There Are Many Moabs: on fake firehouses and the living God

“My heart’s cry for Moab is like a lament on a harp. I am filled with anguish…The people of Moab will worship at their pagan shrines, but it will do them no good. They will cry to the gods in their temples, but no one will be able to save them.”

Isaiah 16:11-12

It not only broke God’s heart when his own people turned to idols and false gods; it caused him anguish when any people turned to any other god, because all people were created for him.

He crafted each person to search after and find him, to cry to him for help, and it hurts to watch his creation plead for aid from the lifeless shrines they have built to replace him, when he is so willing and ready to rescue the one who calls on him.

It’s like 911 operators are awake and waiting to answer a call for help, but the people in trouble keep dialing the number for an empty building because it looks like a firehouse.

Many, many lifeless gods in every form imaginable have taken the place of worship in human hearts. And we can serve them faithfully and cry out with all the sincerity we can muster and really believe that help is coming, but the building is still empty, and there’s no one to answer the phone.

God’s heart raged over Israel turning away from him: the people who knew 911 and decided dialing a different number was a better idea. And God’s heart broke for Moab, who had never been taught to call 911 in the first place.

Many, many more Moabs still cry out to lifeless gods. Many people are still calling empty buildings that look like firehouses.

Lord, 

Prepare their hearts to turn to you.
Prepare our hearts to remain fixed on you.
Use us to reach into every Moab and teach them who you are. 

You are eager and ready and able to hear their cry and rescue them.


I was ready to respond, but no one asked for help.
    I was ready to be found, but no one was looking for me.
I said, ‘Here I am, here I am!’
    to a nation that did not call on my name.

Isaiah 65:1

“God has given us this task of reconciling people to him.  For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation…God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.”

2 Corinthians 5:18-21

Undivided Worship: on tearing down temples

“Hezekiah…was twenty-five years old when he became king…He did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight…He removed the pagan shrines, smashed the sacred pillars, and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke up the bronze serpent that Moses had made, because the people of Israel had been offering sacrifices to it…”

-2 Kings 18:1-4

My trust in the Lord is a most precious thing. Unseen wars are waged against it, constant messages seek to make it shift, even just a little. 

Reading through 2 Kings, I was struck by how many kings of Judah were godly leaders for the most part, but shied away from the bold actions their nation needed from them. They did not actively turn away from the one true God, but they allowed the worship of other idols alongside Him.

2 Kings 18 highlights one king who set things up differently. He stripped away and tore down any other receptacle of worship – even if it once served a good purpose (the bronze serpent), but had since become a replacement for God himself. 

The worship God seeks from us is pure of man’s ideas, methods, and supplements. 

Only Jehovah. Only his word. Only his way.

One king believed in his God enough to tear all the rest of it down, and when the most powerful empire in the world besieged his small kingdom, he was defended by the Angel of the Lord, who extinguished 185,000 warrior lives in the night and swept away the threat encamped outside his walls as easily as a breeze clears away the chaff. 

The massive Assyrian forces had poured across the land, conquering everyone in their path, but small Judah was impenetrable to them because Jehovah would not allow them to harm her. 

Hezekiah did not forge emergency alliances, come up with a back-up strategy, surrender to spare his people, or lay tribute at the altar of any and every god who might come to his aid. He went to Jehovah over and over and over as the situation became more dire. He held his ground and trusted his God, and his God was faithful to defend him. 

Lord,

In my life, may I be the Hezekiah, the Gideon, the Ephesian believers who burned their magic books.

It is not rare to worship you, but it is rare to worship you alone. And you treasure undivided worship.

Show me what else I add and give me the courage to tear it down.  Show me what else I point people to and teach me to use my voice for one message:
We need you, and you alone. Nothing and no one else will ever be enough.

Yet I Want Your Will: 5 words to hold onto when I do not like the plan

“Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

-Mark 14:36

Lord, may I learn to decide on these two things:

1. Everything is possible for you.
2. Yet, I want your will.

When things aren’t going my way, may I not falter over whether my problems matter to you or if this is just too complicated or challenging or huge for you to change. You are able and willing on my behalf.

When I consider what I have walked through and what I am facing and it just seems like a bad plan, like meaningless suffering, like aimless wilderness; in the face of brokenness and all that I don’t understand, may I come back to this:

“Yet I want your will.”

Obviously, there’s a part of me that doesn’t. There’s a part of me that wants to skip past the struggle. There’s an urge to take over that rises to the surface when I feel passed over, unimportant, uncomfortable and afraid. But when I consider all the stories you have stepped into and the ways you have worked on behalf of those who trusted you, your plan is what I want. 

So, Lord, help me to remember. Strengthen my heart to wait. Those who have waited through difficulty to see what you would bring on the other side of it have not been disappointed. 

Those who have gazed at all the wealth and luxury and trappings that this world has to offer and then chosen to lay them down and go after you have not been disappointed.

This hope does not disappoint. 

Even Jesus took a long, hard look at what the Father had planned for him and was daunted. But the One who decided, “Yet I want your will,” died and came back from death and rescued those beyond rescue and stands in triumph now.

Saying yes to you is always, always worth what it costs.

So may I walk in his pattern, humble myself when I do not like the plan, and learn these five words by heart:

“Yet I want your will.”

“Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ.”

Philippians 3:8

Heavenly Peace? when there’s no rest for the weary

“Then Jesus said, ‘Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.'”

-Mark 6:31


I like this verse. Can I get an “amen” for the take-a-break verse? Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile. Good. plan. Jesus. 

He’d been serving all day. He hadn’t eaten. The people were non-stop. It was time for a pause. He got in a boat. He sailed away. Up to this point, I’m tracking with him. Yep, follow Jesus’ example. When you get too tired of the people, go get some rest so you can have a fresh start! 

But then.

Then the people figured out his plan and ran ahead to meet him on the other side. I read the verse and my insides wailed for him. 

No, no, no, no, just give the man ONE SECOND, you needy, annoying people!!!

But that is not how Jesus responded. 

This chapter in Mark is famous. It’s the one that describes how Jesus took one boy’s lunch and fed 5000 families. But I think there’s another miracle in this story – one that happened so swiftly and so subtly it’s often overlooked:

“Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them…”

-Mark 6:34

The needs were so constant he couldn’t even get a meal in. They followed him everywhere on foot, so he arranged to travel by boat to get away from them. He wanted a quiet place and rest. He got a crowd of people asking for more. 

He stepped off the boat, recognized his plan was ruined, and in that moment of realization, his heart cared for them more than it cared for his break. 

The Greek translates it this way: “He was moved in the inward parts to feel compassion for them.”

He moved toward them. And not just outwardly. 

I often do what is necessary externally, but pull away on the inside. I sigh and shake my head and move toward the needs before me, but with a frustrated and resentful heart. It was not so with him.

Jesus didn’t plan to endlessly meet needs. He recognized that he needed rest. He chose to pause ministry and step away to recharge. But when that pause was interrupted – he was willing for it to be. When the boat ride was all the break he got, he took it and moved on, without a fit, without any harsh words. And with a gracious heart, he turned toward the people and the work before him, instead of back to the idea of the rest he had been hoping for.

Lord,

Work this miracle in me. Give me wisdom to plan for rest, but grace to receive the work I’m given when it comes unexpectedly. Train my heart to accept the boat-ride breaks with thankfulness and to readily feel compassion for the people you place before me in those interruptions that make me want to retreat.

Help me to see that, in the same way, you are moved with compassion for me. 

After all, this time of year is all about remembering how glad I am that your heart decided to move toward my need.

Tired Hands: on getting a grip when you feel defeated

This week, Cody pointed out that he has been observing a lot of self-condemnation in the way I talk about my day, and I was challenged to dig into these statements and decide how much was truth.

From how the baby napped to forgetting the espresso maker was running because I got interrupted; from my reaction to the dirty dishes to my inner wrestlings over cooking dinner again, I tend to observe how I walk through each experience and label it as another failure.

I’m always trying to improve, so I didn’t see a real problem with focusing on what could go better, but I’m learning that when that evaluation leaves me defeated, I may be listening to the wrong voice.

“For the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down to Earth – the one who accuses them before our God day and night. And they have defeated him by the blood of the lamb and by their testimony.”

Revelation 12:11-12

I have an enemy that drags up the past, day and night, in hopes of discouraging and defeating me; but the blood of Jesus Christ has paid for it all. There is zero outstanding debt. The accuser is the one who is defeated, not me.

The word “testimony” in this verse comes from the greek word martyrias which also means “evidence” or “record.” 

The enemy is defeated by the very record he tries to throw in my face. 

Because of the cross, the enemy accuses, but the record is clean.

Regardless of how I feel about myself, the record is clean, and God is not asking me to dwell on how I should have done better. I will never on this earth perform perfectly. Can I be content with God’s ability to forgive, forget, and use me in spite of my failures? Can I believe him when he says I am free to move on?

In a thousand situations, I would like to take my hindsight and have a re-do. In many others, I don’t like how it went, but I don’t actually know what I should have done or said instead. I have not walked perfectly, and I will not walk perfectly, but the record is clean.

God’s desire for me is to walk in freedom, confident of what he is able to do rather than carrying stress over whether I will ever get it right. He is NOT the one asking that question. 

“So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong…Look after each other so that no one fails to receive the grace of God…Be careful that you do not refuse to listen to the One who is speaking.”

Hebrews 12:12, 18, 25

When I become aware of my falling and my weakness, may I learn to listen to the Lord when he speaks.

Because he does not speak of grace and hope and strength and then say, “but these do not apply to you; these are for people facing harder things, these are for people who haven’t screwed up.”

His grace is for every weakness. His hope is for every struggle. His strength is for every hardship.

He does not make me aware of my issues to make me feel disqualified but so that he may infuse my hollowness with his fullness and brace the joints that would give out and encourage my heavy heart and my tired hands to take a new grip. His instructions mark out the path ahead, not to intimidate me, but to help me press on with sure footing. 

His desire is not that I would never, ever fail; but that I would never, ever fail to receive his grace. Grace he is always holding out, like a steady hand when I’m walking with a limp, like a fresh, solid grip when my hands are tired. 

Grace that says: 
“The enemy accuses, but the record is clean.
Don’t listen to him. Don’t even listen to yourself. Listen to me.”

How Not To Love: on how hidden attitudes flow outward

“I am writing to remind you, dear friends, that we should love one another…” 
(2 John 5)

“…see to it that you really do love each other intensely with all your hearts.”
(1 Peter 1:22)

Be Nice

Over and over and over, God’s Word gives this instruction: “love one another.” It’s the second most important thing we’re given to do with our entire lives.

But I think I actually live more in terms of “be nice.” I put all sorts of effort into my outward interactions with people, but tend to be careless with my heart attitudes toward them. In fact, I often don’t recognize that my heart attitudes are TOWARD anyone at all.

Here’s the hard truth: My heart attitudes are not isolated. They never only affect me. They are always toward someone, and they always flow outward: into my body language, into my actions, into my words. Hidden attitudes don’t stay hidden.

When I grow frustrated over what I don’t have in comparison to someone else, I am not only sowing discontent in my own heart, I am placing myself in a rivalry with and nurturing hostility toward another person because they have enjoyed an advantage. When I grow exasperated because someone is making me wait, I am not only giving into impatience, I am giving into the lie that the person I am waiting for is not worth it. And the hostility will surface. And the irritation will surface.

Whether I intend it to or not, the attitude my heart adopts toward other people will flow outward. 

The List

So I have been asking the Lord to help me identify when I am handling another person in an unloving way, even if it’s only within my own heart. I reviewed 1 Corinthians 13 with the filter of “how does this look at the thought level?”, and came up with this list of How Not to Love:

I am NOT loving another person when I:

  • allow my heart to see them as a rival 
  • refuse to celebrate when they have been given something good
  • become irritated and impatient with them because I have let their pace fuel my worry
  • remember, revisit, and rehearse how they have been hurtful to me
  • nurture expectations of how they will care for, pour into, or benefit me

How beautiful it would be to notice something better in another person’s life and feel zero negative emotions about it, because I finally get that it has nothing to do with what I have or don’t have. It has everything to do with whether I love the other person or not. And love celebrates the joys of others, so love is not jealous.

When I rehearse what has been hurtful, I have become the one that hurts. And love knows the record only does more damage, so love keeps no record of wrong.

My exasperation has little to do with what time it is, and much to do with whether I value the person I am waiting for. And love places immense value on others, so love is patient.

As I step into a room and gauge my expectations, I often find that I am greedy for the attention, energy, and care of the people standing in it, even when I thought I came with the best intentions. When I lean forward in expectation or lean away and lick my wounds, I am not loving them. When love leans, it leans in offering, because love does not seek its own.

If this is love, I don’t love very many people at all. I’m nice to them outwardly, but I do not love them. 

But if I could learn this love, how free I would be!

If this is how I handled people internally, I wouldn’t have to think very hard about how to interact with them on the outside. If I made the hard choice to love them with the thoughts of my heart, it would flow outward. And my joy would not be slave to what other people have or how other people handle me.

A Prayer

Lord,

Even when you are wronged and treated as unimportant, your love forgives so easily and freely. It is generous; it is gentle; it does not demand attention. It is a beautiful thing to behold. 

Teach me to learn this love. Help me to see how thoroughly you cherish me, so that I find my soul settled, for it knows it does not have to chase after how other people see me or treat me.

May I shrug off my slavery to what other people have and what other people do, carefully tend to the attitudes of my own heart, and little by little, start to understand what it means to love one another from the inside out.

Hair vs. Care: steps toward becoming a motherly mother

“Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry,  or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.”

1 Peter 3:3-4

I have been wanting to try out this short-in-the-back, long-in-the-front, curly, sassy haircut for a while now. Last week I took the plunge and chopped mine. I have always loved short hair because it’s so low maintenance. But I made a critical error: I do not have curly hair.

On the days I can find 10 minutes to style it, I’m in love. But on the days I have to set aside how my hair looks to handle the less obvious but more important things, I’m kind of wishing I’d stuck with a haircut that lends itself to a ponytail.

This verse in 1 Peter echoes Colossians 3 with its advice to adjust my mindset to the unseen things. It is natural to be drawn to and elevate the importance of what I can see. But what matters most is not as obvious as a hairstyle or how I dress or what I earn or what I live in.

What matters most about me is hidden in Christ. What matters most to the Lord are the hidden qualities he is cultivating in the inner person; and they are precious, and they are beautiful, but they are not obvious. They do not call attention to themselves. They are praiseworthy, but they often go unpraised.

People have been asking me if I am loving being a mother. Don’t get me wrong, I love my son deeply and I’m thrilled with who he is and savoring the sweet moments with him, but do I love being a mom? The answer is no. I feel like a failure all the time. I feel unimportant and invisible. I don’t feel very motherly. There are sweet moments, but there are also a lot of moments where I just feel tired and annoyed and unfulfilled. 

So I took some time this week to iron out in my mind the concept of what “being motherly” is,  and it came down to two central qualities: unselfishness and humility.

A motherly person puts the needs of another at the top of her agenda, above her own plans and desires and passions and vision. Being motherly is saying “no” to myself so I can say “yes” to my baby over and over and over again all day long. It is humbling myself to lay aside all I would like to be, all I would like to excel at, in order to care for him. 

And I do not feel very motherly, because I am not unselfish. I grate against the calling of motherhood, because I am not humble.

But perhaps mothering is not just the raising of a child, perhaps it is the making of a mother.

Perhaps the process itself is a beautiful thing because it is movement toward humility and unselfishness, even though that is not where I start from. 

So, Lord,

I bring these costly, beautiful qualities before you and I confess that I need you to change me. I desperately want the hidden person within to be beautiful in these ways.

To be willing to be hidden, I must become humble. To mother kindly and fully and whole-heartedly, I must become unselfish. I must lay aside the need to have an identity totally independent of being a mom. This is a central part of who I am now and I cannot sacrifice it because I want to excel in some other domain.

I must remember that the character you desire for me is something worth all I must give to chase after it. To be gentle and meek is not a mark of failure. It is strength held in check by kindness and humility; it is power and ability willingly laid down at the feet of the One who is worthy to direct it. 

So Lord, move me toward humility. Let me love to be hidden in you. And help me see that it is a good thing you are doing in me, even here and now, where it doesn’t feel so good.

“May he equip you with all you need
    for doing his will.
May he produce in you,
    through the power of Jesus Christ,
every good thing that is pleasing to him…”

Hebrews 13:21

Press On: on patience with the pace

“I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.”

Philippians 3:12

During our orientation, we have been speaking much of how important flexibility is on the mission field. It’s been killing me a little bit because if I’m honest with myself, I am not a flexible being. I am high strung. I’m a planner. I like to know what I can expect. I do not know how to roll with the punches. And so I feel like I will fail. I feel afraid of moving overseas because I look at how I’m coping here and now, and I know it will fall far short of what is required over there. I start to stress over whether I’m a horrible fit for this ministry and maybe they should find someone else.

 Much of this transition has been a series of facing up to how I fall short. Attitudes, struggles, and bents that are not Christ-like, discouragement over how slow and invisible the growth and progress seem to be, anxiety as I notice how others seem to be taking in stride what constitutes a major upheaval in my life. Man, is it messy when I look in the mirror.

But I have been sitting with these words from Philippians and considering the choice of the phrase “press on.”

The word press holds the idea of moving forward against resistance.

“All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. We also pray that you will be strengthened with all His glorious power so that you will have all the endurance and patience you need…”

Colossians 1:10-11

This walk with the Lord, this learning to know Him better and better and growing to be like him; it’s an uphill battle, it takes endurance, it is pressing against resistance.

And patience allows for a slower pace because it acknowledges the resistance I am facing.

And so I need the strength that Christ offers to be patient with myself, to continue taking up hope and pressing on when I’m starting to feel like a hopeless case.

In her book, Beholding and Becoming, Ruth Chou Simons says this:

“God is more interested in how we keep running than how fast and flawlessly we get to our destination. He calls perseverance the outcome of a faith in progress and tells us how to keep on keeping on with diligence and hope, even when we don’t see or feel progress in the now…Beholding how Christ endured the cross helps us set our gaze on His provision and not our performance along the course…”

How I need the reminder that God asks me to keep going, even if it’s not going smoothly. I can set my eyes on his provision and he is pleased if I just take the next step, however clumsy, trusting in that. He is not wishing I would get it together faster.

When I decided to follow after Christ, I signed up for a mud run. Obstacle after obstacle, stumbling upon stumbling, but pressing forward, even if that progress sometimes happens at a crawl.

And so, may I learn to take up his strength to be patient with myself and with my journey, because this does not look like I expected it to. I am in pain over how slow and invisible the progress is. But I can surrender my pace and my progress to him. I can decide that he knows what he’s doing and be patient with where I am, internally and externally, because I know he is taking me somewhere good, and I have confidence he can get me there.

I can be light-hearted, even as I see areas that desperately need growth, even as I struggle on repeat, even when it seems like I will never figure out how to handle things better, because I know what he is capable of. He will not abandon a slow pupil, because he is a skilled teacher.

Patience is a resolve not to worry about the timing, that flows from confidence in what the outcome will be. So I will take my inflexible tendencies, my weaknesses and issues and struggles, and lay them at his feet. I will be patient, and I will take up great hope.

If I rest my gaze on what he is able to do in me, I will find that seeing my issues loud and clear does not have to prompt worry in my heart.

Great hope says this: I do not know how to do this yet, but Christ is my teacher, so I can learn. I do not feel prepared for what’s ahead, but he is prepared to carry me through it. I am not able, but he is always able. He does not ask me to be fast; he asks me to be faithful. And when I stumble, he does not yell: That’s it! You’re through!

He comes alongside my brokenness and whispers: “I’m here. Keep going.”

Hostility Radar: on how to not be harsh in conflict

“…throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life…Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes…get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words…Instead, be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”

Ephesians 4:22-23, 31-32
 

These used to be words I read over easily and nodded my head, “yes, yes, don’t let anger control you, be kind and forgiving, got it.” But in this season of my life, stripped down and rubbed raw by all the moving and transition and stress and adjustment, I have been poring over scripture, desperately searching for help with my anger.

My two sweetest relationships: with the Lord and with Cody, have been riddled with conflict and punctuated with my outbursts. And so this week, I sat long with this passage. It describes the purge of what is harsh and the renewal of tender-heartedness that I so long for.

My response: “Yes, but how?”

The answer provided in the passage is: Instead, let the Spirit.

As I have processed this last year and some of the difficulties I’ve walked through, I’ve come to realize how easy it is to place myself in a stand-off with God, to grow frustrated with Him and accuse Him, and then end up feeling hopeless because I don’t like how He’s doing things, but where else can I turn?

Two verses from Romans helped me to understand this pattern of what I tend to do and what it means to insteadlet the Spirit:

1.  “For the sinful nature is always hostile to God.”  

Romans 8:7

The stand-offs, the arguments, the frustration, the hostility, these are not some new dynamic in my relationship with the Lord that I have to figure out how to navigate. No. The sinful nature IS ALWAYS hostile to God. These attitudes are only the sinful nature’s expected response to trouble. This is how it always acts. It’s that annoying character in the story who takes every opportunity to pick a fight. Hostile thoughts are not cause for alarm, they only signal that I need to adjust who I’m listening to.

2. Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?”

Romans 8:35

 
This is the new nature’s response to trouble: yes, God has allowed something hard, but that does not mean I am separated from his love. It doesn’t mean that I have lost his favor, or that I’m doing something wrong, or that he’s no longer on my side. Trouble does not equal abandonment. The Spirit speaks truth and the new nature clings to it.
 
One response is filled with suspicion. The other chooses to operate on trust. I can lean into my frustration and my demand for answers, or I can instead, let the Spirit answer my troubled heart with the reassurance that it is not unloved.

And so, I am slowly learning not to put myself at odds with God when I don’t understand my circumstances. It is in hard situations that I most need to let the Spirit speak truth rather than allowing my fear and hurt and confusion to push down his words. I need to recognize that when hostile thoughts crop up, it is a sign I have been listening to the sin nature’s poisonous words and started to distrust the One who is only ever true.

In the same way, I think the how of exchanging harsh for tender-hearted in my marriage lies in recognizing hostility.

Just as hostility toward God is how the sinful nature always responds to trouble, I think that hostility toward each other is how the sinful nature always responds to conflict. Hostility is NOT an inevitable symptom of how serious the disagreement or misunderstanding is.

I have been operating in frustrated, angry helplessness as we face our conflicts, knowing that I’m doing this wrong but not sure how to do it differently. I’m all fired up, but determined to press on because I’m sure we can’t get to a better place until we solve the problem at hand, so it’s bound to be messy until it’s settled.

But I have been wrong.

We can get to a better place before we solve the problem at hand. If I only recognize that the reason I’m angry and harsh and exploding is not because of the conflict, it’s because of the sin nature. If we let the Spirit in, we can then work at the problem while still offering kindness, tender-heartedness, and forgiveness to each other. We can be in the midst of a conflict and at the same time not hostile with each other. We can problem-solve while we walk in the Spirit.

And so, as I walk forward, I must have a radar always operating that checks for hostility with every sweep. Conflict does not equal hostility, and a blip on the radar lets me know it’s time to step back, check who I am listening to, and alter course.

Lord-

I know there’s a learning curve here, and I desperately want to get it. Please be my teacher. Please show me how to recognize when I am operating out of anger and bitterness. Let my own harsh words catch my attention. Let me not over-complicate what’s going on, but recognize that I have a sin nature, eager to jump into a fight and an enemy, eager to destroy us, who only waits for the foothold anger gives him to force his way in and stir up all sorts of trouble.

Teach us, Lord, to be a team who knows how desperately we need you and who always, always lets you in to our troubles, trusting you to renew our thoughts and attitudes, to give us a fresh beginning at what feels so impossible and new understanding of what feel so hurtful. Remind us that we are working together at this. We are not enemies.

Supply kindness, tender-heartedness, and forgiveness to the point of overflowing so we have plenty to buffer us through the rough spots.

The rapids can be bumpy when you are white water rafting, but if there’s enough water in the river you don’t snag on the stones. Let it be so with the kindness and grace you pour into our relationship, for we have been snagging.

Lord, we need your help and your Spirit living within us to guide us through our conflicts so that we are not waiting until we reach the other side of the rapids for things to be okay in the raft.

Help me to grow toward maturity and learn, in the heat of the moment, to let the Spirit in. May I start to see what a difference you are able to make in the midst of my helplessness and what beauty you are able to craft from my struggles if I only invite you into them.

Approved Of: on how much is enough

“…After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? Have you experienced so much for nothing?…Abraham believed God and God counted him righteous because of his faith.”

Galatians 3:3, 6

Moving brings out the Pharisee in me. I have not figured out how I fit into this new place yet, I am building first impressions, and so I throw myself into things, desperate to prove myself, even when there’s nothing to prove.

I’m on edge in every conversation. I anxiously look around and compare every detail to see if I’m keeping up, measuring up, meeting expectations. I want to impress, but I’m not impressive and it’s hard to ask a whole new group of people to extend the grace I need.

Righteous isn’t a word I use a whole lot in my every-day English, so I looked up the Greek word used for “righteous” in this verse in Galatians to try to get a better sense of its meaning. The definition I found hit home: “approved of.”

How I long to be approved of.

I echo the crowd who asked Jesus for an assignment:

“We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?” (John 6:28)

I need His answer just as much as they did:

 Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:29 )

Always, always it comes back to this: I am counted righteous only and ever because I put my trust in Jesus Christ. I am approved of because, like Abraham, I believe God’s words. It is never because of my work or effort or performance, diligent as they may be.

So easily my eyes shift to what I’ve invested, how hard I’ve worked. Always I am asking, “Is it enough? Can I rest yet?”

Always He answers, “I am enough. You can rest in that.”

So much pressure I carry around to accomplish something big and important because I represent the Lord. But I forget that it is HE who chooses to represent me.

Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself.  Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.

(Romans 8:33-34)

I have a Savior who has finished the work of placing me in good standing. And He does not require me to improve on what He has accomplished. I am approved of in Him.

I read these words from Emily P. Freeman’s book Simply Tuesday this week and they caught within me:

“…stand on tiptoe and see…beyond what is to what could be.

And this doesn’t mean I am to dream big and amazing things for God. Rather, it means I am to believe in a big and amazing God, period. I can trust him to be himself even as I dare to be myself.

He is big and important and able and so I do not have to carry the pressure of making sure his plans go off without a hitch, or ensuring that I become all I am meant to be. I am all I am meant to be in Him, and it is enough to just follow.

Lord-

Take my worries. Help me to leave them in your hands awhile.

Help me choose to just to believe you, and then do whatever the next thing is out of freedom, not out of fear. That is the work you ask of me.

Teach me to savor and hold on tight to the assurance that you approve of me. You call me righteous; not lacking, not disappointing, not inadequate, not a failure.

I need not make an idol of my issues by giving all my attention to them. They present no obstacle to you.

It does not honor you to strive tirelessly. It only shows I do not believe your words.

Lord, teach me what it is to be still and believe in a God who does not need my help and yet invites me on a journey to see what He can do through one willing to take him at his word.

Show me how to walk into this new season with the confidence of one who has been approved of, able to extend and accept grace, at ease with myself and with others, and leaving behind the tireless question of whether I have done enough.

Because your work is enough, and I can rest in that.