I was presented with a wonderful ministry opportunity, but it means traveling to a different town in these crazy Covid-19 days, being away from my fabulous family for a night, and missing one of my daughter’s soccer games. It also means some extra work and preparation—translation time. I had mixed emotions. I started praying.
I shut my computer, closed my eyes, whispered the pros and cons I listed above, told God I knew that He knew my heart. I told Him I was worried if I could give both the Bible study I was teaching that same week and this opportunity my best. I asked Him to let me know what He wanted me to do. God popped into my head, What if you used the same topic for both? Sure, they’d have to be a little different, but you could use the same research, prep time, Scriptures, themes—that could make both events even better. I quickly checked the few notes I’d scribbled in pink ink for the upcoming Bible study, and thought, “Hmm. This could work.”
Are you listening?
Before transitioning out of work, I straightened my desk, picking up a stray bookmark that had fallen out of my Bible. It has the hymn I was going to reference in the Bible study printed on it. Side note: I have over a dozen bookmarks currently in my Bible. “Okay, God.” I smiled.
I headed downstairs to start dinner. I was itching to tell my husband about the invitation, because it was exciting, and I wanted his opinion. I told God if He wanted me to go, I’d need my husband’s support, because I want to be in sync with him. But Brett was on a call, so I started cooking and kept the conversation with God going. As I cracked eggs and sliced creamy avocados God whispered scriptures and stories to me as I stirred. He started writing my talk for me in my mind.
Are you listening?
One specific idea was front and center. I wanted to ponder this particular passage more while I cooked. So, I ran back up to my writing nook, found the book I needed, and discovered it was sitting open to the precise page I needed.
When Brett got off his call, I barely got three words out before he said, “You should definitely do this.”
I ask God all the time to help me discern things—know which way to go and when. I ask Him to tell me what I should do next and for the right words to say. And here’s the thing. He answers. All the time. And I’m not saying God always answers pronto like in the example I just gave. Or that He always gives me several iterations of that answer in a row—bam! Bam! Bam! But He does answer all of us when we ask Him questions in a million ways—an idea, an overwhelming sense of peace, a bookmark, a page open to a certain something, a conversation, a reminder of something we’ve talked to God about before, a note from a friend, a song on the speakers that confirms what we thought we just heard.... But do I always notice? Am I really listening?
Or am I too quick to turn on the noise—check Instagram, answer a text, put on an audiobook or music, that drowns out or muffles Christ’s voice? There’s nothing wrong with any of those things. Communicating with friends and loved ones is awesome. Christian audio books and worship music help me tune into Jesus. Secular novels and music can be great too. But what kind of conversation am I trying to have if I ask God a question and then turn to something else, instead of sitting, quietly, attentively, to hear His reply?
What if I did that to my husband?
“Hey, honey, do you have time to pick up Maguire after school?”
And then instead of waiting for Brett to answer, I immediately opened my phone or slipped in my earbuds or left the room.
I would never know his response. It would also be rude. But somedays I do this to God. No wonder I don’t always hear Him.
“Are you listening?
These are words Jesus spoke over and over again while He was on earth. He shared an important insight into God and love and life—something folks should be taking notes about and then because Jesus knows how distracted we get He asked, “Are you listening?”
I feel like Jesus is asking me this same question.
Maybe He’s asking you, too.
His answers are sometimes slower than we’d like in our instant gratification world. His answers aren’t always what we wanted to hear. Sometimes we get the, That’s not such a good idea or Not now from God even though we’re eager to get going. Sometimes He’ll send us a feeling of warning that we should turn around and stop doing the thing we are about to do. But only because Jesus wants us to know His will for our lives. He wants us to go the places He’s planned for us. He wants us to meet the people He hopes we will be roommates or friends or coworkers with. He wants to keep us from dangerous or toxic scenarios. He wants us to take the job and live in the city where we can live our lives for Him to the fullest. If we ask. And if we listen. He will always answer.
Jesus tells the truth. He gives the best advice. And He asks if we’re paying attention. In Matthew 13 Jesus tells the story of a sower with some seeds. He wants His disciples (and us) to know that if we dig our roots deep into Him, we’ll flourish. In this same chapter Jesus tells another story about good crops and thistles—letting us know we can grow, encouraging us to be fruitful, even in the midst of a mixed-up world and all the “thistles” we’ll encounter. In Luke 14 Jesus tells us we’re the salt of the earth—here to bring seasoning, the true flavor to this world. All these things Jesus is saying are so important. We should be hanging on every word. But because Jesus knows our attention spans are tiny, He followed up these teachings with, “Are you listening? Really listening?”
The disciples were concerned with things like politics and number of followers and taxes and who was right and who was wrong. They’d interrupt Jesus to ask about those things. They’d be listening to Him, kind of listening, but they were distracted by all the buzz about the hot topics of their culture. Oh, yeah, maybe we do that, too.
For the record I read the news and think voting is a privilege we should all exercise. We need to know what’s going on in our world, because we live here. But I don’t want to get so tangled up in all that that I miss what Jesus is telling me. I need to take time to be still. To be quiet. So I can hear Him.
Jesus calls us into a conversation. Are we sitting down to chat with Him or barking out our questions and demands and leaving the room?
How do you listen?
Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Be still. Go somewhere quiet—a porch, a park, a patch of grass in your yard when everyone else is inside, a picnic table where no one else is sitting. Tell God what’s on your mind, your heart. Tell Him what you’re really worried about today, what has you tied up in knots, or what you’re confused about. And then sit. In the silence. And wait. Do it again tomorrow. And the next day and the next.
Jesus tells us in Mark 4:24-25 “Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given—and you will receive even more. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given.”
I want that. More understanding. I’m focusing on sitting still more this week. Listening better. I want to hear what Jesus has to say. I want to hear Him more clearly and more often. He tells us we can. If we pay attention. If we listen closer.
Will you join me? I’d love to hear about the ways you’re listening. Drop a comment and let me know.
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This whole COVID-19 thing has shifted our perspectives. Workloads are different. We have fewer places to go, zero commute time, no evening meetings, no out of town work trips. And although we’re missing some key elements to our days, we’ve also been given some margin—some space to exhale.
This pause has filled me with introspection. What does God want me to learn from this shelter at home chapter? What have I truly missed? What have I actually enjoyed having less of? What did I discover I can do without? What was I putting too much emphasis or value in?
I know we’re chomping at the bit for things to “go back to normal.” But what if that’s not the best idea? My “normal,” before everything closed down looked like one exhausted gal who frequently got migraines and logged a bazillion miles on her car, swung by the grocery typically five times a week, and always felt rushed to try to do her work, care for her family, and tend to her body, mind, and spirit. Pre-quarantine our family ate dinner together maybe once a week and all got to the same church service maybe once a month. It was normal for me. It was how things were. And I wasn’t complaining, because life was full and good. My husband and I adore our work, we have a great church. We have been blessed with four incredible children, and we were all doing things we loved. But taking a moment to really look at my normal, I don’t think all the excess and running around and burning the candle at both ends was God’s divine plan for me. I don’t think it was His plan for you either.
Yes, God created work. He created the world, then Adam and Eve, and directed them to rule over the garden—to tend to the birds, fish, plants and seeds. We all have some kind of work to do—whether that’s caring for our kiddos, analyzing numbers, organizing fundraisers, making presentations, cutting hair, volunteering at the nature preserve, or greeting people at church, Walmart, or on the customer service line. But He never said work yourselves into a frenzy. Work until your head spins. Work until you’re sleep deprived.
In fact, when life gets crazy, Jesus says, “Come to me, and take a breather.”
Jesus said, “Come off by yourselves; let’s take a break and get a little rest.” For there was constant coming and going. They didn’t even have time to eat.
So they got in the boat and went off to a remote place by themselves. —Mark 6:32-34
Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” –Matthew 11:28-30
What if Jesus has been trying to tell us this while He has our attention? Don’t get me wrong. There is zero, nil, zip evil in Jesus. He did NOT create the pain and suffering associated with COVID-19. But He is always on the lookout for ways to grow us, guide us, lead us to a better, freer, more fulfilling life. Maybe Jesus is saying, “I see you and your constant coming and going. Let’s take a break and get some rest. Oh, my child, you look worn out. Come here, walk with me and learn the unforced way to live, a natural, melodic, rhythm of grace.”
Before we hit “go” on our lives I want to think and pray through these things. I don’t want to go from zero to sixty without having learned my lesson and taken the action to apply it.
I want to walk and work with Jesus and see how He does it. What does this mean for me? I’m not certain. But I think it means saying, “no,” to more things, being fine without every single favorite food in the cupboard and fridge, implementing more intentional patterns of rest.
How about you? What parts of this strange state of affairs are you finding you appreciate? Maybe you realize you like painting your own nails or you’ve met some incredible neighbors (from six feet away) you’d like to invite over. Perhaps you’ve discovered you actually prefer the online workout over the one you used to drive to, plus it fits into your schedule way better. Maybe you enjoyed cooking so much, you’re going to commit to trying a new recipe each week. Maybe it turns out you love your natural hair color. Perhaps you find peace and renewal in the gardening, reading, yoga…you’ve taken up since you’ve been sheltered in place. Which things did you think you needed, that as it turns out, you don’t? Which things are you seeing as new rhythms you’d like to implement going forward?
I’m cherishing the gift of putting down my phone at 7:00 pm each night, because we’re all under the same roof. I’m savoring moments sitting quietly on our porch with no agenda, and no urgency to get going to the next. I’m thankful for impromptu hands of cards and family walks at sunset. I’ve been having a blast painting with the kids and rediscovered how peaceful it is for me. I love our family gathered in soft pjs on Sunday mornings worshipping Jesus together. When the world speeds up again we’ll be called to dive back in. Right after Jesus and the disciples took a rest in the scripture above is when He fed the 5,000. I’m just saying, there will be work to do. Important work. I know I won’t be able to implement all the things I’ve enjoyed in this slow down every day, but I don’t want to lose them. I want to make sure in seasons of busy and hurry that I do what God has called me to, that I do it well, and that I then return to a position of rest.
And so, I’m trying to be proactive. What if instead of striving to get back to normal we work to create a new normal, a new and improved one? One where we turn to Jesus to consider what matters most. Where we prioritize with Him what’s important. And where we let Jesus rule our calendars and our hearts—our starts and stops, are gos and pauses, stops and go agains, where we fall in step with His unforced rhythms of grace.
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I just unfollowed thirty -one people on Instagram and unsubscribed from 45 email lists. Sure, I’ve cleaned out some drawers during this shelter-in-place period, but I’m also cleaning out my electronic life, allowing some margin that in the long run will hopefully give me more moments to pause to savor what’s in front of me, so I can tend to the more important tasks at hand—whether that’s turning in a chapter, laughing on the sofa with my family, or being still with God.
The people I unfollowed weren’t toxic or mean. They were just distractions. Like the woman who posts gorgeous pictures of food and often has beautiful videos of her whipping together scrumptious meals. I frequently watch them, oohing and ahhing at how delicious and healthy that meal looks. Oh, and look, it’s gluten free. I should file it away. Add the key ingredients to my grocery list. Make it for dinner next week. But I don’t. I’ve never once made one of her recipes. So why do I watch her videos and scroll through her posts?
I also unfollowed a musician I heard once and loved her sound, but most of her posts are pictures of her with a new hairdo or wild eyeliner, and although pretty, have nothing to do with my life. I don’t know her. I don’t gain anything by seeing that she died her hair pink this week. And so even though there’s absolutely nothing wrong with her—zip, she’s gone.
The unsubscribes? From clothing companies I’ve shopped from, but certainly don’t need daily reminders (translate temptations) to click on their site or spend money on their clothes. If I’m in the market for a cool new jacket or a snazzy pair of sandals, I know how to find them. Open Table? You’re so helpful when making a reservation. However, I don’t need to hear from you every single day. Bandsintown? I LOVE music and concerts, but I honestly scroll through the shows you send me and waste another couple of minutes that I always wish I had come the end of a day. If only I had a few more minutes to re-read this paragraph, play a hand of cards with the kids, close my eyes and just listen to the Lord. Oh, yeah, I did, but I wasted it daydreaming of concerts and restaurants in the morning when my brain was fresh. Dang it.
We talk about decluttering our homes—fewer pairs of jeans means fewer to choose from when we get dressed, fewer dollars spent, less crowded shelves, less chance of wadded up chaos and overflowing piles. Getting rid of bras that don’t fit or that their elastic has given out means I don’t have to root through all the bad ones every morning. But our electronic lives are also cluttered. When I open my laptop in the morning to write I usually have a dozen or so emails waiting for me. A couple are important. Some are “subscribes.” And even if I delete all of them, I still take the moment to think, “Free People? I don’t need any sundresses right now. Delete.” It takes a second. But it takes a second every day. And each of the similar emails also takes a second every day. And, for every ten, maybe I click on one. What is new on Netflix?
These aren’t bad or dangerous uses of my time, because gazing at funky apparel makes me happy inside and if Netflix added back all the Harry Potter movies I’d want to know. It’s just not the best use of my time. If I want to click on Free People’s website or on the Netflix App I can. But then I’m choosing. It’s intentional. Instead of having the distraction imposed on me. See the difference?
I want to do the work Jesus has set out for me today. And tomorrow and the next day after that. I want to be focused and live well for Him. I want to spend time with Jesus not rush through my prayers or time reading my Bible. I want to exhale in the middle of the day with Him, and not feel like “I don’t have time.”
Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful. --1 Corinthians 12:6-7 MSG
Jesus doesn’t get mad at me when I learn a new recipe or watch a music video. He delights when we are delighted. But He also calls each of us to specific work for the kingdom. And He asks us to do it well. And He loves it when we spend time with Him. I for one, do this much better, when I’m not going down rabbit trails of outfits I might someday wear or meals I might, but probably won’t, one day cook. So, I’m spring cleaning my mental space.
I want you to put your foot down. Take a firm stand on these matters so that those who have put their trust in God will concentrate on the essentials that are good for everyone. --Titus 3:8-9 MSG
Want to join me? Let’s put our feet down. Let’s avoid mindless, pointless scrolling. Let’s fix our eyes on Jesus.
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With all our time at home, we’ve been playing a lot of games. You? Clue is a fam favorite and when you play, the first thing you do is choose your character. I always choose Miss Scarlet. When it’s your turn you roll the dice, hopefully land in a room, and proceed to make some more choices. Who will you accuse? With what weapon? And as the game progresses your choices, along with some luck and deciphering, determine the winner of the game.
Today you and I get to choose. We don’t get to choose our health. We don’t get to choose where we’ll go (because, well….). But we do get to choose how we’ll let these quarantines and lockdowns affect us.
We can choose to move our bodies, because we’re still allowed outside for a walk or run or to toss a frisbee, walk a dog, shoot hoops, or hike through the woods. We can choose to eat healthy, because we have time to cook and the place we’re still allowed to go is the grocery. We can choose to love an actual neighbor in the neighborhood, by waving across the street, asking if they need anything. Sharing from our grocery delivery. We can choose to love our “neighbor” by writing a note (yes, on paper and putting it in the mail) calling someone (yes, on the phone) who lives alone or who we miss or who God has put on our hearts. We can choose to learn something new or hone that skill, because we have a zillion free podcasts plus YouTube at our fingertips, and again, we have time. We can choose to spend time with the Lord every day, because He’s here, right this moment, right by our side. He loves us. And He is the source of our strength, peace, joy, hope, and courage. All the excuses we used before as to why we couldn’t squeeze any time in our Bibles or in prayer have evaporated.
We can choose to keep going. Not give up on Bible study or that meeting we were supposed to have or even that coffee date just because we can’t meet in person. How about meeting and chatting via Google Hangout or Zoom or Houseparty?
We can choose our mood. I'm not talking about ignoring the pain or loss. Those are important emotions to process.
But we have the choice to grump and moan and complain about the inconveniences--"my investments are tanking!” “everything’s closed!” or choose to count our blessings—the grocery is still open, we have food, praise God! It’s sunny! It’s getting warm out! Thank you, Jesus, that this happened not in January when it was too cold, but now, in the spring so we can go outside and get a change of scenery and hear the twittering of the birds and take in the puffy white blossoms bursting on the Bradford pear trees. Thank you, Lord, for technology so I can still watch my church livestream, listen to music, download free e-books from the library, and do a silly Tik-Tok in the living room with my kids.
We can choose to be afraid in the midst of all this uncertainty. Or we can choose to listen to Jesus who told us on repeat, “Do not be afraid. Do not fear. Peace be with you. Worry about nothing. I will be with you always.”
We won’t always get it right and it’s not easy. We’re still either finding ourselves in close quarters day after day with the people we live with or finding ourselves alone for longer periods of time if we live alone. The grocery doesn’t have everything on our lists. A lot of us are tight on cash. There are people we care about on our hearts. This is not normal for any of us. And that can cause us to grumble or feel a little boxed in or on edge. And that’s natural. It’s okay. We’re adjusting.
But, see, God has always given us free choice, from the very beginning of time, and we can pick all the sweet, juicy fruit He’s given us access to, or we can try to go for the one He said is off limits (which at a time like this is the grumbling, the giving up, the state of fear).
Today I choose Christ. I choose the fruits of the Spirit that are ready and available to all of us—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I’ll slip and mess up, and make a poor choice, and snap at one of my kids, or not communicate well, or wish things were different, but then I pray I’ll choose to come back to who God is—good and kind and powerful and faithful—and rest in the choice to love and trust Him.
Because whether we choose to trust Jesus or not, He is in control. And He is inherently good. So, yeah, that’s where I’m choosing to focus today. Will you join me?
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I’m sorry, are you busy? In the middle of something?
Maybe tying that ribbon just right and if you move your finger the whole thing will fall apart? Or getting the crushed candy canes to stick to the rich, chocolatey fudge while it’s still gooey? Or finishing up the report that’s due before you take a few days off for Christmas? Or clicking “add to cart” before the last remaining pair of boots gets snatched up?
What if someone told you Jesus was just down the street? Right now! Even though you’re in the middle of doing something. Would you believe them? Would you leave your undertaking? Despite the consequences? How would you react?
Because over 2000 years ago there was a group of guys doing their job, a job they couldn’t cut out early from, one where they weren’t allowed to leave their posts, when an angel showed up and said, “Guess what? I have something incredible to tell you! The Messiah, the One you’ve been waiting for, the One all of Scripture points to, He was just born! Just down the road, in town.”
We read the familiar passage from Luke 2 about angels and shepherds and think, well of course, I’d run straight to where Jesus was, because I love Jesus, I want to be near Jesus. Who wouldn’t go?
But would you? Would I?
If I’m washing a dish or pulling something from the oven or typing out the perfect sentence, I usually won’t interrupt my task to answer a text or call. I wait until I’ve accomplished the thing I was in the middle of and then respond. And if it rolled over into voicemail. That’s fine. I can call them back. How many times a day do we say, “Just a minute,” “Let me finish sending this text,” or “Hang on a second”?
But if it was Jesus calling or texting or asking a question, if Jesus Himself was down the street, would we put down our to-dos to listen or seek Him? Or would we finish our things up real fast first?
Which takes me back to the shepherds. It must have been crazy freaky when an angel appeared to them. It was so frightening the first thing the angel said was, “Don’t be afraid.” And then this wild-looking heavenly host told those shepherds the Savior of the World had been born. Oh, and yeah, He was a baby.
People had been talking about the Messiah for ages. The shepherds probably thought or said something like this:
Dang, now? It’s not the best time.
We’re kind of in the middle of something.
I’m fortunate to even have this job.
I can’t afford to just abandon the sheep, can I? I could get fired. The sheep could get lost or eaten by wolves.
Maybe we can go tomorrow?
Or take turns, do it in shifts?
But, the Messiah! Really?
Wait! Did that angel say He was a baby?
The shepherds never imagined the Messiah would come as a baby. They thought Jesus would be a great king. He was. But the shepherds most likely pictured royal robes, and a golden crown encrusted with jewels, and a war horse, and a mighty sword. Not a baby in a barn. Still:
As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over, “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. —Luke 2:15-18 MSG
They ran. They went as fast as they could.
Are we doing the same? Are we running towards Jesus? If we feel prompted to pray or open our Bibles or listen to a worship song, do we do it? Or do we think to ourselves, in a minute, when I’m done eating, after I get my workout in, as soon as this episode is over?
Jesus is right here. Right now.
We don’t have to wait for centuries like the folks in the Old Testament. We don’t even have to head into town, down that hill, around the bend, to get to the manger where He lay like the shepherds did. All we have to do is say His name. Jesus. We don’t have to wait until we “have time” or “are done”. We can wake a few minutes earlier, watch less Netflix, or put down Zillow and pick up our Bibles and get into the Word. We can also pray while we wrap or bake or fold the clothes. We can listen to the Bible being read to us out loud on the Bible App or listen to a worship song on the way to pick up the groceries or the kids. You can put down this blog and talk to Jesus right this minute. In fact, please do.
Are we running to Jesus, or are we too busy?
Our twenty-first century Christmas might fill our calendars and planners with concerts, parties, cookie exchanges, and Secret Santas. But the first Christmas brought Jesus to us. Changed everything. Heaven came down to earth. To save you and me. What are we waiting for? Let’s run to Him! And like the shepherds let's tell everyone what we’ve seen.
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A friend recently asked, “How do I connect with God when I feel distant from Him?”
My answer popped out, “You talk to Him.”
This isn’t a complete answer, and it might seem too simplistic, or maybe feel awkward to talk to someone you don’t sense is there, but this is where we start—talking to Jesus. It’s never about Jesus leaving us, because He simply doesn’t do that. Jesus told the disciples as He ascended into heaven, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”—Matthew 28:20
Always. To the very end.
So, it has nothing to do with where Jesus is. He’s with us. Always. To the end. It’s about how we’re hearing Him. Sometimes when we can’t hear His voice, it’s because we’re not even talking to Him, not inviting Him into our conversations. Sometimes, it’s because we’re not expecting Jesus to answer. And sometimes it’s because there’s so much garbage and pain between us and Him, His voice is muffled under all the things we’re muddling through.
What do I mean?
Let’s say you’re spending Thanksgiving with your family, and two of your family members aren’t exactly getting along. You’re worried about how to be nice to both, without upsetting either. You can already sense the tension, and you:
If you took any of these approaches, you might hear Jesus, but you might not. You barely asked and didn’t listen. If you had this same type of conversation with your best friend, you probably wouldn’t have heard much from them either. Jesus wants to hear from you. He loves you. He made you. He also loves and created those family members who are a hot mess. It doesn’t matter if you have even more issues than they do, or if you haven’t prayed recently or ever. Jesus is right there, with you, always, to the end. He wants to help, but we need to let Him. If we don’t turn over our issues and concerns to Jesus, we’re going to struggle to hear Him.
What if instead, you talked to Jesus like He was your best friend, because He wants to be, and just poured it all out, and let Him know all your feelings and worries, and how you long for the right words, and how you wish your family would be nice to each other. Even if you don’t sense Him, Jesus is there. Nodding and understanding. You might find yourself taking a deep breath, because Jesus offers peace. You might feel an idea of something you could initiate bubble up in your head—don’t friendly family football games seem to unite everybody? Hmmm. Or you might get a tangible response—a strong feeling of comfort, an uncanny ability to bite your tongue when they’re arguing, just the right words to ease the tension at just the right time. This is what hearing Jesus sometimes sounds like.
What worries, hopes, and fears are you clinging to? What concerns are spinning through your mind so fast, you can’t see or hear Jesus in the melee? An upcoming interview? A relationship? A health issue? One by one take your concerns to Jesus. Talk to Him about them. Go back to Him tomorrow. And the next day. Grab your Bible and read it before, during, or after you talk to Jesus. It is the Living Word of God. He will use those words to speak to you. Sit in silence and ask Him for peace, answers, energy, insights, healing, ideas, or patience.
Life can be complicated, so how do you get through all the muck and back to Jesus? Hand Him your problems, one by one. He wants to hear them.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. —Romans 8:38-39
Jesus is there while you’re stuffing your turkey and stuffing your mouth with creamy, spicy pumpkin pie. Pass the Cool Whip please. He’s there when you’re trying to be patient with the cantankerous family member or attempting to herd the kids into the van or standing in line on Black Friday. He’s there in the big stuff and the little stuff and all the in-betweens.
There might be a lot of junk clogging your ears. There might be so many worries on your list that it’ll take you a while to empty them out of your pockets at Jesus’ feet. But as you do, you’ll start to hear Him again, feel Him again. You’ll realize you weren’t ever separated from Him. He was always there.
What do you do when you can’t feel Jesus? Go to Him. Over and over. He promises to be with you to the end of the earth, so act like you believe that truth, like you know He’s there even when you can’t “see” Him.
Let go of all the stuff that’s in the way. Jesus is always there, always has been, and always will be. That is something to be incredibly thankful for.
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On Wednesdays of our True Reflections journey I’ve interrupted my usually scheduled blog to post the current day of our devotional together.
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On winter days in high school if I wanted to see on the way to school, which I did, I needed to exit my house five minutes earlier, turn on my ignition, blast the front and rear defrosters to hot and high, and start the back and forth motions with my plastic scraper against my windows. Because every night winter frost decorated my windshield with delicate, icy crystals. Although I griped about standing outside in below freezing weather, the crisp air actually did wonders to wake me. And the effort was worth it, because the combination of my scraping and the car blowing warmth on the glass, cleared the windows, and I could drive safely and confidently to school (well sort of confidently…I’m not that strong a driver).
I see this in my life, too. Each morning I wake to an alarm, and barely take time to yawn before diving into what needs to be accomplished in the next forty-five minutes—fix five breakfasts, dole out vitamins, get out lunch boxes, write and insert notes, and double check everyone has what they need (the $1 for an out of uniform day, the friend’s jacket left at our house). Nothing hard, but a lot of moving parts for a short amount of time. My brain cranks on rapid fire and starts to stress, worry, and fuss--one of my kids seems down, are they okay? Why can’t I find my wallet? Where did I put it? Dang, we’re out of milk, which means I need to go to the store today, even though I was just there last night. Why didn’t I remember?
Crystals of concern begin to cover the windshield of my faith. By the time my kids head out to school, my head is cluttered and has limited visibility. Does this happen to you? Is there a time of day that’s crazy, where there is so much juggling you lose sight of love, peace, and patience?
We need to scrape it all off, so we can see Jesus again. So, we can see how much He loves us, has perfect plans for us, and promises to always stay at our sides, so we can see our true reflections. In the silence after my kids scurry, I pull out my Bible and journal, read and write until my mental windshield is clear again, until I’m ready to put my foot to the pedal and truly start my day. Because it’s only by starting with Jesus, that we have a clearer view of who we are, where we are going, and what truly matters.
Do you have any crystals cluttering the windshield of your faith? What are they?
What can you do this morning to scrape them off, before driving into your day?
Our Ohio snow is spectacularly beautiful. All gleaming white and sparkling crystals. We’ve explored the woods, gone sledding, tromped around in boots, and built cozy fires. Sunday morning, we woke to more snow, and if we were going to get to church, we were going to have to shovel. My sweet husband, who has done 90% of the shoveling, started bundling up. This time I grabbed my Oros, hat, and gloves, to join him. He didn’t ask me to. I just wanted to. Together we inhaled the crisp (9 degree) air, and shoveled the driveway. It took less than a half an hour as a team. And even though we didn’t talk much, there was something in the morning stillness, solidarity in the scrape of each other’s shovels, which was sweet and peaceful. We were in this together, and shoveling together is as much a part of our marriage as the romantic Italian dinner we went to on Friday night.
In a recent conversation with a friend the question came up: What’s the difference between saying, “I’m a Christian,” and having a “relationship” with God.
The question reminded me of my marriage, of deciding to go out and shovel. Stay with me here, they are related. It’s like asking, what’s the difference between saying, “I’m married” and “being in a relationship” with my husband? Aren’t they the same thing? Doesn’t saying “we’re Christians” mean we’re with God, part of His family. Of course. And not completely.
No matter if you’re married or single you’ve seen two people (at least in a movie) stand in front of a minister, rabbi, or some authorized person and say, “I do.” They exchange rings and sign a paper. Voila! They are officially married. The couple gets all the privileges that come with “being married”—a roommate, a date for the big events, and someone to sit next to at family gatherings. Legally, there are additional things a marriage offers that other relationships don’t. You can change your status not just on Facebook, but also on job and loan applications. If you marry someone who has better health insurance, hooray, now you get the benefits of their insurance. If you marry someone with a nicer home, you’ll probably choose to move into the better space, and bingo, you’ve upgraded your standard of living. In most states, if your spouse dies, you legally inherit their assets. All of these things come simply with the marriage status. It doesn’t require any investment in the relationship whatsoever.
It’s the same by saying, “I’m a Christian.” If you truly believe Jesus Christ died on a cross to take away your sins, and that because of His action, you will go to heaven, then you will. It’s like saying, “I do.” Ta da. You’re a Christian. You don’t have to go to church. You don’t have to read the Bible. You don’t have to belong to a small group or a Bible study. You’re in. It’s official. You get to go to heaven and live forever and ever in a place so incredible our human minds aren’t even capable of describing or predicting what it will be like—talk about a lifestyle upgrade. You get this major perk, just like the married folks get the ring, the house, and the insurance. If you’ve ever watched a sporting event you’ve seen John 3:16 on a sign, or shirt, or painted on someone’s face. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Eternal life. Sounds like a pretty good gig. And it is. But is that all we really want? Because Jesus offers so much more.
Let’s say you’re married and you and your spouse decide to cohabitate—be married solely for the status advantages. You decide to live your own lives, be responsible only for yourselves, go wherever you want whenever you want, even date other people, but cling to the “benefits” of marriage. Legally you can do that. You can never speak to each other, not share your hopes and dreams, not spend time with one another, not trust one another, and still get the health insurance. You can show up all decked out and nod and smile for the office parties and pictures, but skip all of the Italian dinners dipping your fork into your spouse’s risotto and clinking glasses toasting something silly that happened that week. If you skip the dinner, you’ll miss that moment in the relaxed atmosphere of the restaurant when the idea you’ve been chewing on all day, but hadn’t yet been able to articulate, spills out, and together you navigate how to handle it.
You can also shovel by yourself.
You’ll miss out on all the richness of marriage. You’ll miss out on having your best friend also be your love interest. You’ll miss out on late night laugh attacks and someone to hold you when your heart hurts, and the one person in the room who truly understands you with a single glance. You’ll miss out on a completely unexpected and unprompted romantic kiss on a Monday morning before you head out to work, a walk on a Thursday evening around the neighborhood while the sun is setting, someone who will listen to the crazy rant going on in your head, someone to grab your hand when you hear the news, and someone to morph shoveling the driveway from a chore into a peaceful way to start your day. Sure, you’ll get the house, their new iPhone, and the life insurance when they die. But you’ll miss all the joys and depth of love in the every day moments.
It’s the same with Jesus. You can choose to say, “Wow, Jesus, what you did is cool. Thanks for dying for me. That was super nice. See you in heaven.” And then decide to cohabitate with Him, but not talking to Jesus about all the things on your heart—the dream you’re considering chasing, the decision someone you love is about to make, the safety of friends in a city where there’s a wildfire, how exhausted you are from your current work situation, the excitement of your upcoming audition. But then you miss out on the richness of the relationship, of knowing how much Jesus loves you. If we don’t talk to Him, don’t read His Word, when we’re at the end of our ropes how can He tell us, “I’m with you, always even to the end of the world.” If we don’t ask Him for advice, how can He guide us along the right paths? If we don’t hang out with Him, we’ll never experience the peace He’ll give us in the middle of a family argument, the love He’ll flood over us in the hospital room, the exuberant joy He’ll magnify when we get the acceptance letter or contract, the warmth of His hand on our shoulder as our nephews or kiddos take their first steps or walk down the aisle. There are no requirements. We will be saved. We’ll get the inheritance when we die. But we’ll miss the hope, joy, and love He offers every single day.
So, yes, there is a difference between saying we believe in God and being in a relationship with Him. And the beautiful, crazy thing is He lets us choose, which way we want to go. There’s no pressure. Jesus loves hanging out with us, but He wants that to be our choice. Just like we really hope our spouse or close friends want to spend time with us. We can start today, right now, simply by telling Jesus, “Good morning.” Sharing with Him what we’re hoping to get done today, what we’re worried about might happen, what’s on our minds, how we feel. It’s that easy. It’s like picking up a shovel and taking one scoop of snow.
This week my gorgeous friend, Shena, is stepping in and guest blogging. Shena is a wife and mom who is breaking into a calling of discipleship and teaching. She hopes always to chase the beauty of obedience and to stir a generation to see God's kindness. Shena and I could sit for hours drinking coffee, talking about Jesus, and discussing books. After reading her inspiring words check her out here: ShenaAshcraft.com and follow her here: instagram.com/shenaashcraft/
Take it Shena....
There are twelve miles of wide-open road between my house and my church. Speed limit 45. Along that route, there's a bend in the road where I click the Jeep's cruise control down a few miles per hour to match the limit posted on the sign. In that bend, I can assume there will be a county Sherriff's deputy tucked in among the brush and rubble of an abandoned restaurant. He might be running radar or filing paperwork. Either way, his presence slows me down. The black and gold colors remind me of what I already know: The speed limit's 45, Shena! Slow. your. roll.
By the time I cross paths with Mr. Sherriff's Deputy, I'm all ten-and-two, eyes-on-the-road, doin'-the-speed-limit. Thank you very much. Because I know he's there. I know he's checking my obedience. And, hello, I don't want to get a ticket on my way to CHURCH!
Whether I'm going to a mid-week Bible study or Sunday Church Day, I get to church ticket-free (so far). And I get there fast. Because I love it. I crave church. I'm better because of it. I'm not better in the ten-and-two-driving-past-the-deputy sense of the word. I'm certainly not what some would call "better behaved"; because something about church and God's word and gathering with these folks makes me feisty, and energetic, and a bit unbridled. Actually, I think church makes me more like me. More like the me God created.
Recently, my church hosted a mid-week worship and prayer night. I was there alone. My husband and son were not flanking my sides as they do on Sundays. (I feel God so purely when the three of us worship together.) But that evening I was solo. And late. And the band was passionately quiet, singing "Do it Again." The reality of the lyrics settled into my heart. "Your promise still stands. Great is Your faithfulness. I'm still in Your hands. This is my confidence, You've never failed me yet." Thank you, Jesus, for your faithfulness.
The song ended and we were prompted to pray with the people we came with. Or, in my case, the other late-comers seated behind me--two lovely mamas whom I adore. We chatted and hugged and uncharacteristically went to our knees. Kneeling in a triangle, holding each others' hands, we prayed. I listened to the honey-sweet testimony of a child healed from infection. We prayed thanksgiving. I heard the heart-aching plea for God to show himself as kind and near. We prayed for revelation. I shared how good and clear God had been in answering my prayers. We prayed nothing. I couldn't speak.
After the service, sitting in my car preparing for the 12-mile drive home, I realized my heart had been stirred. My faith had grown. Testimonies and vulnerabilities and encouragements. These things had grown me. It's not the first time. It happens frequently. Meeting like that, in a building where other Jesus-followers are meeting, moves my introverted feet forward in my faith.
In Hebrews 10, the author describes how life changed for God's people once Jesus came. When Jesus died on the cross, he cleared away our sins (all of them!) and then laid a path for us to draw up close to God. Then the author says, basically (my paraphrase), "Do it. Draw near and hold onto hope!" Then in verses 24 and 25 he says: "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."
How kind of this friend of the Hebrews to say, "Hey, don't you forget about each other. Think about how you can support and encourage and love your fellow Christians to love better and act better. Let them do the same for you. And, by the way, you can only do this well if you're seeing them, meeting with them."
That is what I witnessed that evening at church and many days before and since! The closeness of meeting together stirred me up and spurred me on toward love and right actions. Other days, friends have come alongside to straighten my path, post a speed limit, gently call me out of my disobedience (or more likely my disbelief).
Years ago I traveled that stretch of going-to-church road to spend time studying the book of Hebrews with a woman whose example I admired greatly. One conversation wound about, per usual, from Bible study-ing to wife-ing, to mom-ing. Our chat landed on the little hurts I was letting fester. And over hot tea and honey, knees pulled up on the couch, she told me (and these are my words of her gentle reprimand) I was wrong and impulsive in my reactions to small offenses. She pointed me to Scripture that said I should be "quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger" because "human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires." (James 1:19-20) She encouraged me to spend the next week studying and praying about what God has to say about covering minor offenses in love.
God did a sweet, chiseling work in that "meeting together" with a woman wiser and bolder than I. He used her to tell me to slow down, to know God's truth, and act in obedience. Then He planted that time she and I spent together in my memory. It became the kinder, less intimidating deputy reminding of what I already knew: Slow to anger, Shena! Choose love.
In growing closer to God, I can study alone. I can hear the voice of God in His scriptures. I can feel His presence through prayer. But I travel the distance to meet together because, as a believer, I am placed on both sides of the Hebrews 10 passage. I meet to be encouraged and to offer encouragement. To be stirred and to stir. I need to hear and I need to say, "Be encouraged, grow your faith. And, Girl, sometimes, slow. your. roll."
Who are your "meet together" folks? Can you sense the position you fill when you meet together with other believers? I pray you can. Do you know there's a gap left when you don't? I pray you'll step into it.
I dropped my son off at school and was winding my way back home through the Ohio farmland when a deer darted out in front of my car. It all happened so quickly. I reflexively slammed on my brakes (thank you Jesus for instinctual reactions) and watched the tan furry body bound within inches of my car. He was so close I could see his thigh muscle flex, where his right hind leg attached to his body.
As the deer made it to the other side I said, “Thank you, God,” out loud, but in a really shaky voice. “Thank you for keeping me from hitting that deer!” I waited a moment to make sure Blitzen didn’t have any friends, then the obvious thoughts that I didn’t have time to think of in the split second the deer sprinted in front of me flooded in:
I don’t want to hit an adorable deer.
My kids would never forgive me.
Don’t people say hitting a deer is really dangerous? That their body weight will crash through your windshield and could seriously harm the driver? Yikes! I don’t want that either.
How will my brakes hold up on these slick roads (36 degrees and raining)?
I know, it’s weird. The thoughts came after the moment. Because in the moment there was zero time to process. But after confirming the coast was clear and my brain had time to catch up to my reality, I eased off the brake and back on the accelerator. Less than sixty seconds later another deer, shot out in front of my car further up the road. Right in front of me.
Right in front of me. Dang. These were the words God put on my heart this morning. I’ve been reading Romans over the last couple of weeks and today I was on Romans 9. Paul is explaining to the church in Italy that some people who should have known God are missing Him altogether. Paul warns that, They were so absorbed in their “God projects” that they didn’t notice God right in front of them, like a huge rock (or umm, maybe a deer?) in the middle of the road. —Romans 9:32 MSG
You guys, I’m a Christian writer, so I have plenty of “God projects” scattered across the desk of my writing nook. I don’t want to get so absorbed in finding the perfect word or writing a certain number of words that I miss God altogether. Never do I ever want that. This passage spoke so loudly to me, felt so personal, I prayed, “Sweet Jesus, please don’t let me miss you! Please help me see You, and hear You, and notice what You’re doing!” And then this, within an hour of reading, not one, but two deer right in front of me in the middle of the road. Almost verbatim what I’d scribbled in lime green ink in my journal this morning. Okay, I’m listening, God. My senses are on high alert.
Is your antennae tuned in to who God is? How He loves you? How He’s working in your life? Or are you scrambling with projects, maybe even God projects—packing for travel, putting clean sheets and an extra cozy blanket on the bed for guests, cranking out eight more emails and one more proposal before you close your laptop to visit, tasting the pumpkin pie batter to make sure you have just the right amount of cinnamon? None of these things are bad things. We serve God when we visit family and friends, when we take care of them and make them feel at home, when we do the job He’s given us to do to the best of our ability, when we make yummy food for others to enjoy. This is all great work, and not to be discounted. But are we doing all these things aware of how God is working in and through it? How He’s right there with us in the process? Right in front of us!
Thousands of years ago the Jews were scurrying about on a pretty sizable “God project”—they were rebuilding the city of Jerusalem and its magnificent temple. But where to start? So much to do. Such important work for God. This was how they did it—they all built what was in front of them. Yeah, there it is again. In front of you. They didn’t pick the part with the prettiest view or think they should build the sheep gate, because sheep are cute and fluffy, or the fish gate, because they loved seafood. Above the Horse Gate, the priests repaired the wall. Each one repaired the section immediately across from his own house. —Nehemiah 3:38 NLT. What was God doing right in front of them? Rebuilding their homes. Rebuilding relationships with His people. Helping them feel accountable. Helping His children have purpose and ownership. Right in front of them. In the middle of those dusty Jerusalem roads.
In the New Testament we get a glimpse of two sisters totally engrossed in a “God project.” They were hosting Jesus at their home. Oh my. Can you imagine having Jesus over for dinner? You probably know this story about Mary and Martha. Martha was basting the turkey and making sure everyone’s mugs were filled with fragrant tea, which was super sweet of her. She had a servant heart and was hard working and humble. But she missed out on Jesus’ teaching. He was right there in front of her. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, taking in every word He said (Luke 10:38-42). But Martha missed it. Because she was too occupied with “getting stuff done” for God.
I don’t want to miss it! I love writing for Jesus. Positively LOVE it! I adore words and stories and phrases. I find such joy, peace, and purpose reading the Bible and applying it to my life. And I’m an absolute holiday nerd (just ask my family). I got so excited at the grocery this morning selecting bright red strawberries, sweet green grapes, and cheeses (white cheddar with cranberries, because so festive and brie, because France) to put out tomorrow afternoon. I know that God delights when I write, when I celebrate Him, and when I love on my family. I know this, but I pray I don’t get so focused on the doing, that I’m missing Jesus. That I fail to see His love and grace and patience and power right in front of me.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and I am so grateful for my Lord, and Savior, Jesus Christ. I’m thankful for all of you, too. That you take time to read the words He gives me. And my thanksgiving prayer for all of us is that yes, we do the things God calls us to do, that we are intentional, and use the talents He’s given us, but that more importantly, we take time to notice Him, to see Him, His love, His forgiveness, right there in front of us. Right in the middle of our roads.
If we’re looking for Him, we’ll always find Him. Right in front of us.
Careful! I’ve put a huge stone on the road to Mount Zion,
a stone you can’t get around.
But the stone is me! If you’re looking for me,
you’ll find me on the way, not in the way. —Romans 9:33 MSG
Laura L. Smith