Pretty yellow flower at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

God’s strength is enough

If you’ve been following this blog for any amount of time, you know that I hate waiting. I’m a doer, a performance-driven perfectionist, and I don’t like having to wait on anything, especially if it’s something I can do myself. But I’ve walked with God long enough to know that I can’t do everything, even though I often feel responsible for it anyway. And no matter how much I learn about following Christ, I still try to carry everyone else’s burdens on my own shoulders. If you’re that kind of person too, you know how exhausting it is, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. We weren’t made to carry such heavy loads, but we try anyway.

Pretty yellow flower at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Pretty yellow flower at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verse is Isaiah 33:2.

But Lord, be merciful to us,
    for we have waited for you.
Be our strong arm each day
    and our salvation in times of trouble.

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m tired. I’m already worn out, and the craziness that is the fall season hasn’t even started yet. Life is only going to get busier as the year spirals rapidly toward its conclusion, and as wild as the first three quarters of the year have been, I’m just moving forward with the assumption that the last quarter will be wilder. It usually is.

The ironic part is that most of the things that are wearing me down are things I have no control over. Why is that? Why is it that the things that sap the most of our strength are the things we can’t change or the things we can’t fix?

This post isn’t deep or revolutionary this morning. It’s probably not even going to be very long. I’m too tired for that. But I ran across this verse this morning, and I remembered something I already knew: God’s strength is enough.

How obvious is that? Why do we always forget the obvious things? I forget the obvious and stress over the the problems I can’t fix. That’s my human experience in a nutshell. But that’s not the way a Christ-follower is supposed to live. It’s not weakness to rely on God’s strength and His help; it’s what He expects.

We were never meant to struggle through life on our own, carrying our own burdens, carrying other people’s burdens, weary and worn out. We’re supposed to give our burdens to Him. God is meant to be our strength and our salvation when we hit those hard moments in life, when we cross those low valleys where it’s too dark to see and we’re too tired to walk any further. We’re not a disappointment when we lean on His strength; that’s what He wants. That’s what He’s there for. And His strength is greater than ours is any day.

So when you encounter those moments, don’t be afraid to draw on God’s strength. Ideally, if you can lean on God’s strength before your own wears out, you might get through the low points in life without being so exhausted. That’s my problem. I exhaust myself utterly before I start letting God take care of things, but I don’t think that’s the way we’re supposed to live. God is walking with us. He’s in our lives every moment, and He’s there waiting for us to let go of our pride and ask for His help.

We don’t need to be weary. We don’t need to reach the breaking point before we ask for Him to help us. Fortunately, He restores the weary and gives new strength to the weak. I’m counting on that as I forge ahead into the highs and lows that are coming. But I’m praying that I remember this time that I don’t need to hit the bottom before I ask for His help. I can walk into trouble with His strength instead of my own, and His strength doesn’t run out.

Little yellow bug on a big yellow sunflower at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

No wonder my heart is glad

We have a lot to be thankful for. We have so many good things. Even on our worst day, even when we are experiencing stress, even when we are overwhelmed with all the tasks we have to accomplish or our responsibilities, we still have more than enough good in our lives that we should be thankful.

So why are we grumpy? Why are we focused on the negative? Well, it’s human nature. But if you follow Christ, you aren’t subject to your human nature. You have two natures now, and you also have a choice which one to listen to.

I love the Psalms of David because so many times they speak to me in a way regular Scripture doesn’t. Whether it’s because they are mainly about praise or maybe because David was a fellow artist, I don’t know. But the Psalms incorporate statements that rock my world.

Little yellow bug on a big yellow sunflower at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Little yellow bug on a big yellow sunflower at Safe Haven Farm – Haven, KS

Today’s passage is Psalm 16.

Keep me safe, O God,
for I have come to you for refuge.

I said to the Lord, “You are my Master!
Every good thing I have comes from you.”
The godly people in the land
are my true heroes!
I take pleasure in them!
Troubles multiply for those who chase after other gods.
I will not take part in their sacrifices of blood
or even speak the names of their gods.

Lord, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing.
You guard all that is mine.
The land you have given me is a pleasant land.
What a wonderful inheritance!

I will bless the Lord who guides me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
I know the Lord is always with me.
I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.

No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice.
My body rests in safety.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead
or allow your holy one to rot in the grave.
You will show me the way of life,
granting me the joy of your presence
and the pleasures of living with you forever.

So much of our attitude comes from our perspective. If you focus on the negative in every situation, you’re going to have a negative attitude. Granted, if you only focus on the positive, you’re going to annoy the crap out of anyone you talk to and you won’t be realistic or relevant to anyone. Why? Because we don’t live in a positive world. And being falsely happy and cheerful all the time isn’t helpful or encouraging. We can’t ignore the negative elements in our world, but we don’t have to focus on them.

David had issues. He had troubles in his life. Where do we even start with the troubles in David’s life? Even this Psalm starts out with him asking God for protection, asking God to be his refuge. But then it quickly moves into praise. David talks about his relationship with God, who God is to Him, what God has done for him.

And that’s what we need to do too.

Recognize that God is our refuge. He is. He’s our shield and the One who protects us, and as the days grow darker that protection will be very much needed.

But He’s more than just our refuge. God is our joy. Every good thing we have comes from Him. He is our future and our heritage all at the same time. And the good things He has given us now pale in comparison to what’s coming. And as we wait for that day, He won’t leave us. Ever.

No wonder David’s heart was glad. And our hearts should feel the same way. If they don’t, stop focusing on what you don’t have or what you don’t like or what has made you unhappy and focus on the God who is both your protection and your light. Think about what He’s done, think about what He’s doing (because He’s never still), and even if the day is dark and your life is full of struggle, you’ll be okay because as long as we can see Him, we can remember what we’re living for.

Tree growing between two mountains - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Choosing to act in spite of fear

Our world is full of fear. It seems like almost everyone is driven by it, whether they realize it or not. It’s so easy to give in to fear because it’s so sneaky all the time. It can just creep up on you in any circumstance, and before you know it, you’re making decisions based on it. But Christians aren’t supposed to make decisions based in fear.

Tree growing between two mountains - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Tree growing between two mountains – Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are Psalm 46:1-2.

God is our refuge and strength,
    always ready to help in times of trouble.
So we will not fear when earthquakes come
    and the mountains crumble into the sea.

The Psalms are full of instances where David talks about fear and being afraid and having courage, but Psalm 46 is one of those Psalms that stands out. If you have an opportunity to read it, you should.

What I love about this passage is that it identifies that God is our refuge and our source of strength. Not our abilities or our talents or our family members. Not our jobs. Not our homes. Not anything in the world. Not even our financial stability. God is our refuge. God is our strength.

That alone blows my mind. Because God made everything. He made the universe. He made the world. He made me. He knows how everything fits. He knows how everything works. He knows — well — everything. And not only does He provide a safe place for us to go when we’re afraid, this verse says He’s always ready to help.

I’ll be honest. I love people, but I’m not always ready to help them. I want to be. But I’m human enough to sometimes care more about my own comfort than someone else’s. I’m working on that. But God isn’t like that at all. He’s always ready to help.

But what I love about this verse the most is that it says “we will not fear.” Not “we do not fear” or “we can not fear” and not even that “we should not fear” but that “we will not fear.”

Maybe I’m a language nerd. Well, I am a language nerd. But that one little helping verb makes a huge difference in how we’re supposed to handle fear.

Fear is not something we should be ashamed of. Let’s be real with each other here. Everyone struggles with fear. It’s a universal problem. If it weren’t a problem for everyone, the Bible wouldn’t talk about it all the time. So if you’ve been afraid or if you are afraid or if you expect that you will be afraid again sometime in the future, don’t be ashamed of it. Don’t hide it. Don’t ignore it. It’s normal.

And I guarantee, if the earth starts quaking or if the mountains start crumbling into the sea, you’ll be afraid. You’re going to feel some fear. I would. But the beauty of the statement “we will not fear” indicates choice.

You can choose to be afraid. And likewise, you can choose to give that fear to God and let Him handle it.

Fear isn’t always voluntary. It comes on me unexpectedly at times. It surprises me more often than not because I don’t consider myself a timorous sort of person. But I do struggle with fear when it comes to trusting other people. And I’m learning that when I feel afraid I can actually choose what I do: to act on the fear or to act in spite of the fear. And the only way I can act in spite of fear is to give that fear to God and trust that He can take care of the details.

Giving something like fear to God is difficult because once you’ve given it to Him you have no more excuses not to act. You can give prayer requests to God all day long. That’s easy because in many cases those are circumstances where you can’t do anything. You can’t fix it, so just give it to God. Easy peasy. You can trust the future to God all day long. That’s easy too because we can’t see the future, and it’s not that difficult to turn over something you don’t understand to Someone who does. But fear?

Fear is my control mechanism. Fear tells me when to stop pushing. Fear tells me when I’ve gone too far. Fear tells me what other people think of me. And if I give that up, how will I have any control over my life?

But am I supposed to have control over my life? Is my life even my own?

No. It’s not. My life belongs to God.

So I can choose to live by fear and let it dictate my actions and my choices and my thoughts about people and my thoughts about myself. But if I do that, I’ll never live up to my potential. I’ll never get to do the things that God has for me to do. And if I don’t get to do the things that God has for me to do, why has He put me here? Why am I here if not to live for Christ?

Fear is a choice. God offers us the strength to face fear by relying on Him for the courage to act even when we feel like nothing is going to work. So the next time you encounter fear — the next time you feel afraid — stop. Recognize that you are afraid. Identify what’s scaring you. And make your decision: to either act on that fear or to give it to God and act in spite of it.

He won’t let you down.

Lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Fear doesn’t always roar

Fear is our default. Do you ever think about that? People don’t have to learn how to be afraid. Granted, I think some of it can be taught, and others learn it better in some instances. But generally speaking, we are all born with fear inside us. It’s part of being human, and it’s diametrically opposed to the kind of life God wants us to live.

But fear doesn’t always roar. Most of the time it’s a lot quieter, like a whisper that you can’t stop listening to no matter how much you try.

I struggle with fear. Most people don’t believe me when I tell them that because I come off as a very strong, independent person. And I am. But just because someone is strong and independent doesn’t make them brave. Sometimes it just means they’re compensating.

Fear is a sneaky little problem that can creep into every area of our lives without us even knowing it’s there. For instance, I’m not afraid to die. I’m not afraid to be uncomfortable. I’m not afraid to be rejected or abandoned or emotionally hurt. And maybe it’s because I’ve experienced all those things and have seen how God has worked through them in my life, so I know without a doubt that He can use them.

But I am afraid of success. I am afraid that people will expect more from me than I am capable of giving. I am afraid that I won’t live up to my potential. I am afraid that I will disappoint the people I care about and the people who look up to me as some kind of leader.

Maybe it’s a quiet fear, but it’s still fear. And any kind of fear — when it’s fear of the world or fear of our circumstances — cripples us.  It prevents us from living the kind of life God has planned for us. It keeps us from doing the things He’s designed us to do.

God wants to use us. He’s got awesome plans for us, and He wants to work in our lives in miraculous ways. But if we give in to our fear, we aren’t going to seize the opportunities He sends our way. And if we aren’t willing to walk through the doors He opens for us, He can only take us so far.

More than anything, God wants to bless us. But we have to let Him. And we can’t let fear be our guiding light because if we do, we’ll end up wandering around in the dark.

But it’s one thing to tell yourself not to be afraid. It’s something else to actually achieve it. And there are so many ways to combat fear, but what works for me is reading the Psalms. I’ve really been trying to deal with some of my fear issues for a few months, and whenever I think about not being afraid Psalm 46 always comes to mind.

If you ever struggle with fear, tuck this one away somewhere where you can find it when you need it.

Lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo – Wichita, KS

Psalm 46

God is our refuge and strength,
always ready to help in times of trouble.
So we will not fear when earthquakes come
and the mountains crumble into the sea.
Let the oceans roar and foam.
Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!

A river brings joy to the city of our God,
the sacred home of the Most High.
God dwells in that city; it cannot be destroyed.
From the very break of day, God will protect it.

The nations are in chaos,
and their kingdoms crumble!
God’s voice thunders,
and the earth melts!

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;
the God of Israel is our fortress.

Come, see the glorious works of the Lord:
See how he brings destruction upon the world.
He causes wars to end throughout the earth.
He breaks the bow and snaps the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.

Be still, and know that I am God!
I will be honored by every nation.
I will be honored throughout the world.”

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us;
the God of Israel is our fortress.

Red rocks at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Trusting God enough to accept His help

Do you ever get to that point in life where you just feel stuck? You’ve waited and waited for God to give you permission to move on to something else, and He isn’t saying anything. Or you feel trapped on a ledge that’s too steep to climb down and too treacherous to climb up?

Red rocks at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Red rocks at Glen Eyrie – Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Isaiah 33:2.

But Lord, be merciful to us,
    for we have waited for you.
Be our strong arm each day
    and our salvation in times of trouble.

I don’t do much mountain climbing. I have asthma, and I’m generally uncoordinated. Combine both of those qualities, and hiking up a mountain trail is probably not a wise place for me to be. But while I and my friends were at Glen Eyrie over Memorial Day, I had planned to do a little mountain hike. Nothing big or scary. Just enough to get some more photos and see some beautiful things.

Well, that morning I started feeling pretty bad, so I bowed out. I was really disappointed, but I made the most of it and got some writing done. And my friends (who are more athletic than I am) were able to go on a little bit more challenging mountain hike. I wouldn’t have gone had I been with them … because I would have died. End of story.

They came back with some pretty amazing stories, though, including some fairly spectacular feats of agility. But there was one part of their climb where they were missing some much-needed upper body strength. My best friend told me later that the last time they’d gone on the hike, they’d had their brother with them, who was able to haul them up over cliff ledges and such when they weren’t strong enough. But on this climb, it was just the three girls.

Fortunately, there was a guy at the place where they needed help, and he pulled them up when they weren’t strong enough to climb up on their own.

When the Bible talks about God being our strong arm, that’s what I think about. He’s the man waiting on the mountain ledge, holding out a hand to help us climb over an obstacle that’s too much for us. The only trouble is, we have to trust Him enough to take His hand when He offers it.

I met this Good Samaritan mountain climbing gentleman before we left Glen Eyrie, and he looked pretty slight. Not that any of my friends are big, it’s just I would have doubted that he had the strength to hoist them up over a mountain ledge.

I think we do that to God sometimes. He’s right there, offering His help, and we hesitate because we don’t trust that He can support our weight. We don’t trust that He’ll catch us if we fall. We don’t trust that He’s stronger than He seems. So we stay on the cliff, frightened and discouraged because we can’t make any forward progress. And we ask God why He put us in such a helpless position. When the whole time, He’s standing right in front of us, trying to help us.

I am constantly trying to find the balance between waiting for God to work and taking the initiative to move ahead. Sometimes we’re supposed to wait. Sometimes we need to stay put and let God do what only He can do. But other times, we need to start climbing and stop waiting. But the one thing we should never do is move forward without holding on to Him.

So if you’re stuck on a proverbial mountain cliff this morning, even though it’s difficult, try not to feel sorry for yourself and start looking for God. Because I guarantee that He’s close at hand offering a way to climb higher. You just have to trust Him enough to take His hand.

And if you’re focused on Him completely and He’s not offering help yet, wait. That just means you have a few more moments to enjoy the view.