Faith

What Are You Filling Your Mind With?

Kipper is a Great Teacher (in more ways than one!)

This is my dog Kipper. Anyone who knows me in real life, knows that I am pretty attached to my dog. He’s not just a pet. He’s part of the family.

When we brought Kipper into our home when he was just 12 weeks old, my goal was that he would be able to go everywhere with us. To do that, though, he had to be well-behaved and well-trained. So, I started right to work.

One of the first things I taught Kipper was to get into the car. After all, car rides were a vital part of going wherever we went. It wasn’t until a few weeks into the training that I realized my puppy was training me and not the other way around!

You see, Kipper just LOVES food, so, when I was working with him on the command “up” so he’d jump into the car (or really any elevated surface – within reason), he stealthily taught me to give him the treat (or more than one) first. When it finally dawned on me that I was being played by a 5-month-old puppy, I changed things up. (As you can see, that face was kind of hard to say no to!)

Anxiety Isn’t Always Obvious

I’ve found that anxiety can be just as stealth as Kipper trying to get a treat. Fear tends to come at you head-on, but anxiety is a sneakier beast. It seems to creep up and settle in without me even being aware. Just like Kipper, anxiety can start to get me to follow its lead without me even realizing it.

Today I was reading in Psalms 27 (when I am in between studies,  I pick a Psalm that corresponds with the date). Psalms 27 is all about overcoming fear. Not surprisingly, it’s one of my favorite Psalms, and I have verses underlined and notes jotted in the margins.

One such note stood out to me today – God’s presence combats fear.

And it’s true. Shining the truth of God’s Word can expose the fears and anxieties that have started training your mind into certain ways of thinking and believing.

It’s Not Surprising When We Struggle With Our Calling

As many of you know, I am a writer. I’ve struggled with what that calling means and how to go about it and even if it is a “real” calling. This year, my word has been contend, and one of the things I have been contending for is what it really means to be a daughter of God Almighty.

As I’ve stepped into this fight (because, make no mistake, that is what it is – a fight), I’ve realized that the enemy has zero desire for me or anyone else to fully realize their identity in Christ! I’ve had to repent and mourn wasted time. I’ve become bold in my prayers about fulfilling my calling to write. I’ve also asked God to show me where and how I am being blocked or sidetracked.

God is always faithful to answer our prayers, and HE showed me how much anxiety had crept in regards to my calling. From the anxiety of trying to learn marketing to the anxiety of finding the time (I swear, if I spent half the time writing that I did worrying about finding the time to write, I’d probably have a whole series of books done by now!), worry had blanketed nearly everything to do with my writing.

In my mind, writing and anxiety had become linked. Instead of the joy I’ve always felt when creating new worlds with words, I found it had become something heavy and burdensome.

What Is Your Mind Stocked With?

As I read Psalms 27 this morning, I found myself heading over to a few other favorite verses that deal with anxiety. One is Psalms 34:4 which says, “I sought the Lord and HE answered me and delivered me from all my fears.”  There was the theme of seeking out God’s presence to combat fear.

Then I flipped over to my life verses (and yes, I get the irony!) in Philippians 4:6-8. Again, we are told to seek God in prayer and supplication with every anxious thought we have. We are also told what to focus on our minds on too: things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute; things that are excellent and praiseworthy. That’s what we are supposed to dwell on.

Being the nerd that I am, I looked up the original meaning of dwell, and it wasn’t what I thought it would be . It actually means to number or take inventory. It has this idea of very deliberate recounting.

I realized, as I prayed and meditated on these Scriptures, that I had allowed so much anxiety to creep into my mind and set up residence over my writing. And the battle had nothing to do with how much time I had or how busy I was or anything else. It had everything to do with what I was inventorying in my mind – which were all the obstacles and challenges.

Once again, I had allowed the “I can’ts” to stock my mental shelves. 

In the coming weeks, I’ll be praying that God reveals all the ways I can’t is inadvertently training me. I have a feeling I might be surprised at how often I dance it its tune.

What anxieties creep into your life if you’re not careful? I’d love to hear about them!

Prayer Requires Persistence

Persistence is Modeled in the Bible

I was reading through Draw the Circle: 40 Day Prayer Challenge, and the reading for the day was the story of the persistent widow.

In Luke 18:1, Jesus shares a parable of how a widow comes before a judge with bad character. At first he ignores her, but the widow just won’t be ignored. She persists until the judge finally gives her her request.

“For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection; otherwise, by continually coming she will wear me out.” Luke 18: 4, 5.

Jesus goes on to say that if a wicked judge would grant this widow’s request, then how much more will God – who is perfectly good- answer our prayers when we persist.

Persistence Often Doesn’t Come Easily

I don’t know about you, but persistence in prayer is not something that comes naturally to me. It feels, well, almost like I’m being rude or something. Like I’m somehow pestering God by coming to Him over and over with the same request.

Yet, God invites us to pray about things, not just once, but repeatedly. When we come to Him in prayer, it isn’t an easy thing. (You can read about how prayer might be simple but it isn’t easy HERE).

Why Should We Persist in Prayer?

As I was thinking about this post and what we can learn about persistence in prayer, the one thing that I kept circling back around to was why? Why would God want us to pray for the same thing over and over again?

The thing is, prayer isn’t just about getting answers. It’s about changing us and molding us to God’s will in our lives. I don’t know about you, but have you ever prayed for something over a period time. And as time went on, you found your prayer changing until in the end, your request barely resembled those first prayers?

God invites us to petition Him because the more we bring something to God, the more His light shines on whatever it is and the more we lay our own agenda down.

The bottom line is prayer changes us and it changes our relationship to God. 

How Do We Know When NOT to Persist?

So, how do we know that God wants us to stop praying about something – that He has answered us?

I think we have a good example in Paul. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul says he prayed three times for God to remove a thorn in his flesh. We don’t know what this thorn was, but some speculate it had to do with his eyes. Nobody knows for sure though.

It was after this third time that God specifically told Paul He wasn’t removing that thorn and the reason why. Only after God spoke to him did Paul stop praying.

What does this mean for us?

I think it means that means a few things for us. The first thing is that, sometimes, when we think God hasn’t answered, it’s not because He is saying no. It’s actually that He hasn’t answered at all.

The second thing is I believe a lot of the powerlessness in prayer is not because prayer doesn’t have power. But it is because of a lack of persistence on our part.

The third thing is that we need to persistently pray about something until God gives us an answer or He specifically tells us to stop.

Finally, we need to pray with an open heart and mind. Maybe God is trying to change our perspective or get us to submit to His will and not insist on our own way. Prayer is powerful – not just in what it accomplished out in the world, but in what it accomplishes in us.

Do you struggle with praying persistently? I’d love to hear about it!

Prayer Is Hard And That’s Okay

Do You Find it Hard to Pray?

Maybe it’s just me, but have you ever noticed that when you start to pray, your focus tends to desert you? Suddenly, your mind wanders to your to do list or what you’re having for dinner or that disagreement you had with your child. Instead of praying, you find yourself worrying or planning your day or, in my case, off in lala land.

Turns out, there’s a reason for that. I noticed that Paul, in the famous passage in Ephesians 6, tells the believers of Ephesus to put on their spiritual armor before he tells them to pray. They have to strap on truth, put on their helmet of salvation, buckle on the breastplate of righteousness and slip into their shoes of the Gospel of peace. They have to get their shield of faith ready because the enemy is sure to start shooting fiery darts, and their swords can’t be just lying around somewhere. That sword has to be in their hands.

In Colossians 4:12, Paul tells the Colossians that Epaphras was “laboring earnestly in his prayers for you.” That word laboring actually means “to contend with adversaries or fight.”

Do You Have the Wrong Idea About Prayer?

Prayer isn’t easy. It’s hard work because the enemy knows there is great power in prayer. He doesn’t want you to actually pray and experience that power. That means, he’ll use whatever means he can to keep you from spending time in prayer.

In many ways, prayer is a form of spiritual fighting. So, it’s really no wonder that it seems to be something believers talk about way more than they actually do.

Am I the only person who has been to a prayer meeting where half the time was spent talking and not praying?

Even our churches, which Jesus said were to be houses of prayer, often teach more about prayer than they do actually praying.

I think the problem is that we have confused the simplicity of prayer with ease in prayer. Because of that confusion, we have not prepared ourselves for the work it takes to carve out a powerful prayer life.

Learning Vs. Applying

This year, I really wanted to focus on what it means to truly be God’s child. There is a passage in 2 Timothy 3:5-7.

Today, we have the blessing of  having so many resources and information. But there is a danger in having all that knowledge at our fingertips. The danger is we keep learning rather than start applying.

Don’t Give Up

Because we expect prayer to be easy, we get discouraged about our prayer lives. We quit almost before we begin, or we resort to shallow, short prayers. We let the busyness in our lives become an excuse to not pray.

And then we wonder why we don’t see any spiritual power in our lives.

This post isn’t about being legalistic or judgmental about prayer. It’s meant as encouragement. Yes, prayer is hard, and it’s not just you that struggles. But can I encourage you to keep at it? We have the opportunity to approach God’s throne any day at any time. God invites us into intimacy with Him.

It’s time to suit up and start fighting on your knees. God will meet you on the battlefield!

 

 

 

The Importance of Prayer

Who I Am Lies In Who God Is

This year, I have been praying that God would show me what it truly means to be His child. It’s always interesting to me how God answers my prayers. It’s never in the way that I expect!

First, He led me to a book about who He is. (You can read my review of The Real God HERE). I initially thought I would be reading and learning about who I am in Christ. Instead, God first led me to who HE is. You’d think after all these years as a believer, I would have realized that it never starts with me.

It Starts With Prayer

The second thing God led me to was about prayer. It seemed everything I heard or read had something to do with the power of prayer. I’m a little slow on the uptake. Eventually, though, it dawned on me that I can’t ever access the full power of being a believer unless I fully commit myself to the practice of prayer.

So, then I started asking God to teach me to pray. Again, He was so good to lead me to various sources. One of those was Draw the Circle for 40 Days by Mark Batterson and Storm by Jim Cymbala. (reviews of both these books will be coming soon!) In both of these books, the authors hit on prayer as not just something to cross off your spiritual to do list. Instead, it is a crucial part of living out the Christian life.

Prayer Comes With a Learning Curve

While I’ve always believed in the importance of prayer – and I’ve done several studies myself and taught others – I still tend to default into the thinking of prayer as the “last resort.” I want to change that into thinking of it as the first line of defense.

For me, studying the Scriptures comes more naturally. As a word-nerd, that probably isn’t surprising. I often find my quiet time heavy on Bible study and lighter on the prayer portion.

I also think as modern Americans we have a view of prayer that isn’t very Biblical. Yes, we are supposed to pray for the everyday stuff, but the prayers in the New Testament often focused on spiritual growth and understanding – not just on the current physical need of the believers.

Excited to Learn More

In light of the importance of prayer, I have decided to do an indepth study on the prayers in the New Testament. What did Jesus pray about? How did He pray? What did Paul and the other apostles pray about? Where did they pray and when?

I’m ridiculously to see what I God is going to teach me, and I can’t wait to share it with you guys!

So, what place does prayer have in your life? Do you feel like you need to learn more or is it something that comes easily for you? I’d love to hear about it!

Missing Jesus

Seeing Something New in a Familiar Story

I’ve been reading through the book of John lately, and today I came to the familiar story of Lazarus. Maybe because Easter is only a few days away or maybe because I’ve taken the time to mark the timeline as I’ve been reading, but it just hit me that this miracle happens not that long before Jesus’ crucifixion.

The other thing I never noticed was that this miracle – arguably the biggest miracle Jesus ever did during His ministry – was also the catalyst that convinced the Jewish leaders they had to get rid of Him.

The story of Lazarus is found in John 11 (and also in Luke 16). The story is a familiar one. Lazarus falls sick, and his sisters, Mary and Martha, send for Jesus. However, Jesus doesn’t hurry to heal Lazarus. Instead, He waits. He waits long enough for Lazarus to die and be buried for four days.

The sisters and the surrounding crowd don’t understand this. Jesus had proven He could heal people, so why didn’t He come sooner? This was especially confusing, as Jesus was less than a day’s journey away when He first got the news Lazarus was sick.

Worth the Wait

So why wait? By waiting, Jesus proved without a shadow of a doubt He had authority over life and death. By raising Lazarus from the dead after four days, Jesus didn’t simply reanimate a lifeless body. Jesus actually reversed the decaying process. When Jesus called Lazarus forth from the tomb, there was no question about what happened. Lazarus had been dead for four days. As Martha said, when that stone was rolled away, an awful stench of decay probably rolled on out of there, too.

Predictably, this miracle caused many of those there to believe that Jesus really was the Christ. Suddenly, all Jesus’ claims of being God’s Son didn’t seem so farfetched after all.

Not Everyone Responds to Miracles With Belief

But I found it really interesting that not everyone had this reaction. In John 11: 46 it says, “But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them the things which Jesus had done.” Instead of believing, they started broadcasting the news to the Pharisees. It was no secret they were Jesus’ greatest critics.

I have no idea why this group of people did this. Maybe they were confused and were seeking answers. Maybe they just wanted to add a little fuel to the current flame of conflict. Maybe they just wanted to see what would happen.

Whatever the reason, this news caused the Pharisees and chief priests to get really worried. I found it also interesting what these men were worried about.

Instead of Seeing Hope, the Pharisees Saw a Threat

In the Old Testament, there were a series of miracles or signs that the coming Messiah would do. Jesus had done many of them. Now, He had done one of the last remaining signs – raising a man from the dead.

You would think the most religious men around would have recognized Jesus as the Messiah and been overjoyed. Instead, they miss Jesus and only see what His presence could take from them: their place and their nation.

Instead of seeing Jesus as a Savior, they saw Him as a threat.

The very things that should have given the Pharisees reason to believe, caused them to turn on Jesus. John 11:53 says, “So, from that day on they together planned to kill Him.”

What’s Causing You to Miss Jesus?

Despite all their knowledge and training, the Pharisees totally missed the Messiah in their midst. It is so easy to be astonished that the Pharisees and chief priests, men who were supposed to be the most spiritual of anyone, didn’t recognize that the Messiah had come.

But, we often do the same thing. We get so hung up on our knowledge and training, our denominations and our politics, our desire to prove we are right, that we miss Jesus in our midst. We don’t recognize Him because we are looking for someone altogether different – a god of our own making, not the one we find in the Bible at all.

As Easter weekend approaches, we all need to ask ourselves the same question Jesus asked Peter. Who do you say that Jesus is? The answer will determine how you live your life.

I hope you have a blessed Easter and truly experience Jesus in your midst.

 

 

 

God Can Work Through Anyone

Do you really believe God is in control?

I know, we all SAY that we believe that, but do we really? If the past election season is any indication, the answer to that would have to be a resounding no.

I am 44 years old, and I have never seen so many people descend into hysteria and ugly behavior like I did during and after the 2016 election. Sure, I’d seen people upset before about the outcome of an election, and let’s face it, there have been some pretty ugly presidential campaigns in the past where feelings ran high.

When Anxiety is Contagious

But 2016 was different. I found myself becoming fearful and anxious. There was a feeling of desperation that seemed to hang over everyone like some awful spiritual smog.

I found myself coming again and again to Psalms 146.

I wish now, I had been reading through the stories of the kings. During this time, the nation of Israel had split, with two of the 12 tribes becoming Judah and the rest becoming Israel. There was no love lost between the now split kingdom, and they often fought each other, spilling blood and destroying the land which God had given them all.

The leadership under which the people found themselves was lacking, too. Judah had a few good kings, but while many started out well, they tended not to end well for a variety of reasons. (You can read about King Joash, King Amaziah and King Uzziah to find out more).

A Kingdom Without Hope

Israel’s track record wasn’t any better and was actually much worse. All their kings seemed to have the phrase “he did evil in the sight of the Lord” after their introductions to the throne.

Things seemed pretty grim and the hope that anything would change seemed dim. The glory days of King David and King Solomon seemed very distant. I’m sure a lot of the Jewish people wondered where God was, and even more of them had lost sight of God all together. They were too busy bowing down to false idols.

But tucked into 2 Kings 14 between the stories of two of Judah’s kings, Amaziah and Uzziah, we find a nugget of hope and evidence that despite the bad leadership and the people’s sinful ways, God was still on the throne and still sovereign.

God Steps Into the Void

In 2 Kings 14:23, it says, “In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash king of Judah, Jeroboam, the son of Joash king of Israel (2 different Joashes here) became king in Samaria and reigned forty-one years.”

Jeroboam was no different than his predecessors and has the same tag line after his intro  – that he did evil in the sight of the Lord. And yet, the following verses are not about his destruction or the further destruction of Israel. Check out what it says instead.

“He restored the border of Israel from the entrance of Hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, which He spoke through Hiss ervant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was of Gath-hepher. For the Lord saw the affliction of Israel which was very bitter for there was neither bond or free now was there any helper for Israel. The Lord did not say that He would blot out the name of Israel from under the heavens, but He saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash.” 2 Kings 15:25-27

While I’m sure God would have preferred to work through a king that followed Him, He had promised not to wipe out Israel. The Israelites were doing a good job of trying to wipe themselves out, but God was still in control. While things seemed hopeless and the king seemed less than ideal, God still used Jeroboam to accomplish His purposes.

In Proverbs 21:1 it says, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LordHe turns it wherever He wishes.”

God is Bigger Than Circumstances

No matter what circumstances look like and no matter what human has attained apparent control, no person can thwart the will of God. As believers, we can trust in God’s sovereignty and His goodness. No matter how much evidence seems to point to the contrary, God can use anyone to do His will  – even the unwilling or the wicked.

I don’t know about you, but that truth eases a lot of my anxiety. While life can feel out of control, God is always in control.

How about you? Have you been feeling anxious or helpless at the state of current affairs? Take heart because there is no safer place than in the palm of God’s hand.

When It’s Better To Be Broken

Admitting You Can’t Do It Is Actually a Good Thing

Have you ever had a task thrust into your lap and you felt totally unprepared? Maybe you have a child born with a disability you weren’t expecting. Maybe it was a ministry God called you to and you were wondering what He was thinking. Maybe it’s just life and feeling totally overwhelmed by the everyday. Whatever the cause, we have all had moments when we feel that there is just no way that we can do what is being asked of us. We feel our human brokenness keenly.

While nobody really likes feeling unable or broken, it’s actually a really good place to be in. Why would I say that? Well, it is when we are in this humbled position that we turn to the One who can help. Without our self-sufficiency and pride to get in the way, we leave God with an open door to step into our lives.

Because that’s the thing – we need God every day even when we think we’ve got it under control. 

A Young King Who Felt Unable

The last few weeks, I’ve been sharing some lessons we can all learn from the kings of Israel and Judah. You can read about King Joash and the importance of making your faith your own HERE, and you can read about King Amaziah and the importance of wholehearted devotion to God HERE.

Today, we are going to look at King Amaziah’s son, Uzziah. You can find his story in 2 Chronicles 26 and a more abbreviated version in 2 Kings 15:1-6. Don’t let the name change confuse you – Uzziah is called in 2 Chronicles, but he is referred to as Azariah in the version in 2 Kings.

Uzziah was only 16 years old when he became king, and he inherited the throne because his father was assassinated.  While a 16 year old in Biblical times  was much more of an adult than a 16 year old today, I’m sure Uzziah was overwhelmed with the task of becoming king. Uzziah was probably fearful, as well, since both his father and grandfather had been assassinated. Based on his own experiences, stepping onto the throne didn’t seem like the path to longevity.

God Came to a Young King’s Aid

Yet, here he was, king of a kingdom, so Uzziah did the only thing he could. He sought God.

He did right in the sight of the Lord according to all that his father Amaziah had done. He continued to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who had an understanding through the vision of God; and as long as he sought the Lord, God prospered him.” 2 Chronicles 26:4-5

God prospered King Uzziah and gave him victory in his battles. It says that God helped Uzziah against the Philistines (a long time enemy of the Israelites), the Arabians and the Meunites. Even the Ammonites gave him tribute.

God Did More Than Expected

In verse 8, it says, “his fame extended to the border of Egypt, for he become very strong.”

Not only did Uzziah conquer in battle, but he also built up the cities in his kingdom and God blessed him  with abundant livestock, fertile fields, and vineyards.

“He built towers in the wilderness and hewed many cisterns, for he had much livestock, both in the lowland and in the plain. he also had plowmen and vinedressers in the hill country and the fertile fields, for he loved the soil. 2 Chronicles 26:10

His army was one which everyone in the surrounding countryside admired and feared. They weren’t just fierce fighters either. His army had the best of gear, too, and he had skilled inventors who developed “engines of war.”

In verse 15, it says, “Hence his fame spread afar, for he was marvelously helped until he was strong.”

Uzziah realized he could not rule a kingdom alone, so he sought God, and God helped him.

A King Who Forgot Where His Success Came From

Unfortunately, once Uzziah became strong and well-known, he forgot where all that help came from.

“But when he became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly, and he was unfaithful to the Lord his God…” 2 Chronicles 26:16a

Instead of being thankful and remembering how he had gotten to this point in his life, Uzziah became puffed up with pride. He started to believe his own press. You’ll notice it says he acted corruptly and the result was that he was unfaithful to God. The reason for both those things was a proud heart. That pride became his downfall. 

Uzziah got to the point where he felt he was above God’s rules, and so he went in to burn incense in the temple. This was a big no-no. Only consecrated priests were supposed to burn incense to God.

A King Who Once Sought God, Now Runs

When he was confronted by a contingent of priests, instead of repenting, Uzziah became enraged. He had gotten so proud and full of his own importance, Uzziah didn’t even realize the danger he was in. That is, until he looked down at the hand holding the censer and saw that it was covered in leprosy.

“Azariah, the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and he behold, he was leprous on his forehead; and they hurried him out of there, and he himself also hastened to get out because the Lord had smitten him.” 2 Chronicles 26:20

What a complete turn around – where once Uzziah had sought the Lord, now he was running from Him. All because of the pride that had corrupted his heart.

Uzziah’s rule started out the right way – a young man, overwhelmed by the burden of ruling a kingdom, sought God’s help. God helped him, but instead of being grateful, Uzziah started to believe his wealth and strength were through his own efforts and cleverness.

The Pitfalls of Pride

Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction; and a haughty spirit before stumbling.” Pride is something that can so easily creep into our lives. It’s tentacles can wrap themselves around our hearts without our hardly realizing it. Like Uzziah, even God’s gifts can get twisted into something that turn our hearts away from Him and toward our own agendas and plans.

Uzziah had it all – prosperity, renown, and military strength. In his success, Uzziah seemed untouchable. Yet, all of that couldn’t save him when he turned from God, the very One who had brought him to such a place of achievement.

In the end, Uzziah’s pride cost him, not just his health and his leadership role. but also separated him from God.  

“King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death; and he lived in a separate house, being a leper, for he was cut off from the house of the Lord.” 2 Chronicles 26:21

The sad thing is, this didn’t have to be Uzziah’s fate. He could have chosen to humble himself, rather than continue in his pride.

“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time.”  I Peter 5:6

Rather than forcing God to humble us, let’s take the time to examine our own hearts and humble ourselves. The results are usually a lot less painful.

How about you – have their been areas where pride has crept into your life? Is that staunch self-sufficiency more about your pride? Do you insist on always being the helper and not the helped? Are you struggling with overwhelm because you are trusting your own understanding rather than leaning on God’s?

When Growth is Messy

I woke up this morning to the rumble of thunder and a nagging headache – a sure sign that the day would be dreary.

As I dodged raindrops running out to the car to take my youngest to school this morning, I shivered. It was supposed to be the first day of spring, yet it was cold, damp and dreary.  Definitely not what I think of when I hear the word spring.

The truth is, though, even though I’d like to think of spring as tulips and daffodils shyly opening their petals and gentle sunshine, that’s usually not what it is like here in Northwest Ohio. March, which heralds the start of spring, is a notoriously ugly month, weather-wise.

The grass is brown and soggy. Usually, you can find small clumps of grey, dirty snow which hasn’t quite disappeared yet, the pristine white sparkle long gone.

My backyard becomes a soupy mess of mud and the melting snow reveals all those times I didn’t get the yard pooper-scoopered.

Everything looks brown and wet and muddy and ugly, but something is going on that we can’t see just yet.

Before we can get to the trees budding out and the flowers opening their petals and the gentle sunlight, there needs to be rain and mud.

In the midst of all the messiness, growth is taking place. 

Growth, whether in nature or in our own lives, is messy and often not very pretty. I know, I want growth to fit neatly into my planner. I want to capture it in a perfect Instagram picture with just the right filter, but that isn’t the truth of things, is it?

Instead, on the surface of our lives is the mess, We find ourselves walking through the mud puddles of difficulty. We feel like we can’t find the light and everything is brown and rainy and dreary.

We can’t see what God is doing beneath the surface. We can’t see the root growth that needs to happen before the time of blooming.

 

But, if we can just pull on our rain boots and persevere through all the mud and messiness, we’ll see that growth. One day, the rain will stop, and we’ll see green shoots poking out of the still damp earth. Beautiful buds will appear that couldn’t have blossomed without the root growth that took place before.

How about you? Are you walking through a particularly messy or muddy time in your life? Does it seem like rain will be in your spiritual forecast forever? Take heart! God is doing the deep root growth in your life. The season of blooming is coming!

The Importance of Being Wholehearted

I stared at the words on my screen, horrified by what I was reading. Suddenly, I snapped back into reality, closing out the screen. I felt like I needed a scrub brush for the inside of my brain.

Bookbub sends me emails about free e-books, and I had opened a sample of one of those books to check it out before I downloaded it. I really love fantasy stories – particularly ones that take a new twist on fairy tales or legends, and this book was supposed to be a new take on Alice in Wonderland. Based on the obvious romance cover and word descriptions, I thought I better check out the sample before downloading it just to be on the safe side. After all, I didn’t want anything too racy in my reading queue. Unfortunately, I could never unsee what I had just read. Bleck!

A Little Compromise

During my college years and into my early 20s, I used to read romance novels. You know, the ones with that guy from I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter on the cover. I jokingly referred to them as brain candy because, after reading the difficult books required in my college classes,  being able to read something that required no thought was a relief. But like any candy, what I was reading wasn’t really good for me.

A few years after I graduated from college, God challenged me to read only Christian fiction for a year. Like a cleanse or detox, not reading those books for a year opened my eyes to just how much was in them that, as a believer, I shouldn’t be reading.

For the most part, I’ve avoided racy romances since then, recognizing that wasn’t what I should be putting in my mind and heart. So, when this yucky stuff came up in that sample, I found myself whining to God about it. I pointed out I was trying to be careful with what I was reading and I definitely hadn’t gone looking for that type of book!

In the midst of my whine-fest, God gently pointed out that if I was being wholehearted in my obedience, I wouldn’t have even checked out that sample.

See, I love a good story, and there are still a few romance authors who tell a great story with an intriguing plot and intelligent, funny heroines. I told myself that I would just skip over the racy parts. I was an adult. I could handle it. But by allowing compromise in this one area, I had opened myself up to the absolute garbage that had popped up on my sample screen.

When We Don’t Start With a Whole Heart

In the Bible, during the time of the kings, this not following God with a whole heart was also a problem. It led to all kinds of unhappy endings.

We talked about Joash and his inability to follow God when he no longer had his mentor with him. (You can read about him HERE). His son Amaziah also started out well, but in 2 Chronicles 25:2, it says, “He did right in the sight of the Lord, yet not with a whole heart.”

That lack of wholehearted devotion to God got Amaziah in a whole heap of trouble. He started out doing well. While he put to death the assassins who killed his father, he did NOT kill their children. This was actually following the Law of Moses. Score one for Amaziah.

He then went out and battled Edom and won very convincingly. Score 2 for Amaziah.

However, in the process of defeating Edom and taking the spoils of war, Amaziah also brought home a few idols. Maybe he thought they were worth something, or maybe he convinced himself they demonstrated fine craftsmanship. Whatever the reason, he brought the idols into his home and ended up bowing down to them.

After his big victory and then turning his eyes from God to powerless idols, Amaziah started to get a bit full of himself. He set his sights on Israel this time. During this time, the Israelites had split into two kingdoms: Judah and Israel. The king of Israel at that time, King Jehoash, told Amaziah to be happy with the victories over Edom, enjoy his glory, and go home.

In 2 Kings 14:11, it says, “But Amaziah would not listen.”

Not Being Wholehearted Leads To Unhappy Endings

Because Amaziah had started worshiping false idols, God allowed him to be defeated. He ended up getting captured and the temple was ransacked.

Amaziah lived 15 years after this stunning defeat. He ended up losing his life just as his father did – by assassins who chased him down.

“From the time that Amaziah turned away from  following the Lord, they conspired against him in Jerusalem, and he fled to Lachish; but they sent after him to Lachish and killed him there.” 2 Chronicles 25:27

A Lesson We Can Learn

I find the stories of the kings to be fascinating and frustrating. Why in the world would you turn to a false god (ones that often required horrible things like child sacrifice) when you had the power of the Almighty God on your side? It seems so silly.

But then I look at my own life. I see the areas where I am not wholehearted. I see the areas where I allow other things to become more important than God in my life.

Idols are not just statues made of precious metals or wood or stone. Idols are anything that push God from the number one place in our hearts.

When I am not wholehearted, it opens me up to things I wouldn’t have even encountered if my obedience had been complete and not compromised.

Are there areas of your life where you aren’t wholehearted? The story of Amaziah shows us that it’s worth checking the state of our hearts.

WHO IS YOUR FAITH REALLY IN?

When my grandmother passed away when I was pregnant with my first son, I knew I was in trouble. See, my grandmother was one of those people who didn’t just say she was praying for you. She actually did.

Not that I wasn’t blessed with others who prayed for me (specifically, my parents), but she was a prayer warrior. Maybe you have one of those in your own life – that person who goes to battle daily on her knees.

A Tough Beginning

Joash had someone he relied on too – to guide him, to direct him, to point him in the right direction.

You can find the story of Joah in 2 Kings 11-12 (here he is called Jehoash) and also in 2 Chronicles 22:10 – 24:26. Unfortunately for Joash, his grandmother wasn’t like mine. In fact, once her own son was dead, Athaliah decided to kill off all her grandchildren so she could have the throne. I know – nice right?

A quick thinking aunt saved Joash by hiding he and his nurse in a bedroom. She then sneaked him into the temple where Athaliah wouldn’t find him.

It’s at this point that Joash comes under the guardianship of his mentor, the priest Jehoiada. Jehoiada did more than just watch over little Joash. When the little boy turned seven, Jehoiada organized a coup and overthrows Queen Athaliah and the army captains put her to death.

When he turned 7 years old, little Joash became king when the priest, Jehoiada, organizes a coup and overthrows Queen Athalia by putting her to death. He then sets Joash on the throne as the rightful heir and king.

 

Life as King

Spending his formative years in the tabernacle had a profound influence on Joash, and he and the priest Jehoiada had a close bond. Once Joash became king, he was obviously too young to really rule at the age of 7, so Jehoiada was right there to advise him and guide him. Joehoiada even procured two wives for Joash when the boy king came of age.

One of the things Joash was remembered for was restoring the Temple. During previous reigns of his own father and his less than loving grandmother, the house of the Lord had been vandalized. Sacred objects had been used for profane purposes. So, Joash decided to gather the priests and Levites back together and restore the temple.

I’ve this part of the story before, and I have read the stories of the kings of Israel and Judah. Yet, I missed these words that appear in both 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles.

“Joash did what was right int he sight of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest.” 2 Chronicles 24:2

“Jehoash did right int he sight of the Lord all his days in which Jehoiada the priest instructed him.” 2 Kings 12:2

Did you notice it too? Joash did the right thing as long as Jehoiada was around to instruct him. Maybe it’s because my son is college-aged, or maybe it’s because God continues to show me and teach me and grow my faith even at the age of 44, but it hit me that while mentors and discipleship is important, our faith shouldn’t be wrapped up in a person – no matter how wonderful that person is.

Leaning Too Hard

Joash became a king at the age of 7. Nobody would argue that he needed some help, guidance and instruction. But apparently, Joash continued to lean on Jehoiada for his faith, his knowledge and knowing what was the right thing to do.

Maybe Jehoiada was also culpable. Maybe he got so used to being Joash’s guide and helper, he didn’t realize he was crippling the young king.

This lesson can be applied in so many different ways – as a parent, as a mentor, as a spiritual leader.

Personally, I am seeing it large and upclose in my role as a parent. It is so easy to keep stepping in and guiding when we should be stepping back and taking our hands off the wheel. You think that it will get easier once your child graduates from high school, but those early adult years can be some of the most challenging – mostly because you have to stay silent when you want to speak and you have to be still when you want to intervene.

Joash’s story shows us the importance of allowing that child, that mentee, that person you are discipling to step up and out. While Joash’s story began well, it doesn’t end well.

In 2 Chronicles 24:17, it says, “But after the death of Jehoiada the officials of Judah came and bowed down to the king, and the king listened to them.”

In the void that Jehoiada’s death left, Joash turned to other counselors – ones that weren’t quite so wise. Sadly, in verse 18, it says, “They abandoned the house of the Lord, the God of their fathers, and served the Asherim and the idols so the wrath came upon Judah and Jersualem for this their great guilt.”

Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada, was a prophet and God sent him with a message about how displeased God was with Joash’s behavior. In a truly tragic irony, Joash had Zechariah stoned.

Jehoiada offered Joash sanctuary and made him a king. In turn, Jehoiada’s son, Zechariah got no mercy from the king whom his father saved.

“Thus Joash the king did not remember the kindness which his father Jehoiada had shown him but murdered his son.” 2 Chronicles 24:22

Joash appeared like a good, strong king, but when his prop, Jehoiada, died, it became obvious that the wisdom and strength he had weren’t really his own. He had placed his trust in a mortal man, and in the end, it ruined him.

Is there a relationship where you need to step back? Or maybe, you are on the other side of the equation, and you are leaning too heavily on a parent, a mentor, a friend when you should be leaning on God. It’s time to stop relying on a person and start relying on Someone who will never leave you, never forsake you, and always has the right answers.

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