Pushing the Pause Button

Normal Person Plaque“Masquerading as a normal person day after day is exhausting” – gas station plaque.

I couldn’t resist writing down this quote as it resonated so deeply with me. Who would have thought that a simple plaque found in a gas station/car wash could be so profound? Am I the only one who can relate to the sentiment? Am I the only one who finds it so hard to try and keep up with societal expectations? Was all this busyness and craziness really God’s original plan for us?

For all of my life I have striven to keep up with the demands of not only society but of my intense demands of myself and that inner parent in my head. I’ve always had high expectations of myself, and the incessant drive to push through, do more, accomplish more and be more to prove to the world that I am worthy and that I belong eventually overwhelmed me and brought me to a near nervous breakdown. It felt like there was (and is) always more pressure to be thinner, smarter, make more money, take on more volunteer commitments, sign up for professional development activities, etc. It’s no longer possible for me to keep all of the proverbial balls in the air.

When the Lord is trying to get my attention, He will start out quietly. But if I don’t respond to His message, God will continue to get louder and louder. Unfortunately for our family’s finances, He tends to get my attention via car accidents. Case in point: He certainly made His message to me to slow down loud and clear one morning when I T-boned a car as I was coming out of my son’s preschool parking lot onto the main road. As usual, I was I in a rush that morning to drop my son off at school, get my exercise in by quickly walking the trail right by my son’s school and then getting right home to finish my work before it was time to pick him up. For some reason, I assumed this car that was going straight on the main drag was going to turn right into the parking lot that I was turning left out of. I therefore proceeded to pull out of the parking lot and straight into the passenger side of an innocent woman’s car. Fortunately no one was in the passenger seat at the time, and I was driving slow enough that no one was hurt and the damage wasn’t too significant.

The unfortunate woman driving the other car happened to be a yoga instructor. Though understandably a bit shocked by the crash, she was calm and collected. However, she did make a comment that my energy was way off, and she recommended that I try doing yoga. I didn’t take her advice at the time, but the whole incident made it obvious to me that I was in too much of a hurry, too stressed with too much on my plate, and that I needed to slow down literally and figuratively.

Though this accident happened a while back, I haven’t made as much progress as I’d like toward my goal of slowing down. In fact, oftentimes it isn’t until I hit the wall of exhaustion and someone else tells me to get some rest that I allow myself to “indulge” in some much-needed relaxation. What is it that I frequently feel it’s only ok to grab some down time when a caring friend grants me “permission”? After all, the Lord generously offers His rest and invites us to share in it. Furthermore, rest is a Biblical principle. How can we be effective if we’re physically and emotionally weary, burned out, and in my case, moody, grumpy and irritable?

Jesus recognized that God’s people need rest even from doing the Lord’s work. He had sent His disciples out to preach, drive out demons and heal the sick. When the disciples returned, they informed Jesus about all they had taught the people and all they had accomplished. As they reported to Jesus, “so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat” (New International Version: Mark 6:31), so Jesus said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31b).

Stealing away for a little break, especially during chaotic times, is essential to our well-being. When I won’t allow myself a hiatus, it’s an indication that I’m buying in to several lies: 1) That only I have the ability to accomplish all that needs to be done in the correct way, 2) That God can’t be trusted to help me and/or to bless my efforts, and 3) That pleasing others and living up to their expectations is more important than taking care of myself so that I can do what’s pleasing to God.

I’ve even come to the realization that my refusal to rest is a form of idolatry, for when I continue to push myself in order to please specific people, my students, society in general and even my church, I am putting the world above the Lord. Unless pleasing God is the motivation behind all of my efforts, they are in vain anyway.

Solomon understood this principle. He wisely observed that our efforts are without lasting benefit or reward without God’s blessing upon them:

Unless the Lord builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat –
for he grants sleep to those he loves.
(Psalm 127:1-2)

Beloved warrior, in the Lord’s economy it’s in our surrender that we achieve victory. In resting, we demonstrate our trust in God for His provision. After we’ve done our part, we leave the results of our efforts to Him to bless. In this way, we honor the Lord and His command to “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a).

Enjoy the song “Be Still and Know” by Stephen Curtis Chapman.

Finding Joy

Lately I’ve had several friends make prayer requests asking that joy would return to their lives. It seems many of God’s people are weary from the various stresses and pressures of life – financial uncertainty and loss, unemployment or underemployment, marital discord, wayward children and health problems. And there are many times outside circumstances are not to blame. Frequently I am the one responsible for blocking out the joy the Lord offers me. When I insist on getting my own way, hold on to a resentment I have against someone or overschedule/overcommit myself, I close myself off to joy. Though we know it’s a battle out there, we also believe that through it all, the Father would have us experience joy. After all, if the Christian life was a life of misery, who would want to follow Jesus?

How does the Lord view joy? What is the real meaning of joy? How do we find it and where do we get it? I found myself digging into my Bible for answers to these seemingly elusive questions. My Bible’s dictionary/concordance lists 62 Scriptures containing the words “joy”, “joyful” or “joyous”. Associated words like “rejoice” and “rejoicing” are found in 25 Scriptures, and the word “overjoyed” is mentioned four times in the Bible. God must be telling us “joy” is important to Him if the word and its relatives are found in 91 Scriptures. In fact, “joy” is mentioned in more Scriptures than “integrity” (21 times) and “humility” (14 times) put together!

People often confuse “joy” with “happiness”, but the distinction between the two terms is important if we are to understand what the Bible means by “joy”. The word “happy” is defined as “favored by hap, luck, or fortune; lucky; fortunate; successful; prosperous; satisfying [one’s] desire” (http://biblehub.com/topical/h/happy.htm). Happiness is temporary, fleeting and based on circumstances. Joy, on the other hand, “is a state of mind and an orientation of the heart. It is a settled state of contentment, confidence and hope.” (http://www.theopedia.com/Joy#note-JG). Joy is internal and “transcends the rolling waves of circumstance” (NIV Life Application Study Bible, note on John 15:11). In other words, I can be unhappy with my present circumstances but still have joy.

It would be easy to spend weeks studying what the Bible has to say about joy, but a brief survey of this topic reveals some overarching truths. First and foremost, the key to joy is Christ and relationship with Him. In fact, the Bible mentions several times that a relationship with Christ will not only bring us joy, it will also make our joy “complete”. John the Baptist’s joy, for example, was made complete (or “fulfilled” in the King James Version) when Jesus the Messiah arrived:

The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. (New International Version John 3:29; emphasis mine)

Intertwining our lives with Jesus, maintaining a consistent relationship with Him and abiding in His love will keep us joyful. As Jesus Himself explains, there is nothing that will satisfy our deepest desires more than loving God and being loved by Him:

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:9-11; emphasis mine)

God’s people also experience joy when His power is displayed. In Leviticus 9, Moses commands his brother Aaron to offer sacrifices on behalf of himself and the Israelites according to the Lord’s specifications. After Aaron had done all that Moses commanded him, the Lord indicated His acceptance of the offering and His glory appeared to the Israelites. The people then “shouted for joy” (Hebrew “ranan”; http://biblehub.com/hebrew/7442.htm):

…Aaron lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them. And having sacrificed the sin offering, the burnt offering and the fellowship offering, he stepped down. Moses and Aaron then went into the tent of meeting. When they came out, they blessed the people; and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat portions on the altar. And when all the people saw it, they shouted for joy and fell facedown. (Leviticus 9:22-24; emphasis mine).

Note that Aaron’s obedience was a necessary precursor to God’s response. Obedience to God and trust in His power are essential prerequisites to joy. When the early church was persecuted and scattered, Jesus’ followers continued to trust Him and obey His command to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). In one instance, a Greek-speaking Jew named Philip went to Samaria to preach about Jesus. Philip demonstrated Jesus’ power by driving out demons and healing the lame and the paralyzed in His name, and so “there was great joy in that city”. (Acts 8:8)

All Christians go through periods of time when our joy is gone because it’s been so long since we’ve seen the Lord perform a mighty work. I have definitely experienced wilderness periods when I feared my future held only endless drudgery! During these dry spells, we can recapture our joy by remembering what the Lord has done in the past both in our personal lives and for all of mankind. I can look back on how God gave me sobriety when I thought I would never be relieved of alcohol’s hold on me. I can recall with gratitude how He brought me an amazing godly man to walk through life with when I thought I would be alone forever. I can praise Him for the beautiful son He loaned to me when the fertility doctor said it would be nearly impossible for me to conceive. And joy is mine when I think of what Jesus did for me on the cross and that I will spend eternity with Him.

Scripture provides many examples of God’s people recollecting and celebrating His provision and numerous miracles. One example occurs in 1 Kings during Solomon’s day. After Solomon had built and dedicated his temple, he blessed the people, offered sacrifices before the Lord, and the people celebrated for 14 days. Celebrating what God has done is a form of worship and also gives us joy:

So Solomon observed the festival at that time, and all Israel with him—a vast assembly, people from Lebo Hamath to the Wadi of Egypt. They celebrated it before the Lord our God for seven days and seven days more, fourteen days in all. On the following day he sent the people away. They blessed the king and then went home, joyful and glad in heart for all the good things the Lord had done for his servant David and his people Israel. (1 Kings 8:65-66; emphasis mine)

Warriors, are you in need of joy today? Is there something monumental the Lord has done for you in the past that you can hold on to? Is there anything God has done in your life or in the life of another that you can celebrate? I pray that you may be full of joy and that your joy may be complete in Him!

This song by Lincoln Brewster reminds me of the joy we have in Christ.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jd4qtmDGIWQ

Reference:
Zondervan NIV Life Application Study Bible
. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011. Print.

It’s a Lie

Exactly one year ago, my husband, son and I went on vacation for spring break to Yosemite National Park. I had just spent the weekend before the trip in the hospital after going to the emergency room for heart palpitations. After getting an abnormal EKG, the doctors admitted me to the hospital for various cardiac tests. At that time, my fibromyalgia pain was at an all-time high, I battled constant fatigue and I was still recovering from an episode of major depression. I was convinced that Satan was determined to destroy me by whatever means possible, and that he might even succeed.

Needless to say, I desperately needed this vacation! We usually choose national parks or nature-oriented destinations when we travel as they provide a welcome reprieve from the noise and busyness that defines our lives in Orange County. I was looking forward to spending quiet time with God and hopefully receiving some strength, hope and encouragement from Him. And He did not disappoint!

One day on our trip, we hiked a trail to one of Yosemite’s world-famous majestic waterfalls. As we climbed the enormous boulders the mighty falls had transported and smoothed out over time, I enjoyed the thundering crash of the cascades and the refreshing water spray on my face. At that moment, God firmly yet lovingly spoke to my heart: “Don’t you dare ever think the enemy is more powerful than me! Look at all that I’ve created. Only I have the power to make all this. I AM GOD!”

My son, Noah, in Yosemite

My son, Noah, in Yosemite

Somehow I had forgotten the victory that is mine through Christ, and I’d given Satan way too much credit. I had been buying into his lies. Because I was feeling discouraged, Satan saw a perfect opportunity to whisper doubt into my ear about God’s power and authority. It’s not surprising that the enemy lies to us when we’re vulnerable given that the Bible describes Satan as “a liar and the father of lies” (New International Version: John 8:44b). The Apostle Paul understood Satan’s trickery all too well, and he expressed his concern to the church in Corinth about the influence the devil’s lies may have on them:

But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:3; emphasis mine)

How can I avoid being duped by Satan, especially during those times my faith is weakest? First, I must put my trust in Jesus for only He is “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6; emphasis mine). Next, I put what I’m believing to the acid test: Is it something that gives life or destroys it? If it destroys, it’s from the enemy, but if it gives life it’s from the Lord. As John’s gospel explains, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I [Jesus] have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Then I must heed Paul’s advice to the church in Ephesus:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (Ephesians 6:10-13; emphasis mine).

Perhaps it’s no coincidence, Valiant Warriors, that the first piece of spiritual armor Paul lists is the belt of truth. Because we are prone to fall prey to Satan’s lies, one of his principal weapons, Christians must “stand firm” with the Lord’s “belt of truth buckled around [our] waist[s]” (Ephesians 6:14a).

If we hold to the truths in God’s word, it’s easier to recognize and reject Satan’s lies. Every lie may be countered by God’s truth. For example, when I see ISIS killing Christians in the Middle East and I’m tempted to believe the bad guys are winning, Scripture offers the following refutation:

Why do the nations conspire
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,
“Let us break their chains
and throw off their shackles.”

The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
the Lord scoffs at them.

He rebukes them in his anger
and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
“I have installed my king
on Zion, my holy mountain.
(Psalm 2:1-6; emphasis mine) AND

The Lord foils the plans of the nations;
he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.
But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever,
the purposes of his heart through all generations
. (Psalm 33:10-11)

When I start believing the lie that I’m insignificant, the Bible says that conversely,

You [the LORD] created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth
. (Psalm 139:13-14; emphasis mine)

And when I’m convinced that God doesn’t care about me or my struggles, Scripture reminds me:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35, 37-39)

The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.
(Zephaniah 3:17)

Warriors, is the enemy trying to get you to believe any of his lies? I pray that God’s truth will enter your hearts, comfort you and give you strength and courage in the battle, that you may stand firm in the knowledge that “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (King James Version: 1 John 4:4).

This awesome song by Mercy Me expresses my sentiments exactly!