Fasting & Prayer

“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close the door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose they will be heard for their many words. So, do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.”

– Matthew 6:5-8 NASB

Prayer is personal and private. It is a conversation between you and God. Corporate prayer is important as well – praying collectively as a group is powerful and it is vital for our churches and communities to grow and thrive, but it can’t replace our time alone with God. We need to listen closely to the instructions of Jesus and heed his advice. It is just as relevant now as it was then. We need to enter into our prayer closets and get alone with God in a secret place. We need to examine the motivation of our hearts. Are we praying to be heard by others or to be heard by God? Are we repeating meaningless words, or are we being intentional with the words we are praying?

What is the purpose of prayer?

  • Communication – When we pray, we’re having a conversation with God. We’re talking to our Father. We’re talking to our Best Friend. It’s not intended to be impressive. We don’t need to overthink it or try to say all the right words. God knows what we need before we ask. He just wants to hear from us. He just wants to commune with us.
  • Submission – Prayer is about humbling ourselves before God. It is how we ask Him for a specific need or desire. It is how we confess our sins. It is how we honor Him and give Him reverence. We can’t take for granted the immensely undeserved gift it is to be able to enter His presence. We don’t need to physically bow down knees or lay prostrate before Him every time we pray, but we should be aware of the posture of our heart. We need to enter His presence with humility and respect, because He is God and we are not. He is worthy, and we are not. We need to surrender ourselves before Him.
  • Intercession – The Spirit intercedes for us when we don’t have the words to pray. Romans 8:26 says He intercedes for us “with groanings too deep for words.” We pray in the name of Jesus, because it is through the sacrifice of Jesus that we have access to God. We don’t need to make a blood sacrifice to enter His presence, because Jesus became our sacrifice. We don’t need a priest to forgive us of our sins, because Jesus became our High Priest. The veil has been torn. We can enter into the Holy of Holies because of Jesus. Jesus is our intercessor, and because of His intercession, we too can intercede for others. Have you ever considered that maybe you are where you are in life right this moment because someone at some point in their life interceded for you when you were far from God?
  • Transformation – The purpose of prayer is to transform us from the inside out. The purpose of prayer is to shift our focus from the object of our fear to the object of our faith. Our prayers are not intended to change God’s mind, but to change our hearts. When I pray, it puts things into clearer focus. My perspective changes because I am looking up instead of looking around. We are transformed by the power of prayer.

Jesus didn’t just tell us how to pray, He showed us how.

“Pray then, in this way: Our Father who is in Heaven, Hallowed be Your Name. Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.”

Matthew 6:9-13 NASB

“Our Father who is in Heaven, Hallowed be Your Name.”

In the first two words of this prayer, Jesus shows us how to address God in prayer. We come to God because of the relationship we have with Him. We come to Him as a child coming before their Father. Prayers in the Old Testament often addressed God as Lord, but in the New Testament He is addressed as Father. Our relationship with Him is more personal because of Jesus. Prayers in the Old Testament often addressed Him as “The God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of Abraham, etc.” but the New Testament refers to Him as Our Father. We are adopted children. We are prodigal sons and daughters. We are heirs to the throne. He is not only the God of the patriarchs; He is our God. He is our Father.

He is our Father who is in Heaven. With these words, Jesus shows us where our prayers should be directed. Our prayers are directed upward, towards the Heavens. Looking to Heaven allows us to reflect on the greatness of God. It humbles us and magnifies Him. Looking toward Heaven puts our thoughts into perspective. Isaiah 55:9 says, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

The inclusion of the phrase “Hallowed be Your Name” shows us that prayer should be entered into with a heart of worship and reverence. “Hallowed” means to be holy and set apart. His name is YHWH – a name too Holy to even be written or spoken in the Hebrew language. YHWH means “becoming one.” He becomes who we need Him to be. He is El Roi meaning He is the God Who Sees. He is El Shaddai, the Almighty God. He is Jehovah Jirah, our Provider. He is Jehovah Nissi, our Banner of Victory. He is Jehovah Shalom, our Peace. He is Jesus. He is Yashua which means “The Lord has become our salvation.” He is Immanuel, God with us. In Exodus, God told Moses, “I am who I am.” In the book of John, Jesus issued seven “I am” statements. I am the Bread of Life. I am the Light of the World. I am the Gate. I am the Good Shepherd. I am the Resurrection and the Life. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I am the True Vine. He becomes what we need. He is all that we need. He is the I Am, and His Name is Holy.

“Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”

Kingdoms represent royalty, power, and dominion. The Kingdom of God is a Monarchy. A monarchy can be trusted when the King can be trusted, and our King is worthy of trust. Matthew 6:33 tells us to “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Jesus prays for God’s Kingdom to come – meaning it must move from one place to another. Jesus prays for God’s will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. It’s important that Jesus included this, because our human will is often in opposition of God’s will. Jesus Himself in the Garden before His death prayed, “If it be your will let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not my will but your will be done” (Luke 22:42).

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

A prayer for bread is a prayer for provision and nourishment. Our physical well-being is an important part of our spiritual well-being. Pray for what you need, but know that it may not always look like what you think it should. When the Israelites were hungry in the wilderness and prayed for bread, God sent manna down from the sky. It wasn’t any kind of bread they had ever seen before. It was flaky and appeared like dew on the ground. The word Manna in Hebrew means “What is it?” because they had never seen anything like it before. But it was God’s provision, and it was exactly what they needed. God gave them enough for each day and told them not to store it up. They took only enough for that day, and trusted God to supply it again the next day.

Jesus prayed, “Give us this day our daily bread.” He didn’t pray for a week’s worth of bread, or a month’s worth of bread, or five-year supply of bread. He asked only for today. In Matthew 6:34 He tells us, “Take no thought about tomorrow for tomorrow has enough worries of its own.” We should pray for daily provision, and trust for divine provision tomorrow. Jesus asks God to give us the bread. That tells us that God’s provision can’t be bought, and it can’t be earned. It’s given. It’s a free gift of grace.

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

A debt is that which is owed. It is justly and legally due. Romans 6:23 tells us the wages of our sin is death. Your wage is that which is earned. When we work for sin, when we focus our time and energy on sinful thoughts and activities, then the payment we are due is death. A debtor was often tormented, thrown into prison, or sold as slave until the debt was paid. Jesus lived a perfect life. He was without sin, but He died to pay a debt He didn’t owe. God gives because He loves. As He loved us and forgave our debt, so should we love and forgive those who sin against us.

This is the only part of Jesus’ prayer that He expounds on later. In verses 14 and 15 He says, “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” This tells us that we should pray with sincerity. We shouldn’t pray a prayer if we aren’t willing to do what needs to be done to make it a reality. We can’t pray for forgiveness if we aren’t willing to forgive. God knows our heart. He knows our intentions. Forgiveness is no easy task. It is so much easier said than done, but it can be done. We can forgive because we have been forgiven. True forgiveness is a powerful force of love. It is a powerful demonstration of the love God has for us.

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Jesus covers past, present, and future needs in this prayer. The prayer for daily bread covers the present, the prayer for forgiveness covers the past, and “lead us not into temptation” is a prayer for the future. Jesus is asking for God’s leadership and guidance. He is asking for deliverance from the traps of the enemy. 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able to withstand. It tells us God will provide a way of escape. This is Jesus praying for that escape. If we pray for it, then we have to be willing to look for it. When we’re caught up in the moment and temptation is right in front of us, it’s easy to put blinders on to any escape sign God may be trying to direct us towards. That’s why we have to be alert, be attentive, and pray without ceasing. We have to always be watching for God’s leadership, and we can’t allow ourselves to get into situations that will try to pull us off the path He has us on. When we do fall into temptation, we have to know that true repentance means turning away. It often seems that we’re in an endless loop of prayers for forgiveness and deliverance. Once our sin has been forgiven, we have to turn away and not look back. We have to focus on where God is leading us so we won’t be led astray.

“For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”

Jesus opened the prayer with a heart of worship, and He closed the prayer with a heart of worship. In the beginning, and in the end, He acknowledged the greatness of God. He acknowledged the Holiness and reverence of God. By closing the prayer in this way, Jesus is closing the prayer with comfort, confidence, and peace in who God is and in what He is able to do. He is closing the prayer on a note of hope.

Jesus didn’t say if you fast, but when you fast.

“Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

– Matthew 6:16-18 NASB

Fasting as a Spiritual discipline is implied in Scripture. It wasn’t commanded, because it was already expected. Fasting should be a habitual, integral part of our Spiritual lives. Jesus was prepared for the wilderness because He had practiced the disciplines of study, silence, and solitude – but he fought and endured through the wilderness because He fasted and prayed. Fasting requires Self-Discipline, Self-Denial, & Self-Control. It’s a learning process. It is a way for us to exercise the power of our spirit over the power of our flesh.

What is the purpose of fasting?

  • Fasting starves the flesh to feed the spirit – The first ever temptation was a temptation to eat. Food is a foundational part of our humanity. Eve was tempted because it was pleasing to the eye. She saw it, and she desired it. Our fleshly desires are those human characteristics that instinctively draw us toward sin. We crave it. Fasting breaks up our habitual cravings and regular routines. On a regular day, we will eat 2-3 times per day without a second thought. When we fast, it redirects those thoughts and focuses them on God rather than on satisfying the needs of our flesh. Fasting and prayer move our fight from the physical realm to the spiritual realm.  Fasting from food is a way of feasting on God. We must be emptied to be filled. In Matthew 4:2-4, Jesus hungered in the wilderness. And when Satan tempted Him to turn some rocks into bread, He quoted Scripture saying, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the word of God.” In the next chapter, during His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:6, He declared, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
  • Fasting shifts the carnally minded to the spiritually minded – When our minds are set on carnal and fleshly things it leads to death, but when our minds set on the Spirit it leads to life and peace (Romans 8:6-7). The strongholds we face are a battle of the mind (2 Corinthians 10:3-5) and fasting allows us to take our carnal thoughts captive and replace them with positive, life-giving, spiritual thoughts. Fasting gives us a kick-start, a reboot, to cleanse our mind and focus our thoughts on things above.
  • Fasting strengthens us through weakness – In Psalm 109:24 the Psalmist said, “My knees are weak from fasting…” When our knees are weak, it puts us in a better position to hit the ground and pray. When our knees are weak, we’re more dependent on God and leaning on Him to hold us up and strengthen us. Without weakness, we wouldn’t know what it felt like to be strong. Without hunger, we wouldn’t know what it felt like to be filled. Our weaknesses point us to Christ. In 2 Corinthians 12:9 the Words of Jesus say, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Our weaknesses demonstrate God’s strength.

In Matthew 17:14-21 Jesus encounters a boy with a demonic spirit. The disciples tried to drive on the demon, but they could not. Jesus cast the demon out, and afterwards the disciples came to Him asking why they could not do it. “Because of the littleness of your faith,” he said. “For truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible to you. But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” Fasting and prayer gives us the power to do what only Jesus can do. Fasting and prayer gives us the power to move mountains and drive out demons. It gives us the power to do the impossible in the name of Jesus.

2-Chronicles-7.14

 

Silence, Solitude, and Secrecy

In Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. In the original Greek language, the word for “led” in the first verse is anagō which means “to lead up” or “to bring to a higher place.” Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness. The wilderness was a higher place. I take comfort in that small detail of Scripture. I take comfort in knowing that when God leads me to dry, desolate, lonely, and solitary places it’s because He wants to take me higher spiritually. He wants me to reach new heights of Spiritual growth that only the wilderness can develop.

Think about a tree – the deeper the roots go, the higher the tree grows. But the deeper those roots go, the darker it becomes. That seed, when first placed in the ground, doesn’t know what’s yet to come. The seed doesn’t understand the purpose of being placed in the soil. The seed doesn’t see the tree it will become. There’s a saying I love that says, “Sometimes when we think we’ve been buried; we’ve just been planted.” It’s so true! Don’t negate those wilderness seasons of your life. Don’t lose hope in those dark days under the soil. There is a purpose yet to be revealed once you’ve endured this dark and lonely season.

In the wilderness, Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights. After fasting forty days and forty nights, He became hungry. And then Satan came to tempt Him. What does it tell us about Satan that he came after Jesus had fasted, after Jesus was hungry? It tells us that Satan comes to us when we are vulnerable. Jesus may have been physically weak for lack of food, but He was spiritually strong. Psalm 73:26 says, “My flesh and heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” We can be at our strongest spiritually when we are at our weakest physically because it is in those times that we are fully dependent and trusting on God to be our strength. Satan will choose to come against us at that very time, because it’s in those moments of spiritual strength that we pose the greatest threat to him and his demons.

Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights. This number is significant. It’s a number we see consistently throughout Scripture. When God flooded the earth and saved only Noah and his family, it rained for forty days (Genesis 7:17). When Moses received the Ten Commandments from God on Mt. Sinai, he fasted for forty days and forty nights (Exodus 34:28). The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years before reaching the Promised Land (Numbers 14:34). The number “forty” represents trials and testing. It represents a probationary period. It represents a time of preparation for what will come next. Consider the context of Jesus during this testing of His faith in the wilderness. Immediately before being led to the wilderness, Jesus was baptized. Immediately following His temptation in the wilderness, He began His public ministry. God leads us to wilderness seasons to prepare us for where He is taking us next.

Satan’s primary weapon of attack in the wilderness is deception. He deceives us by trying to get us to misinterpret God’s Word. He wants us to doubt God’s truth. He wants us to question God’s goodness. When he came against Eve in the Garden of Eden, he asked her, “Did God really say you must not eat from any tree in garden?” When he came against Jesus in the wilderness he said, “If you really are the Son of God, tell theses stones to become bread.” His subtly is his strategy, so we have to be attentive. He wants us to question our identity. He wants us to doubt who we are and who God is. He wants to doubt that we truly belong to the family of God. He wants us to doubt that God truly is good and has our best interest in mind. It’s easy to be swayed by the lies of the enemy if we aren’t firmly grounded in the truth of God’s Word. We have to cling tightly to Word of God and hide His Words in our heart, because that’s how we endure the wilderness. We combat the lies of Satan with the truth of God.

When Satan tempts us, he also appeals to our selfishness and pride. He tempts with instant gratification. Why wait when you can have what you want right now? Why give to others when you can keep for yourself? With Jesus, he urged Him to feed Himself, to save Himself, to take the kingdoms of the world for Himself. With Eve, he told her she would be like God. Jesus is the only One who actually IS God, but He resisted the temptation to prematurely put His divinity on display. Jesus was not thinking about Himself. He was thinking about us and about our need for a Savior. He faced the same temptations we do, but He sinned not. He was more concerned with our eternal salvation than with His own temporary satisfaction.

The first temptation Satan tried to lure Jesus with was food. Food is not sinful. Hunger is a perfectly normal and natural desire. But there are times when we are tempted to satisfy a perfectly normal or natural desire in a wrong way or at a wrong time – and Jesus resisted that temptation. Satan was tempting Jesus to use His divinity to satisfy the needs of His humanity. Looking forward to the cross, Jesus knew He would be faced with this same temptation. He could have used His divinity to save Himself from the physical pain of the cross, but He didn’t. In the desert, Jesus hungered, and on the cross one of the last words He uttered was “I thirst.” His humanity was fully on display in both instances. Jesus is fully human and fully divine. He sacrificed His human life to offer us eternal life, and He defeated death to show us how to truly live.

Satan’s next lure was mankind’s attention and awe. Once again, the longing for human affirmation is not sinful in itself, but when we live for that longing it becomes sinful. When we live to seek attention and applause, it is both self-serving and short-sighted. Jesus could have jumped off the highest point of the Temple and saved Himself, but He was looking ahead. He was looking beyond Himself. He knew He was there for a greater purpose. Instead of making a spectacle of Himself by performing this great feat, He chose instead to begin His ministry as a relatively unknown Rabbi, the son of a carpenter, a friend of sinners. Instead of capturing the attention and awe of the people in single moment, He chose instead to be hated and rejected by the people He came to save. He chose the path no one else would have chosen, to fulfill a purpose no one else could fulfill.

And the final temptation Jesus faced was the temptation of earthly power and possession. This temptation appeals to our innate desire for influence and authority. We all want to make a difference in this world, and Jesus could have done immense good with the power and authority Satan gave Him, but Satan was offering something that was not his to give. Satan is the prince of this present world, but Jesus had come to save the world yet to come. In the book Anonymous, Alicia Britt Chole writes, “Jesus had come to suffer for sinners. Satan suggested that He sin to avoid suffering. Jesus had come to die for the world. Satan offered him the world without dying… He tempted Jesus to give up His soul permanently to gain the world temporarily… Satan asked Jesus to trade the eternal for the visible, which is something he still invites us to do every day.”

Jesus counteracted the temptations of Satan with Scripture. The exact verses He used were Deuteronomy 8:3, Deuteronomy 6:16, and Deuteronomy 6:13. When you go back and read these verses, you realize how important it is that these are the verses Jesus used. Deuteronomy 8:2-5 in particular is Moses reminding the Israelites that God led them through the wilderness for forty years – testing them, and humbling them. The fact that Jesus chose this Scripture reveals His knowledge of Scripture. He knew exactly what verse He needed to recall to mind to resist the temptation, to endure the wilderness, and to remind Himself of the greater purpose of God at work.

Jesus was prepared for the wilderness because He practiced cultivation in His hidden years.

I first heard this phrase “practice cultivation” in a letter I received from a 14-year old girl named Grace who lived in Kenya and it has stuck with me ever since. I received a letter from Grace via Compassion International, and in this particular letter she was telling me all about the crops her family had been planting and harvesting that year. Then she asked, “Do you practice cultivation?” The question was so simple and beautiful. My honest answer was no – I’ve never tilled up a ground, never planted a seed, never waited and prayed for rain, never worked dawn to dusk in a field, never sweated and labored to produce a harvest of food. When I get hungry, I usually get in my car and drive around a building for them to hand me an already prepared meal out a window. Or maybe, I’ll walk into a building with shelves lined with food that has already been labored over and is packaged and ready for me to take home and prepare. I don’t practice cultivation, and it pained me to admit that. In a sense, it felt like I was making a confession of guilt.

And then I thought about it on a spiritual level. Do I practice cultivation? And once again, my honest answer would likely be no. Not nearly as often or as much as I should. I go to church and listen to the Pastor, but then I go home, and what happens? Maybe I’ll get in a a good routine of prayer and study for a few weeks, maybe even a few months, and then it will dwindle away again. Maybe I practice cultivation, but I don’t do it well. To cultivate means to “prepare and use land for crops or gardening; to promote or improve the growth of a plant by labor and attention.” If you’re in a wilderness season of your life right now, a season when you feel lonely and God feels distant or quiet – till the ground. Start practicing cultivation. The wilderness you’re in is a gift, an opportunity to prepare and use the land. It’s a blank canvas. We practice cultivation by practicing spiritual disciplines. When you practice spiritual disciplines, you are making an investment in your future and in the Kingdom of God. You are investing your time and energy towards producing a harvest of spiritual growth that will feed generations to come. God wants to use you in this season.

One of the most eye-opening experiences I ever had when reading the Bible was when I read Jeremiah 29:11 in full context. Jeremiah 29:11 is one of my favorite verses. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'” During this time, the Israelites were in exile in the wilderness and they were starting to get defeated and discouraged. They were losing hope that they would ever make it out alive. A false prophet came and told they would be free in two years. It gave them hope, but it was a false hope. They were being comforted with a lie. Then Jeremiah came with a word from God. He told them to get comfortable in the wilderness – to build houses, plant gardens, get married, and have children. He told them they would be there for another 70 years, and then God would come and fulfill His promise. This was a hard truth, but it was truth nonetheless. Imagine their disappointment if those two years had come and gone and they were still not free? They would have lost complete hope and trust in God’ promises. They would have wasted two years of their lives waiting for a deliverance that would never come. Instead, they were able to practice cultivation in the wilderness. They were able to live full, expectant, and hopeful lives for those 70 years.

When you think about cultivation, how is it that you cultivate a relationship? Relationships are cultivated through communication – by talking, and listening, and asking questions. Relationships are cultivated by spending time together – you pick up on the other person’s likes, interests, and personality traits when you are interacting with them on a regular basis. Relationships are also cultivated by establishing trust. Trust is established by a lot of little moments that add up over time. Trust happens when you show up and do what you said you were going to do. Trust happens when you follow through with your commitments consistently.

So, with that in mind, how do we cultivate our relationship with God? It’s simple: Communication, Spending Time Together, and Establishing Trust. Silence, Solitude, and Secrecy. We communicate with Him in our silence. We spend time with Him in our solitude. We learn to trust Him when He consistently shows up in the secret places and spaces our hearts.

Silence

Silence is an important part of the way we communicate with God because we learn in 1 Kings 19:11-13 that He speaks in a still, small voice. I once heard a message by Steven Furtick in which He talked about why God whispers – and that’s because you only whisper to someone when they’re close beside you. God is close to us. That’s why He whispers. It’s intimate. It’s personal. It’s between Him and us. Another reason silence is important is because faith comes through hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17) and we can’t hear His Words if we’re distracted by all the noise around us. When we’re silent in His presence, we’re more attentive. When we’re more attentive, we’re more receptive. God is speaking, but are we really listening? Can we really hear?

Have you ever noticed that we’re afraid of silence? Why is that? I think it’s because we don’t like being alone with our own thoughts. We always tend to fill the silence with music, tv, and mindless chatter. In our society and in our culture, we are never truly in silence. Even with no music, no TV, and no one around me talking – I can still hear the hum of the AC, the passing of cars outside the window, the ticking of a clock in the other room. To be in complete silence would be such a stark contrast from our daily lives that it would throw us into a state of shock and panic. As Dallas Willard writes in Spirit of the Disciplines, “Silence is frightening because it strips us as nothing else does, throwing us upon the stark realities of our life. It reminds us of death, which will cut us off from this world and leave only us and God.”

The quieter we become, the more we hear. When we get quiet, we listen better. The less I talk, the fuller my words become. We need to learn the art of thinking before we speak. That’s why practicing silence and getting into a quiet place with God, is considered a spiritual discipline. We need to embrace the quiet. Lamentations 3:26 tells us to “wait quietly for salvation from the Lord.” In Psalm 62:1, David writes, “I wait quietly before God for my victory comes from Him.” Isaiah 30:15 tells us our strength is found “in quietness and confidence.”

Solitude

Solitude is how we spend time alone with God. Jesus Himself would often withdraw to quiet, solitary places to be alone with God. Mark 1:35 says, “Before daybreak, Jesus got up and went to an isolated place to pray.” Matthew 14:13 says, “He left in a boat to a remote area to be alone.” In Luke 5:16 we are told that Jesus “often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.” And He invites us to do the same. In Mark 6:31-32 He told His disciples, “Let’s go by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” In Matthew 6:6 He says, “When you pray, go away by yourself and shut the door.”

Similar to silence, we tend to fear solitude as well. In fact, one of our worst forms of punishment in the Western world today is solitary confinement. Dallas Willard describes our fear of solitude by saying, “In solitude, we confront our own soul with its obscure forces and conflicts that escape our attention when we are interacting with others… It serves to crack open and burst apart the shell of our superficial securities. It opens out to us the unknown abyss that we all carry within us… We can only survive solitude if we cling to Christ there.”

Secrecy

Secrecy is not one of the well-known spiritual disciplines, but it is a discipline nonetheless. Secrecy is one of the ways we build trust and intimacy with God. Throughout the Gospels, have you noticed that Jesus often told His followers to “tell no one” of the miracles He performed? We see this in Mark 1:40-45 and Mark 7:32-37. Why do you think Jesus would say this? I don’t know the answer for sure, but one thing I do know is that when God heals us, our lives reflect it. Our testimony speaks for itself. Our newfound joy seeps out in our words and in our actions. Jesus wanted to be known for the message He spoke, not simply for the miracles He performed. He wanted people to follow Him because of who He was, not because of what He could do for them. He wanted followers of genuine faith, not superficial faith. After all, true faith is believing without seeing. Secrecy is an important part of our relationship with God, because if you’ve ever prayed a prayer that was only between you and God and then you saw that prayer answered, then you know how powerful that is. You can’t help but be amazed. It’s such a bolster to our faith, because it shows us that we are seen, and loved, and heard by God. We walk away from those moments knowing that only God could have come through in the way that He did because only God knew the true desire and plea of your heart.

There are countless times throughout Scripture when reference is made to a “secret place.” Psalm 139:15 says we are formed in the secret place. Those 9 months when we are hidden in our mother’s womb are essential for our growth and development. Psalm 27:5 tells us we are protected in the secret place. He shelters us in His Temple and places us up on a high rock where out of the enemy’s reach and safe from the storms around us. Psalm 91:1-2 tells us we find rest in the secret place. If we live in His shelter, we will find comfort and security in His shadow. In Exodus 33:20-23 we learn that it is in the shadow where we can experience God’s presence. Moses had to remain hidden in the crevice of a rock while God’s Spirit passed by – and still His face shown so brightly that everyone knew He had been with God before He ever spoke a word. As Dallas Willard writes, “In the discipline of secrecy – we abstain from causing our good deeds and qualities to be known… As we practice this discipline, we learn to love to be unknown and even to accept misunderstanding without the loss of our peace, joy, and purpose… Secrecy rightly practiced enables us to place our public relationship department entirely in the hands of God, who lit our candles so we could be the light of the world, not so we could hide under a bushel. We allow him to decide when our deeds will be known and when our light will be noticed.”

Be silent before Him.

Be still in His presence.

Dwell in the secret place.

In that stark aloneness – in that silence and solitude that only wilderness seasons reveal – build a house, plant a garden, and get comfortable. Practice cultivation in the wilderness. Practice spiritual disciplines. Lift your eyes, heart, and hands to the Heavens – and know that He is God. He is preparing you through this season. He is preparing you for greater things that are yet to come.

The Study of Scripture

When we come to Christ for the first time and experience His salvation, we become new creations. But as we learn, grow, and develop in our walks with Christ, we are being shaped, molded, and formed more into His image. Spiritual formation is a journey, a process of becoming more like Jesus.

We are formed through discipleship, through practicing spiritual disciplines.

At the root, the word “disciple” means to be a follower, to be a learner.

If you are a parent, why is it that you discipline your children? You discipline them to teach them, to train them, to help them become the best versions of themselves. Simply yelling at them and telling them not to do something “because I said so” is not true discipline, because they aren’t learning anything. True discipline is loving correction. True discipline is helping them understand why they should or should not do something that’s in their best interest.

“By discipline we learn – and whether as children or adults, without it we cannot grow into the kind of persons we ought to be. The word has come to mean the formation of habits and patterns of life, usually by repetition until they become a part of us.”

– Georgia Harkness, Disciplines of the Christian Life

Think about it this way – How do you become a great athlete, musician, or artist? It doesn’t happen overnight. It requires daily practice. It requires surrounding yourself with people who have the same goals and interests. It requires a lifestyle change. It requires making diet, exercise, practice, and training a part of your daily schedule and routine. It requires commitment – commitment both to your end goal, and to whatever it is that drives and motivates you.

“The Spirit of the Disciplines is nothing but the love of Jesus, with its resolute will to be like Him whom we love… A discipline for the spiritual life is, when the dust of history is blown away, nothing but an activity undertaken to bring us into more effective cooperation with Christ and His Kingdom.”

– Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines

Spiritual disciplines are those daily practices of our Christian faith. They are the diet and exercise of our Spiritual development, and they are essential for our spiritual growth and maturity. They include:

  • Study of Scripture
  • Silence, Solitude, & Secrecy
  • Fasting & Prayer
  • Fellowship, Confession, & Submission
  • Service & Sacrifice
  • Praise & Worship

Why is the study of Scripture such an important discipline for Spiritual formation?

1) Jesus began His earthly ministry by reading from Scripture

In Luke 4:14-21, Jesus begins His earthly ministry by standing in the synagogue and reading from Scripture. Prior to begining His ministry, Jesus was baptized and then led into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. And how did He combat that temptation? By quoting Scripture. These are the first stories we have of the adult Jesus in Scripture. At this time He is estimated to be around 30 years old, approximately 3.5 years before His death and resurrection. Prior to this first entrance into public ministry, the last we had seen of Jesus was when He was 12 years old and His parents found Him in the Temple listening to the religious teachers and asking them questions. The early years of Jesus were largely hidden from Scripture, but in each of these early stories, we learn that Jesus must have spent a majority of time in His hidden years studying and gaining a deep knowledge and understanding of Scripture. As His disciples, we should make it a priority to follow the example He set for us.

2) Jesus is the Word of God in flesh

John 1:1-14 tells us that “In the beginning, the Word already existed. The Word was with God and the Word was God” and “The Word became human and made His home with us.” Jesus is God in human flesh. Jesus is God personified and dwelling among us. If we want to get to know the characteristics of God, we do so by looking at the life of Jesus. And if we want to get to know Jesus, we do so by reading the Word of God. There is so much power in His written Word. It is how we come to know God, it is how we come to know Jesus, and it is how we come to know ourselves.

3) All Scripture is Inspired by God and Useful

“The inspiration of the Bible does not mean that God dictated it, word for word, and therefore that its truth is unmistakable. The word ‘inspiration’ means ‘inbreathing,’ and in the Bible we find the breath of God’s Spirit for man’s invigoration as it comes through its human writers. Those who wrote the various portions of the Bible had a great sense of what God was doing in human life and history; yet they had their own prejudices and points of view as well. Inevitably, these crept into the record, so that we have in the Bible what Paul called heavenly ‘treasure in earthen vessels.’”

– Georgia Harkness, Disciplines of the Christian Life

Jesus is the Word of God in flesh, and just as Jesus is both fully divine and fully human, so is His Word. It was passed down through stories and written down by flawed human beings, but every word was inspiried by the the divine Word of God. As Andrew Wilson writes, “I don’t trust Jesus because I trust the Bible, I trust the Bible because I trust Jesus.” Our faith should be rooted in Jesus, and backed up by Scripture. All Scripture is useful and purposeful for our growth and development, and all Scripture should be used to bring us closer to Jesus. 2 Timothy 3:15-17 says, “You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work” (NLT).

What are some study traps to avoid?

1) Don’t just accept something to be true because it’s what you’ve always heard

So many people are following the faith of their parents and grandparents, and don’t understand why they believe what they believe. Study the Scripture for yourself. Seek the truth, and you will find it. Your relationship with God is personal. You get to know a friend truly and intimately by spending time with them, not by listening to gossip about them. It’s the same with Jesus. We get to know Jesus by reading the Gospel and studying His life. When you listen to other preachers and teachers and leaders of the faith, always make sure what you are learning is supported and backed up by Scripture. A solid knowledge of Scripture will help you to not be led astray by false prophets who use the pulpit as a platform to share their opinions and worldview or make a profit.

2) Don’t feel obligated to read the Bible cover to cover

Reading the Bible cover to cover is a great Spiritual practice, but what is your motivation for doing it? If you’re reading just to read, you’ll miss the meaning and mystery behind the words. Read with the intention of finding Jesus there, not to mark it off your “to-do” list. Truly dwell in His Spirit and reflect on the words. Don’t rush through them. Allow them to soak in and transform you.

3) Don’t try to find a text in the Bible to justify your beliefs or actions

If you go to the Bible with that intention, you’ll probably find what you’re looking for, but you’ll also skew and misinterpret the words in the process. We read the Bible so it can transform us into the image of Jesus, not so we can transform Him into our image. We read the Bible to get to know the source of our salvation and find forgiveness for our sins, not to find justification for our sins so we can continue living life as we always have.

4) Don’t try to explain the mystery away

You will not understand everything in Scripture. As Aristotle said, “The more I know, the more I know how much I don’t know.” If there was no mystery to the Scripture, then it wouldn’t be miraculous. If we could explain everything in Scripture with scientific fact and human ability, then it wouldn’t be God. It wouldn’t be Holy, and Sacred, and Set Apart. Find delight and adventure in the ambiguity of Scripture. Find joy in the journey. Wrestle with the parts that confuse you, and use your questions to take you deeper into the meaning, and purpose, and truth behind the text.

5) Don’t take it lightly

Honor the Word of God and keep it Holy. It’s more than just a text. It’s more than just a historical document. It’s more than stories, and poems, and songs. People have died trying to keep this book out of your hands and out of your language. Other people around the world, even today, do not have the same privileges that we do. Don’t take that gift for granted. Don’t let it collect dust. Let it transform you. As the saying goes, “A Bible that is falling apart belongs to a person who is not.”

What are some study tips to practice?

1) Find an accountability partner

Find someone you can study with, share your questions with, and bounce ideas off of. Find someone who can share in your excitement of the Scripture, and someone who will hold you accountable to your study time.

2) Make Scripture a visible part of your daily life

Consistency and repetition is key for memorization. Memorization is important for when you need to recall verses to your mind and speak truth to yourself in times when you don’t have your Bible in front of you. Make it visible by putting it in places you see every day – on your phone screen, your computer screen, your bathroom mirror, your refrigerator, or the dashboard in your car. In Deuteronomy 6:6-9, the children of Israel were instructed to teach their children the words of God by talking day and night about them, binding them on their hands, wearing them on their foreheads, and writing them on the door posts of their houses as a reminder.

3) Set aside a fixed time to study

Make it a regular part of your daily routine. Choose a quiet time and place that works best for you. Get away from the noise and distractions for a while. Turn off your phone, prepare your heart, and sit attentively in His presence as you read and study.

4) Accompany study with prayer

Invite the Holy Spirit into your time of study. Seek Him. Worship Him. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you. Listen for His voice, and wait expectantly for Him to speak.

5) Focus less on technique, and more on the posture of your heart

Technique matters. How you study is important, but it’s just a means to an end. The end goal of why we study Scripture is to grow closer to Jesus and to be shaped more into His image. We read for formation, not just for information. The quality of our study is more important than the quantity of our study. Make the most of your time with Jesus by truly spending time with Him. Don’t rush through it. Take the time to listen, and respond, and allow yourself to be transformed.

6) View the Bible as a library of writings, not just as a singular book

We can’t read every book of the Bible in the same way. The Bible is a compilation of different genres, written by different authors, in different time periods, with different points of view. When we read the Bible with that perspective in mind, it truly comes to life and takes on the multi-dimensional shape that is representative of the Kingdom of God.

7) Study the passage within the full context

When reading a passage of Scripture, be sure to read the verses before and after. Get a Study Bible or read along with a commentary. When using a Study Bible, be sure to follow the references in the margins, read the footnotes after each passage, and read the introductions before each book. Learn as much as you can about the historical context, the geographical context, and the background of the author. The details will help make the difference in your understanding of the passage.

8) Pay attention to the details

Read slowly and carefully. Read out loud to help channel your focus if you need to. Pay attention to words and phrases that stand out to you. Ask yourself questions as you’re reading. Why did the author include this? Why did Jesus say this or do that? Where were they going? Where were they coming from? Study the words, the names, the cities and towns. Look up the definitions in the original language. Follow every rabbit trail that God leads you down. Every detail is there for a purpose. Every word was intentional and divinely inspired.

9) Make Jesus the center of your study

Everything in the Old Testament leads up to Jesus, and everything after the Gospels point back to Jesus. Read with that perspective in mind. He is the center of the story, and He should be the center of our study.

“So, if we find passages that seem somewhat dull and even boring, as we may in Leviticus and Numbers, or passages that seem a bit shocking by present standards, as in the polygamy of the Old Testament patriarchs or the cruelty of the wars of conquest, these things need not bother us. They reflect the human element in the Bible. What is divine about it is the message that comes to its climax in Jesus. Using Him as our standard, we can look at the rest with a fresh perspective.”

– Georgia Harkness, Disciplines of the Christian Life

10) Be sure to close the study with a time of reflection and response

Take it personally. Apply it to your life. If you have doubts or questions, ask God. If it compels you to worship, then worship. If it convicts you to make a change in your life, take action and make the change. Spend time in God’s presence once you’re finished studying. Don’t jump right back into daily life without allowing yourself the opportunity to soak in the truth. Feel what you’re feeling. Rest in the presence of His Word and be transformed by the power of His Word.

Canvas & Clay: A Study of Spiritual Formation

If I had a coloring book in one hand and a blank canvas in the other, and I asked you to choose which one you wanted – which would you choose?

If you asked for a coloring book, and I handed you a blank canvas – how would you feel?

I don’t know about you, but blank canvases make me nervous. They give me anxiety. There are so many options, and so much room for error. Coloring books are easy. It requires no thought. The lines are already drawn, and you just have to fill it in with colors. With a blank canvas, you’re starting from scratch. Every decision is up to you, and every mistake is your own making.

Have you ever felt like you asked God for a coloring book, and instead He handed you a blank canvas? Lysa Terkeurst talks about this in her book It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way. She describes the end of her marriage as feeling like all the perfectly drawn pages of her coloring book had been erased. She writes, “I opened the coloring book and someone had erased all the beautiful drawn lines. There was nothing but white pages. Empty spaces. Endless possibilities of fear and failure. Metaphorically speaking, my life was now a blank canvas.”

Why do blank canvases fill us with so much fear and anxiety?

I think we are anxious and afraid in these moments of our lives because we are under the impression that we are the artist, and therefore we we are in control of the outcome. We take the weight of that fear of failure on ourselves. We’re afraid of making the wrong decision – drawing the wrong line here, or putting the wrong color there. We’re afraid our bad decisions will mess up the whole painting. But that’s not our burden to bear. Will we make bad decisions in life? Yes, absolutely. But we’re not the artist. We are the canvas. We’re the paintbrush. We’re the color on the pallette. We are the method God is using to paint His masterpiece. And He knows exactly what He’s doing. He takes ALL things and works them together for good – as any masterful artist can and will. Broken pieces? He can use them. A wrong color here, a jagged line there – He’ll smooth out the edges. He’ll add light to the shadows. He’ll blend it together. He’ll make it beautiful. We might not be able to see the finished product yet, and it may get messy in the middle, but we can trust the process. We can trust Him because He knows what He’s doing. God is a creator. It’s what He does. It’s who He is. It’s the first characteristic we see of Him in Scripture. “In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the earth…” The earth was void and formless. It was a blank canvas, and God spoke creation into being.

When God walked this earth in human flesh, He took the role of a carpenter – yet again, a creator. An artist. A skilled craftsman. Where once He took nothing and made something, now He took something and made something different. Where once He created, now He formed. He took that tree He had spoken into existence, and with His hands and a few tools He transformed it into a table or a chair. He took the splintered pieces of wood and smoothed out the edges. He cut it here, and added a nail or two there, until it started to take shape and become something useful and purposeful.

What is Spiritual Formation?

Spiritual formation is the process of being formed into the image of Jesus. According to Christianity Today, “To be formed spiritually means to engage in specific practices and disciplines with one clear goal: to draw nearer to God in Christ and so focus less and less on self.” In Isaiah 43:1 the Prophet Isaiah writes, “But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says…” The opening words of this verse are ones we would normally skim over and not give much second thought to, but it speaks a lot of truth in a few simple words. It tells us that formation is different than creation. It tells us that Jacob was created, but Israel was formed.

Creation happens instantaneously. At the moment of conception, life is created. But the formation of that life that takes place over nine months of growth and development in the womb. When we come to Jesus, we become new creations, but that process of becoming like Jesus – that’s a hard fought battle of strength and determination. That’s a wrestling match, and that’s what spiritual formation looks like. In the Old Testament, Israel was the new name Jacob received after his wrestling match with God. Jacob was the name he was given at birth. One name was given to him in a moment, the other was given to him after an all night battle.

To create means “to bring into existence.” When Jacob was born, he came into existence holding on to the heel of his twin brother, Esau. At that time, and in that culture, birth order was important, because it ultimately determined who received the blessing and inheritance of the father. Jacob’s name literally means “deciever” or “supplanter” because he came into the world trying to ussurp the role of the firstborn son. From the moment he was born, Jacob was trying to take what was not his to receive. And as he grew older, he continued to live up to the name that was given to him. Later in life, Jacob tricked and deceived Esau in a moment of weakness to rob him of his birthright. When their father was blinded in old age and on his death bed, Jacob deceived his own father in order to receive the blessing that was intended for Esau.

But in Genesis 32, Jacob found himself nearing an imminent encounter with his brother, and he was afraid that his past would catch up with him. He was afraid that the vengence of Esau would overtake him, his family, and all of his possessions. He sent messengers ahead of him to greet his brother with a gift of peace. He sent his family ahead of him across the stream. And there he waited, all alone. And that night a man came and wrestled him. The man wresteld him until daybreak. When the man could not overtake Jacob, He reached out and touched His hip so it wrenched out of socket. Jacob refused to relent. Even as daybreak broke, he declared, “I will not let go unless you bless me.” Then the man asked a question, “What’s your name?” When Jacob answered this question, He wasn’t just telling his name, he was making a confession. “I am Jacob. I am a deceiver.” And the man replied, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:28 NASB). Afterward, Jacob named the place Peniel because he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved” (Genesis 32:30 NASB).

For the first time, Jacob received a blessing that was freely and conciously given to him. It was the first time he asked for a blessing rather than stealing one. He proved he was willing to fight for it. He proved he was willing to suffer for it and sacrifice for it. His battle was a battle to right the wrongs of his past, and he came out victorious, but not without scars. He left with a limp to keep Him humble and remind Him that the victory came only because of God’s mercy and grace. Lies and deception had been the joint and marrow of Jacob’s story, but now he was given a second chance and a new name.

He received this new name through wrestling. The definition of “wrestled” in this passage is “to grapple” or “get dusty” (Brown-Driver-Briggs Definition). This was not a boxing match where they were standing on two feet and throwing punches. This was a wrestling match where they were on the ground, rolling around in the dirt, stirring up dust. As I reflected on this, I was reminded of the creation of Adam in the very beginning of scripture. Genesis 2:7 says, “Then the Lord God formed man of the dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being” (NASB).

We are formed from the dust of the ground. We are formed through wrestling with God in the dust of this earth. We are formed when the breath of God touches the dust of this earth. Did you know that the word “Spirit” comes from the word “pneuma” which literally means “breath”? Did you know that in Hebrew, the name of God which we know as Yahweh cannot even be pronounced, but when attempted, simply sounds like the exhaling of a breath? That is how Holy His Spirit is, and our spiritual formation happens when His Holiness meets our humanity.

Think about this…. Adam was the son of God, created by God and breathed into existence by God. His name means “man” or “earth” and that is exactly what his name represents – the fall of man, this sinful world that we are born into. Jesus is also the son of God, His only begotten son. The word begotten means born. Jesus was not simply created and breathed into existence – He was knit together in His mother’s womb. He was formed, and His name means “God with us.” He is our salvation from the sins of this world. He is our deliverance, our redeemer. It is through Him that we receive the hope of eternal life. It is through Him that we are able to be made new and receive new names.

When God created the heavens and the earth, the word “created” used in the Genesis account means, “to cut” (Strong’s Definition). This is an interesting definition, but it makes so much sense when you think about it. Think about a chisel in the hand of a sculptor, cutting away the stone and bringing life to the beauty hidden within. The famous sculptor, Michaelangelo, is quoted as once saying, “I saw the angel in the marble, and I carved until I set him free.” God spoke creation into being. His Word is His chisel, and His desire is to set us free. His words literally cut through the darkness and bring light into the world. That’s how He creates. That’s how we are created – when His Word cuts through our darkness and chisels away at our hardened hearts. Hebrews 4:12 tells us His word is powerful and sharper than a two-edged sword, cutting between the soul and spirit, exposing our innermost thoughts. John 1:1-5 tells us the Word existed in the beginning and gave life to everything that was created. Our creation story is our testimony. What is your story? How did you become a new creation? (For a powerful demonstration of this, watch “God’s Chisel” by the Skit Guys: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3QCkBL2DfVg).

If our creation story is our testimony of salvation, then our formation story is the process of our sanctification. It is the process of being shaped into the image of Jesus. Formation is discipleship. A poem by Tquan Moore describes being a disicple of Jesus as being “covered in the dust kicked up by His stride.” It is following so close behind Him that you hear His every breath and cling to His every word. It is walking in His footsteps, and going wherever He leads. It is following His example – living as He lived and loving as He loved. So how are you being formed right now in your walk with Jesus? What are you learning? What questions are you asking? In what areas are you growing? What is challenging you? Do you have a mentor in the faith? Are you being a mentor? Who is pouring into you, and how are you pouring yourself out to others? Discipleship is about more than being a disciple, it’s also about making disciples. Formation is a journey, a process of moving from one place to another. It is a journey from who you are to who you want to be. This type of transformation requires sacrifice. Romans 12:1-2 says to present our bodies as a living sacrifice. It says we are transformed by changing the way we think. We are transformed from the inside out. After his transformation, Jacob walked with a limp, but that limp kept him humble and served as a visual representation of God’s victory over his sinfulness. Paul was given a thorn in his flesh to keep him from becoming prideful. Thorns are sharp, they pierce our flesh and expose the blood within, revealing our physical weakness. But Jesus wore our thorns, and His blood brings healing and cleansing. The pain we endure on this earth is temporary, but the purpose it serves is eternal. Keep the faith. Keep pressing forward despite the doubts, discouragement, and difficulties. Spiritual formation is not about perfection, it is about progress. It’s not about what we’re doing but about who we’re becoming.

When you start to doubt, just remember… He is the Artist and the Potter. We are the canvas and the clay. He is not finished with us yet.

Reflection on a Decade

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As I reflect back on this past decade, I have so much hope for the road ahead, because I can clearly see how God has been working all things together for good. When I think back and remember who I was on January 1st 2010 – I see so much personal growth. On a day-to-day basis it’s easy to look at my life and be discontent. This isn’t the way I pictured it. I should be doing more. I should have accomplished more. There are so many goals I set for myself and never completed. But on January 1st 2010 I was a shy, high school senior, attending youth group each week, and trying to decide where I should go to college.  I was scared. I was full of hope. I was in a season of learning to navigate grief and loss. I had little knowledge about the world around me outside of my church, my town, and my family – let alone any knowledge or confidence of who I was and what my purpose in life was. Would I stay home and go to the college 20 minutes from my house? Or would I go to the school 1.5 hours away? It was the first major life decision I ever made. I remember going to the Gardner-Webb campus in February 2010 for a scholarship interview. I did not get the scholarship, but the experience confirmed that Gardner-Webb was where I needed to spend the next four years of my life. I didn’t take in the full picture of the cost. I didn’t anticipate that financial aid would slowly dwindle away each year, and I didn’t take into consideration the loans I would still be paying off 10 years later – I just knew there was a nudging in my heart for me to step outside of my comfort zone, to leave home for least 5 days a week and experience something new. And although I sometimes resent that 17-year-old girl for her choice when I am making those student loan payments each month, I am so proud of her decision to walk bravely scared into an unknown future, because that decision made me who I am today, and I am eternally grateful.

If it wasn’t for the grief and the loss, I might not have made that same decision. I wouldn’t have understood the brevity of life. I wouldn’t have appreciated the little moments that make big impacts. That year opened my eyes to so much. I learned about the power of brokenness and transparency among a community of believers. I learned about the power of worship. I learned about the beauty and history of scripture and the church. Until then, I had only ever accepted everything that was told to me as truth without reading and understanding the context for myself. It was the first time I started to see that there were people who believed differently than me, went to different types of churches than me – but still desperately loved and served Jesus. It was the first time I started to read through the Gospels and get to know Jesus for myself. It was on that college campus that Jesus became so much more real to me. His Kingdom was so much bigger. His love was so much deeper.  His presence was so much more real. His purpose was so much more passionate. His friendship was so much more personal.

It was in October of that year that I found myself on my knees alone in my dorm room floor with an open Bible and an open journal in front of me when I made the decision to start a blog. My expectations were not aligning with my reality, and I felt spiritually weak, but I met with God in the place of my pain. I put pen to paper to write what He was speaking to my heart, and then decided to share those words with the world. That first post was titled “Weakness in the Spirit: Where do I find my strength?” and I remember it vividly. Although I sometimes cringe when I go back and read some of those early writings, I am grateful for that lonely college freshman who decided to once again step out in faith and do something she had never done before. A few months later I posted a blog with lyrics to a song we had been singing on campus. The song was “Set a Fire” by United Pursuit and it was not well known at the time. My post showed up in the Google results when people searched for the lyrics. I started having comments come in from all over the country of people who had found my site after looking up the words of the song. People I had never met were telling me my writing encouraged them and gave them the kick-start they needed. They thanked me for my faithfulness and encouraged me to keep writing. I received comments telling me my blog provided the confirmation they needed. I received comments asking deep questions about whether or not I believed God could heal the sick, and if so, why did He heal some and not others. I never set out to reach the world, but somehow, I was making an impact on the lives of people I had never met, and I was doing it from within my dorm room. I found passion and purpose in writing. Over the years, that blog would receive over 45,000 views. Not much to some – but more than I could have ever imagined when I first started writing and hit the “post” button on that Tuesday night in my dorm room.

It was in my University 111 class during that freshman year that I took the Myers-Briggs test for the first time and discovered my personality type was an INFJ. The “I” stood for introvert. It was the first time my personality had a name. It was the first time I realized why I was the way I was. It was the first time I realized I was not alone in the world – I was rare, but I was not alone.

When I started college, I thought I would make lifelong friendships and maybe find my future husband while I was there, but that did not happen. I met some amazing people who significantly impacted my life, but college didn’t miraculously change my quiet, guarded, and reserved personality. I didn’t magically start opening up and allowing people to get to know me. In fact, it wasn’t until after I graduated college and moved back home that I first started to establish my closest friendships. I remember the early days of our friendship so clearly, because it was all so new to me. It was exactly what I had always hoped and prayed for – and they came into my life without me ever going out looking for them. They showed up uninvited during a time when God knew I needed them the most. They welcomed me in without me ever asking to be included. They climbed over walls I built to keep them out. They kept asking questions when I tried to shut down. They continually challenged me and never accepted my silence as an answer. They forced themselves into my introverted life, and my life has been changed for the better ever since.

Ten years ago, I would get anxious at even the thought of getting on a plane or a boat. My dad offered to take my sister and I on a big trip the year she graduated high school and I graduated college – but I couldn’t accept the offer. I was too afraid. It made me sick to my stomach to even think about being in the open sky or open water. I looked at the shortest flights and cruises I could find, but I couldn’t manage to choose where I would want to go. The fear was overwhelming and I couldn’t conquer it. I remember those tears so clearly. I was so disappointed in myself.

But since that day, I’ve stood at the top of the Gateway Arch. I’ve been on a riverboat cruise in the Mississippi River. I’ve been on two cruises to the Bahamas. I’ve flown to Washington DC on a spontaneous whim just to conquer my fear of flying. I stood at the Lincoln Memorial and witnessed a march for peace and civility. I visited the Holocaust Memorial, the Museum of Natural History, the National Art Gallery, the Bible Museum, and countless other historical landmarks and memorials. I flew to New Orleans, walked Bourbon Street, participated in a Second Line, and ate gumbo and beignets. I flew to Chicago, walked along the Riverwalk, ate deep dish pizza, and stepped out on the ledge at Willis Tower. It was as if one day my desire to see the world suddenly became bigger than my fear of how I would get there.

So, when I say this decade has been life-changing and life-giving, I mean it with all the sincerity in my heart. I am not who I was ten years ago. I am not without fear, but I am learning to let my faith be bigger than my fear. I am not without insecurity, but I am learning to stand securely on the promises of God. I am not without discouragement and disappointment from time to time, but I am learning to find peace, contentment, and joy in who I am and where I am at this point in my life.

In the past ten years I’ve graduated high school, college, and graduate school. I’ve established a career in human services, and I love the work I’m able to do and be a part of in the community. I’ve counseled, mentored, and coached people who just needed some extra support and encouragement. I’ve been counseled, mentored, and coached myself. I’ve become a homeowner. I’ve led Bible Studies. I’ve wrote blogs. I’ve completed training to become a licensed foster parent. I’ve watched people I love get married, have babies, and buy houses. I’ve seen God answer prayers, break generational strongholds, and show up in ways I never even thought to ask Him to. I’ve seen Him exceed my expectations time and time again. And I know this is only the beginning. He’s just getting started. There is still so much more beauty and adventure left to come.

In the past few years, I’ve learned a lot about poverty, injustice, racial inequity, systematic oppression, abuse, neglect, and trauma. These are heavy topics. And compassion fatigue is real. It’s easy to burnout when the problems of this world are so overwhelming and you feel so powerless to change them. It’s easy to scroll through social media and pretend the social justice issues don’t exist simply because they aren’t impacting you directly. It’s easy to binge watch mindless tv shows to escape the harsh reality of the world for a brief period of time. But I can’t let those habits continue into this new decade. God has done a great work within me these past 10 years, and as I move into this new decade, I’m asking Him to do a great work through me. I want to be less passive and more active. I want to be less self-centered, and more kingdom-focused. I wanted to be less distracted and more attentive. I want to be less hidden and more present. I want people to see Jesus when they look at me, hear Jesus when they speak to me, and feel Jesus when they are near me. I want to be His hands and His feet. I don’t just want to be changed by Him; I want to be used for Him. I don’t have a perfect vision for what 2020 will bring, but that’s okay, because I’m walking by faith and not by sight.

Enough is Not Enough

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The word “enough” has been a common theme throughout my spiritual journey. Barlowgirl’s song “Enough” was my lifesong throughout those dreaded middle school years. The first time I ever shared my testimony in church was right after a group of girls in our youth group sang it during a youth-led service. The song boldly declares, “All of You is more than enough for all of me. For every thirst and every need, You satisfy me with Your love. And all I have in You is more than enough.” As a young teenager struggling through the pain of loneliness, this song provided me with an anchor of hope. God was enough to satisfy every longing in my heart. But fast forward 11 years later, and I distinctly remember one night in particular when I found myself sitting all alone in my bedroom floor as a grown adult – crying out to God with that same brokenhearted loneliness I had felt so many years ago. And I was still praying the same prayer, “God, You’re enough. You’re enough for me.” And I desperately wanted to live like I believed it. But even though I knew the words were true, I still couldn’t deny the deep aching void that I still felt all these years later. This time the song I had playing in the background as I cried out to God was not Barlowgirl, but a worship song from Elevation. The words of the song declared, “I know the night won’t last. Your Word will come to pass. My heart will sing Your praise again. Jesus, You’re still enough.” And though I had cried out in worship to God countless times before through this song, on this particular night the words didn’t sit right with me. It wasn’t any fault with the song; it was simply the status of my heart in that moment.

In that moment, I started to question what it really means when I tell God that He’s “enough” for me. I started to question if that’s really what God wanted to hear from me in my worship. Did it bring His heart joy to hear that He was “enough” for me? How would I feel if someone told me I was good enough, pretty enough, or smart enough? How would I feel if on my wedding day the man I was marrying looked into my eyes and said, “My heart is heavy with so many other desires, but you’re enough for me.” It doesn’t seem like the best way to declare your love to someone. If we’re honest with ourselves, we don’t want to be “enough” for the person we love – we want to be their only desire. We want to be the object of their affection and the center of their attention.

When we declare to God that He is enough, it gives the impression that His love barely scratches the surface of what we really want and desire. This realization pierced my heart. It hurt to think that my well-intentioned words were not coming from a true place of worship. I began to realize that these continuous declarations to God that He was enough usually tended to lead me more to a place of self-centered pity rather than Christ-centered worship. By focusing my thoughts on God being “enough” the object of my worship was more on my unmet desires and unfulfilled expectations, rather than on the all-sufficient goodness of God.

When God created us from the dirt of this earth and breathed His life into our bodies, He did not step back from His work, wipe the dust off His hands and say, “That’s good… enough.” No, Instead He said, “That’s good…. That’s very good.” So why isn’t our worship more reflective of the same love and awe our Savior demonstrates towards us? How can our response to His love, which is full of grace and mercy and compasion, be anything less than “You’re good. You’re very good.”

“Enough” is not enough when it comes to our worship. The word is simply unnecessary. Even “more than enough” does not do justice to the worship our God is worthy to receive. Our worship could start and end with “God, You Are” and it would be more representative of the worship He deserves. Afterall, He is the I Am.

We need to change our perspective and shift our focus. If all I ever think about is emptiness, all I will ever feel is emptiness. The more I think about my unmet desires, the more my unmet desires consume me. But when I think about the fullness of God, I am filled. When I think about all that God is, I have all that I need. My worship should always point upward, and never inward. There is a time for inward reflection and lamenting before God, but it is not to be confused with worship.

God, You Are.

You are the Great I Am.

You are Good.

You are Faithful.

You are Truth.

You are Life.

You are Light.

You are Love.

You are Peace,

You are Friend.

You are Counselor.

You are Father.

You are With Us.

This is my worship. This is why I love You. This is why You are worthy to be praised. It’s not because of anything You’ve done, but it’s about everything You are.

Beautiful in Time

“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.”

– Galatians 6:9

Have you ever grown weary in doing good? You’ve planted in faith. You’ve watered the soil of that faith in tear-soaked prayers – and you’ve waited. And waited. And prayed. And fasted. And prayed some more. And waited. And waited. And still nothing. Years pass, and yet you’re still waiting with empy hands and a poured-out heart. It seems like that hope, that dream, that vision, may never come to fruition. It seems like time is running out. It seems like life is passing you by, and you’re just running in place. It feels like you’re fighting a losing battle. It feels like you’ve been looked over, forgotten, and left alone in the wilderness. It’s spiritually draining, and emotionally exausting. But the Apostle Paul says, “Let us not get tired of doing what is good.”

This word “good” or “kalos” in the original Greek language means “beautiful… eminent… useful… excellent in its nature and characteristics, and therefore well adapted to its ends… beautiful by reason of purity of heart and life, and hence praiseworthy… affecting the mind agreeably, comforting and confirming” (Thayer’s Definition). The good thing is the necessary thing. The good thing, that may not feel so good in the present moment, is affecting your future in ways you can’t see or understand yet. The good thing is going to make the difference. Your situation may not be changed, but your mind is being changed. You’re being prepared and positioned. So don’t grow weary, because the good thing is needed; the good thing is beautiful, and your beautiful harvest is coming… in time.

The word “time” that Paul uses in this verse is the Greek word “kairos” which means “a time when conditions are right for the accomplishment of a crucial action: the opportune and decisive moment” (Mirriam-Webster Definition). Some translations say “in due time” which means “pertaining to one’s self” or “belonging to one’s self” (Thayer’s Definition). We are all created by God. We all have unique callings, and positions, and purposes within the Kingdom of God. Someone else’s due time may have been five years ago, but your due time may be five months from now. It’s your time. It’s your story. It belongs to you. And your time is coming. Maybe God is still writing it. Maybe there are missing pieces yet to be filled, character arcs yet to be developed, or settings yet to be discovered. Whatever the case may be, you can rest assured that you are not forgotten. You’re just in process. A true artist will not release an incomplete piece of art. A true author will not publish an unfinished book. Our God is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Asking him to release the answer to our prayers before the time has come, is asking Him to do what is not in His nature to do.

As I was reflecting on these thoughts this past week, I thought of the gardners and the farmers who plant their crops and wait patiently for the harvest. I thought about what might happen if the plant started to sprout before the right time. The fragile plant, not prepared for the bitter coldness of a lingering winter would likely wither and die shortly after breaking through the soil. And the hardwork of the farmer would be in vain, because the harvest that could have been would never fully come to be. So in order to avoid this heartache, the farmer may wait later in the season to plant the seed, and may dig deeper in the ground to place the seed. And the seed, unaware of the farmer’s true intention and purpose, may grow weary of the seemingly endless darkness. But, in due time, the harvest will come. And the season when the seed sprouts will be the season necessary, not only for it’s survival, but also for it’s growth and bounty.

Sometimes what we interpret as God saying “no” is actually God saying “not yet” – We have to trust God is a good Father who always has our best interests at heart and withholds no good thing from us. I recently heard it said that at the root of all our sin is the suspicion that God is not good. We grow weary and frustrated and feel like our prayers aren’t being heard, so we turn way and look to other sources for fulfillment. But God, in all His love and mercy and goodness, is just saying “The time is not right, the time has not yet come.”

Time is good. In the beginning, the first thing God created was the light. He seperated the light from the darkness. He called the light day, and the darkness He called night. The first thing He created was the way we track and measure time. And He said it was good.

I once heard Beth Moore teach a message on this subject, and she made the point that time does not pass like a timer counting down to a defining moment, but more like a stopwatch leading up to that defining moment. She made the point that we are not losing time, because scripture never talks about time going away, but rather always references the time to come (Luke 2:6, Galatians 4:4, John 7:8).

In this message, she also made the point that Satan is fully aware of this time yet to come, and the closer it gets, the angrier he becomes. So that battle you’re fighting, that uphill mountain your climbing, that resistance you feel – it’s because the enemy knows your victory is within reach.

One of my favorite verses in reference to time is Proverbs 31:25. There are several different translations, and I love them all equally. The King James Version says, “Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.” The New American Standard Bible says, “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future.” The New Living Translation says, “She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.

She rejoices. She smiles. She laughs.

Without fear of the future.

In time to come.

When you study the original language, this smile or this laughter, is described as being in jest or play. The Brown-Driver-Briggs Definition says it is “usually in contempt or derision” and is “to laugh mockingly.” My roomate and I used to play pranks on each other all the time. So when I think about this definition, I think about that joy you feel when you’ve laid the trap and you’re just waiting for the other person to fall for it. I think about that joy, that laughter at their expense, when all your planning and preparation has paid off. I think about when you’re playing a card game with friends, and you look down at the cards in your hand and you see that one card that’s exactly what you needed – you know the next hand you’re about to lay down is going to ensure your eminent victory, so that smile creeps across your face. I think about football players when they dance in the endzone, rubbing that victory in the face of their opponent. Maybe they haven’t won the game yet, but they’re one step closer than they were before. So they smile. They laugh. They rejoice.

This is the same word used in 2 Samuel 6:2 when David danced before the Lord. In the New Living Translation, David says, “…so I celebrate before the Lord.” It’s an act of worship. David did not care how foolish he appeared to the onlookers. The woman in Proverbs 31 did not care what the future held, because she fully trusted God.

What I find fascinating is this word – which has been translated as to smile, to laugh, to rejoice, to celebrate – it is used more frequently in the book of Job, the book of suffering, than in any of the book in the Bible. When we are found righteous by God, when we are trusted by God to endure the testing of our faith, then we can rejoice despite our circumstances. We can smile through our discouragement. We can laugh in the face of adversity. We can celebrate our eminment victory. Because we trust in the goodness of God, we can trust in the goodness of the time yet to come.

“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine. Oh what a foretaste of glory divine. Heir of salvation, purchase of God. Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood… Perfect submission, all is at rest. I in my Savior am happy and blessed. Watching and waiting, looking above. Filled with His goodness, lost in His love… This is my story, this is my song. Praising my Savior, all the day long.”

– Fanny Crosby

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Wrestling with God

“During the night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two servant wives, and his eleven sons and crossed the Jabbok River with them. After taking them to the other side, he sent over all his possessions. This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for the dawn is breaking! But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ ‘What is your name?’ the man asked. He replied, ‘Jacob.’ ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob’ the man told him. ‘From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.’”

Genesis 32:22-28 NLT

Jacob wrestled with God.

And won.

This passage of scripture has always been one of the most difficult for me to wrap my mind around. It’s confusing. It doesn’t make sense. I have so many unanswered questions. Mainly: How do you wrestle with God… and win?! How did Jacob have the authority to demand a blessing of God? I’ve never been able to fully comprehend it.

But guess what?

Lately, I’ve found myself relating to Jacob. Living my story has felt a lot like reading Jacob’s story – I can’t wrap my mind around it, it’s confusing, and it doesn’t make sense. But nevertheless, there are seasons in our lives when our past seems to chase us into an unknown future. And in this period of transition, in the darkness of the night, before the dawn breaks – there is an overwelming sense of fear and loneliness. And in the holiness of this moment, so shrouded in mystery, my Spirit wrestles with God.

And guess what?

It’s okay.

In fact, it’s more than okay. I’ve come to learn that God delights in our wrestling, because wrestling with God means being real with Him. It means we stop pretending everything is okay, and start being honest about our worries and fears, our doubts and discouragment. He already knows. He is truth, afterall. We can’t conceal our heart from the One who created it. He has just been patiently waiting for us lay down our facade and welcome Him into our internal struggle. It’s not that we’re wrestling against God, it’s that we’re wrestling with Him. And we are never so close to Him as we are in these moments of wrestling.

I’ve come to realize that the only reason I’m uncomfortable with the concept of wrestling with God is because it means I have to lay down my pride. It means I have to lay down this false image of holiness and reverence I’ve constructed in my mind about myself and my relationship with God, and I have to get down in the dirt from which I was created and wrestle with Him. Wrestling with God means I have to get to the root of my fears and motivations. It means I have to be honest about my hopes, dreams, and deepest desires. Wrestling with God means I have to open myself up and risk getting hurt. Jacob won the match, but he didn’t leave without scars. So the question I have to ask myself is this: Is the risk worth the reward? And is that a risk I’m willing to take?

I think it is. And I think it’s one you should take too.

Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? Maybe there is a longing in your heart – a desire that has not yet been fulfilled, a prayer that has not yet been answered. Maybe your life has not turned out the way you hoped, dreamed, or imagined. Maybe you’re confused about your calling and purpose. Maybe you’re experiencing doubts you never thought your faith would come up against. Or maybe you’re still struggling with a particular sin you thought would be far behind you by now. Whatever this wrestling in your heart looks like, whatever it feels like, you can rest assured that you are not alone. Maybe, like Jacob, you’ve found yourself alone in the wilderness. Maybe, like Jacob, you’re running from your past. Maybe, like Jacob, you’re scared about the future. And maybe, like Jacob, you’ll leave this battle with permanent scars. But maybe, like Jacob, you’ll also leave this battle with an eternal blessing.

When you look at the definition for “wrestled” in Genesis 32:24, it means “to grapple” or “get dusty.” It’s important for us to recognize that this was not a boxing match as many of the images of this scene often depict. This was indeed a wrestling match. They were on the ground, rolling around in the dirt, stirring up dust.

Dust.

Genesis 2:7 says, “Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.”

Mankind was formed from the dust of the ground.

We are formed in our wrestling with God.

If we really want to grasp the magnitude of this statement, we have to look back at Jacob’s past.

Jacob’s name literally means “heel holder” or “supplanter” because from the time of his birth, Jacob was always trying to take what was not rightfully his. He was known for his deceptive tendencies. He was born holding on to the heel of his twin brother, trying to usurp the power and authority that came with being the firstborn in that time. Later, Jacob would take advantage of his brother in a weakened condition and essentially rob him of his birthright. Then, in his father’s last days, Jacob would take advantage of his father’s waning eyesight and deceive him in order to gain the blessing that was originally intended for his brother. When Jacob was old enough to marry, he got a taste of his own medicine. After working seven years to marry the woman he loved, he was deceived by her father, and tricked into marrying her older sister.

Lies and Deception – that was the joint and marrow of Jacob’s story. Every blessing in his life was achieved through deceptive means. But here, in Genesis 32:22-32, when Jacob is on the run for his life and finds himself in a battle for his life – He demands a blessing. He demands a blessing that is real and genuine. He demands a blessing that is freely and consciously given to him. He proves he is willing to fight for it. He proves he is willing to suffer for it and sacrifice for it. He leaves the wrestling match with limp that he will walk with for the rest of his life, but he also leaves with a new name that will carry into future generations to this very day. In Genesis 32:28 the man says, “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.” The name Israel means “God prevails” because this battle was one Jacob had to fight in order to prove to himself and future generations that deception is not the way to true victory – and even when we win the battle, it’s only because of God’s prevailing power and graciousness.

What I find most fascinating about this name change is something I read in Isaiah 43:1, which says, “But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you. O Israel, the one who formed you says, ‘Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.'” In this verse, what stands out to me is that Jacob was created, but Israel was formed. This is a small detail that we often skim over, but it carries with it a much deeper message.

Typically, when I have read this verse in the past, I have always imagined that “Jacob” was referencing the individual person and “Israel” was referencing the nation of people. Jacob was the created person, Israel was the formed nation. However, it’s important for us to remember that the nation of Israel was named after the person of Israel. The 12 Tribes of Israel were the 12 sons of Jacob. Jacob and Israel were the same person, but with one significant difference. The blessings of Jacob were obtained through deception, but the blessings of Israel were obtained through wrestling. Israel was Jacob’s new name, his new identiy. Israel was formed in the dust stirred up by wrestling with God and with man.

Just as Adam was created by both the dust of this earth and by the breath of God, we are made of both flesh and spirit. Where the flesh meets the spirit, there is bound to be wrestling. It’s a natural part of our spiritual formation.

So wrestle.

Don’t hold anything back.

Ask the hard questions.

Be persistent in those prayers.

Don’t relent. Don’t let go.

Press through the crowd until you feel His garment in your hand.

Cry out. Scream it out loud if you need to.

Pour it out like a broken box of precious and pricely oil at His feet.

He already knows your heart. He withholds no good thing from you.

He’s not intimidated by your requests. He’s not overburdened or annoyed by your questions. He is strong enough to bear the weight of every doubt and fear. His ear is inlined to your every cry, and He collects every tear because He cares for you. He is waiting expectendly for you to draw close to Him. If you pound your fist into His chest in your anger and frustration, you will feel He is strong enough to bear it. And soon after, you will feel His outstretched arms embrace your surrender. When the battle is finished, when the dawn has broken, you’ll receive the blessing He’s been waiting to give you.

We have the victory. We have the victory because He prevails. And just as a potter may have to break apart the clay to mold it, sometimes we’ll experience the displacement of a hip to remind us of that this blessing isn’t one we lied and deceived to receive, but one that was given to us with grace and compassion from the God who prevails over sin and breathes life into dust.

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When the Fog Lifts

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“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.”

I Corinthians 13:12 NLT

     Have you ever drove through a dense fog? It’s terrifying, especially if you’re in an unfamiliar area. Last year, my family went on our annual fall mountain trip and one day we decided to take a slight detour and drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway for a while to enjoy the views, but that journey did not go as planned. As we drove, we entered into a thick fog and couldn’t even see the road in front of us, let alone the views around us. We had to significantly reduce our speed, and follow as close as possible to the car in front of us – just to feel safe and be able to see where we were going.

Doesn’t life feel like that sometimes?

Like a dense fog has come and settled on the plan you had envisioned for your life?

I know it has for me.

It’s scary to feel so lost, so out of control, so blinded by obscurity and insecurity. You can’t see what’s in front of you, you don’t know what you’re walking into, so you just have to follow close to the One in front you. You just have to slow down, and be still, and trust that you’re being led in the right direction. You just have to wait for the fog to lift.

On our trip this year, we encountered the fog again, but this time it was different. This time we weren’t driving through it, we were at the house – which sits on top of a mountain. This time we were able to step out on the porch and look out over the fog-covered country hillside. We were able to see the fog from a different perspective, and it was beautiful. The view from the mountain gave clarity to a cloudy situation.

We all took out our cameras to capture the image – so peaceful and and serene.

It’s amazing how a simple change in perspective can completely alter the way you see and experience things. The source of our fear in the valley, the challenge we were forced to overcome, became a thing of beauty to be captured and treasured from up above.

That’s the thing about fog – it looks like mystery, but it feels like peace.

And believe it or not, the two can exist simultaneously – I see it and feel it in the person of the Holy Spirit.

He is my mysterious sense of peace.

He grows my trust by clouding my vision.

He gains by trust by leading me through obscurity and into purpose.

He whispers, just be still.

And in the stillness of the moment, I sense the stillness of His presence.

So constant, so secure.

In the Old Testament, God led the Israelites through through the wilderness by a pillar of fire in the night and a cloud in day. He made His presence visible. He made His presence known.

What is the difference between a cloud and a fog? The only difference is that fog is a cloud which has made contact with the ground, it has touched the surface of the earth.

The Holy Spirit comes to us as a fog, because He has touched this earth. His feet have walked the same ground we have walked.

When life gets foggy, we should count it as a blessing, because that means the Holy Spirit has settled in around us.

In Numbers 9:15-23 when the Israelites had set up the tabernacle in the wilderness, a cloud came and settled over it. When the cloud covered the tabernacle, the Isreaelites remained encamped, but when the cloud lifted they set out and continued their journey. Scripture says sometimes the cloud would stay only a day or two, sometimes a month, or even a year. But no matter how long it lasted, the Israelites remained obedient and didn’t set out until it lifted.

God was in control then, and He is in control now. He knows if the place we are headed to is not ready for our arrival yet. He knows if the road before us isn’t safe to travel yet. He knows we may not be prepared yet for what we will encounter along the way. So He sends a cloud, He sends a fog. He clouds our vision temporarily to keep us still, and to keep us safe. At the right time, He will lift the fog and we can press forward.

But we have to trust Him.

I’m a writer. When I start writing, I like to have the end in mind before I ever get started. Once my starting point and ending point are established, I can build out and develop everything in between. I used to do the same thing when I was younger and would go pick out a book to read at the library, I would read the first paragraph and the last paragraph in order to decide if I wanted to read that particular book or not.

But that’s not how life works. I can’t see the end, I can’t predict how the story will unfold. I am not the author of my life, and the pen is not mine to bear. It’s inevitable that you will always end up disappointed when you try to imagine the end of a story that you didn’t write. There’s always something you would have done differently, something you wished did or didn’t happen.

But what would happen if we always left the foggy situations out? What if everything was always clear and there was never any mystery? What kind of story would that tell?

Throughout Scripture, the greatest stories are those shrouded in mystery.

When Noah was instructed to build an ark because of an impending flood, rain had not yet fallen from from sky (Genesis 2:6).

When the Isrealites were hungry in the wilderness, God provided bread from heaven, and the Isrealites called it “manna” which means “What is it?” (Exodus 16:14-15)

When Sarah heard she would be with child in her old age, she laughed at the thought (Genesis 18:11-12).

When the Angel of the Lord appeared to Mary and told her she would be with child, her response was “How can this be?” (Luke 1:34)

When Paul encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus, He was blinded for three days afterwards. And the men traveling with him simply stood there speechless as the event took place because they could hear Jesus speaking, but couldn’t see Him (Acts 9:7-9).

Imagine the fog these great leaders of our faith must have felt as they lived these stories out. Imagine the fear, the confusion, the cloudiness, and the disbelief. But imagine Noah, when that first drop of rain fell and He saw that what God had said was true, and He knew that His family would be safe because He had been obedient to God’s instruction. Imagine the peace that put His mind at ease when the ark came to rest and He saw the very first rainbow spread out across the sky as a sign of God’s promise. Imagine the Israelites, after praying and seeking God for provision, walking out and seeing the answer to their prayers on the ground before them – not at all what they expected, but exactly what they needed. Imagine the all-consuming joy of Sarah when she first held her son in her arms – the answer to a prayer she had already given up hope on ever receiving. Imagine Mary – giving birth, having never known a man. Imagine her watching Jesus grow up – holding his hand as he learned to walk, picking him when he fell down, soothing his pain we he was sick or hurting, wiping his tears when he was sad or upset… all the while knowing He would be the One to save mankind from their sins. Imagine Paul, the one who had dedicated his life to persecuting Christians and having them killed, standing up to preach for the first time and declaring the name of Jesus as the only way to be saved and made righteous. Imagine the first time he sat down to write a letter, never having been able to anticipate or imagine the lasting power and impact his words would have.

Imagine the perspective these saints of God have now – now that they’ve been raised from the fog of this earth. I imagine each time they hear someone call on the name of Jesus, or come to new life in Jesus – that they count every doubt, every fear, every earthly worry, and every earthly tear as worth it. Because Jesus is worthy.

The fogginess we’re enduring now is serving a purpose we can’t see.

This story God is writing is full of intricate details that we can’t see or understand, but one day we will. One day the fog will lift – One day it will all make perfect sense and we will see it all with perfect clarity.

An Insecure Identity

 

 

 

a_broken_mirror_by_yarjor-d3bylvz

What is insecurity?

The dictionary definition is “uncertainty or anxiety about oneself; lack of confidence” or “the state of being open to danger or threat; lack of protection.”

To me, insecurity is not being able to look myself in the mirror or make eye contact with strangers.

To me, insecurity is replaying conversations over and over again in my mind, wishing I had said or done something differently.

To me, insecurity is never being the first one to start a conversation or raise my hand to answer question.

It is always second-guessing. Always assuming the worst. Always waiting to make sure I’m not wrong, I’m not alone. Always making sure someone else agrees before I speak out. It is weakness disguised as meekness. It is shame disguised as humility. It is a web of lies that I’ve curled up in and called a safety net.

Insecurity is paralyzing. It is crippling. It is physically painful, and mentally draining. It is a parasite on the inside, eating me alive.

I’ve lived 26 years on this earth, and I’m just now beginning to recognize the damage insecurity has caused in my life. Insecurity is like a storm that I slept through, and now I’m waking up and looking through the window of my heart to see all the destruction left in it’s wake.

For years, I’ve masked it as a personality type. This label has instilled in me the lie that insecurity is ingrained into who I am. I’ve called it a “humble spirit” – but there’s nothing humble about a spirit that is so concerned about what other people see, and hear, and think about me that I’ve let their opinions shape and mold me. And I’ve taken that image, the image of who I thought they wanted me to be, and I’ve placed it on the throne of my heart. And I’ve bowed down. I’ve bowed down in worship to an image constructed by the chisel in my own mind. I’ve bowed down under the weight of a burden that is too heavy to bear, and wasn’t meant for me to bear. 

The only One strong enough to bear the weight of perfection, already did.

There has been a war being waged in my mind, and I’ve let it take me prisoner. I’ve surrendered in defeat to a war that’s already been won for me. I’ve locked myself up in chains, when I’ve already been set free. I can hear Him calling me out of hiding, but I’m ignoring His voice. I’m too afraid of being seen. I’m too afraid of disappointing, too afraid of being rejected. I’m too concerned with that self-image, forgetting that I was made in His image. So I keep it hidden. Out of sight, out of mind – that’s the lie that’s made me blind.

Only darkness. That’s all I see now. The lies have made me blind, so I’ve tried to navigate by depending solely on what I’m feeling, but what I’m feeling can be deceiving. And my soul can still hear You calling. Even in my wandering, even in my stumbling. When I feel myself falling, and my knees hit the ground, You reach out Your hand to me. And when I reach up and grasp Your hand, I feel the hole. And I feel whole.

Your word, sharp as a sword, the light of truth – It pierces through the darkness. When you speak, I know who I really am. You speak life, and purpose, and promise. You call me by a new name. You call me Your child. You call me beloved. You call me worthy, and beautiful, and chosen. You call me by Your name. You give me a new identity. And now I can rest in security.

“I waited patiently for the Lord; He inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.”

– Psalm 40:1-2 ESV