Tell Your Heart to Beat Again

Danny Gokey’s song “Tell Your Heart to Beat Again” has recently been the song playing in my head when I wake up. Hearing praise music in your mind is a wonderful way to start the day! But why is this particular song the one I’ve been waking up to almost every day lately?

Perhaps the Holy Spirit is trying to tell me that it’s time to stop nursing my wounds over the lack of response for my recently published book Valiant Warrior and for this blog. In addition, earlier this year I started a graduate program in ministry – something I had been praying about and wanting to do for years. However, when a series of unanticipated events demanded my time and attention, school proved to be too much for me and I had to drop my classes. I was ready to close the door on my dream of studying theology and writing Bible studies, but my dream just doesn’t want to die.

Warriors, we all go through periods when our hopes are dashed, our dreams destroyed, and our spirits broken. After mourning these losses, God encourages us to “tell our hearts to beat again”. If we trust in Jesus, there is always hope. No matter how far we’ve been knocked down, God can and will minister to us and give us the courage to get back up again. However, there must be willingness on our part to do so.

When Jesus visited the pool in Jerusalem, he saw a lame man who had come to the pool seeking healing. It was believed that “an angel would go down into the pool from time to time and stir up the water. Then the first one who got in after the water was stirred up recovered from whatever ailment he had” (John 5:4 HCSB). After learning that the man had been an invalid for 38 years, Jesus asked him if he wanted to get well (John 5:6). I particularly like the way Jesus poses this question in the ASV: “Wouldest thou be made whole?”

The man explained that because he had no one to help him into the pool when the water is stirred up, someone else always gets there ahead of him (John 5:6-7). Accepting no excuses, Jesus told the man to “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” (John 5:8 NIV). The Bible tells us that the man was cured at once; “he picked up his mat and walked” (John 5:9).

Warriors, it is never too late for us to take up our mats and walk. Our God is a God of restoration.

He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3)

I pray that whatever disappointment and discouragement we face we would be valiant and find the courage to once again get up and walk.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

 

 

Advertisements

Remembering the Sabbath

We have chosen to close on the day most widely recognized as a day of rest, in order to allow our employees and customers more time for worship and family. This has not been an easy decision for Hobby Lobby because we realize that this decision may cost us financially. Yet we also realize that there are things more important than profits. This is a matter of principle for our company owner and officers.
– Hobby Lobby’s response to the question, “Why are you closed on Sundays?

“People appreciate you being consistent with your faith. It’s a silent witness to the Lord when people go into shopping malls, and everyone is bustling, and you see that Chick-fil-A is closed.”
Quote from Chik-fil-A’s founder, S. Truett Cathy, about closing on Sundays.

It’s so easy in today’s busy culture to forget the Sabbath. Even for those of us who go to church on Sunday morning, we often spend the rest of the day tending to our worldly affairs, e.g. shopping, doing chores, catching up on work, etc.

The Lord’s fourth commandment tells us to “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20:8; New International Version). The Holy Spirit has been convicting me over the last few months about my disregard for the Sabbath and how I treat it just like every other day of the week. In fact, I often look at Sunday afternoons as a time to work, clean the house, do laundry, go grocery shopping, etc. But in Exodus, the Lord commanded the Israelites to:

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy”. (Exodus 20:8-11)

Examining the Hebrew meaning of the words in the fourth commandment helps me better understand what I’m to do on the Sabbath. For example, how am I to “remember” it? The word “remember” is the Hebrew zakhor and suggests calling to mind or “actively focusing the mind upon something in the present” (Hebrew for Christians). So the Sabbath is a day for pondering and meditating on the sacred work of God in my life and for reflecting on His holiness. Though celebrating God as Creator of the universe is not limited to the Sabbath, on this day in particular I enjoy all He has created just as on the seventh day the Lord enjoyed all He had created in the first six days of creation.

The word “Sabbath” is connected to the Hebrew shavat, a verb meaning “to cease, desist, rest”, as in God ceased (shavat) His creative activity on the seventh day of creation. Remembering the Sabbath helps us by requiring us to rest from the cares and concerns of this world and to take a break from worldly endeavors. When I don’t stop to take a day off from my “to do” list, I become tired, worn and irritable. On the other hand, it’s amazing how refreshed and rejuvenated I feel after observing just one day of rest!

In addition to remembering the Sabbath, we are tasked with keeping it “holy”. Just what does this mean, and how do we accomplish it? The word “holy” comes from the Hebrew kedushah and means set-apartness or sanctity. Therefore, the Sabbath is a day for the sacred. Appropriate activities include resting, reflecting, worshiping, Bible study, and fellowship with believers.

For further clarification as to acceptable Sabbath activity, we can look to Jesus. It’s clear from the gospels that Jesus observed the Sabbath, and that He advocated preaching on the holy day. Mark 1:21 tells us, “When the Sabbath came, Jesus went in to the synagogue and began to teach.” And again in Mark 6:2, “When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue and many who heard him were amazed”. In Luke 4:16, we learn that Jesus went into the synagogue on the Sabbath “as was his custom”. In other words, even our Savior regularly met with his fellows for the study of God’s word. Scripture also tells us that Jesus advocated acts of mercy (Matthew 12:1-8), healing and serving (Mark 3:1-6) as God-honoring ways to keep the Sabbath holy.

The Lord has instituted His commands for our own good. I so appreciate and love that about Him! He has to save us from ourselves because He knows we have a tendency to go astray and get ourselves in trouble. Americans are especially susceptible to burnout, sickness and stress. We barely allow ourselves 1-2 weeks of vacation per year. We can literally work ourselves to death!

So much about what the Bible teaches is about living counter-culture. Over the last six months or so, I’ve tried to remain mindful to observe the Sabbath. It’s been a challenge for me because I am always seeing and thinking of work that needs to be done! But I don’t clean, do laundry or work for my job on Sundays. I don’t run errands. I spend time with my family, and I try to rest and relax and/or do something that allows me to play. But I am so far from perfect in my practice of honoring the Sabbath! This last Sunday, for example, I completely forgot what day it was, and I went to the grocery store so I could get one of my Monday chores checked off my to-do list. There’s no room for legalism here, however, so I just ask God to help me take the Sabbath as a day to honor Him and to allow Him to restore and rejuvenate me.

Beloved Warriors, we owe it to the Lord and to ourselves to observe a day of rest and reflection. We will be so much more effective for the battle if we take this time each week. As the book of Isaiah tells us, God will honor our efforts to observe the Sabbath:

“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the Sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;
then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 58:13-14)

On the Sabbath and everyday, we remember that our help comes from Him! Enjoy this song by for King & Country.

References:

“Frequently Asked Questions.“ Hobby Lobby Homepage, Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. Web. 18 May 2015.
“The Fourth Commandment.” Hebrew for Christians. Parsons, John J., Web. 15 May 2015.
“The World According to Chik-fil-A Founder Truett Cathy.” The Washington Post, Ohlheiser, A., Web. 18 May 2015.

Battle Fatigue

“Is my sister-in-law’s birthday this month, or was it in October?” I asked my mom in my email. I added the comment, “I’m losing my mind!” In her response, she confirmed that my sister-in-law’s birthday is in October, and she reassured me that I’m not going crazy but that I’m suffering from a case of “battle fatigue”.

Battle fatigue – what a perfect phrase to describe what I’m currently experiencing! “Exhausted by life” is another appropriate term coined by my Bible study teacher. Over the last month I’ve felt increasingly weary, overwhelmed and incapable of living life on life’s terms. I’ve been on my knees begging God to let up on me, renew me, reinvigorate me and relieve me of what I perceive as the relentless, incessant demands on my life. Please, Lord, help me be a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7)! My sanity feels threatened, and because of my history with depression I have to be very careful with managing stress or risk triggering an onset. I try to remind myself “Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men” (Holman Christian Standard Bible; Colossians 3:23), but I’m so tired and burned out!

I started this blog with the goal of encouraging my fellow valiant warriors out there striving to serve daily in the Lord’s army. But this time I’m the one who needs encouraging. Recently, in my study of 1 Kings, I found comfort in discovering that even the Prophet Elijah needed rest and refreshment from the Lord.

Elijah had just experienced two great spiritual victories: He defeated the prophets of the false Canaanite god Baal, and he demonstrated through a miracle that the Lord was the one and only true God. Also, God had commanded Elijah to present himself to Ahab the King of Israel during a severe famine, and the Lord promised to send rain on the land. Elijah obeyed God’s command, and after he and the people slaughtered the prophets of Baal a heavy rain soon started to fall. But when Ahab told his wife Jezebel how Elijah had killed all the prophets of Baal, she vowed to kill him.

Even after the numerous miracles Elijah had performed proving that the Lord was with him, Elijah was still afraid and “ran for his life” (New International Version; 1 Kings 19:3) when Jezebel threatened him. Upon arriving in the wilderness, Elijah “came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.’ Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.” (1 Kings 19:4b-5).

Praise God that the Bible describes its characters’ moments of discouragement and readiness to give up and quit! I relate so much to Elijah at his breaking point, and I, too, have often cried out, “I have had enough, Lord!” I’m encouraged that God provided Elijah with what he needed in the depths of his weariness and fatigue:

All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He [Elijah] looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.

The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night.

The Lord refreshed Elijah with food, drink and rest. In fact, Elijah was strengthened and empowered so much that he was soon able to walk 40 days through the desert – a distance of over 200 miles – without any additional sustenance!

God’s Word promises that no matter what problems we face that make us want to lose heart and quit, our weakness is the perfect opportunity for Him to display His power (2 Corinthians 12:9). Scripture also reminds us that our circumstances are only temporary:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:7-12; 16-18; emphasis mine)

I know the Lord wants me to depend on Him for strength to do what He calls me to do. It’s been made clear to me time and time again that I can’t accomplish much in my own power. At the same time, sometimes I really need a reprieve from the stress, toil and strain of this world. During this busy time in my life when I don’t feel I have the option to slow down, Psalm 51 saves the day! It’s the perfect prayer for those of us experiencing “battle fatigue”, and it’s my prayer for you today, mighty warrior.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
(Psalm 51:10-12)

I recommend listening to “Worn” – an awesome song by Tenth Avenue North!

Letting Go

Happy New Year, warriors! As we look forward to 2015, it’s a good time to say “Out with the old, and in with the new.” Some folks in different parts of the world take this suggestion literally. For example, in Italy it is customary to throw pots, pans and even furniture out of windows at midnight on New Year’s! Performing this act “symbolizes casting away the old in favor of the new, letting go of past sorrows for a more hopeful time” (Tharoor, “Throw Your Furniture out the Window, and Other Ways to Ring In 2015”).

If only it were that easy to let go of the past with all of its hurts, pain, regret and disappointments. A recent visit with my family this holiday season provided much opportunity to revisit many pleasant memories. Some family discussion also brought up painful recollections as well as wounds that are still festering. The reunion experience reminded me of all the work it takes to fully let go, be healed and move on.

The first step in letting go of a painful past is arguably the most difficult – coming out of denial and facing our truth about the pain we’ve experienced. Pushing down our feelings, ignoring them and pretending they don’t exist may seem easier and may even work for a time, but inevitably if we want to be effective warriors in full allegiance to the Lord we must treat our wounds in order to receive healing.

I praise God that He knows when I’m emotionally and spiritually ready to work through and move beyond something painful from my past. I do my best to run away from dealing with the “hard stuff” by staying really busy and/or not allowing myself to be still too long with my feelings. But at some point my depression becomes so debilitating and my body manifests intense physical symptoms of stress that I no longer have the option of avoidance.

When I suffered my last severe episode of depression last year, I was forced to seek out every healthy means of relief including therapy, medication, the laying on of hands by our church elders, deeper Bible study, and intensive shoring up of my spiritual armor with fervent prayer for clarity, wisdom and forgiveness. I discovered that it was yet again a time that Jesus wanted to expose and heal a deep wound in my soul. It wasn’t until I allowed him access to every nook and cranny of my heart that true healing took place, and I was able at long last to let go and be free.

Only Jesus has the power to free us from ourselves and our sinful nature, and only he can free us from bondage to all that enslaves us whether or not we recognize our enslavement. Jesus explained to the Jews who believed in him that if they held to his teaching they would “Know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (New International Version, John 8:32).

In the rooms of recovery, alcoholics and addicts are familiar with the expression, “You’re only as sick as your secrets”. In other words, it’s only what we keep hidden inside – whether it is sin, resentment, things that we’ve done to hurt others or things that have been done to hurt us – that will eventually catch up with us and lead us down the path of darkness. In Proverbs 28:13, we learn that “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”

When we offer the painful parts of our past to Jesus and discuss them with another trusted person, we open ourselves up to healing and restoration. And Scripture reminds us again and again that Jesus has the power to expel our demons and mend our broken hearts:

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them.(Matthew 4:23-24)

Satan would love for us to continue stumbling through life in the dark, never revealing our evil thoughts and secrets. We may unintentionally go along with Satan because by our very nature we recoil from the light. Perhaps Christ’s light blinds us with its purity and holiness, especially when it contrasts with the darkness in our hearts. As John 3:19-21 explains:

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

Shining Christ’s light on our wounds may be painful at first, but exposing our darkness to the light ensures that darkness won’t overtake us. As the Apostle John wrote of Jesus, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5).

Once we have faced our pain, our sin and our regrets and have allowed the Lord to forgive and heal us, we can move forward with confidence. The goal is not to linger in painful memories but to press on in pursuit of spiritual maturity in Christ. An effective warrior must be single-minded, unencumbered and focused, possessing only one ultimate objective – knowing Christ and living the Christian life. The Apostle Paul describes his dedication to following Christ:

I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12b-14)

Reflecting on the past and seeking healing is beneficial for a season. However, it’s not healthy or productive to constantly look back and relive painful memories. The enemy just loves to sidetrack us and push us off the path of righteousness by reminding us of experiences that hurt us or make us feel ashamed about something we did that God forgave us for long ago! When those negative thoughts creep up, we can heed Solomon’s advice:

Let your eyes look straight ahead;
fix your gaze directly before you.
Give careful thought to the paths for your feet
and be steadfast in all your ways.
Do not turn to the right or the left;
keep your foot from evil.
(Proverbs 4:25-26)

References:

Tharoor, Ishaan. “Throw Your Furniture Out the Window, and Other Ways to Ring In 2015”. The Washington Post, 31 December 2014. Web. 02 January 2015.

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