MY MINISTRY with teenage girls has invited me into many different struggles and temptations that I have never personally battled. In this journey, I have come face to face with drugs, sex, and alcohol…three Trojan horses that roam freely in our Christian circles today. So when my friend told me that she was struggling, I was shocked to find out that it was cutting. That had never crossed my mind. I thought that was only for people with some form of abuse or demonic oppression in their past. I was not aware that it, too, lurked in our camps. In HER camp. In trying to determine the reasons why a person would find satisfaction in harming themselves, I was taken to a new realm. Maybe if we inflict pain on ourselves we can take ourselves more seriously, just the same as the dieter who purges or works out for three hours to justify the amount of chocolate cake she ate. This kind of self-inflicted punishment is not the answer for our disease. Our disease is sin, for which we do deserve punishment. Someone had to pay the price we could not. That is why Jesus took our beating and paid the wages of our sin (Rom. 6:23). He took our cuts for us, leaving us cut-less. This victory is huge, for anyone facing the struggle of cutting, drinking, or gorging on Little Debbies. Christ promised to heal our wounds, not to erase our scars. If we accept our scars, we liberate them to be a reminder of what a merciful Savior we call ours. The shame might not be lifted all at once, and the evidence of who we were might not be wholly erased. But it’s remembering the place God brought us from that keeps us on our knees. Long after we’re free.
Just that one isolated word, brings so many things to mind. Turkey is usually the first noun associated with it, followed by football, family, and flab. There is the occasional “half-empty” individual who will automatically begin complaining about all the cooking to prepare for the day and all the dieting following the feast. But the majority of people, whether they are tree-huggers, criminals, or Presbyterians, will find at least one thing to be thankful for on this day. The obvious blessings stick out from the rest…clothes on our backs, food in our pantries, a place to call home, and families to call our own. Some of the older and wiser folks among us will sing the praises of democracy, voting rights, guns, and the Pilgrims who first brought our freedom to us.
But what about the things that we don’t have?
Perhaps we would be most grateful for those things that we do not possess if we knew what having them would mean.
Instead of looking back on the infamous “road not taken” with regret, it might do us good to thank the Lord for not letting us go down that path. The catastrophes He has prevented and heartaches He has saved us could perhaps be a list extending into eternity. A relationship He ended that could have led to unhappiness and a divorce, a job offer declined that might have sucked us into covetousness and greed, or a baby who died in the womb that would have been paralyzed in a wheelchair for life.
My sweet friend and relative, Karla, has a little boy who has had one serious health issue upon another since his birth. As she told of his numerous struggles this past month, she started crying tears of joy at the wisdom of God. She said, “I don’t know what to pray for, so I don’t ask for healing anymore. I just ask God to give us what He wants, because His way is always best.” If God had given her little boy good health, would she have failed to see God’s goodness and sufficient grace in a way that I do not? Perhaps this is why God tells us to offer Him sacrifices of thanksgiving (see Psalm 107:22). We may not always FEEL joyful for what is happening around us, but we know that we can trust Him to use it as a stepping stool to bring us to a higher place with Him.
This Thanksgiving, while I am counting my blessings, I am also thankful for the things He denies. I am thankful for His omniscient, all-knowing ‘no’s’. I am grateful for the hurtful words, actions, and decisions of others He allows that guard my heart from becoming too involved. I am thankful for the tears He allows to soothe my soul, and thankful that I can add to His tear collection. I am grateful for the rain that makes way for new life and growth.
And at Thanksgiving, and all year-round, I am mostly thankful that when I don’t understand life, He does not cease to be God.
The six hour drive to Hamilton, Alabama seemed like about two. We talked so much we weren’t even thinking about being hungry. We just talked. And as we chatted, all of the wounds came to the surface. Some wounds I knew about. Others, I didn’t. So I just quietly listened. I listened to her words, but mostly to her heart.
I had spent the day before our trip praying for two specific things: praying for healing from wounds we knew we had. And healing for things we weren’t aware of.
I had no idea how much of a surprise I was in for.
The Ramp is the name of a ministry that projects people to the Lord. They are not necessarily a huge ministry, by the looks of their building or even the size of the ladies who congregated there that weekend. But the Spirit of God was represented there. And it seemed as if He were there to play darts and had no intention of missing the middle.
The first speaker declared this: You are anointed for this. Whatever our “this” was. Healing from the lie that I am not worthy to complete the task before me. The second speaker declared this: “I am God’s choice for distributing God’s Presence.” Rather than resisting processes, His plan will come about much quicker if I yield. Ridding me from myself… from my own control, my own desires, my own plans.
Then the third service brought this admonition: God’s call on your life does not include barrenness. If you are experiencing an area in your life that does not include obvious fruit, you are not experiencing God’s best. And that’s where the healing-we-didn’t-know-about came in.
Two days later, I accidentally found out that one of my best friends was pregnant. This is not very significant, except that we talked about having children together. There was no question that I was excited for her. But it was hard to swallow seeing the death of that dream. I had never specifically verbalized it or prayed for it, but when reality set it, it had the potential to devastate me.
My issue was not physical barrenness. It was spiritual barrenness. I was not producing the fruit of gratefulness that relies on the truth that Christ’s plan is better than my own plan. I was looking to other people or circumstances or success to determine my level of happiness.
“And He went forth unto the spring of the water, and cast salt in there.” (2 Kings 2:21)
Sometimes the salt burns. The teacher who desperately tries to instill principles in her students but leaves the schoolhouse every day with a feeling of exhaustion and hopelessness. The woman who has reached the midlife crisis and can’t find another reason to move on or stay married because what is the point? Or the mother who extends her helping hand and her wise words but her children ignore and despise her investment.
Not many weeks later, I was offered the opportunity to take over a preschool/daycare. I was elated at the possibilities and had faith that God would come through and show the world that He was indeed God and still worked miracles. In 3 weeks. But He did not show up. He was silent. I didn’t hear a word from Him. And so I declined the offer because I knew that I couldn’t attempt such a huge responsibility without Him.
And once again I found myself on the brink of devastation. Where was God when I needed Him? Did I not have enough faith to please Him? Where is the balance between faith and practicality? I thought miracles had nothing to do with the reasonable. I was angry that I had thought this was God’s will but then He “pulled out.” I had shown promise and the parents had been excited and I was now coming up empty handed.
I was not physically barren. I was spiritually barren. I was allowing my status in life to determine my worth when my identity does not lie in my abilities or my career or even my ability to come through for someone in their misfortune. My identity is attached to Christ. And when my eyes turn to other lesser and earthly things to decide my value, I will sink every time.
The very stinging is often what cures the wound. Sometimes, without the sting, one wouldn’t realize the wound was there.
“Thus saith the Lord, ‘I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land.’”
We serve a loving God who never designed barrenness to describe our life. He never ordained death in His original plan. Mankind brought that on ourselves. It is still His perfect will to heal us and to create fruit in us and in the lives of those around us.
The spirit of barrenness need not remain. I realize that this was a specific message to the children of Israel. I am not one to read other peoples’ mail, but I do believe that my God is a God of principle. And if His plan for those children was fruitfulness, His plan for His children today is no less.
A “spirit (of anything)” is a time when you can count several incidents, seemingly unrelated, of a similar affect. A season of life that has gone on far too long and the battle seems to thicken instead of lessen. A series of failures and defeats that seem to occur regardless of the method. A series of relationships that produce nothing but frustration and spiritual exhaustion. The enemy will use it to weaken our faith and resolve and get us to give in. You don’t have to live with that spirit of fear or depression or anger any longer.
The bitter water would not have been healed without the salt.
Elijah cursed the land and caused a famine to come for three and a half years. And then, when the Lord instructed, He called rain to fall. And James 5 says that when he prayed again, the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.
And I almost miss the most obvious part that there must have been seed in the soil for something to grow once the rain came. Seed that remained dormant for years but was not forgotten.
And my hope springs up anew.
And until now, I have wondered about the portion directly after that segment in James. It goes from talking about famine and rain to restoring a brother gone by the wayside. It says that if any of us would wander from the truth, and someone bring him back, he should know that the one who brings a sinner back from his wandering path will save that person’s soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins.
Because He doesn’t want us to lose hope in that seed. The seed that has been planted will eventually take root.
And the disappointments that would try to steal our hope don’t have power anymore because they submit to the One Who conquered death so that I didn’t have to face it and Who took the barrenness so that I could experience life.
And so that I can choose to see the fruitfulness in all the beauty around me instead of focusing on the physical seed I wish I had.
You never know what truth you need to glean that will prepare you for the road or task ahead. He gives greater grace. Sometimes before, sometimes after, and sometimes during.
And you never know when you are planting seed that someone else will water later.
And you almost never know when it’s up to you to receive that seed.
I am anointed for this. I am God’s choice for distributing His presence. Barrenness is no longer in your vocabulary.
Heal the wound but leave the scar
A reminder of how merciful You are
I am broken, torn apart
Take the pieces of this heart
Heal the wound but leave the scar
-Point of Grace
Everyone has their own boundaries. You can’t force yours on them. You can’t predict that they can read your mind or heart and voluntarily understand those boundaries. Just because you would trust another person with your life doesn’t mean you’ll let them paint your kitchen hot pink.
Well beyond walls shades, I’m referring to personal boundaries. I seem to get myself in the same predicament time and time again. With people I love. With people I trust. But with people who do not NEED the same boundaries as me. I use the word need with intention, because I do not mean to sound pious.
Maturity is recognizing where one needs boundaries and establishing them while not criticizing others for their lack in that area.
They have boundaries that YOU don’t need.
You may not call them boundaries. Call them convictions. Call them “drawing the line.” Call them what you want. I am not specifically talking about areas of sin, although in one particular boundary of mine, whether it is the universal three-letter word is debatable. I am also not specifically talking about a boundary such as “I don’t eat past 8 at night.” I am not defining boundaries here in terms of “I’m doing this because I want to be able to say I do.”
I am specifically speaking about boundaries that, if properly drawn, will glorify God while simultaneously keeping your flesh in line.
As a young child, I was easily influenced by romances of any sort. I have heard it said once that an image will stick in your mind long after the words are gone. Before I even knew what wisdom really was, I determined to stay away from TV because of the negative affect it had on me. My family and friends thought I was judging them for watching it. That was debatable… because there were some things I would have been able to throw verses at. (Don’t judge people because they sin differently than you, I always say.) But as a whole I was not. I simply knew myself. And I knew the horrible affects that it had on me.
And so, for the ultimate glory of God, and so as not to give the enemy the opportunity to strip me of my weapons for any length of time (as he has done in the past through obsession over something I have watched), I decided to abstain from those types of movies or shows until I was married. The feeling of discontentment and the worry about the future that accompanied it simply was not worth the momentary entertainment.
As recently as a couple months ago, I took a teenager friend of mine to a movie. She left saying it was the best movie ever. All I remember is sitting on lover’s row in the back of the theatre and shrinking down in my seat while watching a sex scene with my pastor’s daughter. My point here is not that she was desensitized or to claim that she condones premarital sex. What I am trying to communicate is this:
I STILL CAN’T HANDLE IT.
It annoys me that I am this way. I have fought with God about why it affects me as it does. It ruins entire movies for me. I completely shut down. And then I rehearse the scenes and compare myself and wonder if I measure up. I doubt my husband’s love for me sans those romantic things and wonder if we will ever be as happy as those people. And you know what makes me the maddest? (Is that a word?) Is that I relinquish territory to the enemy for him to use against me. And I squander time I could be praising God and uplifting His kingdom because I’m wrapped up in my own little world, obsessing about my fault, being angry at how they ruined a perfectly good movie, and drafting letters to Hollywood about how no one’s first kiss is 15.3 minutes long.
But it’s no one’s fault but my own. I don’t have to watch it.
I get to choose. And I do not condemn others who can watch violence, hear language, see more than enough skin, or who recommend them to me. Perhaps it doesn’t affect them. But I answer for me. And like it or not, it affects me.
I would wager to say, especially in this day and age of an alarming percentage of women becoming hooked on pornography, that I am not alone in this. And so I am asking for you to stand with me. Have courage to draw your boundaries…For YOU and no one else. Just bail out on the movie night with your friends. Again, I am not writing this so that you can judge others. Mr. Other doesn’t have the same challenges or areas of temptation as you. For the life of me, I have tried to figure out why this seeming stronghold is here, but regardless, it is my thorn in the flesh. You have one, too. Sometimes, the Bible says moderation. Or pray. And sometimes it says flee. Take courage and recognize your soft spot and flee.
One of my dear friends fled Facebook. I applaud her although her social media presence is missed. Another friend flees buffets. You just simply can’t eat as much as you paid for. Well, you can, but I wouldn’t recommend it. (Therein lies the problem.) Another friend must have a certain amount of sleep a night and she has it down to the minute. To compromise in this area is to make those around her the next day want to call in sick. COUNT THE COST. Is the consequence worth it to you?
Or, to word it another way: is Jesus worth it to you?
There may be something you can’t avoid. In those cases, get an accountability partner who knows your heart’s desire and will agree with you for the accomplishment of your results. My sweet husband has now gotten to the place that when something comes on the screen that he knows will violate my conscience, he’ll just look at me and say, “You ready for bed?” It endears me to him so much that he cares enough about me to turn off something that doesn’t seemingly bother or affect him.
The older you get, the more you realize that life isn’t fair. And you get over it.
Don’t give over that ground. Our forefathers fought for freedom, and it is a lost meaning on our generation because we haven’t had to fight for anything. But I’m asking you to fight for the freedom God has given you. Freedom to make choices that you know are best for you. Not that are best for everyone else. Not so you can be better than others.
So that you can be a better you. For yourself. For others. For Jesus.
The sun shone through the tree limbs and made patterns on my legs. This will be the last time I come fishing in shorts this year, I thought to myself. The pond was gorgeous. I wished we owned it. It was surrounded by steep forest on two sides. One bank was high and clear. The other bank was a flat plain under what appeared to be a mountain. Horses were roaming under weeping willows to stay cool and there was a flock of turkeys plucking for grasshoppers along one slope. As I looked across the pond, there was a small clearing. I noticed that every time I glanced up there, there was a cow or a horse there. It must have been a good place to graze.
He got out his fishing collection, which was almost as extensive as my earring stash. He baited my line and the worm went sprawling into the center of the pond. I was content to just sit there and muse. I was thoroughly enjoying the day. The weather. The squirrels chattering. The wind. The beautiful all around me.
He, on the other hand, was not content to mosey around the pond. He found the farthest corner and honed in. He would no sooner toss in his line than he would get a bite. He loved every minute of the chase. All I heard for two hours out of the man was, “I got one!!” and “Ohhhh dang it!” Even after he caught the fish, he was back in the same corner trying to get the ones who were hiding.
Sometimes the people who hurt the most are hiding. They are hiding behind facades, hiding behind their masks, hoping that no one will figure them out or take the time to get to know them. But in fact they are DYING to be discovered. Often the most withdrawn are the most insecure and one kind word would make all the difference in the world to them.
I begged him to let the fish have the worm for all its trouble. He assures me it doesn’t hurt the fish, but I doubt it. But the fish was too scared to enjoy his treat. And so my husband threw him back.
You can’t always live other people’s lives for them. You can’t always give them all the advice you have even with the hopes that they will learn from your mistakes. Sometimes people just need to learn the lessons themselves. But what they always need to hear from you is the affirmation that you love them. And then you kick them back on their feet and throw them back out into the world to try again. The taste of freedom is enough to make a man never want to be caught again.
“I think you just keep catching the same fish over and over again.”
A smile played on the corner of his lips. “If it is, he sure is a stupid fish.”
“Or a hungry one.” He had bought two cartons of worms and refused to rebait until only a centimeter of a worm was left concealing the hook. “Why don’t you give him something worth fighting for? There isn’t even a worm left on there.”
He carefully and gingerly reeled in his line and then tossed it back out. “What doesn’t look like a worm to you is a challenge for a fish.”
I thought back to all my years of trying to make friendships. I always picked the challenges. I targeted the pretty girls, the popular girls, the girls with more friends than they had nail polish colors. And I was disappointed. Almost every time.
I reeled back in and re-cast into the same area. The fish knew where the party was, and they were all over in the corner. I’m not really here to catch anything, anyway. Just to spend time with my man.
But you know what? You can fish from the middle of the pond and lead a relatively easy life with no one rocking the boat but you’ll never find fulfillment there. You’ll always be searching for your purpose and battling depression and wondering why you’re here. It’s not until you enter the trenches and get down to the nitty gritty and start finding security in Christ the Provider instead of in your posse that you will be happy and satisfied. He didn’t call us to necessarily lead easy, carefree lives. I think sometimes He is begging me to leave my ho-hum and go to those who lurk in the corners.
But then we get into the messy expectations. I expect that if I give someone a worm, and they take it, they’ll be loyal for life. They’ll love me and favorite my tweets and follow me on Instagram and comment on my status updates. I assume they’ll call me every few weeks and write on my wall and send me birthday cards. With one kind act, I project healthy relationships into the future.
Fish can be greedy. They don’t care about the fisherman as long as they get what they want. And no matter how many times we have provided them with lunch, if someone else comes along with a juicier night crawler, they’re bailing on me. And then I see the game for what it is and I become bitter and jaded and give up fishing altogether. Have you ever felt like you’ve invested so much only to be abandoned? Only to have people be ungrateful? Only to feel taken advantage of?
I reeled in my line and tossed it over the man’s head. “You just crossed my line, Booboo. Give your rod here… I’ll untangle them.” I gladly let him. I had no desire to untangle my relationships. It was much easier to snip the line than to try to figure out where things went wrong. There are other fish in the sea, I always say.
There is a touchy balance between spending your entire life focused on people who don’t care about you and cutting them off completely. Jesus says to pour coals of fire on your enemy’s head, and so, I do that. They say to turn the other cheek, and so I try to do that. They say to give to those who despitefully use you.
And I’ve done that, too. Trying to win favor and at least juice out a drip of gratefulness. But I have come to the place where the fixation is unhealthy for me. And so I get out the scissors. I’m tired of feeling guilty for not reaching out to people who make no efforts to reach out to me. The unreplied texts time after time. The only communication that does take place is to benefit them. The acts of kindness are not even acknowledged.
And then, I see people in the corner hiding who pretend they don’t want to be found but who would think I handed them the moon if they found a card in their mailbox. They may not be the people I targeted, but they are the people that Jesus targeted. The most unlikely. The least of these. And He commanded me to open my eyes to the world around me who needed me. The widows. The children. The poor.
And, oddly enough, the people who do love me.
Sometimes they get overlooked as I’m out trying to love on people who could care less about me.
Why am I always feeling guilty about not reaching out more to people who never reach out to me? It is all too easy to get bitter loving people who didn’t love back. God has finally put my mind at ease and told me it was okay to give the people who love me my best. I’m no longer using gifts to request acceptance from unapproachable and ungrateful people. The ones who love me get my best. This is the definition of non-dysfunctional relationships.
I’ll save my caramel apples for the people who will really appreciate them.
I cast the line into the corner. “You should have married a different chick if you wanted a fisher-wife. Someone who likes camo, at least.”
There was a long pause. “Booboo, you can do anything you put your mind to.”
He’s right. And I want the mind of Christ.
He invested his life in 12 men for most of his life. One betrayed him. But the other 11 were his groupies. They were there until the end. They provided the support to allow Him to reach out to the ugly and the sick and the needy.
Instead of trying to increase our groups, perhaps we need to stop overlooking the people in our lives who are there. No. Matter. What.
“Got ‘m! Shew. He was a fiesty one.” He held up his prize and grinned.
I really do love fish. All the hours that it takes to catch one is worth every effort. It may be messy and stinky and take a lot of patience, but it’s all worth it. And that one fish will make you forget about all the other fish who got away.
I would wager that this word means a variety of things to different people. Until the past six months, I didn’t use that word much. I would say it’s because I never felt that my safety was threatened. In hindsight, though, I feel maybe it’s because I didn’t know what safe really was.
Most think of it in the physical realm: safety from harm. That is definitely a factor. In the Bible belt, we throw around the term “saved”, meaning that we are exempt from eternal judgment because of our acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sin. We use it almost like it’s no big deal. We herald firefighters and lifeguards and doctors because they save lives.
The hand with the power to save ultimately has the power to keep one safe.
We are two years into our marriage and we are finding that we are in situations that do not necessarily seem safe to us. We have made hard decisions, done hard things, and landed in places that were altogether uncomfortable for us. We are trusting our Savior to give us security and confirmation in our times of just plain unsure.
This may sound harsh, but the more we follow the command of Jesus to leave our comfort zone and go out, we sometimes feel more safe with the world than we do with Christians. Their motives seem more pure. They seem more real. They aren’t afraid to admit their weaknesses.
The Lord is taking the blinders off our eyes to see that while there are things that happen every day to jade us to the goodwill of humanity in general, some of the kindest people we know do not reside in three story houses or enter a multi-million dollar facility with a steeple twice a week. This is a downright phenomenon.
When did we start thinking we had it all together and were secure in our goodness and everyone else was below us? And it just goes to show that anybody can be good and even people in remote villages can be considerate and we really aren’t that great just because we think we’re the elect.
And just because a person is saved doesn’t mean he is safe.
The words can actually be antonyms.
When I speak of safe, I feel warmth. I immediately picture people and houses and memories. Safe conjures up in me a feeling of security and acceptance. My secrets are safe and my shortcomings are addressed but forgiven and my name is protected behind my back. My goodness is not measured and my flaws are not showcased and my bad hair days are not terms for divorce. My opinions matter and my voice is heard and my likes and dislikes are recognized and my words are cherished. Safe also means that there is equal give-and-take, whether in conversations or sharing of gifts or in heart-bearing. Safe means that it matters if I am in the room.
At first, I thought this idea of safe being an emotion not related to physical protection was preposterous. But when I started searching it out in God’s Word, I was amazed to see that the Lord confirmed this idea. He speaks often of safety from fear (Job 21:9), from the fear of man (Proverbs 29:25), from fear of evil (Proverbs 1:33), and even from “him that puffs” (Psalm 12:5)! A puffer in the Hebrew is the word puwach, meaning “to kindle (a fire), scoff, bring into a snare.”
Proverbs 18:10 speaks of the Name of the Lord being a strong tower, and while He could be speaking of physical protection, I most often find myself whispering His Name when I am feeling overwhelmed. Don’t you?
Job 11:18 speaks of security bringing about HOPE so that we can rest in safety. That’s not often a word associated with safety. But I feel safe with people who have dreams for me. Because they can hope for me when I’ve given up.
Psalm 31:20 says, “Thou shalt hide them in the secret of Thy Presence from the PRIDE OF MAN: Thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the STRIFE OF TONGUES” (emphasis mine). (Whatever happened to “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”?)
Proverbs 1:33 says that WISDOM causes safety. The free will we are given makes us responsible for deciding what situations are safe to be in and with whom we should feel secure.
Proverbs 31:11 gives a stunning report that the Virtuous Woman’s husband “safely trusts in her” not to bring him ruin. That was the degree to which he trusted her. He felt safe with her, in EVERY way possible. Do most husbands fear their wives will harm them? I think it would be rare if they did. But Mr. VW knew he could trust her to protect his name behind his back, provide financially for their family, and not squander his resources or his reputation.
I love the Hebrew and Greek definitions of the words “safe”, “safety”, and “safely.”
Yasha contains the meaning “free, avenging, preserve, get victory.”
Betach was one of my favorites to define “safe”: “both the fact (security) and the feeling (trust); place of refuge, assurance, boldly, confidence, hope, surely.”
Shelah means “prosperity” and shalah means “to be tranquil, successful, secure, happy, to be in safety.”
Sagab goes beyond the act of rescuing to include these words in its definition: “exalt, set up on, be too strong.” I don’t think He is simply speaking of physically pushing a kid on a swing to touch the clouds. Job 5:11 says, “To set up on high those that be low; that those which mourn may be exalted to safety.” Jesus recognized that true safety goes way deeper than surface physical security. It has everything to do with our emotions, our mental capacity, and even our melancholy. The feeling of safety not only describes our physical condition, but also our spiritual condition.
I think I could go so far as to say that if I am to feel safe with a person, not only do I not fear harm, but I can trust in that person to lift me up and promote my success and ensure my peace in any way possible.
My intention is not to make you unsatisfied with the people or situations in your life, but to encourage you to run to Jesus for your safety. While wisdom can be used to create a place of safety, I know there are positions you will find yourself in that require you to remain. I encourage you to determine if you really are bound by the Word to remain in those relationships or situations, or if living in fear of the unknown is just easier than courage.
Don’t miss that.
If you are currently surrounded by things and people who do not scream SAFE to you, but you know you are where you need to be, take heart. Let me be clear: Jesus very well may call us to do un-safe things or to surround ourselves with un-safe people. But He does call us to remain in His love and claim His peace and security regardless of the unsafe things He may call us to do.
Similarly, if you are in your comfort zone now and feel safe simply because you have created such an environment for yourself, then your safe is in the wrong place and will only last as long as your circumstances cooperate.
The freedom for me came when I recognized that I did not feel safe and dug deeper to find out why. And when I realized that my safety came SOLELY from Jehovah, it changed everything.
As you think about your life in light of these definitions, do you truly feel safe? I will tell you from experience that it is possible to create an environment of safe for others with cards of affirmation and calls of care and gifts of graciousness and have it somehow create in you that feeling of safe. But it is temporary.
Jesus intends to fulfill safe in us. And until you feel safe with Him and His character, it will be well-nigh impossible for you to find safe in the world around you. Security and safety go hand-in-hand. People who act insecure do not feel safe. And you do not feel safe with them because they do not emit security in and of themselves. They are desperately trying to create a place of safety and are going about it from the wrong angle. You can’t create that place of safety. Only God can give it to you. This final Scripture is the most important. Proverbs 21:31 says that safety is of the Lord. He is the source.
The Hand with the power to save ultimately has the power to keep you safe.
And when you beg for it, He will give. Abundantly above anything we could ask or think. He can bestow better work places and happier family members and truer friends and peaceful homes where we feel safe. We can have hearts to confide in and hands to hold and souls who are just as concerned with our interests and ministries as they are their own. And if He doesn’t, we can rest in the safety that we find in Him even though everything around us might be falling to pieces.
This is the desire He has for us: to take our insecurity and replace it with safety. It’s part of what we call the Great Exchange.
My life has been a series of hellos and goodbyes. Jesus gives me blessings disguised as people, jobs, and activities…only to ask me to give them up. At times, the aftermath pain seems worse than the initial joy. But I have come to realize that while I thought I had to have that thing, I didn’t really know what I wanted. Jesus always knew what I needed and wanted better than I did. Whether it was a person, or a possession, or an experience, I found that true fulfillment came when I was driven to find it in the Lord instead of getting it from something material.
I was sipping coffee with a friend one chilly Thanksgiving eve ago and discussing with her what I considered to be my losses. I was dropping phrases left and right like, “I gave up” and “I lost” and “God denied my request…” Despite the obvious Cara-centered problem, I had allowed multiple idols to take the throne of my life. With their granted powers, they had overtaken my priorities, my passions, and consequently, my joy.
She opened her Bible (so cleverly concealed in her large suitcase purse) and turned to Jonah 2:8. The Lord warns that when we focus on vain idols, we will throw away our hope of receiving from God. When I look to my blessings for my value, I am, in actuality, refusing the Love that I so desperately desire. Blessings do not love back; they simply point to the Ultimate Blessing. If I depend on my blessings to satisfy me, they become an idol to me, denying the supremacy of God. When my Savior, in His perfect omniscience, withholds something from me, He promises that I don’t need it. If having that “treasure” would have fulfilled His plan for my life, He would have given it to me. In abundance (see Psalm 84:11)!
What appears to be a loss suddenly takes on a new light when compared with the gain that I have received in Him instead. With my idols gone, I find myself crawling back to my Savior, back where I belong. And in its place, I have gained something far more eternal and permanent than I could ever have received from the thing that I lost. The times when God said “No, my Child,” were painful, but in the long-run not nearly as agonizing as if He had granted me my desire. When He denies a request, He permits His divine plan to continue in motion, uninterrupted. As Beth Moore puts it, God’s ‘no’ is just making room for His ‘yes’.
I imagine it like this. God has a box with my name on it. His omniscience and goodness determined before I was born the things with which He would fill my box to make my life complete. Every time I create my own idol and place it in my box, I am, literally, boxing out God’s plans for me. The more I try to stuff my own box, the more I crowd Him out. And the less I give way to Him, to that extent I will experience less of the fulfilled life He has for me.
Every time the Lord takes something away from me, He always has a replacement in mind. And it is ALWAYS better than what I was clinging to for dear life before.
Because, usually, it is more of Him.
*I wrote this article in 2009, but when the above-quoted friend posted a quote this week, it took me back to this period of my life. I so easily find myself back in the same situation. So thankful that this friend and aunt is not afraid to point me back to my Savior.
“If your pursuit of your idols is being stifled or thwarted, take heart: it’s because God loves you and is being merciful to you. Hosea 2:7-8″
Tara Leigh Cobble, September 7, 2013
Daddy, I want to find joy today, in little things. The frustration of coughing and the irritation of a throat sore is enough to negativize me. But I long to see beauty everywhere. And you open my eyes to see it.
I see it in the present in early-morning blogging and Honey Nut Clusters and having dinner in the refrigerator and loving hard and living well. I see it in the sunlight pouring onto my Bible through the window, and this time of stillness and on the pages of my journal. I see it in the food bearing to my husband before work and the home cooked meals instead of packaged noodles. I see it in multiple job options and flexible lifestyle and quiet house and appliances humming. I see it in red love-made benches and ruffle pillows and yellow dining chairs.
I see it in the future and see it in Planes and drive-ins and football games with friends dear and gifts planned and cards to be mailed. I see it in brisk walks with friends early and real heart-bearing and honest talks. I see it in trips out of town and kayaking and soaking up the last rays of summer.
And I see it in the past in sleeping on roots in tents and campfire meals and the shower when I got home. I find it in late night motorcycle escapades and random text conversations with a stranger moving from Maine to Tennessee and in short but meaningful land line chats with old friends. I see it in my husband’s eyes as he reconnects with a childhood friend and in free tickets offered and good food and fireworks and buying every last candy bar from the fundraiser box and the little girl brown-braided with face full of awe. And I feel it in leaning back against strong knees and in red arms from pinching and in check-writing on my back and the feeling of safe.
I am thankful. Overwhelmed. The goodness of You and how often I overlook it and even the agnostics say we don’t deserve any of it and I wonder how I miss it when they get it.
Life. A gift.
And we thank the Giver.
Do you ever wonder how Rachael Ray lives on a daily basis? Does she cook gourmet meals every night? Does she always put the pesto in those fabulous colored bowls on the side of each dish? Or Kate Gosslin. On Jon-and-Kate-Plus-8 with all her babies around her, she seemed to be in complete control. Is her house always spotless? Is SHE always spotless? How does a mother with over half a dozen kids find time or money to get her nails done and go to the tanning bed?
I have often wondered how amazing writers and speakers like Beth Moore and Elizabeth George and so many others actually live their lives. I mean, they have all the answers, right? They get paid to teach us how to get along with difficult people, how to overtake when we’re undertaken by the circumstances, and how to keep our lives quiet and calm. When a person’s life is constantly in the spotlight, can they possibly keep up good performance all the time? And yet, shouldn’t they have all the answers? So shouldn’t their lives be…dare I say it…perfect?
As I sit here with floods of emails, texts, and Facebook posts about my latest article, I understand what the spotlight feels like. And yet I look around me…I look at the day I’ve had and the things I’ve said and the attitude that permeated my being… and I know I’m far from perfect. Sure, the Lord has shown me some things that have helped me to understand life in a unique perspective and appreciate God’s ways more fully. But part of being human, and therefore being dust, is that every once in a while, a bad day is inevitable. My hair looks like pine sap…my nail specialist didn’t have time to do my nails (I had laundry to do)…and the kids are driving my patience away along with my sanity.
The one comfort I hold onto is that, as a fan of these ladies, I don’t expect them to be in tip top condition all the time. I’m sure Beth snaps at her husbands some days. She’s told us she does! (Can I get an “Amen!”?) And we all know that Kate yells at her kids, even on the show. Elizabeth doesn’t always feel like taking that daily walk that rids her of 20 extra pounds every year. And there have GOT to be some days that Rachael orders take out. This is good news for me! There will be times when I don’t take my own advice and I end up in the same hole I tried to help one of my girlfriends out of just hours before.
Maybe Joyce Meyer leads a perfect life. But until THIS mortal takes on immortality, I’ll just leave the dishes in the sink and pray that I can get a little closer to Jesus.
I have a confession to make.
And the worst part is, I just realized it. Today.
I would have told you that Christians are a diverse group of people. And I would have believed it. Some work in offices. Others work on landscaping. Some live in $500,000 houses. Others (like us) rent a small farm house. (And we won’t be living in a house that expensive ever. Well, at least not until any little people are grown and stop depreciating everything they touch.) Some drive Fords. Others (eh hem) would rather die than drive Fords. In my mind, there were allowed to be preference discrepancies. But overall, I think that I thought that God’s plan for all Christians was… (gulp)… to look like me.
Not only is that the highest form of vanity, but also a condemning lie. Let me be quick to say that I cannot point the finger at the person who taught me that (although, most likely, myself.) I have just looked around in Christian circles and observed. I have noticed the visitors who get overlooked. The cliques that the pastor’s wife is part of. The groups that get asked out to eat after services. Have you seen them? They all wear the same clothes. They have the same taste in food and accessories. To be clear, most of my friends are pretty similar to me. As a general rule, we feel most comfortable with people like us. I’m not saying that is a bad thing, and I am not saying we should strive to have friends who don’t look like us. But I am saying that when we overlook people who aren’t like us, we have erred greatly.
And whether I recognized it or not, it taught me something. Something I need to un-learn.
It subconsciously taught me that good Christians look nice and have the latest clothing and always shine their shoes and never shop at thrift stores and always whiten their teeth (it’s almost more important than flossing.) If God has REALLY “blessed”, they get their nails done (love me some manicures) and highlight their hair and visit the tanning bed (or at least their back porches) on a regular basis.
The point is not that these things are evil. (For heaven’s sake, I am guilty of all those things. Why would I call myself evil?!) The point is that THIS is the picture I had of what Christians look like. Which means… ready for this?… I had decided what Christians DIDN’T look like. You follow?
This goes for things besides physical appearance, in case anyone is wondering. Church attendance, music choices, age-old debates (to go to the movies or not to go to the movies?). Think about what assumptions you have made. We all have them.
At the soup kitchen today, I learned this: Loving people to Jesus doesn’t mean making them look just like me. In my head, I was building them nice houses, getting them executive office jobs in buildings with lots of windows, and shopping at Gap with them. Until I saw the smiles on their faces. They didn’t feel deprived.
The battle for most of us in in our minds. And people, my mind told me that anybody with a brain would desire to live the life that I lead. It simply isn’t so. I was humbled. And a little devastated for them (to be truthful, I really was). And I was VERY sad when it occurred to me that they wouldn’t want my wardrobe. I think it’s rather nice (Thank Jesus I had good taste in clothes when I was in college since I’m still wearing all of them.)
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t drive home thinking about what nail polish I was getting rid of. (In actuality, I was debating what color I was going to paint my fingers later.) But I was sobered when I realized that given the chance to change their lives, THEY DIDN’T WANT TO. And it’s not because they (entirely) like bumming from the state or living in government housing. It’s not (all the time) because they’re lazy. It’s not (always) because they love welfare.
Ya’ll. This floored me.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s because they are HAPPY WITH SIMPLE. They have found joy in things besides name-brand jeggings and patent heels. Nothing bothers them. They can’t smell themselves and they didn’t need all those teeth to brush anyway. Now, honestly, most of the people who came through today didn’t stink. Maybe it’s because their gratitude covered it up.
I’m a “fixer.” I immediately wanted to move these people out and get them jobs and change their outfits. But you know what?
They couldn’t love Jesus any better if they had a house. They couldn’t love their neighbors any better wearing my white ruffled dress from Target. It’s debatable if it would detract. Today, I was not there to question salvation or separate the goats from the sheep. I was there to serve. To love. I left my white wedges at home. (I’ll save them for Sunday.) (With my white dress & pearl studs.) Because what was more important than style was loving people where they were at. And realizing that Jesus did, too.
I feel urged to say this, however. I know plenty of people who carry their “poor” banner with great pride and often try to mock the possessions of others or minimize their affluence to make themselves feel better. Hear me out: Living poor is not God’s plan for His people any more than being rich is. A lot of that depends on choices…the number of household incomes, the number of children, the choice of occupation or lack thereof. I know people who “live poor for Jesus” but constantly show their insecurity about their situation by the way they put down others with their words or who don’t show gratitude when someone else shows them kindness. God has not set a definite standard of wealth for His children. He just promises that He will never have them begging bread and will never forsake them.
He gives us all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Consistently when Jesus talks about life, He is referring to state of mind. I believe that abundant life NOT ONLY means socks without holes BUT ALSO means joy, contentment, and peace. Those who are content with food and raiment are often the happiest because they aren’t bogged down with stuff and therefore have room to be grateful for what they do have (1 Timothy 6:8). If I am not content, it’s likely that I should reconsider my priorities. Not hold onto something so tightly. Or give something away. Except this time, when I do, I won’t think about what a blessing I am to give them something else to live with. I’ll remember how fortunate they are to live without it.