How to Find and Maintain Authentic Friendships

 

The Modern Pilgrim- Part Three- In Which Pilgrim Finds True Companions

“God has a bigger vision for our friendships than we can even begin to understand.” Angela Sackett

Friendships are tricksy. When you decide to be an all-out, on fire, Holy Spirit- filled, crazy in love with Jesus kind of Christian, well……they can be even harder.

When you’d rather:

  • Spend Sunday morning in worship with other believers instead of sleeping in, doing yard work, video gaming or shopping
  • Talk about the latest book by John Bevere, Frances Chan or Ann Voskamp instead of whatever Shade of Grey just hit the NYT bestseller list
  • Spend your first moments in the morning in prayer and Bible Study instead of checking your social media likes

Well, my friend, you are what my former pastor called, “a hothouse plant living in an open meadow world.” Your thirst for the higher things of God will affect your ability to form and maintain soul-level friendships. Frankly, the fragrance of Christ on you will repel some people.

Still, we need faithful companions to journey towards our God-ordained destinies. We aren’t wired to attempt this solo. Jesus did daily life with twelve guys he hand-picked. Who are we to think we can live out Simon and Garfunkel’s “I am a Rock; I am an Island?” We need people who will:

  • Celebrate our wins with no secret jealousy
  • Celebrate who we are without masks
  • Encourage us to dive deeper with Christ
  • Encourage us to confront our shortcomings and sins authentically
  • Pray for us and stand by us when we are failing at all the above
  • Pray for us and stand by us when life goes upside down or sideways

I’ve squirreled up many friendships and lost folks along the way who God meant for me to hang onto. Held on to some I needed to let go. The following points are from notes I took during my classes at Hard Knock University. My instructors? Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and the Apostle Paul. The four disciples record many details about Jesus’ complicated, scandalous, wonder-filled relationships with humans.  The Apostle Paul and his circle are also worth checking out.

This is not a definitive list guaranteed to get you faithful friends in a week. It’s a start. I’ll also recommend some books I’ve found helpful at the end of the post. Originally, I intended for this to be one piece but as I wrote and prayed, I felt a slow down from the Holy Spirit. So, only two points for today. More in the next post.

  • Be authentic

What good does it do you, long term, to build friendships around a public persona that isn’t the real you? You’ll either exhaust yourself trying to maintain the persona or mess up the friendship when the real you pops out unexpectedly. Usually during stressful times when you need your friends the most. This is a huge struggle for Enneagram Three’s, but I think everyone fights fear about dropping our masks.

 

I know I’m an acquired taste. I used to try and cover that up and be what I thought people wanted. Folks, that’s so opposite of God’s ways. He wants me to daily acknowledge the weaknesses and sins that he brings to my mind so that he can teach and change me. Listen, I tried to be a better, kinder, sweeter, more patient person on my own. I’m here to tell ya, it doesn’t work.

 

And worse yet, being a phony makes people feel unsafe around you.  They don’t know who’s going to show up at any given moment.  And they feel they can’t be real around you either.

 

We are all people in process. God chooses companions for me that are okay with the messes of my process, literally and figuratively. Their love for my strengths far outweighs the grace they need for my failings.

 

When God presents you with your next opportunity for a new friendship, and He will, ask yourself, “Am I acting like myself or the person I want them to think I am?” Lots of folks won’t enjoy your authentic brand. That’s okay! God will lead you to brothers and sisters who do which brings us to our next point.

 

  • Be prayerful

I know this seems obvious, but I’m not convinced we are praying about friendships near as much as God desires. Like the opening quote implies, there are key people God wants us to build relationships with at various times of our lives because he has huge plans for us. Some will be friends for a lifetime, and some will be friends for a season. They all matter. They all bring something to your table. They all need something from your table.

 

Many years ago, I learned to cry out to God for friends. Loneliness is a haunting thing that can tempt you to grab onto people and things you ought not to be. Allow God to open doorways between you and another. Don’t forge your own road. A world of troubles and sorrows can be entered simply through wrong relationships.

God longs for us all to be challenged by some Peters and loved by a Timothy or a Barnabas. The faithfulness of a John or a Silas can be the difference between us quitting or going on.

 

Ask God for open eyes and an open heart. The people you might be naturally attracted to are not always the ones God chooses for you. Some of my most significant relationships are with people my flesh might overlook. In fact, for years, I ignored the girl who turned out to be a faithful friend all through high school and college because she was unassuming. The angst of middle school would have been a lot better hanging with her rather than the boy-crazy friends I chose.

 

Again, friendships are so important to God, Jesus chose twelve people to live and work with every day. He could have done his ministry a different way, but I think God wanted us to observe and learn some things from the dynamics between all of them and Christ.  Next post, more ideas on finding and building friendships. For now, I challenge you to pray about your friends, or lack thereof. Is there a toxic relationship you need to end? Is there someone you are overlooking? Pray, pray, pray. Then extend your real self to the folks on the other side of the doors God opens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus, Friend of the Lonely

The Modern Pilgrim’s Journey- Pilgrim Finds Himself Alone

Going deeper with God can be costly and lonely. In my younger ministry years, I didn’t want to pay a price or be alone. Every time God revealed a new understanding of his Word and purposes, I eagerly shared it with everyone under my leadership. I expected them to be as excited about it as me and change accordingly.

I became frustrated with people who golf clapped me. When my tribe didn’t chime in with a passion to follow my new path, I considered them spiritual midgets. Yes, well, that’s who I used to be. I share this so you know how God can change a knucklehead. Maybe gain patience for the knuckleheads in your life? My grace quotient and ability to understand God’s unique methods of teaching his children back then, were grossly underdeveloped at that time. Further, I didn’t comprehend how lonely taking my cross and following Jesus could be.

And that loneliness of the pilgrimage is what I’m speaking into today. Jesus discussed sacrifices and Matthew, Mark and Luke all recounted it.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me,” Matthew 16:24, Luke 9:23, Mark 8:34 ESV.

How many disciples helped Jesus carry his cross? How many of the guys who lived and breathed with him for three years showed up when he struggled to carry that heavy beam after a night of torture and abuse? Jesus spoke volumes his followers couldn’t understand, when he talked about cross carrying.

There is an implied loneliness that is easy for us to see, this side of Calvary. We know that following Jesus means we will go it alone with him at times, just as he did on the Via Dolorosa. And sometimes, it means leaving others behind while we choose to continue to follow. That’s why Jesus said,

There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother of father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold in this time…….and in the age to come..” Mark 10:28-31

Choosing to pilgrimage with God this year may cost you. Are you willing to follow him, no matter what? As I studied for this post, the old chorus, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus,” came to mind. When I read its composer’s story, my sacrifices seemed miniscule.

About 150 years ago, a great revival swept through Wales, England and then launched gospel missionaries into the North-East part of India. At that time, the area was populated by tribes of ferocious head-hunters. These tribes equated manliness with the number of human heads hanging on your wall. The brave Welsh missionaries encountered great hostility to the gospel. Finally, one missionary led one man, his wife and their two sons to Jesus Christ.

Their faith became like a virus that others caught. Enraged, the village chief hauled the new believers before the entire town. He insisted that the first family who came to Christ renounce their faith or face immediate execution. The accused man and his family stood before the chief and his warriors. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the man composed a song on the spot, using the tune of an Indian folk song. He sang, “I have decided to follow Jesus (3x), no turning back, no turning back.”

The chief ordered the archers to murder the man’s two young sons. As the boys laid on the ground, bleeding out, the chief shouted, “Will you now renounce this faith, or will I kill your wife, too?”  The man sang a second verse, “Though no one joins me, still I will follow (3x), no turning back, no turning back.” Furious, the chief ordered his archers again. The man’s wife laid dying beside her sons.

“I’ll give you one more opportunity to deny your faith and live,” screamed the chief. The man sang his final verse. “The cross before me, the world behind me (3x), no turning back, no turning back.” Arrows found their mark again and the man joined his family in the presence of Christ. At that moment, God performed a miracle in the chief. He thought, “Why would this man and his family die for a man who lived 2,000 years ago on another continent? There must be a supernatural power behind this. I want it.” To the amazement of everyone, the chief abruptly shouted, “I too belong to Jesus Christ.” The entire village accepted Christ that day and gospel fire spread in Northern India.

Your tribe may not understand or follow you on your journey to go deeper and higher with God in 2020. They may even mock, threaten and try to make you feel bad about new choices like:

  • Attending church faithfully instead of watching online service in your jammies
  • Prioritizing morning Bible study and prayer times before other commitments.
  • Talking authentically with unsaved folks, about Jesus. (Sometimes this makes some Christians more uncomfortable than the lost)
  • Not watching certain TV shows and movies together anymore
  • Not overindulging in food and drink anymore
  • Refusing to gossip- my daughter lost an entire circle of friends at one point, because she refused to trash talk anymore.
  • Serving consistently in volunteer ministry
  • Giving tithes and offerings

Will you choose to follow Jesus, with no turning back? Will you obey him when he speaks to you? Where is he calling you up higher today? What or whom might he be asking you to leave behind? Whatever losses you incur, they cannot compare to the intimacy of fellowship with Christ when you take up your cross and follow him.

Encouraging Verses for Loneliness:

Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you,” Deuteronomy 31:6.

“Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me,” Psalm 27:10.

“Turn to me and be gracious to me for I am lonely and afflicted,” Psalm 25:16.

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand,” Isaiah 41:10.

 

 

 

 

 

Encouragement for When All is Not Calm and All is Not Bright

Sometimes lyrics to Christmas carols get stuck in my throat. They can’t climb over the lump triggered by certain phrases.  “And ye beneath life’s crushing load,” from “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” has messed me up when my life felt precisely that way. The phrase that’s torn at my heart the most though, is from “Silent Night.” I recall times when that peaceful melody carrying, “All is calm, all is bright,” was painfully opposite to my soul’s condition. Instead of harmony flying up, tears coursed down.

The first Christmas without my mother, a passionate lover of Christ and his birthday season.

The year my husband, Ken, and I left our ministry positions to follow God into the unknown financially and career-wise.

I think of friends and acquaintances who’ve experienced sorrows during the Christmas season.

How coffins lie amidst poinsettias.

How divorce papers and Christmas cards clutter the same counter.

How hospitals swirl the sounds of hissing, clicking machines with the sounds of Christmas carols.

How children’s Christmas lists are buried under stacks of bills with “Past Due,” stamped on them.

Life’s trials don’t respect Christmas. Accidents, illness, setbacks and cutbacks don’t take holiday vacation time. I want to encourage you though, not to just write the season off and call it all a loss if you’re going through a tough time. As believers, we can always find comfort and hope in our God. He uses all that stuff intended to destroy us, to purify us. The prophet Malachi calls it the refiner’s fire.

“For he will be like a blazing fire that refines metal, or like a strong soap that bleaches clothes. He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross,” Malachi 3:2-3(NLT).

Studying this reminded me again of how differently God and I view problems and pain. When I’m tossing around in a washing machine of troubles, I’m more concerned about getting out than giving in to what God is doing in all of it. When fiery challenges heat up, my first reaction is to try to find a way out of the furnace instead of communing with the fourth man in the fire (Daniel 3).

Charles Spurgeon said this about this passage:

“If any of you, my hearers, are seeking the Lord at this time, I want you to understand what it means: you are seeking a fire which will test you, and consume much which has been dear to you. We are not to expect Christ to come and save us in our sins, he will come and save us from our sins; therefore, if you are enabled by faith to take Christ as a Savior, remember that you take him as the purger and the purifier, for it is from sin that he saves us.”

Christ came as a baby because it was the only way. The only way to profoundly connect with humans facing the consequences of a world tumbling down in sin. The only way to bridge an impossible gap between us and God. The only way to access the loving arms that grab us triumphantly out of sin’s grasp. The arms that carry us through our trials.  The arms that will carry us to heaven.

The child in Mary’s arms became the perfect man whose bloodied arms stretched across a cross for me, for you. I cannot approach his agony and sacrifice in an ala carte manner saying, “I accept you as Savior, but not as my refining sanctifier.” I hate pain, it terrifies me. I love my Father more. He promises his presence and power as I grapple with the realities of sin’s frantic last moves against me on earth. Satan knows time is short before my perfected glory begins.

As I drifted from my Bible study into my current devotional, the same theme about God and our trials arose. In her book, “The Greatest Gift,” Ann Voskamp discusses God’s view of our sorrows and disappointments, using Joseph’s life. She highlights the verses, at the end of Genesis, when Joseph’s brothers fear he will turn on them after the death of their father, Jacob. Instead of justifiably punishing his brothers for their evil deeds Joseph says this:

“Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people,” Genesis: 50:20 (NLT).

Ann assures us that God will do for us what he did for Joseph.

“What was intended to harm, God intended all of it for good, and no matter what intends to harm you, God’s arms have you. You can never be undone. No matter what intends to harm you, God is never absent, never impotent, never distant. You can never be undone.”

Some of us are going through Joseph trials of family betrayals and dramas. Others are in Job trials facing sickness, death or financial setbacks and ruin. God will use it all, bending evil to accomplish his good.

So, let your Christmas worship be mixed with tears, but let it come forth. Sing from your heart, even if it’s only a choked whisper. God draws near. Emmanuel, God with us, no matter what.

 

 

 

God’s Love Is Unchanging Even When We Can’t Hear His Voice

Do you ever struggle to hear God’s voice or know his will for your situation? I struggled with the idea that God spoke clearly to others but not me. By faith, I knew he unconditionally adored me, but at times it seemed like I was getting the silent treatment.  I recall in college, one of my dearest friends took offense at something I said and stopped speaking to me. With all the emotional intensity that college girls living together can generate, our mutual friends ran between us. They carried confusion from me to her, “What in the world did I do?”  They returned with, “She knows what she did.” Ugh. I really didn’t. We eventually worked it out, but that wall of silence created some high drama amidst our circle of friends.

Silly as it sounds, I behaved as if God pulled the same thing sometimes, but God is not petulant or vague. He’s not waiting for me to do or say the perfect thing. In fact, sin often inspires God to speak loudly, as he must penetrate worldly wax stuck in our spiritual ears. No, the truth is, God chooses silence at times.

The Israelite’s felt his holy silence for a painful period between the book of Malachi, and the gospel stories of Christ’s birth. Four hundred years passed after Malachi, before God spoke to his people again. During that time, they moved from the humiliation of Babylonian captivity to the crushing boot of the Roman empire.

This last prophet’s words burn in my heart today for several reasons. First, Malachi contains the final words of God before the gospel writers. Second, they precede Christ’s birth, so December seems timely to me now, but I didn’t think of that a year ago when I made up this schedule. I simply wrote about the minor prophets in their Old Testament order. This is where it gets interesting in a Holy Spirit way.

Last week I studied Malachi to prepare for this moment of writing on Monday morning. I took notes and wrote down key ideas. Yesterday, my pastor, during a sermon series from Haggai, asked us to turn to Malachi for companion passages. He then preached some of the exact concepts I wrote down a few days earlier. This is a pattern with God and me. Whenever he highlights the same passage from multiple sources, I know that he is trying to communicate important stuff.

So, what are these critical last words before God’s long silence? Today, I’m extracting key ideas from chapter one that will lay groundwork for improving our spiritual hearing and ability to discern God’s methods and plans.

  • Israel questioned God’s love for them. (verses 1-5) God reminds them that he chose Jacob, their forefather, over his brother Esau, a gigantic message of love. Israel became recipients of God’s promises while Esau’s descendants struggled to find God, if they chose. He also spoke his love to them through his prophets.

In the same way, I remind myself that God chose me to be his child. He gifted me with a supernatural book through which he communicates directly to me. Additionally, He sent me the Holy Spirit and other anointed believers to teach and train my heart and mind. Thinking that God was giving me the silent treatment, says I don’t understand his love.

 

I believe God started this last book, reminding Israel of his passionate love for them, because he knew there would be a long silence. When I struggle to hear from God, I go to verses like I John 4:19, “We love because he first loved us,” and others in that vein. God is a perfect father who is not playing games with me.  I’ve learned to trust that love when I can’t hear his voice plainly. He will let me know what I need to know when I need to know it because he loves me and wants me to join him in his work.

 

  • Israel became complacent and careless with their worship and this provoked God’s anger. (verses 6-14)

Huge chunks of the book of Leviticus are devoted to the specifics of Israel’s worship of God. The concept of first fruits worship is established in chapter 23. The big idea is that God is given the very best of their livestock and crops. By the time of Malachi, Israel slipped far from that standard.  “When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he accept you?” (Malachi 1:7-8)

 

There are times when God’s constant mercies become a sharp contrast to my spiritual laziness. I don’t always offer him my first and best. Some days it’s getting sidetracking housework or social media before I hunker down in my quiet time. Other times I spend too much time watching TV or reading mysteries rather than balancing that by reading and pondering the scriptures or godly nonfiction.

 

I’ve met other believers that struggle with faithful church attendance or tithing or serving in ministry. Any time I offer God my leftovers, I presume upon his grace. He deserves my best efforts, whatever that looks like for you. This week, offering him your first fruits might be by hosting Thanksgiving dinner, serving turkey at a homeless shelter or doing some Christmas shopping for an aging parent. First fruits can take many forms all through our days.

 

As we enter the holiday season, let’s establish two firm footholds. First, his love for us is boundless and unconditional. He will creatively speak to us in many ways because we are his children whom he dearly loves. Second, he deserves our best. I’m challenging myself to use my finest resources for his agenda these next five weeks when I’m typically tempted to prioritize other fun stuff. Let’s be certain our time and energies demonstrate that we worship the Ancient of Days, not the holidays.

 

 

Dancing With Your Critics

Special note: This is a chapter excerpted from a book I’m working on entitled, “Mountains and Minefields- Survival Stories from Veterans of the Trenches of Ministry.”  I thought my blog followers might also enjoy reading it.

Dancing with Your Critics

My Test

Early in our ministry, elders from a church we served called my husband, Ken, in for a special meeting. They presented him with a list of “observations” brought to them by disgruntled church members. The anonymous items ranged from petty criticisms to character attacks. Ken did not dress appropriately, speak correctly, preach the “right” books of the Bible (are there wrong ones?) and so on.

When Ken asked for specifics, none were given. Asking about the people behind the complaints generated a solemn declaration. “It doesn’t matter who they are. You need to make changes.” Ken came home stunned and decided he did not hear correctly from the Lord concerning his ministry call.

There are different ways of dancing with your critics. The scriptural pattern in Matthew 18, is that you work through forgiveness and reconciliation and move forward together like ballroom dancing partners. My reaction to the meeting more closely resembled two boxers in a ring. Not only did I want to toss a few left hooks at the elders, I verbally punched Ken a few times, disappointed that he hadn’t stood up for himself. Today, we are united on how to handle such things Biblically. Back then, we lost our footing. Ken disappeared into a re-tooling of himself to meet other’s expectations, becoming withdrawn and cautious. I thought about the elder’s behavior and started a list of my own, about them.

Did these elders and church members handle this in the wrong way? Absolutely. Did I respond rightly? No. God tested me, and I flunked. From then on, I nurtured bitterness towards anyone I imagined to be list contributors or any other critic. Every interaction with church members, I tried to determine if they were part of the merry band of character assassins. I knew that refusing to forgive is sin, but I justified my emotions as righteous indignation. I nurtured sin in my heart, no differently than Ken’s critics.

Some items on the list contained sharp words that slashed deep wounds into us. A few folks found everything about me and Ken to be wrong. Neither of us understood that all leaders encounter critics, sometimes haters. My rage lasered into a single point; people assaulted my man’s ministry. Simmering anger felt reasonable.

My bitter spirit became entrenched. I kept a mental “A” list and a “B” list, of supporters and detractors. Faultfinders received polite treatment when I couldn’t avoid them. Growing up in a confrontive culture, I applauded my self-control. The fact that I didn’t behave outwardly ugly toward certain members, I deemed a victory.

The irony is that during this time, we experienced successes and growth in our ministry. Most of our congregation supported Ken’s leadership. Many worked tirelessly, side by side with us. Despite that, I dedicated too much mental real estate to the opposition. Since we knew little about scriptural conflict and resolution, this emboldened sinful behavior amongst a few.

I mulled over every hurtful word and deed and carried on imaginary conversations with their perpetrators.  Thank God, he kept me from speaking any of that nonsense out loud.

My Training

Without God’s grace, I might still maintain lists. Eventually, I became aware of a heaviness around me. It haunted my dreams at night. Daily, I carried the weight in my soul and sometimes it felt like a physical sensation.  After attempts to ignore it for several months, I knew I needed help. I called a seasoned pastor that we’d recently met at a conference.

He listened while I described the situation.  After I spilled it all, in his Texas drawl, he said, “Well, darlin’……… let me just ask you this. Is there anyone you need to forgive or anyone that you maybe hate, even just a little?”

“Yes, there’s a list,” I said.

“A list?  Like a hit list?”

I assured him I lacked mafia connections. “I keep a running tally in my head,” I mumbled.

“What did these rascals do?” he questioned. I shared.

“So, if I hear you rightly,” he reasoned, “There’s a list of injustices in your head, and you keep that information handy.  Honey, you done opened a door of unforgiveness and put out a welcome mat of bitterness for Satan to mess with your life. You need to repent and forgive.”

After he prayed for me, he shared key verses and assured me that all leaders encounter conflict. I chuckled when he said in closing, “Every church has some fruits and nuts. I know mine surely does.”

The sorrow I felt for harboring sin, made verses like 1 John 1:9 fresh. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (NIV). Other verses prodded my guilty conscience. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:1 NLT).  I understood I’d grieved God deeply.

I asked God to teach me, change me. During times of honest prayer, he reminded me of occasions when I’d judged people, with no thought to grace. I needed to confess and renounce my critical spirit. This I did, many times. Some criticism I experienced, probably came as a harvest from nasty seed I’d sown in my own fields. Undoing a negative habit is a process. I devoured teachings about forgiveness and became desperate to learn the nuts and bolts of how to go forward in truth and grace (John 1:14) when people attacked my character and motives.

Ken and I continued to experience divisive behavior in our churches, as all leaders do, but with diligence and time, I learned to respond to criticism instead of reacting to it. Here are some strategies I learned.

My Toolbox

  1. Be prepared

People will oppose and criticize. Memorize pertinent scripture. Satan will be nearby to entice you to sin. Resist him with the Word. Here are two of my favorites:

– “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (Matthew 5:1 NIV).

– “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats.  Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (I Peter 2:23 NIV).

 

  1. Feel what you’re feeling.

Don’t pretend words can’t hurt. They possess the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21). A wise pastor once told me, “Feelings are what they are, it’s what we do with them that matters.” Acknowledge emotions and deal with them so you can move on.

 

  1. Turn to God first.

We tend to run to others when we feel besieged. Sympathy doesn’t mature us. In fact, it can handicap us and cause us to develop a victim mentality. I recall retreating to closets or restrooms to be alone with God and recover from verbal attacks that occurred between worship services. Those quiet moments empowered me far more than a friend saying, “You poor thing.”

We should only share specifics about a conflict with someone who possesses the authority or skill to be part of reconciliation. Sharing the ugliness with anyone else is gossip. Let your circle of folks know you are struggling and ask them to pray for wisdom, grace and resolution. No more detail is necessary.  God is the only One who will think no less of someone because of your words.

 

  1. Ask God for truth.

Once you are past the initial shock, it’s time to consider whether there’s any validity in your critic’s words, regardless of attitude behind them. Under assault, we instinctively give our attackers zero credibility. Writing folks off as contrary sheep is easier than examining ourselves. We need to own our failings and missteps. God may use a mouthy sheep to get a shepherd’s attention.

Sometimes, there is no truth in criticism. One couple accused Ken of stealing. Although it was false, we needed to know the truth behind this accusation. This couple did not want our church to grow. The influx of new members rankled them, and they blamed Ken for “ruining their church.”  Their goal was to run Ken and me off.

I recall other times when someone launched on me due to stress in their personal lives. When life goes sideways, people might misdirect their anger. However, what’s in our hearts comes out of our mouth. Even though someone may apologize and explain their backstory, it’s wise to investigate whether there is a seed of negativity there.

 

  1. Work for reconciliation.

When a fellow believer attacks you, it creates brokenness in the body of Christ.  Matthew 18: 15-17 is clear as to our responsibility. We need to go to that person and initiate reconciliation. If your critic agrees to meet, use “I” language. Avoid starting sentences with “You.” They will feel attacked and defensive. Try phrases like, “I feel hurt and confused by what happened between us recently.  If I’ve offended you or hurt you, I want to make that right.”

Often, this attitude opens doors, sometimes not. Occasionally, critics lack interest in reconciliation and will instead use the conversation to chew us out further without taking any ownership of their own behavior. If this occurs, I suggest step six.

Sometimes people explode because they feel powerless. Restoring a relationship with them doesn’t mean that you abandon your God-given vision for ministry. Ask the Lord for insight as to how to bring this person on board with the leadership’s vision. Can you turn an adversary into an advocate?  As a high school teacher and as a ministry director, I watched people change from opponents in the ring to partners on the dance floor, when I used this approach.

Be honest. Ask forgiveness for ways you caused pain for the other person, even if they don’t initially ask you to forgive them. You cannot make someone be at peace with you.  All you can do is obey God’s Word and offer an olive branch.

Sadly, some people will use the branch to smack you on the head.  They don’t want peace; they want you gone. So, what is to be done when people refuse reconciliation?

  1. Seek out higher authority.

That will vary according to your situation.  In ours, it involved our denomination’s ruling body. Chronic sin cannot be allowed to go unchecked. Paul uses yeast, as an illustration, in Galatians 5:9, of what can happen when we don’t deal with situations forthrightly and Biblically. Sin becomes a poison in the bloodstream of a ministry. Ultimately, people who simply opposed Ken and me at every turn received instruction from higher authorities, to reconcile with us. When they refused, they were asked to leave our church and find one where they could support the pastor.  Sadly, they left, and carried their pain along to the next church.

God wants us to forgive, release and bless the people who sin against us.  (Luke 6:28) Ultimately, I began to view critics as God’s refining tools. Qualities like humility, patience and compassion, can grow in a trial, if you handle it rightly. I learned to see the pain behind harsh words. I developed tougher skin and stopped feeling like I’d been kicked in the stomach every time someone opposed me.

To be a faithful Christ-follower, involves rejection and sorrow. Jesus knows, intimately, the pain of false accusations. He sees your pain, and he cares deeply.

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” Matthew 11:28.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Find Strength for Hard Situations by Partnering With the Holy Spirit

Do you ever feel helpless and weak in certain situations? Whether you’re up against a life-threatening disease, served divorce papers, contending with an unreasonable boss or agonizing over rebellious children, nobody likes to feel powerless. What if I told you those are precisely the places where God loves to demonstrate his strength?

Teaching in an inner-city school, I experienced the power of the Holy Spirit strengthen me to do and say right things boldly, even though my jelly knees and icy hands told a different story. One time, the Spirit empowered me to stand fast when a student hurled a chair towards me, screaming obscenities and challenging my authority. In the silence that followed the crash of the chair on the linoleum, something supernatural happened. I remained unmoved, looked at the student sadly, handed her a detention slip then asked her to remove herself to the hall. She did. Quietly, in fact.

I experienced many incidents like this with troubled students from families living on the edges of society. Each encounter tested my reliance on God and ultimately demonstrated his strength in my weakness. One of the greatest displays of the Holy Spirit’s partnering power I ever witnessed at this school though, occurred with my husband, after a choir concert.

Some of the students’ family members belonged to local gangs. Before the concert, I noticed some disturbing body language exchanged between two groups of folks seated across the aisle from one another. I suspected that rival gang members unwittingly sat too close to one another or wore the wrong colors, or who knows.

I prayed for Christ’s peace to fill the auditorium and allow the choir to present the music we worked so hard to prepare. After the concert, I became caught up talking with various parents, completely forgetting about my uneasy feelings of earlier until a student’s voice rang out, “Mrs. Stults, Mrs. Stults you better come see what your man is up to!” Simultaneously, I noticed much of the remaining crowd running over to the auditorium windows which overlooked a parking lot.

Two groups of men clustered in opposite corners of the lot, clearly hostile and gearing up for a brawl. Worse yet, my husband, stood alone in the middle of the two groups of Goliath-sized, angry men. Three stories up, I watched, amazed, as it appeared that average-sized Ken spoke to both groups. Within a few minutes, the men dispersed and left the lot.

I asked Ken why he went out there and what in the world he said. “I saw what was about to happen and felt like I was supposed to intervene and share a few facts, he said. “I pointed out the working security cameras in the parking lot and the group of witnesses up in the windows. I guess they decided it wasn’t worth it,” he finished.

That, friends, is what it looks like when our weakness partners with the Holy Spirit’s power. Ken was smaller than most of the men. They didn’t know him, nor did he possess any authority as a teacher or administrator. There was no good reason they allowed him to walk into the middle of their conflict, but they did, because the Holy Spirit partnered with Ken and brought peace into strife.

In Zechariah 4:6, Zerubbabel, the governor of Judea, feels weak in his God-ordered task to rebuild the temple. His small group of laborers are overwhelmed by the massive piles of rubble and chaos created when invaders destroyed the building. When Zechariah prophesied, these guys had been working for twenty years and yet, tons and tons of broken stone and metal sat on the temple site. When God saw Zerubbabel’s discouragement, he spoke these beautiful words through the prophet,

“Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts. Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain” Zechariah 4:6-7.

In other words, God said to Zerubbabel, “This temple isn’t going to rise because of the strength of your workforce. The power will come from my Holy Spirit who is so strong, these mountains of wreckage will become like flat plains.” As Dr. Thomas Constable says in his expository notes on Zechariah, “If success is to be gained in the achievements of the people of God it will not be secured by what man can do but by the Spirit’s work.”

The prophet Hosea echoes this same thought.

“But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the Lord their God.  I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen” Hosea 1:7.

Paul the Apostle says it this way.

“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak then I am strong,” 2 Corinthians 12:10. 

Dear brother and sister, whatever the situation is that’s confronting you, making you feel defeated and kicked down, it will not be overcome by your willpower or determination. What does partnering with the Holy Spirit to become an overcomer look like?

  • Admit that we are powerless to change people or situations with human strength alone and stop making ourselves crazy trying to do that.
  • Yield to the Holy Spirit and ask him for understanding and insight as to what our role is. Just, as he did with Ken, he will tell the listening heart what to do or say. Sometimes he wants us to do or say nothing and leave things be for a bit so he can work on moving some mountains and softening some hearts.
  • Obey whatever he tells you to do, even if it seems goofy.
  • Trust God for results remembering his timeline is usually different from ours.
  • Study and memorize Scripture. When I faced tough financial strain, I memorized verses about God’s provision and goodness and spoke them out loud every time I felt powerless about money. God’s Word changes environments and brings hope into hopeless situations.

Let feelings of weakness be a trigger reminder going forward, like the Apostle Paul. Recognize those times as opportunities for God to manifest his glory and power through you and around you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What To Do When You’re Struggling To Feel Relevant and Purposeful

Are you struggling to feel relevant and purposeful in some area of your life? This can be any place where we think we don’t matter as much as we’d like to or used to. Christ followers know that we are of great value to God but when humans don’t echo that, well, it stings and can be discouraging.

Many years ago, when God called my husband Ken and I out of ministry into the marketplace for a while, I transitioned from being a worship arts director, leading three different services a week, to one of 35 sopranos in our new church’s large choir. The first two rows seated the brightest and best of the sopranos. I started in the third row.

The abrupt change from lead dog to follower, created weird sensations inside me. I felt unnecessary. Eventually, God restored me to leadership ministry but first taught me some deeper lessons about humility. That time in God’s waiting room, stirred up junk I didn’t know was inside me and provided the opportunity for God to cleanse me and change me.

There are so many circumstances that can make people feel like a rotary dial phone surrounded by smart phones.

  • All your kids fly the coop, and you’re left with a house of deafening silence and recipes for six.
  • Someone else got the promotion you deserved at work while you’re still slogging it out in your cubicle.
  • Your last preschooler climbed onto the kindergarten bus. You stare at jelly hand prints on the walls with tears in your eyes.
  • Your spouse died and your couple friends don’t know quite what

to do with you.

  • Retirement isn’t quite as meaningful as you imagined. Your adult children don’t have as much time for you as you expected, and you feel purposeless and unproductive.
  • You’ve been trying to have a baby for years and the pain of that is hard enough, but most of your friends are knee deep in diapers and Legos and conversations have become awkward.

Whatever set of circumstances is conspiring to make you feel less-than, in any way, take heart. The great news is that you are strategically located in a place where God often looks for candidates for his next great story. Think with me for just a moment, about the people God likes to partner with to accomplish miraculous stuff.

  • The Israelite’s were slaves, treated like animals, when God pulled them out of Egypt and chose them to be a light for the nations of the world. The rest of ancient civilization knew little about them, except for their brick making skills.
  • Gideon was one of the smallest men of his tribe and by his own words, lacked courage.
  • Noah was a faithful man of God but clearly, the people around him didn’t think he was anything special since no one else believed God through his testimony and joined his family on the ark
  • Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a nobody teenager from nowheresville.
  • David’s brothers and father deliberately minimized him when the prophet Samuel came looking for God’s next anointed King. They still didn’t recognize God’s favor on him when he showed up on the battlefield volunteering to fight Goliath.

 

If you feel like the unused coffee cup at the back of the cupboard, I’m telling you, that’s where God will hunt for a useful mug. As I’ve noticed the way God directs the changing seasons of my life, I’ve learned to relax in the truth that my life is a treasure, masking as a jar, or mug of clay. (2 Corinthians 4:7) Ceramic ware becomes stained, cracked and worn out and eventually useless when it’s heavily used non-stop. So too would we, if God didn’t provide resting places between our seasons of life. Thus, sometimes we feel back shelved and unconnected.

When God moves us into a back row or simply a different row, it’s often because he wants to do some interior work in us. He needs to remove the coffee stains that the acid of trials left inside of us. We may need cracks repaired from our hearts, minds or bodies being broken. Sometimes he breaks us up entirely and does a completely different work, setting us into new relationships, careers or opportunities, just like those recycled mosaics that are made of broken ceramic dishware. My husband Ken attended seminary to become a pastor. Never did he dream that God would make him a successful business owner for several years.

In Zechariah 4:10, I found this precious verse that encourages me when I’m feeling like the unused mug. “For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.”  Zerubbabel was the governor of Judea, overseeing the rebuilding of the temple during the time of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. The construction lagged and workers sagged for twenty, discouraging years of “small things,” progress-wise.  I love what the Enduring Word commentary says about this verse.

“In many of God’s choice workers He uses a powerful season of small things. Those days are not a mistake nor are they punishment; they are days of priceless shaping and preparation. They are not days to despise. When Satan tempts us to despise the day of small things, he shines as an outstanding liar because Satan does not despise the day of small things. Satan fears the day of small things in our life because he sees what great things God does in them and brings out of them.”

 

If you are currently in a back-row spot in some area of your life that does not mean you are no longer relevant, and your life is not purposeful. Often, process matters much more to God than product. I encourage you to relax and submit to God’s methods. If you remain humble and obedient, he will use this time to prepare you for the next part of your unique destiny. Don’t despise your “day of small things.”

 

#purposefullife #relevantlife #Godswill #Godspurpose

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Apple of God’s Eye

I remember the wonderful sensation of being the apple of someone’s eye, how safe and loved I felt. During my pre-school years, my parents and I lived with my mother’s parents, Charles and Alice Robins. “Robbie,” as many called him, was saved out of a life of gambling, boxing and hustling pool to become a Baptist minister. My grandmother, Alice, served beautifully alongside him and reigned him in whenever she felt he looked or sounded too much like the old Robbie.

On Friday nights, my parents usually went out. My grandmother cared for my baby brother and Grandpa and I watched the Friday night fights. He kept a small television in his bedroom as Alice couldn’t bear the sights and sounds of boxing anymore and refused to watch with him. She wasn’t thrilled with a young child watching either but magically understood that I loved this time with him so reluctantly allowed me to join him.

I don’t remember the fights themselves, but I remember how I loved watching him, watching them. I usually started on his lap, but inevitably, he’d become disgusted with a call or a boxer’s performance and put me down while he did his own instant replay of jabs, hooks, punches and fancy footwork while explaining the poor call or the boxer’s failures. I felt special because he included me in this world. After he resettled into his Lazy Boy, he’d pull me back on his lap with a large grin and say, “That’s my girl.”

For all her failings and grievous sins, through the prophet, Zechariah, God still calls Israel the “apple of his eye” in chapter two verse eight. Zechariah was one of the last prophets before God’s 400 years of silence between Malachi and Matthew. This means that God endured numerous cycles of rebellion and repentance with his chosen people, before Zechariah wrote these words. God’s unfailing lovingkindness endured for centuries with contentious, disobedient and often grossly immoral Israelites.

Through Christ, the door of God’s kingdom swings wide to anyone, not just Jews, who names Jesus as savior and lord. The apostle John, said, “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So, there will be one flock, one shepherd” John 10:16. Thanks to Christ’s death and resurrection, we Gentile believers are now also the apple of God’s eye. So, it occurred to me, what does it look like to sit on God’s lap and watch the Friday night fights with Him?

Whatever discouragement, setback, disappointment or heartbreak I might experience, I can always climb up into Father God’s lap while he “contends with those who contend against me and fights against those who fight against me” as David described it in Psalm 35:1. My God does not passively sit by and watch while life comes at me, sometimes fierce and destructive. In Deuteronomy 20:4, Moses declares to the newly formed Israelite nation, “For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.”

The book of Zechariah is filled with eight visions that describe what God did in the past for his people, what he was doing in the present and what was to come. The book is filled with prophecies concerning the coming Messiah and the impending destruction of the enemies of God’s kingdom and people. Look at this example in Zechariah 2:8-11:

For this is what the Lord Almighty says: “After the Glorious One has sent me against the nations that have plundered you—for whoever touches you touches the apple of his eye— I will surely raise my hand against them so that their slaves will plunder them.[b] Then you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me.

10 “Shout and be glad, Daughter Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,” declares the Lord. 11 “Many nations will be joined with the Lord in that day and will become my people. I will live among you and you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you.” 

Verse eight refers to the past when God rose up in anger against evil nations that attacked or conquered Israel. Just as the Hebrew slaves plundered the Egyptian slave masters, God allowed this same scenario to repeat itself in other nations, for the sake of the Israelites reputation as his people.

In verse 10, we see a reference to the birth and life of Christ. Verse 11 makes clear that Christ’s ministry would bring together people of many nations all under the heading of God’s kingdom.

Brothers and sisters, God is the same yesterday, today and forever. Just as he defended the Jews for centuries, so does he stand as a warrior against anything that comes after one of his children of the new covenant. Whatever circumstances are coming at you to steal, kill or destroy, climb up on Father God’s lap, in prayer and humility, and let him fight for you and with you. You ­are the apple of his eye.

Here’s some verses that are meaningful to me whenever I consider the many ways God is intervening and fighting on my behalf even when it feels or looks like nothing is happening in the natural. Let them renew your mind and bury deep in your soul, handily located for the next battle.

Deuteronomy 3:22 

You shall not fear them, for it is the Lord your God who fights for you.’

Isaiah 54:17 

No weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and their vindication from me, declares the Lord.”

Psalm 34:17 

When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.

Romans 8:31 

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

Isaiah 41:10 

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand

Isaiah 45:2 

“I will go before you and level the exalted places, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron,

Isaiah 43:2 

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.

For a much longer list of similar verses go to this link and memorize the ones that hit you especially, like I did.  https://www.openbible.info/topics/let_god_fight_my_battles

 

 

Holding Fast to God While the World Breaks Down

Holding Fast to God When the World is Breaking Apart

While I write this, in my peaceful writing space, in my cozy house, all around the world, people’s lives are unraveling. I’m thinking about our sister in Christ, Kayla Mueller, and her family, today. Kayla was on a humanitarian mission with Doctors Without Borders, when she was abducted by Isis in Syria in 2013.  Her death is still shrouded in confusion, but we know, from firsthand witnesses, that during her last months of captivity and torture, she was repeatedly raped by the terrorist, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who committed suicide over the weekend while fleeing from U.S. forces. The mission to capture him was named after Kayla, in honor of the courage she demonstrated during her eighteen months of captivity.

Through many means, death will claim loved ones, leaving shattered people in its wake. Terrorists will rage. Murderers will kill. The destructive power of death will touch lives in other ways too. Divorce papers will be served, termination notices delivered, and eviction notices posted. Dreams and hopes will perish today while some watch their loved ones leave a courtroom in shackles and others watch their homes swept away by natural disaster.

In this world, it shall always be this way until Christ’s return. Once death planted its flag in the Garden of Eden, destruction and decay became our norm until God banishes evil to eternal damnation. Just like you, I’ve faced losses and crushing blows where it seems that wickedness is kicking righteousness to the curb. By faith, I know that may be temporarily true but never ever eternally true. Nevertheless, my soul and emotions need to be reminded that although Jesus died a brutal death, he rose victorious and triumphant over death, hell and the grave.

The first chapter of Habakkuk resonates with me whenever I feel as if horrible things are happening around the world and to people I know, and God doesn’t intervene.

How long, O Lord, must I call for help” But you do not listen! ‘Violence is everywhere,’ I cry, but you do not come to save. Must I forever see these evil deeds? Why must I watch all this misery: Wherever I look, I see destruction and violence. I am surrounded by people who love to argue and fight. The law has become paralyzed and there is no justice in the courts. The wicked far outnumber the righteous, so that justice has become perverted” Habakkuk 1:2-4 (NLT).

“Should you be silent while the wicked swallow up people more righteous than they? Are we only fish to be caught and killed?” Habakkuk 1:13-14 (NLT).

In the same way Isis once roamed all over Syria, the Babylonians terrorized the Jews of Habakkuk’s time. We don’t need to look far to imagine what Habakkuk might have been feeling to write such complaints to God. Worldwide, many inner cities are brutalized by gangs and justice and political systems are too often under the control of the wicked. The prophet struggled to understand God’s apparent silence in the face of his country being overrun by godless barbarians.

So, what should be my posture and attitude be when wickedness seems to be winning? Let me turn back to Kayla Mueller’s life for a beautiful example of Christ-like behavior in the face of the worst of evils and to suggest some things for us to think about.

  • Obeying God fervently will put you in the enemy’s line of fire. Kayla was traveling in war-torn areas, bringing comfort and healing to victims of violence. If we choose to obey God in every way, we must expect resistance and trust him for courage to face it and keep going. He sometimes leads his children into dangerous situations.
  • The measure of our character will be revealed through pain. At the bottom of this post are two stories that share the details of Kayla’s imprisonment but also tell us about her remarkable fortitude and compassion for others despite her own pain. Witnesses, held captive with her in various locations, testify to her kindness and concern for their well-being. In fact, at one point, 25-year-old Kayla chose not to escape with two younger girls as she told them that without her, they stood a much better chance of eluding recapture.

I am deeply moved by this young girl’s example when I consider my behavior during dark times. Too often I can trend towards a self-centered response to my trials and become oblivious to others in pain around me.

  • God will not always rescue us from disasters, dangers, heartbreaks and problems but he will deliver us through them.

Witnesses report that Kayla refused to deny her Christian faith to the end. Although she pretended sympathy towards the Muslim faith with a couple captors, those who lived in the prison cells with her said she never denied Christ. In a letter to her parents she said,

 

“I remember mom always telling me that all in all in the end the only one you really have is God. I have come to a place in experience where, in every sense of the word, I have surrendered myself to our creator b/c literally there was no else.+ by God + by your prayers I have felt tenderly cradled in freefall…I have been shown in darkness, light + have learned that even in prison, one can be free. I am grateful.”

 

The apostle, Paul, also knew the secret of being free in prison. He suffered numerous beatings, was shipwrecked three times and imprisoned repeatedly, yet he never stopped sharing the gospel news. He said, “For me to live is Christ, for me to die is gain” Philippians 1:21 (NLT). God sent earthquakes to remove his shackles and open prison doors, plucked him out of the ocean and neutralized a snake’s venom to keep Paul’s ministry going. In the end, though, the time came when God did not perform any rescue and the apostle died violently, like Kayla and so many other believers.

 

Things will come apart in this life. If I seek help from anything before God, I won’t be able to function powerfully, as Kayla and Paul did. Holding fast to God’s word and the truth about his character will keep me steadfast and others-focused when all around me might be shaking and breaking. I need to go deeper with him now and remember his reply to Habakkuk, so that when the next storm comes, my foundations will be strong enough to keep me standing.

 

“Look at the proud! They trust in themselves and their lives are crooked. But the righteous will live by their faithfulness to God” Habakkuk 2:4 (NLT).

 

https://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/israel/2019/october/baghdadi-operation-named-after-christian-woman-who-refused-to-give-up-faith-before-being-killed-by-isis

https://abcnews.go.com/International/kayla-mueller-captivity-courage-selflessness-defended-christian-faith/story?id=41626763

 

 

 

Choosing Joy In the Midst of Disappointment

Some years ago, my husband, Ken, and I almost lost everything we owned due to some unethical and dishonest business practices of a corporation he worked for at the time. Faced with the potential loss of our home and business, I wandered in a spiritual desert for a few months, where I learned much about myself and God and his Word.

During another challenging season, many years ago, God called Ken and I to step away from everything we knew and most things we allowed to define who we were at that time. We left our home of twelve years, (it was a parsonage), with no place to live and both stepped down from our ministry positions with no other jobs lined up.  This desert season lasted a couple of years as it took me some time to understand that God wanted to teach and instruct me and draw him closer to himself.

The third dry season that comes to my mind occurred even before the other two when Ken took his first ministry position. Released from the rigors of seminary life and a job I tolerated but didn’t love, I eagerly looked forward to our new season. I felt certain God would now open doors for a teaching position for me, the job I dreamed of and prepared for my whole life up to that point. God opened no teaching doors and instead positioned me as a floral designer in a small shop in our town. I didn’t dislike the job at all, and I enjoyed my new role as a pastor’s wife, but the Desert of Disappointment haunted my soul for four long years, as I pined away, every day, for a teaching position. At that time, I lacked any understanding that God was up to something, and I needed to submit to it. I’m so glad I started to get a clue in the next two deserts.

When I read the end of Habakkuk 3, I am reminded of those seasons, and one of the main ideas God wanted me to grab hold of.

“Even though the fig trees have not blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!”  Habakkuk 3:17-18 (NLT).

This. This is the type of attitude God wanted to develop in me. Even if my plans fail, I lose what I have and my dreams don’t come to pass, will I still take joy in God and my salvation? That’s one of the primary questions God will ask of any believer in the Desert of Disappointment. So, what’s your “even though…” situation?

The pastor may say, “Even though my church hasn’t grown the way I thought it would by now, and my salary isn’t what I hoped for.”

The single person might yearn, “Even though I’ve dreamed of being married for so long, but I’m not even dating anyone yet.”

The parent could say, “Even though my child is rebelling against God and walking with the world.”

The worker sighs, “Even though I can’t find a job and bills are piling up.”

The divorcee whispers, “Even though my spouse left me for another.”

How do you fill in this blank?  Even though_______________________________________

yet will I rejoice in the Lord!  There’s a lot that needs to happen in the average human heart between the front and back ends of that sentence.

Matthew Henry describes this purifying and revealing of the condition of our hearts in his commentary on this passage.

“Destroy the vines and the fig-trees, and you make all the mirth of a carnal heart to cease. But those who, when full, enjoyed God in all, when emptied and poor, can enjoy all in God. They can sit down upon the heap of the ruins of their creature-comforts, and even then, praise the Lord, as the God of their salvation, the salvation of the soul, and rejoice in him as such, in their greatest distresses. Joy in the Lord is especially seasonable when we meet with losses and crosses in the world. Even when provisions are cut off, to make it appear that man lives not by bread alone, we may be supplied by the graces and comforts of God’s Spirit. Then we shall be strong for spiritual warfare and work, and with enlargement of heart may run the way of his commandments and outrun our troubles. And we shall be successful in spiritual undertakings.”

My deserts always revealed the true condition of my heart. Oh, dear brothers and sisters, we will continue to experience “losses and crosses,” until Jesus takes us home or catches us up with him in the air. Will we choose to be strengthened and matured by these things, better equipped to fight on our Lord’s front lines or shall we wander around, as I did, sorrowful and hopeless in our wilderness?

Disappointment is a valid emotion that we should experience and move past not an address where we set up housekeeping. When I daily lay down my discouraging situations and ongoing trials at Jesus’ feet in his throne room, I must be so careful not to pick them back up lug them with me all day. They are too heavy, and I will walk bent over instead of leaping around with “hind’s feet on high places” (Habakkuk 3:19). Instead, I need to open my eyes to the doors that God opens, the blessings he’s providing and the new direction in which he’s leading.