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.

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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2017

My word of the year for 2017 was power. When I chose that word, I never could have imagined what God would have in store. In the past 12 months I have seen God answer prayers I never even thought to pray, defeat giants I never thought I would have to encounter, and move mountains I thought I would have to climb to get around. He has brought healing from sickness, life from death, victory from defeat – and so much more! There is so much to praise Him for, and my heart is overwhelmed even thinking about it all.

At the end of 2016, I set a goal for myself of moving out on my own in 2017. I never would have expected that on January 1st I would sign the lease on my first apartment. And I definitely never would have expected that only three months after moving out on my own, the opportunity would present itself for me to buy a house. But in April, I officially became a homeowner.

A week after closing on the house and moving in, I faced one of my biggest fears by getting on a cruise ship for the first time and spending a week on the open water.

And the day I got home from the cruise is the day my sister told me I was going to be an aunt.

In February, a vision became a reality when my roommate and I stepped out in faith and started leading a weekly Discipleship class to equip and empower people to grow deeper in their walk with Christ. Since then, we have led three different series of classes, met lots of new people, seen consistent growth, and watched God move in miraculous ways. In October, we were even invited to lead a small group for a Women’s Empowerment Conference at another local church.

In March, a close friend of mine faced an intense battle with cancer, defeated all the odds against him, and came out victorious. Six months later, he celebrated his daughter’s first birthday – a day doctor’s had previously told him he may never live to see – and even returned to active duty as a Highway Patrolman.

This year my best friend graduated nursing school, passed the NCLEX, became a registered nurse, started her dream job, bought her first car, and has seen prayers years in the making being answered.

In September, I conquered another major fear by getting on a plane for the first time – just to spend the day exploring Washington DC and marking a lot off the bucket list.

In November, I got to see one of my favorite worship bands and some of my favorite spoken word artists live – more items checked off the bucket list.

I also stopped procrastinating and finally applied to grad school.

And this past week, just five days before Christmas, I got to hold my new little niece in my arms and welcome her to the world… What a way to close out a year slam-packed with the power of God!

“How sweet to hold a newborn baby, and feel the pride and joy it gives. But greater still, the calm assurance, this child can face uncertain days, because He lives.”

After all… any and all power we can possibly possess is only made possible through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s all because of Him, and it’s only because of Him.

That’s not even all that happened this year – that’s just some of the highlights. God has revealed Himself in so many different ways, even down to the smallest details. And what I’ve learned through it all is that if you ask for the power of God to be revealed in your life – then you better buckle up and enjoy the ride. I have learned that in order to experience the power of God, you must first endure the battle of faith verses fear. This past year, I have seen my friends and family face some of their greatest fears, and celebrate some of their biggest successes. I have seen the hardest struggles transformed into the greatest stories. There have been relationships to begin, end, and be restored. There have been dreams and opportunities lost, only to be replaced by bigger dreams and better opportunities. There have been long-awaited promises fulfilled, and new promises to be revealed. This has truly been a year of breakthrough, and this is just the beginning.

I had almost forgotten why I chose “power” as my word of the year until I recently stumbled on something I wrote on January 4th. In the note, I had written, “My goal for this year is to grasp God’s power like the woman grasping for the hem of His garment.” I went on to write, “We behold His power with the eyes of our heart, but if we only ever behold Him then we will only ever watch Him pass by. To grasp His power is to take hold of it and make it ours. That requires following Him and pressing our way through the crowd.” This year, our world has been in such a chaotic state, that I’ve felt much like the woman desperately pressing her way through the crowd just to get a touch of God’s power. I’ve witnessed so many miracles and felt so much of His power this year that it’s almost as if, above all the noise, I can hear Him saying, “Who has touched me?”

A few weeks ago I began praying and seeking God’s guidance for what my word will be going into 2018, and the word He laid on my heart was peace. So when I was reflecting on this past year and decided to go back and re-read this passage of Scripture that had been so heavy on my heart this time last year, I was amazed by what I found. What stood out to me this time was not what the woman did, or what happened to her, but what Jesus told her afterwards.

What did He tell her after He healed her? After she received His power?

Go in peace.

 

Faith Begins with Fear

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Have you ever had a dream that scared you? That felt bigger than you? A dream that made you feel inadequate, like it required  more than you had to offer?

Ever felt called in a direction beyond the border of your comfort zone? Called to a place where you felt like your weaknesses would be exposed and your strengths would come up short of being enough?

If so, you’re probably right where God wants you to be.

If you’ve ever stood on the edge of a mountain and looked out over the expanse of earth beneath you and before you, then you know what it feels like to stand on the edge of God’s calling for your life. It is breathtakingly beautiful and simulaneously terrifying.

Imagine Abraham – looking up at the stars of the sky and hearing God tell him that his descendants would be just as  many, but knowing the barrenness of his wife and their continually increasing age (Genesis 15:1-6).

Imagine Moses – a murderer with a speech impediment, standing before a burning bush, hearing God tell him that He is sending him back to the place from which he fled to lead the people of Israel out of slavery and into the promised land (Exodus 3:3-6).

Imagine Mary – a young virgin, engaged to be married, hearing an angel of the Lord tell her she will become pregnant and give birth to the Son of God (Luke 1:26-33).

In each instance, these giant heroes and heroines of our faith had to be commanded not to fear. We revere and honor these names now, but in their own day and age their lives seemed so small and insignificant. Can you imagine?!

We serve a big God with big plans, and He desires to use the lowliest of servants to accomplish the grandest of goals. It’s only natural to be afraid when God calls us to something big. Faith begins with fear. But what I find so amazing, and hard to believe, is that God-sized dreams do not require God-sized faith.

In Matthew 17, the disciples saw Jesus transfigured on a mountaintop. The fullness and brightness of His glory was too much for them to behold. They were terrified, and in their fear they fell down before Him. As they got to the bottom of the mountain, a large crowd was waiting for them, and a man approached Jesus and knelt before Him seeking healing for his son. The son suffered from seizures, and although the father had brought Him to the disciples, they had been unsuccessful in their attempts to heal Him. Jesus became obviously frustrated upon learning of their failed attempts, saying, “You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me” (Matthew‬ ‭17:17‬ ‭NLT‬‬). After Jesus heals the boy, the disciples question Jesus about why they had been unable to usher the same healing. He responded by saying, “You don’t have enough faith… I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible” ‭‭(Matthew‬ ‭17:20‬ ‭NLT‬‬).

A little faith begins with a lot of fear.

But there are two different types of fear – There is fear that paralyzes you, and there is fear that propels you. Fear that paralyzes you holds you captive and keeps you from experiencing what God has to offer. It is a fear of the future, a fear of what people will think, a fear that you won’t be enough. This type of fear will keep you always looking for God’s promises, but never taking active progress towards them. On the other hand, fear that propels you towards God’s calling gives you drive and ambition. This is a reverential fear – It is a fear that believes in the power of God, and trusts that He is able to do what He says He will do.

The disciples feared God on the top of the mountain.  They bowed down before Him in their fear after seeing the brightness and fullness of His Glory displayed. But the father, desperately seeking Jesus, waited patiently and bowed down before Him at the foot of the mountain. His eyes had not beheld what the disciples had beheld, yet He wholeheartedly believed in what Jesus was able to do. That is the definition of faith – believing without seeing. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” This father believed in what he could not see – and his little bit of faith led to the moving of a mountain in his son’s life.

We aren’t all so faith-filled. Some of us are paralyzed with fear. We don’t believe because we don’t see, and we don’t trust because we don’t understand.

After Jesus was crucified and risen from the dead, He appeared to His disciples again. Infamously, Thomas did not believe Jesus was who He said He was until he was able to touch the wounds and feel the holes. Jesus responded to Thomas’ doubt by saying, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me” (John‬ ‭20:29‬ ‭NLT‬‬).

We are blessed when we believe, but Jesus is faithful even when we are faithless. He doesn’t give up on us when our faith measures up to less than the size of a tiny mustard seed. He doesn’t deny our requests for evidence of His Power. He continually reveals Himself to us and makes Himself known to us. We are simply holding on to the wrong kind of fear. We have no need to fear not being capable or powerful enough to complete God’s calling. This kind of fear will flee in the presence and truth of who God is. He is all-powerful, completely capable, and in control of all things. He dwells within us, and lives and moves among us.  We have no need to be paralyzed with fear.

We need to let our fear propel us towards our calling – the place where our fears and our faith collide.

When we focus on our inabilities rather than God’s ability, we are putting our faith in ourselves. And when we put our faith in ourselves, we will always end up disappointed. It is not the size of our faith that matters, it is the size of the God we are putting our faith in. A little bit of faith in the hands of a big God can accomplish unexplainable tasks – That’s what makes it miraculous. Our weaknesses display God’s strength, and our inabilities point to His abilities. Faith beigns with fear – Not fear of what we are unable to accomplish, but fear of what He is able to accomplish. The power of His presence should evoke a fear in us that brings us to our knees in complete surrender to His plan and purpose. Once we place our mustard seed faith in His faithful hands, anything is possible.

Any dream given by God is within your reach – Don’t let the wrong kind of fear hold you captive. There is no dream so great that God is not greater still. Where He leads, He provides. And where He guides, He strides. He won’t abandon you in the place of your overwhelming fear, but will walk along beside you every step of the way. He won’t plant a dream inside your heart that He is not prepared to bring to fruition. He will nurture and stregthen you to become all He wills you to be. He will make a way. Your vision will become a reality – You simply have to trust Him. You simply have to believe that God is who He says He is and that He is able to do what He says He will do.

His promise is true, His presence is with you, and His Power is within you. Trust and believe. Take hold of it. Step out in faith and watch as your fears fall. Christ is within you – You are capable, powerful, and destined for greatness. You are fearfully and wonderfully made – set apart for a high calling and divine purpose.

You. Are. Enough.

So don’t be afraid to dream big.