“Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”
Psalm 139:23-24 (NLT)
One of my go-to questions when I meet with someone as a communication/life coach is:
“How do you receive and process negative feedback and constructive criticism?”
Sometimes, people know the answer. Sometimes I have to provide a few multiple choice options:
(1) Do you usually deny it? Assume it’s not true?
(2) Do you get depressed? Maybe shut down or give up?
(3) Do you get fired up? Determined to prove the criticizer wrong or to overcome whatever weakness the feedback and criticism points to?
(4) or do you get depressed, shut down and THEN get fired up and determined?
The most difficult to deal with are the two extremes of denying and shutting down.
I don’t know about you, but my knee jerk reaction is to deny. Way back in college, my favorite interpersonal communication professor, Dr. Grasty, assured me I wasn’t alone by confirming that:
“When we are criticized, our tendency is to be defensive.”
And then he gave us this sage advice:
“Don’t be a deluded wimp. Have the courage to look for any truth in the criticism. Strip away any acrimonious language, any selfish motivation or defensiveness of the criticizer and diligently search for even a nugget of truth in the accusation.”
This is one of those occasions where the words “the truth hurts” ring loud and true.
I’ve learned that in order to grow – personally, professionally, mentally, physically and most importantly, spiritually, I have to face the truth of where I am right now.
Praying for God to search my heart.
Asking Him to give me the courage to look at what He reveals.
Begging Him to comfort me when He shows me the ugly that’s hiding in there, layered in rationalizations and rainbows.
And praying for Him to equip me with the motivation and stamina needed to purge from my life the things that separate me from Him.
“[…this is the Word of the Lord…] ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty”
What exactly does that mean? Determination? Confidence? A recognition of personal identity and worth? Where does inner strength come from? Do “broken” people have it and just can’t find it because it’s buried under layers of pain or fear or hopelessness?
My problem with “inner strength” is that it waxes and wanes, usually parallel to my circumstances. And there’s no rhyme or reason to it. Crisis is just as likely to discourage me as it is to fuel me to action. Criticism is just as likely to fill me with doubt as it is to spark a fire of determination. Rejection is just as likely to send me running as it is to compel me to plant my feet. Inner strength seems to be dependent on how I feel and think about myself at any give time.
Inner strength is shifting sand. I can’t plant my feet in shifting sand.
Thankfully, my daughter already knows all this. We were both gracious, both engaged and fully listening to the well-meaning giver of unsolicited advice, but as the young woman spoke, I prayed. “Lord, should I tell her? Have you prepared her mind and heart to hear?” She paused, raising her eyebrows, looking for a response, seemingly expecting affirmation and agreement.
My daughter and I looked at each other. We both knew what could be shared in that moment.
I said, “As Christians, we believe there’s even more to it than that. The Bible tells us that because we have a relationship with Jesus, we have a helper, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, so we are never alone. God is always with us. Everywhere we go.”
There was a brief pause. She hadn’t expected that response.
She broke the awkward silence by turning back to my daughter again. “That’s good…but sometimes, you’ll feel like God isn’t there…”
She continued a few more minutes, paused again, and looked at me. I had been praying about what to say, if anything.
I said, “It’s true, there are times when it doesn’t seem like God is there. It’s like when you learned to ride a bike. Whoever was teaching you was running behind the bike, holding the seat, and then he let go. You didn’t feel his hand on the bike anymore, but you knew he was still there. When you fell, he was there to pick you up and comfort you and encourage you to try again. He didn’t keep you from falling, but he never left.”
I could tell she had heard me. I didn’t push. I hadn’t stopped her as she explained to my daughter that she needed inner strength for those times when she didn’t “feel” God.
My daughter knows her faith isn’t grounded in her emotions. My daughter and I both know how to practice the presence of God and that sometimes, He is silent. We both understand that the source of our inner strength is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and that whether we “feel” God or not, we can have confidence that He is with us. I knew I had planted a seed and that the young woman would think about the conversation later.
God would not be revealed to her as the ultimate source of inner strength through our effort or will. We just planted a seed. Now, it’s up to the Holy Spirit to soften her heart, open her mind and “draw her to Himself.” (John 6:44)
If you’ve entered into a relationship with Christ, the Holy Spirit dwells within you. When you lack confidence in yourself, I pray you are blessed with confidence in Christ. I pray you find your identity in Christ and understand your value through a deep understanding of His unconditional love for you. I pray that regardless of how you may feel on a given day, you will remember, “God is with you, wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
“[…this is the Word of the Lord…] ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty”
Have you ever been in a situation where the harder you try, the farther away from your goal you seem to get? No matter how focused and determined you are, no matter what you do or say, the distance between what you’re striving for and what’s actually happening just continues to grow.
What begins as a desire to set things “right” can birth a desperation that leaves a knot in the pit of your stomach and a frantic anxiety that drives us to push and try to manipulate circumstances.
One of the most difficult lessons I’ve experienced in this area has been a situation where I was trying to explain something God was teaching and revealing to me and the more I talked (or wrote), the more people misunderstood and rejected what I was trying to say. The more angry they became, the more they dismissed me and distanced themselves and in many cases, the more people cut off our relationship completely, choosing instead to talk about me behind my back and on the internet.
You just want to fix that kind of thing, ya know?
But no matter how hard I tried to explain what I was discovering and feeling, the more I realized I was talking (and typing) to air. I knew I was supposed to share what God was teaching me and I did. Reluctantly and after months of arguing with God, with love and heartache for people I cared about, despite growing awareness of the bridges that were being burned.
But over the last two years, I’ve come to realize that my obedience in sharing my lesson wasn’t to change hearts or minds or even just circumstances. It was to be a witness to Christ’s influence in my life. And it was to plant seeds. God would bring the rain for growth.
and the drought to create thirst.
and the fire to test.
The growing season has not been short or free from pain, for me or for others. But in hindsight, I can see how God has been moving. Slow and steady, softening hearts and opening minds. Teaching lessons that, while different from mine, have and continue to produce the best harvest – hearts drawn closer to Christ. And while it’s heartbreaking to see the pain that’s had to be borne through this season, The Holy Spirit has reminded me that when hearts are closer to Christ, it’s impossible that they remain unchanged. Through the change – the transformation – of the heart, other changes automatically come to fruition. Those circumstances that I desperately tried to change on my own, God has changed and continues to change.
My job was to seek and listen to the Voice of Truth. My job was to be a witness to what God was doing in my heart and mind. My job was to plant seeds, regardless of the consequences. My job was to pray, in faith, trusting that God would work all things for His greater, ultimate good, which is to draw people into intimate, living, dependent relationship with Him.
Not by my might.
Not by my power.
But by His Spirit.
So, whatever your impossible circumstances, pray. Persistently. and wait. His timing is perfect, even when He delays.
“He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:24
“Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” Corrie ten Boom
I’ve been posting memory verses on facebook for a few weeks now, a new verse starting every Sunday. Every day, I post an new image from pinterest and sometimes write a short commentary on the verse. We’ll find out how consistent I am, both on facebook and now here on my blog. Here’s the first post for this week:
I don’t know about you, but when there’s a problem, I want to fix it.
Whether the problem is mine or someone else’s, the most frustrating thing in the world is when I am powerless to change circumstances for the better. But what is better? Who am I to decide that? Who are you?
We can be so arrogant in our pain sometimes, thinking a loving God wouldn’t – couldn’t possibly – want or use this circumstance to accomplish His omniscient understanding of “better.”
The first image for this week’s #memoryverse reminds me of a story. I’ll paraphrase, so if you’ve heard it before, bear with me. A young man asks God what He wants him to do with his life. God tells him that every day, he is to go and push a giant rock at the bottom of a valley nearby. For twenty years, the man pushes the rock. All. day. long. After twenty years (I would have lasted a day), the man finally cries out in frustration “God, I’ve done EXACTLY what You’ve told me to do for TWENTY years and that rock hasn’t even moved a fraction of an inch!” God looks at the man with compassion and replies, “I didn’t ask you to MOVE the rock. I only asked you to push it. Look at your arms. Your legs. Look at your body. Look at how strong you’ve become.”
oh. I didn’t consider that.
The promise of Isaiah 66:9 tells us “‘In the same way I will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born,’ says the Lord.”
Are you suffering and all your efforts feel as futile as pushing against a giant rock all day long? The rock may not be moving, but REMEMBER.
It’s possible, that in His sovereign will, God may have placed that rock in your life. He may have just allowed Satan to throw a rock at you. Regardless of the source of the rock, there is peace that comes from the confidence that God is redeeming every pain for ULTIMATE “better.”
Sometimes, He uses rocks to make us stronger.
While I don’t claim to know what God’s “better” is with regard to the circumstances of your life, I can say with confidence that, above everything else that’s going on in your life, His “better” is that you will be drawn closer to Him and that through an intimate, living, dependent relationship with Jesus, you will be transformed. I pray this confidence and peace for you today.
“Courage, dear heart.” Aslan
(Ellen and Genie were best friends when they were kids, but grew apart over the years. Until this reconnection in their early twenties, as written by Genie.)
“For the next hour I stormed the conversation with highly exaggerated accounts of my great successes…
She [Ellen] listened quietly and at one point when my voice was way up and bragging she broke in: “That’s all very interesting. I know you’ve done some fine work, but you’re probably the unhappiest looking person I’ve ever seen, Genie. What’s really the matter?
If you have ever heard your own defense shatter, remember that sickening silence that follows the crash right now and share it with me as I sat there with an unlighted cigarette in my hand afraid to look down at the wreckage around my feet.
She was not unkind. In fact, her expression and her voice were so kind I quickly lighted the cigarette and faked a cough while I batted away the tears that were there brimming.
After that I told her things which I had not dared admit to myself. We were very close and yet we were shouting at each other from the opposite shores of the universe…
Ellen talked about what was at the center of her life…
“All right, what is at the center of your life?”
She said, “It isn’t a ‘what.’ There’s a Person there.”
What did I reply?
That’s what I said and laughed but I didn’t feel at all like laughing. I laughed because I didn’t know what else to do and certainly I didn’t know what else to say.”
from The Burden Is Light by Eugenia Price
Jesus, ever since I asked You to break my heart for what breaks Yours, I haven’t been the same. This lesson of compassion is not what I expected. I don’t know what I expected. Heartbreak hurts. And so does the knowledge that so many people vehemently hate or casually dismiss the Healer because of all the religious baggage that’s been heaped on top of You.
Lord, despite the heartbreak, please don’t ever let me become desensitized.
Please continue to bless me with this broken heart. Thank you for teaching me, even if empathy wasn’t the learning curve I wanted. Please continue to help me see people and to minister to them. Please help me to recognize the people who are seeking You and please equip me to extend that ministry beyond their temporal needs. Please bless me with the courage to ask the hard, uncomfortable, heartbreaking questions. Please, please tell me when to speak and what to say, when to be silent and what to pray.
1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a] 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[b] being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Philippians 2:1-11 (ESV)
“Heal my heart and make it clean. Open up my eyes to the things unseen.
Show me how to love like You have loved me. Break my heart for what breaks Yours.
Everything I am for Your Kingdom’s cause, as I walk from earth into eternity.”
“A friend of mine is a singer. From time to time she goes to record vocal tracks at a studio here in town. One evening she went and she was in a different room than she had ever been in before. In a studio, there is always some form of sound absorbing material, so that the recording is clean and clear, but in this case the sound materials were unique. The guys in the studio called them “trees” because instead of being attached to the walls, the whole room was full of these sound absorbing columns. My friend would stand on her mark, and they would move the columns around her, surrounding her with the trees. Well at one point, the lights went out and if she hadn’t already been on her mark, she would not have known where she was, and would have been bumping into the “trees,” and unable to find her mark. Because her feet were planted before it got dark, she felt secure and confident, she just had to wait until the lights came back on. Do you see where I’m going with this? There will be struggles in this life. You will have suffering, and loss, and confusion. But the question is not “where are the trees,” but “where are your feet?” If you understand that Christ has made a way for you to be in the presence of God both now (through the Holy Spirit), and in the end (in the New Heavens and New Earth); if you cultivate a relationship with his Holy Spirit–becoming ever-more aware of his daily, constant presence with you; if you worship in light of these truths–knowing that God is here in Christ’s name, and if all of this seeps down into your heart, then when the lights go out you’ll be on your mark, you’ll be secure and confident, and you just have to wait until the lights come back on–in this life, or in glory.”
by Curtis Froisland
[to read my version of this story, CLICK HERE]
19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV)
Father, thank you for turning the lights out. again. Thank you for stripping away all the tangible, visible things that had become a stumbling block in my pursuit of an intimate relationship with You. Only You know the extent to which the extraction of those things rocked my faith and shattered my confidence. Even though these last 5 months have been the darkest of my life and I may never fully understand them, I’m grateful for the lessons I have learned. Thank you for striking me full in the face with the reminder that if I sincerely want the intimacy with You that I say I do, I have to be willing to be vulnerable. Transparent. I need to wholly surrender to Your sovereign plan. Thank you for helping me to find peace in the process and result of letting go of my own dreams and plans. Please help me find sustaining and true joy in trusting You and following You NO MATTER WHAT. Please, please help me find that fine line between dying to self and being a good steward of the gifts You bless me with. Please help me to relentlessly pursue my passions without allowing them to become idols. Please help me to overcome my fear and determination to NEVER put my love for them above my love for You ever again and to boldly “go and make disciples” in every single area of my life. Help me to step forward even though I know one of those steps could result in disobedience and discipline. again. Please help me to remember that pruning is necessary in order that I “bear much fruit. Thank you for helping me to understand Your silence doesn’t mean You’ve left me alone in in the dark.”
“You move in the unseen. You set the captives free. As I stand and sing, you’re breaking the chains off me. Breathe in me Your life, I can feel You are close now. I can never hide You are here and You know me. All I need is You
And I love You…Breathe in me Your life ’til Your love overtakes me. Open up my eyes, let me see You more clearly.”
by Bones (Live) by Hillsong
“…what I testify to is the power of visual art, and especially music…They have the potential to awaken the mind and heart to aspects of God’s glory that were not perceived before. Paintings or photographs of mountains and streams can call forth a sense of wonder and peace. If we are willing to “look along” (not just “at”) these pictures, as Lewis taught us, our eyes will run up the beams to the Original Glory, and the wonder and peace will rest finally in the wonderful and peaceful mountains and streams of God’s power and mercy.
…We must make it our aim that the joy awakened by music be joy in God…Then the effort to delight in God through music will involve a prior shaping of the mind by the Word…Then the effort to delight in God through music will also involve a thoughtful testing after the music has already awakened joy. Is this joy…stirring my desires to know Christ better and love him more and show him to others at the cost of my own comfort? So before and after music has its immediate effect, we pursue the goal that music make us more glad in the glory of God.”
When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy
by John Piper
Lord, thank you for using praise music and my worship through that music to awaken my mind and heart to aspects of Your Glory I had never perceived before. Thank You for the joy it brought and the delight I found in You because of WHO YOU ARE. Thank You for the overwhelming and undeniable awareness of Your presence in those moments. Thank You for helping me to completely forget myself and for moving me into deeper praise, no longer centered in gratitude for Your temporal blessings, but grounded and focused on eternal things: Your Sovereignty, Your Holiness, Your stubborn love for me and my desperate and relentless need for You.
Even though the lesson was one of the hardest I’ve ever faced, thank you for teaching me that finding worship through music wasn’t enough, that it only took me part way. It limited true praise to those brief moments. Thank you for showing me that my dependance on music was quenching Your Spirit. It prevented me from finding joy and delight in WHO YOU ARE in the ordinary, everyday moments of my life. Thank You for the understanding that I can’t find that joy and delight on my own, through my own striving, depending on anything in this world to facilitate it.
Holy Spirit, please bless me with joy and delight, so I won’t be tempted to settle for less by depending on anything or anybody but Christ.
“The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang:
“He is good; his love endures forever.”
Then the temple of the Lord was filled with the cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God”
2 Chronicles 5:13-14 (NIV)
“Come thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet. Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the Mount I’m fixed upon it, mount of Thy redeeming love
Here I raise my Ebenezer. Hither by Thy help I come.
Oh, and I hope by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home”
sung by Kings Kaleidoscope
[CLICK HERE to see a listing of all the blog posts in this series “the search for Joy.”]
“…how did the early Christians pray for joy? First, we may assume that they prayed the prayers of the only Bible that they had, namely, the Old Testament. Thus they would have prayed:
“Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Ps. 90:14).
“Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice” (Ps. 51:8).
“Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (Ps. 51:12).
“Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us” (Ps. 90:15).
“Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” (Ps. 85:6).
Don’t miss how radical these prayers are. They assume that we are unable to make ourselves satisfied in God. And they assume that God has the right to do it, is able to do it, and does it in answer to prayer.”
When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy
by John Piper
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need
Hebrews 4:15-16 (NIV)
“Breathe in me Your life. ‘Til Your love overtakes me
Open up my eyes. Let me see You more clearly
Falling on my knees, ’til I love like You love
Like You love me”
[CLICK HERE to see a listing of all the blog posts in this series “the search for Joy.”]
“Your choice must be a deliberate determination—it is not something into which you will automatically drift. And everything else in your life will be held in temporary suspension until you make a decision. The proposal is between you and God—do not “confer with flesh and blood” about it (Galatians 1:16). With every new proposal, the people around us seem to become more and more isolated, and that is where the tension develops. God allows the opinion of His other saints to matter to you, and yet you become less and less certain that others really understand the step you are taking. You have no business trying to find out where God is leading—the only thing God will explain to you is Himself.
Openly declare to Him, “I will be faithful.” But remember that as soon as you choose to be faithful to Jesus Christ, “You are witnesses against yourselves . . .” (Joshua 24:22). Don’t consult with other Christians, but simply and freely declare before Him, “I will serve You. ”Will to be faithful—and give other people credit for being faithful too.”
My Utmost for His Highest, Updated Edition by Oswald Chambers
Lord, I will be faithful. I will serve You. Please equip me to be a witness for your grace and glory. Please bless me with wisdom. Please bless me with courage. “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” Romans 8:26
…choose for yourselves today whom you will serve…
Joshua 24:15 (NASB)
“Let not conscience make you linger, Not of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth is to feel your need of Him.
Come, ye weary, heavy laden, lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry til you’re better, You will never come at all.
You will never come at all.”
“God can do anything.”
Luke 1:37 (NIV)
Lord, I pray for revival, filled with doubt that You will stir it. Not because You can’t, but because You won’t. I believe You can do anything. But I also know You don’t force yourself on anyone. And the people I’m praying for are very comfortable right where they are. They see no need to change. They see nothing wrong except for this Jesus Freak who’s rocking the boat.
So I ask you Lord, not for anything specific, because I have no flippin idea what to ask for. You know. You know exactly what is needed and exactly when. Your plan is perfect. Your timing is perfect. I know You don’t need me, but pray that You can and will use me. I’m asking You – I’m begging You – to move. Move in the hearts and minds of individuals. I pray that they will be DISsatisfied with an assumption of Christ. I pray that they will, from their soul, cry out for Jesus. I pray they won’t be able to stomach any substitute.
Almighty God, I’m begging you for a miracle, no matter what it looks like. No matter how much it hurts. Because You are my comfort, my peace, my strength and my hope. I trust You, even when I don’t understand what You are doing.
“He [God] specializes in solutions that have no explanation other than Him.
Don’t get discouraged by the long, unyielding situations in your life. God has solutions for them. He may not have revealed those solutions yet – He let many people in Scripture endure long periods that required faith and patience – but He is never late with His answers. Wait, believe and hope. Nothing is impossible with Him.”
The One Year Experiencing God’s Presence Devotional: 365 Daily Encounters to Bring You Closer to Him
by Chris Tiegreen