Pretty yellow flower at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Face the unknown with the unlimited

Everyone faces challenges every day. It’s part of life. And even though difficult circumstances help us grow stronger, they aren’t fun when we’re experiencing them. Most of them last much longer than we’d prefer, and we feel utterly helpless throughout their duration.

In past years I would have focused on the fact that God uses difficult circumstances in our lives to help us, to help others, to prepare us for the future, but sometimes that’s not very comforting. Maybe the for the long term, there’s some reassurance in it, that what we’re going through is for a reason. But when I’m in the thick of it, I don’t really want to think about tomorrow. I want to know what’s going to happen today. I want to know what I’m supposed to do right now.

Pretty yellow flower at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Pretty yellow flower at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verses are Psalm 33:13-22.

The Lord looks down from heaven
    and sees the whole human race. 
From his throne he observes
    all who live on the earth.
He made their hearts,
    so he understands everything they do. 
The best-equipped army cannot save a king,
    nor is great strength enough to save a warrior.
Don’t count on your warhorse to give you victory—
    for all its strength, it cannot save you.
But the Lord watches over those who fear him,
    those who rely on his unfailing love.
He rescues them from death
    and keeps them alive in times of famine.
We put our hope in the Lord.
    He is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice,
    for we trust in his holy name.
Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord,
    for our hope is in you alone.

I know personally there is so much happening in my life right now, I can’t keep up with any of it, and most of it I have absolutely zero control over anyway. It’s frustrating. And, yes, there’s a part of me that looks toward tomorrow with excitement and expectation for what God is going to do. But the rest of me is just plain tired.

When I get tired, I tend to focus on the things that I can do. I trust my own abilities because I know their limits. I know what I can do. I know what I can handle. So it’s easy to fall back on my own strength.

The trouble is, the problems I’m facing are bigger than what my strength can stand up to. And my abilities fall short. I can trust myself and what I can do but only so far, and then I have two options: I can give up or I can give it to God.

God doesn’t abandon us in the tough times. He isn’t just sitting up in heaven watching us struggle through life like we’re on some ridiculous “reality” TV show. He’s not far away or far removed. He’s right there, waiting for us to get our heads on straight and realize that life is too much for us.

We are finite human beings trying to scale a mountain of supernatural trouble. Of course, we’re going to fail if we try it on our own. God never expected us to win battles by ourselves. He never even asked us to. We just put it on our own shoulders.

So don’t trust in your resources; they’re limited. Don’t trust in your abilities; they’re limited too. Yes, they’re known, and there is comfort in what you know. But trying to fight the unknown with the limited usually doesn’t work out well. It’s better to tackle the unknown with the unlimited.

Your resources will ultimately fail, just like your talent or your knowledge or your own strength. Not because you’re not committed or dedicated or strong but because you’re only human. Instead, put your hope in God. Trust His resources. Trust His knowledge and power and strength. God never runs out. He never lets go, and He never gives up. Don’t you want that kind of unlimited power on your side?

Maybe not knowing where He’ll take you is intimidating, but He’s good. That’s the thing about God. You can trust Him. He’ll push you farther than you may want to go, but you can trust that His plans are good because He is good.

There’s nothing life can throw at you that will surprise Him. There’s no challenge you’re facing that can best Him. Stick with Him. It won’t be an easy ride, but it’ll be a good one.

And just a note for the coming week, I’m not sure how consistently I will be able to post. My parents and I leave for the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota tomorrow in an effort to get a real diagnosis on my mom’s condition. It should be a very exciting journey; I’ve always wanted to go to Minnesota in March. (Not.) But it will definitely be an adventure. If you think of us, say a prayer for safety and for wisdom so that we can finally get thing figured out.

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Tractor tracks on Pleasant Valley Road, Haven, KS

Don’t get sidetracked

Have you ever started a year trying to plan ahead because you know it’s going to be wild and crazy? I still think it’s a good idea because you have to know what resources will be available, and you won’t know that until you set it all down and look at the  big picture. But what happens when your year gets wilder and crazier than you expected? What happens to your carefully laid plans then?

I’ve posted about this before, and I’m posting about it again because it’s something I’m struggling with. Nearly everything I’ve planned for this year has changed due to circumstances beyond my control, and I’m not upset about it. I’m just trying to figure out how to cope. And I really think that’s part of the danger of planning too well. When life throws you a curve ball, you don’t always know how to hit it because you’re too busy looking in all the directions you think it might go instead of watching the ball itself.

Tractor tracks on Pleasant Valley Road, Haven, KS

Tractor tracks on Pleasant Valley Road, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Proverbs 4:25-26.

Look straight ahead,
and fix your eyes on what lies before you.
Mark out a straight path for your feet;
stay on the safe path.

When you have so many things happening, so many issues to take care of, so many things going wrong or even going right in some instances, it’s really easy to let your focus slide. That doesn’t sound possible, but it happens, doesn’t it? Or maybe it just happens to me. I find that when one plan changes, it changes all my other plans. So while I’m scrambling trying to make sense of the rest of my life and salvage what I can from my plans that are falling through, I neglect the reason the first plan changed. And usually it’s because of something happening right in front of me.

I get focused on the future. I get focused on what might happen. I get focused on the plans that aren’t even taking shape yet, and I forget about what’s happening today. Maybe that’s part of being a big picture person. Maybe that’s because I don’t like detail. I don’t know, but it’s not a very smart way to live because instead of hitting home runs, the balls keep hitting me.

So I needed today’s verses. I need to remember to look straight ahead at what is right in front of me. It’s not bad to look to the future. It’s not bad to plan for what might happen, but we can’t forget what’s happening right now.

We can’t control tomorrow. Honestly, we can’t even control what happens today. We can only control how we react to what happens today, and that has more power over what happens tomorrow than any of our careful planning.

And when you get focused on what’s in front of you, don’t get distracted looking at the sides. Don’t let your focus drift. Nothing wastes more time (time that you probably don’t have) than fooling around with issues that aren’t even on the road you’re walking.

Taking an alternative route is fine as long as it’s God who leads you down that path, but if you’re getting off the road He set you on just to satisfy your own curiosity or to make someone else happy, you’re asking to get lost.

Keep your eyes straight ahead. Plan where you’re going today. Have an idea of what you’re going to do tomorrow, but don’t count on it too strongly because you don’t know what’s going to happen. The only thing you should believe in 100% when it comes to planning is that God’s going to do what He’s going to do, and it will be better than what you’ve got planned.

So walk straight. Deal with what’s in front of you, and don’t worry when your plans change. In my experience, even if the change isn’t welcome, it will work out for the better in the end.

Shoveled versus unshoveled at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

God saves people who rest in Him

Have you ever sacrificed rest for productivity? You needed to get something done and even though you really needed to recharge before you started it, you plowed ahead anyway? How did that turn out? Were you as productive as you could have been?

I do this more often than I’m comfortable admitting, and even though I usually do accomplish most everything on my to-do list, most of it wouldn’t quality as excellent. And in other situations, especially at work, when I need to revise something over and over again, I get really frustrated. Not at the project, not at the person asking for revisions, but at myself.

Performance-driven perfectionist, remember? If I don’t get something perfect on the first go-round, I can manage, if I can fix it immediately and exceed all expectations. But if it goes through a second round? Or a third round? Or a fourth round? My brain can barely handle it. And if I’m trying to do all of that when I haven’t rested properly, I can pretty much guarantee I’ll hit the irrational level where I convince myself that I’m not any good at what I’m doing.

But when you’re busy and stressed and overwhelmed with things that need to get done, how can you step back and rest? Won’t that make it impossible to accomplish anything?

 

Shoveled versus unshoveled at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Shoveled versus unshoveled at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Isaiah 30:15.

This is what the Sovereign Lord,
    the Holy One of Israel, says:
“Only in returning to me
    and resting in me will you be saved.
In quietness and confidence is your strength.

This is the part of faith that I have the most trouble with–not believing but accepting. I always feel like I have to do something. I can’t just sit and wait for God to act. I need to be the one with the initiative. I need to be the one driving the project. I need to be the one making the decisions. But that’s not how God works all the time.

Sometimes He does. Sometimes He wants you to get off your blessed assurance and do something, but not always. And I’m working on paying more attention to those times.

I’ve had the privilege of growing up around so many wonderful Christians, the hardcore dedicated believers who love Christ with everything they are. As a child, I remembered marveling at what God could do through them, and I wanted to be one of those people. And like the crazy person I am, I always take everything one step further. I can’t just meet expectations, I have to exceed them or I’m not happy. I can’t just perform well, I have to perform perfectly or it’s not worth it.

As a result, I run myself ragged. I do everything. I’ve gotten better about it in the past year or so, not saying yes to everything that comes around and actually consulting with God about what I agree to do. And it’s helped. But I still hit those exhausted moments where I really need to rest. And I don’t.

I don’t know where we get the idea that God needs our help. I’m not sure where we got that. Why do we think that God can’t accomplish something unless we run ourselves into the ground? There’s some ridiculous part of me that thinks if I’m enjoying life I’m not working for God hard enough, and that’s a lie. No, this life isn’t permanent for us, and, no, this world isn’t our home. But God put us here, and there are parts of this world and this life that He gave us to enjoy. So why don’t we? Why do we stress ourselves out? Why do we deny ourselves rest?

Our salvation doesn’t come through anything we have done. We aren’t saved by anything we can do. And I’m not just talking spiritually. That’s true in our everyday lives at work and at home and at school. The only choice we need to make is to do follow the Bible, to do what Christ would have done, to live like He did. And God opens the doors for us. We don’t have to wear ourselves out worrying.

Granted, we need to willing to work. We need to be willing to get our hands dirty and go where God tells us and do what He says when He says it. But He already has a plan, and it’s a good plan. So why do we try to take over? The only thing our taking over will accomplish is to confuse things because we can’t see the big picture.

Trying to tackle a huge job when you’re already exhausted will lead to disaster and emotional meltdowns, and that’s not how our lives are supposed to be. God didn’t create us for that.

So, whatever you’re facing today, sit back. Relax. Trust God and rest. Really, truly rest. It’s hard. It’s harder than anything I’ve ever had to do. But God saves people who rest in Him. You’ll find strength in quiet confidence in Him. He’s got a plan, and it’s a good plan. So let Him work it out.

Snow on the lilac bushes at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Second-hand hope

Ever have a day where nothing goes right? How about a week? A month? A year? When you get to that point, getting through means just holding on, sometimes by your fingertips. I don’t like living by reaction, but sometimes to survive, you have to.

When life gets to that point, you can try to plan, you can try to prepare, you can try to make some sense of the chaos, but really all you can do is take one day at a time.

Snow on the lilac bushes at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Snow on the lilac bushes at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 25:5.
Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you.

On those bad days, where everything falls apart and all your plans fall through, before you get discouraged, double check where you’ve placed your hope. Hope is a funny thing. It’s so important. You can’t make it through life without it. But for something so important, it’s notoriously easy to misplace.

Is your hope in a person? Or in a person’s idea? That’s not necessarily bad. Some people have ideas worth supporting, but people aren’t perfect and neither are their ideas. But should you put the whole weight of your hope in something fallible?

Is your hope in a religion? Also not necessarily bad. But when you get right down to it, religion is a system of rules derived from God’s (or a god’s) authority and communicated by people. And it’s difficult to separate man’s rules from that communication some times. As well-intentioned as people are, we don’t always get it right. So should you put the whole weight of your hope in something people claim God said?

This verse says it all. Put your hope in the God who saves us. That means put your hope in what He actually says, what’s written in the Bible, what’s true. Don’t rely solely on what someone else tells you God said. I’m not saying don’t listen to your pastor, but there’s a big difference between putting your hope in God says and putting your hope in what your pastor says God said.

Hope needs to be personal, just like faith. Second-hand hope is easy to misplace.

When life goes wrong (and it will), make sure your hope is in what God actually says. If God said it, it’s true, and you can trust it. If God said it, He’ll do it. And you can put your hope in it. No, He may not act the way you think He will. I guarantee He won’t act when you want Him to, but He will act. And it will turn out better than you expect. But if you’re trusting someone else’s interpretation of God’s word, you may end up fighting Him through the whole process.

Make sure your hope is in Him and Him alone. And if you don’t know, figure it out. Get to know Him. Learn what He actually says. Ask Him for help understanding. He’s never turned anyone who truly seeks Him away.

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves

I’m really hard on myself. Any other performance-driven perfectionists out there? When you start out living life that way, it can be awesome because people who aren’t perfectionists love people who are. Maybe they get on each other’s nerves, but every boss wants to hire a performance-driven perfectionist because they will kill themselves getting it right. And no discipline is ever needed because they’ll be harder on themselves than a boss ever could be. They never take vacations. And they’re always on time.

That’s how it starts out. But as life gets busier and busier, maintaining your status of perfection gets more and more difficult. You can’t just pick and choose perfection, right? Everything has to be perfect. So life at home must be perfect, with everything clean and neat and in order. Life at work must be perfect, with projects on time and people’s opinions of you high. Life at church must be perfect, with all your different ministries under control. Your social life has to be perfect too. And so do your hobbies. And so on and so forth.

“Perfection” is hard work. Truly, perfection is unattainable, but we strive for it anyway.  And when we don’t achieve it, we rip ourselves to bits.

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Romans 12:3.

Because of the privilege and authorityGod has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.

This verse is part of Paul’s talk about how the different areas of the Church are like different parts of the body. One part of our body can’t say to the other part that they’re not important (unless it’s an appendix, but even that must have a purpose or we wouldn’t have one, even if it’s just job security for surgeons). The church is the same way. Different people are gifted in different areas, so you can’t pick and choose what parts are more important. If you esteem the mouth and forget the big toe, you’ll have lots to say, but you can’t stand up.

But that’s not what struck me about this verse today. The statement, “be honest in your evaluation of yourselves” is what really hit me this morning.

Be honest in your evaluation.

What does that mean? In the context that Paul is using here, he means that you shouldn’t think you’re all that because you have certain gifts. It’s a pride issue. Don’t think more highly of yourself than you ought to.

But it works in both directions. Don’t think too highly of yourself, but also don’t rip yourself apart because you aren’t perfect. Be honest about it. Don’t exaggerate. Don’t let your emotions or your feelings dictate your perspective about yourself. Don’t let your life situation or circumstances tell you who you are.

Be honest.

How? The first step comes from knowing what God thinks about you.

God thinks you’re awesome. He thinks you’re brilliant and funny. He thinks you’re a great mom. He thinks you’re a great dad. And the plain truth is that nothing you can do or say will ever convince God to love you less (or even more) than He already does. He loves you too much already. So put that perspective in place the next time you start tearing yourself up, you insecure perfectionist you.

You may not understand His love, but you can accept it. Accepting it will change your life.

The second part is finding a way to look at yourself realistically. Don’t let your emotions drive your view on things. Emotions aren’t trustworthy because they’re broken.

As you might imagine, I love to write. I write all the time. Even when I don’t have a pen, I’m still writing in my head. But the biggest problem with my writing is me. I hate everything I write. I cringe at the thought of inflicting my ridiculous sentence structures on people. This blog only became public after people begged with me to share my thoughts online. The truth about this blog is that it’s not about me. I’m just posting what God is teaching me on a daily basis and if someone gets something out it, it’s through His grace and not my talent (especially at this time in the morning).

But, that being said, people have made it abundantly clear to me that I have a gift for writing. And that’s what it is, a gift. Granted, it’s a gift that I have worked very hard to refine, even if I do interject dangling participle every now and then or end a sentence with a preposition (on purpose).

Yes, I hate most everything I write, and nothing I get down ever meets my expectations. But to look at my work and declare that I am a horrible writer (which I do all the time) isn’t honest. It’s a lie, and it’s damaging.

Have you ever been there? Have you ever been trapped in the cycle of self-criticism that stunts your growth and tears you up inside?

Take a step back and be honest in your evaluation. Everyone has gifts. Everyone has talents. Nobody is more important than anyone else, but you’ve got something that God has given you to do that only you can do.  Don’t let self-doubt and perfectionism get in the way of accomplishing your God-given purpose.

Chill out. Give yourself a break. God loves you, and He gave you a gift. You’re not perfect, but He is. So He can use you even when you don’t always get it right.

Spires of the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom

The danger in being full of your own advice

 

I’m stubborn, in case you didn’t know that about me. I’m obstinate to the point of the ridiculous. I like doing things my own way, and I hate–I hate, hate, hate–asking for help. You always hear the stereotypes about men hating to ask for directions? I’m worse. I’ll waste an hour in the grocery store trying to find something before I’ll even consider asking someone to tell me where to find it.

I like going my own way, and I don’t particularly want other people to tell me different. So what am I supposed to do with the verse God led me to today?

Spires of the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom

Spires of the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom

Today’s verse is James 3:17.

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.

I get the peace loving and the gentle part. And the mercy and good deeds and fairness and sincerity, sure. But willing to yield to others? Seriously? How is that God’s wisdom?

I’m being sarcastic. If it’s in the Bible, I’m going to live by it, but that doesn’t mean I always go without a fight. I’m quite Scottish, after all.

But let’s just be gut level honest here. How often are you willing to yield to other people? How frequently do you submit to your authorities? Or maybe not even your authorities. How frequently do you submit to your friends? And I’m not talking about yielding to your friends to go do stupid stuff. That’s not wisdom, and that’s obvious.

I checked in the Amplified version and the phrase is uses is “willing to yield to reason.” So this verse isn’t saying that you have to give in to every person who comes along and surrender your will to the next fellow who claims to know everything. Absolutely not.

But if you have people in your life who love God and follow Christ and try to live by His Word, yielding to them isn’t a bad idea. Why? Because you don’t know everything.

This is the part I struggle with. I’m supposed to know it all. I’m supposed to be the smart, independent one who doesn’t need help, and yielding to someone else’s opinions automatically makes me weak (in my mind). It means I don’t know everything. It means I need help. It means I’m flawed.

Sound like pride to you?

Pride is the enemy of wisdom. Pride tells you that you can do it yourself. Pride tells you that you know better. Wisdom is the quiet voice at the back of your head whispering that taking someone else’s advice isn’t such a bad idea.

If you’ve got people in your life who are wise according to the Bible, listen to them. More than just listen, consider doing what they tell you. Granted the verse doesn’t say you must do what other people tell you; it says be willing to yield.

This all stems from your heart attitude. If you walk through life thinking that you have all the answers and you don’t need anyone’s help, you’re going to make a lot of foolish mistakes. But God has strategically placed people in your path who can teach you what you need to know when you need to know it. But if you’re so full of your own advice, you won’t have room for theirs.

Choose wisdom. Listen to reasonable advice. Be willing to take it. And watch how God transforms your life.

Dove sitting on a power line at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Need to see God today?

Sometimes don’t you wish you could see God so you’d know what He’s up to? Not metaphorically. Actually. There are days when I really wish I could see Him leaving those footprints in the sand instead of merely coming on them after they’re made.

Some days God moves so slowly it’s all you can do to keep following. Other days, He moves so fast it’s all you can do to keep up. But even though you can see indications of what He’s been doing, we never actually get to see Him. And at this point in our lives, that’s probably a good thing because seeing Him in reality would kill us. Very few people in the Bible ever actually saw God.

But there’s something in us that yearns to see truth with our own eyes. I think it’s because our brains are so small and limited. Our world as we know it is limited to what we can experience, what our five senses can comprehend. If it can’t be experienced through taste, touch, smell, scent, or hearing, we tend to think it doesn’t exist. We think it’s not real.

And that’s the irony because the things that our senses can’t understand are more real than the ones that are. But that’s not much comfort for people who need to see God, who need to remember who He is.

Well, if that’s you today, look no farther than your inner circle.

Doves sitting on a power line at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Doves sitting on a power line at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are 1 John 4:11-12.

Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.

Have you ever had someone encourage you when you were down? Have you ever had someone listen to you and let you blow off steam without getting anything in return? Have you ever had someone tell you they love you for no other reason than just to tell you?

You realize behavior like that isn’t always compulsory. Just because you are friends or family or Christians doesn’t mean that people will go the extra mile to show others how much you love them. But people filled with God’s love can’t help but share it with others.

Do you have friends like that in your life? I do.

Here’s the deal, friends. If you need to see God, look at the people in your life. Pay attention to what they’re doing for you. If the people in your life love you and sacrifice for you, what do you think could make another stubborn, selfish human being actually want to do that for another person?

That’s right. God’s love. God’s love for us overflows so that we have too much to handle and have to give it away. And if that’s not evidence of God in my life, I don’t know what else is.

On those days when I’m feeling down and all I want is to see God so I know that I’m going the right direction, inevitably someone comes across my path to encouragement–and they have no reason to.

So if that’s where you are today, hang around someone who loves God and see what happens. If you need to see God, watch people who love Him, and you’ll see undeniable proof of God through the love His people have for each other and for those around them.

True, Christians can be the meanest people on the planet, but I’m not talking about those kinds of Christians. If you’re friends with those kinds of Christians, sorry to be blunt, but you need to change your crowd. Fortunately, those kinds of Christians are usually pretty obvious. They won’t hang out with mere mortals anyway!

But if you’ve got a crowd of normal, average, broken people who need Jesus every moment of every day, I promise you’ll get to see God before your time with them is over. Just keep your eyes open.