Letting It All Hang Out

Vulnerability-Just-AheadI, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. (Revelation 1:9, NIV)

I thought that when I published my first book Valiant Warrior I would feel elated and relieved to finally have it finished. Instead, I have been struggling with anxiety and insecurity since the book’s release. Letting all of my past, my feelings, and the way my head and body are wired hanging out there makes me feel vulnerable and exposed, open to rejection, and subject to criticism.

I have re-read the book at least once to ensure that it was written coherently, that the points I was trying to make came through clearly, and that I didn’t write anything that would cause pain to those I love. In my review, I discovered numerous errors in grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure. And even though the photograph of myself that I sent to the publisher looked fine to me, my picture in the book makes me look live I’ve got a bad sunburn. But those things don’t bother me too much. What really concerns me and leaves me feeling naked are the raw emotions I described and sharing my deepest, darkest thoughts with those close to me as well as with complete strangers. “What was I thinking?” I have wondered to myself on more than one occasion. Should I have just kept my experience to myself?

As I’ve been praying to God about my insecurity and trying to trust that it was truly His will for me to write the book and share my battle with depression and chronic illness, I felt comforted as I listened to a message by Pastor Jon Courson on Revelation 1:9. Revelation was written by the apostle John after he was exiled to the island of Patmos because he refused to stop preaching the gospel. Pastor Courson discussed how John tried to comfort and encourage the Christian Church amidst the severe persecution its members were experiencing for their faith. John wanted to assure his fellow Christians that as a “brother and companion in the suffering” (John 1:9a), he understood their woes.

John could identify with the trials and tribulations of his fellow Christians because he, too, had suffered persecution. Similarly, who better to comfort us in our struggles than someone who has been where we have been? Who better to comfort someone battling cancer than a cancer survivor? Who better to encourage someone who has lost a child than another person who has experienced the same loss?

Throughout the course of writing my book, I earnestly prayed for the Holy Spirit’s leading and that what I wrote would help other people who struggle with depression and chronic illness. All I have to offer is what God has given me, and that is my experience. How could I not share it if it might be helpful to someone? And it’s not about me anyway. It’s about the Lord and giving Him the glory for everything He has done in my life, which includes giving me strength during the difficult times in my life.

Warrior, have you experienced suffering in your life? And if so, is there anyone who can benefit, receive hope, and be encouraged by your story? As the apostle Paul explains, we can comfort others in their trials because we receive comfort from God, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort. vulnerable-hero-text

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5; emphasis mine).

God’s grace is evident throughout my story. My story, therefore, is really His story – a story of redemption!

Enjoy “My Story” by Big Daddy Weave

Popcorn Prayers

“God, if you’re real, I need you to show yourself right now!” my dear friend prayed after giving birth to her second stillborn child.

“God, I can’t take this anymore! Please help me!”, I prayed through blinding tears when I was in the depths of depression.

As he tended to his dying father, my husband cried out to God, “Help me, God! Give me strength!”

Though spending lengthy periods of time in prayer and quiet reflection with the Lord are treasured as well as vital to our Christian walk, there are also times when the luxury of time is not available. And sometimes our needs are so great and so immediate that all we can do is cry out to God, begging Him to allow us to experience His presence and his response to our requests at once. Otherwise, we may fear we won’t survive the moment.

popcornI will never forget listening to a sermon by Skip Heitzig when he was Pastor of Ocean Hills Church. He used a term I had never heard before: “popcorn prayer”. These prayers, like a kernel of corn when it is heated and explodes and pops up into the air, are quick prayers we “pop” straight up to the Lord. Popcorn prayers are those prayers we cry out when we are desperate, when words escape us, and in those times we can muster only enough strength or presence of mind to plead “Help! Please help me, Lord!” Oh, if only I had a dollar for every time I prayed a popcorn prayer! I tend to offer popcorn prayers when I’m frightened, when I don’t know what to do, when I have come to the end of my rope with a person or a situation, or when I just can’t stop myself from repeating some destructive behavior.

King David most certainly never heard the term “popcorn prayer”, yet he definitely understood the concept behind it:

Hasten, O God, to save me;
    come quickly, Lord, to help me.

May those who want to take my life
    be put to shame and confusion;
may all who desire my ruin
    be turned back in disgrace.
May those who say to me, “Aha! Aha!”

    turn back because of their shame.
But may all who seek you
    rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who long for your saving help always say,
    “The Lord is great!”

But as for me, I am poor and needy;           
    come quickly to me, O God.
You are my help and my deliverer;
    Lord, do not delay. (Psalm 70)

Notice the terms “hasten”, “come quickly” and “do not delay”. We, like David, experience moments when we are broken and empty, and we beg God to hastily come to our aid. David faced enemies who sought his ruin and wanted to take his life. Though we may not be in danger of murder as David was, we still face any number of enemies during our lifetime, including our number one enemy, Satan, who seeks to destroy us.

In verse 3 of Psalm 70, David asks that those who say “Aha!” to him may “turn back because of their shame”. “Aha!” is something someone might say when they think they are right and you’re wrong, or when they think they’re beating you. When David’s enemies cruelly and haughtily said, “Aha! Aha!” to him, they added insult to injury by reveling in what they were sure was their inevitable victory and David’s certain defeat. Similarly, we may feel that our “enemies” – whether they be actual people as in David’s case, or the enemies of anxiety, depression, health challenges, relationship struggles, loss of a loved one, financial problems, etc. – are metaphorically saying “Aha!” to us. In those situations, we may pray like David that God would confound and frustrate whatever is coming against us.

David asked the Lord not to delay coming to him because he was “poor and needy” (verse 5). When we approach the Lord in brokenness, poverty and neediness, He meets us with mercy. He honors us when we come to Him with a humble heart:

And it will be said:

“Build up, build up, prepare the road!
    Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.”
For this is what the high and exalted One says—

    he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
“I live in a high and holy place,
but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly

    and to revive the heart of the contrite. (Isaiah 57: 14-15)

Pride brings a person low, but the lowly in spirit gain honor. (Proverbs 29:23)

David’s “popcorn prayer” teaches us that even in the midst of our distress, it is still appropriate to praise God. In verse 4, David prayed that all who seek the Lord would “rejoice and be glad in him” and that all who long for His saving help would always say, “The Lord is great!”. David wanted the Lord’s followers to glorify Him in this way. In verse 5, David praised God as his help and his deliverer. I find it difficult to praise God when I am scared, angry or overwhelmed. Nevertheless, finding things to praise Him for (and there is never a shortage!) helps me take my mind off whatever negative emotions are consuming me and re-direct my focus onto Jesus and all He has done.

When Saul sought to kill David, David prayed to God for help and strength. The Lord heard David’s prayer and delivered him from his enemy’s hand. As David recounts:

In my distress, I called to the Lord;
  I cried to my God for help.
From his temple he heard my voice;
  My cry came before him, into his ears.

 He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
    he drew me out of deep waters.
He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
    from my foes, who were too strong for me.
They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
    but the Lord was my support.
He brought me out into a spacious place;
    he rescued me because he delighted in me. (Psalm 18:2, 16-19)

Beloved Warrior, when all you can do is cry out to the Lord, rest assured that He will hear you and answer you. His mighty hand will reach down from on high and take hold of you, and He will rescue you from all that is too strong for you.

This is what the Lord says, he who made the earth, the Lord who formed it and established it – the Lord is his name. Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know. (Jeremiah 33: 2-3; emphasis mine)

Enjoy “Cry Out to Jesus” – an awesome song by Third Day!

Finally, Be Strong in the Lord

My climb out of the valley of depression and chronic illness has been a journey requiring stamina. Many times I’ve been ready to quit and succumb to the darkness. During those times I felt I could not possibly endure the suffering one minute longer, I would sense God’s voice saying “Don’t give up!”

The unfortunate truth is that we do have an enemy who wants to destroy us. Satan will especially attack with force those who threaten him and his desire to replace God in the world in general and in our lives specifically. God was probably telling me not to give up because He had a mission for me and a plan and a purpose for my life that remains to be fulfilled. Satan certainly wants to thwart any plan for good that God may have.

Satan even tried to tempt Jesus away from God’s plan for our redemption and salvation. When Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, the Spirit of God descended on Jesus and a voice from heaven declared, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Immediately after this event took place, Jesus went into the wilderness. After He had fasted for forty days and forty nights, i.e. when Jesus was alone and hungry and particularly vulnerable, Satan came to tempt Him. The devil tempted Jesus in ways in which we are all susceptible: with power, pride, possessions and physical needs/pleasures. But Jesus did not give in, and the devil left Him (Matthew 4:11).

I am convinced that, like Jesus in the wilderness, you, too, will survive your times of trial by picking up the spiritual tools the Lord has supplied for us. In the day of evil, you will be able to stand your ground by putting on the full armor of God:

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. (Ephesians 6:14-18a)

The full armor of God emphasizes truth, righteousness, readiness to spread the Good News, faith, salvation, the Word of God and prayer as the keys to victory over Satan’s attacks.

Despite all of the spiritual weapons in our arsenal, we may still at times feel that we’re losing the battle. When we sense impending defeat, it may help to remember how Jesus’ disciples must have felt after they had given up everything to follow Jesus only to see Him arrested, tortured, crucified and buried in a tomb. The feeling of utter defeat must have been overwhelming! But then the resurrected Christ appeared to them, explaining how He was the fulfillment of the Scriptures and suddenly standing among them and greeting them by saying, “Peace be with you” (Luke 24:36).

How heart-wrenching it must have been for the disciples when it came time for Jesus to again leave them to ascend into heaven to sit at the Father’s right hand! But Jesus wasn’t abandoning them. Before His suffering and death, He had promised that He would soon send his faithful disciples the Holy Spirit to be with them to guide them and teach them:

“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.  I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

 “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:15-21, 25-27; emphasis mine)

Before Jesus departed and ascended into heaven, He gave His disciples the great commission to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20a). Then he left the disciples with these comforting words, ensuring us that He is always with us:

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b).

Like the disciples, we are never on our own if we’re in Christ. We may not be able to physically see or touch God, but if we pray for spiritual vision we will be able to see the works of His hand in our lives. And Scripture assures us that the ultimate victory belongs to those who are in Christ:

Everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (1 John 5:4-5)

Beloved Warrior, keep fighting the good fight! If you are in Christ, the ultimate victory is yours.

Enjoy some encouragement with this song from Mandisa!

Who is in the Battle with You?

Who is in the battle with you imageThere is nothing like a tragedy in our lives to reveal who really cares about us and who we can depend on. When I hit bottom with depression and subsequently got sick, I was too tired to participate in all of the activities I was previously involved in. Therefore, I wasn’t attending events where I would regularly touch base with many of the people in my life at the time. This change alone eliminated many relationships, but I accepted it because many of those friendships were largely superficial anyway. It became clear that I would only have energy to devote to the most important and cherished people in my life, and this presented some difficulty. I was scared to let go of many people, but I had read in a book about living with Fibromyalgia that the people that really matter and who are supposed to be in your life will stick around and put in the effort it takes to stay close.

God is so good and faithful to give us what we need when we need it! When my husband and I first started attending our current church after many years at our previous church, I have to admit I had a very difficult time making the transition. My husband Chris was welcomed into the community of men with open arms while I stood by feeling like an outsider. Chris was asked to be an elder, and I saw myself as an invisible passenger just along for the ride. The elders-to-be attended monthly meetings, and the men were asked to bring their wives. At one of the meetings, our pastor asked me not to leave before the group could pray for me. As the meeting drew to a close and the group asked for prayer requests, my pastor brought up my health situation. Everyone then gathered around me and laid hands on me. One of the elders anointed me with oil, and the group prayed over me. After that, my attitude toward the church completely changed. The love of Christ as shown through the actions of others won me over! I have since become friends with a few of the elders’ wives, and I treasure our shared faith and that we pray for each other.

Over the years, it’s also been a blessing to have a Bible study group that cares about me and knows what’s going on in my life. I need the support of fellow believers to help me through my battles. It’s also an honor for me to be there for others both in their times of sorrow and in their joys. The Bible teaches that confession and prayer with other believers has healing power. In addition, we remain accountable by praying for one another and sharing where we are in our faith journey. There is power in the prayers of true believers praying for each other:

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up.

If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. (James 5:13-16)

Scripture also encourages us to meet together regularly, as the church needs its members to lift one another up and keep each other from falling into sin:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Furthermore, Scripture declares that believers are much stronger together than they are on their own:

Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
    one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
    and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
    But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
    two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
(Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

The Bible cautions us to choose who we will walk through life with carefully. It’s important to search for people who are wise, who will offer us love and support and who will help us grow in our relationship with God:

Walk with the wise and become wise,
    for a companion of fools suffers harm. (Proverbs 13:20)

Fellow Warriors, may we take comfort in knowing we are not in the battle all by ourselves, but rather that we are all in this together. Let us both receive and give Jesus’ love for us through one another. I pray that our hearts would be open to share the amazing gift of fellowship with another lost, lonely and battle-weary soul who may desperately need to experience God’s love today.

Enjoy “No Man is an Island” by Tenth Avenue North!

Complete Dependence

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
(Psalm 121: New International Version)

When my Fibromyalgia pain was at its worst, even normal everyday tasks were a struggle. When making dinner and washing dishes, pain would shoot down my neck, arms and back. I was so weak that my arms became sore just from washing my hair. Perhaps the most difficult challenge presented itself when my six-year-old son wanted me to play and participate in activities with him.

One evening after dinner, he wanted me to put on a play with him, and all I desperately wanted to do was to get in bed. Fear of the future rose up in me as I considered the coming week’s schedule: Teacher conferences meant his school would have all half days. How was I going to keep up with him during those extra hours? After all, I was still paying the price for the play date we had the previous day – pushing his bike up and down the hill to and from the park and walking with all of the kids through the trench among the brush in the hills that back up to the park exhausted me.

The anxiety and, I must admit, dread of the coming week and its schedule of activities – going to the kid’s museum, the loud and smelly trampoline park, etc. – had me briefly considering the afterschool childcare program. Where was I going to get the necessary energy to do these stressful things I didn’t want to do and that prevented me from resting? Despite my concerns, I quickly dismissed the afterschool childcare option because I wanted to be with my son regardless of how I felt, and I didn’t want to miss out on any of the precious and fleeting time I get with him. I just wanted to have the physical strength and energy to be my best self for him.

At some point in every Christian’s walk with God, the Lord allows trials in which we have no choice but to depend completely on Him. “One day at a time” is a well-known expression in recovery. The slogan has become near and dear to my heart as it reminds me that God will provide for my needs as they come. Worrying about whether He will provide for me and give me the strength I need a week from now just isn’t a good use of my time. After all, the Lord’s Prayer does say to “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11: English Standard Version: emphasis mine).

Having to depend on God is humbling. Personally, I would prefer that God remove whatever the problem is rather than have to rely on Him to overcome it. “Please remove this pain!” I might pray. “Take away this depression!” I may plead. And sometimes it is the Lord’s will to take away our problems. Other times, however, He is using them to accomplish a purpose. For example, the Apostle Paul was given a “thorn in his flesh” to keep him from becoming conceited. Paul implored with God three times to remove it, but instead God said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). God can use our weaknesses and our struggles to teach us about His grace and how His power rather than our own accomplishes great things in our lives.

Scripture provides contrasting accounts of those who did not depend on God and were defeated and those who achieved victory because of their complete dependence on the Lord. In Deuteronomy, Moses recounts the Israelites’ rebellion against God’s command. The Lord had instructed the Israelites to take possession of the Promised Land, but when they reached Kadesh Barnea, just south of the land God told them to conquer and occupy, the Israelites hesitated. They were unwilling to proceed after they heard reports about fortified cities with walls as high as 30 feet, imposing fortresses and giant Anakites who may have been 7-9 feet tall (Deuteronomy 1:28: NIV Life Application Study Bible notes). Even though Moses assured the Israelites that the Lord would see them through and give them victory, the people would not go up and take possession of the land (Deuteronomy 1:29-32). Because the Israelites disobeyed God rather than depend on Him, their entire generation was banned from entering the Promised Land, and they spent the next 40 years wandering the desert (Numbers 13, 14).

A much happier outcome resulted for Asa, King of Judah. Because of his complete dependence on God, Asa’s army achieved victory despite being vastly outnumbered by the Cushites. When Asa went out to meet Zerah the Cushite’s large army, he recognized his powerlessness and his inability to obtain victory without the Lord’s help:

Then Asa called to the Lord his God and said, “Lord, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this vast army. Lord, you are our God; do not let mere mortals prevail against you.”

 The Lord struck down the Cushites before Asa and Judah. The Cushites fled, and Asa and his army pursued them as far as Gerar. Such a great number of Cushites fell that they could not recover; they were crushed before the Lord and his forces. (2 Chronicles 4:11-13; emphasis mine)

Asa prevailed when he focused on God’s power and not on his own.

It’s easy to be like the Israelites and see the giants, the impenetrable high walls and the obstacles in my personal path to obedience. Even though my health has improved and doing daily tasks isn’t as difficult as it once was, I can still become overwhelmed by insecurity, fatigue, discouragement, lack of time, money and energy, and my own ego. But when I fix my eyes on Jesus, He gives me the strength to do whatever He calls me to do.

Mighty warrior, I pray that we would recognize that the battle is not ours but the Lord’s (2 Chronicles 20:15). God will certainly help us accomplish any task He has called us to. When we feel threatened by the might of the vast armies coming against us in this life, may we pray like King Jehoshaphat, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chronicles 20:12b). Then may we “take up [our] positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give [us]” (2 Chronicles 20:17), for the battle is not ours, but God’s.

Enjoy Matthew West’s song describing how we need God’s strength!

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

A Gentle Whisper

In my quest find healing and recovery from depression and relief from my Fibromyalgia symptoms, I seemingly exhausted every option available to man. I was willing to do and pay whatever it took to get well, even to the point of taking money out of my retirement savings to finance my pursuit of health and wholeness. I hunted for the right people to treat me – people I felt comfortable with and who validated and acknowledged that my illnesses were real and not a case of “complainer’s disease”.

Before I recognized how ridiculous all of this running around to the various doctors and appointments was, I made myself crazy driving all over Southern California. At one point, I was regularly seeing a rheumatologist, a hematologist, a physical therapist, a counselor, a psychiatrist, a naturopathic doctor and an acupuncturist. Needless to say, all of these appointments made it nearly impossible to get anything else accomplished! And the increase in my stress level largely negated any benefit I was getting from the various treatments.

In a situation where so many paths are open, discernment and wisdom are paramount. Praise God that He guides and directs us not only with regard to right and wrong but also with our decisions on other matters! In all of my running around to the numerous health care providers, I was doing myself more harm than good. I knew I needed calm from the outside storm, and in the quiet of my heart I felt the Lord beckoning me to listen to Him. I prayed and asked God which paths I should continue to pursue and which ones were not for me.

The Bible says, “A discerning person keeps wisdom in view, but a fool’s eyes wander to the ends of the earth” (Proverbs 17:24). When I find myself chasing all kinds of rabbit trails, Scripture reminds me that the Lord will help me be wise if I seek His knowledge:

The discerning heart seeks knowledge,
    but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly. (Proverbs 15:14; New International Version)

My husband and I often complain to each other that we haven’t heard from God with specific direction on a specific matter. But the reality is that God is always leading us, so how do we actually hear from the Lord after praying for direction? The Bible teaches us how important it is to get still and quiet with God. I’m amazed at how my non-Christian friends in recovery understand this principle: To receive God’s guidance, one must retreat from the hustle and bustle of the daily routine to commune with Him and listen. So often I mistakenly believe the Lord will speak to me in a loud voice that drowns out all other noise. When I don’t know what God’s will is, I pray for Him to reveal it by proverbially “hitting me with a 2×4”. But the Bible demonstrates that this is generally not the way He wants to communicate with me, especially when my relationship with the Lord grows more intimate when I carve out time to fellowship with Him and earnestly seek His heart to the exclusion of all else.

God often gently whispers to those who listen quietly and humbly for his guidance. The Biblical prophet Elijah felt lonely and discouraged because he thought he was the last of God’s true followers, so he went to Mount Horeb seeking the Lord’s counsel. The Lord told Elijah to “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by” (1 Kings 19:11). 1 Kings 19 teaches us that although God sometimes reveals Himself through miracles and demonstrations of power, He may also choose to speak to us in the quiet of our hearts:

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. (1 Kings 19:11-12; emphasis mine)

Elijah did not hear God in the wind, the earthquake or the fire. Instead, he recognized God’s “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12; King James Version), for “When Elijah heard it [the gentle whisper], he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave” (1 Kings 19:13) in acknowledgment of the Lord’s presence.

Why do so many of us find it difficult to be still and quiet with God? What prevents us from making individual fellowship with the Lord a priority? Many people point to busyness as the culprit. But if we really search our hearts, many of us are just afraid to get quiet with the Lord. What if in my quiet time the Holy Spirit convicts me of something He wants me to repent of? What if I want to continue in my sin and plead ignorance? What if the answer to my prayer is not the answer I want? What if God tells me to do something I don’t want to do, or to not do something I want to do?

In modern day society, it’s many times easier to distract ourselves with trivial activity so that we don’t have to feel our feelings. We run from God instead of allowing Him access to our brokenness when doing so results in the very healing we so desperately need. Perhaps we would rather not undergo the self-examination that reveals our flaws, insecurities, impure motivations and temptations even though confessing our weaknesses allows God to infuse us with His power which is “made perfect in weakness” (1 Corinthians 12:9).

Jesus was extremely busy with His ministry on Earth, yet even our Savior made time to be alone with the Father. In between teaching and healing the people, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). The day before He chose the 12 disciples, Jesus “went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God” (Luke 6:12). Jesus’s example shows us that busyness is not an acceptable excuse for failing to take time to be still and listen for God’s voice:

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 
(Mark 1:35)

Sometimes I find it very challenging to wake up early enough to sit at the Lord’s feet, but my day always suffers when I miss this time. I get more caught up in worldly matters, my priorities get totally messed up, and I don’t enjoy the same peace and serenity I have on the days I seek God first. Conversely, on the days I spend quiet time in the Lord’s presence I focus better, I experience less worry and anxiety through the day, and I am less wrapped up in myself. Clearly, there are practical reasons to make praying in solitude a regular practice. Scripture promises us that as we nurture our relationship with the Lord, He draws closer to us: “Come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:8).

Beloved Warriors, our commander-in-chief longs for relationship with us! He wants to speak to us if we will only be still and listen. I pray that, despite the busyness and activity of our lives, we would find the desire and the willingness to carve out time to be still and quiet before our God, allowing Him to speak into our hearts.

Enjoy this beautiful song by Francesca Battistelli!

Free Indeed

Some people think joy is something we won’t experience until we get to heaven, but I disagree with this belief. The Lord wants us to experience joy not only in the life to come but in this lifetime as well. He sent His son Jesus to free us, to comfort us and to trade our despair and mourning for praise and gladness:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
     and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:1-3; New International Version)

In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus reads verses 1-2 of the above Isaiah Scripture in reference to Himself. He came to bring good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim freedom for captives, and release from darkness for prisoners. Jesus did not say that He would make these things happen after His followers entered heaven, but rather He proclaimed that “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21; emphasis mine).
breakthechain
Though Jesus promises freedom, Christians can still find themselves imprisoned by a multitude of oppressors – addiction, unhealthy relationships, anxiety, etc. For a long time I found myself in a prison of deep depression. In my quest to identify what was preventing me from allowing the Lord to free me from this mental tyrant, I discovered that my depression could in large part be attributed to doing things I don’t want to do that I think I should do.

In all of my extensive research on Fibromyalgia and depression, the best advice I found for rediscovering my own joy was very simply stated in a little book entitled The Bible Cure for Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia. The author, Don Colbert, suggested imagining I only have one year left to live. During that year, what would I choose to do and not do? To make answering this question easier, he recommended grouping my activities into three categories: 1) things I enjoy doing, 2) things I must do, and 3) things that I neither enjoy nor must do. It turned out that so much of my time was devoted to the third category! Colbert advised the reader to “eliminate all of the items from category three”, at least for the near future and preferably for the rest of his/her life.

Of course, we all have responsibilities that we must fulfill. Usually these are healthy activities that fulfill us, keep us accountable and make us contributing members of society. Many of us also sign up for commitments and obligations that are optional and voluntary. It’s these “extra” undertakings that can sap my energy and cause me to become resentful because they take away from the precious little time I have to do the things I enjoy and be with the people in whose company I most delight. Maintaining a balance in my Christian walk is vital.

Taking time to pray before taking on a commitment or doing something solely out of obligation helps me discern which activities the Lord wants me to participate in and which ones I’m motivated to engage in out of pride or a guilty conscience. I rely on the Holy Spirit for direction, and I usually say no when the activity proves to be something I neither want to do nor must do. When I live my life this way, I am at my happiest, I feel good physically (because I’m taking care of myself and not adding stress!), and I have more energy. Conversely, when my calendar is filled with obligations I am irritable, tired and unhappy. But this is not God’s will for me. He doesn’t load me down with a bunch of rules and “should’s”. Instead, Jesus asks me to take on His comparatively light and easy yoke:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Jesus spoke at great length against the hypocrisy and the heavy burden of tradition and laws the Pharisees and teachers of the law of His day put on the people. In Matthew 23, Jesus warned:

“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for people to see…” (Matthew 23:2-5a; emphasis mine)

Many people perceive the Christian life as restricting and prohibitive. On the contrary, there is such freedom in following Jesus and surrendering to Him! Our great Partner, the Lord, is always there to share our burdens and do the heavy lifting. We don’t have to do anything to make Him love us. In fact, we can’t do anything to make Him love us because He already does – without condition. He welcomes us with open arms by His grace, and in return we receive the privilege of serving Him as a demonstration of our gratitude for all He is and all He has done.

Beloved warrior, it’s impossible to face and fight our battles effectively if we’re bogged down with the heavy load of legalism, societal expectations and our guilt over what we think we “should” do when it’s not something the Lord specifically calls us to. May we find true freedom in His easy yoke and rest in His unconditional love.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (2 Corinthians 3:17)

Enjoy this Stephen Curtis Chapman song about the freedom we have in Christ!

Reference: Colbert, Don, M.D. The Bible Cure for Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia. Lake Mary: Siloam, 2000. Print.