Sometimes it feels like life is an uphill climb along a steep, cold mountainside with unforgiving inclines and steep turns. When will life get easier? Just when it looks like a breakthrough is near, another...
Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light unto my path. Psalm 119:105
Was last year tough? Did it seem like you had more steps backward than forward? Did you feel alone in the struggle?
God promises to lead you down a path when you cannot see in the darkness. If you are confused or lonely or afraid, He will lead you forward if you look to him. I remember going to a cottage of a friend of ours that was in the deep woods. If you came in at night you had to park your car and then walk a long narrow path through the woods. It was so dark your eyes would not adjust to the sky so you could see where you were going. The only thing that was visible was the next step lit by a flashlight. After stepping over rocks, roots, and along the path, eventually we would make it to the front porch of the cottage. This experience really helped me to understand the above verse. Sometimes you really cannot see where God is taking you, and it seems dark as night in the woods. Only He can guide your footsteps.
Prayer; Lord, help me to look to you to light my life path when I cannot see where I am going. Help me not to get distracted by things going on around me. Help me not to give into despair but to trust that you are taking me to a better place.
After years of slipping into the sedentary lifestyle I decided to start running again. I used to be an athlete able to run fast or far depending on the race. Hurdles and the 200 yard dash were among my races, and I also ran cross country. On the cross country team the coach would load us on a bus and drop us off miles from campus. We had no choice but to run until we got home.
Now, years later, I set out to run again. At first it felt great! I was thrilled to get my stamina back and to push the pace. I felt the thrill of getting back in shape again, that is, until my knees seized up in pain. Pushing the pace was not an option as I stopped on the trail and gave my legs a shake in dismay. I had no choice but to slow my pace considerably, ice my knees and run shorter distances. It was discouraging.
Several weeks later my knees are starting to get stronger. I don’t look at all like the athlete I used to be. I kind of shuffle along monitoring my knees and giving them time to build up muscle again. I never had knee problems before. It used to be my shins but never my knees. I guess after years of a sedentary job, putting off running after two kids and a busy life have caught up with me.
I realize that this applies to many areas of life, physical, spiritual, emotional and mental. I like to tell my clients that
After writing on the F’s of holiday stress (Frenetic Activity, Family Issues, & Finances) I realized I missed the most central F in the positive list I provided; Flexibility, Focus, Fun and now Faith. Faith is what Christmas is. Many of us celebrate Christmas for a wide range of reasons some that have nothing to do with faith. Yet, faith in a God who came down to live amongst us is what Christmas is at it’s core.
Sure Santa seems jolly and generous but he has been known to give out coal if you are bad, or to take you off his list if you haven’t done your chores. He represents conditional love, or love based on how good you are.
Jesus, on the other hand, came to save us all no matter what we have done. If we have stolen, lied, cheated, gossiped or even murdered, his gift of grace is still available to you. Many say, “I have been good enough, certainly his salvation is available to me.” but that statement misses the point by a long shot. The point isn’t being “good enough.” The point is that
Before I experienced burn out 10 years ago, I thought I was super spiritual. I never ever missed church. Even a Chicago blizzard couldn't keep me away from Sunday am church. I arose early to shovel my way out and brave the snow covered streets to get to church on time. Truth was, I loved going to church. I rarely missed my small group bible study and I always kept my commitments. If I said yes to something (and I said yes to most things) I showed up. I showed up even if I had a splitting headache, a stomach ache, or little sleep.
I never said it, but I looked down on people who only showed up to church occasionally thinking they were lazy. I took great pride in my faith and my works oriented approach. Very dutifully I went above and beyond what was expected of me and I thrived on it. Sometimes, I got a rush out of it. Little did I know I was soon headed for a downfall. God was going to allow me to experience severe burnout (see also previous post on Adrenal Fatigue).
After I burned out, I could no longer keep up with my own pace even if I tried. Exhausted and depleted, I was forced to become what I had looked down upon. I was forced to be the person who missed church, who stopped going to bible study, who said no to everyone who asked me to do something. Or worse, just didn't show. The life I had thrived on was gone.
Something important shifted in me and I became a more gracious person toward those I had failed to understand. Pride was replaced with understanding, and arrogance with compassion. Where I had failed to comprehend what kept people out of church I now understood. I became less judgmental toward the occasional church goer...shoot, I became one.
God had taught me an important spiritual lesson that his love and acceptance doesn't come from works. It truly is his free gift. He had allowed me to come to the end of myself to find him there ready to hold my weary body in his loving arms. In his arms, just resting, I found relief and restoration. The biggest surprise was acceptance and love from the one I thought would tell me to get up and do more. I gained a new perspective and learned how to receive God's grace.
Verses for Consideration
Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. Lamentations 3:22
Come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28
Be still, and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10a
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:4-9 (from http://www.biblegateway.com)
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1
Has your faith been challenged? Have you considered giving up your faith? What is faith anyway? Can you see faith? If so, what does it look like? My life has often been a battle with the issue of faith. There are times my faith feels strong and unbending and other moments I feel wrought with worry and lack of faith. How can I be so strong one moment and so weak the next? Sometimes life feels like a series of faith stretching experiments intended to create muscle on this invisible aspect of my life.
Getting back in shape is tough. I joined a gym recently for three months hoping to jump-start my out of shape body. This body, weak from a sedentary job and lack of discipline over the last several years needed to start slowly. However, one day I decided to make up for a couple of missed days.
I felt so good on the elliptical machine, and pushed my pace sweating and glorying in my newfound energy. I decided to do weights after and pushed myself a little harder than usual. Then I did a bunch of sit-ups concentrating hard on working the muscles. I felt so good about myself when I got to the locker room. I smugly put my day clothes back on and headed to the car proud of all I had done.
Hours later I started to feel sluggish. A headache came on and I lugged my tired body around wondering what had happened to all of that energy. I tried several times to accomplish some tasks but my body stalled. Exhausted and feeling useless I put a show on for the kids after school and lay down to nap.
I drank water and sports drinks trying to revive my tired body but to no avail. I was done for the day and surrendered to the fact that I had no strength left. My husband came home and I eased him in to my state of exhaustion by announcing leftovers for dinner. Apologetically, I went to bed early hoping for a better tomorrow.
Has that ever happened to you with your faith? Have you felt strong and unstoppable? Has the world felt conquerable to you as you felt confident that all would go well for you and you had the strength to face each challenge only to find soon after you felt discouraged, hopeless, and afraid?
I have learned that faith isn’t about feeling good. It’s not about the mountaintop experiences when you have accomplished something big. It’s about knowing. Knowing that no matter what you are going through God loves you and cares about you. It’s having confidence that he will lead you through even the toughest of circumstances when your not sure you feel him nearby.
It’s the times your prayers seem to go unanswered but you continue to trust him knowing he is working things out in his timing (always better than mine I have learned). It is knowing that even if we are poor on earth we have an inheritance in Heaven waiting for us. Faith has its ups and downs just like exercise. One moment we can run the race with our legs strong underneath us, and other times we ice our wounds and tired legs and wonder why we bother running in the first place.
Are you weary? It’s okay. It just means you have had a good faith workout. Press on and trust that at the end is a prize worth the dedication and time.
“Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1b
I remember a story one of my pastors told me that when they had invited guests over during the winter, they had prepared a casserole beforehand for their guests and set it out on the back porch to cool. When their guests arrived, and it was time to eat, they went out to get the casserole. Much to their dismay, the dish was empty, and apparently cleaned as if there never had been a casserole. Wondering what had happened, they looked around and noticed their sweet Labrador had also been outside, and was now contentedly licking her lips and looking for a nice spot to take a nap. They had forgotten she was outside.
If you were in this situation, I ask, would you be able to laugh about it with your guests, or would you panic and believe it to be a catastrophe? Would you worry about what your guests thought about you? Would you convince yourself that it was horrible that you failed to provide them with a home-cooked meal, or would you accept your disappointment and figure out from where you might order in?
I admit there was a time in my life that I would have seen this as a total catastrophe. I would have been horrified and ashamed. I would have needed lots of reassurance. Thankfully, I think I would cope with it better now. I have worked hard at shifting my inner thoughts and have reserved the words horrible or awful for things that really deserve it. It doesn’t always come easily, but if I work at it, I can do it.
We all worry about things from time to time. It is natural to have concerns, and it is important to be realistic about life’s challenges. However, if we allow our fears to invade our daily thought life, we are robbed of enjoyment and freedom from fear. It is the enemy’s goal to rob us of things that God has given us. One of the things he wants to rob us of is peace of mind. Worry and peace really are incompatible. God comforts us and assures us that peace comes from Him and that we can possess it even in the midst of awful circumstances. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7). His peace guards us and surrounds us, even in the darkest of times.
There are times in our lives when anyone would be confounded by our peace, but God gives it to us in an eternal perspective, and it is wrapped in His love for us. We know that even when things on earth go wrong, we will be with Him one day, free from the pain we endure on Earth. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16–18).
The most important thing to do when wrestling with the problem of worry in our lives is to explore what Scripture says about worry:
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
We are of great value to God, and He promises to take care of us. Recognizing our value to Him soothes the worry wart inside of us. When we worry we need to remember how much God cares about us.
*Excerpt taken from The Journey Out, Chapter 3, The Weed of Worry vs. The Fruit of Peace
Blessings to you, Gretchen
I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:11-13
We live in a consumer society where “get more, have more” is a commonplace mindset. Commercials feed us constantly with the notion that if we have their product then we will be happy. We will look more beautiful if we just use their merchandise. Also, if we decorate like Martha Stewart, than we are the “hostess with the most-est,” and the envy of all who we entertain. There is always more we can do, be, or have. There is constant pressure to perform better, market better, learn more, and be more.
Unfortunately, all of that comes with a high price tag of discontentment. I looked up the word discontent and it means to have dissatisfaction, or a restless longing for better circumstances. I think the key point is that it contributes to an impatient feeling. A real lack of peace or satisfaction is predominant in our spirit.
I am talking to myself as much as I am talking to you when I ask; “how then, do we learn to have contentment?” I personally find it to be a constant struggle. There is always someone who has a better car then my ‘97 silver Buick that is a hand-me-down from my Grandpa. The side mirror is torn off (It’s my daughter’s fault for distracting me with questions as I pulled out of the garage), and a rock hit my windshield leaving a crack. In addition, the handles in the backseat are worn so I have to get out and open the door form my son every morning before school.
I am actually very grateful for the car and love the v8 engine that picks up speed quickly when I need it to. Sometimes I want a new shiny car but I remind myself that this one works just fine and gets us all where we need to go. Truthfully, I am glad the back doors don’t work because it gives me a chance to give my son a kiss on the cheek before he runs into class. Thankfully, It also saves us a monthly payment.
My kids, too, want a car that has a video player in it so they can watch movies while we run our errands. Every time they bring this up I use it as an object lesson in contentment. I try to gently remind them to be grateful for what we do have. I try to help them to see the difference between wants and needs. We need food, but we want a video player. Having what we want is not important but God will provide for us what we need.
Think of the people in Haiti who barely have clothes on their backs, or a tent to shelter them. But for the grace of God that would be me. We Americans are so out of touch with real suffering. We think we are suffering because we drive a used car, can’t afford to put in a new deck, or go on a shopping spree. That is hardly suffering.
I was praying for Melkamu, this morning, who is our Compassion child. His picture sits on our fridge to remind us to pray for him. It also reminds me to be content with what I have because the poor little guy is wearing used and mismatched clothing. He’s covered in dirt, and he wears worn out girls’ shoes that protect his little feet. He is hardly the picture of fashion. He is so precious, and he reminds me that we live in a land of plenty and I have plenty to be grateful for. He serves a special purpose in our house. He helps us be more content with what we have. It seems he may have more of an impact on us than we have on him.
What does it mean to be content? It means that we are not jealous of our neighbor, we are grateful for what we do have, we help others who need more than us, and we refrain from complaining. Is this easy? I think not. I struggle with it everyday. The main point to learn contentment is to do what Paul says in the above verse; we rely on God’s strength and not our own.
Interested in sponsoring a Compassion child?