Sitting on an extremely squishy couch at our local coffee shop, I sipped my dark roast with a friend who just returned to the States after an assignment abroad. Her overseas work situation was toxic. Unstable leadership, corrupt organization, degrading toward women…. the whole thing left her feeling exhausted and beaten down. She knew she had to get out, so she planned and prayed, strategized and dug into her Bible, talked with her husband and got down on her knees. Our faithful God heard her prayers and helped her rise out of the situation. Some of the rules which tied her to a longer contract were simply discarded by her organization. A mentor came in at just the right moment with wise words, helping her negotiate her departure.
I got up from the cushy couch, hugged my friend, darted out of Kofenya into a cold autumn rain, returning home to my cozy house just in time for a call with another friend I hadn’t talked to in 18 years. She had a doozie of a story to share, about how she had literally been on her death bed, and our faithful God healed her. She’s now pain-free, off her meds, and doing wild things like traveling to California to cheer on her son in a frisbee golf tournament. The statistics say she shouldn’t be here with us. But she is. Because our God heals.
Jesus is still a healer and a door opener, helping us out of dark situations. Our Savior never stopped doing miracles. He still does them today. Big ones and little ones. In the Bible Jesus healed the daughter of the synagogue leader, Jairus. She was dead, and Jesus told her to get up.
I hear Jesus saying this to us today, Talitha koum. Little girl, I say to you, get up!”
I hear Him saying it to us from the work situations we know we shouldn’t be in, from relationships that are stifling us, from illness that have been holding us down, from fears, and doubts, and inhibitions, and shame, and worries and comparisons. Little girl. Get up!
He (Jesus) took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”).Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished.—Mark 5:41-42.
I bet they were astonished. They thought the girl was dead. And one sentence from Jesus, one tug of her hand, and she was walking around. The specific account of Jesus raising this twelve-year old girl from the dead was so important three of the Gospel writers share it in detail (Mark 5, Matthew 9 and Luke 8). Do you feel spent, exhausted, out of options? Jesus wants to pull you up. But here’s the thing…He tells us He’ll provide the healing, but we’re going to need to get up.
This girl wasn’t the only person Jesus told to get up. Jesus told this lame man to stand and walk. Jesus could have floated the man to his feet, but He wanted this disabled man to play an active part in His revival.
Jesus told him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!”Instantly, the man was healed! He rolled up his sleeping mat and began walking!—John 5:8-9
After Jesus ascended to heaven and instructed the disciples to spread the Good News, the disciples were doing miracles in Jesus’ name. They followed Jesus’ example, by reminding the folks they healed through the Holy Spirit, that they got to play a part in the healing process. They had to choose to stand or take that first step.
Peter said… “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!”
Then Peter took the lame man by the hand and pulled him to his feet. And as he did, the man’s feet and ankle bones were healed and strengthened so that he came up with a leap, stood there a moment and began walking! Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them.—Acts 3:6-8
The same holds true for us. Jesus offers us a life without the pressures of that stressful job we know isn’t good for us, but we have to be willing to walk away from it when He provides an exit. He’s offering us a life free of the criticism from that toxic person in our lives, but we have to stand up and say we don’t like to be treated like that, leave the room when the person goes into harmful mode, not take their calls. He’s offering us the financial resources to pay our bills, but we might have to step up and take a part time job or walk away from Starbucks or Netflix to reduce our expenses. Jesus offers healing, but He asks us to get up. Not because He can’t do it on His own. Not because He needs our help. But because He wants us to want it. He wants us to choose this free life He offers.
Life with Jesus looks different for all of us. But for all of us He offers hope and healing. He offers better, above where we are now. He reaches out His hand, and says, “Little girl, get up!” Will you take it? Will you stand?
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Cerulean sky. Vibrant orange, red, and yellow leaves. A cool breeze filled with the smoky scent of a neighbor’s fireplace tickled my nose. The setting for my run was ideal, yet I felt weak and out of breath. Coming to a hill I slowed to a walk. Almost immediately a friend’s face popped into my head who’s a marathon runner. She told me in the hardest parts of a race if you just keep running—push past the hard part--you find your groove. Alright, Laura, I told myself, get going. I increased my speed. But it was hard. Unusually so. Next month I’d be running the Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning, and this current thing my legs and lungs were doing would not do.
What’s wrong with me? I asked myself. When did I become such a bad runner? Why can’t I go for a simple jog at a distance and rate I usually go without huffing and puffing? I’m out of shape. I need to train. I’ll be a bad partner for my husband in the race. I’ll slow him down. I have a daughter who is a college athlete. I’m pathetic.
Regardless of how much shame I felt for not being able to breathe, I had to slow to a walk again. And then it hit me—I’d had my blood drawn an hour ago, which always makes me woozy. And because I was getting my blood drawn, I’d fasted last night and this morning. Afterwards I ate some yogurt and granola, so I thought I was good. But apparently not so much. How long does it take for the body to replace that blood?
I Googled it. The pop-up answer was four to eight weeks. What? No wonder I felt light-headed. I finally gave myself some grace and decided it was A-Okay to walk the rest of my route. When I got home, I researched a bit more. Turns out the four-eight weeks was a bit misleading, but the web consensus was that according to my weight and normal level of physical activity I could work out about five hours after having blood drawn. Hmmm. Not one hour. Weird.
Why was my first instinct to bash myself? Instead of assessing my situation and wondering why two days ago I had a phenomenal run, and today I was struggling, I listed the ways I didn’t measure up. That doesn’t make sense. But it’s what I did. Oh, how my brain can take one lie and spin it out of control.
Do you ever do this? Is there any area in your life that the talk in your head sounds like, “You’re not good enough to… get noticed, be in a relationship, earn an “A,” be picked, win the award, get the job, move up the list, have your idea accepted? Because Jesus never talks to us like that. His words are, “You are my masterpiece. You were created in my image. I came down to the world and died on the cross to save you. I love you.”
Will Jesus sometimes put up barriers? Sure. Will He sometimes say, “not now” or “not this” or “not them?” Definitely. Just like God told me to slow down as I ran. Not because Jesus thinks I’m a bad runner or doubts if I’m capable of running the Turkey Trot. Not because He’s shaking His head and wishing I would step up my workouts. But because Jesus saw me get my biometrics test. God knew my body was still recuperating, and if I kept going, I might pass out in the middle of the street, or some such thing. Jesus wasn’t telling me I wasn’t good enough. He was keeping me safe.
Because Jesus NEVER tells us we’re not good enough.
That’s always the enemy’s voice, slithering into any place we might feel doubt, anything that’s important to us, anywhere he thinks he can distract us from the truth of who we are in Christ—treasured, fearfully and wonderfully made, set aside to do good works.
What if when we start to struggle, our default was to ask God, “Hey, what’s going on? Why is this hard? Do you want me to stop? Or do different? Or go the other way?” And if it’s something that’s plain going to be hard (because some things are hard—loss, abuse, health issues both mental and physical, etc.), what if we went to God in these situations and said, “This is freaking hard, please give me the strength, energy, stamina, to get through it. Please help me know when resting makes sense. And when it’s time to push forward again.”
What, then shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? —Romans 8:31
God is for us. On our side. Not telling us where we fall short. But cheering us on over the finish line. Yes, He’ll put up some barriers sometimes—to protect us. But our Savior always wants what’s absolutely best for us. Even when we can’t see the whole picture.
The next time you hear “not enough” in your head. Slow down. Catch your breath. Stamp it out. Dismiss it as quickly as it came. Don’t let your default be one of blame or shame. Don’t let the negativity fester or multiply out of control. Because that is never of God. He is for you. He will stand strong to protect you from anything or anyone who tries to go against you, but He will also wave you forward into the glorious plans He has in store for you. Whether you’re completely in stride or feeling faint, Jesus looks at you, and says, “Oh look! There’s one of my kids! I love her so much!”
I opened the cupboard and a bowl that was precariously balanced at the top of a bowl tower came tumbling out, bounced off the corner of my phone, landed on the floor and shattered. It all happened in approximately one part of one second. I cleaned up the bowl, which fortunately broke into only a few large pieces, and wiped off the floor and counter to make sure I hadn’t missed any tiny shards. Then I saw my phone. A tiny spiderweb crackled in the corner where the bowl had ricocheted. The bowl only had contact with my phone for a millisecond, but the weight of the bowl was too much. My phone couldn’t handle it.
Phone screens are expensive, and I can deal with a little crack, so I grimaced and got on with my life. I had a conference to attend, kids to pick up from practice and rehearsal, groceries to buy. But here’s the thing. When something is too heavy and we don’t deal with it, it doesn’t go away. It festers, expands, swells. And so, the corner crack spread across my screen in a myriad of directions. A tiny sliver of glass fell out leaving an area of the actual LED exposed. A few days later the screen where that crack was had a black spot. Then the whole screen got funky lines on it. You see where this is going.
There are so many things in life that are simply too heavy for us to bear. There is a weight that comes with loss, a weight that comes with success, a weight of being responsible for someone else, a weight of rejection, a weight of being abused. Even Queen Victoria found her own crown too heavy to wear and had a smaller, lighter version designed. These weighty things might only touch us for a moment. At first glance it might look like they barely made a dent in us. But they are so heavy, they continue to spread, damaging parts of us that didn’t even seem like they were impacted by the blow.
Yes, some things are too heavy for us to bear alone, but we’re not supposed to. We don’t have to.
Jesus says, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? 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
Real rest. Unforced rhythms of grace. Nothing heavy. Nothing ill-fitting. Freely and lightly. These are all things I want. When my mental, social, or emotional load feels too heavy, more than I can bear I want this—real rest, a free and light life. And Jesus offers it. He doesn’t require any payment, productivity, or performance from us. All He asks is that we walk with Him, keep company with Him. Mmmm. That sounds simply lovely.
Has something landed on you, bounced off you, hit you, and it hurt, and it shocked you, and it damaged your screen? What stunned you, but you’re trying to get on with life without really addressing it? What feels too heavy?
Jesus is a healer. He is a peace maker. He is a way maker. Jesus offers love and renewal. Don’t ignore the thing that fell on you or the place you feel cracked. Don’t let it expand and continue to damage your heart. Turn it over to Jesus. He’s there to help you pick up the pieces, mend what is broken, fill in the cracks, and learn to move forward. Stop blowing it off or dismissing it as no big deal. Some things in life ARE heavy. But Jesus wants to bear the weight for you, lift it from you. He’s inviting you in, right now, to a free and light life.
Last weekend I:
Which shouldn’t seem related at all, except they both dealt with the things we look to in life to find satisfaction and gratification, and how rarely that works out for us.
If you need a quick refresher, in Aladdin, a poor boy named, Aladdin comes across a magic lamp housing a genie. The genie pops out and tells Aladdin he can make three wishes. Hmmm…what would you do with three wishes? Have you ever considered what you would wish for? A new house? A new job? More hours in the day? The genie warns Aladdin, “Here’s the thing about wishes…the more you have, the more you want.” Dang. Rings a little too true, doesn’t it?
When we turn sixteen it seems like our biggest wish is to be able to drive. When we get our license, we want to borrow our parents’ car. Then we wish we had our own car—any car that moves. Then we want a car with a few bells and whistles. As we get older we might wish for fancier cars—with leather interiors and fabulous sound systems and heated seats (I’m not that into cars, but I do enjoyheated seats). Most writing friends I know have at one time or another “wished” to be published. If they achieve that goal, their next wish is to get another book published, with a bigger publisher, or to sell more copies, or perhaps a multi-book deal, or the ultimate—to be a New York Times Bestseller. All of these are great goals. But at the beginning “being published” felt like the end all. The problem is, there is no end all. The wishes never end.
Renters dream of one day owning a home. Once we buy that “fixer upper” we long for a new kitchen counter, then a kitchen remodel. And while we’re getting a new sink for the kitchen wouldn’t it be gorgeous if we replaced the sinks in the bathrooms, too? Before we know it we’re drooling over Pinterest homes and wishing for more and different than what we have. For athletes it could be an initial goal of making the team, then moving up to the “A” team, hoping for playing time, being in the starting lineup, scoring the points, winning the games, being the MVP. The more you have…the more you want. Most of us are guilty of it in some form or another.
The old man in Hemingway’s classic wasn’t materialistic. He lived in a hut and owned one pair of pants. But he wanted to catch the biggest fish and would stop at nothing to get him. For three days the fisherman held onto his line, so this big fish would not be the one who got away. Meanwhile the old man’s hands were ripped raw from the tugging and pulling of the fishing line. All the man had to eat were a couple of raw fish, all the while being towed by a giant marlin through the depths of the sea. On the brink of dehydration, the man rationed one bottle of fresh water over the course of sunsets and rises and barely slept a wink, putting his body and mind in extreme danger. For over eighty days the man had wished for one great fish. Now it was hooked on his line. Be careful what you wish for old man.
And I feel the warning being screamed at me, too. Be careful what you wish for, Laura. What am I wishing for? What are you wishing for? What do we think we need to feel complete? Like we’ve arrived? If we only had/did/achieved/looked like ______ we would be happy.
Really? Because as soon as we get/earn/appear like that, we usually wish for more.
Except when we have Jesus. He is the one thing that satisfies us once and for all. He is the bread of life, the living water. He told the people who encountered Him they would never need anything else. All they had to do was believe in Him.
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water (water from a well) will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”—John 4:13
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” —John 6:35
Completely, 100% satisfied. Never needing again. When we walk in the peaceful, grace-filled life Jesus offers this is what we receive. Sure, we still could use some money to pay our bills. We still pray for healthy relationships, for joy to fill the hearts of those we love. But we find all of our actual needs are provided for—that our longings are fulfilled. That desire for more and then a little more is squelched, because with Jesus we finally feel whole.
Don’t get me wrong. There are still lots of things I want. A python pair of boots or that pink fuzzy jacket would be fun for fall. A serving of warm apple cobbler topped with creamy ice cream would be delicious. An extra hour of sleep would be divine. Heck, I’d take the half hour. But if I don’t get those things, I’m still fine, thoroughly content. Because all those little twinge-y incomplete parts of my heart have been filled in by a Savior who loves me no matter what I’m wearing, who’s sweeter than any decadent desert, and who provides rest for my tangled up soul.
If you had a magic lamp what would you wish for? If you could go out to proverbial sea one more time what would you hope to catch? It’s wonderful to have dreams and goals. Jesus calls us to be brave, live large, and go out there and use the gifts He’s given us to live bold, radical, fruitful lives. But at the end of the day whether we achieved or did not, won or lost, were noticed or ignored, we are fully seen and fully loved by our Perfect Savior. That itch? That something missing? That void we’re striving to fill? Jesus satisfies and fills it. He is everything we need. And His love and grace never ever run out.
My wish? Is that you feel Jesus’ love today, how it completes you, and satisfies like nothing you could ever set out to catch.
I’d received three rejections in three days on a proposal for a new book my agent was pitching for me. The first one, I thought, “Oh well, God has a better plan.” The second, I thought, “Even though they’re not taking my book, the editor’s feedback was encouraging.” The third? My first and only thought for quite a while was: Ugh.
The publishing industry is packed with NOs. It’s part of the gig. Some publishing houses already have full lists, a similar idea in the works, specific requirements they’re currently looking for that I, or this particular book, don’t meet. I try not to take these “no thank yous” personally. But three in three days was a lot to deflect.
I felt like this door might be shutting. It felt like ALL the doors were actually slamming shut.
God, you wanted me to write this book, right? Then, why so many turndowns?
God remained sturdy. He always does. Trust me,I felt Him, respond.
Which is not the answer I wanted, because I wanted to know the details.Wherewill this book land? When? Willit find a publisher at all? If not, whatdo You want me to do with it, Lord? But God’s answer was, of course, complete.
Trust Jesus. Because Jesus is the One gave me the idea for the book in the first place, because He always knows what’s right and best for me, for you, for us.
I chatted with Jesus for a long while, asking Him to help me let go of my expectations, and trust Him more. I asked Him to shake off the lies that my writing wasn’t enough, and the inevitable follow up lie, that I wasn’t enough. I thanked Him for the privilege of being able to write for Him. I thanked Him for knowing even before He asked me to write this book how and when He would use it. He washed calmness over me. He reminded me I was His and loved. Feeling more centered and peaceful I got back to my day,
I grabbed some almond milk out of the fridge to top off my coffee, but the refrigerator door didn’t seal. I pushed it more tightly the second time. I ran out to my car to put a new pack of gum in my console, but when I tried to close it, the lid bounced back up like a broken jack-in-the-box. A-ha! My aux cord needed to be maneuvered. Going from the garage back inside took me through the laundry room, so I grabbed a load from the dryer, but the laundry room door wouldn’t shut. A backpack jutting out from its peg near the door was the culprit. After folding the clothes I carried some dish towels to the kitchen and slid them in their drawer—only an oven mitt stubbornly blocked the way. Again, I moved things around to slide the drawer shut. Upstairs, I placed some of my husband’s black t-shirts in our closet, only, you guessed it, the door caught on something as I went to shut it.
I got frustrated and may have uttered out loud, “Why won’t you shut, you stinking door?”
Everything I tried to close wouldn’t. Too many things to be natural or normal. I needed to stop, breathe, and consider what Jesus was saying. In that moment of stillness by the closet I heard Him say, “I’m not closing your doors, Laura. I’m keeping them open.” Cue tears.
Jesus sees us. He knows us. He loves us. And He cares so much about our every move. He heard me talking to Him, and saw me stand up more settled, but not fully. He saw me folding laundry and putting away towels. Jesus understood I want to trust Him completely with my writing and everything else, but my human heart struggles. I’m impatient and emotional. And He speaks to me, and to you, too, with constant little reminders—the tiniest details right where we are, as simple as a stuck door (or several) to give us sweet encouragement.
I don’t know what Jesus intends to happen with my manuscript. It could be months before I hear back from all the publishers my agent pitched. It might become a bestseller or not get published at all. I don’t know how Jesus is going to use this thing He asked me to write, but I do know He will use it. Because He called me to write it. Sometimes it feels so easy when Christ calls us to something new—the excitement, the possibilities, the novelty of it all. But somewhere in the midst of the work, of walking around our proverbial walls of Jericho the fifth time around we lose hope or worry. Jesus reminded me that He’s with me, that He didn’t ditch me mid-way through this project, that He knows exactly what’s going on, and just wanted to tell me no matter how things appear, He’s keeping doors open.
Yes, sometimes Jesus shuts doors—when they lead us the wrong way or to the wrong people or at the wrong time. If you’re uncertain if Jesus wants you to move forward or change lanes or turn around, ask Him, He’ll tell you. But when God calls us to something, when He sparks something in us, He brings it to completion. He wouldn’t pack you full of a talent, plop you in a certain place, introduce you to that person, or light you up with an idea, and then just stomp it out. No, our God finishes what He starts. Not just always how we imagine.
What has God asked you to do for Him? Are you believing the lies that it’s too hard, you’re not capable of seeing it through, or nobody likes your idea? Are you tired? Discouraged? Because nothing is too hard for Jesus. He’s capable of seeing any project through to the end. And if He gave you the idea, you’ll be hard pressed to find a bigger supporter. Trust Him and His call. And when the time is right, Jesus, like a perfect gentleman, will hold the right door, the one He’s been planning for you all along, wide open for you to walk through. I’m sure of it.
Last spring, we were driving down the back road we take to our kids’ schools to discover it was completely closed. The city decided to do something about the flooding that frequently occurred during heavy rainfall. They shut down the road and began tearing down the old bridge, which spans a creek, so they could construct a replacement bridge. The sign simply stated Bridge Out .63 miles away. It didn’t suggest alternate routes. There wasn’t anywhere to turn, but back. All this would be great for the future. Whenever that was. Which was another area of concern, because the sign didn’t say for how long. For now we couldn’t get from Point A to Point B.
Unless we found a new route.
A different course would mean change, no longer driving by rote on familiar roads on sleepy school mornings. It would also mean a few more minutes in each direction, a less direct route. But with a bit of navigation we found a series of roads that would get us from our home to the schools and back again.
The first time we saw the sign we were startled, thrown off. We had to do a U-turn and backtrack. We were later than expected to school that day. For days, we had to mentally think through our morning and afternoon routines and deliberately change our patterns. Eventually I mapped a path that worked for me. My husband went a little different way, one he preferred. And my son found a slight variation that he liked best. Sure, we had days where we forgot about the road closure, but soon we developed new routes and habits.
This happens on roads, but it also happens in life. Doors slam shut. People leave. We’re told, “no.” And the way we did things, or the way we thought we would do things is no longer an option.
Where in your life do you feel like the road is torn up? The bridge closed? Is there something or someone that has changed how you need to approach things? Rerouted your direction? Change can be disruptive. Not knowing can be unsettling.
But only if we have zero idea how things will turn out. And if we’re followers of Jesus, we’re not in that position. Granted, we might not know if we’ll find a job in that city or if the event will be a success or if we’ll get accepted. We might not know how long this life construction project will take. We might have to spend time trying this route, then that one—exploring which one feels safest, gets us where we need to go most efficiently, or has the best coffee shop along the way. We might not understand how all the details are being organized or why, but we should understand that Jesus has us covered. That He is working for good. So, although we don’t know the details, we can find peace and assurance that things will work out exactly as they should.
Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good. –Romans 8:26-28 MSG
Bridges come and go. But Jesus? He is constant, faithful, and reliable. And when we don’t know which way to go He is the Way! He gives us the Holy Spirit to pray for us. He sees our waiting, expectant selves and stays with us, working out every single detail for good. So, why do we worry when roads close or bridges go out?
Sure, initially it’s jarring. This is where I was going. This is how I thought God wanted me get there. But, okay, it’s not anymore. Or maybe just not for right now. So what’s next?
Ask Jesus which way He wants you to go. If you don’t have the words you can picture the situation in your mind and utter the word, “help!” Or tell Him what you’re confused or frustrated about. Get it off your chest and rest in His presence. Ask Jesus to map an alternate route for you, then actually listen to what He says. If you’re not hearing anything—think through some options—lay those out before the Lord. See if you feel Him nudging you one way or another. If not, start trying the ones that feel in keeping with how He taught us to live and love. All the time trusting that Jesus is wearing His Almighty hardhat, and He’s busy at work on the construction.
Some roads get permanently shut down. I’ve seen overpasses demolished and completely replaced when engineers came up with better ramps, curves, angles, and distribution of traffic. But some bridges get rebuilt. For us, this was the case. This beautiful, wide, high bridge, with a smoother curve, allowing for much safer turns is now open to the public, including my family. It’s a gift to us, as our round trips to school and back once again became almost daily traverses.
But even if your proverbial bridge is blown up, you can trust Jesus has a better way, a more glorious route for you to take. Sometimes we have to wait. Or retrain our patterns. Sometimes we need to learn different ways of going about our lives or accept new paths altogether. But whatever the case, replacements, improvements, or complete reroutes--we can count on Jesus to work every detail out for good.
By 8:45 a line snaked out the door of the old warehouse. The doors opened at 9:00 for the 10:00 event. No, the first 100 visitors didn’t receive free t-shirts, bobble heads, or even coffee. No one was autographing anything. There wasn’t a big screen. This wasn’t a sporting event or a concert. This was a church service my son, Max, and I attended while we were in Dallas last weekend.
When the music began folks danced and cheered. Kids crawled and skipped. What was going on? You’d think Jesus, Himself, was in the sanctuary. That’s kind of the point. Everyone there was so excited to sing to Jesus, worship Jesus, talk to Jesus, learn about Jesus, they couldn’t wait to get inside. He does tell us where two or more are gathered, He is there in our midst (Matthew 18:20). Wowza—you could feel Jesus there in our midst. And it was a-ma-zing!
The prophet, Isaiah, foretold who Jesus would be and what He would do. That He would replace our mourning with joy and our despair with praise. But do we approach life like that? Full of joy and praise? Like Jesus is with us and He can change our lives?
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion--
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair. --Isaiah 61:1-3
I LOVE my home church, but I’ve got to be honest, I don’t wait outside for them to open the doors Sunday morning. Why not?
When was the last time you lined up for church, giddy to get in the door? And if it’s been a while…why is that? There is so much joy in Jesus! The Apostle Paul reminded the Philippians (and us) to, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4)
What are some things you get all amped up for, rush to get there?
Personally, I’ll wait in line to get coffee any day of the week. I’ll leave early. Perhaps place a mobile order. Plan it into my timeline. Because I am excited to get coffee—to taste the rich, bold flavor, inhale the thick, inviting aroma, feel the warm cup in my hands and the caffeine kick in, making me more alert. It brings me joy to think about my morning brew, order it (or whip one up at home), and take that first sip (and all the sips that follow).
What will you stand in line for, leave early for, make extra time for? Maybe to get a good parking spot, to beat traffic, to have time to chat with friends before the work or school day begins, or perhaps for bragging rights that you were the First One There. Why is it so easy, natural, or important to get to thatplace early? Are we as excited to get to our Bibles or to church? Are we rejoicing in the Lord like that?
Whatever it is we plan ahead for with anticipation, Jesus is infinitely better. Jesus is more satisfying than the richest, frothiest, most chocolaty mocha, revives our spirits and our souls, and is the positively BEST person to hang out with ever.
Maybe you’re not feeling the joy or the excitement at your church. Sadly, some churches have lost it. But the problem doesn’t lie solely on the Church. Part of the problem is us. Do we open our Bibles in anticipation or obligation? Do we open them at all? Do we attend a small group or study out of habit, because we think we should? Or because we can’t wait to learn more about Jesus, talk more about Jesus? Are we chomping at the bit to get to church? Or is church some place we go when we feel like it, if we feel like it, and sometimes even when we’re there, we slide in late, scoot out early and keep checking our phones (and I don’t mean the Bible App) while we’re there.
Imagine if Jesus stood at the doors greeting you. How early would you get there to hug Him? Ask Him some questions? Bow at His feet? Just look into His eyes? Treat your Bible study, small group, gathering, or church like that. Because Jesus lives in us and loves to show off when we seek Him. Why not go into our gatherings truly expecting to find Jesus there? Because, I promise He will show up.
If you’re not feeling the joy of Jesus in your current situation, why not be the one to change that—to create the joy. As Kelly Krenzel, founder of Hope Bloomssays in her TedTalk, “Sometimes to feel joy, you must first give it away to others.” We can be the change. We can be the catalyst to take something routine or rote and remind others that Jesus is there in our midst. That’s something to get pumped up about!
Why not bring doughnuts or carrot sticks, coffee, or bottled waters, for before, during, or after, depending on the setting. Heck, at my church a farmer puts out a bin of tomatoes or peppers from his field for anyone who wants them as we exit the building. There’s something so generous, unexpected, and fun about free produce freshly picked—it creates joy. Are you lacking music where you go? Take your portable speaker, cue up some hymns or brand new worship tunes or Christian rap, whatever, and play it in the background as people gather or mingle. Not appropriate for your gathering? That’s okay. Is there a piano? Do you play? Music not the right move? Then hug someone. Say, “hello,” to a stranger. Make a funny face at a toddler. Exude joy and watch it multiply! Whoever you touch with happiness will pass it on, and the excitement will build.
The sight of folks lining up to go to church brought pure happiness to my heart. It stirred something in me. The excitement in the room on Sunday was contagious. I wanted more of it. I pray all of you can feel that anticipation and hope of how Jesus is on the move, of what it feels like to hang out with Him. And I pray as you enter sanctuaries of any shape, size, or style to gather with one or one thousand brothers and sisters in Christ this week that you will bring joy with you, and like starting the wave at a sporting event, you will build the momentum, so that others can feel the joy that is Jesus.
I told my son, Max, we could go somewhere crazy, fun to celebrate his senior year. Max plans to go into worship ministry, so I wasn’t surprised when he chose the Heaven Come Conferencein Dallas this past weekend. I bought conference tickets, booked flights, and reserved a rental car. I mapped out where the event was and scouted out a convenient hotel. I wanted to plan the perfect trip—make it special and memorable for my boy. Apparently God also wanted to treat Max. Everywhere we turned we were blown away by the inexplicable goodness of God.
The conference was virtually nonstop worship music and phenomenal preaching. That alone would have made for an incredible trip. The tickets were open seating, so we had no idea where we’d be able to sit. But once each session began, ushers allowed anyone to move toward the stage. Okay. All of a sudden God handed Max and I had front row tickets. We knew we were going to miss the final session, but hoped we could see Dante Bowelead worship, and I really wanted to hear Christine Cainespeak. Don’t worry. God scheduled for us to see both of them.
Why did we skip the last session? My oldest daughter, who has never been to Texas, just happened to be playing two soccer games this same weekend in Dallas. Oh, and check out the sunset God doodled in the sky that night. It was insane.
Every single thing seemed to click like that. It was like we kept winning the lottery. Only better. Because we felt God’s presence. I’d be driving along on unfamiliar highways with multiple levels of twisted ramps that resembled the highways built around the Zax in that Dr. Seuss book, and need to get over five lanes. Yikes! But no problem. There was no one behind me, and I could easily scoot sideways across the highway. Which happens to me never.
While in the merchandise shop Max spotted a worship leader he admires from a church in Dallas. What? Why was he here? Selling t-shirts? I have no idea, but we got so many hugs from this guy we lost count. Walking through the lobby, we spotted another accomplished worship leader just hanging out in his flannel. Max got to chat songwriting and worship with him as if they were old friends.
It wasn’t just us. This was happening left and right around us. Friday there was a tremendous storm in Dallas that closed the airport. It took place while we were inside, so we never had to drive in it, stand in it, or even get wet. But it did stop the Friday night speaker from flying in. No worries. John Bevere, who had preached the night before couldn’t get out, so although not on the schedule, he came back and preached his guts out, in a way that moved possibly every one of the 6,000 people in attendance.
I’m leaving out a dozen other blessings—milkshakes in our parking lot, Starbucks in our lobby, an exit out of the parking lot opened right before our eyes, the free autographed poster we got handed, the fastest rental car check out and return I’ve ever experienced, and the loveliest people everywhere we turned.
Conference over, but still in Dallas, we headed to church Sunday morning. On the way Max mentioned one of his favorite worship leaders is Sean Feucht. As we waited for service to begin, in walks Sean. Yes, he’d been part of our conference, but it was totally unrelated to this church. He lives in California. Oh, and he was the guest preacher that morning. Get out!
For all the things I wanted to plan for my son, I couldn’t have prearranged any of this. There is not one thing I could have done on my own to ensure he could speak one-on-one to leaders who would encourage him to pursue his passion, that we would be in the perfect places at perfect times, or get platinum treatment with general admission tickets. But God could. And did. It’s how He operates.
Sure, I have days where I feel the opposite is true. Where it feels like everything goes wrong. I wake up with a migraine, one of my kids and I have a spat before they leave for school, and I can’t find my phone. Or keys. When I finally get everything rounded up I start my car, and realize I don’t have my bags for the grocery. And even though I’ve only allotted twenty minutes to dart into the store before I get to Bible study, my fuel light is on. Argh! But the thing is, God is with us on those days, too. He’s reminding us to grab our phone and bags before we leave. He’s whispering in our ears to slow down, take a deep breath that He loves us and is with us. The delay to find our keys or stop for gas might enable us to bump into that perfect person or keep us from getting into a fender bender. We rarely see all of the beautiful details God is orchestrating. But He always is. Do we have our eyes open?
You see, just like I want my kids’ lives to be filled with love and joy, God wants that for them (and us) even more! God is a good good Father, and He loves us perfectly. He is working everything together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28). He’s planning V.I.P. treatments, doors to open, people for us to meet at places and times we could never expect or concoct on our own.
This sometimes means breakups with the wrong person, because they weren’t right for us, not getting one job to find a better one, losing a lease, because God has a roommate that will help us cling to Jesus set up in a different apartment, or a place that will save us money, or where we’ll literally be able to sleep better at night. We can’t see all of His glorious ways. But we can trust that He is on the move.
Being at a conference where we were focused on Jesus, Max and I had our eyes wide open to God’s blessings. Not surprisingly, this made it easy to identify gift upon gift upon gift from the Lord. But the blessings are always there. Even in our storms, God is watering dry ground, preparing it for new growth. We just need to keep our hearts and eyes open. Where do you see Jesus blessing you today? Take a moment to thank Him for His abundant presence and presents.
“What are you taking a picture of?” my husband asked.
“I’m just going to touch them,” I said over my shoulder. I was drawn to the most beautiful willow on the other side of the street with wispy branches arching high and dropping low to the ground. After crossing the street and running my fingers through whispery leaves and vine like branches I pulled my phone from my back pocket and snapped a few pics. Which to most people would seem pretty strange, but it didn’t faze my husband.
“We both knew you were going to take pictures.”
“I just planned on touching it,” I said. “I can’t resist willows.”
Brett grinned. “And?”
“And once I touched it I needed a picture,” I conceded.
Brett held out his arms and hugged my ridiculous self—the goofball who takes pictures of trees in random people’s yards. “We both knew you were going to take a picture. I just knew first,” he said.
I am a dork. There’s no question about it. My husband knows all of my weird, quirky, nerdy behavior, and loves me not only despite it, but sometimes even because of it. I am blessed by him, no doubt. But this isn’t just how Brett sees me. This is how Jesus—the Creator of the Universe, the King of the World sees all of us!
He knows we can’t hear very well, can’t help talking strangers next to us in line, feel the need to wash our feet twice every time we shower, or require a pillow on our ear in order to fall asleep. Jesus knows all of these things about us, because He specifically designed us this way. And instead of being bothered when we yank an itchy t-shirt off our body as soon as it touches our skin, Jesus grins, and makes a softer tee more visible in our drawer.
Early in his ministry Jesus was headed toward Galilee. There was a man named Nathanael who Jesus wanted as one of his disciples. Jesus hadn’t officially been introduced, but being part of the Trinity and all, had actually been in on the creation of Nathanael. Jesus knew him inside and out.
When Jesus saw him (Nathanael) coming he said, “There’s a real Israelite, not a false bone in his body.”
Nathanael said, “Where did you get that idea? You don’t know me.”
Jesus answered, “One day, long before Philip called you here, I saw you under the fig tree.”
Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi! You are the Son of God, the King of Israel!”
Jesus said, “You’ve become a believer simply because I say I saw you one day sitting under the fig tree? You haven’t seen anything yet!--John 1:47-50
In this short interchange we see that:
We spend so much time apologizing for and hiding our quirks. Why? We get nervous wondering what others will think. Why?
Jesus looks at us and says, “I love your crooked smile—it puts people at ease. Your fun laugh brings joy to a room. The fact that you count everything makes those around you aware of how much they actually have. Your quiet nature relaxes those around you. The way you can’t sit still when you hear music gets folks minds off their problems and onto the possibilities of singing or dancing—of finding joy.”
When we need a minute to collect our thoughts or because we’re meticulous about tucking in our shirt or to take a deep breath or because we are unsettled if we don’t wipe off the counter, Jesus doesn’t get frustrated or impatient. He leans back, smiles, and when we’re good to go says, “Ready?”
The disciples were worried about what people would think when Jesus sent them out to spread the good news. Jesus reassured them:
What’s the price of a pet canary? Some loose change, right? And God cares what happens to it even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! So don’t be intimidated. You’re worth more than a million canaries. —Matthew 10:30
Wow! I have a hecka lot of hairs on this head. And He numbers all of them? How amazing that this is how specifically and thoroughly our God loves us. He knows every single detail about us. And just as we cringe and think--Every single detail? Because there are a few details I’d rather nobody knew. Jesus follows up. He says, “I know every detail about you, and by knowing all of those details, I consider you worth more than a million canaries.”
So be yourself—your actual self—today. Be silly or serious, fast or slow, calm or crazy. Bring yourself to the game, the meeting, the coffee date, the class, and know that you are exactly who God created you to be. He sees you under your fig tree or crossing the street to touch a willow tree or researching your family tree or pulling your favorite sandals off your shoetree, and He says, “That one—I want to hang out with her.”
I’ve been stripped.
Of my car.
Of my oven.
Of my laptop.
At least temporarily. And it’s been rough. I mean, God has called me to be a wife, a mom, and a writer. These things are the tools of my trade. Without them, I feel bare, lacking. Who am I when I can’t drive, cook, or write?
It started while listening to an Annie Downs’podcast. I was challenged by the question, “Who are you when you’re not caring for the people you love?” The question made me cringe. Who. Am. I? But instead of lingering there, I answered by rote, “I am a child of God,” and kept going about my day. Except God wasn’t done.
Who are you when you’re not ___________? Think about that for a minute.
Nurturing my family is my jam. Making them happy makes me happy. But what about when I can’t provide them with everything they want and need? Am I okay with that? God called me to love these people, but He wants me to put this calling in context. And He wasn’t going to let me move on until we spent some time here. When I took my car in for an oil change, and it ended up it needed to stay in the shop for a few days, I felt Him nudging me with this question again. I laughed. Okay, God, so who am I when I can’t drive my kiddos anywhere? My oven decided it’s too hot outside and won’t heat above 200 degrees. All right, God. I’m listening.
When I’m not doing my wife and mom gigs, I’m writing. My old laptop was shutting down (see a pattern), so I splurged and replaced my nine-year old standby. I felt quite clever as I managed the “migration assistant” and my old and new Macs seemed to be telepathically communicating. Until they got mad at each other and stopped talking. The Apple store informed me it would take 72 hours to get my laptop up and running. Which left me once again asking, “Who am I when I’m not….”
I kept looking around for something to do, because I couldn’t tend to my usual tasks. Without my car, oven, or computer how should I best love my family well, write well for God? I heard Jesus calling. Here’s what you should do. Sit with me. Talk to me. Guess what? As I sat still with the Lord, it was peaceful. I didn’t feel less, because I wasn’t rocking all my tasks. God was in my moments of not being able to achieve. He didn’t ditch me just because I wasn’t doing all the things. In fact, God asked me who gave me those assignments, because He never said in order to be a good mom I had to drive to soccer practice or that in order to write for Him I had to finish the third chapter for my proposal by the end of the week. Turns out those were metrics I was using. Not God.
My initial response, “child of God,” was right, But God didn’t want me to fill in the bubble and turn the page. It’s too important. It’s actually true. Jesus wanted me to soak myself in it, wrap myself in it. I am a child of God. I am His. I am chosen. I am loved. I am empowered. I am enough.
And so are you.
The things I’ve been stripped of are minimal and temporary. I have friends who have been stripped of much more. One friend lost their home. Another their relationship. Yet, another her memories. Who are these people without their house, partner, and past? They are still God’s children. He still holds them dear. They still have complete access to God’s strength, power, joy, peace, and love. There’s nothing in Scripture that states we need a family, to be married, to live in a certain place or have a certain state of mental health to be loved by Jesus.
Do we believe that? Do we live like that?
God is hammering this truth into my head. It’s a blast to love on my husband and kids, and write stories for Jesus. It is. Down to my core I believe God called me to do these things. They light me up. But I also need to trust that God is in control—that when everything else is gone, when it’s just me and Jesus, that that is enough. In fact, it’s spectacular.
I don’t know what you call yourself today, but how would you feel if one of those nametags got peeled off? If the things you do disappear… who are you?
Jesus told some fishermen, “Drop your nets and follow me.” He told a rich man, “Sell everything you have and follow me.” Jesus looked a tax collector in the eye and said, “Quit your job. Follow me.”Not everyone Jesus challenged to strip off the things that defined them obeyed. Those are some tough instructions. But those that did, those that laid down their nets and their balance sheets, never regretted it.
I am not fully responsible for making everything work, for having all the answers, for doing everything perfectly. Neither are you. This is such a relief. But what’s even better to know is that the Lord of all loves me, loves you, not for any of our statuses, but simply because we’re His. I’m not wishing upon any of you that you lose something that matters to you, but I am praying that whatever you do or don’t have, that you realize how fully loved and complete you are, because you belong to Jesus.
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Laura L. Smith