Taking Up The Cross

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-26; ESV).

After watching “Letters“, a movie about Mother Teresa and her devotion to serving the poor in Calcutta, India, and “Hillsong: Let Hope Rise“, a documentary about the rise of the Australian megachurch and its amazing worship band, I was once again reminded of the heavy cost associated with following Jesus.

Though Scripture teaches me about how much the disciples sacrificed in following Christ, often to the point of a horrific death, seeing modern day examples of Christians “taking up their cross” speaks powerfully. Mother Teresa gave up a comfortable sheltered life in a convent to spend her days in the filth and disease of an Indian slum. The Hillsong worship band members sacrifice comfort, sleep, financial gain, and irretrievable time with their spouses and children to connect people around the world to God through worship.

Even though I have not been called to the extreme service and sacrifice of someone like Mother Teresa or the Hillsong band, I find myself complaining regularly about where God has me at this season in my life – doing laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, and chauffeuring my nine-year-old son to doctor’s appointments for his various health issues. Yet what is evident in the examples of Mother Teresa and Hillsong is the power that is released when God’s people willingly offer themselves as “living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1) fully submitted to the will of God.

Oh, that the minuscule sacrifices I make would bring such a testimony and give glory to God! I pray that God would forgive my arrogance. Who am I to tell the Creator of the Universe what his purpose for my life should be?

Beloved Warrior, on this Good Friday may the Holy Spirit’s power come upon you to take up your cross and fulfill the Lord’s calling on your life, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13; NIV).

Enjoy this song by Hillsong!

The Power of Margin

Within days after making our recent cross-country move from California to Tennessee, a friend from back in California persisted in calling me. When her number popped up on my caller ID yet again, I thought to myself, “Why does she keep bothering me? Doesn’t she know I don’t have time to chit chat right now?” My negative and ungrateful thoughts immediately convicted me. After all, having a friend who cares about me and wants to know how I’m doing is a blessing! Could I really not take a moment to honor someone by sharing a few minutes of my time with her? What would please the Lord more: taking time to nurture relationship with one of His children, or filling up every waking moment of my time with organizing, unpacking and running errands? It occurred to me that I was making myself so busy with my to-do list that I wasn’t allowing any “margin” in my time.

Margin. It’s a word I’ve been hearing a lot lately, and it’s become my mantra in this unnecessarily busy season of my life. Most of us are familiar with the definition of margin as “the space around the printed or written matter on a page”. However, another definition of margin perhaps better explains the term as I’m referring to it. Margin may also be defined as “an amount allowed or available beyond what is actually necessary”, or “a limit in condition, capacity, etc., beyond or below which something ceases to exist, be desirable, or be possible”.

Though I’d heard the term margin in this context before, I never thought of it as a concept I needed to apply in my own life until I learned about it in Priscilla Shirer’s Bible study, Breathe: Making Room for Sabbath. Then my pastor mentioned margin in one of his messages. I know that when God is trying to tell me something, He continues to bring it up in a variety of settings until I take note.

I admit that there is very little margin in my life at the present time. The lack of margin is apparent in the way my stress level goes through the roof when someone asks me to go out for lunch or coffee or to take on a minor service commitment. I freak out because I just don’t know where I’m going to find the time! Another example of my need for margin presented itself during last week’s church service. Our pastor informed the congregation that the church’s weekly offerings are falling far short of what’s needed to cover weekly costs. I wanted to help, but unfortunately I have nothing to give. Guess why? No margin in my finances. From month to month I strap myself by spending my paycheck before I even receive it. I have left no margin for giving gifts, tithing, or contributing to important and worthy causes. Every month my paycheck is already spent to pay the credit card bill I racked up the month before.

The idea of leaving “blank space” in my life for God to speak to me, guide me, and direct me greatly appeals to me and is a necessary practice in my Christian walk. In order to honor the Lord when He calls me to do something and to love my neighbor as myself, I must leave margin in my time, energy, and finances.

So how can I create more margin in my life? A solution came to me through a woman in my Bible study group. She shared how a friend had reminded her of our need to ask the Lord to order our steps. When we do so, He will help us identify what’s really important and say no to the unnecessary:

The LORD directs the steps of the godly.
    He delights in every detail of their lives.
Though they stumble, they will never fall,
    for the LORD holds them by the hand. (Psalm 37:23-24; NLT)

A fruit of the Spirit is self-control. Boy do I need it! At all times it’s important to pray for the Holy Spirit to work in me to produce all of the fruit of the Spirit, but at this juncture in my walk with God, my need for self-control is paramount. The Holy Spirit began helping me develop restraint the moment I started praying for it! I recognized the Spirit’s work in me during a recent trip to Target. In weeks previous, I had spent hundreds of dollars at the store for things I “needed” for our new house. However, on my most recent Target visit I passed up the $100 area rug I wanted, and with the exception of a $1 Yoda cup for my son, I only purchased what I intended to purchase (a spiral notebook and a sympathy card). Yeah, God!

Notice that there is only one fruit of the Spirit. Though nine spiritual qualities are listed (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control), they are not Spiritual “fruits” plural. This is because the characteristics are intertwined, complementing and supplementing each other. For example, as the Holy Spirit grants me greater self-control, the other fruit of the Spirit becomes evident in my life at the same time. If I have greater self-control, I am able to say no to activities that are not a good use of my time. In doing so, I develop peace. When I feel peaceful, I am more loving, kind, and joyful. When I am joyful, I am more patient and gentle. When I exercise self-control with money, I am able to give and demonstrate faithfulness to God. So the fruit is one, and in order to obtain it I must walk by the Spirit, be led by the Spirit, and keep in step with the Spirit:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:16-26; ESV; emphasis mine)

Lord, may I glorify you in every area of my life – with my time, money, and possessions, and with my body and in my relationships. Help me preserve margin for friends, family, financial giving, and for just being still with you.

Enjoy Switchfoot’s This is Your Life

References:
Dictionary.com, s.v. “margin,” accessed October 31, 2015, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/margin?s=t.

Priscilla Shirer, Breathe: Making Room for Sabbath (Nashville: LifeWay Press, 2014).

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

World CitizenI am prejudiced. I admit it. I wish I wasn’t, I don’t like it, and as much as I hate to see it in myself, it is true.

My husband, son and I recently made the cross country move from South Orange County, California, to Tennessee. We made several overnight stops on our drive. Before departing for our final day of driving, we searched for a restaurant where we could grab a quick and easy breakfast. I won’t name the city or the restaurant, but suffice it to say that the place we went to had a large all-you-can-eat buffet. We were somewhat shocked at what we observed – nearly everyone in the restaurant appeared unhealthy and very overweight. Though I expected the usual breakfast fare for breakfast, I was taken aback by the greasy, fat-laden food. I was so spoiled in Orange County! I was used to having healthy food options that oftentimes included gluten-free bread, organic fruits and vegetables and cage-free eggs. I know, I know, it sounds so snooty, doesn’t it?

This wasn’t my first exposure to other parts of the country, but even though I’ve frequented this region of the U.S. many times before, I was still appalled at the type and amount of food people were putting into their bodies. I know that many people consider Californians “fruits and nuts” partly because of their notoriously healthy lifestyles. Some of this stereotype is true: There is a gym in virtually every neighborhood, and because of the beautiful weather people are often seen outside walking, running, and biking. Though there are downsides to living in South Orange County – the high cost of living, the fast and stressful pace, the traffic, etc. – I have always appreciated the culture of health that predominates in that part of the country.

When I recognized the ugly prejudice welling up in myself in the restaurant, I sensed the Lord asking me, “Just who in the world do you think you are?” I agreed with Him. Who am I to judge what anyone else does, how anyone else looks or how anyone else acts? Who am I to approve or disapprove of anyone?

Unfortunately, harboring negative thoughts about people, whether they are based on race, ethnicity, religion, lifestyle, level of education, socioeconomic status or on any other characteristic we assign to a particular group of people, is dangerous and can even be deadly. Prejudices and stereotypes that are never questioned or challenged but rather nurtured and encouraged can result in discrimination and, in the most extreme cases, marginalization and genocide.

Prior to our move, I confessed my concern about the cultural differences between our old home and our new home to one of my spiritual advisors. She reminded me that if you strip away a person’s exterior – their education, their possessions, their career, etc. – deep down we are all the same and we will all be held to the same standard when we stand naked before God. Intellectually, I know this is true. The Lord has no favorites – He loves us all just the same, and He will judge us all just the same. In light of this truth, how can I change my attitude so that I will see people who may be different from me the way Jesus sees them?

The Parable of the Good Samaritan is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. Jesus told this parable in response to a question posed by “an expert in the law”:

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-29)

Jesus answers the man’s question using a parable. In this parable, known as “The Parable of the Good Samaritan”, Jesus describes how a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho was attacked by robbers, stripped, beaten and left half-dead. When first a priest and later a Levite, both supposedly godly men, saw the injured man they passed by on the other side of the road. But a Samaritan saw the man and had compassion for him:

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:30-37)

Interestingly, Jesus told this parable knowing that the Jews and the Samaritans deeply hated each other. The Jews considered themselves Abraham’s pure descendants and therefore superior to the Samaritans, a mixed race produced after Israel’s exile when northern kingdom Jews intermarried with other peoples. Nevertheless, the Samaritan was the only one who showed mercy to his fellow man.

I love how Jesus doesn’t pull any punches – it is not sufficient to love and care for only those who are like us or who we are comfortable with, but rather he commands that we love and show mercy to all of God’s children.

I once volunteered for Amnesty International at a U2 concert. AI provided its volunteers with t-shirts that read, “Citizen of the World”. The slogan reminds me that, though we may be proud of our nationality, our ethnicity, our religion, etc., ultimately we are all just human beings created in the image and likeness of our Heavenly Father.

When I perceive others in a negative light, it is my problem and not the other person’s. They are not the ones who needs to work on their attitude – I am. As with any time the Holy Spirit convicts me that my thoughts are offensive to God, I must go to Jesus and surrender my preconceived ideas and prejudices to Him and ask for their removal.

Just as Jesus saw straight into the heart of the “expert in the law” and corrected any false notions he may have had about who his neighbor is, He will work on my heart to help me see all people as my neighbor. In the same way, I pray that others will view me not as a “fruity and nutty” Californian but rather as a sister in Christ, a fellow “Citizen of the World”.

The David Crowder band sings about How He Loves us all.

 

Choose Life

A few nights ago, I had a very disturbing nightmare. I dreamed I was in staying in a hotel, and my hotel room was infested with rats and snails. As I walked the halls of the hotel, I felt pulled into a channel of darkness. I had been fighting the tug, but I finally decided to stop resisting and just give in to it. Suddenly I started to glide just below the hotel ceiling, allowing myself to be carried along in a stream of black toward what I was sure was a black hole from which I would never return. I was even enjoying the feeling of surrender and non-resistance as I floated effortlessly above all the hotel guests.

Then, in my dream, I remembered Jesus. At once I recognized the seriousness of my situation – what in the world was I thinking? Was I really about to allow myself to be overtaken by the dark side? In sheer panic I declared, “Jesus! Jesus is my Lord!” Immediately, I dropped to the floor and my senses were restored. I went to the hotel dining room where my parents were eating dinner, and through tears of repentance I begged their forgiveness for my evil behavior.

My dream reminds me that I’m always, in every situation, faced with a choice – to follow or reject God, to affirm or renounce my commitment to Him. The decision, for me, is truly a matter of life or death. In the Bible, we read of Moses presenting the offer of life or death to the Israelites. After reviewing God’s laws and the terms of the covenant God had initially made with Israel 40 years earlier at Mount Sinai, Moses called upon the people to choose between life, prosperity and blessings or death, destruction and curses:

See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.

But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. (Deuteronomy 30:15-20; emphasis mine)

It sounds like an easy choice, doesn’t it? Anyone in their right mind would naturally choose life, wouldn’t they? Who among us would voluntarily opt for death, destruction and curses? Yet I regularly find myself faced with the ugliness within my own heart, and I have a choice as to whether I will take the matter to God and seek guidance, forgiveness and life or whether I will do things my own way – the way that Scripture says “appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 16:25).

At the time I had the nightmare, I was dealing with a situation that left me feeling angry and resentful. People weren’t acting the way that I wanted or expected, and I was focused mostly on what I wanted and needed and not about the other parties involved. The nightmare I had showed me that my “room”, i.e. my heart, was full of “snails” and “rats”, what I interpret as wickedness and filth. The pull of evil and my willingness to go along with it clearly indicated that I was choosing death. Through my dream, I believe that God was revealing to me that I needed to recognize the ill-will I harbored in my heart, and that I needed to come to Him for help and to surrender to Him yet again as my Lord.

Despite Moses’ warning to the Israelites, the people chose death, destruction and curses over and over again. Moses’ caution to “choose life” occurs in chapter 30 of Deuteronomy, yet in chapter 31 Israel’s rebellion is already being predicted. How it must break the Lord’s heart when we turn from Him! And how gracious He is when we return to Him to lovingly take us back time and time again! If the Lord didn’t shower His grace and mercy upon me, I would have been destroyed by my own selfishness and self-will long ago.

What will your choice be today, Warrior? None of us will ever be perfect, but will you choose this day to “love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws” (Deuteronomy 30:16) to the best of your ability? Joshua challenged the Israelites by making them decide, “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…” (Joshua 24:15a). I pray that we would commit ourselves to God with the same conviction as Joshua, and that we would choose life.

But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15b)

Enjoy Big Tent Revival’s “Choose Life”

Am I All In?

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)

The Bible study group was studying Philippians, and on this particular day we were discussing verse 1:21. We were asked if we would fill in the blank in “For to me, to live is ____________” the same way Paul did. Hmmm, I had to do some soul-searching. Could I honestly say that for me, to live is Christ? At that moment, the best answer I could muster was “maybe”.

Though I turned my life over to God nearly 20 years ago, my Christian walk has been characterized by a series of surrenders to the Lord and a relationship that continues to deepen and grow stronger with each passing day. Still, when the rubber meets the road, am I all in?

Scripture details several accounts of people who were “all in” whatever the cost. A particularly striking example of a life completely devoted to Jesus exists in Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha. While Jesus was reclining at a dinner given in His honor, Mary poured a jar of very expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet. The amount of fragrant ointment Mary used was equivalent to a year’s wages (John 12:1-11). Mary clearly demonstrated that offering what she had to honor the Lord meant more to her than financial security. How does my attitude toward my King compare to Mary’s? Would I be willing to give my entire annual salary to the Lord without any financial plan B?

When Jesus called his first four disciples – Simon called Peter, Peter’s brother Andrew, James son of Zebedee and his brother John – they not only followed Jesus, but they did so “at once” and “immediately”:

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-22; emphasis mine)

Matthew, gospel writer and disciple, also completely abandoned his previous lifestyle and gave his life to Jesus with no way of turning back if it didn’t work out. Prior to following Jesus, Matthew earned his living as a tax collector. The Romans had appointed him, and for this reason as well as because the tax-collectors were notorious for overcharging the people and keeping the profits, Matthew was neither a respected nor an accepted member of society. He probably didn’t consider himself worthy to be one of the Lord’s right hand men, yet when Jesus saw Matthew “sitting at the tax collector’s booth” he told Matthew to follow him. What was Matthew’s immediate response? He readily abandoned his lucrative career, got up and followed Jesus:

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. (Matthew 9:9b)

It sounds so simple! Jesus says “follow me”, and regular people like Matthew and the disciples Peter, Andrew, James and John drop whatever they’re doing and give up everything at once to serve with Him. Would I do the same?

For me personally, I don’t believe the lesson here is that Jesus wants me to give up all that I have and all that I’m doing in my life, though that may be the case for some and it may be the case for me at some point. The important truth I take from these accounts is that there is nothing in my life that should hold more value to me than following Jesus – not my job, my possessions, not anything. As my faith in God grows and deepens, and as I nurture my relationship with the Lord, the more I feel better able to honestly agree with Paul: “For to me, to live IS Christ” (Philippians 1:21). I’m all in! But I need to exercise vigilance to ensure that nothing else creeps up to try and take the place that’s reserved only for God.

The accounts of Jesus’ followers leaving everything to devote their lives to Him convicts and challenges me. Some people are comfortable with risk, but I tend to value security and routine. Being a Valiant Warrior, however, means giving up worldly security. Recall the Apostle Paul’s words:

No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. (2 Timothy 2:4)

What about you, Warrior? Are you prepared to follow your Heavenly Commander-in-Chief no matter the cost? Are you all in?

Matthew West’s song “The Motions” says it all. Enjoy!

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.

Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

While it may be true that the Lord works in mysterious ways, my experience has been that it is also true there are times God speaks directly to us with a clear and obvious message. Lately it’s become apparent the Lord wants me to address a negative pattern in my life, turn from it and stop repeating it. My morning devotional talked about being a drain on others vs. being a wellspring, I watched a Joel Osteen message about honoring others, and all the while the Holy Spirit has been convicting me about my search for attention from others, their approval and the need to feed my own ego with accolades and conversations that focus on me.

I know I’m not in spiritually fit condition when all I start to think about all day long is me. Gone are the thoughts of praying for others and about what I can do for those in need, and resentment about my service commitments and responsibilities takes over. I am impatient – wherever I go I seem to be in the slowest line or behind the slowest driver, and don’t these people know how important I am and that I need to get somewhere?! It has taken some time for me to come to the realization, but when I finally stopped to ask why I’m so grumpy and irritable, I recognized that I am disconnected from the Father. And I’ve also discovered that, interestingly enough (no coincidences here!), it’s during these times that I’m too “busy” to get to Bible study, I don’t have time to spend with other Christian women, and I cut short my quiet time with God so that I can get started checking off my all-important to-do list.

I can so easily become the center of my own little universe. I cringe at the ugliness within myself when all I think about is me! I see it happening, yet I feel powerless to do anything about it. My sinful nature takes over, and the enemy just loves it! How can I get out of this mindset and stop being so self-centered? After all, God is the only one whose approval I really need and only He can give me the inner peace and truly unconditional love that I so desperately seek out and crave. So what can I do on those days I’m completely self-absorbed and self-consumed? I don’t have the power to remove my own selfishness, but the Holy Spirit does. The first step to adjusting my attitude is confessing my self-centeredness to God and sincerely repenting. Then I present myself to the Father with no holds barred. As the Apostle Paul instructed:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. (New International Version, Romans 12:1; emphasis mine)

When I humbly submit myself to the Potter, He can mold me back into proper shape. Then I will no longer “conform to the pattern of this world” but rather, I will be “transformed by the renewing of [my] mind” (Romans 12:2a). The next step is to fill myself up with spiritual food and water by spending time with God in prayer, in His Word and with other Christians. When I am spiritually nourished, the desire for worldly recognition and acceptance fades away. The Samaritan woman Jesus met at the well sought fulfillment in her relationships with men (she had previously had five husbands and was living with a sixth man when she encountered Jesus), but Jesus explained to her that the spiritual “well” she continually visited would only leave her thirsty again. Only He can offer us the living water that quenches our spiritual thirst:

“…but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)

When I feel myself being drawn back into seeking validation from the world, I can run my thoughts and actions by the checklist provided in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. The checklist determines whether what I do and think spring from love: Are my thoughts and actions patient and kind, and not envious, boastful or proud? Do they demonstrate honor to others? Are my thoughts and actions other-centered rather than self-seeking? Am I not easily angered? Am I not keeping a record of wrongs nor delighting in evil but instead rejoicing with the truth? Are my thoughts and behaviors displaying love that always protects, trusts, hopes and perseveres? Scripture tells me that I can be the most successful person in the eyes of the world and be fully equipped with tremendous spiritual gifts, yet without love I am nothing: If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

Fellow warriors, I don’t know about you, but I definitely do not want to be a clanging cymbal. That is one loud and annoying sound! Instead, I want to gently and humbly shine the light of Jesus and reflect His love onto those I come into contact with. For no matter what I accomplish in this life, the greatest legacy I will leave behind is love. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13).