Dreams are like seeds, and God’s the one who plants them

Nearly everyone I’ve ever met has a dream. Granted there are a few who don’t. But the vast majority of people I know have a burning desire in their hearts to accomplish something. Maybe it’s something that’s never been done before, or maybe it’s something that others have already tried. It doesn’t matter if it’s an original idea or a revised one, it won’t leave you alone, and your soul is only quiet when you’re pursuing it.

So what happens when the season of your life prevents you from chasing your dream? What do you do then? You don’t have the money. You don’t have the time. You don’t have the energy. You just can’t make a living and chase your dream at the same time. Or, you can, but some important part of your life will suffer. You can chase your dream at the cost of your spouse or your children. You can chase your dream at the expense of your health. You can do all of those things, but you have to realize what it’s going to cost you.

Instead, wouldn’t it better to let God work things out? Sure, He works on a different timetable. He won’t move as fast as you want Him to, or He’ll move so fast you’ll scramble to keep up. But you’ve got to remember that your dream didn’t appear in your heart by accident. God gave you that dream, and He wants to help you achieve it. It just has to be in His timing and not yours.

Wheat growing at Safe Haven Farm

Wheat growing at Safe Haven Farm

Today’s verse is Philippians 1:6.

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

Dreams start out like seeds, and God’s the one who plants them. They grow a little at a time over the years until they turn into something you can recognize. I mean, after all, plants all look alike when they’re first sprouting. But you can’t tell grass from wheat right away. It takes a little bit of time before you can identify what your dream actually is.

But once you know it, you can start helping it along. Feeding it, caring for it, giving it what it needs so that it can grow bigger and stronger. For me, when I understood that my dream was about writing, I took classes in writing. I practiced writing. I followed other writers and read what they wrote. I fed that dream until it grew big enough that it wasn’t just a vague inclination anymore.

But I hit snag. Even though I’d cared for my dream, it still wasn’t the right time to live it. So I had to do the hardest thing: I had to give it back to God. He’s the One who gave it to me to begin with, but I didn’t want to give it back. It was mine. But I couldn’t help it grow anymore. I had done all I could to make it happen, and it wasn’t enough. God was the only One who could give it life. That took a long time. But I finally got there.

And along the way, I’ve learned the most dreams are the same. God gives them to us, but at some point, we have to be willing to give them back to Him. Without Him, they won’t ever become what they were meant to be. We’re not strong enough to accomplish that. Only God can. And He’s promised that whatever dream you have won’t die. Maybe it will feel like it is because you’re turning loose of it, but that’s not the point.

God just wants you to trust Him. So will you trust Him with your dream? Will you let it go and let Him have it back and trust that He’ll turn it into something bigger and better than you can imagine? Turning it loose won’t kill it. Quite the opposite. Sort of like you, your dream can’t live until it dies first and becomes something bigger.

So turn it over. Whatever it is. You can’t accomplish your dreams alone. They’ll stall and stop and flounder and fail, but if you give them to God, He’ll rejuvenate them. And on the day you least expect it, your dream will show up again with more possibilities and more joy than you thought possible, when God says the time is right.

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How does God give us strength to face life’s challenges?

I don’t like social events with people I don’t know well. Just being honest. I know that’s usually the point of social events–to get to know people better. But I am a classic introvert. I detest small talk, and I have very little talent for starting a conversation with someone I don’t know.

But if I can go to a social event with someone I know well, things are different. Or if there is someone in attendance at the event that I know well, my comfort level goes through the roof. Why is that?

Whether it’s my brother or my best friend or just someone who I’m close to, as long as they’re by my side, I feel ten times stronger. I don’t know if it’s the comfort factor of knowing they’ve got my back. Maybe it’s knowing they can help me pick up the conversation with a stranger if it starts to lag.

All I know is that when someone else is by my side, it’s not so hard to do the things I need to do, whether that’s as an accountability partner or as a sidekick in a socially awkward situation.

too_heavyToday’s verse is Haggai 2:4.

But now the Lord says: Be strong, Zerubbabel. Be strong, Jeshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people still left in the land. And now get to work, for I am with you, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

This isn’t the only verse in Scripture that makes the correlation between being strong and God’s presence. The Bible is full of instances where God tells His people to be strong because He’s there. And I guess just practically speaking what does that mean for us today?

It’s all well and good to say, “Be strong because God is with you” when you’re going through a tough time in your life, but that doesn’t mean God is going to show up and fix your problems for you. That doesn’t mean He’s going to do that scary job interview for you. That doesn’t mean He’s going to do the heavy lifting in your life.

Is it just a generic feel-good statement? “Hey, God’s here, so don’t be afraid!” Great for comforting people in an ethereal, religious sense, but what does it actually mean?

I like practicality. I like useful statements. And what I’ve learned about the Bible (and about God) over the years is that He is both practical and useful. There’s nothing fluffy about God. He doesn’t waste words. So if He feels the need throughout Scripture to make a connection between His presence and our comfort, there must be a practical reason for it. And there must be a practical application for our lives.

Have you ever been in the situation where you had to face a terrible challenge? Maybe it was an illness or the loss of a loved one. Maybe you lost your job or the funding for your school bills didn’t come through. We all have those moments in life where it feels like everything comes to a standstill while we deal with the grief and the disappointment and the anxiety.

In the aftermath of those moments, or even while we’re still dealing with them, where do you get the strength to keep going? Where do you draw your strength to face those challenges without giving up?

Some people do give up. Some people throw in the towel and walk away, and that’s certainly their choice. But the heroes of our world are the ones who stick to it and face impossible odds and overcome, but where does that strength come from? Sure, maybe some people have a moral strength of character that’s superior to others, but nine times out of ten, the people who have overcome the impossible things in life are drawing from a well of faith.

God’s presence doesn’t mean that He’s going to take our troubles away. No, most of the time, we need to face those troubles to learn something. But knowing that God is by our side throughout those struggles should bring us comfort and peace in the midst of them. Why?

If we trust that God is with us, that means we aren’t facing these troubles alone. If God is with us, He knows what’s coming and He’s someone we can turn to for guidance and wisdom and unconditional love no matter what.

God has ways of communicating with us. It’s not voices in the clouds or religious portraits in grilled cheese sandwiches. It’s through the Bible. It’s through His servants. And it’s through His Spirit in us.

There have been so many times in my life where I’ve been going through a difficult time and didn’t know what to do, and all I had to do was ask God for help and suddenly I’d know the answer I was looking for. Or I’d find it in Scripture. Or a mentor or friend would say something to me that helped me see the problem in a different light.

Having God by my side means He knows what is coming in my life. He’s God. He’s seen it. And He knows I can get through it. And that gives me courage to face whatever comes. No, God’s presence won’t magically imbue us with superpowers. I mean, it could. There’s no limits on what God can do. But generally speaking He doesn’t choose to act that way frequently in our world nowadays.

God loves us unconditionally. God has seen the plans He has for us, and they’re good, by the way. And for those who love Him, He’s working out the details for our benefit and His glory. That’s who God is. That’s who has your back, because He’s also promised to never leave us.

Knowing that, we can all be bold. We can all have courage. Because, seriously, who wouldn’t want to go to a party with Somebody like that?

Dandelion at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

What’s so bad about being weak?

If you’ve been reading this crazy blog for any amount of time, you’ve probably picked up on a couple of my idiosyncrasies, the most obvious being my stubbornness.

I’m stubborn. I make a mule look agreeable. Not that I’m unpleasant in my stubbornness, but politely insisting on doing things my own way doesn’t make me any less obstinate than if I were rude about it.

Don’t get me wrong. Being stubborn can be a good trait, when you’re focused on doing the right things. But if your perspective is off, if you aren’t rooted in the truth, being stubborn can be dangerous.

Dandelion at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Dandelion at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is 2 Corinthians 12:9.

Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.

I had a conversation with my cousin last Friday about how we both hate to admit weakness. About anything. And I had to laugh because I guess being stubborn really does run in the family, because all of us are that way. My parents. My uncles. My brother. And I guess my cousins too.

We never want to admit that we’re too weak to accomplish something. We never want to give in when we’re faced with a challenge, whether it’s an impossible work schedule, an incurable disease, or a dream that can’t ever come true. We just never back down.

And, again, in some instances, that’s good. And laudable. Even admirable. After all, that’s the stuff of underdogs-turned-heroes. And everyone cheers for those sorts of people, and rightfully so. But not every story ends that way. And sometimes living wisely means recognizing your weaknesses for what they are–chances for God to be glorified.

Oh, that makes me cringe. Weakness? I’m never weak. I hauled wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of dirt in the interior of Mexico because painting was too girly. I lifted a hundred pound bag of cement to prove that I could. I’ve lived alone in a 100-year-old house, weathered storms and floods and blizzards by myself, for six years.

Did you count the I’s in that paragraph? Like my life is about me, like my life is all about me proving something to myself and to people around me, and if that’s all my life amounts to, I’ve missed the point.

Here’s the deal, folks. It’s good to have an opinion as long as it agrees with what God says is true. It’s good to be courageous enough to stick to your guns in the face of opposition. It’s laudable to chase your dreams and keep picking yourself up when you fall on your face. Nothing worth achieving was easy to obtain.

But life isn’t about you, and it isn’t about proving how tough or strong you are. As Christ followers, our lives should be about showing the world how awesome God is. And the best way to do that is through our weaknesses, because when we back off and trust our lives to Him, He shines through in a way that is nothing short of miraculous.

When we are scrabbling and struggling to give our all and prove that we’re not weak, all we really accomplish is what we’re capable of. And, if we’d be honest with ourselves, what we’re capable of isn’t that great. What we’re capable of can’t change the world. What we’re capable of can’t make a difference in anyone’s lives, let alone our own.

But what is God capable of? What can God do? What will He do if we just let go of our fear and anxiety and our control freak tendencies and let Him work?

I’m weak. So is everybody else. But my God is strong. Stronger than I am capable of even imagining, and He wants to help me, to live life with me, to be my friend and help and guide and comforter.

So what are you being stubborn about today? Is it your job? Your hobbies? Your habits? Your family or your friends? Your possessions? Your comfort? If it’s something God has told you is right, then go ahead and be stubborn about it all day long. He’s got your back in that case.

But if you’re just being stubborn to prove a point, if you’re just being difficult because you can, that’s not an attitude God will bless. That’s pride. So knock it off. So what if it means people will think you’re weak? Tell those folks to go look in a mirror.

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Succeed or fail, victory comes from God

If you’re not a control freak, you may not understand the desperate urge to take matters into your own hands. But I am. And I hate sitting on the sidelines when things are happening around me that I don’t have the power to change.

I don’t do this very often, but I stumbled across a Psalm today that really made me think. I mean, they all make me think, but every now and then I rediscover one that makes me stop.

I needed to read this today. I’m flailing through life right now in one of the busiest seasons I’ll experience this year. I’m stressed out and stretched thin, and my performance-driven perfectionistic self is struggling to do everything just right so I can succeed. And I needed to remember this.

I never want to forget this, whether I’m facing failure or success.

Psalm 62

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

I wait quietly before God,
    for my victory comes from him.
 He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress where I will never be shaken.

So many enemies against one man—
    all of them trying to kill me.
To them I’m just a broken-down wall
    or a tottering fence.
 They plan to topple me from my high position.
    They delight in telling lies about me.
They praise me to my face
    but curse me in their hearts. Interlude

Let all that I am wait quietly before God,
    for my hope is in him.
 He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress where I will not be shaken.
 My victory and honor come from God alone.
    He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me.
 O my people, trust in him at all times.
    Pour out your heart to him,
    for God is our refuge. Interlude

Common people are as worthless as a puff of wind,
    and the powerful are not what they appear to be.
If you weigh them on the scales,
    together they are lighter than a breath of air.

Don’t make your living by extortion
    or put your hope in stealing.
And if your wealth increases,
    don’t make it the center of your life.

God has spoken plainly,
    and I have heard it many times:
Power, O God, belongs to you;
      unfailing love, O Lord, is yours.
Surely you repay all people
    according to what they have done.

Brick in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Despair isn’t wrong; staying there is

Is despair wrong? Life can be hard to take sometimes. Brokenness is everywhere, and it’s difficult to work with broken tools. You can make do, but it’s ten times harder and infinitely more frustrating, especially when you know that life wasn’t meant to be this way. And there are many times when I am tempted to just give up. Giving up would be so easy, and while there’s nothing inherently wrong with easy, it’s rarely the wise choice. Because anything truly worth having was never easy to obtain.

But even if I don’t give up, even at times when I know I’m going to keep moving forward, I am still tempted to feel despair because I have so much to do and no time to do it. I am pulled in so many directions I don’t even know how to take a step forward; I couldn’t tell you which direction is forward and which is backward. And it’s in those moments when intense anxiety and deep despair hit me hard enough to take my breath away.

I had one of those moments Monday morning this week. So much to do. So many expectations. I was on the verge of a breakdown at work because there was just too much for one person to do alone. And then, I remembered (duh) that I’m not alone.

Brick in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Brick in the snow at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.

Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Maybe having too much to do at work doesn’t upset anyone else, but my work is important to me. My performance at work is important to me. It’s like anything else in my life; I want it to be a reflection of Christ. And as I sat at my desk on Monday and looked at the overwhelming piles of projects that had stacked up over the weekend, I despaired.

And then I got angry. And then I started thinking foolish thoughts. And then I pouted. Granted, this all happened in the span of about fifteen minutes before the Holy Spirit whacked me upside the head and told me to stop being childish. But that’s what despair does to you.

Despair is dangerous. People in the depths of it believe lies about others and about themselves and even about God. They jump to conclusions that aren’t true. They are liable to do or say things that they don’t even mean because they’re searching for something to hold on to, even if it’s the reality of someone else’s anger or hurt.

But as dangerous as despair is, it’s not wrong to feel it; it’s wrong to stay there, especially when you have the means to escape it. We’re human. We’re going to feel despair at times. None of us are perfect, and we live in a broken world. And all that brokenness will build up, inside us, around us, and it’s frustrating. And nothing breeds despair like frustration. So if you feel despair, don’t freak out about it. It’s normal. Just don’t choose to keep feeling it.

But that’s difficult. Because as horrible as despair is, somehow it becomes a warm blanket to curl up with at night. The anger and the ridiculously untrue thoughts and the self-righteous indignation feels good, especially to people who are exhausted and who are trying to do the right thing and being thwarted over and over again. But that warmth is deceiving; the comfort those emotions bring is only temporary. Maybe they’ll make you feel better for a few days, but when the real cold front sweeps through, you need more than just anger and self-righteous indignation to stay warm. And then your despair will only grow deeper. It’s a vicious cycle.

So what do you do? How do you stop despair before it becomes a habit?

I’ve said before that I’m not scholar. There may be better verses in Scripture that deal with it; I’m sure there are. But I can only share what I have learned. I’ve struggled with this all my life. I’ve learned that the best way to handle despair and challenging circumstances is to expect them.

Our world is screwed up. And so are we. Why do we expect that everything will be hunky-dory down here? It never will be. That’s the point of Scripture, to show us that there is more to this life than what we know about it now. I’m not saying to be paranoid. But don’t be knocked off your foundation when troubles come. Don’t be surprised by them.

And when you’re tempted to despair, don’t freak out if you do a little. There’s a verse somewhere that says God remembers that we’re made of dust. He knows we’re not perfect. That’s why He is. And when we are weak, that’s when we need to ask for His help. And I’m weak all the time, so I ask for His help a lot. And He does it. Whether we ask for strength or wisdom or whatever, He’s right there, and He listens.

Like on Monday. I got away from my desk for a few minutes and got my head straight and asked Him to help me sort through everything on my desk. And He did. I got more done on Monday than I had in a long time. And that’s not me. I’m not capable of focus on that level in regards to half the projects I was working on. That’s Him.

I felt despair at first, but I chose to ask Him for help to get out of it. And I got to work.

Feeling despair is natural, but continuing to give despair a foothold in our lives (especially as believers) is a choice. And it’s a choice that can ruin your life and the lives of people around you.

If you’re feeling despair today, don’t listen to the lies that you have no hope or that you’re not a worthwhile person. Those are lies, and they don’t come from God. Tune them out and look to Scripture. Remember how much God loves you and that He’s waiting to help you; you just have to ask and be willing to do what He says. If you choose to do that, you’ll experience something miraculous; your life will change. Your perspective will change. And before you know it, those things that caused you despair before will only be cause for rejoicing because your weakness allows God’s strength to take over. And I think each of us could use a whole lot of that.

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.

Lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

God gives His people strength

Tired yet? It’s only Tuesday, and my feet are already dragging.  Judgement House, the outreach drama my church puts on every October, is an amazing ministry. There is no other ministry I love being a part of more; however, I can tell you there’s no other ministry that exhausts me more.

We finished on Sunday, and now I’m trying to remember how to live a normal life again, without spending every waking moment ensuring that tour groups have a guide to lead them every ten minutes.

Like so many other people who volunteer for Judgement House, I work a full-time job. And it’s not just a job; it’s a very stressful job. I love it, and I’m thankful for it. But it’s fast paced, high tension, and 100 percent necessary to be able to think on my toes. All of the above are difficult when I’m physically, mentally, and emotionally worn out.

So where do I get the strength to make it through the week? How can I get the strength I need to do not only what is necessary but also what God expects of me? How do I accomplish that, and how do I stop worrying about it?

Lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Lion at the Sedgwick County Zoo – Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Psalm 29:11.

The Lord gives his people strength.
    The Lord blesses them with peace.

I love the Bible. Seriously, any question you have, it has an answer. Like this. Where do you get strength? Ask God.

God strengthens His people.

Think about that. If you follow Christ, you are one of God’s people. And God will give his people strength when they need it.

I will admit: I almost didn’t use this verse today. Why? Well, it’s obvious. Isn’t it? Of course, we get our strength from God. Of course, God gives us peace. Where else would we get it from? Granted, we can look for it elsewhere, but we won’t find it. And if you’ve been following Christ for any amount of time, you’ll know that nothing else satisfies like He does.

Honestly, this verse didn’t grab me until I read the whole Psalm. Yes, God gives his people strength. But what does that mean? How can we wrap our minds around the kind of strength that God is offering to us? That’s what the rest of the Psalm is about. This is a wonderful verse, but it’s impossible to grasp the immensity of this promise until you read the rest of it.

Psalm 29

Honor the Lord, you heavenly beings;
honor the Lord for his glory and strength.
Honor the Lord for the glory of his name.
Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.

The voice of the Lord echoes above the sea.
The God of glory thunders.
The Lord thunders over the mighty sea.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is majestic.
The voice of the Lord splits the mighty cedars;
the Lord shatters the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon’s mountains skip like a calf;
he makes Mount Hermon leap like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord strikes
with bolts of lightning.
The voice of the Lord makes the barren wilderness quake;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord twists mighty oaks
and strips the forests bare.
In his Temple everyone shouts, “Glory!”

The Lord rules over the floodwaters.
The Lord reigns as king forever.
The Lord gives his people strength.
The Lord blesses them with peace.

Do you see? Do you get it? God’s voice alone can split the sky, tear massive trees apart, and cause mighty mountains to tremble. Literally. That’s just His voice.  Imagine what the rest of Him can do. And He offers that strength to us.

So if you’re tired today, whether you volunteered at NewSpring’s Judgement House or not, know that it’s all right to be tired. We’re all human. We all run out of steam. But we don’t have to stay exhausted. God is standing by waiting for us to ask for His help.

God has offered His strength to us. And I, for one, intend to take Him up on it. Because coffee, though wonderful, can only accomplish so much. To get through a day when I’m tired to my soul, I need strength that doesn’t come from me. And thanks to Jesus, all I have to do to get it is ask for it.