Sunrise over the Gulf of Mexico on Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Singing in the dark

American Christians are fortunate. It seems like every day we lose a little more freedom, but at least for now, we still have the right to public worship. Of course, that doesn’t mean we won’t be picked on, but American Christians have no idea what persecution looks like. We think we do because a kid gets suspended because of a Christian t-shirt or you can’t have a Nativity Scene on your office desk at Christmastime, but little things like that can’t compare to what other Christ followers have to live with on a daily basis around the world.

When the times get difficult and things don’t go the way I want them to, it’s difficult to hold on to joy. It’s difficult to be cheerful when everything is wrong, but it’s not impossible. We just have to remember where that joy is supposed to come from. According to Galatians 5:22-23, joy comes from God. “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!”

If you’re living a life filled with the Spirit, joy will be evident in every aspect of who you are, whether you are an American Christian who suffers in the court of popular opinion or if you’re a Christian around the world who faces real physical danger for your faith.

Sunrise over the Gulf of Mexico on Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Sunrise over the Gulf of Mexico on Jamaica Beach, Galveston, TX

Today’s verses are Acts 16:22-26.

A mob quickly formed against Paul and Silas, and the city officials ordered them stripped and beaten with wooden rods. They were severely beaten, and then they were thrown into prison. The jailer was ordered to make sure they didn’t escape. So the jailer put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet in the stocks.

Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening. Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off!

If I had just been beaten publicly and thrown in prison, I can’t tell you that I would be singing about it. I would like to think I’m that good of a Christian, but I don’t think I am.

This story has always thrilled me since I was a child. I can just imagine it from the perspective of the other prisoners. And remember this wasn’t a nice prison. Prisoners didn’t have rights at all at this time, and they weren’t treated well. The prisons were horrible dark filthy places, and that’s where Paul and Silas were taken after they were beaten.

You’ve probably heard of Paul. He’s the one who wrote the majority of the New Testament, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Silas was his mission’s partner. Paul went on many missionary journeys, and on this journey Silas went with him. And they were thrown into prison because they healed a woman who was possessed by a demon. They hadn’t done anything wrong, but the woman had been a fortune teller. And without the demon, she couldn’t make her masters money anymore, so they took Paul and Silas and dragged them before the town authorities. That’s where they were beaten and then thrown in prison.

Nothing like that has ever happened to me. But I have been in situations where my life hasn’t gone the way I wanted. I’ve been in situations where I had to make hard decisions. And I’ve been in that place where making the right choice has made others very angry with me. I’ve been the one people spread rumors about. I’ve been the one people tell lies about. I’ve been the one who becomes the brunt of someone else’s frustrations. And I never did anything to deserve it.

And when you get to that place in life, you have two choices. You can focus on the bad stuff that’s happening or you can focus on the good that God is going to bring out of it. Yes, that can be difficult to focus on the good because we don’t know what it is, but that doesn’t mean good won’t come.

I’m sure Paul and Silas had no idea that God was going to release them from prison. That was a miracle that had never happened before–or since at least that I know about. I mean it’s one thing for a prison to experience an earthquake that shakes the prison doors open, but I’m not sure how an earthquake can open chains and stocks too.

Beaten and humiliated and imprisoned, Paul and Silas worshipped God. They kept their perspective where it needed to be, and in their darkest moment they still had joy. And that’s where I want to be. I want to be that kind of person who responds to trouble with a smile. I want to be that person who isn’t shaken when people let me down or when life turns on its head. I want to be the kind of person who keeps moving forward cheerfully because I know that no matter what my life looks like right now, God is going to do something.

So let’s keep our heads on straight. And let’s remember that even if we’re going through a rough patch right now that God is still in control and He still knows what He’s doing and what He’s doing is good. We have the Holy Spirit, so God has given us joy. We just have to access it and making a choice to see the good in bad circumstances is the first step.

Advertisements
Sunflower at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

We can be content where we are

If you have spent any time at all reading this blog, you’ll know that I’m both a control freak and a perfectionist, and while those characteristics have positive sides to them, they can also be quite negative when it comes to everyday living. While striving to understand a situation is good, trying to control every aspect will drive you nuts, and the same is true of perfectionism. It’s good to do your best, but no matter how hard you try, you can’t be perfect. And if you try to do so, you’ll nitpick and pigeonhole yourself into a dark hole of depression.

It’s good to control the things you can control, and it’s good to do your best; but we can’t go to extremes with either of them because we simple human beings can’t handle either of them. They’re too much for us. But that doesn’t stop us from trying.

I’m so thankful that God doesn’t require us to be perfect. He knows we can’t be, and He understands that. Of course, that doesn’t mean we can just let down and live however we want. That’s not the point. Understand where I’m coming from. As a perfectionist, there’s a part of me that is convinced that my best is never good enough, and that I can’t just take God at His Word that He loves me no matter what. I have to perform, and I can’t ever be content with where I am in life. I always have to strive for the next level.

But is that really how a Christian is supposed to live?

Sunflower at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunflower at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 4:10-12.

How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.

This is one of my favorite verses in the Bible, and always before I’ve focused on the fact that Paul is talking about being content with little or much. I’ve been in those situations. I’ve been in situations where I had everything I could ever need and even everything that I wanted, whether I needed it or not. But I’ve also been in the position where I had so little I wasn’t 100% sure where my next meal was coming from. And I’ve spent enough time out on the mission’s field to know what it’s like to have to give up the modern comforts and conveniences American’s really cherish. I know what that’s like too.

But these verses hit me differently this morning, because whether or not I have everything I need and everything I want or just enough to scrape by doesn’t really affect my level of contentment. My contentment really has never been based on my material wealth. I’ve always been thankful for what I have.

What struck me this morning was the plain and simple fact that Paul says he has learned to be content.

Paul learned to be content. He was content. Wherever he was, whatever he had, he was content. He wasn’t constantly putting himself down as a failure. He wasn’t always seeking the mistakes he made in order to fix them. He wasn’t always striving to reach the next level of performance.

He was content where he was.

Does that mean we really can be content? Does that mean we can accept where we are in life and not worry about being the best at everything all the time? If you’re a perfectionist like I am, that sounds almost blasphemous, doesn’t it? How dare anyone suggest that we don’t have to do our very best! It’s all for God, isn’t it?

Well, is it?

I run myself into the ground. Daily. Sometimes hourly. All in pursuit of perfection, but I’m not quite sure it’s always for God. I honestly think a lot of it is for me. I’ve admitted on here multiple times that I struggle with pride too. And it’s not too far a leap for perfectionism to turn to pride.

Don’t misunderstand. There’s a vast chasm between contentment and complacency, and I really think the width of that chasm depends on your heart. I think it depends on you and what you’re physically capable of. If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll know if you’re being complacent. You’ll know if you’re just accepting the things that come at you and passing them off without really considering what they might be about. You’ll know if you’re treating opportunities to make a difference for God like they don’t matter.

But you’ll also know if you’re killing yourself to achieve the impossible.

So the next time you start stressing out because something isn’t perfect or because you don’t have control over every detail, check your heart. Check your motivation. Do you want to be perfect for the glory of God? Or for yourself? And don’t beat yourself up because you can’t get there. It doesn’t do you any good, and if God would never think those things about you, what makes it okay for you to think them?

Yes, do your best. Yes, invest yourself, your time, your heart, your hope. Yes, strive for the top. But remember your place. And remember your purpose. We’re not here to be perfect. We’re here to praise God. And it’s difficult to praise God when you’ve beaten your own head into the ground.

Mulberry tree and yard light on a foggy morning at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Truly valuable

What do you value? I think many times we place value on things that don’t matter, and as a result we are often unhappy. Because what you place value on is what you will seek, and if you value something that won’t last or something that doesn’t satisfy, then of course you’ll be unhappy.

There are many different kinds of things we can value, that even people who don’t follow Christ would see as worthy, but what is it that should matter to us the most? As Christ followers, what are we supposed to value above all else?

Mulberry tree and yard light on a foggy morning at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Mulberry tree and yard light on a foggy morning at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 3:7-11.

I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!

What Paul is talking about at the beginning of this passage is his heritage, basically. Paul was everything the religious experts of the time could have ever wanted to be. A pharisee’s pharisee, I guess you could say. He was the best. He was the smartest. He was at the top of the food chain. He had it made. At least, he did until Jesus thumped him off his horse and had a one-on-one chat with him on the road to Damascus one evening. Then, everything changed.

All those things that Paul had placed value on before evaporated because he had learned what really mattered. All those past accomplishments did were to make him proud of what he had achieved, of what his family had achieved, of what his social and political status provided him with. Those things didn’t matter.

He was proud of keeping the law. He was proud of living according to the law. He was proud of doing everything according to the law. So he considered that he was a better person than everyone else around him because he knew and kept and did the law. But how empty was that life?

How empty is a life of being better than everyone else? I mean, it sounds good, but even if you’re better than everyone else, you’re still not perfect. You’re just isolated because your attitude has made you that way.

So many times, we value what the world says is important. Or we value what religion tells us is important. But do those things truly matter? Or are there merely complications for a life that was designed to be simple from the beginning? How complicated is it to know the law? How complicated is it to depend on your own knowledge and your own work and your own righteousness to be made right with God?

It’s beyond complicated. It’s impossible. because none of us are perfect, and that’s what’s required.

What makes us right with God is faith. It’s nothing we do. It’s nothing we wear. It’s nothing we achieve. Just believing that Christ paid the price for us. And though it’s not easy, it is simple. And whether we will admit it or not, there is joy in simple things.

So what do you value today? Are they temporary things that add further complication to your life? Or are they simple things that we allow to add further complication to our lives? Life is complicated, don’t get me wrong, but the things that matter are simple. So don’t get bogged down by the complications of life. Don’t let the things that don’t matter and don’t add value to your life weigh you down.

Don’t let the heaviness of your own righteousness convince you that it’s worth something. It’s not. Not in comparison to what Christ did for us.

Christ is all we need. The rest will fall into place. And even though it’s a choice that can be difficult to make a times, faith is truly simple. And in a world that grows more and more complex and complicated by the moment, a little simplicity is a nice change of pace.

Moon over Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Joy

Life is complicated. And I don’t know about you, but for me, I get really involved in the complexities of life really quickly. I don’t know if it’s because my brain is wired strangely or if it’s because I just attract complex problems or what. But usually issues that start out simple never stay that way, and before I know it I can end up neck deep in major issues that are too intricate and convoluted for me to take care of by myself.

And when that happens (and it happens frequently), I tend to get gloomy. I don’t like asking for help. And then I turn around and read a verse like today’s verse.

Moon over Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Moon over Safe Haven Farm – Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 146:5.

But joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their helper,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God.

According to this, people who ask God for help are joyful. Wow! Because “asking for help” and “being joyful” rarely belong in the same sentence as far as I’m concerned. Those two concepts just don’t go together.

The entirety of Psalm 146 is pretty straightforward. It includes a lot of simple concepts about who you should put your confidence in. Like people, don’t put your confidence in Men because Men eventually die and their plans die with them.

But trust in God. Because He doesn’t die, because He made everything, because He is faithful, because He is just and true and right, because He is merciful and loving and compassionate, because He is our refuge. And because all of those things are true, asking God for help is a joyful experience.

Simple, right?

Why is asking for help usually thought of in a negative context? Maybe this isn’t the case for anyone else, but when I think of asking for help, I think of how the person I’m asking will react. Will they think I’m nagging? Will they think I’m bothering them? Will they wonder why I don’t just try to do it myself? Will they think I’m weak? Will I be putting a strain on them financially, emotionally, physically? All of those things go through my mind, and it’s just so much easier and so much simpler to not ask. It’s so much easier to go it alone than to ask for help and have to deal with the blow back of admitting that I can’t do it by myself.

But when you ask God for help, He doesn’t think any of those things. He doesn’t have any limitations. And He recognizes that we are weak and that we do need help, and He doesn’t wonder why we’re asking. He doesn’t think that we should try to do things by ourselves. He wants to help us. It brings Him joy to help us.

My best friend just started a new blog about being thankful and about the things in her life that bring her joy. It makes me smile because many of them are the same things that bring me joy too, but what is really interesting is that none of them are very complicated. They are all simple things.

I think life gets complicated because I make it complicated. I don’t intend to do that. I think it just happens because my brain is a complicated place to live. But if you really think about it, life is simple. At least, it should be. Asking for help should be simple too. And when you ask God for help, it is. Because He’s the one person who you can never confuse, even with all your intricate complexities. He always has an answer, and He always has a plan, and He always knows exactly what needs to happen.

And you know what? That’s reason to have joy.