, and I am positioned perfectly to learn what you have decided is most important. Make me a humble learner who is willing to learn what you are teaching, rather than rejecting it because I had something different in mind.

As I was looking over our instructions for independent language study, I noticed this breakdown for how to spend our time:

5% – Plan

50% – Participate

20% – Process

25% – Practice

Man, if only 5% of learning depends on planning, I can still learn a ton when the plan goes out the window. Maybe more than if the plan had worked. And I think great learning versus great stress depends on whether I trust the teacher.

You’re changing me. You’re teaching me that YOU are the point, not me. You are freely giving your light and your strength – sending them into my desperate need. I am frayed, but you are unphased, intact, perfect as ever, able to withstand every pressure.

You are the only source of a steady heart. The only thing on earth that can hold us secure through shifting, through trouble, and through our own inadequacy. Lord, I praise your name for who you are and for what you are doing here and now in my life. Lead me as I form my plans for this day, and lead me still when I must take brave steps into unplanned territory.

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet He did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.”

Hebrews 4:15-16

Inap Yu Stretim Mi?: on rehearsing the right story

Search me, Oh God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”

Psalm 139:23-24

Right now, Cody and I are working on learning Tok Pisin, the trade language of Papua New Guinea. Every afternoon, we say to our language helper:

“Bai mi stori. Bihain, inap yu stretim mi?”

It means: I’m going to tell you a story. Afterward, can you correct me?

We do our best with the vocabulary we’ve learned so far, and we explain how our morning went, or describe something exciting we’ve experienced in the past, or sometimes we tell him about our funny moments. He listens and nods, and once we’ve finished, he faithfully points out every single thing we did wrong.

We work on it together until we’ve straightened out (“stretim”) all of the errors. Then we record him telling the same story. After our lesson is over, we listen to his version over and over and over. We’ve learned the words, now we want to learn his way of saying them.

This morning, I realized that this process is a great picture of how the Lord wants us to approach Him. Who in their right mind tells a story and then invites someone to point out everything that’s wrong about it?

Someone who already knows they aren’t telling it perfectly. Someone who’s ready to learn.

What if I approached the Lord this way: Jesus, I’m going to tell you a story. Afterward, can you correct me?

What if I laid out for Him everything I was thinking and all the things I had experienced; then I invited Him to straighten it out? To correct me when I’m telling the story wrong? To adjust my thinking where it’s off?  To point out the issues that my own heart doesn’t see?

He is so much more than a merciful listener. He is my willing teacher. What if I humbled my heart enough to invite His critique? I think He’d be faithful to give it. What if I told my version of the story once, but then I took His words and I listened to them over and over and over, because I was desperate to get the right version into my brain?

Would my heart benefit most from rehearsing my version, or from studying His?

Lord, inap yu stretim mi?

He guides the humble in what is right
    and teaches them his way.

Psalm 25:9

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom…”

Colossians 3:16

When Mountains Crumble: a lifeline for the unexpected

“God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea. Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!

…The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us; the God of Israel is our fortress.”

Psalm 46:1-3, 11

We were so careful.

We delayed our travel. We waited for negative Covid tests. We wore masks for 3 days of air travel and airports. We finally made it to Papua New Guinea. We quarantined for two weeks. An enormous amount of effort and care went into avoiding any chance of spreading Covid from the U.S to our new home. But when we arrived, it was already here.

One day before our quarantine ended, Covid cases here had reached a point of such concern that all non-essential trips to town were cancelled. Imagine moving your family half the world away with only what you can pack into 9 suitcases and then finding out you can’t go to the store.

I cried.

We got through our first week of language learning, and two residents on our base tested positive for Covid. Classes were cancelled. Sports were cancelled. The market is closed. In order to keep from potentially spreading Covid into the community, we’re not allowed to leave the center. Our leadership is carefully navigating an extremely challenging situation, and they’re doing a great job. But the timing was hard.

When I think about why I came to Papua New Guinea, there is one main reason: to obey Jesus. The path up to this point has been full of so many unexpected turns. He has not landed us where I thought we’d be or in the ministry where I thought we’d serve. But I arrived excited, ready to start our life here, looking forward to what He had for us and how He’d use us.

All the unexpected changes during our first days here sharply revealed the other reasons I had for coming here: other hopes, hidden expectations.

I was excited to explore the beauty of the country.Ok Beka, what if you can’t leave the base? Was it still worth it to come here?

I was really looking forward to the sports.What if sports are cancelled and you’re back to running by yourself? Can you still be content?

I couldn’t wait to learn language. What if you can’t have contact with your language teacher? What if developing the ability to communicate here gets put on hold?

After moving from place to place for our entire marriage, I was looking forward to finally setting up our home. —What if you’re using a house full of things that don’t belong to you? What if settling in and making it yours has to wait?

If the other reasons are stripped away, is obeying Jesus a good enough reason, all by itself?

Can you obey Jesus whole-heartedly, even when what that looks like today is vastly different than what you envisioned? When you’ve prepared for 12 years, and then you get here, but it doesn’t look like what you prepared for – can you trust that God knew exactly what this moment would look like and that He has perfectly equipped you to step into it?

During our class introductions, one of my friends shared a verse from Psalm 16. It was a lifeline the Lord had used to carry her through loss, disappointment, and discouragement in a difficult season.

Set the Lord always before you and you will not be shaken.

Before this month, I would have said, “Yeah! I do that!” But He is starting to show me how often it is something else I set before me. And when that something else lets me down, I get discouraged. I believe that, in His love, my God allows those things to fail me. It’s not wrong to be excited or to look forward to good things. But it is crucial for my heart to re-center on the One who is the source of all those good things – the One who is enough even when all the other reasons are stripped away.

He is taking me to a place where I find my hope in nothing more and nothing less than Jesus Christ – crucified, risen, living in me, victorious, able, sufficient.

If I set Him before me. I will not be shaken. Though the mountains themselves crumble into the sea. Though earthquakes come and oceans roar and plans get cancelled and we lose any inkling of what to expect.

The Lord can use disappointment, difficulty and inconvenience to purify our dependence on him – to teach us the secret of joy. And in the midst of this, I would like to let him.

—-

Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart sad?

I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again – my Savior and my God…

I hear the tumult of the raging seas as your waves and surging tides sweep over me.

But each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me.

And through each night I sing his songs…”

Psalm 42:5-6, 8

But One Man Hid: on coming to a halt to deal with the heart

“Then Joshua cried out, ‘O Sovereign Lord, why did you bring us across the Jordan River if you are going to let the Amorites kill us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side! Lord what can I say now that Israel has fled before its enemies?…

…this is what the Lord, the God of Israel says: ‘Hidden among you, O Israel, are things set apart for the Lord. You will never defeat your enemies until you remove these things from among you.”

Joshua 7:7-8, 13

God had stopped the Jordan River in its tracks so that Israel could cross on dry land. He had brought down the walls of Jericho before their very eyes. Boldly, they sent a detachment to take out the small town of Ai, and then they were brutally defeated. Joshua was thrown. I would have been, too.

Why had God delivered mighty Jericho to them, and then brought the campaign to a screeching halt at Ai?

The rest of this chapter tells the story of Achan, a man who disobeyed God’s instructions. Israel had been given clear directions to destroy everything except the precious metals, and to bring those to the Tabernacle treasury. They were set apart as holy to the Lord. But Achan made off with just a little something for himself and stashed it under his tent.

I love how this chapter illustrates that when all of Israel obeyed the Lord, but one man kept back and hid what belonged to Him, God was not content to just carry on with the external task of delivering the Promised Land to Israel.

Joshua, in his discouragement, questioned whether they had been over-reaching by stepping across the Jordan at all. But the issue wasn’t having the confidence to go after all that God had promised. The issue was looking only for God’s claim on the territory before them and missing that the battle for his claim on their hearts was just as important.

Later, God did give Israel victory over Ai, and when he did, he told them they were free to take all that they wanted. He was not withholding from them in the long term; he was asking them to trust him and wait. But Achan’s actions in Jericho showed that his heart didn’t trust the Lord. He felt he needed to look out for himself. So God stopped the whole nation in its tracks and revealed to them what was hidden. Then, and only then, he took them forward into victory.

Just as everyone in Israel but Achan obeyed and it wasn’t enough; Jehovah looks for nothing short of a totally yielded heart in me.

Deuteronomy 6:4-6, Psalm 139:23-24 and James 1:21 explore a similar principle – that our loving God is not content with all in my heart that is honorable and well-intentioned when there are hidden areas that disobey, conceal, and hold back from Him.

But when I humble my heart and listen carefully to His word, He faithfully brings those things to the surface. He is in the patient business of drawing out the internal issues that enslave me, cultivate fear, and darken my understanding of Him. And He may even allow exciting external progress to come to a grinding halt in order to address my heart, so that when I walk forward, I do so truly free, wholly His, and unafraid.

“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his.
He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.
He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him.

Daniel 2:20-22

Checking Seatbelts: control freak meets roller coaster

“As for me, I look to the Lord for help. I wait confidently for God to save me, and my God will certainly hear me…though I fall, I will rise again. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.”

Micah 7:7-8

I have felt a lot of fear over the last few months.

I tend to respond to my fear by trying to control everything, but I only end up discovering how little control I have. I have been fighting like crazy to set us up for this next step, to find ways to make this adjustment smoother, to try and protect and care for my family on this roller coaster the Lord has us on.

What if I spent my time on a real roller coaster that way? What if I tried to anticipate everything we were going to feel, everything that might be scary, when to lean this way, when the lights would go out? What if I spent the entire ride constantly checking everyone’s seatbelts and re-positioning and conducting surveys to see how everyone was coping?

Half the joy of a roller coaster is that you don’t know what to expect. People ride them for the experience of being surprised, for the feeling of dropping through thin air and the shock of losing their bearings, for the rush of the wind on a ride that’s too fast for them to steer. The best roller coasters get you good and scared, but they don’t make you worry for your safety.

Oh Lord,

I have been need-meeting and checking seatbelts for so long that I don’t know what it’s like to stop straining against the harness and just be on this ride with my people. I don’t know how to just take this one unexpected drop, one unforeseen turn, and one stretch to catch my breath at a time.

Help me not to grow discouraged when something surprises me and I’m forced to see the state of my own heart. You are faithfully bringing to the surface the attitudes and beliefs that steal my joy and shake my footing. You stand ready to replace them with your peace so that I am able to delight in the unexpected journey you have prepared for me.

I will always be frustrated if I am trying to adjust the roller coaster instead of just riding it. Build in me such a confidence in you that I wait on you, persistently looking to you for help, not dissuaded when I fall, not intimidated when it’s dark, always ready to hope in you once more. May I grow ever more loyal to what is true of you, and less attached to my expectations of how this will go.

There are plenty of surprises ahead where I won’t feel totally secure. But help me to trust that, in you, I am completely safe.

Not By My Own Effort: on blood, sweat, and tears and grace given freely



…We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us
. We put no confidence in human effort.

Philippians 3:3
 

I wrote a letter this morning, and as I worked to frame words that might lead to a resting place, my eyes burned. I realized that I was also pleading for myself. Maybe this morning, it’s a prayer breathed for your heart, too:

I see you and your desire to grow and to learn and to do such a good job serving and taking care of others. I see how hard you are working and how desperately you are trying. I’m praying this morning that you would feel settled in this truth: God is not disappointed in you or hoping for more from you.

So the question is this: are you hoping for more from you?

All that yearning can produce an unbearable amount of pressure, and it only helps us when we let it drive us to the cross and remind us that our best effort will never be enough, but because we have placed our trust in Christ, that longing and reaching are met in him. In him, we are perfect, well-pleasing, enough, praiseworthy, beautiful, satisfactory.

I want you to rest and to know that it is okay to be right where you are, offering yourself to Him, learning, and still finding some things difficult. 

Philippians 3:16 says this: “But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.”

Our successes and our progress are gifts. They are not earnings. And that is hard to remember when we have been laboring hard. But our hearts are reassured and strengthened for the tasks ahead to the extent that we accurately identify grace and gifts given freely to us rather than marveling at what we claim our own hands have built. 

When we lay down the illusion that we have reached this place by our own blood, sweat and tears, we also lay down the pressure to tackle the next mountain short-handed.

Instead, we can look back and trace the path of his faithfulness. We can revel in gift after gift; each reflecting the generous character of a lavish giver. And we can have confidence that no matter what we face next, no matter how spent we are, we will continue to receive good things, and we will continue to be a channel of good things to others. Not because we’re trying so dang hard, but because our unfailing fountain of life will continue to be who he is toward us. 

He is ever able to keep giving as we look to him, as we keep asking for help, and as we keep thanking him for how far we’ve come. Not by our own effort, but by his undeserved grace.


…And what do you have that you did not receive?... (1 Corinthians 4:27)

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:8-10)