A sunflower and Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Facing discouragement with a question

Do you ever get to that place in life when it feels like everything is going wrong? I think everybody gets there at one point or another, and it’s not a fun place to be.

In some instances, we really do make our own trouble. The issues we’re facing in life sometimes stem from our own bad choices, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes the world is just broken. Sometimes people are just broken, and there’s no explanation for it. And, what’s worse, there’s nothing you can do to fix it. .

I think it’s harder to deal with the fact that you can’t fix it yourself than it is to deal with the actual problem. But I’m a fixer. And realizing my own helplessness is discouraging.

So what you do when you reach the point in life where everything is breaking and none of it is within your power to repair?

A sunflower and Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

A sunflower and Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 43:5.

Why am I discouraged?
    Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
    I will praise him again—
    my Savior and my God!

I post on perspective a lot because it’s something I struggle with. My brain runs so fast, I tend to jump from topic to topic to topic in rapid sequence, and if I don’t have a healthy perspective on life, the universe, and everything, my thought processes can easily spiral out of control and land me in a useless heap of negativity.

I love this verse because it starts with a question, and questions always get my attention. They’re good questions to ask yourself when life goes wrong.

Why are you discouraged? Why is your heart sad?

Don’t just let them hang. They’re not rhetorical questions. Why? God wants to know why. He wants to know what’s troubling you. He wants to know what has happened in your life to make you so sad. So tell Him.

There’s something cathartic in talking to God and telling Him what’s bothering you. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s just getting it off my chest, but I always feel better after I tell God what’s bothering me.

Maybe it’s because when I hear what’s bothering me said out loud, I realize that it’s not that big of a deal anyway.  Even my great big problems are nothing compared to God and His power and His grace. God can fix anything. God can help me accomplish anything. God can turn hearts around and change lives.

It’s important to remember that. It’s important to remember who God is and that even if your life is so broken you can’t fix it, He still can.

So why are you discouraged today? Why are you feeling sad? I know a lot of people who are, and I’m sad with them for a host of different reasons.  Ask yourself why. Then tell God about it. As you tell Him, just remember who He is and who we are to Him, and remember that there’s nothing He can’t do. He’s already won this war, and even if our lives down here don’t turn out the way we want them to, He’s making a place for us with Him. And that’s the life that matters more, the life to come, the life that will last forever.

So cheer up. Put your hope in God, and praise Him for being who He is. He’s got a plan, and it’s good.

Wheelbarrow full of snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Fight discouragement with praise

 

The National Weather Service tells me I have a foot of snow outside at the moment, but one thing I’ve learned living out here is you don’t know exactly how much snow you’ve had until you go out walking in it. From the windows it’s deceptive. Yesterday, I was out walking around when we only had 8 inches, being doubly thankful I have a job that I can work from home, and I managed to end up in a drift of snow that was a lot deeper than I expected it to be. It came up past my knees. Compared to the rest of the landscape, the drift didn’t seem obvious, but it was there, and it slowed me down enormously as I was trying to walk.

Life is kind of like a yard full of snow drifts. You don’t always know how deep they are, and if you aren’t careful you can end up stuck.

I’ve been posting this week about discouragement, and I ran into a verse this morning that really encapsulates everything we need to do to fight discouragement in our lives.

Wheelbarrow full of snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Wheelbarrow full of snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Isaiah 12:4-5.

In that wonderful day you will sing:
    “Thank the Lord! Praise his name!
Tell the nations what he has done.
    Let them know how mighty he is!
Sing to the Lord, for he has done wonderful things.
    Make known his praise around the world.

I’m going to make this brief because my home office is still freezing in spite of my little electric heater. I’ve been working for fifteen minutes, and my fingers are already going numb. (Please excuse typos if you see them!!)

Discouragement isn’t something that we just have to accept and move on with. We don’t have to live with discouragement, and God has given us all sorts of weapons to use in the fight against it. One of those weapons is truth. Knowing God’s truth will help us face the lies that discouragement whispers to us, but another weapon is praise.

Praise is hard on a good day, let alone on a day when you feel lower than low, but praise is one of the best things to do when you don’t feel like it. Worship takes your eyes off yourself and puts them on God, telling Him how awesome He is, how wonderful He is, and thanking Him for everything He’s done in your life.

Yes, maybe your life sucks right now, but it’s not as bad as it could be. Seriously, think about it. Take your worst moment and you’ll be able to find something positive about it with God’s help. Our lives are never as bad as they could be, and that’s God’s grace.

So in those discouraging moments, those moments where you end up stuck in the snow drifts, step back and praise God. Focus all your energy on telling Him how great He is, on telling others How great He is, instead of how difficult your life is at the moment, and something miraculous will happen. Your situation won’t change, but the way you see it will.

And, if you ask me, life is less about what happens to you and more about how you respond to it. So if you can face difficulty and discouragement with a smile and still keep praising God in the darkness, you’ve won the bigger battle anyway.

Apricots blossoming in the Safe Haven Farm orchard, Haven, KS

Old thoughts don’t belong in a new life

The brain is a miracle. Have you ever stopped to marvel at it? It’s the most complex computer ever created, and even though we use it every day (some of us less than others), we still don’t understand why it does what it does most of the time. My brain thinks all the time, and mostly I can keep my mouth shut, though when I’m tired who knows what I’ll say.

Most of the time, my thoughts are positive, constructive, helpful, but on rare occasions, they’re the opposite. Sometimes I just wake up and I’m in a bad mood. Sometimes I crawl out of bed and have to face the world when all I want to do is hide from it. And it’s on those days when it’s important to have some kind of rein on your thoughts, because you live what you think. Your life is a reflection of your thoughts, maybe not immediately. You can have bad thoughts and still keep up the appearance of a good life, but if you have lived a life infused with bad thinking, your actions will reveal it.

Apricots blossoming in the Safe Haven Farm orchard, Haven, KS

Apricots blossoming in the Safe Haven Farm orchard, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Colossians 3:1.

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand.

Our busy, crazy, out-of-control lives make it really easy to focus our thoughts on everything that’s going wrong. Even our life circumstances seem to conspire to get us to think about the unfairness or the injustice we face daily. But as followers of Christ, what should we think about? That’s an important question to ask yourself.

The Bible is the ultimate how-to book. It has everything you need to live a life that’s pleasing to God and satisfying for you. It’s not an easy read. It’s painful most of the time, but if you really take it in and build your life on it, not only will you have peace with God, you’ll have peace with yourself.

One of the topics the Bible tackles frequently is our thought life. I love that phrase: thought life. We all have one. We have our life that we live where everyone can see us, and then we have our thought life that we live in silence, in shadow, in secret from everyone but God. Some people’s thoughts would shock you. What people think in the anonymity of their own minds would rock your world. And sometimes I forget that God can hear me, and honestly that’s embarrassing. It’s worse than cussing at a bad driver when I have a guest in my car.

When we choose to follow Christ, He gives us a new life, and part of that new life is having power to make choices like He does. As a follower of Christ, you can choose not to sin. You can know what sin is and choose not to do it. Part of that comes down to what you’re thinking about. You have power over your thoughts. Just because a random spark of an idea pops into your mind, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. That doesn’t mean it’s something you should spend a lot of time focusing on. Just because you thought it doesn’t make it true or real or good, and you can choose whether to keep thinking about it or discard it.

As Christ-followers, our thoughts should reflect Christ. What we focus on should be the things that last forever. We have new life; why should we nurse old thoughts?

So the next time a thought pops into your brain, examine it. Don’t just cling to it because it’s your thought. Don’t mull over it like it’s something precious inherently. Identify it. Compare it to Scripture. Is it something God would think about? Is it something you would be ashamed to tell Jesus you were thinking about (even though He already knows)? Is it helpful? Is it encouraging? Does it make you better for thinking it?

If it’s a thought that tears you down, get rid of it. If it’s a thought that belittles someone’s existence, get rid of it. If it’s a thought that demonstrates rebellion toward God or other authorities, get rid of it. If it’s a thought that in any way contradicts what God says is right in the Bible, don’t think it. You don’t have to. You have power over your thoughts, so exercise it and think about things that will help you.

It starts with your thinking. Letting your thoughts rot with hurtful, hateful, selfish things will make you a hurtful, hateful, selfish person, and no Christ follower should live like that. Set your sights–focus your thoughts–on the things that are real, the things that matter, the things that will last forever. Before you know it, your life will be focused on the things that are real, the things that matter, the things that will last forever.

Clock on the living room wall at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Giving your time to get more back

2014 is shaping up to be a busy year. Maybe I shouldn’t say that because it’s not even halfway through January yet, but the way certain aspects of life seem to be coming together tells me that I’m going to be running crazy this year. Yes, I know, I’m always running crazy. So believe me when I say 2014 may be “worse” than any other year before it.

So as I’ve been making my plans and prioritizing my goals for this year in the last week or so, I’ve been trying to find God’s wisdom in dealing with a schedule that I can’t possible tackle on my own. I’ve always lived by a schedule I couldn’t handle, but in the past I’ve allowed myself to be stressed out and stretched thin. And I don’t want to live like that anymore. But at the same time, I don’t want to turn away from opportunities that God has given me, especially when He has made it abundantly clear what I’m supposed to do.

My question to God: if I have limited time, focus, and energy, how can I get more? And this is the verse that keeps coming back to me.

Clock on the living room wall at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Clock on the living room wall at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Luke 6:38.

Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.

I know I’ve blogged on this verse before, probably many times before, and maybe even about this very topic. But I need a refresher this morning because I struggle with this. It doesn’t make sense to take the limited time, focus, and energy you have and give it all to God because you have things you have to do. There’s only so much you can do, isn’t there?

I’ve already mentioned I started watching Dr. Who. I got really sick just before Christmas and was down for about three weeks, and I discovered Dr. Who on Amazon Prime. So I just curled up with my Coke Zero and cans of soup and watched episode after episode until I got through all seven seasons. It’s brilliant. It really is. And there’s something just fun about it. Who wouldn’t want a sentient time-and-space machine? You can go anywhere, anytime, do anything, and you never run out of time. For someone with limited time, that’s appealing.

I have so many things I want to do. I have so many goals I want to accomplish. And while I do believe I’ll still be able to do those things when I get to heaven, I don’t want to wait. The dreams I have can be useful here, if I can only do them. But how do you accomplish everything you want to do when you work 40 to 50 hours a week? When you have a house you have to keep up? When you have responsibilities to your church that take up time? When you have responsibilities to friends and family?  Just surviving life as it is takes most of my time, energy, focus and doesn’t leave me anything left to chase my dreams.

So how do you get more? If this verse is true, God gives back what you give to Him. And I’ll be the first to tell you financially that’s true. I remember the days in college when I was living on ramen noodles and bean burritos, and I refused to stop tithing because I trusted God would provide. And He did. But what about time? What about energy? What about focus?

Well, what if I give my time, energy, and focus to God? Instead of taking those three things to do my own thing, what happens if I give them to Him? Do you think He’ll give them back to me in greater measure?

I trust God, and I believe His Word. So I’m okay testing Him on this one. And 2014 will tell if this works or not. I hope it does because I don’t have a time machine. My abilities are limited, even if my dreams aren’t. So it only makes sense to trust my time and resources to Him.

Scottish flag flying at the top of the walls of Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland

Distractions often disguise themselves as opportunities

Life is full of distractions. Have you noticed that? I’m easily distracted anyway, so when life is full of little things that destroy your focus, it’s incredibly difficult to accomplish anything of significance.

Some distractions look like great opportunities, and because we’re so desperate for those opportunities or because we want a break from “normal” life so badly, we jump at the chance to do something different. Some distractions look like actual danger, and because we don’t want to jeopardize what we’ve already accomplished we take the necessary steps to minimize the damage. The point is that most distractions don’t look like distractions, but every distraction has one thing in common: they will pull you away from what you’re supposed to be doing.

Scottish flag flying at the top of the walls of Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland

Scottish flag flying at the top of the walls of Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland

Today’s verse is Nehemiah 6:1-3.

Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies found out that I had finished rebuilding the wall and that no gaps remained—though we had not yet set up the doors in the gates. So Sanballat and Geshem sent a message asking me to meet them at one of the villages in the plain of Ono. But I realized they were plotting to harm me, so I replied by sending this message to them: “I am engaged in a great work, so I can’t come. Why should I stop working to come and meet with you?”

I really love the Book of Nehemiah. It’s so different from many other books in Bible, mainly because it’s written in first person (which is probably something only a writer would care about). But the story of Nehemiah in a nutshell is that God told Him to go rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, and God put him in a specific place in his life to be able to request the personnel and supplies he needed. But there were people who didn’t want to see the walls of Jerusalem rebuilt, so Nehemiah and his builders faced extreme opposition throughout the process. One group that seemed to be a perpetual thorn in Nehemiah’s side was this trio of troublemakers, Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem.

Today’s verse wasn’t the first time they had tried to get Nehemiah’s attention. If you just read these verses, though, you might be tempted to think that Nehemiah’s being rude, but I encourage you to read the whole book of Nehemiah. It’s not long, only 13 chapters. And you’ll see exactly what this guy went through in order to do what God had called him to do.

Each of us has an appointed task in our lives right now. Some tasks are “bigger” than others. Some tasks may not feel like tasks because you’re enjoying it so much. Others may feel like a constant test every day, challenging you with every breath to give up. But it’s most likely you know what that task is no matter what it is. For some, your task may be to go to work and do the best you can for your employer. For others, your task may be to take care of your family. And then there’s others whose task may be planting a church or ministering to the lost or encouraging others. Whatever the calling in your life, if you know it’s from God, you can be sure you will encounter distractions along the way.

We have an enemy who wants nothing more than to see us fail, and he will stop at nothing to halt us in our tracks. And if he can’t make us fall, he’ll load us down with too many things and keep us so distracted we’ll miss God’s instructions.

So how do you identify a distraction? That can be difficult. Distractions oftentimes look like something good. Obviously distractions will change from person to person, but they’ll have a few things in common. They’ll take you away from what you’re doing and push you to invest your focus somewhere else. They’ll wear you down with emotional garbage. They’ll fill up your calendar with things that don’t matter, that don’t help others, that waste time and money you don’t have to begin with. Distractions are selfish things; they take and take and take and give nothing in return.

And I’m not talking about taking a day of rest or even a week of rest. Don’t misunderstand. I’m the kind of person who will drive myself into the ground and won’t stop to rest because I’m afraid it will hinder my productivity–but the opposite is true. We weren’t created to run 24/7. We all need a break, a time to rest, a time to refocus, a time to just chill. And if you take a week to let yourself breathe and come out feeling refreshed, that isn’t wasted time. That’s not a distraction.

But if you take a week and fill it full of useless things that don’t benefit you or anyone else, a week that doesn’t improve your relationship with God, a week that turns into two weeks or three weeks or even a month–that’s a distraction.

Don’t be afraid to say no. I’m talking to myself here because I struggle with that word. Ask God. Take it up with Him and make sure what you’re turning down really is a distraction, but if it’s going to pull you away from things you’re supposed to be doing, you’re probably safe in assuming that it’s not what He wants you to do.

Avoid distraction. It’s not helpful, and it’s not healthy. God has designed you for a specific purpose, and letting the enemy guilt you into doing something you aren’t meant to do will only increase your stress level and make you ineffective. Saying no to something you weren’t supposed to do in the first place isn’t selfish; it’s wise.