Don’t let your insecurity dictate your direction

I struggle with insecurity. A lot of people don’t believe me when I tell them that, but it’s true. I’m a recovering people pleaser, after all. Insecurity is part of the gig. It’s taken me a long time and a lot of emotional trauma, but I’ve finally come to understand that insecurity is something everyone struggles with. We’re all insecure about something. It’s just not the same from person to person, and we all react to our insecurity in different ways.

Some people lash out. Others tear people down. Some hide. Some run. Some fight. But at the root of it all is this cold pit of fear in your stomach that won’t go away no matter how many times you tell yourself that you know what you’re doing. Living with insecurity is miserable because it makes you miserable. It colors the way you see yourself and others, and it endangers your relationships.

So what beats insecurity? Confidence and peace. But those aren’t things you can pour out of a bottle or find stashed in a treasure chest. I don’t know about you, but a load of confidence and peace sounds like something I could use right now. So where do you get them?

WJDK7M84F9Today’s verse is Romans 15:13.

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Bible calls God the source of hope. I think it’s important we remember that. Too often we put our hope in things that can’t really satisfy us or solutions that treat the symptoms of a problem instead of its cause.

If you’re struggling with insecurity today, the first thing to realize is that you can’t find security anywhere other than in Jesus Christ. If you look to other people or titles or wealth or status to give you the security you crave, you’re going to be disappointed. People will always let you down, and all the success in this world won’t amount to much when you die. You can’t take it with you. So instead of letting your wealth or your family name or your reputation define you, start looking at yourself the way Jesus does.

Another way to find confidence is to ask God for it. That’s something we can ask for. Confidence and peace aren’t mystical, ethereal constructs that can’t be understood. No. If you need confidence and peace, ask God to give it to you. But realize where it comes from. Confidence and peace come because you trust God.

That’s the tough part. You’ve got to trust God.

Trust that He’s in control. Trust that He hasn’t made a mistake. Trust that He’ll tell you when you need to turn. Trust that you’re where you are now because you’re following Him. Trust that He won’t leave you alone and that He won’t abandon you.

For me, my insecurity comes when I stop trusting God. When I take matters into my own hands and try to accomplish things in my own strength, that’s when I start getting nervous and unpleasant. That’s when I get snappy and grouchy, because I’m relying on myself, and Myself isn’t strong enough.

Maybe no one understands you. Maybe it’s just you and God on the road right now, and you’re starting to wonder if the compass God gave you is actually working. Let’s get something straight. God doesn’t change, and I’m not aware of any time in Scripture where God set someone off on a path and then changed His mind about where they were going or what they were doing. God sees things through. He finishes what He starts, and He’s not done with any of us yet.

So trust Him. He’s worthy of it. Don’t listen to the naysayers. Shut out the negative voices. Granted, don’t be a jerk about it. And always be humble enough to hear correction, because you aren’t perfect. But don’t ever put someone else’s thoughts, feelings, or opinions higher than God’s.

Don’t let your insecurities dictate the direction you’re going. That’s God’s job. So learn to recognize His voice apart from the voices of insecurity and the lies of the enemy. Then, once you know what God wants, trust it. Trust Him. And shut out the insecurity using the peace and confidence you gain from knowing who God is and that nothing can ever separate you from His love.

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How can you expect God to answer when He might not?

I remember the very first time I submitted something to be published. I think it was 1991, so I would have been 8 or 9. I was so excited to send off this awesome poem I’d written, and I thought for sure it would be published. Yikes. I don’t even remember what I wrote, but nothing I slapped together in elementary school was ready to be published. I never heard back from the publication.

But that didn’t stop me. I kept trying. Over and over and over again. And every time, I thought it might be the last time I’d receive a rejection letter. (If any of you are writers, you know what a silly thought that was!) As I got older, I kept writing, kept submitting, but now I was praying. I believed God had gifted me as a writer, and I wanted to use my skills for Him. So I’d write and submit and pray, pray, pray. And guess what?

No. Nothing was ever accepted. Sometimes that was hard to swallow, because I believed I was doing what God had called me to do. So why wasn’t He giving me success? He tells us to expect an answer to our prayers, but it’s still up to Him whether or not He answers. So how are you supposed to balance expecting God to answer your prayer when you know He might not?

AW41W55XCBToday’s verses are John 16:31-33.

Jesus asked, “Do you finally believe? But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

This is Jesus, talking to the disciples. If you have a moment and are able to read all of John 16, you should. Jesus is telling them about all the tough stuff that they’re going to face in the coming days and weeks and months. The disciples, dimwitted as they are, aren’t really tracking until the end, and then Jesus tacks this bit on at the very last.

Look at it again. Jesus is basically saying that He’s going to be abandoned, and all His followers are going to be scattered to the four winds. And He’s sharing this tidbit (and all the heavy stuff that came before it) because He wanted His followers to have peace.

Really? What sense does that make? You’re going to be scattered and alone, and now you know, so you can be filled with peace. Does that make sense to anyone?

The Bible is full of examples where people have prayed to God, and He’s answered their prayers with an affirmative. There are plenty of examples too where people prayed, and God said no. And what we need to wrap our brains around is the fact that whether God says yes or no, He still answers. And His answers are better than ours, even if they make us unhappy at the time.

From my earliest memory, I wanted to be published. I wanted to have a book on the shelf. I wanted people to read my stories. I didn’t know how to get there, but I knew that’s what I wanted. So I tried everything I could think of, and I prayed long and hard for God to make a way for this dream to come true. And it has. It just hasn’t come true the way I expected it to.

God will always answer your prayer. It just may not be the answer you want, and you have to learn to be okay with that. The disciples faced it too. They wanted Jesus to do certain things, say certain things, go certain places, and He refused. Jesus wouldn’t let anyone put Him in a box.

Sometimes the answer isn’t what you want, but it’s always what you need. You won’t find peace accidentally. It’s something you have to ask for specifically. And your peace has to be founded in Jesus, because He’s the only one who can take the bad news and turn it into something good. Being scattered, being abandoned, being alone–they’re all bad and scary, but because Jesus is who He is, He can turn them into something beautiful.

Expect an answer. You will get it. So ask God for what you need. And believe that He will answer your prayer. It may be yes. It may be no. It may be wait. But whatever answer you get is the answer you need. You can trust Him, and because you can trust Him, you can have peace.

If God gave you shoes, why don’t you wear them?

To say the last two weeks haven’t exactly gone according to plan would be an understatement of massive proportions. I didn’t plan to need four new tires on my car the day after I left my job. I didn’t plan to get sick. I didn’t plan to have my car battery die the morning we were leaving for Colorado. And I didn’t plan to still be sick after a week of trying to hack up my lungs.

Funny how the little bumps in the road can be really discouraging, isn’t it? In other circumstances, they might just be inconveniences, but when they start piling up, they tend to drag you down.

745989_48427234Today’s verse is Ephesians 6:15.

For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.

I love the passage in Ephesians that talks about the Armor of God. Always have. But even I tend to focus on the other parts of the Armor of God that are mentioned in the passage. The helmet. The shield. The sword. The breastplate.  But–the shoes?

Come on. Who focuses on the shoes? Who even thinks about shoes? I mean, I’ve been told that you can tell a lot about someone by what shoes they wear, but this isn’t talking about fashion. This is armor for battle. And out of all the pieces of armor that someone would wear, why are shoes important?

Shoes protect your feet. Without your feet, you can’t walk. Yeah, you need to protect your head and your chest and your arms, but that’s from the big attacks. You don’t see major attacks aimed at your feet. No. Your feet run into small things. Pebbles. Sticks. Sharp rocks. Sand burrs and goat head stickers. They’re not enough to bring you down, but they are annoying. Especially when they come one after another.

That’s why you wear shoes. See, my default is barefoot. I hate shoes. But I can tell you stories about stepping on things that hurt. Shoes matter. So apply that concept to shoes in God’s Armor.

The struggles we face in our life aren’t physical. Maybe they feel like it, but there’s something bigger at the heart of every difficulty we face. No, that doesn’t mean to see Satan in every paper cut, but it does mean there are little irritations and annoyances that will come at you for no reason other than to distract you. Satan doesn’t just throw fiery darts. He litters your path with pebbles and rocks, and if you aren’t outfitted for them, they’re going to slow you down.

So what do the shoes of God’s Armor look like? Peace. That’s what the verse says. Peace that comes from the Good News. That’s the Bible. There is no greater peace in the world than peace with God, and God Himself made it possible for us to find it through Jesus’ sacrifice.

When we read the Bible and apply it to our lives, when we understand who God is and what He’s done for us, and when we allow Him to transform our minds and our perspectives and our thoughts, we see the world differently. We see our troubles differently.

When we run into those frustrations and little annoyances of life, don’t get angry. Don’t despair. Remember you’re wearing God’s peace. He knows what He’s doing with your life. He knows where you’re going and how you’re going to get there.

Maybe you’ll step on a pebble every now and then. Maybe you’ll stub your toe. God gave you the shoes you need, and it’s your job to just keep walking.

Chair on the lawn - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Are you leaving God’s gifts unopened?

Have you ever left money on the table? I don’t mean literally. Sure it’s possible to walk out of your house and leave a wad of cash sitting on the kitchen table (yes, I’ve done it). But what about figuratively?

I didn’t understand that was even possible until I discovered a little something grown-ups like to call a 401K. I’m very fortunate to have a job that provides a 401K for me, along with matching contributions at a really competitive rate. The first time I heard someone talking about “leaving money on the table” was in discussion on how much of a percentage to automatically contribute from a bi-weekly paycheck to my 401K. Because my company matches a certain percentage, the 401K people encourage us to put as much into the account as possible… otherwise we won’t be getting the most advantage out of the amount the company is willing to contribute. You’re leaving money on the table.

It’s the same when you don’t haggle over the price of something. Like in a Mexican market some place. Normally folks will charge you way more than what the item is actually worth, expecting you to haggle the price down. If you don’t, you’re leaving money on the table because you’re giving away money that the seller might have been willing to live without.

It’s not a smart thing to do. But I’m pretty sure it happens fairly often.

So what about leaving a gift unopened? Have you ever done that? Has someone ever given you a gift that you didn’t open? Imagine Christmas morning, sitting around a tree stuffed full of presents and nobody opening them. Imagine a birthday party where you don’t open your gifts.

Would that be awkward or is it just me?

Today’s verse is John 14:27.

Chair on the lawn - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Chair on the lawn – Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

Did you know that God has given us gifts? He’s given us all sorts of gifts, too many to name. The trouble with many of them is that they’re gifts we can’t open yet. They’re promises that haven’t come true. It’s like knowing that Christmas is coming and that someone is going to get you a gift, but you haven’t seen it yet.

But the biggest mistake Christ-followers make is thinking that all of God’s gifts are like that, when they aren’t. God has given us many, many gifts that He wants us to open now! But for some reason, we’re just letting them sit in the corner.

A good example? Peace. God has given you the gift of peace. Did you know that?

What is the gift of peace? It’s the ability to stop worrying. It’s the reassurance that God is in control. It’s the guarantee that even though life may suck right now, it won’t always, and that God is strong enough to bring beauty out of ashes.

Peace. Peace of mind. Peace of heart. It’s priceless. Invaluable. And if you believe in Christ, God’s already given it to you. Is that a gift you’ve opened yet?

I’m not sure what it is about peace that is so hard to grasp. I struggle with peace a lot because I’m just a control freak. I want to know everything about everything so I can control every possible detail, whether I’m capable of it or not.

But the more I control something, the more I worry about it. The more I worry about it, the less peace I have. And the less peace I have, the farther away from God I grow because I convince myself that He doesn’t care because if He cared, why doesn’t He help me?

Vicious cycle.

A foolish, vicious cycle.

God has given you peace. Period.

But just because He gave it to you doesn’t mean you’ve automatically accepted it. You have to choose to accept it. Just like you have to choose to accept a gift. Just because someone gives you a Christmas present, doesn’t mean you accept it. Just because you open a Christmas present doesn’t mean you’re going to keep it. You might take it back to the store and return it.

That’s the trick with a gift. Its mere existence doesn’t mean you use it. You have to choose it.

God won’t force you to accept any of His gifts, but if you won’t take them, what’s the point of Him giving them in the first place?

So the next time you’re worrying about something, remember that God has given you the gift of peace, and it’s your choice whether to accept it or not.

The One O'clock Gun at Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland

Agree to disagree

I don’t drink. That is a conviction in my life, something I have decided that doesn’t belong in my relationship with God. I take no issue with other people drinking (as long as getting drunk isn’t involved), and I have tried a sip or two of wine. But I will not drink on any sort of regular basis. For me, that isn’t a preference. It’s something I feel could become a major stumbling block in my life, so I have chosen not to do it.

I hate skirts, and I don’t particularly care for shorts. I like pants. I like jeans. But sometimes I have to wear a dress for work. Sometimes it’s appropriate to wear a skirt for business reasons. I’m not against it. Choosing to do it won’t place a stumbling block in my personal relationship with Christ. I’ll be uncomfortable (and I’ll probably grumble), but I can cope.

Coping with other people’s preferences isn’t that difficult. Coping with other people’s convictions can often be extraordinarily frustrating. I have many, many friends who have different preferences than I do. And I have even more friends who have different convictions than I do. And that’s absolutely fine. That’s awesome. Having a variety of friends from different backgrounds and in different age groups and life experiences and religions is a valuable gift.

Disagreeing on preferences is normal. Everyone likes or prefers different things. Coffee or tea? Winter or summer? Action movie or chick flick? Oxford comma or AP comma? Right? Disagreeing over preferences isn’t a big deal. Sometimes we make it a big deal, but if one person is willing to back off, usually the conflict can be resolved rather quickly. But the big problem comes when people clash over convictions. So what happens when you get to that point? What do you do when people disagree with your faith?

The One O'clock Gun at Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland

The One O’clock Gun at Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland

Today’s verse is Romans 12:18.

Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

s choices? How do you handle that? We’re supposed to do everything in our power to live at peace with others, like-minded believers and others included. If you are the sort of person who likes to call people out on what they believe, more power to you. But let me just say that if you intend to challenge someone’s faith, you’d better be completely sure about what’s true and what’s not, and you’d better be able to back it up.

I’ve had many conversations with people who’ve told me my faith is worthless because the Bible is a pack of lies. But when I challenge them in return, they tell me they’ve never read the Bible. So I won’t discuss it with them after that. I shut the conversation down because if they are going to challenge my faith without even bothering to understand what I believe and why, it’s not a discussion worth having.

Not trying to be harsh. Just being honest.

Generally speaking, I don’t challenge people’s faith or convictions. I figure people believe what they want to believe, and that choice is 100% entirely up to them. I’ll only speak up when my own faith is challenged or if someone is genuinely asking questions about it. I decided long ago not to be the sort of person who walks around with a bullhorn and a King James Version Bible looking for opportunities to beat sinners into submission. I’ve known too many people like that, and they aren’t high on my list of favorite people.

I would much rather be the person people come to over their own volition for advice and counsel and share my faith with them that way. And if you end up in that position, don’t be afraid to be open and honest about your faith. That person came to you for a reason. That means they saw something in you that was likeable and wise. So don’t screw it up by trying to sound uber-spiritual. Just be yourself. Tell them what you’ve learned about God. Most of all, just love them, but don’t compromise truth for love. That’s the worst mistake you can make.

You get truth from the Bible. You get truth from God. That’s where your convictions should come from, and, honestly, that’s where your preferences should come from too.

Is everyone going to agree with you? No way. I wish I could say they will, but they won’t. But if you strive to be honest and respectful and loving in everything you say, people will understand where you’re coming from. People aren’t always as closed minded as we think. Most of the time, if you really are a genuine Christ follower who tries to live like Jesus would, people who don’t live that way are inordinately curious. True Christ followers are puzzles to people who don’t know Him.

So be the kind of person who people want to approach. Let them ask their questions. Invite them. And then answer them truthfully with as much love as you can muster and a little bit extra that comes from the Holy Spirit and see what God does.

Don’t compromise the truth. It’s not written anywhere that compromise is required for peace between people. Sometimes agreeing to disagree is the best option. The only requirement for real peace between people is love.

Barney the Beefeater, our "ambassador" at the Tower of London, London, England

A different perspective on being an ambassador

Ambassadors are everywhere. We just don’t think about them. I mean, when I think of ambassadors in general, I think of government officials who travel to other countries to represent their home country. I think of politics in general. The term ambassador conjures up all sorts of political symbols and hierarchies that I learned about in high school. But if you think about it, an ambassador can be anyone who represents someone else.

Anyone into Mary Kay cosmetics? I know people who are. Your Mary Kay consultant is an ambassador. And how about the Boy Scouts? Going door to door selling popcorn? They’re ambassadors too. Car salesmen. Customer service representatives. Anyone with a face to a potential customer is an ambassador.

It’s kind of overwhelming if you think about it, especially when you let yourself realize that as a follower of Christ, we are Christ’s ambassadors. We are here to represent Him to the world.

Barney the Beefeater, our "ambassador" at the Tower of London, London, England

Barney the Beefeater, our “ambassador” at the Tower of London, London, England

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 5:20-21.

So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

The first thing I think about when I read these verses is what a stunning responsibility this is. To be Christ’s ambassador? To be Christ’s voice to a world that doesn’t know Him? That’s huge. That’s intimidating on a level beyond terror. If you have chosen to trust Jesus for your salvation, that means you are His voice. You are His representative to the people in your life.

Scared yet?

It terrifies me. That’s a lot of responsibility. That’s a lot to live up to. Because when people see me, they’re supposed to see Christ. When people hear me speak, they’re supposed to hear Christ. When I interact with people, they’re supposed to know that Jesus loves them and that He died for them and that He wants to have a relationship with them. And that’s a tall order from a girl who prefers to hide in the corner at social events.

And that’s where my brain goes automatically. How on earth can I meet those expectations? Well, no, let’s be honest here. My brain goes instantly to wondering how I can exceed those expectations. Merely meeting expectations has never been good enough for me; I have to blast the roof off people’s expectations or I feel ashamed of myself. So because my focus is exceeding the expectations (the rules, the regulations, etc.), I start plotting and planning how I can manipulate a circumstance or a situation so that I can control the outcome.

I’m focusing on my performance. I’m focusing on my actions. I’m focusing on what I need to do to make God happy with me. Anyone see my performance-driven perfectionist self rearing its ugly head anywhere in this?

Well, here’s something I realized today. Granted, it’s something I’ve always known, but it hit home with me today on a level that I hadn’t understood before. I am God’s ambassador.

Yes, news flash, I just said that above. But in my mind there are two perspectives to being an ambassador. One, you have to be careful and watch what you say and how you act because you represent an authority in your life. That’s true. That’s 100% true. But that’s not all there is to it. If you are an ambassador, you were chosen for the job.

Now, before you religious scholars get up in arms, I’m not going to get all theological about this. I could. But the purpose of this blog is to provide a place of encouragement, not only for me but for anyone who is searching. And I don’t intend to start a theological discussion about Calvinism vs. Armenianism vs. any-other-isms that are floating around in the world.

What I’m trying to communicate here is that Christ-followers have been chosen to represent Jesus in the world, just like ambassadors. You don’t get to be an ambassador just because you put on a fancy suit and can give pretty speeches or you have a good handshake. No. You apply for the job, and you’re selected for the position. Why? Because your authority, your boss, has seen the potential that you have and wants you to be his representative.

If you have accepted Christ, God calls you one of Christ’s ambassadors. You have something that you can use to reach out to the world and tell them about Jesus, and it’s not something that anyone else can do. So to all you performance-driven perfectionists out there who are running yourselves into the ground trying to make God happy with your list of accomplishments, this is the heart of what I learned today: Stop. God has already given you the job as His ambassador, so stop treating Him like you’re applying for the position. Stop stressing yourself out over whether or not you’re good enough. Stop worrying yourself bald over what you’re going to say or how you’re going to say it or what other people are going to think about you.

Just do the job. Just live for Him. Love for Him. Help others for Him. And stop worrying about whether you’re going to do a good enough job or not. Because it’s not about you. It’s about Him.

Castle turret at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Peace like a security system

Real peace is elusive in our world, whether you’re talking about the peace between nations or people or peace of mind. People pay extravagant sums of money for peace of mind, so they don’t have to worry. But is real peace something you can buy? Or is it something you’re given?

My brain is in overdrive this morning. I’m not quite sure what’s going on, but it’s jumping from topic to topic to topic in rapid sequence, which makes it really difficult to concentrate on anything. It may be because of all the exciting things I learned at the writing workshop this week. It may be because I’m leaving for England next Thursday to see the other side of my brain for the first time since January. But either way, I’m having trouble focusing this morning, so I thought I’d better stick to something simple.

Castle turret at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Castle turret at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are Philippians 4:6-7.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Have you ever experienced peace that functions as a guard? The Amplified Bible uses the term garrison. Peace that guards your heart and mind. To a natural worrier like me, that sounds awfully nice. I have a vivid imagination, and I can just see worries creeping up my heart and mind like thieves or robbers. And peace, like a guard or a soldier, beats them back and tells them to hit the road.

How do you get that kind of peace? You pray about what’s bothering you. You tell God what you need and thank Him what He’s already done. That’s what it says above. But does that really work?

Well, you do have to believe. And you do have to choose to give your worries to God and choose to not take them back once you’ve let them go.

Worry is like having a guard available and choosing to guard the door yourself anyway. It’s like having a security system installed and sitting up all night in spite of it because you’re sure it’s not going to work.

Worry is a waste of time and energy and focus, and it’s something I fall prey to frequently. I try not to. I know better. But I have this propensity to take things back that I’ve already given over to God. Does that make any difference? Does that help my request get answered sooner? Absolutely not. It doesn’t change God’s opinion or His methods or His plan. It just changes the color of my hair and upsets my stomach.

So how do you choose not to worry? How do you let peace be the guard of your mind and heart? Well, to be very honest, I don’t know. I’m still working on that one, but since the Bible says this is how it works, I believe it. So it all comes down to trust.

I trust that God is going to answer my requests in the way that will bring Him glory, whatever that looks like, and I’m up for whatever He has in mind. I trust that God knows what He’s doing. The only thing I can figure out about myself is that I just need to be vigilant when it comes to my control freak tendencies. I need to pay attention when I try to take back the concerns I’ve given to Him, and I need to stop myself.

So what are you worrying about today? Everyone worries. But we don’t have to. If you’re a follower of Christ, you can pray about it instead of worrying, and God has promised to send His peace–peace so awesome we don’t understand it, peace strong enough to protect our heart and our mind from worry. But that protection won’t do us any good if we refuse to be protected.