“We must diligently and consistently cast the gospel in larger terms than only evangelism. The gospel consumes the Christian life itself, affecting how our corporate lives play out among the communities where God has placed us, providing us with multiplication potential at every turn…
Whenever people come to a service at your church, they should hear in some way that we are all sinners in need of grace, but that grace has been extended to us in Jesus Christ. His righteousness has been imputed to us, and in His cross God’s wrath toward us has been removed if we will hear, submit, and believe.
Every week someone should proclaim the gospel, no matter what the topic is. If we’re talking about holiness, about manhood, about marriage, parenting, money, or any particular biblical command, we need to teach it and talk about it in view of the gospel, always bringing it back to the epic story of God’s redemption.” (emphasis added)
Creature of the Word: The Jesus-Centered Church
by Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson, and Eric Geiger
Honored to have had the privilege of delivering this message to a group of women at a Brunch this past Saturday morning. This video will give you a preview of the book I’m writing. If you’ve got 8 minutes and 27 seconds, check it out.
Intimate communication with Christ through prayer can be the foundation of everything in your life: every thought you think, every idea that opens your mind, every choice you make. But when we relegate prayer to certain times and places in our lives, we limit that communication – and its influence on our thoughts, ideas and choices. We quench the Holy Spirit.
1 Thessalonians 5:17-18 tells us to “pray continually” and that it is “God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” These instructions aren’t directed at monks, they are for everyone who has accepted Christ. It’s possible to pray anywhere, anytime because God is with you, everywhere, all the time. It’s possible for prayer to saturate your moments and your days.
Did I just morph into that Jesus Freak with whom you avoid eye contact and cross the street to escape? Have you already tuned me out, thinking, “meh, she’s not talking to me. I don’t need to change anything. I’m fine.”
The most heinous of four letter words. Saturated in mediocrity. Reeking of average. Riding the edge of dissatisfaction and discouragement. More comfortable than a recliner and a bowl of chips in front of a 60 inch flat screen. There are some people who live their entire lives feeling fine about everything they do. There are people live their entire lives feeling fine about their relationship with God.
Fine is not what I’m going for. I. want. more.
I’ve discovered that I can have as much of God as I want, and I want more. I want Christ in every nook and cranny of my mind and heart and soul, every day of the week because when He’s not? My pursuits are just pointless exercises in ladder climbing and stuff collecting. I want my relationship with Christ to be at the center of my marriage, my relationship with my kids, family and friends, my career, my ministry.
If that makes me a Jesus Freak, go ahead and call me one, under your breath or to my face, I’m okay with the label. I’ve found the ultimate source of passion in life and I can’t keep it to myself. I’m compelled to share it. It fuels me. My relationship with Christ makes the routine meaningful, the lows bearable and the highs incomparable. God’s grace is more amazing than any song could describe, His love is illogically unconditional, His patience is unimaginably endless, His blessings are undeserved and abundant and His peace obliterates worry and fear. This is the “more” I’m talking about and there’s plenty of it to go around.
It all stems from prayer, intimate no-holds barred prayer. Naked prayer. The kind of prayer you pray when you are unashamed and want to tell God everything. The kind of intimate communion Adam and Eve experienced with God in the Garden before they were deceived. I’m writing this book because I want you to want more. To have more. More of God.
Not more from God, more of God.
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.
Ecclesiastes 9:10 (NIV)
another year, over. No do-overs. No take-backs. Only lessons to be learned and new choices to be made.
Lord, am I where you want me? Am I living the life you’ve given the me the way you know would be best?
I want to be a living sacrifice for You. But sometimes – much of the time – I know my choices are driven by my own idea of what that looks like.
What does it look like to You, God?
My fear is that my desires are selfish and much bigger than those you have for me.
Is it possible that the plans you have for me involve me sitting across the table from one person, listening, asking questions and sharing my faith one on one? That this book I’m writing is equipping me for those conversations, but will never actually be read? or even finished?
Is it possible that the plans you have for me mean that the primary reason I’m recording is for the witness that occurs during the recording sessions themselves and that these recordings will live forever on my computer in obscurity?
And those things are good. Very, very good.
But you know I want more. Is that from You?
The last thing I want to do is pursue a dream you haven’t given me. I’m desperate to saturate myself in your will and I want to have tunnel vision when it comes to following Your lead. Please don’t let me pursue anything that actually takes me away from You. Please show me what I could or should be doing to bring You glory.
I think of the story about You asking a man to push against a rock. Day after day, year after year, the man pushed, eventually becoming discouraged, saying, “God, I give up. I’ve pushed and pushed with all my strength and I haven’t moved this rock even one inch. What did I do wrong? Why did I fail?”
The story says that you replied by saying, “I didn’t ask you to move the rock. I only asked you to push against it. You say you’ve failed, but have you? Look how strong you’ve become. You’ve done exactly what I asked.
Now I will move the rock.”
I know you don’t need my help Lord. Please allow me to serve you anyway. Please use me anyway. Please guide me. Please equip me. Help me to be obedient. Please don’t ever let me give up.
Too often, we bide our time with the routine of a life that we hope
will one day take us across the chasm. Our days become stacked upon other days.
And as time moves forward, we think about the great abyss in our quieter moments.
We wonder if we should take the leap soon.
But the busyness of our days pulls us back from the edge and we perpetually postpone it.
Why? Because we are afraid we do not have the strength to make it.
Don’t let that happen. You’re stronger than you think.
Dr. Les Parrott
“If it was easy, everyone would do it” is one of my mantras.
I say it to my kids when they struggle with ANYthing and I see discouragement or frustration start to set in. I say it to my husband, friends, clients and sometimes, even strangers.
I say it to myself.
When I’m supposed to be writing and find myself staring at the screen, fingers atrophied over the keyboard.
When I spend two hours writing, proofread what I’ve written and immediately want to start over.
When I’m trying to curl a 15 pound dumbbell for the 12th time in my second set.
When I’m 2 minutes and 20 seconds into my 2 minute, 30 second forearm plank.
When I’m trying not to fly off the back of the treadmill during my HIIT walking program.
When I drag myself off the couch to pick up that stupid dumbbell or put on my walking shoes.
When I’m 3 seconds short of an 18 second note I’ve been trying to hold out. For the 100th time.
When my voice breaks on that high note I’m trying to hit in full voice. After two years of voice lessons.
When I’m vocalizing for the third time in a day in an attempt to get the “right” technique to become second nature.
Just a few weeks ago, during a break in a recording session, I mentioned something about needing to work on something with my voice teacher. The sound technician said, “YOU have a voice teacher!?” I responded with a big “Heck, YEAH!” He paused for a moment and then said, “It just seems more like you would teach voice lessons, not take them.” I quickly and firmly told him that I will never be too good for voice lessons.
But that exchange emphasized a very common misconception: The things people are good at just come naturally to them.
SO not true.
And the persistence of that mindset devalues the accomplishment, no matter what it is. The persistence of that mindset liberates other people from trying. It turns a potential mentor into someone to be resented and berated. Instead of being viewed as someone who met a goal as a result of hard work, they are instead viewed as “lucky.” Rather than inspiring someone else to take their own steps toward better and stronger, they become a discouragement to others. Because the perception is that whatever the goal, it’s not achievable by anyone but the lucky ones.
The book, Talent Is Overrated claimed, “One factor, and only one factor, predicted how musically accomplished the students were, and that was how much they practiced.”
The fact is that excellence isn’t easy. It doesn’t happen without work. Usually hard work. Developing a skill takes time. and repetition.
Experience is a teacher in and of itself.
What most people don’t realize is that mediocrity is only one short day of slackin away. Just because I do something well, doesn’t mean I’ve finished learning or practicing.
The fact that I was in a writing zone yesterday doesn’t insure against writer’s block tomorrow.
Being satisfied with today’s writing doesn’t mean I won’t be filled with doubt and repulsion about tomorrow’s.
The ability to lift a 15 pound dumbbell today doesn’t mean I won’t have to opt for 10 pounds tomorrow.
Making it through a 2 minute, 30 second plank today doesn’t mean I won’t collapse at 2 minutes the next day.
Finishing the 30 minute HIIT treadmill program today is no guarantee that I won’t wimp out the next time.
The fact that extracted myself from the couch today doesn’t mean won’t stay curled up on it tomorrow.
As I’ve discovered, holding a note for 18 seconds one time, does NOT mean I can now do it any time I want.
The same is true for that high note – once does not mean always.
Even after spending hundreds of hours practicing the “right” way to sing, I still drift into old habits . . .
For me, excellence isn’t a destination I’ll ever arrive at and rest comfortably. Because of my relentless determination to be a good steward of all that God has blessed me with, the striving for excellence is a lifetime journey.
To find out why I’m so obsessed with striving for excellence, check out this post: I. Want. More.
Fair is when hard won preparation and relentless dedication to excellence earns opportunity.
When I was in college, one of my friends, a member of the same singing group I was in, angrily told me it wasn’t fair that I got so many solos “just because I sang better than her.” She said she “couldn’t help it that she couldn’t sing as well as I did.” She said “God had just given me a better voice than her.” She had been shortchanged and she was disappointed. And ticked off. At me. And she let me know it. This particular time she said it out loud while looking glaring me in the eye, but most of the time the message was sent through her sulking body language and mopey facial expression every time I got assigned a solo or actually performed one.
Fast forward 20 years. I joined our church’s praise team and after a few months, all the vocalists were put on a rotation. The theory was that it would be easier for the musicians if they didn’t have to make a weekly commitment. Less burnout. I told the worship leader I didn’t want to be on a rotation. I wanted to sing every week. Why?
- I needed the accountability; preparing for a mid-week evening rehearsal and Sunday morning service forced me to sing EVERY day. If I didn’t work every day, I wouldn’t be as prepared as I wanted to be.
- I needed to build up my stamina, increase my vocal range and improve my breath control. Consistent daily work – on all three – was the only thing that was going to get the job done.
- I was being exposed to, and challenged by, a new style of music that I was instinctively gravitating toward.
- The mental challenge of memorizing a boatload of lyrics was exponentially increasing my memory skills. I was being forced to employ abandoned memory techniques I had learned years ago.
- The weekly exposure of being in front of a large group of people during the praise and worship service was slowly nicking away at the stage fright that had crept in during the 10 plus years I had taken off as a serious vocalist. I was once again becoming comfortable, more at home on stage.
- The worship leader’s easy dismissal of my screw-ups was leading to more self-confidence and as a result, I was taking more risks vocally and stylistically.
- I was experiencing emotion when I sang and I was gradually allowing myself to feel it. Rare for me to experience it. Unthinkable to actually allow it. Inconceivable that I didn’t feel compelled to retreat.
Every week I was gaining experience and growing stronger. I began asking for a DVD of every service and I watched the “game film” every week. That DVD is unedited; the vocals are unmixed. I heard what was going into the microphone, not what was coming out after I got a little help from the sound guys. I heard THE HARD TRUTH. Every week, I meticulously listened to the quality of my voice, my harmonies, and whether my phrasing and breathing matched the worship leader’s. I forced myself to evaluate my appearance and my stage presence. I relentlessly critiqued myself. I was determined to identify my weaknesses and work on eliminating them. I found a vocal coach and started working with her regularly. I was rehearsing 10 to 20 hours per week and I came to rehearsal as prepared as I possibly could. I had to make some hard choices to give up some good things in my life to fit in those 10 to 20 hours.
I was working my butt off.
And then another vocalist caught me off guard with a simple question: “Why are you so special?”
I was dumbfounded. “What?”
They said, “Why do you get to sing every week?”
I heard, “It’s not fair. You get to sing more than me.”
I was stunned. Since it wasn’t a real question, they didn’t really expect an answer. They just wanted me to know I was getting undeserved special treatment and they didn’t like it.
I learned a long time ago that when I’m faced with criticism, I really need to strip away all the emotion and acrimony and bravely look for a grain of truth. Special. Was I getting special treatment?
Yes. I sang every week. I was excluded from the rotation.
I found myself thinking about these two interchanges from my past multiple times today, and it led me to this video. Check it out. Only 1 minute and 2 seconds.
As soon as I watched that commercial on youtube I knew it was true. Both of these people from my past were making excuses. Both of them assumed that my voice was just a God-given gift and that I didn’t have to work for it. I was their scapegoat. Their guilt-free pass to rationalization and self-delusion. It was easier to blame me for hogging all their opportunities than to work hard for what they wanted.
Neither one of them came to rehearsals prepared, having learned their own individual parts ahead of time. Neither one expressed interest in voice lessons. To my knowledge, neither one recorded and listened to themselves. Neither one made adjustments to their commitments or schedules to allow extra time to work on their vocals. Neither one sought out and encouraged honest feedback about their vocals, instead depending on the polite comments of friends as justification that there was no room or need for improvement. Both of them garnered support through whispering campaigns, resulting in high tension and drama. I spent a LOT of time with my college friend and I never, ever heard her rehearse or vocalize outside of our weekly group rehearsal.
Each of those two people, because of their unwillingness to strive for continued improvement, prevented each group from rising above their lowest common denominator: Them.
Is it possible these two people might have put a tremendous amount of work and effort into becoming stronger vocalists only to discover they don’t have enough core talent? Possibly. But neither of them will ever know. They had dreams, but dreams without action are just wishes, not goals.
Wishin don’t make it so.
And fair isn’t when everybody gets a turn. Fair is when hard won preparation and relentless dedication to excellence earns opportunity.
But I learned a long time ago that life isn’t fair. And these two people from my past are by far not alone in their belief that fair is when everybody gets a turn. They are by far, not the only people who feel entitled to opportunities they don’t earn. And those opportunities are continuously provided to people who don’t work for them because it’s easier than having the difficult and honest conversation that will most likely hurt their feelings.
It’s not limited to music, it’s everything. Everywhere. So when an opportunity I continue to work so hard to earn is given to someone less qualified in the pursuit of fairness, I’m left with a choice.
Take my ball and go home because it isn’t fair? That fits me worse than pink clothing.
Be less because someone else can’t or won’t be more? Not gonna happen. I refuse to give God less than my best. I refuse to stifle the gifts He’s blessed me with.
I will be the best steward I can possibly be – of all He’s given me, even if that stewardship leads to resentfulness and jealousy and leaves me with significantly diminished opportunities.
My kids are paying attention to how I handle this. I’m not wavering from what I’ve been teaching them their entire lives: “sometimes, we have to do what’s required.“
Shoulder Devil: “It’s late. You did the HIIT training. Skip the rest.”
Shoulder Angel: “There’s still an hour and a half left in the day. Don’t listen to him. If it wasn’t for me, your body fat percentage would still be 51%”
Shoulder Devil:: “hhhhhh. okay, fine. then just do the plank. Skip the strength training. You’re tired. You can do strength training tomorrow.”
Shoulder Angel:: “He’s right.”
Shoulder Devil:: “I am?”
Shoulder Angel:: You should do strength training tomorrow. You should do tomorrow’s strength training tomorrow. Do today’s strength training today.”
Shoulder Devil:: “no, that’s not what I meant…”
Shoulder Devil:: “Don’t listen to him, he’s a fanatic. He’s talking about 10 Minutes. What’s the big deal about 10 lousy minutes?”
Shoulder Angel:: “EXACTLY my point.”
Shoulder Devil:: “NO! That’s not what I meant…”
Shoulder Angel:: “HEY! remember that FIRM 5 Day Ab workout from the 90s? Do that! Day one is only 6 minutes!”
And that’s how I ended up with this video in the DVD player tonight.
(and you’re welcome. this video clip is so blurry you can’t see that the shorts on the guys in this video are WAY too short. T. M. I. and ewww. and again. ewww. and who says “supine? My whole life I’ve never said the word “supine.”)
I’ve described my mother as a “defiant non-compliant diabetic.” She ate what she wanted, when she wanted, blood sugar be damned. After decades of neglect, her body began to deteriorate and finally shut down completely. I found a receipt in her wallet dated just days before her death. She had driven through Burger King on the way home from dialysis and ordered a BK Stacker (22 grams of fat, 700 mg of sodium.). She was suffering from congestive heart failure, taking 14 different medications and on dialysis 3 days a week, but she wanted a BK Stacker, so she got one. There were more fast food receipts in the pockets of her clothing and on her desk.
Time and time and time again she chose immediate personal gratification and a comfort zone, over long term goals, discomfort and inconvenience – and not just with food.
She bought what she wanted when she wanted it, even if she didn’t have the money.
She wanted a warm, inviting home, but she focused on the house and its contents more than the people who lived in it.
She wanted passionate relationships, but was controlling and plagued with pride.
She wanted to travel and experience new things. But instead, she booked the same vacation for years.
She loved to play the piano. But she didn’t make time for it.
She loved to sing. But she only sang in the house. And rarely.
She wanted to write. But she didn’t.
She wanted so much, but she settled for so little.
Her desire for the things she wanted made it challenging and sometimes impossible for her to recognize, much less appreciate, the blessings she had. Her inability to see that she had power to change her circumstances if she stayed true to her long-term goals kept her firmly rooted in mediocrity and the status quo.
I paid attention. And I learned quite a bit about what I want for my life by watching her choices.
I still pay attention. And I look for consequences – good and bad – so I can learn from other people’s choices. I learn a LOT about what I want as a result of my OWN choices and their consequences.
My mother had a stroke and blamed her doctors and her medication. She had a stroke and I got a personal trainer. Before and after her stroke, she relied on medications to make herself feel better and to lengthen her life. Before her stroke, I was following in her footsteps. After her stroke, I began relying on exercise and lifestyle changes to make myself feel better and to lengthen my life.
I had a choice. I could continue to go with the flow and eventually find myself at risk for a stroke or I could intentionally and consistently walk backwards against the current. If you know me, it shouldn’t surprise you that when I’m floating in a lazy river, I will at some point, become bored and walk backward against the current. It’s a metaphor for my life. I intentionally choose to view every experience God has allowed in my life – good AND bad – as a blessing. Together, these blessings fuel me with determination.
I’m a big believer in benchmarking. When I want to learn how to do something, I find people who do it well and I copy them. But I also learn what not to do by watching the things that people, myself included, do poorly. I pay attention to choices and consequences – good and bad. I call it opportunistic learning and it helps me discover what I want in my life.
I want more than immediate gratification and a well worn spot in my comfort zone.
I want MORE than the comfort of air conditioning, dry, pleasant smelling clothing, a good hair day, less laundry and an extra hour every day. I don’t consider a handicapped sticker on my car to be a well deserved ticket to a great parking space and the inability to walk up a flight of stairs without getting winded scares me more than a hurricane warning. The inability to walk up a flight of stairs at all scares me more than an actual hurricane.
I want a stronger body, even if it needs two showers in one day, generates smelly, wet laundry, “wastes” 30 minutes or more of my day and requires a longer walk from the parking lot. I want to get stronger as I get older, not weaker. I want to be a good steward of this body God has blessed me with. I’ve experienced the limitations of a body that won’t do what I want it to do and I hated it so much I NEVER want to experience it again. I’ll do anything I can to make sure that my body doesn’t deteriorate due to neglect.
I want MORE than a 6 inch high plate of nachos with a phenomenal cheese sauce or the most decadent, melt in your mouth chocolate lava cake in the world. I want MORE than the thousands of milligrams of sodium and double digit grams of fat in the restaurant food that saves me from cooking dinner when I don’t feel like it. I want MORE than a bedtime snack of ice cream or a Grand Slam breakfast from Denny’s. I want MORE than a BK Stacker.
I want unblocked arteries, normal blood pressure and stable blood sugar. I want my 7 day pill case to be filled with vitamins and supplements instead medications. I want to model good nutritional choices for my children, especially my daughter. I want to live a longer, healthier life than my mother did. I’m not swayed by spoonfuls being shoved in my face along with an exasperated voice telling me to “just taste it.” It’s not that I secretly want it and am just denying myself. I really don’t want it. I’ll never be convinced to abandon my long term nutrition goals just because someone belittles me for not eating something they want to eat. I’ll never belittle them while I watch them eat – but I also won’t sanction their choice or cave to middle school level peer pressure by picking up a fork and joining them.
I want MORE than a good marriage. I want MORE than candy and flowers and jewelry on Valentines Day and my birthday. I want MORE than a husband who handles car maintenance, toilet repair, heavy lifting, jar opening and high shelf reaching. I want MORE than a “good” sex life and a husband who does what I want in order to get it. I want MORE than a husband who agrees with me to avoid conflict and who spends time with me because he’s supposed to.
I want a GREAT marriage to a man I can’t go a day without talking to. I want to be the person who respects my husband more than anyone else in the world and I want him to know it beyond a shadow of a doubt. I want to come to the end of my day and be confident I didn’t say a bad word about him to ANYone. I want to be the kind of wife he wants to come home to and I want to be genuinely happy that he’s home when he walks in the door. I want a partner – a LIFE LONG partner – who tells me the truth in a gracious tone of voice, motivated by love. I want us to share EVERYthing without holding back: our thoughts, our ideas, our weaknesses, our fears, our passions and our bodies. I want to share household and parenting duties and I’m thankful that I figured out early in our marriage that different isn’t wrong. I want us to be able speak in idioms and always understand each other. I want us to be able to communicate with facial expressions and eye contact. I want to stay married to my best friend for the rest of my life and I’m thankful that we are both willing to run to a marriage counselor the minute our relationship can be described as “fine.”
I want MORE than compliant children who make good grades, keep their room clean and behave appropriately at all times. I want MORE than happy, safe children. I don’t want my children to do what they’re told because I say so.
I want to hear about everything that interests them, because I know that if I don’t listen with interest, they will stop telling me. I want to be challenged by their mind, fascinated by their discoveries, respectful of their ideas, convinced by their reasoning, inspired by their passion and exasperated by our differences. I want to always strive to respect them as individuals instead viewing them as extensions of myself. I want to be comfortable with their potential to embarrass me for the sake of their (and my) learning curve. I want my children to learn life lessons from remorse and disappointment as well as from pride and achievement. I want to equip them, not protect them. I want them to do the right thing because it’s the right thing, even when nobody is looking.
I want to be debt-free. I want to own my home, not hold a mortgage. I want my car to start every time I turn the key, and if it does, I don’t care how many miles are on it. I want to be a good steward of my financial blessings. I want to save and pay cash for the things I want. I don’t want to pay interest. I want to teach my children the value of a wise financial choice. I want to teach them that delayed gratification ultimately makes them happier and more secure than an impulse or convenient purchase. I want to give God MORE than 10% of what he entrusts to me and I want my kids to want to do the same.
I want MORE than to help lead a “good” praise set on Sunday morning. Lukewarm makes me restless. Holding back makes me unsettled. Trying to please everyone is deeply discouraging. Settling for fine wears me down. I don’t want to give God less than my very best. No one is drawn to mediocrity.
I want to work my butt off to prepare and when Sunday morning comes, I want to block out all the logistics and make myself open and available for God to equip me for service. I want to respond to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, not the body language of someone in the congregation who is missing His presence because they are preoccupied with what someone else thinks. I want to allow myself to be saturated with the Holy Spirit, so much so that Satan doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in Hell of distracting me from my goal of bringing as many people with me as I possibly can while I abandon myself to authentic, consuming praise. I want to go all out and see what God will do with my all.
I want to use everything God has given me – the good and the bad – to serve Him. When I write, I have no idea if the result is a cathartic purge or if someone will identify with something I say and be encouraged or changed by it. It’s just as possible that what I’ve written will alienate or discourage someone. I have no idea if God will use it to reach someone, but I pray He will. I don’t want the words I write to be in a vacuum.
I. want. MORE.
Do I always get it right? Not by a long shot. I do not find all this to be intuitive. These are determined choices I make, over and over and over again. And when I screw up, I start over, even if I have to start over multiple times a day. But I’m not going to stop striving. And I’m willing to wait for whatever God hasn’t entrusted me with yet. I’m willing work for it.
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness,knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 5-8
“Never neglect what you’ve seen God do in your life. Take a careful look at these things from God’s perspective, all the way from your birth to where you stand right now. They’re all significant.”
Experiencing the Spirit
Henry and Melvin Blackaby
(a short excerpt from the book I’m writing – and WILL eventually finish)
Why is it that when faced with a problem, my first inclination is to do something? To take action? Why is it that my knee jerk reaction is to throw myself into problem solving mode? Then, when I’ve expended every effort, when I’ve explored every possible option, only then do I pray? Why is it so counter-intuitive to pray first? Why is it that I, more often than I’d like to admit, see prayer as a last resort in a time of crisis instead of a first line of defense?
This is not something I’m proud of, nor is it something I can rationalize or dismiss. What I want to do when faced with a challenge or crisis, is immediately, intuitively go to God for help, but instead, time and time again, I find myself at the end of my own abilities, begging God for direction and ideas – and supernatural intervention.
Prayer is seriously underrated. We tend to keep it in a nice, neat little box, taking it out only when we need it. In the words of Robin Williams as the Genie in Disney’s Aladdin:
“Phenomenal cosmic power! itty bitty living space.”
I’ve found that when I’m actively committed to consistently spending time with God, the tendency to handle things on my own is automatically diminished. When I’ve already spent time with God on a given day, reaching out to Him as a first response when something happens later in the day is much more intuitive. I’m also less easily discouraged because when I talk to God first, my approach to a problem is much clearer and calmer. I’m not saying that every time I bring a problem to God I come away with a crystal clear approach to successful and immediate problem solving.
But in the great debate of whether prayer changes God’s mind or our hearts, chalk this one up to a changed heart.
(this is a re-post from March 2010. writing about seasons of prayerlessness and forgetting God and started thinking about it.)
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.”
Romans 8:1 (NIV)
I was introduced to the writings of Henri Nouwen through the writings of Philip Yancey and I’m finding in Mr. Nouwen a trait I gravitate to in writers: The willingness to be open about their weaknesses and the courage to publicly share their questions about God. When I read authors who allow me to see their confusion and doubt and take me with them, through their writing, to explore the possibilities, I am the better for it. They make me think about things outside my relatively tiny little world. And I believe that God, through these writers, sometimes teaches me what my life looks like through His eyes. Henri Nouwen is a case in point.
Nouwen, in seeking to answer the question, “What do we really desire?” believes the word “communion” seems to best summarize the desire of the human heart:
“Communion means ‘union with.’ God has given us a heart that will remain restless until it has found full communion. We look for it in friendship, in marriage, in community. We look for it in sexual intimacy, in moments of ecstasy, in the recognition of our gifts. We look for it through success, admiration, and rewards. But wherever we look, it is communion we seek . . .”
The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life
My favorite coffee mug reads, “That which is good to know is difficult to learn.”
Ain’t it the truth?
Why is this so difficult to learn? Why is it so difficult to remember that these temporary distractions stand in the way of experiencing the communion with God that really satisfies and fills me with the peace of God I crave?
Because I forget God.
And I am not alone. Look at the Israelites. Time and time and time again, they forgot God. And I’m no better. I forget God. And when I do, what do I do? I can stand around paralyzed by guilt and whine about the fact that I forgot Him AGAIN, or I can repent, confess and come back. I choose to hurry up and come back. Time’s a wasting! I don’t want to lose one minute of communion with God because I’m too busy beating myself up for something Jesus died for. This is why God sent His son. He KNEW we would forget. He KNEW we needed Grace.
And I gratefully accept His Grace. So I repent and come back into communion with Him. But I know I’ll forget Him again. And. So. But. Repeat.
C.S. Lewis talked about the fall of man in the book “The Problem of Pain“. He acknowledged that while most of us think of the “fall of man” as an event, something that happened in the Garden of Eden, he also sees the fall of man as something that happens daily. It’s a, sometimes moment by moment, falling away from God’s presence. He wrote:
“at this very moment you and I are either committing it, or about to commit it, or are repenting it.”
Ain’t it the truth?
I can also identify with Jack’s daily determination stay in communion with God:
“We try, when we wake, to lay the new day at God’s feet; before we have finished shaving, it becomes our day and God’s share in it is felt as a tribute which we must pay out of our own pocket, a deduction from the time which ought, we feel to be ‘our own.’
Since I don’t shave every day, I’m wondering how much faster I take my day back than Jack did. Do I claim my day for myself before my feet even hit the floor? I’m thinkin some days – YES.
But by the grace of God, when I remember Him, the immediacy of my repentance and return is prompted by a quote from The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence:
“When he had failed in his duty, he only confessed his fault saying to God, “I shall never do otherwise, if You leave me to myself. It is You who must hinder my failing and mend what is amiss.” Then, after this, he gave himself no further uneasiness about it. “ (emphasis added)
I’ve forgotten God. I forgot Him yesterday. I forgot Him earlier today. And I will forget Him again. I will fall away from His presence. Again. Even after having experienced the profound peace and contentment from communion with God, I will instead strive after the temporary distractions Henri Nouwen described. But, when I remember HIM again and I recognize my God-given desire for communion with Him, I will come back and by His Grace, I will “give myself no further uneasiness about it.”
What blocks forgiveness is not God’s reticence,
-’But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him
and was filled with compassion for him’ – but ours.
God’s arms are always extended; we are the ones who turn away.
What’s So Amazing About Grace?
“There is no neutral ground in the universe; every square inch, every split second is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.” C.S. Lewis
Either I’m on track and Satan is ticked and trying to derail me,
I’m off track and God is relentlessly trying to get me to see that He’s answering my prayer for direction.
and so I pray.
because I desperately want to be claimed by God.
I can’t let the negative feedback of man push me to the bench to sit and do nothing, waiting for God to tell me what to do. I can’t let the negative feedback of man discourage me from my ministry, especially after experiencing what I sincerely believe was a powerful interchange of the Holy Spirit with God’s people. I can’t ignore the possibility that Satan is ticked and wants to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Since that big fat liar is no match for the Holy Spirit, he chooses to attack God’s people, planting doubt and sowing discouragement.
I’m going to stay diligent on my path until God slams into me like a linebacker and knocks me off of it.
I’m hardheaded that way.
Not by might, not by power, but by my spirit says the Lord.
This old song is creeping into my memory today.
Every situation is infused with the possibility of greater meaning.
Every interaction is saturated with the potential for life changing pivot points.
Choices we previously made without a second thought take on greater significance.
We realize that everything is bigger than we thought.
“so, have you spoken to them about their behavior?”
That was the question I was asked after publishing my post entitled “you see the big hat too . . . right?“
(For those who don’t have time to read that post, here’s the twitter version: “passive-aggressive narcissist. boundaries, distance & prayer. attempted normal relationship. failed. back to boundaries, distance & prayer.”)
Back to the question – Have I spoken to this person about their behavior?
The person asking me the question is someone I respect. They deserve an answer with a reason. So here goes.
As Christians, we tend to think God wants us to reek of Ephesians 4 and live in “Unity and Maturity in the Body of Christ.” My concern, the reason I’m still writing about my response to passive-aggressive behavior, is that some Christians interpret “unity in Christ” to mean we should get along with everybody God has placed and/or allowed in our lives. Some Christians believe that “unity in Christ” means that anger is a sin and most importantly, that we should strive to resolve differences when we encounter conflict.
Have I spoken to this person about their behavior? It’s a reasonable question – from a reasonable person. And therein lies the problem. The assumption we want to make is that everyone is, at least for a few minutes of every day, reasonable.
What a beautiful theory.
In reality, it’s more like this:
(oh, chill out. It’s just a cartoon. God loves jerks too.)
To answer the question, Yes. I tried confrontation. I was a communication major. I have a conflict resolution model memorized and am ready to use it at a moment’s notice. So, yes. I did speak with them about their behavior – Before I figured out their standard MO (with everyone, not just me) was passive-aggressive behavior. Specific behaviors were openly addressed and were discontinued, at least temporarily, only to be replaced with a different manifestation of the same root issue. See, passive-aggressive behavior is like a flu strain. It subtly morphs, but is never eradicated. Since the behaviors never stop, the need for attention never ends.
I have years of experience with narcissism and its key characteristic – passive-aggressive behavior. I spent months saturated in research on it. Once I recognized it in this person, I knew exactly what to do. Over and over and over again, the books and documentation suggest that boundaries and distance are the only long lasting solution.
really. I’m not just making this stuff up to avoid confrontation. Remember, I tried confrontation. Confrontation produced temporary results:
“Realize that the narcissist may agree to change the dynamics of the relationship for a short time, to get you off his back,” but will usually revert to what he or she considers “normal.” In the end, the only healthy way to live with a narcissist is to become more of “your own person” and to create a space between you and the narcissist from which you both can live . . .
Minimize direct confrontation with the narcissist’s unhealthy behavior. Most narcissists are simply unable to receive criticism, even if it is meant constructively and spoken in a soft and respectful manner . . .
Maintain good personal boundaries between you and the narcissist. In response to your setting a boundary, the narcissist may attempt to rewrite history or even try to convince you that what you thought (or saw) just happened didn’t, and thus, there is no need for setting a boundary in the first place. Do not back down. . . ” (emphasis added)
My recent problem stemmed from the fact that I intentionally made the decision to take down the boundaries I had set and I attempted to bridge the distance I had established. (To find out WHY I would do such a thing, CLICK HERE to read my post Dear PinkGirl: don’t copy me.
(For those who don’t have time to read that post, here’s the twitter version: “a friend witnessed a passive-aggressive attack that didn’t bother me, but upset her. I explored the possibility that my boundaries were not God’s will.”)
Someone I respected – also a Christian and a reasonable person – witnessed a passive-aggressive attack. Because I had mental and emotional boundaries firmly in place, I bounced back like a quarter on a tightly made bed. My friend, however, was surprised and upset by this person’s behavior. It was new to them and seemed out of character. From my perspective, the behavior was fairly typical. But out of respect for my friend, because it upset her, I decided to prayerfully consider whether I was ignoring any promptings from the Holy Spirit to reach out to the narcissist God was allowing in my life.
Armed with daily prayer and all the research on narcissism and passive-aggressive behavior I could devour, I spent the last few weeks attempting to engage in a positive interpersonal relationship with this person I had previously (and successfully) blocked out for 2 years.
It depleted me. It sapped my energy and stole my peace. It interfered with my work. I became so discouraged I even stopped eating and exercising. I slowly lost my patience and my ability to respond appropriately and began to resent this person and react with frustration when I witnessed continued attempts at manipulation, whereas I had previously felt nothing toward them and had been immune to the manipulation for 2 years. I had experienced 2 years of sincere calm indifference when they behaved badly and now? I wanted to smack ‘em every time they acted out. That ain’t good. CLICK HERE to read “step away from the puppy” to read what I wrote about that.”
(For those who don’t have time to read that post, here’s the twitter version: “emotional bullies wear puppy suits. wounded puppy suits. feeding the puppy just makes him hungrier and wipes you out.”)
After relentlessly praying about this situation and this person and relentlessly asking God what he would have me do, I’m grateful and confident that Christ isn’t calling me to extend compassion by making myself available for continuous attack. (again, with another backstory – CLICK HERE to read “I’m going to stop being discouraged and be awesome instead. True Story.“)
(For those who don’t have time to read that post, here’s the twitter version: “I can’t be discouraged anymore. It doesn’t work for me. It’s like breathing through a pillow.”)
My favorite verse in Ephesians 4? Verse 26a: “Be angry but do not sin.”
And I’m very grateful to Dr. Paul Meier for his interpretation of scripture:
David’s response to Saul offers a three-step process for us to follow today:
1. Remember that you aren’t the issue! David knew the problem was with Saul, not with himself.
2. Recognize you can’t cure the other person. David couldn’t straighten Saul out. If you want peace of mind, you must realize you cannot change a crazymaker’s internal workings.
3. We can only change ourselves. Instead of responding to Saul in a like manner, David refused to become Saul’s enemy. David supported the king even as he hid from Saul’s vicious attacks.
Crazymakers by Paul Meier M.D.
I’ve gone back to a place of peace through the re-establishment of boundaries, distance and prayer – I literally pray for this person multiple times per week. If anything will change them, it will be God. Because, unlike me, HE can do ANYthing.
CLICK HERE to see other posts I’ve written about dealing with emotional bullies, narcissists and passive-aggressive people.
Last night I was repeating: “God loves my kids more than I do. God loves my kids more than I do. God loves my kids more than I do.”
FavoriteSon went out. On a Friday night. First time driving in heavy traffic IN THE DARK.
“God loves my kids more than I do. God loves my kids more than I do. God loves my kids more than I do.”
In the end, God brought FavoriteSon home safe.
Actually, his friend drove him home because they finished up after 11pm and his dad and I won’t allow him to drive past the State of Florida driving curfew for 16 year olds (11pm). We have to go pick up his car today, but it’s a very small price to pay to reinforce the lesson that we don’t break the law, even if he “probably wouldn’t have gotten caught.”
treadmill. 5% incline. 3.5mph.
Shoulder Coach: “really? that’s all you got?”
Me: “6% incline. are you happy?”
Shoulder Coach: “for now.”
Me: “you’re gonna give me shin splints.”
Shoulder Coach: “your shins hurt?”
Me: “no. not yet.”
Shoulder Coach: “Then quitcherbellyachin”
That’s what FavoriteSon is calling it.
I’m trying to consume more calories on a daily basis. Sounds crazy. I know.
But the truth is, left on my own, I forget to eat. (CLICK HERE to read why.)
Case in point? I downloaded the “myfitnesspal” app and have been tracking my calorie intake since Wednesday, February 8th. On that day, my net intake was 820 calories.
820 calories?! I know. NOT good. I had no idea.
I say “net” intake because myfitnesspal calculates the calories expended and factors them in. Since my knee is better, I’m back to exercising every day. (My treadmill readouts actually indicate I’m burning more calories than myfitnesspal says I am, but I’m sticking with myfitnesspal or these numbers would be even worse.)
How did I even discover this? I walked 30 miles in 6 days and didn’t lose an OUNCE. Not ONE ounce.
myfitnesspal described it like this:
“Based on your total calories consumed for today, you are eating too few calories. Not only is it difficult to receive adequate nutrition at these calories levels, but you could also be putting your body into starvation mode. Starvation mode lowers your metabolism and makes weight loss more difficult. We suggest increasing your calorie consumption to 1200 calories per day minimum.”
After I injured my knee on December 2nd, I had to cut back on my exercise and I gained a few pounds. By the end of January, my knee was feeling much better so I set a challenging fitness goal for myself. I wanted to walk an average of a mile a day for the month of January. Problem is, since I didn’t set the goal until January 26th, that meant I had to walk 30 miles in 6 days.
When I didn’t lose even an OUNCE, I knew what my problem was. My brother-in-law,
a fitness trainer had already explained it to me. I just hadn’t been motivated to do anything about it.
Until I had to dig out my fat pants. I couldn’t fit comfortably in my clothes anymore and I had to move up a size in order to breathe when I sat down.
I set that freakish 30 mile goal to jumpstart a little weight loss.
THIRTY MILES and NOTHING? That just ticked me off.
So I downloaded myfitnesspal . . . and a new reminder app. I set multiple alarms on my phone and android tablet to remind me to eat. I already had an app, but its capabilities were too limited.
Here’s how my week played out:
Goal Intake: 1200
Actual Intake: 1351
Exercise: -531 [Walked 3.5 (4.5% incline) miles]
Net Calories: 820
Thursday, I did better:
Goal Intake: 1200
Actual Intake: 1397
Exercise: -289 [Walked 2 (4.5% incline) miles]
Net Calories: 1108
And yes, I did notice that the reason I did better is because I exercised less. That’s not going to be my long term solution to this problem. I need to eat more.
Goal Intake: 1200
Actual Intake: 1588
Exercise: -651 [1 Hour Yoga, Walked 3 (4.5% incline) miles]
Net Calories: 937
Goal Intake: 1200
Actual Intake: 1085
Exercise: -437 [Walked 3 incline miles (2 @ 4.5% incline 1 @ 5% incline]
Net Calories: 648
Goal Intake: 1200
Actual Intake: 1152
Exercise: -367 [Walked 2.5 (4.5% incline) miles]
Net Calories: 785
Goal Intake: 1200
Actual Intake: 1439
Exercise: -123 [1 Hour Yoga]
Net Calories: 1316
Goal Intake: 1200
Actual Intake: 1784
Exercise: -286 [Walked 2 (4.5% incline) miles]
Net Calories: 1498
Goal Intake: 1200
Actual Intake: 1425
Exercise: -593 [1 Hour Yoga, Walked 3 (5% incline) miles]
Net Calories: 832
So how’s it working out? I started a week ago today and I’ve lost 3 pounds.
I realize my days have been pretty inconsistent, but I’m much more aware of my nutrition, so that’s progress! And although I HATE counting calories, myfitnesspal makes it pretty easy. FirstHusband joined too, so we’re tracking together. And the phone alarms are really helping. Hopefully, this new routine will develop into a habit and I won’t have to pay so much attention to all this.
I’m DETERMINED to be a good steward of this body God has blessed me with!
10am alarm just went off. I’m supposed to eat a snack now. bleh. I’ll do it, but bleh.
My pastor asked a question yesterday morning:
“Are you standing at the boundary between what you can accomplish on your own naturally and what God can accomplish THROUGH you supernaturally?”
yes. yes, I am.
Logic says, avoid risk.
Fear says, avoid change.
Above the voices of logic and fear, I can still hear God’s small, still voice saying “Trust me.”
I don’t usually have the courage to give up something good, in order to make room in my life for something better. I don’t often have the courage to say no to the immediate good in order to make room for the long term better.
(cryptic, I know. but I’m not ready to talk about the details, so this is all you’re gonna get right now.)
Of course, when I can clearly see the “better” that God has for me, it’s SO much easier to take the big step away from the old and toward the new.
The problem comes when what’s next is nowhere in my line of sight when I should be giving up the “good” thing. I tend to ignore the subtle hints God supplies me with, only to see them in hindsight.
And then there’s trying to discern if the thing that is so logically and clearly “something better” only seems like better, but is really Satan trying to derail me because I’m on actually track with what God’s equipping me to do.
It’s possible there’s a hint the size of an elephant in the room. I’m ignoring it. (Who am I kidding? Elephants might be quiet, but they tend to stink up the place.) It’s possible Satan is waving a shiny thing in my peripheral vision.
In the past, God has had to take away the “good” thing. And, in the process, pry my white knuckled fingers off of whatever it is I’m clinging to.
This is especially difficult when there weren’t any hints, or when I’ve been ignoring them. I don’t like it when I’m blindsided with change.
And then there’s the waiting for “next.”
I really hate it when that happens.
Praying for discernment. And for the Lord to provide an answer to a question in a very specific, supernatural way.
I’m trying not to place my human limitations on God. Because He can do ANYthing. And I would rather play a small part in His story that the main character of my own.
Yesterday, I went back to yoga for the first time since tearing my MCL on December 2nd. My knee has been feeling pretty good, so I intentionally put on yoga shorts that morning. As the time to leave the house got closer, I debated. I was on a writing roll. If I stopped, I would lose momentum. and the coffee was so good. (Joffrey’s Jamaican Me Crazy)
LazyMe: “I don’t wanna go. I’m comfortable.”
AnnoyingMe: “Come on. After class is over, you’ll be glad you did it.”
AnnoyingMe: “What is it you always say? That you’re ‘striving to be a good steward of the body God has blessed you with?’”
LazyMe: ” It’s early. I’ve got all day. I can be a good steward later.”
AnnoyingMe: “Did you shave your legs for nothing?”
LazyMe: (sigh) “alright. I’m goin.”
Last night, I was really feeling the after-effects of this pose (below).
My whole body hurt – from holding it perfectly still for a total of just a few minutes.
Tonight, I’m feeling it even more.
There’s only one thing to do. Go back tomorrow.