Keep trusting even if you have to keep letting go

When I give my worries and problems to God, I struggle with leaving them there. How about you? That’s one of those Christian metaphors we like to talk about–casting our cares on God, laying our burdens down, etc. Practically speaking, it means you do what you can according to God’s rules and then you let God work it out. You don’t spend time worrying or speculating about what could go wrong. You don’t invest emotional energy in fretting anxiously.

Has anyone mastered this concept? I haven’t.

Every time I entrust my fears and failures to the Lord, within moments I’m taking it back. And then I have to go through the whole process of letting go all over again. I get so angry at myself. I get so irritated. But I realized something the other day.

I don’t know anybody who’s mastered the art of trusting God completely. We all fail at this. We all try to carry our own burdens without His help. So instead of beating ourselves up about how often we take our troubles back from God, maybe we should focus on how many times we’re willing to let go of them.

pexels-photo (1)Today’s verses are Luke 11:9-10.

And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

God wants to hear from us. He wants us to pray and talk to Him. He wants us to hand over our burdens because they’re all too heavy for us to carry on our own. But what if we have to ask Him over and over again? What if we have to turn over the same problems again and again?

I don’t like to pester people. I don’t like asking the same questions over and over again. I don’t like being asked the same questions over and over again (this is one of the reasons I would never make it as a journalist). But sometimes you have to. Sometimes you’re not asking the right question. Sometimes you’re asking the right question at the wrong time.

God will always answer. He is unfailingly patient with us, and He doesn’t get upset or unhappy if we pester Him.

Granted, if we know the answer is No, we shouldn’t keep asking. That might bother Him. But if you honestly don’t know what to do or to believe, ask Him. And don’t just ask Him once, ask Him over and over again until you get an answer. And I believe it’s the same with our troubles.

God remembers that we’re not perfect. He knows us inside and out. He knows our control-freak tendencies, and He isn’t angry at us when we try to take things back from Him. But He grieves when you try to keep it.

Don’t keep your troubles because you’re afraid to give them back again. Don’t beat yourself up or assume a negative perspective because you lose patience with God’s timetable. Everybody does. We’re all in the same boat.

It takes a lot of faith to trust your worries and your fears and your problems to God. It takes even more faith to keep giving them to Him, even after you take them back.

Just keeping turning your problems over to God. There’s not a time limit or a transaction limit, like at a bank. It’s better if you don’t take things back from God after you turn them over, but if you do, you can always give them back again.

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How can you achieve success in God’s eyes?

Success is an ironic means of measuring your self-worth, mainly because success looks different to each individual. Most of the time, you have to define success for yourself because it doesn’t mean the same thing to different people. Maybe this is a bad example, but I considered myself a successful writer long before my first book was published. I had defined success for myself very early in life, judging that I would be successful when I could say for certain that someone had accepted Christ because of something I wrote. That happened in 2006 or so. Every other success I’ve had in writing since then has been gravy.

Yet even though the definition of success changes from person to person, we’d all pretty much agree that we’d love to hear God say we were successful. Right? Wouldn’t God’s definition of success trump everyone else’s? It does in my book. So what does a person have to do to achieve success in God’s eyes?

landscape-mountains-nature-man_1555x1037Today’s verse is 2 Chronicles 31:21.

In all that he did in the service of the Temple of God and in his efforts to follow God’s laws and commands, Hezekiah sought his God wholeheartedly. As a result, he was very successful.

Hezekiah was the king of Judah during the period of history when the nation of Israel was divided. He ruled over the southern kingdom for 29 years and took the throne when he was only 25 years old. And the Bible says he was a good king because he obeyed God. If you read his story, you’ll find that it’s true. He reopened the temple and rededicated it. He re-instituted the celebration of Passover, and he led his kingdom to destroy all their false gods and idols. He was the king whose life God extended.

I love this particular verse because it’s very simple. Much of the Bible is. Hezekiah did everything with his whole heart focused on God, and because his focus was in the right place, God made him successful.

Keep reading his life story and eventually you’ll find that he takes his eyes off God and becomes proud. It’s then that things start falling apart. But as long as he remained dedicated to the Lord, God took care of everything else.

It’s easy to be afraid when God tells you to do something, especially if it’s something you’ve never done before, or if it’s something you’re uncomfortable doing. We’re usually afraid of the unknown, even if we say we aren’t. But God has never wanted our lives to be dominated by fear.

Don’t get me wrong. Some fear is good for us. Fear can tell us that we’re about to make a really stupid decision. It can warn us that what we’re doing needs to stop. But sometimes we take fear too far and we let it control us, and that’s not what God ever intended. The fear that paralyzes us in the face of God’s plan doesn’t come from Him; it comes from our enemy.

If you’re seeking God with your whole heart, you shouldn’t have room for that kind of fear. That’s a difficult place to reach, though. I’m not there yet. I still feel fear at the most inopportune moments.

God’s plan often will push us far outside our comfort zones, but those are the times when we need to fight through the fear and keep moving forward. God’s plans are never bad, and they’re always for our good, even if we don’t understand them all the time. And when we experience irrational fear while we know we’re doing what God has called us to do, we need to ask for the strength to persevere. Focus on seeking God with all your heart. Don’t give the fear that comes from the enemy a foothold in your heart.

That’s what it takes to be successful. That doesn’t mean you won’t experience fear. No, you’ll probably encounter more fear than the average Joe on the street if you’re dedicated to doing what God has called you to do, but God will give you the courage to face it and win. You won’t face it alone either.

Missing God because you aren’t expecting Him

I heard a story on the radio today about a baseball fan who didn’t notice his favorite player taking a photo of him. I’m sure he wasn’t expecting to see him. So when his favorite player showed up close to him, that may be why he didn’t notice him.

But the player, Roy Halladay, didn’t leave it at that. He crept up behind the guy, took a photo with him, and tweeted it, saying: “Oops! You missed me!”

Some people didn’t think it was funny. I think it’s hilarious. But it made me think about passing celebrities on the street. I mean, how many times do we walk right by someone who’s famous just because they don’t look the way we think they should look?

halliday_missedme

Baseball player Ron Halladay takes a secret photo of a young fan and Tweets it saying: “Missed me!”

Today’s verse is Acts 17:27.

His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us.

You hear about people searching for God all the time, but what if they’re just not expecting to find Him? I think that’s what happened to this poor young fan. He wasn’t expecting to see his favorite player. But can you search for God without expecting to find Him?

Sure you can. We do it all the time when we say we want to follow Him and then give up when the going gets tough or when life doesn’t work out the way we want to. That’s because we’re expecting God to show up on our terms, and God doesn’t work that way.

Do you really want God on your terms? Because God on your terms can only handle the problems and issues you can think of. I’d much rather have God on His terms, knowing that He can take care of all the stuff in my life before I even know what’s coming.

And the irony of it is that God isn’t hard to find. He’s not hidden. He’s not hiding. And He isn’t going to sneak up behind you and tweet a picture without telling you. He wants you to find Him.

So don’t go through life not expecting to find Him. He’s everywhere, and He has gone out of His way to make sure you know about it. The next time you see a sunrise, that’s Him talking to you. The next time you feel the wind blow or smell a flower or listen to music, that’s His handiwork. Evidence of God’s love and majesty and awesomeness is everywhere, but if we aren’t looking for it, we’ll walk right past it.

Make the choice not to live that way. Be purposeful in your day. Be intentional in your choices and in your reactions.

Don’t miss the opportunity to see God in the simple things. He’s not far away. He’s waiting for you.

 

 

Rainy afternoon in the hills around Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

Looking for the light when all you see is clouds

Have you ever experienced a season of life where nothing seemes to go right? Where every step you take is just another opportunity for something to go wrong? To blow up in your face? Just being honest, I’ve been there for most of this year.

Have you ever been there? Maybe you’re there right now. If you are, you know exactly what I’m talking about. You’ve experienced the exhaustion, the fatigue, the worry, and the stress. You’ve struggled through the things you can’t control and the things you can. And you’ve worn yourself out trying to plan for every eventuality, only to discover that it’s worse than you imagined when it happens.

In seasons like that, you have a choice. You can either choose to focus on everything that’s going wrong, or you can look for the tiny ray of light that’s shining through the clouds. Because it’s there. It may be small, but it exists. And it’s there to remind you that all things happen for a reason, especially the things that seem bad.

Rainy afternoon in the hills around Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

Rainy afternoon in the hills around Hadrian’s Wall, Northern England

Psalm 27

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
    so why should I be afraid?
The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger,
    so why should I tremble?
When evil people come to devour me,
    when my enemies and foes attack me,
    they will stumble and fall.
Though a mighty army surrounds me,
    my heart will not be afraid.
Even if I am attacked,
    I will remain confident.

The one thing I ask of the Lord—
    the thing I seek most—
is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
    delighting in the Lord’s perfections
    and meditating in his Temple.
For he will conceal me there when troubles come;
    he will hide me in his sanctuary.
    He will place me out of reach on a high rock.
Then I will hold my head high
    above my enemies who surround me.
At his sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy,
    singing and praising the Lord with music.

Hear me as I pray, O Lord.
    Be merciful and answer me!
My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”
    And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”
Do not turn your back on me.
    Do not reject your servant in anger.
    You have always been my helper.
Don’t leave me now; don’t abandon me,
    O God of my salvation!
Even if my father and mother abandon me,
    the Lord will hold me close.

Teach me how to live, O Lord.
    Lead me along the right path,
    for my enemies are waiting for me.
Do not let me fall into their hands.
    For they accuse me of things I’ve never done;
    with every breath they threaten me with violence. 
Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness
    while I am here in the land of the living.

Wait patiently for the Lord.
    Be brave and courageous.
    Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.

2013 has been a difficult year in so many ways. Name it and it’s probably gone wrong. But at the same time, it’s been an awesome year. God has given me opportunities to do things I never would have dreamed, and He’s opened doors in ways I never expected. So it’s up to me whether I choose to focus on everything that’s gone wrong this year, or choose to focus on everything that’s gone right because of what’s gone wrong. That’s the key. Nothing really “goes wrong” when you’re following God; it just means you (through God’s strength) have an opportunity to turn something our enemy intends for evil into something that can bless other people.

That can be difficult to remember. But God doesn’t let anything touch us without permission. God doesn’t allow anything into our lives with no purpose. He absolutely doesn’t leave us to face it alone. And when you least expect it, He makes Himself known in a way you won’t see coming. It’s happened so many times in the past year. When I’m down and discouraged and feeling alone, God sends someone into my path who reminds me exactly who He is. Whether that’s what they intend to do or not (sometimes they aren’t even believers), God uses them to help me see that I’m not alone and that none of this is futile. (You may notice this blog now has no ads on it, thanks to one of these reminders I’m talking about.)

So keep your eyes open. Choose to see the opportunities God is giving you rather than the ones you think He’s taking away. Wait patiently and attentively, and you’ll see Him. And remember you’re not on your own.

Cannon Street Underground Station, London, England

Worry and stress are like bread and butter

Do you ever feel like your life is spinning out of control? Like there’s so much happening around you and to you (good and bad) that there’s no way you can keep track of it all? It feels like rush hour in the tube in London. You’re there with a purpose, but you can’t make any headway because there are too many people in the way, not enough room, and too much noise–so much noise. And you can’t control any of it. You can control yourself. You can control your reactions. But you can’t control other people, and you can’t control when the train gets there, and you can’t control how much space is left on the cars.

It’s so easy to worry about the stuff we can’t control. It’s so easy for me to sit here and let my mind wander about everything that could go wrong, and even though I may have the best of intentions, even though I may just be wanting to plan for those eventualities, it’s just one step further to let myself start worrying.

Cannon Street Underground Station, London, England

Cannon Street Underground Station, London, England

Today’s verse is Matthew 6:31-33.

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”

This is from one of Jesus’ more famous messages, usually called The Sermon on the Mount. If you’ve ever heard of the Beatitudes, this is the same message that includes them.

It’s not a new message. Jesus talked a lot about not worrying, about trusting God, about moving forward with confidence and hope. The rest of the Bible is full of examples and stories about how worrying isn’t useful.

Worry is a waste of time. Going back to the tube illustration, you can stand in the station and worry about whether or not you’ll be able to get a spot on the train, but you only have two options–either there’s a space for you or there isn’t. If there’s a space, you’ll get on. If there’s not, you just have to wait till the next train. Maybe you won’t get to your destination when you thought you would. But worrying about it won’t accomplish anything–other than to wear you out.

Haven’t you noticed? Worry is exhausting. It’s an emotional roller coaster. We wear ourselves out worrying about things we can’t control anyway and by the time we reach our destination, we’re too tired to accomplish anything meaningful. What good does that do? What is the point? We have a culture that thrives on anxiety. Worry and stress are two of the mainstays of the American emotional diet, and there’s a concept out there (especially in the corporate world) that if you aren’t worried or stressed out about something, you’re not doing something right.

And that’s ridiculous.

I don’t want to worry anymore. I don’t want to be worn out and stressed out and anxious about things I can’t control anyway. I don’t want to waste my precious, limited time worrying about whether people like me or like what I have to say, although as a performance-driven people pleaser those two things are the bread and butter of my emotional diet.

I work and worry and stress myself out to accomplish the things I think I need to accomplish, and most of my stress and anxiety comes from those self-inflicted deadlines. But are those the things I need? I think I need them. But God is the one who knows for sure.

In the verses previous to this passage, Jesus is talking about the birds and about how they don’t worry about what they wear or what they eat and God provides for them. And if God cares for the birds, doesn’t He care for us more? God will take care of us. And the thing is I know that. I’ve seen it. He’s provided for me in so many ways that I can’t keep track, and it’s complete and utter foolishness to forget it or to doubt Him simply because I don’t know what’s around the corner.

All I need to do is seek Him. I need to live my life the way the Bible says. And He will take care of the rest. I need to trust my dreams and wants and goals to Him. I mean, He gave those things to me anyway, and they’re better off in His hands because He can truly make them happen, whereas I will just flail around like a turtle stuck on its back and wear myself out getting nowhere.

God knows what I need, and He’s a good God. He won’t withhold something out of spite. He won’t refuse me just because He can. He doesn’t abuse power like that. If I think I need something and He hasn’t given it to me, maybe I don’t need it at all. Or maybe I need something else first. That’s between me and Him–and Him and you. But either way, worrying gets you nowhere. And it accomplishes nothing.

So don’t waste time with it. It’s hard. Trust me, I know how hard it is to choose not to worry when it’s so much easier to hold on. But once you learn how to let go, it’s addicting. And it’s such a relief.

Do what God wants. Live for Him. Let the rest go. You’ll enjoy life more, and by the grace of God, you’ll accomplish great things because God will intervene and do more through you than you ever could have on your own, even if you prepared for it.

Distant, lonely tree in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Enduring when God is silent

I like instructions. I don’t always read them, but it’s comforting to know they’re there in case I need them. So what happens when the instructions don’t make sense? A friend was telling me over the weekend that her husband bought her a desk and assembled it for her, but the instructions were missing pages. So putting the desk together was a nightmare. What happens when you’re missing the instructions and the things you thought would be easy turn into something difficult?

That’s a silly example, but many of us run into that question a larger scale when we’re trying to live. We lose our instructions or we encounter a situation where the instructions no longer seem relevant, and we ask God for guidance. And He doesn’t answer. We ask Him to tell us what do to, and He doesn’t respond. What do you do then? How do you endure when God stops speaking to you?

Distant, lonely tree in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Distant, lonely tree in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Job 13:15.

God might kill me, but I have no other hope.
    I am going to argue my case with him.

Job is one of those people I can’t wait to meet when we get to heaven. He’s one of my heroes. The story basically goes that Job was one of the wealthiest men at the time, but he was also one of the most righteous. He was a God follower, and he wasn’t afraid if everyone knew it. And God pointed him out to Satan one day, telling him about how no one could match Job. So Satan made a deal with God that he could convince Job to turn against God, and God allowed him to attack Job. Overnight, Job lost everything. His wealth. His family. His status. Everything that mattered to him was taken, and he was left with a bitter wife and friends who turned against him.

Job is a big book. It’s 42 chapters, probably the oldest book in the Bible, and the majority of it is Job questioning, until God starts answering. But God doesn’t answer right away, and Job is left to puzzle through all the horrible things that have happened to him without God explaining it.

Have you ever been there? Have you ever had to suffer through circumstances that you didn’t deserve? Okay, let’s be honest. Most of the time the really bad stuff we encounter usually has some root cause in our lifestyle or our choices or our past, and it’s our own actions bringing the trouble to our doorstep. But have you ever really run into situations where you have to suffer through difficult things and you didn’t do anything to deserve them? I have. I know others who have too. And it’s in those moments where I have been really tempted to get upset at God.

I mean, why would He let this stuff happen to me? I didn’t do anything to deserve it. Why is He punishing me for things I don’t deserve to be punished for? That’s not fair.

If you’re there, read Job. Because he was there for 41 chapters. We are all in a very different place than Job was. He didn’t have the Book of Job or any of the Bible. None of it had been written down yet. So he had nothing except his experience and his relationship with God to go on. But we have Scripture. We have the Holy Spirit.

And what Scripture will tell you about God’s silence is that it’s never actually there. God is never silent. We just stop listening.

Are you facing troubles today? Are you facing situations that you don’t deserve? Have you asked God to take them away and He isn’t answering? Do this. Go outside and sit down and close your eyes and listen. What do you hear? Do you hear the wind? Do you hear birds singing? Do you hear leaves rustling on trees? Do you hear other people and life in the city?

God doesn’t have to speak in an audible voice for us to know that He’s talking. He speaks through the Bible. He speaks through Creation. He speaks through provision. He speaks through other people in our lives. He’s never silent, but we often let our troubles distract us.

Job was fortunate enough that God responded to him. God spoke to him. And when God was done speaking to him, this is how Job responded in Job 42:1-6:

Then Job replied to the Lord: “I know that you can do anything, and no one can stop you. You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’ It is I—and I was talking about things I knew nothing about, things far too wonderful for me. You said, ‘Listen and I will speak! I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.’ I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes. I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.”

We don’t know why God chooses to do the things He does many times, but we know that He is fair and just and good and sovereign, which means He has the right do what He wants with what He made–and that’s everything. We know how the story of Job turned out. God blessed him with twice what he had before, and while Job had endured tremendous suffering, the second half of his life was more blessed than the first ever was.

So if you’re going through difficulty right now, think about Job. It’s okay to question God. It’s okay to wonder. It’s okay to talk to Him, to be honest with Him, to tell Him how you’re feeling, but remember who you’re talking to.

Everyone struggles through dark times. Everyone faces situations that seem unfair. And, yes, it’s frustrating and upsetting. But the more you focus on how God isn’t speaking to you, the quieter He’ll get. But it’s not that He’s speaking softer; you’re turning His volume down.

Pacing bear at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Strong

I think of myself as a strong person. I’m independent and self-reliant, almost to a fault, and I hate asking for help. The way I look at it, if it’s something I have to ask help in completing, maybe it’s something I don’t need to worry about doing. Many times, I’d rather not do it if I can’t do it alone.

But that’s a silly, prideful way to live because nobody is really strong enough to make it through life alone. The older I get, the more I begin to understand exactly what it costs to be that strong, and the more I learn that I really don’t understand strength at all.

Pacing bear at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Pacing bear at the Sedgwick County Zoo – Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is 1 Chronicles 16:11.

Search for the Lord and for his strength;
    continually seek him.

I blogged on this verse earlier this year, focusing on how it says we’re supposed to seek God. Continually. But this morning, something else stood out to me that I hadn’t really seen before.

This verse is nestled in a song David sang as his armies were in the process of moving the Ark of the Covenant (the symbol of God’s presence on Earth in the Old Testament) back to Jerusalem. He sang this as they reached the city, if I have my timeline right. It’s a long song, and you can find it in 1 Chronicles 16.

This statement is in between lyrics about praising God for what He’s done and remembering the greatness of His deeds. But what struck me this morning wasn’t the bit about continually seeking God. That’s important because it’s easy for us to lose focus. What hit me as I read this verse today was the statement that we need to be searching for the Lord and for His strength.

Really?

It’s not surprising to me that we need to search for God’s strength, I guess. I’m not strong enough to make it alone; I get that. But what does God’s strength look like? Have you ever wondered? Ask yourself what that means.

God’s strength.

Strength has many definitions and connotations. There are many different kinds of strength, and I think we need to be clear about which one God is talking about.

Are we talking about the strength to create a universe out of nothing? Are we talking about the strength to part the Red Sea and leave it gaping open long enough for millions of people to cross over on dry land? Are we talking about the strength to stop the sun in the sky?

God did all of those things for the Israelites, and all of those things demonstrate that God is very strong. But is that the strength we’re supposed to search for? I don’t think so. Because that kind of strength is unattainable for us. I don’t think God would tell us to seek something if it were something we could never achieve.

So what kind of strength does God possess that we can achieve? What kind of strength can we learn from Him? Well, this is my personal opinion, but it makes sense to me.

It takes more strength to be patient and to wait for God to answer a prayer than it does to get up and try to do it myself. Action is easy; waiting is difficult.

I think it takes more strength to love people truly than it does to ignore them. Indifference is easy; love is difficult.

I think it takes more strength to get up the second time I’ve fallen down than it does to stand up before I fall the first time. The first try is easy; the second and third tries are difficult.

Real strength is facing those difficult moments in life without hesitation because it’s what God has called us to do, because it’s the right thing to do. That is the kind of strength God has, and that is the kind of strength He wants us to seek.

God is patient, especially with us. God loves, even when it hurts Him. God never gives up on us, even when we give Him every reason in the book to turn away and never look back. And it takes a strength far beyond the physical to do all of that. So maybe we can’t physically have the strength of God, but we can mimic His strength in the way we live and in the way we treat each other.

What does it mean to seek His strength? Well, as much as I hate to admit it, just like in Wal-Mart or Sears, the best way to find something you’re looking for is to ask for directions. So ask Him for it. Life isn’t one big scavenger hunt with God giggling about our failures from the sky. It’s more like a treasure hunt, and He’s waiting for us to ask Him for the map.