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.

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Never underestimate the power in a kind word

Slogging along through life gets really old really fast, especially if you’re stuck in a period of waiting for God to act. You know He’s going to do something, and whatever it is will be amazing and wonderful and life-changing. But until you get there, you’re just stuck. And it’s everything you can do to just keep functioning.

So what happens if someone comes along and notices? What happens when they demonstrate that they care about you or about how hard you’ve been working? how does that make you feel?

For me, it’s energizing. I can have my head down, buried in Word documents, cranking out word count like a fiend, but if someone comes along and mentions how much they enjoy what I’m writing, suddenly it doesn’t feel like work anymore. Suddenly, it doesn’t feel like my feet are stuck in the mud. The mud just becomes an obstacle to overcome, and it feels like it’s worth it.

person-woman-hand-rainyToday’s verses are Acts 4:36-37.

For instance, there was Joseph, the one the apostles nicknamed Barnabas (which means “Son of Encouragement”). He was from the tribe of Levi and came from the island of Cyprus. He sold a field he owned and brought the money to the apostles.

How would you like to have nickname like that? This guy Joseph, who the apostles nicknamed Barnabus, was such a cool, uplifting guy that they called him The Encourager. Wouldn’t it be great to have that kind of reputation? The kind of vibe that just cheered people up wherever you went?

The thing people don’t always understand about encouragers is that they aren’t always obliging. They don’t always tell you what you want to hear. Instead, they tell you what you need to hear, whether it’s fun or not. They are kind people, overall, and they care about you, but they care enough about you not to lie to you or coddle you. They love you enough to tell you the truth.

Sometimes that’s not easy to swallow, as the Apostle Paul eventually discovered in his relationship with Barnabus, but it’s what you need to hear to get you back on track with God. If your perspective is off, you need someone to smack you upside the back of the head to help you get straight again.

Who are the encouragers in your life? Yes, there’s a place for the cuddlers and the caretakers. There’s a time when you need someone to hug you and feed you cookies, but those times should be few and far between. More often than not, we need our encouragers to come along and challenge us to pick up our sword and get back into the fight.

They’ll do it kindly. They’ll speak truth in love to you. Even if it’s not what you want to hear, it’s probably what you need to hear.

So are you feeling down? Are you tired and weary? Yes, rest, if you need to, but if you don’t? Find an encourager. It may not be the happiest conversation you’ve ever had, but I guarantee it will change you–or at least it will change the way you look at your situation. And really, that’s what most of us need anyway.

Looking for the light when all you see is darkness

Everyone knows that one person who always sees the bright side. They’re sickening, aren’t they? The ones who pipe up in the dark moments with the obscure silver lining that’s absolutely true and positively irritating? I know, because I’m one of those people. Practically Pollyannish, people have called me. Unfailingly cheerful to the point of living in denial.

It’s true that those overly positive people can make you want to claw your eyeballs out or plug your ears (or at least stuff a sock in their mouths), but the reason they’re so irritating is that we know they’re right. Especially if you’re a Christ-follower, you know there’s always a bright side. Now, that doesn’t mean we can’t be sad. That doesn’t mean we should grieve. But it does mean that grief and sorrow shouldn’t ever get the better of us, because God is stronger.

We don’t have to live in darkness, because if you follow Jesus, you can always look for the light.

Today’s verses are Micah 7:7-8.

As for me, I look to the Lord for help.
I wait confidently for God to save me,
and my God will certainly hear me.
Do not gloat over me, my enemies!
For though I fall, I will rise again.
Though I sit in darkness,
the Lord will be my light.

What is light anyway? It’s all well and good to talk about light and darkness in symbolic terms. It’s very poetic, but I’m practical. What does it even mean?

All throughout the Bible, God calls Himself the Light. Jesus calls Himself the Light. The Word is called the Light. What do all those things have in common? Well, one major thing is that They’re all 100% true. God can’t lie. Neither does Jesus, neither does the Bible. God’s truth is light that shines in the darkest moments of our lives.

Even when we’re surrounded by the darkness of fear and uncertainty or loneliness or sorrow or pain, what we need to remember is that all those things will lie to us. Fear and uncertainty tell us we’ll never be good enough. Loneliness and sorrow and pain tell us that this life is all there is. And that’s not true.

In those moments when the darkness threatens to overwhelm you with its lies, remember the truth. Let God’s light in. Stop hunkering in the shadows, letting our enemy whisper his devious lies to you to break you, to stop you, to scare you. That’s what he’s doing. Don’t let him.

Instead, get up and look for the light. Look at your situation and try to see God in it. If you’re a Christ-follower, He’s there somewhere. He may not be obvious, but He’s present. He probably won’t be where you expect Him to be, but He’s there. But you don’t have to acknowledge Him for Him to work. He’ll do His part without your knowledge, but if you can see Him, it makes life a lot easier.

On one hand, it’s irritating to be around people who always see God working. They just have this effusive cheerfulness that nothing seems to touch. And in some cases, that’s bad, because humans need to feel. We all experience sorrow and sadness, but if we don’t allow ourselves to feel it–to admit to feeling it–and to learn to manage it, we’ll run ourselves into the ground.

Even negative emotions have a purpose, and you should never ignore them. Just don’t try to face them without God’s help. You won’t get through life without falling. Everyone falls, but you don’t have to stay there. Get up. Look for God’s light. And don’t stop until you find it.

So don’t let the darkness slow you down. Don’t let the lies break your spirit. God has plans for you, friend. He’s seen them, and they’re good.

 

There’s something better on the other side

The light in my upstairs landing burned out a few months ago. A burned out light bulb in the city is one thing. The ambient light from outside often illuminates the inside of a house enough to see by, but out here in the country? Everything is always pitch black, until there’s a full moon.

Burned out light bulbs have always been interesting to me because they don’t look much different from a new light bulb. At least with the old incandescent bulbs, you could shake them to hear if the filament was dislodged. But with the new curlicue bulbs, I haven’t figured out how to look at one and determine if it works or not.

They look like they should work just fine, but when you actually try to use them, they’re broken.

bulbToday’s verse is Hebrews 13:14.

For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.

Have you ever realized how broken our world is? Maybe it looks fine on the outside, but in practical use, nothing works the way it’s supposed to? It’s one thing to know it. It’s something else to experience it, to watch your friends experience it, to see the pain and the suffering it causes.

Just turn on the television. Just listen to the radio. Spend an hour talking to someone at work or at school or at church. Everybody’s broken, but the world is more broken than any of us.

It’s so sad because God designed this world to function in a certain way. He put processes and rules and laws in place when He created it, and while all of those processes and rules and laws are still working, they have to use pieces that are falling apart.

It’s like our own lives, our relationships. Two perfect people would never find themselves on opposite sides. They’d always understand what the other was saying, and they’d never try to hurt each other. But nobody’s perfect. So in this world, our friendships and relationships of all kinds have to be built with imperfect materials.

We’re all insecure. We’re all afraid. We’re all jealous. How do you build a lasting relationship when the base materials you have to use are only good for tearing things apart? Maybe you could build a beautiful home with a horrible foundation, and maybe it will look perfect–but the first storm that comes along will bring it crashing down because it doesn’t work. It was broken from the start.

There are days when I know God can fix anything. There are moments when I believe that God is the restorer and can mend hearts and relationships and families and friendships. And I don’t doubt that. I’ve never doubted that. And I’ve seen Him do miracles more than once.

But is our world really worth fixing? Have you really thought about that? I mean, it would be wonderful if He did, but if you read Scripture, you understand that the way everything is falling apart isn’t a surprise. If you know the Bible, you know this global rebellion against God was coming. Maybe it’s not what God wanted for us, but it’s what has to happen before He can come back.

It’s so tempting to get attached to our lives here because they feel real. The taste of the coffee in my cup, the feel of the sunshine on my face in my upstairs office window, the smell of the apricots blossoming in the orchard. But it’s not real–not by God’s definition. It will all pass away in the end, and if I’m not invested in the things that are real, I’ll have nothing.

This world where we live isn’t our permanent home. It’s nobody’s permanent home. We will all live somewhere in eternity, but there are only two choices. And if you don’t choose one, that means you’re automatically choosing the other.

Jesus is real. Faith is real. Love is real. And the souls of the people around you are real. That’s what you should be investing in. You can spend all your money and all your time working to achieve a status or a goal the world says is admirable, but if God doesn’t say it’s worth it, it’s not.

Don’t get caught up in living in this world. Christ-follower or not, you’re not long for it. Not in comparison to forever.

But don’t be discouraged either. Our world is broken. People are broken. We’re all falling apart physically, emotionally, mentally. Nothing works the way it was supposed to, but that’s because this world isn’t our home. There’s something better on the other side, and that’s worth believing in.

The ceiling at St. George Orthodox Cathedral, Wichita, KS

Finding joy for someone else when you’re in the dark

Have you ever been happy just because you’re around someone who is happy? I got to go to a wedding this weekend. It was an unusual wedding for me because it was in a Greek Orthodox church. I’d been to this particular church once before and found it fascinating, so I was eager to see a wedding.

It was a pretty neat event. If you’re in Wichita and you’ve never been inside St. George’s Cathedral, you seriously are missing out. The building is gorgeous, and the acoustics are pretty much unmatched. And their choice? Wow. All a cappella. Just fantastic.

But as beautiful as the wedding was, as beautiful as the church was, as beautiful as the music was, nothing quite prepared me for the sight of the pure joy on my friend’s face as he watched his bride walk down the aisle. I seriously thought I was going to burst I was so happy for them. My face hurt from grinning by the time the wedding was over.

The ceiling at St. George Orthodox Cathedral, Wichita, KS

The ceiling at St. George Orthodox Cathedral, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Romans 12:15.

Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.

Have you noticed that it’s really easy to weep with someone who’s weeping? Maybe not in a literal sense. Or maybe it is in a literal sense too, if you’re a particularly emotional person. What I mean is that it’s easy to focus on the bad things that are happening in life sometimes.

I think it’s because life is so full of bad things. People die in horrible ways. Families split up. There’s drought where there should be rain and rain where there should be drought. We don’t like our jobs, we don’t like our schools, we don’t like our political leaders, we don’t like our church leaders. People we love are lost. People we don’t like hang around.

When someone is unhappy, there’s normally some kind of unhappy common ground you can find with them. I mean who hasn’t been jilted in some way or another? Who hasn’t lost a loved one? Who hasn’t been forced out of a job or a career or a dream?

And you know what? That’s okay. It’s okay to weep with people who are weeping. It doesn’t work to go to someone who is grieving and expect them to be happy and cheerful. They won’t be, and that’s fine. Everyone experiences loss, and everyone needs to grieve. But the problem comes when you have to get out of that grieving mindset and start rejoicing.

Maybe life isn’t going the way you want it right now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be happy for the people around you who are achieving great and wonderful things. Maybe you’re going through a rough patch where nothing seems to be going right, but that doesn’t mean you have to drag everyone else down into your dark moments.

No, don’t ignore your dark moments. Recognize them. Those times where you need to grieve, where you need to be sad, are important, and you should have someone in your life who you can go to where you can be completely honest about how you’re feeling.

God didn’t create people to be nocturnal. We were never intended to live in dark places. Doesn’t mean we won’t be there every now and then. It’s just not healthy for us to stay there.

And you know what? Even if you’re in a dark place, you can still rejoice with someone. And it might even help you find the light a little sooner.

Pretty purple trumpet flower at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Never write a letter when you’re sad

I’ve always heard that you should never write letters when you’re angry. That’s really good advice, because when you write a letter and you’re hacked off about something, your letter ends up matching your mood.

Now, granted, I recommend writing letters when you’re that upset. I just don’t recommend sending them after you’ve written them. For me, writing my feelings down helps me process. If I’m upset, I really just need to sit and write about it. Then, usually, I feel much better. But you’d better believe that document is subsequently destroyed.

But have you ever heard of not writing letters when you’re sad? I never thought about that until recently. I’m also a corporate communicator for my company, along with a marketing copywriter, so I was ghostwriting a letter for one of our executives. I sent it along to my boss to proof before it went to the requestor, and the note came back: “This is so sad! Did you write this when Katie left?”

Any of you new followers, Katie is my best bud. The other half of my brain. Almost literally. And in July, she hopped the pond to do amazing work in video ministry around the world. But she’ll be gone for two years. And, yes, she had just left before I wrote that letter.

I thought that was kind of funny. And then, you know what I did? I went and did it again. Katie got an opportunity to come home basically for a weekend since she was “in the neighborhood” doing some filming in Haiti. So I got to see her! Day made. But then she left again. Of course, she did. She had to get back to work, and so did I.

And I happen to be in the middle of a series of character posts on my book series blog, Morningstar, to promote the launch of my debut novel. So I was noodling a few days ago on one of the characters, just scribbling some thoughts down. I sent them to Katie, and she informed me that I am no longer allowed to write anything after she leaves…. because it’s just too sad. Yup. I’d done it again. That silly character post was so full of angst and heartache …. it’s actually kind of funny.

I didn’t even know I’d done it.

And that got me thinking about how I really handle sadness and grief. How do I react to it? What do I do? How do I manage it?

And, just being honest, I don’t necessarily know if I manage it at all. I don’t like drama. I don’t like emotionally overwrought reactions. They’re uncomfortable, and they make other people uncomfortable. And there’s just nothing worse than having snot running down your face when you’re trying to have a real conversation, you know?

But grief and sorrow and sadness are things you can’t run away from. If you try, they’ll eventually catch up with you, and they’ll be exponentially worse to survive. Christians are really bad at this. We think everything always has to be happy. We think even the worst things in our lives need to be celebrated. We think bad news should be cause to rejoice and shout hallelujah.

And you know what? That’s true. We have every reason to be happy. Even the worst moments in our lives are worth celebrating, but not because it’s bad news. The point is that bad news shouldn’t stop us from celebrating in spite of it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be sad.

There’s nothing wrong with grief. Or sorrow. Or sadness. Not when it’s needed. Not when it’s what you feel.

Today’s verses are Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.

Pretty purple trumpet flower at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Pretty purple trumpet flower at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.

Life on earth is broken. Bad things happen. People die. Kids get sick. Families break up. Jobs get lost. Friends leave. And all of that just plain sucks.

There’s no getting around it. And trying to convince yourself that something horrible makes you happy? Trying to get your broken heart to rejoice when your life is in scattered pieces at your feet? That’s not healthy. That won’t help you. And I truly believe it’s not what God wants.

God knows when you hurt. God knows when you can’t take one more thing. And He knows you haven’t lost faith–you just need a minute to remember who He is. And that’s okay.

Recognize that you may be sad now, but you won’t be sad forever. And the sooner you let yourself be sad, the faster that day will get here.

So if you’re hurting today, if you’re sad, don’t hide it. Don’t run away from it. Don’t be afraid or ashamed of it. Believe me, all of us have been there. And if you need to talk to somebody about it, do it. If you need a write a letter, do it…. just don’t send it. 😉

aamilne_lucky

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.