“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.
“I am the vine;
you are the branches.
Whoever abides in me
and I in him,
he it is that bears much fruit,
for apart from me you can do nothing.“
John 15:5 (ESV)
“With God, all things are possible.”
When I read, hear or say this, I usually emphasize the “all things are possible” part.
Today, I can’t get past the “WITH GOD” part.
The hard truth – one that I don’t like to admit – is that I have a tendency to be more self-centered than Veruca Salt. The hard truth is that I want what I want when I want it. and often, “I WANT IT NOW!”
If God isn’t in it.
If God doesn’t want it.
If God doesn’t want it for me.
If God knows that it will lead me away from Him.
If God knows that my current desire ALREADY pulls me away from him.
If God knows that my current desire might be counter to His plan to draw people to a saving knowledge of Him and to accept His gift of grace.
If God knows that my current desire might be counter to His desire for a living, intimate, dependent relationship with me and/or someone else…
then, God’s not in it.
Even if “it” is possible and I go after it on my own – withOUT God, I will fail. Maybe not fail in the eyes of the world, under the world’s definition of success, but I will fail.
Because all my dreams and goals, if pursued withOUT God, lead me away from Him. And when I fill my life with things that exclude Christ, those things amount to a
I literally laughed out loud when I read this.
How have I never seen it before?
24 At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”
of course, the pragmatic in me compels me to follow up with the next verse…
25 “I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable.
and I know somebody out there is saying, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”
“[…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
I was recently part of a discussion about a church supported service project. A number of different ideas were on the table, none of them mine. The project itself wasn’t my priority. They were all good ideas. All needed. All would “do good.”
My concern, what I had been thinking and praying about for over a week prior to this meeting was that whatever service project we decided upon, it would track back to Jesus Christ.
Over the years, I’ve observed and/or been a part of a number of church supported service projects, at a number of churches – very, very few of which led to an open door to share the gospel.
All were good. All were needed. All did “good things.”
But serving those in need without tracking back to Christ is just philanthropy, not Christian mission.
I feel a metaphor coming on.
Both my daughter and my son are having a full and stress filled week. A VERY full and stress filled week. Sleep is going to come at a premium.
It’s “tech week” for a show PinkGirl is teching. She’s not performing in this show. She’s one of the people wearing all black who works behind the scenes and helps keep things moving smoothly during a show, no matter what the need. That means rehearsals every night this week – for her own show Monday/Tuesday night and rehearsals for the show she’s teching Wednesday/Thursday night. The show opens Friday night and additional showings are Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.
FavoriteSon is in the final week of his spring semester and he works as a tutor, so he literally did math for over 12 hours on both Monday and Tuesday, either learning it or teaching it. He has two finals today and another paper due tomorrow. His week started after an exhausting (but great) weekend. Saturday the weather was rare and perfect on the ocean, so he and his dad got up at 5am to go on a PHENOMENAL fishing day on our boat.
They got home late and stinky. Then, he got up Sunday at 6:45 to run sound for the K-5th grade worship services at his church from 8am to 1:30pm. (He does that every Sunday.) He spent his Sunday afternoon writing a paper and finished off his weekend tutoring a friend till late Sunday night.
It’s only hump day and both PinkGirl and FavoriteSons are already tired. This means one thing. They both need grace from me this week. (And from my husband, but he is admittedly better at patience and giving grace than me. I’d like to think it has something to do with the fact that due to his work schedule, I see the kids more hours in a day, but the fact is, he’s more easygoing than I am.)
Giving grace takes prayer. Some might say it takes patience.
Because I knew cranky was coming. I knew frustrated snark was in my future.
I’m still praying. For patience like manna. My schedule is pretty calm these days, so I ordered my week in anticipation for their growing exhaustion by making myself available to help them. Little things, like picking up some of their chores, typing a handwritten paper, putting healthy snacks down in front of them, prepared and ready to eat, pushing them to go to bed when they are still worked up from their day, and praying for them and with them for strength and stamina, among other things. Praying for myself to be able to give them grace in response to cranky snark.
Some might say I’m a patsy.
If this happened all the time, I’d entertain that thought. But it doesn’t. It’s rare and temporary. Both these kids and my husband are there for me when I need them to pick up my slack or help me out, and I don’t take that for granted.
Is someone in your life dishing up a full helping of cranky snark?
I don’t just assume I can muster up patience and grace on my own.
I already know I can’t.
Pray for patience and for God to bless you with a supernatural ability to extend grace. His grace is sufficient in your weakness and He is glorified when His strength is visible in your life.