Praise God in the dark because He sees the light

When was the last time you told God how awesome He is? I mean, it’s easy to talk about how awesome God is when you’re around other people who think He’s awesome too. But there’s a big difference between joining into common conversation and initiating conversation with God.

Sure, we don’t have trouble asking Him for stuff when we need it. We can go before Him and fire request after request at Him, and He wants us to do that. But we need to remember who we’re talking to. We shouldn’t forget who God is.

sunset-summer-golden-hour-paul-filitchkinToday’s verse is Psalm 7:17.

I will thank the Lord because he is just;
    I will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.

Praise and worship can easily attract a lot of attention. It’s one of the parts of following Jesus that can get flashy and showy pretty quickly. Hand raising and shouting and praying out loud–if you’ve got a performance-based mentality, it can get out of hand fast. And pretty soon it’s about you instead of about God, so you’ve always got to guard your heart.

But when it comes to worship, I think Christ-followers are too guarded. We get more excited about sports events than we do about what God is doing, and that’s just as bad as trying to garner attention for ourselves.

Regardless, something none of us do enough is telling God that He’s great. Maybe I’m generalizing. So maybe I should just say that I don’t do it often enough. When I pray, most of the time I launch into the requests, but that’s not where I need to start. I need to start by telling God that He’s amazing. I need to tell Him how incredible His creation is, how abundant His blessings are, and how grateful I am that He gave me this life.

But maybe you’re not in that position right now. Maybe you aren’t loving life very much. Maybe you’re in a tight spot, and you just don’t see how you could possible praise God in your current circumstances.

Well, that’s what I love about this particular verse. It doesn’t say that we should thank God because of all the great things He’s done for us. It doesn’t say that we should thank God for being powerful or all-knowing or wise. Sure, He’s all those things, and, yes, He’s done great things for us (whether we realize it or not). But this verse says we should praise God because He’s just.

Even if you’re in a place in your life right now where you feel like nothing is going right, that’s one truth you can hold onto. God is just. God is good. The Bible says it over and over again, and even if you can’t be thankful for your life right now, you can still be thankful that God is just, fair, and right. Because that means if you keep doing what He says is right and keep trusting Him, eventually your circumstances will work out all right too. And that’s worthy of praise.

We don’t praise God enough. We’re too stuck in our own heads. We’re trapped in our own little worlds, unable to see past the darkness to the light on the other side. But God can see. So instead of wasting time complaining about your situation, take some purposeful time to praise God. Turn on some music. Take a walk outside. Look for miracles. I promise, they’re everywhere.

Be intentional in looking for reasons to praise God, and I promise you’ll find them. Praise God in the darkness because you know He sees the light, even if you can’t.

Life will surprise you but it doesn’t have to upset you

Life doesn’t always go the way you expect it will. You can plan all the details carefully and still not be ready for the curve balls it throws you. You can be capable and clever and still end up on your backside when life is done with you. And that’s why it’s important to understand that you can never plan life.

You can get ready for what you think will happen, but that’s it. You can’t control when it happens or how it happens. Sometimes things just happen. Both good things and bad things can catch us off guard. When the surprise is good, sometimes it’s hard to accept because–come on, good things don’t just happen, right? When the surprise is bad, we tend to point fingers at God and demand an explanation for why He would hurt us like this. Neither perspective is helpful.

So if you can’t avoid surprises, good or bad ones, how do you get through life without falling down all over yourself? Well, honestly, sometimes you are just going to trip and fall on your face. It’s good for you, though. Getting up again builds character. But facing the uncertainties of life is a lot easier when you see them the way God sees them–not as speed bumps sent to frustrate and annoy you but as opportunities to see a miracle up close and personal.

me-n-katie

Me and my best friend (I haven’t mastered the Art of Selfie yet ….)

Today’s verses are Luke 7:1-10.

When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people, he returned to Capernaum. At that time the highly valued slave of a Roman officer was sick and near death. When the officer heard about Jesus, he sent some respected Jewish elders to ask him to come and heal his slave. So they earnestly begged Jesus to help the man. “If anyone deserves your help, he does,” they said, “for he loves the Jewish people and even built a synagogue for us.”

So Jesus went with them. But just before they arrived at the house, the officer sent some friends to say, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself by coming to my home, for I am not worthy of such an honor. I am not even worthy to come and meet you. Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed. I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it.”

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed. Turning to the crowd that was following him, he said, “I tell you, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel!” And when the officer’s friends returned to his house, they found the slave completely healed.

Can you imagine the faith this Roman had? He didn’t have to see Jesus do a miracle to believe that He could do it. We should be amazed. Because Jesus marveled at this guy.

I’m putting my best friend on a plane today. Again. I think this marks the fourth or fifth time I will watch her walk back through security in an airport and step out of my everyday life.

I never expected to have a best friend other than my brother, but when you encounter someone who is quite literally the other half of your brain, friendship sort of just happens. Almost overnight in our case. We’d known each other for years, but the best friend bit came along in the last six or so. And just as we had gotten to the place where we could finish each other’s sentences (or sandwiches, if you happen to be a Frozen fan), God told her to become a missionary.

That’s life. What’s more, that’s life following God. You never know what’s going to happen. You never know what He’s going to do. And honestly it’s better if you don’t know it ahead of time, but man–it can be frustrating. Because for once–just once–I’d like things to be easy and straight forward and simple. But they don’t work like that. This abundant life thing God has given us tends to complicate our worlds.

At least, that’s what it seems like if you’re looking at it from the world’s perspective. When you see it from God’s perspective, it’s really quite simple. God knows what He’s doing, so just trust Him and do what He says.

It’s all in how you see your circumstances. Your attitude about God and what He’s doing in your life depend on how much you trust Him. Do you believe He knows what He’s doing, that He never makes mistakes, and that He always keeps His promises? If you do, then you probably don’t have a problem leaving the country to become a missionary half a world away.

But what if you’re the one left behind? What if you’re the one who always ends up the anchor, the one who stays put, the one who holds down the fort? What if you don’t get to be a missionary and have to stay where you are instead? What if you’re the friend left alone in the airport waving goodbye to someone you won’t get to hug again for six months–or maybe longer? How does trusting God work out in that situation?

Well, who says they’re different? One person has to trust God enough to leave. The other has to trust Him enough to stay. Believe that God has a plan either way. Everything comes down to trust. Do you trust Him enough to believe that He can bring beauty from ashes? Do you trust Him enough to believe that He is more than your current circumstances?

It’s okay if life catches you by surprise with the things you don’t expect, but you don’t have to stay surprised. God is right there with you, and He’s big enough to manage any complication. So tell Him about it, listen for an answer, read the Scripture, and then do what He says.

God sees you when you’re struggling

I climbed a Scottish mountain yesterday. It was pretty exciting. Our little crew of international travelers walked up this really steep path to get to this ancient rock, which marked the place where the Clan MacLaren used to rally in older times.

It was a difficult climb. It was raining. And not just raining. Pelting. So loud and hard you can actually hear it on our videos that we’ve taken. A ridiculous amount of rain, especially for a bunch of Kansans.

The mud was thick and threatened to swallow us up. The rocks were few and far between, and the loam wasn’t very good at providing good places to grip.

But we made it to the top, and it was worth the trek. The view was beautiful, and we could say that we accomplished something incredible.

The muddy path to Creag an Tuirc, Balquhidder, Scotland

The muddy path to Creag an Tuirc, Balquhidder, Scotland

Today’s verses are Revelation 2:2-3.

I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting.

It’s easy to give up when times get tough. It’s easy to walk away from a challenge, especially when you don’t feel up for it or when you’ve convinced yourself you aren’t capable. And when you think God isn’t paying attention, it’s even easier to walk away from a time of struggle.

But here’s news for you, friends. God is watching. All the time.

He sees when you struggle. He sees when you falter. He sees when you need help, and He cares. He’s not ignoring you. He’s watching you every step of the way.

Maybe that doesn’t comfort you, but it comforts me that God cares enough to watch what I’m doing. And He cared enough to intervene when it gets to be too much for me, which is always.

What are you struggling through this morning? What impossible task are you facing? Don’t give up. It will get harder before it gets better, you can almost count on that, but just because the situation is tough right now doesn’t mean that God isn’t with you.

So hold on. Keep climbing. Because the view from the top is worth the trouble it took to get there.

Tortoise at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Underdog

I love underdog stories. Those stories where the main character comes from unfortunate circumstances but still manages to overcome the challenges in his life are the most heartwarming stories in culture, I think. Like the Karate Kid movies, even the new one, which I really enjoy. Like the Mighty Ducks. In some cases, even some superhero types are considered underdogs. They just never intended to be heroes.

You have to admit, there’s something endearing about a character who has always had a rough time in life suddenly finding himself (or herself) in the middle of a situation where the stakes keep getting higher. And there’s something inside us that cheers for the underdog constantly. It doesn’t matter who they are or what they’re trying to accomplish; if it seems impossible, and if the odds are stacked against them, we cheer them on. At least, I do. I have a soft spot for underdogs.

What’s amazing to me is that so does God. The Bible is full of underdog stories, where average people like you and me end up in extraordinary circumstances, and through God’s power, they change the world. Yesterday I blogged about how God can take the sadness in our lives and change it into something worth rejoicing about, but that’s not all He can do.

Tortoise at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Tortoise at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Zephaniah 3:19.

And I will deal severely with all who have oppressed you.
    I will save the weak and helpless ones;
I will bring together
    those who were chased away.
I will give glory and fame to my former exiles,
    wherever they have been mocked and shamed.

You want to talk about underdogs? Let’s talk about Israel for a moment.

When I was little, I used to think that Israel had to be some amazing, great country full of resources and power. I used to think that they had to have done something incredible for God to have called them His Chosen People. But let’s be honest here. Israel is a beautiful country, and they have many resources. But in comparison to other countries in the world, they’re kind of small. They have a lot of history, but other countries have more. Honestly what makes Israel special isn’t anything they’ve done; it’s the fact that God chose them.

By that same token, I used to think that Abraham was someone special. I used to think that he had some kind of special gift or something that made him the best candidate to found the nation of Israel. But he didn’t. He was just a guy. There wasn’t anything special about him other than the fact that God called and he obeyed. That’s it.

Israel and Israel’s history is full of instances where they were the lightweight in the corner who didn’t have a chance. But every time Israel’s leaders did what God told them to do, whether they were patriarchs or kings, God gave them victory over armies much larger than they were. God took a little, unimportant country and elevated it to a place where the region had to recognize their victory. He did the same with people, ordinary shepherds, children, uneducated people, outcasts, foreigners. You name someone who would be relegated to the dregs of society and read about how they followed God and how God raised them up to a level where other people (people who had made fun of them or hated them) had to recognize that they had achieved something.

Only God can do that.

Do you think Joseph could have become the second most important man in the world on his own steam (Genesis 37-54)? Do you think David could have had the strength to stand up to Goliath without God on his side (1 Samuel 17)? Do you think any prostitute could deserve to belong in the lineage of Jesus Christ Himself without God changing her heart (Joshua 2)?

God is a God of underdogs, and He’s always looking for people who are willing to answer when He calls. And those people who answer when He calls have a chance to do the impossible, because when God is working with you, the impossible isn’t impossible anymore.

Are you in a situation where you feel inadequate? Do you find yourself in a place where no one recognizes you, whether you want them to or not? Are you lost in the shuffle of the crowd? Are you the low man on the totem pole?

Guess what? God’s cheering for you. It’s the folks on the bottom who attract God’s attention. I’m not saying He can’t use people on the top. He’s done that before too, but I’d be curious to know how those people at the top got there to begin with. Usually if you start out at the top, you aren’t interested in helping folks at the bottom–and that’s what God usually asks.

So if you’re inadequate and all you know is that you don’t have the skills to accomplish what God has called you to do, you’re in good company. But don’t worry because your responsibility is to answer. You don’t have e to know how it’s going to work out. You just have to do what God’s called you to do, and He will equip you for any eventuality you encounter along the way. And through His power and His strength and Him just being Him, He will change you from being the ineffective one at the bottom of the chain to someone who can change the world.

Katie taking football photos in Hutchinson, KS

Tears are okay

Yesterday afternoon, I watched my best friend board an airplane that is taking her to Europe for a year. I plan to visit, but I won’t be able to get there until the last part of June, assuming my workload even allows me to go. So it will be upward of five months before I get to hug her again. This is a major change considering she has spend nearly every other weekend at my house or with me in some form or another for the better part of two years.

If you’ve never had a friend who can finish your sentences, read your mind, or understand everything you haven’t said out loud, I don’t know if you can understand how empty the prospect of life without them close is. But God is good and has given me so many wonderful, awesome, incredible other friends–and we’re all friends with each other, so we can commiserate her leaving en masse!

I was marveling this morning because the entire event of her going out there is such a mixed bag of emotions. I miss her. Intensely. I was joking with her last night over Skype that I sort of randomly burst into tears at every other inanimate object that reminds me of her. I was in the store and saw flowers and thought of her and cried. Still in the store, I was in the produce area and saw vegetables and remembered she hates them and cried. I think I teared up in seven different sections of the grocery store, and I’m sure everyone around me was wondering what on earth was so sad about biscuits!

But at the same time, even though I’m torn up about her not being here, I’m so excited for her that I can hardly contain it. She gets to travel all over Europe, one of the most empty countries, so many people with no hope and no life, and the thought of all the joy that God has used her to bring in my life being implemented in such a hopeless field makes me so eager for her to get over there.

And I thought about how strange it is that in the blink of an eye, because of God, something that is heart-wrenchingly sad can become something immensely joyful.

Katie taking football photos in Hutchinson, KS

Katie taking football photos in Hutchinson, KS

Today’s verse is John 16:20.

I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn over what is going to happen to me, but the world will rejoice. You will grieve, but your grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy.

This is Jesus talking to the disciples, His “unlearned and ignorant” followers. If you read the whole passage, it’s kind of entertaining. The disciples are all so much like us, it’s really not even funny. But in this verse, Jesus is talking about what is going to happen to Him. He’s talking about how He will be crucified, how He will be tortured, how He will be killed.

But He was trying to prepare them, not just for the fact that He would be killed, but that His death wasn’t the end. Yes, they were going to grieve when He died, but He wasn’t going to stay dead. And after He rose again under His own power, there would be cause for great rejoicing.

Only God can take something so sad and turn it into something worth rejoicing over.

We can’t do that. That’s not an ability we possess. We aren’t strong enough to take a terrible situation and find hope in it without the influence of God in our lives. Maybe we can guess that it might work out okay. Or maybe we can pick some random ethereal feel-good concept out of the air and hope it will happen. But only God allows us to know that things will be all right.

So whatever is changing in your life, if you follow Christ, whether you’re moving jobs or moving friends or moving countries, you can know that God is working things out. And you can know it because He’s told us. And even the sad things in life aren’t going to stay sad, because God is a God who can turn sorrow into happiness.

It’s not wrong to mourn. It doesn’t make you a bad Christian to be sad, especially when someone you love isn’t around as much. For me it’s like losing my left hand. I’m a righty, so I can still function but life won’t be as easy for a little while until I adapt. But if you trust God, if you believe what He said, no matter what situation or circumstance you find yourself in this morning, He’s going to use it to help you and to help others around you and to bring glory to Himself. That’s what being a Christian is.

So it’s okay to be sad because God’s got lots of tissues, and one of these days, He’s going to wipe the tears away and they won’t come back. But until then, tears are okay. But don’t let them take over because you’ll need some tears left for when the sorrow turns to joy.

Frozen faucet - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Worshiping bad news

How do you handle bad news? There are a couple of different ways you can look at bad news, but when you get right down do it, bad news is bad news. It means sickness. It means difficulty. It means loss, sometimes of a relationship, sometimes of a life. Bad news comes in different forms, from people to messages to experiences. But no matter how it comes, it always comes.

We can’t escape bad news because we live in a broken world. And most of the time we can’t change bad news because it’s outside of our control. What we can change, is how we react to it.

Frozen faucet - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Frozen faucet - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 112:7.

They do not fear bad news; they confidently trust the Lord to care for them.

Whenever I run across a verse like this that starts with an anonymous “they” I always want to find out who the verse is talking about. And doubly so in this instance because “they do not fear bad news” is a “they” I would like to know more about. Because if someone doesn’t have to be afraid of bad news, I would like to know what they are doing to be that way.

To find the answer to that question, you have to go to the beginning of the Psalm. Psalm 112:1 says, “How joyful are those who fear the Lord and delight in obeying his commands.” That is the “they” from verse 7. Actually the whole Psalm is talking about how the people who fear the Lord are benefited. What their lives are supposed to look like.

Do you know people who are driven by fear? They’re the people who always think the worst. The glass-is-half-empty types who can imagine the worst case scenario for even the best circumstances. Maybe you know someone who lives in a constant state of anxiety. Maybe that’s you. It’s not fun. Not at all. It controls your thoughts. It controls your actions. It keeps you pinned down in terror, projecting your worst nightmares come to life. And maybe you think you’re protecting the people you care about, but in reality you’re just driving them away. Fear is never a quality that makes someone a good friend.

And there is so much to fear in our world.

We live in a dangerous place. Even those of us “safe in the United States” can come up with myriad dangers that can control our lives. Car wrecks. Cancer. School shootings. Some people fear that they will lose their jobs, and in this economic climate it’s not unlikely. I know many people who have lost their jobs, especially most recently with Boeing pulling out of Wichita. Not old people. These are people with families and mortgages, not old enough to retire but probably not young enough to find another career path.

So how can you handle that kind of bad news without anxiety? How can this verse be true? Because at first glance it doesn’t make a lot of sense. You fear the Lord so you don’t have to fear bad news? Is that what it’s saying?

When I first read this, I thought what I usually think. This fearing the Lord isn’t the same as fearing bad news. In this context, fear of the Lord is more like reverence or worship, according to the Amplified Version. But what if it is the same concept? I don’t speak Hebrew, so obviously I don’t know. But what I do know is American culture. And Americans are good at revering bad news. Because it creates drama. It creates action. It shakes us up, and those who are not affected by the bad news get a show. Or they are entertained. As a culture, we worship bad news.

Even some believers worship bad news in a twisted way. They don’t like it when it comes, but they focus on it. Bad news arrives (because it always will in our broken world), and it stops us in our tracks. And we zone in on it and refuse to move on. And even though we hate it and even though we would give anything to make it go away, we stop and build an altar to it and make daily sacrifices to it. We worship our bad news.

Guess what?

You don’t have to.

When bad news inevitably comes, recognize it and keep moving. You don’t have to stop and build a monument to it. It’s okay to recognize it, but don’t stop your forward momentum. God has us all on a path and wants us to move forward. But so many of us get stuck in a rut mulling over our bad news day after day until we don’t even remember what God had planned for us to begin with.

Bad news can only stop you if you let it. The more you fear it–the more you worship it–the weaker you’ll be and the more time you’ll waste.

Fear God. Recognize that God is the one who can get you through your bad news. Focus on Him. Not on your circumstances. Not on your situation. No on your frustrations. Bad news will come. It always does. But don’t fear it and don’t let it throw you.

You don’t have to be afraid of bad news.

Little pink flower on Glen Eyrie hiking trail

How does God want us to live?

I’m not sure people understand what it means to seek God’s will. Seeking God’s will sounds so poetic and so epic. And Christians are forever seeking God’s will for their lives as though it’s some ethereal concept that no one can really understand. But the pure and simple definition of “seeking God’s will” is: how does God want us to live?

The answer is in Scripture. So if you’re not willing to read Scripture and you’re not willing to listen to people who do, you aren’t going to find the answer to that question. No other philosophers know. No other Christians under their own authority know. No experience is going to teach you.

There are many parts to God’s will, many components to how He wants us to live our lives. And I think many of us, even those of us who read Scripture and try to apply it consistently, forget sometimes that God has given us commandments about how to live. It’s not an issue of Him suggesting that we do something and giving us the option of obeying or not. No. There are specific principles in Scripture that we are commanded to obey.

Granted, it doesn’t mean that we’ll go to hell if we don’t obey. If we believe in Christ, we’re saved. Period. But many who have struggles in their lives might not have so many struggles if they were to take God at His word and actually live the way He says.

Little pink flower on Glen Eyrie hiking trail
Little pink flower on Glen Eyrie hiking trail – Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s passage is 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

I don’t think it can be plainer than that. I know it can’t get simpler, at least in concept. Actual application can be challenging, but if you want to know God’s will, here it is.

Christians are always to be joyful. It doesn’t matter where you came from or where you’re going. Be joyful. Remember that joy is different than happiness. Happiness depends on your situation. Joy supersedes your circumstances. If you have Christ in your life, you have joy. If you follow Christ, then even on your worst day, your joy should be greater than your situation because this world isn’t home. We’re just passing through here and our trials are light and momentary compared to the awesome eternity God has in store for us.

Christians are never to stop praying. It should be constant. Without ceasing. We should live a lifetime of prayer, constant communication with God. And it shouldn’t be the cute little prayers we learn as children. It should be personal, individual, in your own voice talking to your friend God and telling Him about what’s going on in your life. Praying for the people you love. Praying for yourself. Praying for everything, even the requests you think are small and insignificant.

And Christians are to be thankful in all circumstances. Good, bad or indifferent. Why do we think difficult circumstances give us the option to complain? Why do we think a bad day gives us a reason to grumble?

I struggle with this because bad days can really get me down. And it’s not bad to be down. Everyone has bad days, and everyone feels down every now and then. What’s bad is when you stay down. What’s bad is when you get so focused on the bad things in your life that you can’t see what God is doing. If you are at the point where you can’t see God working in your life and in the lives of people around you because all you can see is how bad you have it, stop what you’re doing right now and talk to Him.

Make a list of the things you have. Make a list of the things you’re thankful for. And if you can’t make a list for yourself, ask someone close to you to do it for you. Because I guarantee everyone has a page full of things to be thankful for. Those of us who forget are just so focused on ourselves that we can’t remember. And there’s always something in our own lives that someone else would kill to have–and we take it for granted.

The Message says it this way:

Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.

If we can do this, if we can really grasp these things and really live this way, it will change our perspective. It changes our lives completely. And suddenly the situations and circumstances that are weighing us down become non-issues. Because nothing can steal our joy, because we get to tell God about it and know that He will help, and because something God will always come out of it so we can be thankful even during the worst troubles.