Christian Living

How to Be Faithful

Sorry guys! I know it’s been a while. We’ve been fighting through more car and computer problems. I feel like it’s the story of my life lately! Anyway, computer availability has been spotty, but hopefully we have a solution now at least for e-mail and blogging. This week I’ve been thinking a lot about faithfulness. Probably because I’ve been tired and in pain a fair bit which has slowed my activity level. For a long time, I thought faithfulness was about how I acted, what I did. Having a chronic illness that occasionally brings my life to a screeching halt has forced me to reexamine that belief.

So what is faithfulness?

The definition I wrote down last week was “living each moment according to faith’s perspective.” It’s being full of faith in a tangible way. I’m reminded of James 2:18–“Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. ”

There’s kind of two ends of the spectrum we can fall prey to: thinking about faithfulness and acting faithful without faith. Thinking about faithfulness is when we work on having faith in our minds. It’s not true faith though unless it changes the way we live. It’s like identifying a tree by its fruit–someone can tell you all day long that it’s an apple tree, but if it bears cherries, they’re wrong.

Acting faithful without faith is what Jesus called the Pharisees on. They went through the motions of faithfulness without having the substance behind it. There wasn’t love for other or God motivating them–it was all about the outward obedience.

Faith is somewhere in the middle–it’s having the conviction and acting it out. It’s believing that God’s perspective on life is correct, that when He says something, it’s true. With our car and computer issues, it means believing that God really will provide abundantly–regardless of how I feel about the situation or how it appears to me.

So faithfulness is something we can all do even when things are hard or we’re sick or… you get the point. We can all ask God to give us His perspective on things and then act in accordance with that. We can choose to have joy and not to worry. It’s not easy, but, through the power of the Holy Spirit, it’s possible.

What does faithfulness look like in your life?

Blog_ How to Be Faithful

 

Christian Living

Room for Suffering

Anybody else glad July is over? Picture me cheering. Not that July wasn’t awesome for getting stretched and practicing handling stress, but I’m glad it’s over. I love fresh starts! There’s just something about having an extra opportunity to reground in who I am and what I’m passionate about, to let go of the past.

This past week I have been so thankful that Christianity has room for suffering. It’s actually one of the things that drew me to Jesus. There seem to be two main strategies (apart from God’s) to handle suffering: pretend it’s not that bad (for example, “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff–It’s All Small Stuff”) or drown in how awful it is.

God, on the other hand, says that He bears our sorrows (Is. 53:4). Jesus wept (Jn 11:35). He’s not aloof from suffering. The incarnation is such beautiful proof that God is in the middle of our suffering. Jesus got hungry and tired and weak (e.g., John 4:6, Mark 11:12). He dealt with emotional hurts–being betrayed or not trusted by His closest friends (Matt. 16:21-23). Being alone. The list goes on and on. God doesn’t downplay our suffering. Paul says that they were pressed beyond their ability to bear to the point of despair (2 Cor. 1:8). Don’t you love that we don’t have to keep a stiff upper lip?

But we don’t have to stay in the “it’s awful” stage because Jesus transformed suffering from the inside out. Without the cross, suffering is awful and purposeless, senseless. With God’s redemption, He is always working. He says that He’s always working His children’s best (Rom. 8:28). As far as the rest of the world, I believe that suffering showcases God’s gracious gift of free will, that it proves man’s sinfulness and justifies God’s condemnation of sin, and that it provides people with opportunities for change–opportunities to cry out to God.

There is room for suffering in Christianity without falling to one end of the spectrum or the other. It’s a beautiful thing. On a practical level, it means we can mourn and weep and get stressed, etc. while still taking that to God and letting Him redeem it. As Paul says, there’s hope. I don’t know about you, but that reality gives me room to breathe even when things are hard.

Romans 5:2b-5: And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Christian Living

What’s God calling you to do?

Apparently, I’m in the middle of a series on faith 🙂 Or at least, when I was praying about what to write about today, more about faith came up.

Last week, I talked about how faith isn’t mustering up feelings and it’s displayed via action. This week, I’ve been thinking about how faith responds to God’s Word. For those of you who don’t know, July is Camp NaNoWriMo. It’s similar to NaNoWriMo (write a novel during the month of November), but the goal is a little more flexible. I was looking at the entry requirement and decided I don’t want to do it. Of course, afterwards, I was struck by, um, not-buyer’s remorse. I know God’s called me to write, and I do have word count goals for each day. I have a goal for finishing my fantasy novel this year (or at least the first 400,000 words). Not really sure how that’s going to work. But! I have other callings too: taking care of my darling children, getting healthy, and working on a super awesome new project with my husband.

My husband, Evan, reminded me that writing, for me, is about working on it faithfully–not about getting 50,000 words written in a month, as amazing as that would be. That’s obeying God’s call to write. And that’s how you know whether you have faith in God’s Word–if you obey it.

I love this quote by Beth Moore: “Self-deception slithers in when we mistake appreciation for application or being touched with being changed… it’s not until the hearing turns into doing that believing leads to blessing” (James, 78-79)

I often struggle with whether I believe God’s Word or not. I agonize over whether I’m obeying it the right way. It’s probably a result of growing up in a shame-based family system where nothing was ever good enough–maybe you can relate. Jennifer Kennedy Dean talks about how obeying God comes from trusting that He’s a good communicator rather than trusting our ability to hear. God is big enough, powerful enough, etc., etc. to be able to communicate past our misconceptions.

It’s like when I tell my kids something and then they apply it incorrectly. For instance, if I tell them to put away all the clean dishes and they respond by emptying the dishwasher, I will gently remind them that “all the clean dishes” includes the hand-washed dishes as well. As we work to apply God’s Word, He corrects us.

The problem is when we don’t apply it. As Beth Moore said, it’s easy to deceive ourselves. We hear a sermon or a verse and think how amazing it is–much like looking at a beautiful painting and recognizing the beauty. Just because we can see that it’s a life-changing principle, that doesn’t mean we’ve applied the principle. Application is the doorway to God’s blessings–not appreciation.

And it is worth it! God’s blessings are amazing and worth the pain of obedience. I think it’s easy to focus on whatever we’re losing in obeying and forget all the blessings on the other side of obedience. Like we were talking about last week, faith is about the “who,” not the “what.” Our who is a God who loves to lavish good gifts on His children and works their best in every situation (James 1:17; Rom. 8:28; Matt. 7:11)! If this is something you struggle with, ask God for help. It took me ages before I really believed that God had my best interests at heart. I’d never had someone who cared about me that way. Our pasts don’t have to handicap us–we can ask God to transform us.

So what about you? Anything that you “believe” but aren’t doing? Anything God’s told you to do that you’ve assented to without actually putting into practice? Or maybe you’re like me, and you just need to let go of the fear of mishearing God and trust Him to communicate well.

Faith is more than assent–after all, the demons believe in God and shudder (James 2:19). It’s about what we do. Let’s step through that doorway and get the treasures God has for us on the other side.

Christian Living

what about faith?

Last week, I talked about when prayer doesn’t work and how that’s an indicator to look at ourselves, rather than prayer itself. One of the things I’ve struggled with over the years is whether I have enough faith. For some reason, it often comes up when people find out that I have a chronic illness and PTSD. Either revelation is enough to prompt them to ask about my faith. Do I just not believe God enough to be healed?

If you have someone in your life with a chronic illness or PTSD, pray earnestly before you ask them that. Chances are, they’ve heard it a million times before and it’s just as hurtful each time.

Ok! Off the soapbox now 🙂  So what about faith? Matt. 13:58 says that Jesus didn’t do many miracles in His hometown because of their unbelief. As we talked about last week, Jesus puts belief as a prerequisite for having your prayers answered. The Greek word He uses for “belief” in those verses (Mark 11:24; Matt. 21:22; Mark 9:23) is “pisteuo” which is also used for “faith.” Clearly, faith matters.

I was reminded this week that there’s a difference between biblical faith and belief of the grit-your-teeth and muster up feelings sort. Sometimes I don’t feel like I have faith. I do what I believe God’s calling me to do but I’m not all excited about it. Jennifer Kennedy Dean connected faith to action (Live a Praying Life, 154). It’s the way we respond to what God’s taught us, not how we feel about it. Feelings are fickle. Some days I am thrilled with what I get to do–but it’s not that way every day. I was reminded of that old quote (I have no idea who said it) about how you can tell me about your beliefs but if I look at how you spend your time and money, I’ll know what you actually believe. Actions speak louder than words and, thankfully, than our feelings.

I also really loved Jennifer Dean’s reminder that we have faith in someone, not something (Praying Life, 164). We can pray for specific outcomes, but ultimately, faith is about believing God is working our best–and the best for everyone who loves Him (Rom. 8:28). It’s not about specific outcomes or certain rituals (e.g., praying a specific way).

Faith in someone frees us up to truly surrender our circumstances. I mean, if I really believe that God is going to do more than I can ask or imagine, and that that more is in my best interest (vs. more in the direction of a nightmare), then I can let go. I don’t have to hang onto my life with white-knuckled, clutching fingers. I want God’s best, and I’m willing to give Him room to work His best, even if that means taking a different road than the one that looks best to me in this moment.

Faith comes from God, it’s not something we muster up (Acts 3:16; Rom. 12:3; Eph. 2:8). It’s something we experience as we grow with God. There’s no fast-track to faith. It’s all those moments of seeing God work that give us more faith.

I really love 2 Kings 6:8-23. The king of Aram keeps trying to attack the king of Israel and every time he sets up an attack, the king of Israel knows about it ahead of time. The king of Aram summons all his officers and asks which of them is on Israel’s side. They tell him that their “leak” is the prophet Elisha who knows what the king says in his bedroom. 😀 Of course the king decides to take care of Elisha so he sends an army that surrounds Elisha and his servant during the night. The next morning, the servant freaks out. He asks Elisha what they’re going to do now.

“Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (NIV). Then Elisha prays for his eyes to be opened and suddenly, the servant can see the hills full of horses and chariots of fire.

The situation didn’t change: The human army was still there. The heavenly army was still there. What changed was the servant’s perspective. Suddenly, the need melted away in light of God’s lavish provision. That’s what faith does. It can “see” God’s lavish provision because we know who God is. Again, it’s not about seeing the “how,” but the “who.”

So often we live our lives in light of the visible. We stress over what we see. But the unseen is what we should be focusing on. Heb. 11:3 talks about how the world was made out of what is unseen–God’s command. The unseen is what determines how my life will go, not the seen. Just this past week we had another unexpected car expense but God provided with a bonus to my husband’s paycheck. He actually provided a week ahead of the bill, but we’ve often gotten bills and then gotten the finances to pay them.

Our needs melt away in light of God’s lavish provision. Faith in the who is what transforms a life of stress into one of joyful surrender.

Christian Living

When Prayer Doesn’t Work

I know, I know–blasphemous to suggest that prayer doesn’t work. Hear me out 🙂 Do you ever read something and it’s like a punch in the gut? A good one in the sense that it exposes an issue in your life but, man, is it uncomfortable. That happened to me recently. I’m still working my way through Live a Praying Life by Jennifer Kennedy Dean. As you might imagine, it’s all about prayer. She has a section on sort of trouble-shooting why your prayers might not be working.

She says, “Attempting to justify the lack of powerful praying, we have tried to reduce prayer to an activity that will match our experience, rather than looking for the source of prayer’s failure in ourselves,” (Live a Praying Life, 139).

Ouch!

She goes on to list a few verses where God makes some incredible promises about prayer and has you note both the promise and the condition. Here, I’ll show you:

  • Mark 11:24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
  • John 14:14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.
  • John 15:7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
  • John 16:23 In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.
  • Matt 21:22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.
    Mark 9:23 “ ‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

Those are some surreal promises–at least for me. The idea that God will give us whatever we ask for in prayer is crazy-go-nuts. I have definitely fallen into the trap of dumbing my prayers down to match what I think is reasonable to ask for. I love where Jennifer Dean says that our lack of power in prayer isn’t prayer’s fault or God’s fault. Her example in the book is someone who has an illness and goes to a doctor. The doctor gives them medicine and then tells them to take it a certain way at a certain time for ten days. The person maybe takes the medicine for a few days but then gives up when they don’t notice enough of a change. If they go back to the doctor and say they still aren’t healthy, whose fault is it?

God has given us the prerequisites for making prayer work–believe that we’ve received what we’ve prayed for, ask in Jesus’ name, remain in Jesus and have His words remain in us, ask for the things we want, ask in Jesus’ name, believe, ask in prayer, and believe. Notice the recurring themes there? Lots of believing and asking and being in Jesus.

If my prayers aren’t being answered, the issue somewhere in the prerequisites. Or sometimes its in the fact that I haven’t actually taken the step to pray. Sometimes I just wish that God would do something rather than ask Him to, if that makes sense.

Obviously, God does sometimes say “no.” No is still an answer–I like to remind myself that it’s “No, I have something better.” So, I’m not saying that if you pray for something that’s horrible for you, God will give it to you. I think our position as God’s children means He is careful to give us the things that are good for us. As Jennifer Kennedy Dean puts it, “prayer is releasing the power of God for the purposes of God” (Praying Life, 150). God’s not going to release His power to accomplish something that isn’t for our best (Rom. 8:28) because that would be against His purposes.

These verses really challenged me to think about what I’m praying for and to be bolder in my prayers. I hope they do the same for you!

Christian Living

Truth & Grappling Hooks

I’ve been thinking a lot about truth lately. I had a difficult conversation with someone recently where they had a lot of grievances. I’m actually really glad we had it because God used it to show me some things about myself I hadn’t realized before. But it was hard and I’ve spent a lot of time trying to sort through what they said.

See, I know myself. I am not good at sorting out what’s true and what’s not. This is something I have learned the hard way. Therefore, my go to is to ask God to show me what’s true–regardless of who says it or what they say.

A couple of my dear friends who helped me process through this experience expressed hope that someday the lies people say will just bounce off, rather than causing me to doubt myself and fall back into depression. It made me think about what’s causing those lies to stick.

When I spent some time praying about it, the picture I got was of grappling hooks and force fields–can you tell I’m a sci-fi AND fantasy girl? 😉 We are surrounded by lies: lies the world tells us through advertising or mistaken cultural values, lies the people in our lives tell us–whether that’s our co-workers or families or friends or people in the Church, lies we tell ourselves… lies that are overtly spoken and lies that are covertly conveyed. They’re everywhere!

So imagine this: you are a wall with hundreds of grappling hooks being flung at you. Where are they going to stick? In the places where the wall isn’t smooth, right?

But what if you were so smooth it was like you were covered with a force field? The hooks wouldn’t have a shot at embedding themselves in you. That’s what faith in God’s truth is. It’s a forcefield or a shield, as Paul puts it (Eph. 6:16), that keeps lies from hurting us or taking root.

I really love this idea! It’s like that illustration where bank tellers are taught to recognize forgeries by learning what legitimate money looks like inside and out. They study real money so they’ll recognize the forgery. By immersing ourselves in God’s truth, we can lie-proof our lives.

So what about you? In what areas of your life are you struggling? And what’s God’s truth in those places?

Christian Living

Providence’s Delight

Do you ever have one of those days where you get sideswiped? Something comes along that you just weren’t expecting–usually on top of some other things, like migraines or financial stress or some other issue. Ironically enough, I am finishing the last half of this post on my phone because our computer died last night (hence the late posting). Please pray that we get it fixed/recovered soon!

This week I’ve been thinking about how awesome it is that God is sovereign–I finished Beth Moore’s study on Esther, which ended with providence, and started Jennifer Kennedy Dean’s study on prayer Living a Praying Life, which began with sovereignty. They dovetailed nicely 🙂 I love that nothing ever takes God by surprise. He knows every step we’ll ever take, even the ones we weren’t planning on.

He also cares. It would be one thing to have a God who knew everything and who could affect the course of reality but didn’t care and didn’t intervene. Pretty brutal! But that’s not our God–He promises that He’s working everything out for the good of those who love Him (Rom. 8:28). He infuses His redemption into every event that comes into His children’s lives.

That bears repeating: He infuses His redemption into every event that comes into His children’s lives.

I can’t tell you what a comfort that is to me! Sometimes the path is winding and we don’t see where it’s going or even how we’re going to get anywhere but that’s just from our perspective. From God’s perspective, He’s holding our hands, leading us step by step by step, through and around every obstacle (Isaiah 43:2-4). Even when things happen that we didn’t plan for, God planned for them.

I’m also amazed by how personal His providence is. I mean, it’s one thing for God to intervene on global and national levels–for example, Ephesians 1:11; 1 Chronicles 29:11-12; Daniel 4:35; Daniel 5:21; Psalm 115:3; Proverbs 16:4; Romans 9:17. It’s something entirely different for Him to intervene in one person’s life–someone who doesn’t have all that many people in my circle of influence.

That’s the kind of God we have. One who is involved in every moment of His children’s lives. There are several verses that I run to when I can’t remember that fact, but I particularly love Psalm 18. Verse 19 says that He rescued me because He delighted in me. If we look back over our lives, we’ve all been rescued from something at some point. That rescue is confirmation that God delights in us.

I delight in my children. My husband and I tell each other the silly, amazing things they do all the time. It’s just a part of our day to talk about our kids and how awesome they are. We talk about what we’ve seen them learn, how proud we are of them, how amazing they are. Like other doting parents, we probably tell far too many anecdotes to people who are less than interested. We don’t just tolerate our kids; we delight in them. There’s a work of difference between those two things!

God delights in us.

And that’s why we don’t have to freak out over the unexpected. He wants to rescue us from every little bump in the road–just like I want to rescue my kids. But I know they would be fragile, bratty kids who couldn’t survive in the real world if I did that. On the other hand, I don’t let them run wild. I teach them to look both ways when they cross the street. I let some consequences take their course so my kids feel the weight of their decisions.

Similarly, my niece is just starting to walk and it’s always fun seeing her family balance giving her freedom to learn and walking right beside her to make sure she doesn’t get hurt in the practice.

That’s our God: no matter what you’re going through, He’s right beside you, ready to rescue because you are His delight.