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).


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

Waiting for More

Waiting is not one of my top skills–I get antsy and cranky. I don’t like having to wait. It feels like I’m wasting time that I don’t have. I especially hate when I’m waiting without knowing why or without being able to see the end coming. I mean, it’s one thing to stand in line somewhere and to know exactly how many people are in front of you. I think our DMV decided to switch things up for that very reason. Now, you get a different sort of number dependent on what you’re there to get. Each reason has its own letter and then a number afterwards so you never really know how many people are in front of you. There could be 15, but since you’re the only G#, you sit there listening to A#’s and C#’s, waiting for the next G# to be called. Shockingly enough, it’s actually shortened everyone’s wait time 🙂

Bible study this week has been about waiting and how God builds wait times into our lives. In John 11, Mary and Martha send for Jesus because Lazarus is sick. Verses 5 and 6 say, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days” (NIV). Pretty counterintuitive, right? Jesus loves them so he doesn’t rush to Lazarus and heal him. He follows that up in verse 14-15 by telling the disciples that Lazarus had died and that He was glad for their sakes that He hadn’t been there.

I needed to hear that this week. I feel like I’ve been doing a lot of waiting. Sometimes my health issues and the minuscule progress is enough to drive me nuts. I hate not having any sense of how close the end of the line is. I’m tired of praying over and over for different relationship issues without seeing progress. I’m tired of praying for my husband to have a less stressful job. I’m just tired of waiting.

And it’s easy to equate waiting for God’s answer with Him not caring or not working

Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus so He waited. He could have healed Lazarus–faith was not the issue. In verse 21, Martha tells Jesus that Lazarus wouldn’t have died if He had been there. Mary says the same thing in verse 32. The disciples had seen Jesus heal many people. They all had faith that He could heal Lazarus.

Jesus wanted more for them. As Jennifer Kennedy Dean says, “If Jesus had come to Bethany and healed Lazarus before he died, Mary’s and Martha’s prayer would have been answered. Their faith in Jesus would have been affirmed. They would have been more certain than ever that Jesus is Lord over illness. But they would never have known that Jesus is Lord over death” (Live a Praying Life, 96).

By waiting, Jesus showed them more about Himself–that He’s not only Lord over illness but also Lord over death. I can’t even imagine what a comfort that would have been to know that prior to His crucifixion. I know it’s a comfort to me now. I love Psalm 116:15–“Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants” (NIV). Every time someone is dying in our lives, I’m comforted that God is right there because their deaths are precious to Him.

God has a reason for waiting, and it’s not because He doesn’t care. He loves us. Jesus died for us while we were still sinners (Rom. 5:8). A wait equals more, not less. Whatever you’re waiting for, it’s because God wants to give you more, to show you more about His lordship.

So, rather than getting cranky or railing at God for taking so long, I’m working on thanking Him for wanting to give me more and asking for the grace to wait for His best. I want that more, which means I have to wait for it.


Spiritual Rest

As we’ve just finished Easter, I thought this would be a good place to start. I don’t know about in your own spiritual journey, but I tried following rules before I succumbed to grace. If you’ve never tried earning your own salvation, let me tell you, it’s an exhausting prospect. It’s literally impossible to do right things with right motives all the time. And even if you could, any wrong things you’d done (or right things with wrong motives) would still be around proclaiming your sinful state (if you want to read more on this subject, I addressed it pretty thoroughly in my book Tales from a Spacious Place, pp 187-208). I spent quite a lot of time trying to cross all my t’s and dot all my i’s, and then I just gave up because nothing I did or didn’t do seemed to make any difference.

And that is when grace came in. God taught me that what I was incapable of doing on my own, He had done. Jesus lived a perfect life and died for me. He traded records with me. When God looks at me, He sees Jesus’ righteousness, rather than my sin.

It’s easy to come to an understanding of the Gospel and apply it at a single moment in time. I still find myself caught in a performance trap with God at times. But that isn’t who I truly am. The Gospel still applies to every moment of my life, not just that moment of salvation. Spiritual rest means that I stop trying to earn God’s favor, stop trying to live a right life on my own, stop putting on a show for God. Instead I rest in what Jesus has already done. I was so wicked that God had to die for me. I am so loved that He did it willingly and joyfully. Once the Gospel has permeated every facet of our existence there is such peace. No need to impress. No need to muster up love or any other part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Just relying on Him to work in and through and for me.

This kind of rest can’t be forced. And it can’t be faked. It can only be given by God. Where are you at with God? Are you spending all your time striving? Do you wear a mask with Him? He is so ready to rescue you from your own perfectionism. He is so ready to love you for who you are.

God, thank You for making rest impossible apart from You! Thank You for creating that need, so that we wouldn’t wander through our lives oblivious to You. Jesus, thank You for dying to bring us true rest. Change our hearts. Lord, we need spiritual rest and You are the only one who has it. Root us and ground us in Your love, so that we are never tempted to be anything less than real with You. We come to You as broken, tired people. Teach us the truth of Your Gospel in all the rest of the moments we have. In Jesus’ Name, amen.


Taking God out of the Equation

Lately there have been several situations that seem difficult… nigh on impossible. I look at them and I can’t imagine any plausible scenario where things could turn out well. And I realized, despite what I would profess, my heart attitude shows I’ve taken God out of the equation, yet again. I’m not being expectant–at least not of anything good.

Andrew Murray said:
“In your prayers, above everything else, beware of limiting God, not only through unbelief but also by thinking you know exactly what He can do. Learn to expect the unexpected, beyond all that you ask or think. So each time you intercede through prayer, first be quiet and worship God in His glory. Think of what He can do, how He delights in Christ His Son, and of your place in Him—then expect great things” (The Ministry of Intercession: A Plea for More Prayer, [New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1898], 210)

Beth Moore tells the story of how her aunt would always ask what Beth wanted for her birthday and one year she asked for an elephant to ride to school. Obviously, she didn’t get it, but her aunt delighted in that request.

Expect great things. Maybe God will give me an elephant. Or maybe He’ll give me something better. As I told a friend recently, if someone would have come to me three or four years ago and said, “You’re going to get auto-immune disease and it’s going to be hard, but really good,” I would have a) been terrified, b) blown off the “really good” part (how can anything like that be remotely good?!).

But is anything too hard for the LORD? I’m the one with the lack of knowledge and imagination—not God. These limitations have opened up vistas of possibility I never would have dreamed. So my “something better” might not look like it on the surface, but at the heart, it’s better than anything I could have come up with.

Put God back into the equation: pray and expect more than I can imagine, O my soul.


Small Choices

A week after publishing I’m finally getting glimpses of that kid-on-summer-holiday feeling. It’s weird not doing any writing/editing on Tales. I mean, I’ve spent longer than the past two years on it, pretty much daily. And thus, I’ve spent the past month or so praying for clarity regarding which project to focus on next (I have several irons in the fire, writing-wise). I want something that feels like Tales–driven, called, crystal-clear–but maybe nothing will… maybe something will later. Tales didn’t even feel like that until I was elbow-deep into it.

In the midst of crying out for guidance, I’ve found myself being convicted over the small things–projects on a daily level. Why don’t I pray about them? I pray on a general level in the morning and haphazardly throughout my day, but not specifically. What would happen if I asked God, “Is now the right time to do the dishes or should I be doing laundry instead or just playing with my kids?” What if I truly believed that He cares about everything and loves me enough to help in the small things?

I have this idea I’m on my own for making the “piddly” decisions, but at the end of the day, they matter. The small things add up to a lifetime of obsessing over my house cleaning or pouring into my children. Small things are the stuff of life and position us for making the big decisions.

So maybe, rather than hunting for a new major project to jump into, I need to stop worrying about the big things and see what God wants to do in the “small.”


Thorns and More

The past couple weeks I’ve been relapsing up and back down the wazoo (health-wise)… and consequently doing a lot of escaping into fiction or struggling just to get through daily tasks. It’s been a rough time.  And in the midst of all the pain and turmoil, I’ve been meditating on perspective. Here’s the view from my back deck.

Quite often, when I look at my life, this is all I see–the thorns. I complain about all the difficulties, the exhaustion, the hard work, etc., etc. And then, every so often, God reminds me that this isn’t the whole picture. If I looked around, maybe I would see something like this.

This is also from my back deck. All my lovely thorns come with something amazing. God allows difficult times because they can flower into something beautiful, and when I take the time to examine my surroundings, I can see glimmers of the amazing all around.

Perspective… a frame for everything we experience… a choice to see something a certain way. In my mind, perspective is like a habit. So rather than wearing down a path to view my thorns by complaining and focusing on the negative, I’m trying to discipline myself to see God’s grace at work in my life. My roses are things like having a wonderful husband, children I delight in, a place to live that’s perfect for my health issues, a calling that makes me more myself, a past that makes me desperate for God, an unwillingness to be content with the mediocre, friends who listen… the list goes on and on. How about you?

God, open our eyes to see You at work. Rip aside the veil of our apparently mundane trivialities and show us Your hand and Your grace. Expose the roses in our lives, God. Give us a hunger for more than just surviving the thorns. Perfect us through those thorns. I love You! In Jesus’ Name, amen.