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The Long View

February 27, 2015 — Leave a comment

There are many joys of being a parent, but there are also many hard lessons. Some of the lessons come from learning what not to do the next time around. Some of the lessons come from seeing your own sin tendencies in living color as you watch your child succumb to the same temptations as you.

Recently, I was reminded of this as one of my children protested rather dramatically after having taken a bath. The child was cold and uncomfortable and from her limited perspective, the discomfort was not going to end anytime soon. I knew that the situation was momentary; soon she would be warm and cozy and ready to conquer the day. Telling her all that though fell on deaf ears. She knew that she didn’t like the current situation and she wanted me to change it…stat.

While I certainly understood my daughter’s desire to get warm (and quickly), I couldn’t help but smile a bit at how limited her viewpoint was. I had the larger perspective and I knew that if she trusted me, all would soon be made right. She didn’t need to worry or fret (it wasn’t going to change the situation anyway.)  My past faithfulness in this regard should have been enough to calm her fears. My legacy of love and provision should have squelched the anxiety she felt. She had every reason to believe that I would take care of her, and no reason to believe differently. Yet, in the moment her loss of control overwhelmed her confidence in me.

Despite my smiles at the absurdity of the situation, I couldn’t help but also experience the twinge of conviction. How often does my behavior mirror that of my child’s when God places me somewhere that I am experiencing uncomfortableness or pain? How quickly does my confidence erode when I don’t see any benefit to my current despair? When I recognize that my control is limited and my future unclear, do I carefully recall His past perfect provision or instead do I anxiously protest and complain?  God’s remedy may be moments away, but am I so busy seeking my own solution that I neglect to take solace in Him?

Too often an examination of my life would find that my response and my daughter’s is pretty much the same. Instead of trusting the One who can see not only my present circumstance but also my future condition, I let the fear of the unknown overrule my thoughts, my heart and my response. I plead and complain – desperately wanting things to change – without acknowledging the goodness of His yet-to-be revealed plan. My perspective on the current situation is unclear; why wouldn’t I rely on the One who not only knows today, but Who also holds the future in His hand? He has the long view in mind, and from that perspective He can see just what I need, both now and in the moments ahead.

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Growing Accustomed

February 24, 2015 — Leave a comment

Last year, my husband and I moved into a new house. God graciously provided us with a chance to get a little more space, which included a yard for our growing family, and we were overwhelmed with gratitude for the gift. A year before we couldn’t have anticipated that this provision was part of His plan; His generosity and kindness to us were evident.

When you move, they say that you grow into the space you have. Although at first it seems like you will never be able to fill the new square footage, you soon realize that the challenge is not as difficult as you once anticipated. It is easy to think that it is because we have also added on to our family, but I know that in reality that is not the case. Even without really trying to, there is a propensity towards accumulation. What once seemed like an abundance, can quickly seem insufficient. It is easy to think about what you have, what you would change, and what no longer seems ideal once its your daily experience.

Although there may not be anything wrong with pondering what you would do differently, I fear that often when we do so, we show that the gratitude which at first overwhelmed us has dwindled. Human beings are surprisingly resilient, but one of the shortfalls of this resiliency is that we quickly become accustomed to the gifts that God has given us. What was originally a daily reminder of God’s kindness can become a benefit that we ignore. What we once couldn’t anticipate can become an expectation.

The challenge is to maintain a heart of gratitude for the generosity shown towards us even when we experience that same generosity day in a day out. It’s the same reason that I teach my child to say “thank you” every time I give her a snack. She may be completely confident by this point that I will not let her go hungry, but I want her to know that every good gift is worthy of appreciation, to the person from whose hands we receive it, and ultimately to our kind Father.  When we grow weary of giving thanks, it tends to lead our heart towards sin. When we forget that we are owed nothing, and yet God graciously gives us so much, we tend to grow discontent.

There are many things that God has given us that we are now in the habit of receiving, and as a result we have grown accustomed to their presence. May we not let their prevalence in our life be an excuse to not give thanks.  Instead, each time that we experience that same good thing may our heart be filled with the same level of gratitude as it was when we first received it. Instead of growing accustomed to the gifts, may we become habitual at giving thanks.

 

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Having It All

January 20, 2015 — Leave a comment

It seems popular these days to talk about how you can “have it all.” You hear it on award shows when recipients talk about how we are in a day and age where “women can have it all.” You hear it in discussions with friends when they talk of their hope to get to the place where they can “have it all.” And you hear it in the media as authors debate whether such a state is even attainable. Having it “all” – however it is defined – seems to be the desired pinnacle of our success – even if it is an uncertain one.

While having it all seems desirable, I don’t know if we really know what we are asking for when we state this as our aim. Having everything we want means that we would get all the problems and challenges that come with those desired privileges, responsibilities, roles or achievements. We want it “all” but we don’t think through the ramifications of obtaining it.  The grass may look greener on the other side, but the grass still needs to be mowed and watered.

The Christian, however, should define “having it all” differently than their friends and neighbors. The Christian’s desires should be for what God has designed for them. Our goals and aspirations are filtered through the revelation of His plan. What He wants for us is more important than what we want for ourselves. In His kindness, God often grants people the desires of their heart, but when He doesn’t, it doesn’t mean that the Christian doesn’t have it “all” –  it just means that the “all” God has planned for them is different from what they expected. We “have it all” when we are walking consistently with His design and purpose for us; not only is that sufficient, but God is able to give us even more than we can ask for or imagine (see Ephesians 3:20).

We may look at our surroundings and feel like we are deprived of so much (although for most reading this post, that wouldn’t be accurate even from an Earthly perspective), but through Christ, God has given us everything we need. Therefore in Him, we really do “have it all.”

 

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Withholding Permission

January 7, 2014 — 4 Comments

As a mom I find that I spend a lot of my time giving instructions. As a mom of a toddler, I find that often these instructions consist in telling my kid what I don’t want her to do. The word “no” is frequently on my lips as I try to teach her what is safe to touch and what isn’t, what should go in her mouth and what shouldn’t, and a hundred other lessons that will hopefully serve her well as she grows and matures. It can be a tiresome endeavor but I know that my consistency now will pay dividends in the years to come.
In helping my daughter learn how she should behave, I often find that my instructions precedes her behavior. In other words, as I watch her roam and wander I can anticipate the steps that might lead to trouble. So before her little hands reach out for the dangerous object, I am telling her that she shouldn’t touch it. As we are walking, I tell her where she shouldn’t go before she gets there. This isn’t because I am controlling; it is because prevention is often better than allowing her to do something which she shouldn’t. I tell her that she doesn’t have permission to do something before she attempts the action because I know that if I were to allow her to do it, the consequences could be far worse.

It is likely that this approach should be adopted more often in my own life as well, specifically when it comes to the temptation to worry. Too frequently I find that I allow myself to grow anxious and then try to tell myself all the reasons that I shouldn’t. However, Jesus said in John 14:1 – “Let not your heart be troubled.” In other words – we shouldn’t give ourselves permission to worry and then instruct ourselves as to why it is unnecessary – we shouldn’t allow our hearts to get to that point in the first place. Our hearts should be so focused on Jesus that there is no competition for its attention. If we are consumed by Christ than we can’t be consumed with anxiety. If we refuse to give ourselves permission to worry than we never have to talk ourselves out of it later on.

This is no easy task. We live in a day and age where worry is not only accepted, it is expected. The media, our friends, and our culture will attempt to fuel a concern with matters over which we have no control. However, we do not have to give into this temptation. Instead, just as I tell my daughter “no” when I can see that she is advancing towards dangerous ground, we can fill our hearts with the promises of Scripture when we feel the temptation to focus on the temporary. We can withhold permission to advance any further and trust that He who has overcome the world (Jn. 16:33b) can overcome whatever we are facing as well.

 

Wanting Something Less

June 10, 2013 — 2 Comments

It is not uncommon for people to express a desire to want more out of life. This is the impetus for why many people switch jobs, careers, churches, or marriages. For one reason or another they believe that the proverbial grass is in fact greener on the other side, if only they could get to it. Of course many of them find that once they cross the chasm their unfulfilled desires still exist. It turns out that long-term contentment is not a result of the circumstances you are in.

On the other side of the spectrum you may find Christians who talk about how they wish God didn’t trust them with quite so much. We know that no trial or travesty comes to us without it being under the purview of God’s sovereign plan and it is His desire that our lives would be a glorious reflection of Him. Knowing that He will equip us to do the good work that He has called us to do (Eph. 2:10) and that often times it is through the difficulties in life that our mettle for ministry is formed, we may wish that God’s plan for us were a little less grand. Given enough time most Christians can articulate how God used difficulty to accomplish good things in their lives, but sometimes we may wonder if we can withstand the problem long enough to get to the payoff.

In His wisdom and graciousness though, God is not prone to letting us off easy when it comes to accomplishing His good purposes in our lives. He knows that when we get to eternity the difficulties will seem inconsequential compared to the eternal glory that they produced. As C.S. Lewis stated, “It is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.” God wants us to experience the full expanse of His love and despite our short-term desires to the contrary, He is not willing to let us sacrifice eternal significance for temporal comfort.

It may be tempting to wish for less of the responsibility of trials; it is understandable why we would desire that hardship be reserved for another. However, let us not forget that it is often through difficulties that we experience God’s love, grace and kindness in ways that we neglect to pay attention to during times of ease. May we desire that our lives be filled with His glory – by whatever means will produce it.

Even the Small Things

March 19, 2013 — 2 Comments
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A medical diagnosis we didn’t expect.

Our desire for a spouse or children.

The job we can’t seem to get.

We are driven to our knees for these things because it doesn’t take long for us to realize that they are outside of our control. Even the most “how-to” guides can’t ensure that we will obtain these things. They are in the hands of a sovereign God and our dependence on Him is evident when, despite our desire to the contrary, we are unable to accomplish them on our own.

However, it’s not just the big things in life that are in God’s hands. Even the small things reside within His palms. Which means when the small things in life go awry we can trust that they didn’t do so without Him being unaware. And just like He can give us what we need to persevere in the big things, He can equip us with everything we need to continue to glorify Him in the small ones.

Like when the kids won’t sleep which mean neither will you.

Or when everyone else on the road is seemingly in need of a driving lesson.

Or the to-do list is too long and time is too short.

These things may be small, but our God is big. He not only cares about these details, He is fully able to meet our needs in them. And when we fully place our trust in Him for the small things we are more apt to glorify Him – in both big, and small, ways.

 

And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. – Mt. 6:28-29

 

Consumed

March 6, 2013 — 2 Comments
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As I’ve written about many times before, I am a planner. Being a planner means that I constantly have things on my mind as I try to anticipate what I need to get done and where I need to be. Years ago, I read a book that helped me add some organizations to these thoughts by encouraging me to not keep my to-do list in my head. Instead, increased productivity was promised if I would simply either write the task down and schedule it or complete it right away. While this certainly helped with freeing my thoughts from my list of to-dos, it didn’t completely cure my planning ways. My thoughts may not be focused on tasks, but they still are focused on the future, living in anticipation of what may be next.

For many this probably sounds like a good thing, however, as any planner can tell you, there is a fine line between being future-focused, and being a worrier. When you are constantly thinking of the things that you need to know or the opportunities that may (or may not) come your way, it’s easy to become obsessed with what “might be” rather than being content with what is. Our thoughts are indicative of what we treasure (see Luke 12:34and if we’re constantly thinking of “what’s next” we are likely discontent with “what is.” 

Scripture, however, encourages us that our thoughts shouldn’t be centered on the tasks to complete or the opportunities that we may have. Instead, as the Psalmist writes, the blessed person is the one whose “delight is in the law of the Lord” and who mediates on it “day and night” (Ps. 1:2). Our thoughts shouldn’t be focused on what our concerns and priorities, but instead they should be focused on God’s. Our desire should be that what is on our mind increasingly mirrors what is on His. Our contemplation should not be our list of to-dos, but the truth contained in His Word.

If we were to do this, if our thoughts were centered on His Word, than there wouldn’t be time or the opportunity for them to be consumed with our worries. If we were constantly focused on our Father, than we wouldn’t be hindered by our fears. Meditating on Him and His Word not only puts things into perspective, His perspective, it obliterates anything lesser that may seek to distract and sideline us. When we are consumed with what He has to say, we aren’t troubled by our own thoughts and considerations.

This is by no means easy. Regardless of whether you are a planner or a person of spontaneity, it takes discipline to center our internal dialogue on the truth of Scripture. However, God promises that when we do so we are “blessed”  – not only because we are delighting ourselves in the same things that He is, but because we are demonstrating that our treasure, and our trust, are in Him.

 

 

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Good Timing

November 28, 2012 — Leave a comment
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A friend and I were texting recently about some good news she received. As we were doing so, we were struck by the timing that God had orchestrated. It was one of those “I love it when a plan comes together” types of occurrences, where everything seemed to be falling into place and this last piece of the puzzle, which was long-awaited for, fit nicely in right where it should be.

In the midst of thanking God for His graciousness in coordinating details so that this good fortune would occur at just the right time, I was reminded  that God’s timing is good regardless of whether we recognize it or not. Sometimes, as in this case, we can see God’s hand at work and we joyfully celebrate that He has brought to completion the good work that we believe He had started. Other times, His plans are not so obvious. When we receive bad news, when the long-awaited opportunity doesn’t come, or when we patiently wait only to be disappointed at the outcome, we can be reticent to rejoice at God’s timing. We may wonder what He’s doing or question why He’s doing it, forgetting that both in the sunshine and in the rain, God is working out His good purposes.

However, despite what it may look like from our perspective God is not inconsistent with how He manages the details of our lives. His children can have confidence that He is always working for our good and for His glory (See Rom. 8:28). The good news we receive doesn’t increase His proclivity towards this aim, and the bad news we experience doesn’t prevent it. As is the case with any good father, he knows that our desires and plans may not be the best. He is willing to wait in order to give His children not merely acceptable gifts, but good ones, the best ones. He has promised not to withhold from us any good thing. If we truly believe that, than we can confidently trust God’s wisdom in choosing what He gives us and rely on His timing for when He does.

It’s easy to celebrate when the graciousness of God’s timing is made abundantly obvious to us. It’s more difficult to do so when this isn’t as readily apparent. However, whether we see it or not, we can trust that God’s timing is good. If we kept this perspective, perhaps we would be more inclined to find joy in Him, regardless of the type of news we receive.

Tempted to Compare

November 26, 2012 — Leave a comment
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As the holiday shopping season approaches, so does the season of comparison. Parents try to ensure that none of their children feel that they somehow got “shorted” when they compare the gifts they received with what their bothers or sisters obtained. House decorating takes on competitive proportions as adornments are meticulously organized for both inside and outside our abodes. Parties and festivities are often just as much about who has been invited and what people wear as it is about celebrating the occasion. In a culture that often thrives on comparison, it is no wonder that the tendency to do so kicks into high gear during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.

Of course, the temptation towards comparison isn’t just limited to the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas. We are often quick to look at what we have and evaluate it in light of what someone else acquires or achieves. This inclination even occurs in our walk with God. We see the ministry that someone else has been called to and we desire it for ourselves. We see the gifts that another has been given and we wonder why we haven’t been given the same. We see how God is using our friend or family member in what we deem is enviable ways for His Kingdom and instead of rejoicing at how He is at work through them, we internally complain about why we haven’t been given the same opportunities and chances.

We aren’t alone in this temptation. Peter contended with the same struggle. After denying Jesus three times and returning to his old life of fishing, Jesus graciously appears to Peter and offers him restoration. Christ reminds Peter that he has been given a job (Mt. 16:18) – and that instead of abandoning the call on his life because of the mistake he made, Peter needs to get back to what Christ has called him to do (John 21:15-19). After this merciful restoration, one would think that Peter would plow forward, eagerly setting about to do the task set before him. However, before he does so, he turns around to look at someone else. He sees John and wonders what Jesus has planned for him (John 21:20-22).  Instead of proceeding with what God had so clearly asked of him, Peter starts trying to determine what God may ask of another. He was first distracted from the work that God had called him to do by his sin, then he becomes distracted because he is busy making comparisons.

What Peter needed to do was get to work. He needed to move forward with the task that God had called him to do. Christ makes this clear in His response, lovingly reminding Peter that his obedience should not be dependent on someone else’s call. Instead, God had given him a purpose – he was to be the rock upon which Christ would build his church and it was on that he should focus, not on how or for what purpose God would use someone else.

In a similar way, we need to make sure that we aren’t spending our time making comparisons between what God has given to us and what He has given to another. Whether in regards to gifts, talents, ministry opportunities or anything else, it matters little what God has granted to someone else – what matters is what He has asked of us. We need to remain faithful to what He has set before us, being diligent in obedience and faithful to His call. He will orchestrate the work that He has given all His saints into accomplishing His purposes. Our job is to do the tasks we’ve been given (Eph. 2:10); we can leave the details and the management of the greater plan to Him.

 

Author’s Note – I realized after I had published this post that I had written a similar one in the past. For those that noticed the redundancy – my apologies. Sometimes it’s hard to keep everything straight, and sometimes God impresses the same lesson on your heart in a new way. 

Always Thanksgiving

November 20, 2012 — 2 Comments

One of the things that I am thankful for is that I live in a country where a day is set aside for the expressed purpose of giving thanks. Although the holiday may have lost some of its original luster with the gift-buying season encroaching quickly upon it, it is still a pretty remarkable thing that we take time to intentionally and purposefully count our blessings. Some have extended the day of thanksgiving into a month-long celebration, posting on Facebook or Twitter something that they are thankful every day in the month of November. It is a good discipline, this practice of giving thanks. It reminds us that gratitude is appropriate even during tough circumstances. We have been given much, and to whom much has been given, much is expected (Luke 12:48).

However, we would be unwise to think that it is only in the eleventh month of the year that we need to apply this discipline. After all, if we have reasons to give thanks every day in the month of November, we have reasons to give thanks every day of the rest of the year. There are times it may feel like our list of reasons is shrinking dramatically, and perhaps we will have to give thanks for the happier times we once had rather than the circumstances we must currently endure. Regardless, those who follow Christ always have a reason to give thanks – not only has He saved them, but He has promised us a future hope that we can eagerly anticipate and expect. And if we struggle to give thanks even with that assurance, perhaps we need to reconsider upon what we are basing our relationship with Christ. As Thomas a Kempis reminds us:

 Those who love Him for His own sake and not for any comfort of their own, bless Him in all trial and anguish of heart as well as in the bliss of consolation. Even if He should never give them consolation, yet they would continue to praise Him and wish always to give Him thanks. What power there is in pure love for Jesus—love that is free from all self-interest and self-love!

In other words, if we are struggling to thank God, perhaps it is because we are not really looking to Him at all, but instead are concentrated on ourselves. If we turn our eyes from our own self-interests, and look instead to the greatness of our King, our praise and adoration, along with our thanksgiving, would quickly flow. We would recognize that our temporal circumstances should not determine our level of gratitude; after all, He is “the same yesterday, today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). Because of that, there is always reason to give thanks.