Tiger at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Fearless

What does it mean to have confidence? If you check the dictionary, which is a good place to start if you’re looking for the definition of a word, confidence is full trust. It’s the complete belief that an object will perform or that a person will keep their word. Confidence usually comes from repeated experience where the person or object in question proves over and over again that he/she/it can be trusted.

Confidence is difficult to earn in today’s culture. Trustworthiness isn’t something you find everyday. If you want someone to trust you, you have to work hard to prove it, especially in our culture of skeptics and realists. Not that skepticism or realism is necessarily wrong, but they do get in the way if you are trustworthy and people refuse to trust you because they’ve had bad experiences with other people.

Tiger at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Tiger at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Hebrews 10:35-36.

So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.

I love the book of Hebrews. Someday I’m going to do a study just on it. I don’t claim to understand everything that’s in it, but the pieces I do grasp always leave me speechless at God’s great love and willingness to bring us into His family.

In this section, the writer is encouraging the readers to persevere, not to give up, and to remember that God is worthy of their trust. That phrase used in verse 35 (παρρησιαν), confident trust, is better translated fearless confidence. Think about that. Fearless confidence.

Wouldn’t you like to have confidence without fear? I sure would. There are so many things in life right now that could go wrong, so many things that have gone wrong, that being able to move forward in confidence with no fear would be miraculous. I’m not a fearful person generally, but I have anxieties and worries like anyone else. I have an active imagination and a brain that never stops racing, so I can come up with worst case scenarios with the best of people.

Fearless confidence isn’t something that only super Christians can claim. It’s something each of us has access to. Fearless confidence stems from trusting God completely, and I honestly think we all start out fearless. And then the “realities” of life set in and we give in to the normal anxieties we face on a daily basis.

If you read the verses before this, the writer is talking about how the early church used to be, when believers trusted God so deeply that no matter what happened to them, they didn’t fret or fear, whether it was persecution or theft of their belongings. But the longer we live and the longer we wait for Christ’s return, the more we have to go through, the more trouble we have to face, the more difficulties we feel like we have to overcome. And after a while it wears us down, and even though our confidence isn’t shaken necessarily, the little fears start creeping in.

But that’s not the way we’re called to live. We are called to live fearless.

Have you ever had a moment when you and God were on the same page? I don’t know how to describe it, but you know it. His presence is practically tangible, His voice is almost audible, and in that moment there’s no doubt in your mind that He can do anything, even though He’s acting through you. I wish I could say those moments were common in my life, but they’re not. But I have experienced them.

In those moments where God is so real to me that I would swear we were walking side by side, I’m not afraid of anything. I’m not afraid of what I’ve done in the past or what people will do to me in the future, because in those moments all that matters is Him. When all that matters is Him, you don’t have room for fear.

But fear is tricky. It’s stealthy and deceitful. Fear makes us think that we can accomplish something. Fear makes us feel like we have power over our lives, even though all we’re doing is turning our hair gray and making more work for ourselves. And when it comes down to choosing between fear and confidence, many of us choose fear because it gives us something to do. But fear isn’t worth it. It’s hollow and empty and useless.

And deep inside, we know that there’s no comparison between fear and God, but we choose fear anyway because it’s something we can control–or at least that’s what we think.

That’s what the writer’s talking about here. Don’t throw away your confidence in God because you run into trouble. Don’t choose fear over confidence because you can’t control what’s coming. God has a history of keeping His word, and He’s made us a doozy of a promise. But if we don’t hold on to that trust in Him, we won’t see it.

The world will tell you that fearless confidence is foolish, that trusting anyone on that level is just asking for disappointment. But since when were Christ-followers supposed to take the world’s advice?

God knows what’s He’s doing, and we can’t control our lives anyway. Better to trust Him, to live fearless, and keep moving forward.

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.

Blooming iris at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Tomorrow will come whether you worry about it or not

Does our worrying matter to God? I think it does. When we worry we pretty much tell God that He doesn’t know what He’s doing, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be guilty of that.

I wouldn’t call myself a worrier. I’m usually too busy to spend any time worrying about things, but sometimes anxieties creep up on me silently and spring a trap when I’m not paying attention. And before I know what I’m doing, I’m stressing out about things I can’t control.

We all know that worrying is a choice, but sometimes I think we make that choice without thinking about it. And I don’t know why worrying makes us feel like we have some semblance of control over life, because worrying stems from the fact that we have no control.

Blooming iris at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Blooming iris at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Matthew 6:34.

“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

It’s easy to worry about tomorrow. It’s easy to worry about the things we don’t understand. It’s easy to worry about the parts of life that we don’t get to change. But worrying doesn’t accomplish anything. Well, maybe I shouldn’t say that. Worry only accomplishes turning you into someone you’re not.

It’s like anger. Just like anger turns you into a different person, so does worry. And both worry and anger will ruin relationships and damage opportunities.

So how do you live without worry? How do you make that choice to not stress about tomorrow when tomorrow is all you can think about? Is there a magic word? Is there a key? Is there a book to read or a program to follow?

What’s nice about this verse is that it comes on the heels of a larger passage dedicated to telling people why they shouldn’t worry.

Matthew 6:25-33

“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

“And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

“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.”

Here’s the thing about worry. For me, worry comes from the fact that I like to be in control of my life. I like to make decisions. I like to be independent and self-sufficient. But my life is too much for me to handle alone. There are some things I can’t accomplish on my own. There are parts of my life where I need help, and it’s those parts of my life where I need help that I worry about because I can’t do it myself. I have to rely on someone else to help me.

And I’m not good at relying on people to help me. I worry. I worry that I haven’t explained a situation well enough. I worry that I haven’t provided the necessary instruction or tools. I worry that I left something out. I worry that the whole thing is going to go down the drain and it will have been my fault because I didn’t plan well enough.

But here’s the deal: What’s going to happen will happen whether I worry about it or not.

Surprising? No, probably not, but true. Just because we sit around and worry about an upcoming event doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen. Conversely, just because we sit around and worry about something that might happen doesn’t mean it will happen. That’s tomorrow. And worrying about it doesn’t do you or the people around you any good.

In those instances where you have to rely on God for things you can’t control, you just have to trust Him. Like the verses say above, He already knows what we need. And He’ll give us what we need to make it through. Either way, worrying about just makes you unpleasant.

So if you’re worrying about something today, stop. I mean, don’t ignore the problem. Recognize it. Prepare for it as best you can. But then let it go because worrying about it will only hurt you. God has it under control and He’s going to work everything out. It may not work out today. It may not work out tomorrow. It may not work out in a month or a year. But you can believe that it will work out because that’s the way God is. Whatever is happening in our lives has a purpose, and He will use it for our good and His glory.

Big blue bird at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

What good does worrying do?

I want to make God happy. I want Him to look at my life and my choices and be pleased with me. And as a result of that desire, I usually end up agreeing to do a lot. But I’m a doer. It’s part of my make up. I’m not good at just sitting around.

But the unfortunate side effects of being a doer is that I wear myself out. Over and over and over again. And the more responsibility I take on, the more prone I am to worrying about whether or not I’m going to do well.

I want to know that the things I’m focusing on are the things that matter to God, and one way to identify what matters to God is knowing what not to do.

Big blue bird at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Big blue bird at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Luke 12:22-32.

Then, turning to his disciples, Jesus said, “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food to eat or enough clothes to wear. For life is more than food, and your body more than clothing. Look at the ravens. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for God feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than any birds! Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And if worry can’t accomplish a little thing like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things?

“Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

“And don’t be concerned about what to eat and what to drink. Don’t worry about such things. These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers all over the world, but your Father already knows your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and he will give you everything you need.

“So don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.”

I don’t usually put so much Scripture up at one time, but Jesus just says this so well. And it’s something I really need to hear this morning, especially where I am at the moment.

I’m composing this post in a hotel room getting ready to run the PowerPoint presentations at my company’s national sales meeting. This event is the biggest thing we do, so it has to be flawless. It’s a huge responsibility. There are so many aspects to keep straight. And I worry. And I stress. And I drive myself crazy thinking about everything that could go wrong.

Isn’t that ridiculous?

So I’m focusing on what Jesus says here. We’re not supposed to worry. We’re not supposed to focus on those things that He provides for us. And while maybe Christ hasn’t provided these PowerPoint slides for me to work with today, He’s given me everything I need to deal with them. I’ve done my best to prepare, and now all I can do is the best I can and trust Him with the rest.

If we could all wrap our heads around that concept, I think our lives would be a lot less stressful. Like Jesus said, why do we worry about what we are going to eat or what we are going to drink or what we are going to wear? He provides for the least of His creation; so why wouldn’t He provide for us?

True, His provision usually means that we have to submit to what He wants us to do, and what He wants us to do doesn’t always match up with what we want to do. But that choice is up to us.

So if you’re facing something stressful today, stop worrying about it. Whatever it is, let it go. In our pursuit to focus on the things that really matter, let’s remember that worrying isn’t something that matters. It’s not even a blip on God’s radar. It’s not something we’re supposed to be anywhere close to.

Do what you can, and leave it alone. God will work it out. And even if it doesn’t feel like He’s working it out, He is. Because that’s who He is and that’s what He does.

So don’t stress. And I’m talking to myself, here. There are more important things in your life that need your attention and your focus than whatever it is you’re worrying about.

Giant tortoise at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Slow down!

Autumn is here, at long last, and we in south central Kansas are hovering on the line between the first hard freeze and the continued suffering of allergies. Fall is my favorite season. It’s not too hot; it’s not too cold; and you have the excuse to eat a warm pumpkin-something with every meal. But it’s also a difficult season because the chill in the air and the joy of being outside brings on this desire to hang out with people, to host parties, to attend get-togethers. Fall brings this strange need to commit to more than you can accomplish. Maybe no one else experiences this, but I do. Every fall. And I don’t really have any intention of changing that because … well … that’s fall.

But even though I will probably continue to bite off more than I can chew from late September through December, today’s verse (and last night’s message at church) reminded me that one thing I don’t have to do is worry about it.

Giant tortoise at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Giant tortoise at the Sedgwick County Zoo – Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Isaiah 64:4.

For since the world began,
    no ear has heard
and no eye has seen a God like you,
    who works for those who wait for him!

Stress makes everything worse, especially when you’re busy. But stressing out over things you can’t control is a waste of time, energy and resources. Now … if I really have said yes to more commitments than are possible, it’s my responsibility to back out of one of them, if I were honest. But I haven’t hit saturation yet (wait til Christmas gets here!).

We shouldn’t worry or be anxious. It’s tempting. Oh boy, is it tempting. But when we feel the worry creeping up on us, we need to hand it off to God. Why?

As today’s verse says, God works for those who for Him. It’s not our job to run around fixing all our own problems and trying to fix the problems that are beyond us anyway. It’s our job to wait on Him.

Our God wants to help us. Do you get that? Can you wrap your head around that concept? I can’t. It’s amazing. It’s huge. That the God who spun Jupiter in orbit, the One who filled up our oceans and invented the idea of seeds and harvest, would want to take His time and His resources and His energy and invest in my life? Wow.

There no other gods like Him.

What can our idols do? What can our petty little celebrities do? What can our vaunted politicians scrambling for national power do? What can our religious leaders do? What can you do? What can I do?

Nothing compared to Him.

So don’t be anxious. There’s no one like Him, and He works for those who wait for Him.

Don’t worry. Wait.

And while you’re waiting, enjoy life. I get so busy rushing rushing rushing that I forget to be thankful so many times. I forget to pay attention to the sun rise or the moon or the stars or the steam coming off my cup of tea or coffee. I forget to be thankful for all the awesome things He’s given me. I get so focused on what I think is important while I’m rushing that I forget to pay attention to what really matters: Him. And what He’s done for me. And being thankful.

Does waiting require that you slow down?

Yeah. But it’s worth it. Because when you slow down, life comes into perspective. And those of you who rush like crazy (like me) to accomplish things because you think you’ll run out of time, guess what? You won’t. Most of the time, if you slow down and do it right, you’ll actually accomplish more than you would have if you were rushing. Maybe when you rush through something, you’ll finish faster, but what for? So you can find something else to worry about or rush through?

No. Slow down. Stop and smell the roses. Or the coffee. Or the Sweet Cinnamon Pumpkin candle from Bath & Body Works (ahhhhh!).

Stop. Wait. Be thankful.

We weren’t designed to rush through life. We are made to enjoy what God has given us. So let’s enjoy it and be thankful and let Him sort out the details.