This is where we are

 

I’ve been sending kids to preschool now for nine years.  That’s four kids, three girls and one boy, all with different personalities and obviously different birth order.

I’ll tell you what’s the same .

Being the line leader is a big deal.

A really big deal.

I haven’t ever given birth to a child who apparently finds the end of the line satisfactory.

It’s not just line-leading that my kids love.  It’s also often been about prime seating spots around classroom tables or for morning circle time.

One of my daughters refused to  wear her jacket well into November during her preschool days.  We had a big to-do each morning as we headed out the door to preschool.  I insisted that it  was too cold to go jacket-less; she broke down into hysterics over wearing a jacket.  It took me several weeks to  root out the cause—hanging up her jacket in the morning slowed her down and meant someone else usually sat next to  her best friend at calendar time.  She’d rather freeze or come down with pneumonia rather than give up a place next to  her buddy.

And then there was another daughter who declined to take dance classes for three months because one little girl  always insisted on sitting on the triangle spot instead of taking turns.  After all, sitting on the circle was unsatisfactory.

Prime place, favorite positions, the perfect spot–we want to be where we want to be.

And then, sometimes,  God puts us down in a place we don’t want to be and it’s a stretch to our souls.  Maybe we  feel we could snap with the tension and the pull of the longing versus the reality.

Over there is where we want to be, but this is where we are, and that is hard.

It’s when prayers are  answered with a “no” or the hoped-for doors close in front of us or the one thing we hoped would never ever happen does happen.  It’s loss and grief and brokenness with deep disappointment underneath it  all.

What then?

Today, I re-read Psalm 23 and I remember what my Good Shepherd does:

He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake (Psalm 23:2-3 NASB).

The  Lord my Shepherd guides and leads me, but He isn’t always leading me where it’s cozy or comfy or always convenient.  Instead, He’s leading me in these paths of righteousness “for His name’s sake.”

He’s not working for my pleasure; He’s working for His glory, always for the glory of  His name.  And that means I might end up munching on some  lush grass and drinking down some  cool water. Or I could be walking on paths of righteousness  that are rockier than I’d like them to be or steep or shaded and deep in the valley.

I  have to trust Him, believe deeply and with full assurance that this path He has me on is for His glory and He will lead me where I need to go. He will restore me and refresh me with the meadows and the calm streams when I need them the most.

He will not abandon me.

But I also read this in Jennifer Rothschild’s study, Psalm 23:

I can be wrong even on the right path (p. 99).

It’s not just  trudging along that path of righteousness, begrudging, unhappy,  complaining,  maybe even bitter that makes me right with the Lord.   That may be obedience, but it’s not the obedience God desires—the yielded heart, the trust, the love.

My attitude matters.

Jennifer Rothschild says it this way:

We don’t control the path.  All we control is  our attitude and actions on the path.

So I grieve a little and Jesus understands.  He has compassion for me in the middle of the brokenness.  He is gracious and gentle as I lay down what I hoped for and what I prayed for.

I give it over to Him and I try to follow my Shepherd on this path of righteousness, this hard and rocky path, with a yielded and trusting heart instead of a begrudging or fearful one.

Because He is my Good Shepherd.  And He will  work out even the hardest seasons for the glory of His name.  And it  will be good.  And He will  refresh and renew.  That is who He is and this is what He does.

Moving out, moving on, moving forward

Preschool is done for the year.

My son had been looking forward to all of the end-of-the-year things.  The program.  The last day.  The picnic.

But as we headed out on the final morning of preschool activities, sadness hit him hard:   I want to stay. 

This is his first experience with finishing the year and really enjoying his own summer break, so it’s the first time he’s truly said goodbye to his classroom buddies and considered what it’d be like not to see them a few times every week for  a few months or so.

And that’s a bit sad indeed.

We can look forward to what’s ahead, of course.  His older sisters chime  in with their own reminders that summer is, in fact, awesome.

Then, I remind him that preschool will begin again in the fall and there will be familiar faces and new faces.  It will be worth anticipating.

This works for a moment, but then he remembers again that in order to  move on to the new, he has to  say some goodbyes.  There are some things he has to leave behind.

And saying goodbye….stepping into new places…that’s not always easy.

Sometimes there are assignments and places we make permanent that God intended to be temporary.  We cement our hearts right down and God asks us to be more movable than that.

It’s okay.  It’s good.  It’s necessary.  It’s beautiful even at times to step out of the old, maybe even before we know what new land God has called us to.

We trust Him to show us what that might be.  A land of rest, perhaps.  A land of labor maybe.  A place of new beginnings or maybe one more forward step in this long, connected journey we’ve been on.

The key is remebering that what we’re doing here in this very place is God-led. He could tell us to stay or He could  encourage us to move on. Either way, we lean into His leading.  The blessing is in the obedience.

Me?  I tend to be a permanent foundation builder, in it for the long-haul, committed to hang in and hang on even when God has hinted it’s time to let go.

In the book of Ruth, I find someone else who struggled with making the temporary assignment a permanent destination:

In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land.So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there (Ruth 1:1-2 CSB). 

Elimelek left Bethlehem for Moab “for a while.”  Another translation said he “went to sojourn in the country of Moab.”

Maybe he shouldn’t have gone in the first place, trusting  God instead to  provide right there instead of hightailing it  to foreign destinations.  But, he left, and  at first it was supposed to be a temporary trip.

But then “he lived there.”  The ESV says “he remained there.”

The temporary became permanent for him.  He put down roots.  His sons married Moabite women.  They didn’t seem to have any intention of returning to Bethlehem until death changed everything.  Elimelek and his two sons died, leaving their widows, Naomi, Ruth and Orpah, with some significant decisions.

Elimelek settled and stayed.

But Ruth was willing to move.

She moved to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law despite her own grief.

She moved into the fields to glean and to  provide.

She moved onto a threshing floor in the middle of the night to seek a redeemer.

In her book, “A Woman Who Doesn’t Quit,” Nicki Koziarz says Ruth “stays open to the movement of God.”

This is where I’ve been growing.  I’ve been stepping down and then waiting.  Saying goodbye and not turning around and jumping back into the same-old, same-old.   I’ve been listening more.  I’ve been taking my time and refusing to be rushed  into decisions that others seem to feel have to be made right away.

I’ve been leaning into  God and asking for Him to speak the “no” and speak the “yes” so I will know when to stay or go, put down or pick up, relinquish or fight on, say farewell or begin anew.

It starts with this:  Making sure I’m not turning temporary trips into permanent residences, trusting that God can always move me on and being willing indeed to go.

Bible Verses on Obeying God

35 VERSES ON OBEYING GOD—EVEN WHEN IT’S HARD, DOESN’T MAKE SENSE, IS SCARY, OR YOU JUST PLAIN OUT DON’T WANT TO….

  • Exodus 19:5 NIV
    Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession
  • Exodus 23:22 ESV
    “But if you carefully obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.
  • Leviticus 26:3-4 ESV
     “If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit...
  • Deuteronomy 4:39-40 NASB
    Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the Lord, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other. 40 So you shall keep His statutes and His commandments which I am giving you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may live long on the land which the Lord your God is giving you for all time.”
  • Deuteronomy 11:1 NIV
    Love the Lord your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always.
  • Deuteronomy 11:26-28 ESV
     “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: 27 the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today,28 and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known.
  • Joshua 22:5 ESV
     Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of theLord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.”
  • 1 Samuel 15:22 HCSB
    Does the Lord take pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord?
    Look: to obey is better than sacrifice, to pay attention is better than the fat of rams.
  • Psalm 103:17-18 ESV
    But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
        and his righteousness to children’s children,
    18 to those who keep his covenant
        and remember to do his commandments.
  • Psalm 119:44 NASB
    So I will keep Your law continually,
    Forever and ever.
  • Psalm 119:60 NASB
    I hastened and did not delay
    To keep Your commandments.
  • Proverbs 19:16 NLT
    Keep the commandments and keep your life;
        despising them leads to death.
  • Ecclesiastes 12:13 NLT
    That’s the whole story. Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty.
  • Isaiah 1:19 ESV
    If you are willing and obedient,
        you shall eat the good of the land;
  • Isaiah 48:18-19 NASB
    “If only you had paid attention to My commandments!
    Then your well-being would have been like a river,
    And your righteousness like the waves of the sea.
    19 “Your descendants would have been like the sand,
    And your offspring like its grains;
    Their name would never be cut off or destroyed from My presence.”
  • Jeremiah 7:23 ESV
     But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’
  • Matthew 7:21 ESV
    “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
  • Luke 11:28 NIVHe replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”
  • John 12:26 ESV
    If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.
  • John 13:17 ESV
    If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
  • John 14:21 NASB
    He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.”
  • John 15:10 NASB
    If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.
  • John 15:14 ESV
    You are my friends if you do what I command you.
  • Acts 5:29 ESV
    But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.”
  • Romans 5:19 NIV
    For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
  • Romans 6:16-17 ESV
    Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves,[a]you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed
  • 2 Corinthians 10:5 NIV
    We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
  • Hebrews 11:8 ESV
    By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.
  • James 1:22-25 NLT
    But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. 23 For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. 24 You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. 25 But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.
  • 1 Peter 1:14 NIV
    As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.
  • 1 John 3:22 NLT
    And we will receive from him whatever we ask because we obey him and do the things that please him.
  • 1 John 3:24 NASB
     The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.
  • 1 John 5:3 ESV
    For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.
  • 2 John 1:6 ESV
     And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it.
  • Revelation 14:12 ESV
    Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.

Seeing faith in action when you look in the kitchen

Funerals for dear friends who succumbed to cancer and funerals for young grandsons and sons , funerals after long-and-exhausting illnesses, funerals for unexpected death, and shocking funerals that remind a whole community of evil in the world– it feels like our church has had its share of sadness and hard losses in the last few years.

While we’re upstairs in the sanctuary, remembering loved ones, telling stories, singing hymns, and being reminded of eternal life in Jesus Christ, there’s this other truly beautiful thing happening downstairs.

The kitchen is abuzz.

Tables are set out and a team of people flit in and out of that kitchen carrying bowls and choosing the right serving spoons.  They cut up fruit and place sandwiches on trays.  They fill pitchers of water and tea and boil large pots of soup.

They are so faithful.  Funeral after funeral, they quietly set out the food and clean up the dishes. They work before most of us arrive and stay after most of us have left.

They do that kind of ministry that matters so much, that has so much impact, the kind that shows people God’s great love by meeting the most practical needs at the time they need it the most.  It’s not flashy or showy.  It’s “just” setting up tables.  It’s “just” setting out food.

But it’s also “just” loving others with self-sacrificing compassion.  These are humble acts, solely motivated by a desire to give.  No one is handing out trophies in the kitchen.

So, I marvel at these faithful few and I learn from them about what it means to live out my faith with obedience to Jesus.

Loving God well does not require degrees or ministry platforms.  It doesn’t require arenas or microphones.  It doesn’t even require being seen by most others around us.

When Jesus finished  rubbing off the grime on the disciples’ feet at their Passover  meal, He said:

If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet (John 13:14 NASB).

We Christians are supposed to be feet-washers.

Paul emphasized Christ’s example in this also:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servantand being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.(Philippians 2:5-8 NASB). 

It doesn’t mean, of course, that we all have to crowd into a kitchen and serve up meals to  mourners at funerals.  We couldn’t possibly.  I, for one, would probably make a terrible mess of it.

But I can serve.

My faith in Christ is best expressed in service, in kindness, in gentleness, in giving, in  humility, in compassion, in rolling up my sleeves and getting dirty.

In Acts 28, Paul lands on the isle of Malta.  He’d been a prisoner on a ship bound for Rome on treacherous seas.  The sailors fought the storms for more than two weeks, throwing their provisions overboard, leaving them hungry, exhausted, wet, and terrified.

But Paul assured them that God would keep them safe, and that’s exactly what God did.  He washed them up on the shore of this island, where the natives showed them “extraordinary kindness.”

Then, Scripture tells us:

But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened itself on his hand (Acts 28:3 NASB).

In his book The Practice of Godliness, Jerry Bridges says this:

 Under the adverse circumstances of shipwreck, why would Paul have gone about gathering fuel for a fire built and tended by someone else?  Why didn’t he just stand by the fire and warm himself?  He didn’t because it was his character to serve (see Acts 20:33-35; 1 Thessalonians 2:7-9).

Paul was like everyone else: Lost and then saved, probably sopping wet, weary, and hungry.  Paul had every reason to  collapse near the fire and let others tend to his needs.

But instead, he gathered sticks and laid them on the fire.  He did the work.  He served.

Jerry Bridges suggests that “it was his character to serve.”

Paul’s spiritual gifts were probably evangelism and preaching/teaching, not so much compassion, giving, and service.  Yet, here Paul is tending a fire because we are all called to serve like Jesus, to be humble like Jesus, to love others like Jesus.  This is the way we live out radical faith in Him.

May these words be said of me and may they be said of any of us who want so much to be like Jesus: “It’s our character to serve. “

He is the endurance and encouragement we need

“Mom, I see the flowers we planted!”

We planted bulbs in November and by the very next day, my son started looking for signs of life, little green sprouts pushing up through the soil.  He’s been on the alert since then.

But I know how this works.  Those crocuses and tulips aren’t going to push their little green noses up through the dirt until about February.

He helped me dig each of the holes down and the dropped each bulb into its new earthy home.

He pushed the dirt over the seeds and he stepped down and we high-fived when it was all done.

So, now he wants results.  He wants to see the fruit of our labors.  Let’s have some flowers already!  Let’s see the growth now!

Maybe he’s like most of us, wanting things fast, impressive, instant, and now.

But James wrote in his epistle:

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand….Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful (James 5:7-8, 11).

The farmer is in this for the long-haul.  He isn’t in it for instant results or some overnight turnaround.

He knows what the plants need first.  They need early rains and they need late rains, all before the precious fruit of the earth is carried in at harvest.

We need this.  We’re not overnight bloomers.  We’re ripening fruit, needing the early rains, needing the late rains, needing Jesus to be at work all before we can be pulled off the vine.

Sometimes perhaps we just give up too soon.  Sometimes we just get too frustrated, too  discouraged, too shaken up by our plans tumbled into disarray.

Things break. Conflict occurs. People disappoint. I disappoint. I forget.  I mess up. I lose my temper. I make the wrong decision and I forget grace. The schedule suffocates. The expectations of others weigh heavy.

Whatever the form of brokenness we face, it is broken, and here we are with the same-old, same-old choice.

Give up on the fruit.

Or this:

Be patient.

Establish our heart.

Remain steadfast.

This speaks peace to me.  This says that even when the fruit delays, even when the ground seems interminably hard, even when the winter lasts and the rains don’t come, even then my heart is rooted deep down in Jesus.

So, the unexpected doesn’t distort my perspective.

I am at peace.

The interruptions and the disruptions don’t toss me into fear.

I am at peace.

The conflict doesn’t knot me up in a tangled mess.

I am at peace.

We have patience.  We shake off the mess and get back up and try again because that’s what it takes to be steadfast; that’s what it means to endure.

When James said, “Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast,” he reminds us that the blessing isn’t for those who ran fast, grew tired, and then gave up.

The blessing is for those who remain. 

God blesses steadfastnessthe stick-to-it, never-giving-up, endurance of day-after-day obedience and faithfulness and growth.

here’s the good news: we don’t do this alone.

James finishes that passage with the reminder we need that God “is compassionate and merciful ”

He helps us.  He loves us.  He doesn’t expect us to conquer and hold fast all on our own.

This is what Romans says:

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus,  that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 15:5-6 ESV).

He is the God of endurance and encouragement.

What we need on those days when we just want to crawl under the covers and give up, on the days we’re overwhelmed by the mess we’re in or the mistakes we’ve made, on the days when we think it’s just not going to  get better and we’ll never see any fruit…what we need is Him.

He is the endurance and encouragement we need to obey and then obey and then obey again, one step of faithfulness after another step of faithfulness in a long line of faithfulness over time.

Take heart.  Be encouraged.  The fruit will come.  The life will break through the frozen dirt and there will be beauty and harvest if we remain, endure, have hope, and do not give up.

Braving it out because that’s what it takes to overcome

My daughter spent almost all of her 8-year-old  life living in a home without a paved driveway or a neighborhood with a sidewalk.

Bike riding for us was a spurious affair.  About once a year, everything aligned perfectly.

The weather was cool, but not  cold, and definitely not hot or rainy or snowy or even too windy.

The calendar was clear.  We did not have rehearsal, school, camps, dance, karate, sports, church, a birthday party, or some other activity.

That was the one day a year I would load up the minivan with all of our children and then, after they were all buckled in, pack that minivan with every single one of their bicycles and helmets.  We would then drive to  a school parking lot and “practice biking.”

Loading  all those bicycles up so we could drive somewhere to  practice, though, wasn’t really fun.  For any of us.  The kids tried for a little  bit,  but gave up and we all went back  home again so we could move  along to other ways to spend our time.

But now, “the time has come.”  We live in a neighborhood.  Not only that, we live on a cul de sac with a sloped and paved driveway in a neighborhood.

This is the ideal place.

Eight years into life, though, is enough time to build up some fears about going too  fast and falling, about scuffing up knees and elbows and maybe not always landing in the grass.

It’s enough time to build up some immunity to  mom’s pep talks about being  courageous and persevering  in the face of adversity.

So, thus far, our attempts at mastering  this whole deal without training wheels have involved more injury than success.

It is slow going and it is painful going and it is discouraging going.

What  I want is for my daughter  to decide in her deep-down heart of hearts that this is worth it, that she’s going to do whatever it takes to master this elusive skill, that she’s willing to get back on that bike 50 times if that’s what’s needed.

And if she falls 51 times, then she’d get back on there 52.

So far, though, I think she hasn’t decided this is worth doing.  She wants all the fun of bike riding to her friend’s house a few doors down without any of the actual learning.

I get that.  There are some ways that  my heart is right there with her.

God says to brave it out and tough it out.  Put on those  sneakers and that helmet and get on out there where it’s  rough and hard and we might fail.

Yeah, falling and failing is part of it.  That may be what we fear the most, but God doesn’t .   He knows it’s part of  the learning and the growing and without it,  we’re just  living what’s easy instead of what takes faith.

And, faith is what it takes to  please God.  That’s what blesses His heart.  That’s what makes Him pump His fist with joy when He sees us down here.

Without faith,  it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6)

So, it’s hard.  Yes.  It is.

God calls us to do  hard things, though, EVEN impossible things maybe, not because  He wants to see us fail, but so that He can succeed.

in  1 Kings 12, King Jeroboam decided  to take the easy way out. He wanted whatever would earn him brownie points with his people even if it meant disobeying God.

So, even though God said the nation of Israel needed to  worship in one place only, Jerusalem, Jeroboam decided this was too hard a burden.  He set up idols and places of worship in Dan and Bethel so people wouldn’t have to travel as far or work as hard to get there.

Priscilla Shirer says this:

“If left to  ourselves,  we will always choose “Dan” and “Bethel” over the more  cumbersome journey to Jerusalem” (Discerning the Voice of God p. 139).

Do we want “Dan” and “Bethel?” Do we want the pain-free and the easy even if that’s not where God is?

Or do we want God’s best, His will and His plans?

What I want is for my daughter to set her heart on overcoming so she holds out for Jerusalem.

Maybe that’s what God desires for us also, to determine in advance that we’re going to obey.  Period.  We’re going to follow Him.  Period.  We’re going to pour ourselves out for Him.  Period.  We’re going to worship Him.  Period.

Even if it means we have to pass right by Dan and Bethel and trek all that way to Jerusalem.

Even if it means some skinned knees and bruised egos as we stumble our way along all because being with Him is the greatest desire in our deep-down hearts.

I Didn’t Feel Ready

 

Sometimes we want to see the provision in advance.

Before we step out in “faith,” we want to know we have enough: time, money, strength, ideas, training, support.  We want our offerings to God and our ministry for Him to be perfect.

But in Hebrews, we’re told:

Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

God helps us in our time of need—not as a stockpile for our seasons of neediness.

This is a lesson I’m learning inch by inch.

For just about a whole year before it ever happened, I worried over my oldest daughter starting middle school.  I ran through every possible question about the transition.

When will the bus come?  How will she adjust to earlier morning hours?  How do we get her to school on time without waking up all the other kids? Will she need to take showers in the morning or at night?  How will her after school activities fit into the schedule?  

This might be reaching levels of extreme crazy, but there it is.  I’m a planner.  I like to consider all the possibilities.

But I also prayed.

And that was so much more important.

Here’s what happened.  On the first day of school, she got up, got ready, and went to school.  She did that all year.

Just like that.

A new ministry, a schedule adjustment, an extra activity thrown in, a needy friend, a season of pouring out to others—these aren’t opportunities to freak out; they are opportunities to see God come through.

GOD GIVES US WHAT WE NEED WHEN WE NEED IT, AND NOT OFTEN BEFORE.

One of my favorite “callings” in Scripture is the moment God spoke to Jeremiah:

Then I said, “Alas, Lord God!
Behold, I do not know how to speak,
Because I am a youth.”
But the Lord said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’
Because everywhere I send you, you shall go,
And all that I command you, you shall speak.
“Do not be afraid of them,
For I am with you to deliver you,” declares the Lord (Jeremiah 1:6-8 ESV). 

On the surface, It sounds like Jeremiah thought he was too young for prophetic ministry.

But then I consider context:

the word of the Lord came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign (Jeremiah 1:2 ESV).

Jeremiah began prophesying during the reign of Josiah, who became king when he was only eight years old.

So even if Jeremiah was in his teens or early 20s when God spoke to him, he had seen God use an eight-year-old king to lead the nation of Judah in one of its greatest spiritual revivals.

“I’m too young” doesn’t seem like a good excuse.

Maybe what Jeremiah really felt was unready and unprepared.

And that’s where I totally understand Jeremiah.

Sometimes I feel unready, too.

Like the whole transition to middle school, I wanted to know all the answers in advance and have the perfect plan already in place.

You too?

When God calls you, do you ask Him to wait until you feel “ready?”

Maybe if we train a little longer, stock up a little more, save a bit, work it all out on paper, and prepare, prepare, prepare, then we can follow God’s call.

We wait until we have extra money to give.

We wait until our gifts are perfected to offer them to others.

We wait for free time before we serve.

BUT THE TIME TO SERVE GOD ISN’T WHEN WE FEEL READY; IT’S WHEN HE ASKS US TO FOLLOW.

After all, God told Jeremiah, “I am with you.”

He promises us His presence, too!

IF WE WAIT UNTIL WE’RE “READY,” UNTIL WE’RE PREPARED, UNTIL WE’RE FULLY TRAINED, UNTIL OUR GIFT AND OUR OFFERING ARE PERFECT, UNTIL WE FEEL LIKE ENOUGH, WE’LL WAIT AND WAIT AND NEVER TAKE THAT STEP OF FAITH AND OBEDIENCE.

We’ll be trusting in ourselves rather than relying on God to be with us and to be enough for us.

Ecclesiastes 11:4 says:

If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done (TLB).

What is it you feel the Holy Spirit nudging you to do?  What season are you entering?  What task has He laid at your feet?

God will be enough for you.  He will give you everything you need exactly when you need it.  So, don’t pause until you feel ready or until you’re perfect and your gift is worthy.

Right now, right where you are, with what you have, you can follow Him where He’s calling you to go and trust Him for provision and strength for the journey.

How to Do the Thing You Don’t Want to Do

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This week, I’m having to do some things I don’t want to do.

Life is like that sometimes.

Eventually, you have to just go to the dentist or get the flu shots for your kids.  No more procrastinating.

You need to make that phone call…have that tough conversation…ask someone for help.

When we’re obeying God and following Him “Anywhere” He calls us to go, it’s sometimes exhilarating. Other days, obedience can be difficult, messy, frightening and overwhelming.

This week, as I do some of the hard things, I consider how Queen Esther did what she didn’t want to do.

When her cousin, Mordecai, asked her to speak to the pagan King about preventing the genocide of the Jewish people, she wrote back to him:

All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—to be put to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter so that he may live. But as for me, I have not been called to come in to the king these thirty days (Esther 4:11).

Still, instead of hiding away in fear, putting off the task, or running away from God (all of which I’m tempted to do at times), Esther chose the hard obedience.

Here’s what we can learn from her:

Pray and ask others to pray

Esther asked the Jews in Persia to fast and pray for her before she finally went before the king.

Her story isn’t one of a lone heroine rising to face an enemy. She … depended on the intercession of her people.  #AnywhereFaith

I pray some specific things when I know God is asking me to do something I don’t want to do:

Please:

  • grant me favor (Proverbs 3:4)
  • give me courage (Isaiah 54:4)
  • bless the work of my hands (Psalm 90:17)
  • make me competent to do things I can’t possibly do on my own or in my own strength (2 Corinthians 3:5-6)

Like Esther, I also sometimes make myself vulnerable and share my request with someone else. Just knowing I’m not alone helps me move forward.

Just do it!

Esther set a deadline—fast and pray for three days and then she’d go before the king (Esther 4:16).

Deadlines can work for us, too. We can pray and think about it forever, but in the end, it’s time to just get the job done.

After the three-day fast ended, Esther walked into the throne room uninvited and faced the king on behalf of her people.

Leave the results in God’s hands

One of the hardest parts of my calling is asking.  I send out proposals and ask publishers if they’re interested.  I ask businesses about book signings.  I ask for input on my book from others. I  ask people to join my launch team.  I ask radio stations if I can come on the air.

I have to ask.  It’s part of being an author, but it’s the hardest part for me because I fear rejection. What if others say, “no?”

I’m learning, though, to leave the results up to God.

Esther made a famous declaration when she finally decided to go before the king, saying, “If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16).

These are words of submission to God’s big plan.

Whatever happens, no matter what the outcome, I’ve done what God wants me to do and He’s in control.

Sometimes I ask myself, “What’s the worst thing that could happen here?” And then I remember that any “worst thing” I face is still in God’s hands.

Success doesn’t depend on me, nor was it up to Esther to change public policy or the heart of the king.

Ultimately, we can walk in obedience and trust God with the outcome.  Even if the worst happens, He will carry us through.

Celebrate

When Esther obeyed, God saved her people.  As a result, the Jews celebrated, and they are still celebrating the Feast of Purim with “feasting and gladness” to this day! (Esther 9:22 ESV).

In a much smaller way, I celebrate even the smallest acts of obedience, too.

When I’ve made the phone call I didn’t want to make, talked to the person I was afraid to talk to, stood up for something when I was afraid to speak, or submitted a proposal when I feared rejection, I usually treat myself.

It’s not big or expensive. For me, it might be a a hot cup of tea or a piece of dark chocolate, maybe a morning off from normal work in order to rest and read.

Maybe your treat is a Starbucks coffee or a new book.

It’s not about going big; it’s about rejoicing over obedience and celebrating what God has done in us!

Want to learn more about Esther’s fears and how God helps us go “Anywhere” with Him, even when we’re terrified?  My new book, Anywhere Faith, is available now.anywhere-faith

We choose to follow today and choose again tomorrow

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I regretted ever starting in the first place.

It hadn’t been the plan for the day, wasn’t on my agenda, and didn’t appear on my to-do list.

But as I swept through my house doing my morning cleaning, I reached into my son’s closet to put something away and recoiled in horror.

This closet was at capacity.

More like over-capacity.

So I began the task.  I was “just” going to clear out a few things, “just” get rid of the boxes, “just” pull out the baby toys to donate, “just” put some clothes into storage, “just, just just….”

Until, of course that “just” meant the entire surface of the bedroom was covered with stuff from the now-empty closet.

This task sabotaged my entire morning, muscling everything else I intended to do that day out of the way.

At some point, I almost gave up.  I almost shoved it all back into the closet and shut the door because I did not have time or energy or patience or anything to tackle this project right then.

And so there was the choice….

Push through?  Persevere?  Take one more step and then another?

Or give up?  Step backwards?  Regress?

This is the same for us.

Once we choose to step out, we have to then choose whether to keep going.

Obeying God, following Him in faith, answering HIs call, choosing righteousness, putting down bad habits and picking up spiritual disciplines:  These are not one-time decisions.

There is the choosing….and then there is the choosing again and again and again.

I decide today to follow Jesus.  And I decide all over again tomorrow.

Giving up, of course, feels easier in the moment, but then my son wouldn’t have a clean closet and I’d feel the waste of starting a project and never finishing it.

Abraham chose to obey God no matter what.  When God called him in the night to journey up a mountain and sacrifice his promised son, Isaac, Abraham went.

I’ve always marveled at Abraham’s immediate act of obedience.

He didn’t waiver or question, pray over it for a while or seek counsel from others.

No, God called and “Abraham rose early in the morning….” and started on the path to obedience.

But here’s what I never noticed before:

On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance  (Genesis 22:3-4 NASB).

Abraham walked three days before he even saw the mountain God had called him to.

That meant he had three nights to wrestle with the task, three days to decide whether to keep moving forward or turn around and head back home.

He had three days to chicken out.

In his book, Drawing Near, John Bevere says:

“Why a three-day journey?  I believe He gave Abraham time to think it over, even to turn back.  It is one thing to initially move when you hear the voice of God, but what about the follow-through?” (p. 79 ).

Follow-through.

That’s what faith-journeys take.

Obedience doesn’t mean anything if it’s only partial obedience, or halfway obedience, or “I’ve changed my mind and I’d rather give up now” obedience.

And this matters for us because some days obedience comes easy.

The call from God feels fresh and exciting.

Our friends encourage us.
The sermon reaffirms us.
|Our quiet time feels vibrant and alive.
We see the evidence of tangible success and real impact.

But that’s not everyday.

Some days we wonder if we ever even heard God calls us.

Our friends are absent, unsupportive, or unaware.  Maybe we even face down detractors who discourage us and assure us of defeat.

God seems silent.

Nothing appears to make any difference and we are so small, so insignificant.  Failure feels imminent.

We are weary and weak and we can’t even see the blurry outline of the mountain anywhere in the distance.

It’s hard to keep moving forward when we’re overlooked, when we question our offering, when we lose hope for the future, when the mess we’re in threatens to bury us.

Maybe today is the day you feel eager to obey.  Or maybe today you feel overwhelmed and ready to quit.

Today might be the first day of your journey, or the third, or the twenty-third, or the one-hundred-and-third.

Regardless, today is the day to choose as Abraham did:  We choose to follow through.  We choose to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14 ESV).

No turning back.

No turning back.

Want to read more about how people in Scripture responded to God when He called them…and how they struggled with insecurity, fears, and excuses just as we do?  My new book, Anywhere Faith, is available now!

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Maybe We Need to Rethink “Calling” #AnywhereFaith

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As a teen, I attended some huge youth conferences with my church and they tended to have something in common:

There was always a tremendously dynamic speaker who had a jaw-dropping testimony of God’s grace: He did drugs.  He was in a gang.  His girlfriend got pregnant and he made her have an abortion.  He was an alcoholic, who was addicted to pornography, and homeless.

Then He met Jesus.

By the time the testimony was over, the altars were flooded with teens crying and praying for God to save them and use them.

But my story didn’t seem to fit in.  They’d ask if anyone felt “called to ministry” and I’d raise my hand and pray that God use me “anywhere” and send me “anywhere.”

Only, how could He use a girl like me?  I’m relatively boring and surely the world truly needed displays of God’s grace and mercy on a grand scale.

I prayed and searched for God’s will for my life, but I didn’t end up in foreign missions or traditional full-time ministry.  So, does that mean God didn’t call me after all?

Now, that’s my story.  How I struggled to truly let grace seep deep in my soul.

How I searched so hard for one “big calling,” that I overlooked the impact of daily obedience and the calling to follow Him right here, right now, serving Christ by serving others in small ways every single day.

Your story might be like mine.  Maybe you desperately want to follow Jesus “anywhere,” but you can’t see where He wants you to go.

Or perhaps your story is entirely different.  Maybe you have that testimony of radical transformation, but you feel like an unworthy vessel, unfit for His use.

“Calling” is a tricky subject for Christians.  It sometimes trips us up into a mess of confusion.

We talk about God “calling” me to do this or “calling” me to do that, but we don’t always know what that looks like day in and day out.

And sometimes we miss it entirely.

When I wrote in my book, Anywhere Faith, about following God anywhere He calls us to go, I shared some truths about “calling” because God wants all of us to follow Him, whether that’s around the world, across the street, or in our own homes.

God calls all of us

Your past, your present and your future don’t have to look like anyone else’s in order for God to use you.  anywhere-faith

Maybe He called you to foreign missions or full-time ministry.  Maybe He called you to pray for the teachers at your kids’ school or to help young moms who need encouragement.

If we obsess over what someone else’s calling looks like, we can sometimes miss what He has planned for us.

God uses the ordinary. He uses the everyday and the mundane. He uses the untrained. He uses the sinner who repents and the prodigal who returns. He uses us despite our past and even sometimes because of our past (Anywhere Faith).

Callings don’t have to be (And often aren’t) glamorous or grand.

I’m not a speaker at conferences talking about deliverance from addiction.  Today, I have played Play Doh with my son, scheduled doctor’s appointments for my kids, prayed for my family, written to you, washed dishes and laundry, and performed a million small and seemingly insignificant tasks that are actually ministry.

Sure, the disciples traveled with Jesus, witnessed miracles, and even healed and performed miracles themselves in Christ’s name.

But the calling wasn’t all glitz and glamor.  They packed light and traveled far. They left families and jobs behind to pursue Jesus.

Jesus told them to bend low, to do the dirty jobs, to wash feet, to love outcasts, to touch lepers.

He asks us to humbly serve others every day, too.

Your calling might not be to a stage or arena; it may be to faithfulness at work, witness in your community, and ministry to your family.  Every “calling’ is significant to Him.

God can use you right where you are

We can get so caught up looking for big visions for our future that we miss the ways He asks us to serve today.  I’ve done it myself, praying desperately for God to show me “His will for my life” instead of His will for this moment.

Let’s ask God to show us the next right step and walk that way.  We can trust Him with our future.

 When we talk about calling, let’s remember this:

God isn’t looking for the flashiest vessels; He’s looking for yielded vessels…
He uses the humble, the willing and the obedient (Anywhere Faith).

May we be yielded today, humble today, and obedient today as we follow Him “Anywhere.”

To read more about how to overcome our excuses and insecurities and follow God “Anywhere,” i hope you’ll read my new book Anywhere Faith, which releases on October 3, 2016.