June 30, 2014

when it hurts to hope

One of the dangers of having an afternoon to yourself is the temptation to bake a cake for no reason . . . and that was me today. However, I resisted the urge . . . and instead ate my weight in watermelon. Because if you're going to have 10 servings of something, it's better that it's a fruit and not baked goods, right? Right.

Do you ever have dreams that just don't seem to be working out? 

That door that seems to stay closed, no matter how persistent your prayers. Unmet desires that just won't be subdued.

Are you ever tempted to just let those dreams die, because it just hurts too much to keep hoping?

I have been wrestling with this lately. I have tried to suppress my heart's longings, but it only causes me to become bitter. I have tried to play tricks on my mind in order to make those desires disappear, to fool myself into not wanting things. Somehow, it doesn't work (surprise).

So what now?

A friend of mine challenged me on this. She asked me, "Did God ask you to let that go?"

I had to admit - no, He didn't. It's just too painful to hope, to dream, to have unmet desires. So I want to just give up.

It is a good exercise to stop and ask ourselves:

- Is this desire selfish?
- Is it an idol in my life? (has it become an "ultimate" thing? - something I could't imagine life being happy or joyful without?)
- Has God told me to let it go?
- Is He instead asking me to trust Him deeper, including to trust in His timing?

In her book (which I've referenced before - it's that good) Better Than My Dreams, Paula Rinehart states:

It takes such courage to stay awake to a possibility - to keep bringing a hungry heart back to God, over and over, until he says it's time to let go. It takes faith to believe that if God says no to a good dream . . . it means God is up to something that will, eventually, have his glory written all over it. I find that trusting God with my life often leads to a place that's exhilirating and yet oddly painful at times. Indeed, it can hurt to hope . . . The paradox here is that while it may hurt to hope, the dangers of not hoping are far worse. 

She goes on to write about how we should not live with low expectations or let these dreams die, but instead keep running to God. To process life with Him, even in our disappointments. To be real with God, to struggle through these things with Him. That your life is part of a bigger story, even bigger than the dreams and plans that you have.

It can be tempting to just work these things out on our own, or to run away with our emotions . . . but as Tim Keller has said, "Every single emotion that you have should be processed in prayer."

It's so much easier said than done . . . but let's keep hoping, keep running, keep struggling, keep trusting that God is good - even in disappointment.

June 23, 2014

bold and confident

I have been meditating on a few of God's promises lately . . .

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry,Abba, Father.” 
- Romans 8:15
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.- Hebrews 4:16 
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. - Ephesians 2:8-9 

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace . . . - Ephesians 2:13-14

It is such a simple . . . yet astonishing and miraculous truth, to know that we have full access to the Father. That we can have a personal relationship with the one who created the universe.

Because Jesus did everything necessary in our place, we now have all the benefits of being God's adopted children. We are told that we have been brought near to God, and that we can cry out to Him as our Father. 

We don't have to clean ourselves up, get our act together, or get that one stubborn habit under control first. 

He invites us as we are - as we are! - to just come. 

We don't have to follow a ten-step program, be in a certain building, be "good enough," or go through someone to get to God. Jesus has done everything necessary to bridge the gap. 

On the cross, He declared It is finished! (John 19:30). That means there's nothing you or I could add or take away from salvation, from grace, from His invitation to come into relationship with Him.

I cannot express how much this truth has changed my life. How comforting and relieving it is to know that you are welcomed, fully known and fully loved - despite all of my sin, my flaws, my daily struggles. 

Reflecting on this helps me to see more of what Paul meant when he said, Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. (Philippians 3:8)

Yes, Jesus is the greatest treasure.

June 13, 2014

calling to mind

If there's one thing I'm taking away from the book "One Thousand Gifts," it's the power that a little perspective change and gratitude can have.

The author kept a log of what she was thankful for . . . even in the daily, mundane, ordinary. Little signs of God's hand in her life, blessings.

It calls to mind how God is involved in the smallest details of our lives.

I also read a book on prayer a few years ago that suggested writing prayer cards for different areas of your life . . . with a few specific prayer requests that you're presenting to God at the time. I kept a handful of those cards and pulled one out the other day. This card is almost two years old, and God answered every prayer that I had written down. It was amazing and encouraging to see how God has worked in such tangible ways. To call to mind those things as well.

I was inspired to start doing this again . . . to keep a journal of specific prayer requests, as well as the little things that I am thankful for on a regular basis. That way my eyes are opened to the hand of God even in the most "dull" moments . . . and I can look back and see how He has carried me and answered specific prayers.

I will share a glimpse of my "thankful" list . . .

- scent of gardenias and honeysuckle
- summer thunderstorms
- airplane noise
- the smell of laundry as I pass through a neighborhood on a jog

June 9, 2014

remembering, thanking, trusting

I finished reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp yesterday. Chapter eight particularly stuck out to me.

The whole premise of the book is to see God's gifts, presence and grace in the daily, in the mundane, and even in the trials and sufferings in this life. To be thankful, to have a changed perspective.

She writes about battling anxiety by surrendering it in prayer, remembering God's goodness, being thankful and trusting God with the future.

Here are a few nuggets:

And trust is that: work. The work of trusting love. Intentional and focused. Sometimes, too often, I don't want to muster the energy. Stress and anxiety seem easier. Easier to let a mind run wild with the worry than to exercise discipline, to reign her in, slip the blinders on and train her to walk steady in certain assurance, not spooked by the specters looming ahead. Are stress and worry evidences of a soul too lazy, too undisciplined, to keep gaze fixed on God? To stay in love? 
Thanks is what builds trust. 
Every time fear freezes and worry writhes, every time I surrender to stress, aren't I advertising the unreliability of God? That I really don't believe? But if I'm grateful to the Bridge Builder for the crossing of a million strong bridges, thankful for a million faithful moments, my life speaks my beliefs and I trust Him again. 
Trust is the bridge from yesterday to tomorrow, built with planks of thanks. Remembering frames up gratitude. Gratitude lays our the planks of trust. I can walk the planks - from known to unknown - and know: He holds. I could walk unafraid. 

remembering with thanks is what causes us to trust - to really believe.

If I stop and reflect on all the ways that God has carried me, all the ways that He has provided for me, I am reminded of how trustworthy He is. I am reminded of His character and His provision. That gives me momentum for the future . . . while it is unknown, I am reassured that I am safe in His care. 

How has God blessed you and provided for you? Stop and reflect on this . . . how does it help you to move forward?

June 2, 2014

Walking by faith and having a crisis of belief

This book. Super good. Our small group is going through it right now, and I am going to be really sad when it's over. I feel like everyone in group is learning a lot, the study is not burdensome and I honestly look forward to going through each week.

This past week focuses on walking by faith and having a crisis of belief. 

Christians are called to walk with God . . . and having an ongoing relationship with Him requires us to trust Him, even when (or especially when) we cannot see what He is doing.

When circumstances start to become difficult, will we trust God and seek after Him? Will we exercise faith, believing that He is who He says He is? Will we continue to go to Him for direction and provision, even when we can't see? Or will we go our own way, trusting ourselves, our resources and our perspective instead?

No matter what stage of life you're in or what difficulties you are facing, you can apply this to your life.

Here are some nuggets from this week's study:

Faith is confidence that what God promised or said will come to pass. Sight is the opposite of faith. If you can clearly see how something can be accomplished, more than likely, faith is not required. 
We forget that when God speaks, He always reveals what He is going to do - not what He wants us to do for Him. We join Him so He can do His work through us. We don't have to be able to accomplish the task with our limited ability or resources. With faith we can confidently proceed to obey Him because we know He is going to bring to pass what He purposes. Jesus indicated that what is impossible with man is possible with God (see Mark 10:27). The scriptures continually bear witness that this is true. 
What you do reveals what you believe about God, regardless of what you say. When God reveals what He is purposing to do, you face a crisis - a decision time. God and the world can tell from your response what you really believe about God. Your trust in God will determine what you do and how you live.  
A crisis of belief is not a calamity in your life but a turning point where you must make a decision. You must decide what you truly believe about God. 
There are times in my life where I have faced this crisis of belief . . . did I trust that God would provide, or would I turn the other direction and miss out on what He had for me? Things that only He could provide, like when I had to raise support for a mission trip to Nicaragua. I was in a position where I had to trust God . . . I was forced to depend on Him more fully.

Where have you faced this turning point in your life? It's not a one-time experience, God will continually bring us to places where we are humbled and must rely on Him. When God comes through in the way that only He can, it strengthens our faith and our relationship with Him.

I recently went on a trip for memorial day with a ton of other singles. When I came back from the trip, I was struggling with discontentment and fearing that online dating is the only way I will ever find someone.

I believe God used this study to speak to me in that discontentment. I had to stop and realize . . . these thoughts and my anxiety are showing me what I believe about God. I am believing that He won't provide, or that He needs my help (and the internet's help) in this area of my life.

The way I live reveals what I believe about God. Once again, He is calling me to trust Him when I cannot see how He will provide. In every season, God is calling us to walk by faith and come to that crucial point . . . will we rely on our resources and abilities, or will we turn to Him with open hands?
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