It’s okay to love yourself … God does

I am my own worst critic, and I’m ruthless about it. I always have been. I can’t believe some of the horrible things I’ve said to myself, terrible, hurting things I wouldn’t say to any other person. But I don’t hesitate to say it about myself.

On one hand, being self-critical is good. You should always be open and aware of how you can improve yourself or how you can do a job better, but when it crosses the line from constructive criticism to general bashing, you need to stop. It’s not helpful. And it’s not true.

It’s okay to love yourself, you know. I think we take that concept out of context too many times. The Bible talks about loving others as we love ourselves, which means obviously we are supposed to love ourselves. But if I treated others the way I treat me? Whew, that would be brutal.

But where do you draw the line between loving yourself and loving yourself too much? Maybe the problem is that we don’t really understand love from God’s point of view.

sunset-hands-love-womanToday’s verses are 1 John 4:16-18.

We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.

God’s love is unconditional. That’s really difficult to wrap my brain around, because I’m a performance-driven perfectionist. In my brain, if I work hard enough, that means that God will love me more. But unconditional love has no conditions. That means it doesn’t matter how hard or how little I work. God loves me the same.

Can we even grasp that kind of love? I’m not sure I can. But if that’s the case and there’s nothing I can do to make God love me more or less, why am I so hard on myself? Why do I beat myself up all the time and focus on every failure and cling to every disappointing decision I’ve made?

Maybe it’s pride. Maybe it’s being self-focused.

There’s a part of me that fears what God will say to me when we meet face to face. I’m afraid that He’ll point out to me all the times I could have done more, all the opportunities He gave me that I ignored, all the things I should have done and didn’t. But if we’re afraid, that means we’re not living in God’s love.

What does it mean to live in God’s love? It means that you aren’t scared. Not that you’re fearless (although you probably can be). Everyone still has things they’re scared of–the dark, clowns, angel statues (Don’t Blink!), but being scared of something is different than living in fear. When you live in fear, your whole life revolves around what you have to do to make God happy with you. All you can think about is how you need to perform because you’ve got to make God love you.

Here’s the news, friends. God already loves you. And there’s nothing you can do about it. So just deal with that right now.

And because God loves us, we can live confidently, unafraid of what might be ahead of us. That means tearing yourself up for your past mistakes is a waste of time. That means focusing on the things you did wrong yesterday won’t accomplish anything.

God doesn’t make mistakes. Not ever. And if He loves you, don’t you think you ought to love you? Maybe just a little bit?

You don’t have to do anything to earn God’s love. You’ve already got it. So stop living your life to impress Him and start living His love so that others can experience it.

Fear is more than what’s holding you back

Sometimes it feels like there’s a giant wall between me and what I’m trying to accomplish. The wall takes many forms. It’s being busy. Being tired. Being distracted and discouraged. Sometimes it’s even being happy and being around other people. But that’s been the story of my life–trying to write while I’m distracted, trying to create when I’m exhausted. So I think I’ve been afraid to tear the wall down because I don’t know if I can do this without it.

And that’s true. I am afraid to tear the wall down. But I realized something: Fear is what makes up the wall itself.

Today’s verses are Hebrews 13:5-6.

Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have.
For God has said,
“I will never fail you.
I will never abandon you.”
So we can say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper,
so I will have no fear.
What can mere people do to me?”

There’s something in us that tells us we have to provide for ourselves. We have to take care of ourselves. Our safety and comfort and freedom and life are all up to us, and if we don’t do something, we’ll lose them. There is a morsel of truth to that, but first of all, we have to understand that none of that comes from anything we’ve done. Our safety and freedom and life are all gifts from God. And while we do have to work to preserve them, we should never accept the concept that we did anything to earn them or even deserve them.

The Bible says over and over again that God is our strength. He’s our freedom. He’s our help. He’s the one we should turn to in our dark moments when we don’t know what to do. Heck, we should turn to Him even if we do know what to do.

Work backwards through the verses. God is our helper. So we don’t need to fear anything. That verse (verse 6) starts off with the word So, which means that to understand it fully you need to refer to the verse before it. We can confidently say God is our helper and we don’t have to fear because God says He’ll never fail us or abandon us. The same is true about the word For. God will never fail us or abandon us and that means we should be satisfied with what we have instead of endlessly grasping for material wealth.

We don’t need material wealth if we have God’s promise to never fail us and never abandon us. He’s our help. So why are we afraid?

Fear is a paralytic, yes, but it’s also a drug that keeps you sedate. It mimics the idea of safety and comfort, because if you never challenge it, nothing ever changes. You never grow, so you never have to experience growing pains.

I struggle with fear and anxiety. The worry is ever-present in my brain. What if I can’t find enough work? What if I can’t pay my bills? What if I have to go back to a corporate job again? Does that mean I’ve failed? Does that mean God didn’t want me to strike out on my own like this in the first place? Have I just been fooling myself? It’s a vicious spiral of anxiety that usually ends in self-loathing and utter discouragement.

Ever been there? When you’ve made that difficult choice to follow God instead of what the world says matters? You’d think it would get easier when you give God your yes, right? Ha. Sorry, folks, it’s doesn’t work that way. There’s nothing easy about following God because we’re trying to follow Him through a minefield, and everywhere we step, we run the risk of blowing ourselves up.

It’s so easy to just stop walking. It’s so much easier to just stay where you are. Why try to climb the wall if you know you can’t do it? Why try to tear the fence down when it’ll just build itself up again overnight?

Fear is an emotion. It’s something we feel, and like all our other emotions, you can’t always trust it. Our fear is just as broken as we are. So there’s really only one way to handle it, and that’s to read what the Bible says about it and trust that what God says is right.

Fear is more than what’s holding you back. It’s the wall around your that’s keeping you in. So don’t give into it.

God promises He’ll never fail us, even if we fail Him. He promises never to abandon us, even when we turn our backs on what He says is right. And because He always keeps His promises, we don’t have to be afraid of anything. He will always provide. He will always be there. And nothing anyone does to you will change that–not even what you do to yourself.

Living a victorious life in spite of a broken world

Ever have one of those days (or weeks or months or years) where it just feels like everyone and everything is out to get you? It’s not enough to have one problem. No, you have to have 12 all hit at the same time. Money problems and job problems and family problems and relationship problems and church problems and the list goes on and on and on. It’s different for every Christ-follower, but the story is the same.

In situations like that, it always makes me wonder if I’ve done something wrong. I never want to assume that I’m in the right, especially where my relationship with God is concerned. I always want to ask myself and judge my own heart to make sure I haven’t gone against the Lord in some way that He needs to correct. I never want to be so proud that I miss what He’s trying to teach me.

But what about when I haven’t done anything wrong? Sometimes life just stinks. The world is broken, and sometimes that brokenness affects my life, which has been redeemed but still exists as part of a fallen world. When that happens, what do we do?

gazing-rain-window_1555x1037Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 4:7-9.

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.

It’s easy to get discouraged when you think about the state of our world, but we need to remember that this world isn’t our home. And even though we live here for now, that doesn’t mean we live here alone or that we’re helpless.

Every Christ-follower has power. We can face life with hope and strength and courage because God is walking this path with us, and if we rely on Him, He’ll give us what we need to get through the day.

So even in our darkest moments, when we’re surrounded by trouble, when we’re confused by circumstances, when people are out to get us, or even when we fall flat on our face, we can still live a victorious life. We don’t have to give in to the petty, grasping arguments and disagreements of the people around us. We don’t have to hurt each other. We have the power to choose love. We have the power to be like Jesus, and Jesus is undefeated.

If you’re down today, choose to get up again. And if you don’t have the strength to get up, ask for it. You’re not alone.

Sometimes even weeds can be beautiful

In the spring and summer, our yard here at Safe Haven Farm is full of dandelions. Weeds. All over the place. We’ve had some years when the yard was practically yellow from all the dandelion flowers. And what I’ve learned about dandelions over the years is that the more you try to get rid of them, the more keep popping up.

Dandelions are like the Hydra from Greek mythology. Whenever the hero would chop off one head, two more would grow back. Weeds are the same way. You can chop them off, poison them, hack them to bits, but they always come back because the roots are too deep in the soil to remove completely. Have you ever stopped to think that worry and anxiety is exactly the same?

No matter how efficiently you think you’ve dealt with your worrying, it won’t go away completely. No matter how far away you’ve distanced yourself from anxiety, those horrible, twisting anxious thoughts keep coming back. And it’s not because you want them. It’s because the root of the problem is buried too deep to reach.

What is the root of the problem? For me, it’s fear.

I’m afraid that I’ll fail, that I’ll disappoint people, that I’ll screw up, that I’ll make a mess of things, and that I’ll do such a good job of it that not even God will be able to get me out of it. That’s the fear that whispers to me. Fear tells me that I’ll never be good enough, that I’ll make mistakes so great and so grave that no one will forgive me. And even as I listen, I know it’s all lies, but somehow I still worry. Even though I know it’s not true.

So what do you do? How do you respond to the paralyzing fear that holds you in place and tries to convince you that it’s not worth even trying anymore?

Dandelion at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Dandelion at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Psalm 56:1-4.

O God, have mercy on me,
for people are hounding me.
My foes attack me all day long.
I am constantly hounded by those who slander me,
and many are boldly attacking me.
But when I am afraid,
I will put my trust in you.
I praise God for what he has promised.
I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?
What can mere mortals do to me?

Fear doesn’t come from God. That’s not how He works. So if you’re making decisions based in fear, you might want to make sure you’re following the right person. If you’re feeling fear, which is leading to worry and stress and anxiety, that means you’ve got the enemy’s attention. Usually that means you’re doing something right.

I know that’s not much comfort. Believe me. But it’s the truth.

So how do you manage worry and anxiety if it’s never actually going to go away? And it’s not happening because you don’t trust God. You do. You wake up every morning determined to trust Him for everything, yet still that little voice whispers in your mind. And soon you’re in knots because you’re worrying, and then you tie yourself in more knots because you try to stop worrying so that you won’t worry about worrying. Ugh, it’s a vicious cycle.

I don’t know the answer, but I do know who God is. And I know what this verse says. When I’m afraid, I need to trust God. When I’m afraid, that means I’m trying to solve problems on my own. I’m looking at the difficulties I’m facing and trying to overcome them in my own strength, and I can’t do it. I’m not big enough.

The problems in my life are God-sized. And when anxiety gets the better of me, it’s usually those moments when I’m trying to rush God’s plan or trying to do it myself without Him, usually because I feel like He’s moving too slowly.

Trusting God means not taking matters into your own hands. It means letting go of your plans and your dreams and your goals and giving them to Him. It’s hard and scary, and often it hurts because letting go of anything that matters to you isn’t fun. But that fear you feel in response to letting go isn’t from God. It’s from Satan. He’s trying to keep you from experiencing the very best God has, because God can’t transform your life while you’re still holding on to it.

Remember what God promised. He won’t leave us. He wants the best for us. And His plans for us are good. So it doesn’t matter what anyone else can do to you, as long as you’re on God’s side. You stay right with Him, and He’ll take care of the rest.

You can wear yourself out pulling weeds, and they’ll all just come back again the next day. No, just wait. Let them bloom. Let the seeds scatter. And if at all possible, enjoy them. Even weeds can be beautiful at times, and even weeds like dandelions have can be useful.

Don’t let shame drive you away from God

Do you ever wonder when God will lose His patience with you? I lose my patience with people very easily, especially when I’m driving. But while I know God sometimes shakes His head at me, He’s never given up on me.

And it’s shocking if you really believe what the Bible says, because the Bible says God won’t ever give up on us. He won’t deal harshly with us. He isn’t cruel to us. Even if we deserve cruelty, even if our foolish mistakes make us worthy of His wrath, He won’t stay angry with us.

57J9ZJN1HMToday’s verses are Psalm 103:8-14.

The Lord is compassionate and merciful,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
He will not constantly accuse us,
nor remain angry forever.
He does not punish us for all our sins;
he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.
For his unfailing love toward those who fear him
is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.
He has removed our sins as far from us
as the east is from the west.
The Lord is like a father to his children,
tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
For he knows how weak we are;
he remembers we are only dust.

I don’t understand God’s love, but I’m thankful for it. You’re going to make mistakes, that’s true. So prepare yourself mentally for it now. Because after you sin, you’re going to want to hide. Adam and Eve did. Everyone in history who has committed a sin has always tried to cover it up, which is funny in a way because who do we think God is? Do we really think we can hide from Him?

I’m only partially joking. Because I hide when I do wrong.

I don’t want to face what I’ve done. I would much rather crawl under my bed and live in denial, but that’s not what I’m called to do. So don’t let shame and fear drive you away from God. If you’ve done wrong, the shame and fear you’re feeling is only going to hurt you, and it’s only going to prolong your misery.

Give your shame to God. Give your fear to God. Let Him take it. Let go. It’s easy to want to hang on to it, but it’s too heavy for you. God is strong enough to carry it and take it away, so far away that you’ll never have to deal with it again, so far away that He won’t even remember it anymore.

It’s hard to believe that God would continue to love us even when we do wrong, but He does. God has no illusions about us. Like the verse says, He knows that we’re only dust. That means He knows we’re going to fail.

Granted, that doesn’t mean He expects us to fail. No, He has great plans and expectations for us, just like a parent has for his or her children. But do you stop loving your children when they don’t measure up? No. And how do you want your children to behave when they screw up? Who do you want them to turn to for help? Their friends? Their teachers? No, you want them to come to you.

Guess what? God feels the same way.

Why should I be afraid?

Psalm 27

DSC_4924The Lord is my light and my salvation—
so why should I be afraid?
The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger,
so why should I tremble?
When evil people come to devour me,
when my enemies and foes attack me,
they will stumble and fall.
Though a mighty army surrounds me,
my heart will not be afraid.
Even if I am attacked,
I will remain confident.

The one thing I ask of the Lord—
the thing I seek most—
is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
delighting in the Lord’s perfections
and meditating in his Temple.
For he will conceal me there when troubles come;
he will hide me in his sanctuary.
He will place me out of reach on a high rock.
Then I will hold my head high
above my enemies who surround me.
At his sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy,
singing and praising the Lord with music.

Hear me as I pray, O Lord.
Be merciful and answer me!
My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”
And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”
Do not turn your back on me.
Do not reject your servant in anger.
You have always been my helper.
Don’t leave me now; don’t abandon me,
O God of my salvation!
Even if my father and mother abandon me,
the Lord will hold me close.

Teach me how to live, O Lord.
Lead me along the right path,
for my enemies are waiting for me.
Do not let me fall into their hands.
For they accuse me of things I’ve never done;
with every breath they threaten me with violence.
Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness
while I am here in the land of the living.

Wait patiently for the Lord.
Be brave and courageous.
Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.

Sometimes fear can keep you content

Life is overwhelming. Everyone seems to be struggling to keep their head above the waves with all the stuff that keeps coming at them, and not all of it is bad. Some of it is good. Some of it may even be great, but that’s the way life is. We rarely get life in small doses.

I’ve been fighting discouragement in the last few weeks, questioning the wisdom of my choices and the direction I’m going. It’s funny because even when you start out genuinely questioning what God has told you to do, it doesn’t take long before fear sets in.

Fear can be healthy sometimes, but I believe that’s a specific type of fear. There are different kinds of fear, you know. Sort of like there are different kinds of love. The fear you feel in a life-threatening situation can make you stronger, faster, sharper than you would be without it. I’d say that’s beneficial. But the fear you feel when you start questioning what God has told you to do is the absolute opposite of a good thing, and it certainly doesn’t come from God.

In Frank Herbert’s science fiction novel, Dune, there’s a famous statement about fear. He states: “Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

While it’s true that fear can sometimes spur us to greater achievements, in most instances, fear dulls us and urges us to settle for less because we’re too afraid to keep pushing for the best. So how do you conquer the fear that will stunt your growth? How do you manage your fear when you face those questions that have no answer?

FearToday’s verses are Psalm 27:1-3.

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
so why should I be afraid?
The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger,
so why should I tremble?
When evil people come to devour me,
when my enemies and foes attack me,
they will stumble and fall.
Though a mighty army surrounds me,
my heart will not be afraid.
Even if I am attacked,
I will remain confident.

How do you conquer your fear? Remember Who’s on your side.

It’s easy to forget Who set you on this path when the troubles and struggles of life start piling up around you. They look so big, so overwhelming, so impossible to figure out, but in those moments when we’re so afraid that we’re going to fail, we need to stop and remember what we’re doing and Who we’re doing it for.

The Bible says that God is our light, our salvation, and our fortress. Think about that. God is our light. As long as we’re following Him, we won’t be lost in the darkness. God is our salvation. There’s no challenge or difficulty we can face that can have the victory over us because God is stronger than any trouble we can encounter. God is our fortress. No matter what weapons our enemy forges against us, nothing can touch us when we’re taking refuge in God’s presence.

So why are we afraid? Sure, it’s intimidating to face unanswerable questions. Yeah, it’s frightening to start down a path you can’t see the end of. But who sent you? Who are you doing it for? Why are you going?

The fear that comes in those moments doesn’t come from God. The fear that makes you doubt God’s goodness isn’t from Him. The fear that makes you doubt that He will take care of you and love you and forgive you no matter what isn’t from Him. It’s a lie.

If you’re following God, if you’re living your life for Christ, if you’re seeking Him first in every choice you make, God will be right by your side. Don’t forget that.

Don’t let our enemy convince you to be afraid of the uncertainties. That’s what he wants, because if he can keep you scared, he can keep you content. God calls us to be fearless, to face the challenges of life with His strength, which He offers us freely.

So what are you afraid of? If God is for you (He is, by the way), who could ever stop you?