Sometimes You Gotta Do the Hard Stuff

Several years ago, I sent my 15-year-old son on a plane by himself. I knew it was the right thing to do. But it wasn’t the easy thing to do.

And I don’t think it was a coincidence that at the same time he was changing planes in Chicago, I was working on my Bible study lesson. The lesson was about how difficult it would have been for Paul and Silas to send Timothy to the Thessalonians by himself. He was young and inexperienced but they had confidence that he would be fine.

I couldn’t help but laugh out loud as I thought about how God orchestrated that moment to show me something. As I wrestled with the feelings a mother gets sending her children off on their own, I heard God speaking to my heart.

There are many times that God asks us to do things that seem hard. Many times we feel stretched beyond our capacity to face the challenges that are set before us.

But the good news is that God has full confidence in us as he asks us to do the hard things. He already knows the growth that we will experience by trusting Him as we take steps that might feel a little scary.

What are you facing that seems hard today? Be encouraged! God will walk each step with you. As a mother, I couldn’t go with my son on that plane, but I knew that my Heavenly Father was right there with him.

And who knows what work the Lord did in that young man — and his mother — because we were both bold enough and brave enough to trust Him with the outcome.

“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 41:10 (ESV)

Taste and See That the Lord is Good

Several years ago I was attending a women’s retreat at a camp with a group of ladies from my church. I had been struggling with some very difficult challenges in that particular season of life. I had been asking God to help me settle a few things in my heart.

One thing I asked Him was if what was happening in my life was a result of my own actions and choices or just part of life.  I had read the story about the blind man that Jesus healed and how the people had asked whose sin had caused the man’s blindness, his own or his parents.  Jesus had responded by saying that neither of those reasons was the cause but  the man had been born blind so that God’s glory would be revealed. God has His own reasons for allowing things to happen in our lives.

When we consider all of God’s attributes we should know that He will never fail us and will take care of us. But sometimes the challenges of life seem to overpower what we know to be true.

On that first day of the retreat, when we were registering and receiving our study materials for the sessions, one of the items we were told to take was a small journal. All of the journals were displayed on a table and each cover had a picture. We were told to prayerfully consider which cover spoke to us.  As I stood there looking at all the covers, one suddenly drew me like none of the others.  As I looked at the picture of a partially eaten apple, I heard the Lord speak gently to my heart. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”  It was exactly what I needed. To know that God was good. To know that no matter what, that was a sure thing. God was challenging me to take Him at His word.  I chose to do so.

Today, I still have that journal and Psalm 34, which contains the verse God spoke to my heart, has become my favorite Psalm.  If you are struggling with something in your life and just need a little encouragement, ask God to give you what you need. He never disappoints.

Here is a link to a video by Shane and Shane called, “Psalm 34.”  Enjoy!

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” – Psalm 34:8 (NIV)

Don’t Wait Until You’re Worthy

How is it that we are worthy of being called a Royal Priesthood (1 Peter 2:9)? The fact is–we’re not. The only reason we have been allowed to approach the throne of God is because of Jesus.

Several years ago, one of my older boys got a job at a pizza restaurant. He had a good work ethic and it wasn’t long before he was made a shift manager. At one point, he asked the boss if they were hiring and the man’s response was, “if his name is Maxey, he’s hired.” Sight unseen, this man was willing to hire another Maxey because of the way this older brother had represented the family.

And, that’s how we can approach God. We simply enter the throne room with Jesus and Jesus says to the Father, “She’s with me.” We are instantly received, no questions asked. We are there because of what Jesus did and not because of anything we have done to earn our place.

So then the question becomes, “Why do we sometimes feel like we can’t approach God when we’ve done something we know isn’t pleasing to Him?” It’s as if we think we should wait until we do enough to become worthy again before we approach Him. But we will ALWAYS be unworthy. If we are already unworthy, can we get any unworthy-er?

What are we waiting for? Do we go to God and say, “Lord, I’ve done my best, now hear my prayer?” That’s never going to get us an audience with God. Even at our best, we will never be worthy.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your righteousness depends on you. It doesn’t. It only depends on Jesus. His righteous is all there is and it’s all you need. You can approach the throne of the God of the Universe because you entered the throne room with Jesus. Listen to Him tell the Father, “She’s with me,” or, ” He’s with me,” and then know with absolute assurance that the Father will hear your prayers.

Yes I Can, But I Won’t

How many times in the last week have you seen something in the news or heard someone talking about something that is legal but you know is not pleasing to the Lord? Probably more than you can count.

We could list many things that are indeed legal in our country, or elsewhere in the world that we know are against God’s directives. The ones we think of first are things we probably all agree on. But there are other things that we might not agree on. We might have different ideas about what is “okay” behavior and what isn’t.

Those areas are what I believe Paul was addressing in First Corinthians 6:12 where he says “”I have the right to do anything,” you say–but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”–but I will not be mastered by anything.” (NIV).

The discussion was actually about meat since there had been arguments about what was okay to eat and what was not. Paul’s point was the sometimes it doesn’t matter if it’s allowed or isn’t allowed. You are called to a higher standard. You are called to holiness and sometimes that means choosing NOT to do what everyone else is doing. Sometimes it means choosing to do something so that you don’t have a negative influence on those around you whose faith might be weak.

One example that might help make this clearer is that of a parent and child. There are topics, and in some homes even language, that could be considered less than appropriate for children to hear. Some parents who don’t even consider God’s ways will choose to change their behavior for the good of their children. There may be no law against it, but they know that it is in the best interest of their child.

As children of God, we can all do with less worldly influence. But that means we need to choose to live above the standards that we see around us. We need to be willing to look at our options and consider how our actions influence those around us. We need to be willing to say, “yes I can, but I won’t.”

Instead of following the crowd, we would do better to consider what we are told in Romans 14:19: “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”

The Road Home

I was trying to work on my Bible study plan and feeling like I didn’t even know where to start. Beside me was my open notebook. Blank pages just waiting for God to speak. On the other side was my Bible also open to nothing in particular.

I knew I was distracted by things in my head. I couldn’t seem to stop the steady stream of thoughts that flowed from one to the next without end. So many responsibilities, so many concerns, so many unanswered questions.

Then I looked up at the TV where I was playing restful music on Pandora.  The title of the album was “The Road Home.” At the time, I didn’t catch the artist’s name because I was immediately drawn to the photo. It was a picture of a country gravel road disappearing over a gentle hill. In the foreground was an old worn suitcase. The Lord spoke clearly to my spirit at that moment.

“Leave the heavy weight behind. Walk the road home without the burdens you have been carrying. They are heavy, unnecessary and not your concern. Sit the baggage down and move forward without it. Leave concerns over finances, health issues, relationships, feelings of rejection and inadequacy as well as concerns for your role in this new season of life. You don’t need to carry any of it. I’m more than strong enough to bear the load for you.”

How many times have I heard God ask this of me? How many times have I set that suitcase down only to go back and pick it up again?  And then cram even more stuff into it!

Maybe you can join me in this prayer.

“Lord, help me to leave it all and not look back. The road ahead, toward home, toward you, is so much to look forward to. Help me leave this beat-up suitcase behind and begin to walk. Help me not look back.”

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)

A Watered Garden

Here in Florida,  it’s been unusually dry the past 3 months so a lot of the plants had started to show significant stress.

The change happened gradually. First the leaves lost their shine. Then they started to curl ever so slightly. Next the curl became more pronounced and the plants began to droop. They needed water.

Plants can stand  short droughts well enough, but eventually, if they don’t get water, they will shrivel up and die. No fruit, no flowers, no beautiful greenery. Just ugly brown. Then finally, crispy dead leaves. Useless garden waste.

However, last week we began our rainy season and the changes are already becoming evident. With regular, soaking rains, my flowerbeds are beginning to perk up and things are looking much greener. 

We can become the same way spiritually. If we don’t allow God to water us through His word, and through other believers, we can become as dead spiritually as those plants in my garden.

God promises that He will care for us. He promises that He will give us just what we require to thrive and bear fruit. He is the Master Gardener and knows exactly what is needed.

Take some time today to allow God to water your soul. The fragrance of the blossoms and the abundant fruit that will be produced will bless you and others around you.

And the LORD will continually guide you, And satisfy your desire in scorched places, And give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.”Isaiah 58:11

He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”Jeremiah 17:8

But God…

Most of us have been on the receiving end of the word “but.” What I mean is, we have all had the experience where someone says something very nice and then undoes all the good intentions by following the statement with the word “but.” Usually what follows is a criticism or a qualifying statement of some kind that makes the original statement of very little value.

“You did a great job… but…”
“I appreciate your help… but…”
“I love you… but…”

Humans tend to use the word “but” in a negative sense most of the time. Probably the most frequent use is during an argument. I think sometimes people feel it’s necessary to keep things grounded in reality. After all, we can experience good in life but the overall consensus is that life is hard and we’d better just get used to it. No use candy-coating it.

God has a different idea about the word “but.” Just looking at one chapter of scripture, Romans 6, we will find that God’s “but” is something to shout about. I would invite you to read it for yourself.

These examples are from the NASB version.

Verse 11 – “Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, BUT alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Verse 13 – “and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; BUT present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.”

Verse 21- 22 – “Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. BUT now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.”

Verse 23 – “For the wages of sin is death, BUT the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Yes, I will admit that life is sometimes hard… BUT GOD! He turns things around and makes something good out of all the negatives that we can come up with. And that is cause for rejoicing!

God Doesn’t Play Jenga

Have you ever played the game called Jenga? It consists of a set of 54 small boards or sticks of wood. The pieces are stacked in rows of 3 with each layer placed at a right angle to the previous layer. The stack of sticks is quite stable when you are finished.

The name Jenga comes from a Swahili word meaning “to build.” The object of the game is to remove sticks from lower levels and place them carefully on top to create a new layer without collapsing the entire tower. Each time a player removes a stick it compromises the stability of the original structure. Eventually the tower can’t stand anymore stress and comes tumbling down in a heap of rubble. Game over.

I was thinking about that game and comparing it to how God builds our lives. He starts with each layer and carefully puts each new stick in exactly the right order and position. He is building something that will last for eternity.

Unfortunately, sometimes we are not content to let God do the building. We see the sticks and they each have labels. One says “finances”, another says “marriage.” Others say “relationships,” “health,” and “career.” We think we know what our own needs are better than anyone else.

We may look at that tower that God is making with the priorities in our lives and we can be tempted to start making decisions about where He has placed each one. We start taking out sticks and placing them on top. We start deciding for ourselves which things go where and what importance they hold. And all the while, we are weakening the structure that God has designed.

“Unless the LORD builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the LORD guards the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain.” – Psalm 127:1  (NASB)

Best to let the Father do the building and not try to play Jenga with Him. He knows exactly where to place each piece and His creation will never collapse. Trust Him with your life and you will be amazed at what He will do!

Striving for Perfection

When was the last time you felt like you were getting it right? When did you last feel like you were on track, accomplishing what you needed to, making the right decisions, making no mistakes?

It’s could be that it’s been a while. And when you aren’t getting it right, the critics are unrelenting.  But I’ll bet your worst critic isn’t your spouse or your best friend or your neighbor or even your mother. I suspect that the person who is hardest on you when you mess up… is you.

God isn’t critical of you. He knows you are going to make mistakes. He knows you are not perfect. So why do you expect it of yourself? He extends grace to us in all circumstances. He doesn’t expect us to earn it because He knows we can do nothing of ourselves to be worthy of His grace.

So why do we keep expecting ourselves to be perfect when there is only One who is perfect? We can strive to become more Christ-like, but it’s the greatest of arrogance to imagine that we will ever arrive at perfection this side of heaven.

So maybe the better goal is to give all we have and be content with the outcome. After all, Christ came to complete us and if we did it all by ourselves we wouldn’t need Him. I don’t know about you , but I need Him desperately. Every day. Every moment.

I don’t have to be perfect. I just have to be willing to be changed. And to rest in His grace in the process.

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”  1 John 3:2 

Dump Truck or Wheelbarrow?

When I was a little girl, I remember watching a television show where housewives would win a chance to enter a store with an empty grocery cart and have a certain amount of time to put whatever they wanted in the cart. I remember watching them run up and down the aisles throwing things in the cart as fast as they could. I imagined how much fun it would be to fill my cart with anything I wanted and as much as the cart would hold.

Of course, you were limited by the size of the cart. But imagine if you could bring your own container and fill it as full as you wanted with things from whatever store you chose. Or maybe you could fill it with money. Now wouldn’t that be nice!

What size container would you bring? A grocery sack? A wheelbarrow?  A dump truck?  You’d be crazy to choose a small container when there was no limit. Maybe you could bring a double-trailer semi truck. Now that would hold a lot!

The thing is—in the end, you would just have stuff. I think there would be a sort of letdown after it was all over. Sure, you now have a ton of stuff but when it’s gone, it’s still gone. When you’ve used it up, when you’ve spent the money, when you’ve exhausted your supply, it’s all over.

Now think about a different kind of opportunity.

God says that he has all that we need, all we have to do is ask. Now I’m not talking about tangible “stuff”, I’m talking about all the things God has promised to give us if we ask. There is a bounty of things God will give us if we will only allow the Holy Spirit to work in us. He promises to meet our physical needs but he also promises things like love, joy, and peace.

He waits for us to come to him and when we do, he fills our lives to overflowing with wonderful blessings. When you think about it, if the blessings of God are limitless we should bring the largest container we can find! When we go to God, why just bring a wheelbarrow?

You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with abundance.”Psalm 65:11

“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.”Romans 15:13

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” -Galatians 5:22-23