Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on our own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6
Proverbs 3:5-6 is probably one of the easiest verses to quote when someone is struggling with a life decision. “Trust God. He’ll show you the way.” Memorized when we were young, these verses are our quick to quotes quips. Not sure what to do? Trust God.
So easy to say, yet so hard to do.
Many times when facing a new challenge have I caught myself thinking, “Just give me a little more time to think it through; I’ll figure it out. I've got this.” Or, “I’m not sure it’s going to be okay. If I don’t act now, things aren’t going to work out right.” In both situations I am leaning on my own understanding and not trusting God with all my heart.
It’s so easy to say, but so hard to do.
But, the beauty in the wisdom of Proverbs 3:5-6 is I don’t have to worry about the decisions I make when I am walking closely with the Lord. I don’t have to fret if my choices are the right choices or not. God promises me in these verses that if I am yielding my heart and will to Him, any direction I go will be the right way. My path will be His path because my heart is aligned to Him. When a car is properly aligned it steers straight. When the wheels are out of alignment, a car pulls in one direction or another forcing the driver to tug on the steering wheel in order to keep the car going straight. The same is true for us. When we are in right alignment with God, our actions flow smoothly in the direction God wants them to go. If we are not in right alignment we drift bouncing back and forth between the ruts in the road. Improper spiritual alignment lead us to drift off course and forces God to tug us back on track.
So, how do we stay in right alignment?
First, we have to trust God with all our heart. That means every crevice of our hearts’ desires needs to be entrusted to Him. We need to turn all of our desires and agendas over to God. We need to search our hearts and honestly ask God to reveal to us what we are holding back from him.
Second, we can’t rely on ourselves. We need to stop trying to figure everything out, and trust instead. We need to give up control and wait on God. We need to seek Him by reading his Word and praying, regularly. We need to develop an intimacy with God.
Lastly, we need to acknowledge Him. We need to recognize His authority. We need to stop being the back seat driver telling Him which way to go, and let Him drive. God knows where He is going and where He is taking us. We need to acknowledge that and sit back and let Him lead. We need to trust him enough to be in charge.
Consequently, if your life feels like it is drifting off course, check your alignment. Take the issue to God, the best mechanic in the world, get it fixed, and trust Him to keep you on track.
“And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground…” Exodus 14:22
I don’t know what overwhelming obstacle you face today, but the Israelites were facing a totally terrifying and impossible situation. A vast sea lay endlessly before them and a well-armed gigantic army was rumbling behind them. From where they stood, death was inevitable. No matter which direction they went, they were not going to get out alive. It was a matter of playing “would you rather die drowning in the sea or by the sword of your enemy?” Pick one.
To make matters worse, the guiding cloud of God was no longer in front of them. It now glowed in the dark behind them. The choice was clearly being made for them. Move forward, not backward. But forward was water. Endless, deep, non-breathable water. Forward was just as deadly as backward. Escape, even just survival, appeared to be impossible.
I’m sure they wondered. Why God? Why are you forcing us into a place you know we won’t survive? Why did you take us out of Egypt to drown us in the Red Sea? They may have even muttered, “Can’t we go back now?” Or even simply, “I just don’t understand.”
How often do we face situations that seem impossible to us? How many times have we followed God only to be stopped in our tracks by obstacles we didn’t expect? How often have we wondered if we were truly doing the right thing after we had left everything that was familiar behind?
The people had been faithful and now they were stuck between a rock and a hard place. The only thing they had done to be in this situation was to follow God’s directions.
“Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land and the waters were divided. And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.” (Exodus 14:21-22).
The miracle in this story to me isn’t so much that God parted the sea, but the fact that the people stepped into the sea that God parted. God’s power and glory aren’t hard to find. Just look at a sunrise or a sunset. Visit the Rocky Mountains or Grand Tetons. Gaze at a newborn baby.
God’s miracles are around us every day. I know God has the ability to divide the sea, the hard part for me is trusting His miracles enough to walk in them. I believe God can make a way through any of my difficult circumstances, I’m just not always sure He will do it for me. I tend to stand still, not moving, waiting until the path is safe and clear before I do something. I want to see what He is doing. I want a well-lit trail to follow before I step out. I crave continual reassurance that what I am doing is the right thing. For the people of Israel, the seas parted during the night when it was dark. God does some of His best, most powerful work when we can’t see it happening.
God not only parted the sea for them while they waited in the dark, but He also called them to walk through the path He miraculously made for them. The ground beneath them was dry, but the walls beside them were still high and wet. To walk between those walls of water must have been knee-shaking, fist-clenching, teeth-rattling terrifying. But they did it. They walked through that insurmountable water to safety. That my friends is what gives me courage. It’s not God doing great things (I know He can do that), it’s me walking in the great things He is doing in spite of the difficulties, hardships, and wet walls that surround me.
Yes, God will make a way for us when there doesn’t seem to be way, but we have to trust Him enough to step out and walk in the direction He is leading us- no matter what.
The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household. John 4: 53
I couldn’t fix it. As much as I wanted to, I just couldn’t fix it. I couldn’t make it better. I was helpless. I was powerless. I was heartbroken. I couldn’t help my child.
Parenting books never tell you about the gut wrenching pain of watching your children struggle. The how to books can give you a list of things to do or not to do, but the lists can’t prepare you for the emotional desperation that comes when you realize you can’t fix a difficult situation surrounding your child. It’s as if he is drowning just outside of your grasp and you can’t reach him to save him.
The father in our passage today was in this position. He was desperate, out of options, helpless, and heartbroken. His son was dying and he couldn’t do anything about it. With nowhere else to go, he went to Cana where the man who had turned water to wine was staying. Maybe, just maybe, he could help. It was a 16.5 mile journey. The trek was inconvenient, difficult, and humbling. The father was a man of power and position, but his wealth and status could not save his sick son. He was out of options. He was at the end of himself. So, he made the journey with the last ounce of hope he had in his heart.
I don’t know about you, but nothing drives me to my knees faster than the pain of my children. The helplessness I feel causes me to earnestly seek the Lord on their behalf because there is nothing else I can do. I can’t heal them or mend their broken hearts. The struggle is theirs not mine. It’s as if my hands are bound at my side and I can only watch as they fight against adversity. As I stand on the sidelines watching, my heart is twisted and squeezed leaving me emotionally drained and desperate to rescue them.
The sickness of the son caused the father to seek out the Healer. In his desperation, the father poured out his last drop of hope, “’Sir, come down before my child dies.’” He left his last residue of hope to rescue his child at the feet of Jesus. “Jesus said to him. ‘Go, your son will live.’ The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way” (John 4: 49-50). In this moment an exchange occurred. Faith for healing. Healing for faith. The man’s faith brought the son healing and the son’s healing brought the man faith. In taking the only steps he could, the father brought healing to his son. His faith was rewarded and strengthened by a struggle that was not his own.
God often uses the struggles my children face to challenge and strengthen my faith. Their struggles place me in a position of powerlessness which forces me to trust in God alone. And, just like the father in the story my faith grows as I watch God work miracles in the lives of my children.
When You Feel Lost in the Crowd
The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. Psalms 145:17-18
In sea of unfamiliar faces surrounding me, the room begins to close in pushing feelings of panic up into my throat. Just as the feeling of being overwhelmed and lost begins to rise in my chest and drown me, I hear it. The distinct familiar sound of her voice. I would know it anywhere. Its tone. Its pitch. Its volume. Its familiarity. Its comfort. Its security. The voice belongs to my closest friend and at the sound of it I know I’m not going to drown lost in the sea of unfamiliar people. At the sound of her voice, I know I am safe. I know I am known. I know I am not alone.
No matter how big the crowd is there are certain voices in our life we can pick out no matter what. Our mothers. Our fathers. Our best friends. Our spouses. Our children. Psalms 145:17-18 tells us God is the same way with our voice. In spite of being in charge of the universe and hearing billions of voices a day, He knows our voice. God knows my voice. Did you catch that? My voice. He hears ME in the middle of a crowd. He hears ME in the midst of his busy. He hears ME no matter how many people are talking to him. He can find ME in a crowd. And what’s even more important? He hears Me. He listens to Me. He is never far from ME. The same is true for you. God knows your voice and hears you when you call.
I don’t know about you, but I take great comfort in this truth. As a true introvert, my world is easily rocked by new places with unknown people. The presence of one familiar person is all I need to keep from feeling like I am drowning. Just like hearing the voice of a friend brings me peace in the midst of a crowd of unfamiliar people, knowing that God is close by and will hear me when I call, is all I need sometimes to step out into the unknown challenges that each day brings to me.
The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe. Proverbs 18:10
I’m not going to lie, tornadoes terrify me. My years of living in Arkansas filled me with tornado season dread. The changing of seasons with their capricious air temperatures brought about the evil time of tornadoes. I am a western girl. I grew up in the hot, dry desert of Arizona. I had no clue when I moved across the country at nineteen what “taking shelter in the bathtub” meant. I soon learned that the ominous dark clouds with their dripping tails hanging down into the yellow tinged sky below were a sign of dangerous weather to come. If the signs in the sky were coupled with the sounds of sirens, we were to take shelter in the safest, most interior, windowless place in the house. For us, in a house without a basement, safe shelter meant a closet or the bathroom.
Having a safe place to hide in a times of trouble is not a modern concept. Throughout history settled societies have built places where they can take refuge in times of trouble. In ancient days, walls provided protection for the inhabitants of the city. The middle ages ushered in castles and keeps as places of protection. Outdated city walls and castles have been replaced by modern building designs and materials made to withstand a host of apocalyptic events to keep us safe. Although the means of fortification have changed, the purpose has remained the same-to provide a safe and secure place to take refuge when storms come or enemies attack.
Proverbs 18:10 tells us that the Lord is our place of refuge. He is our strong tower. He is our refuge. He is our safe place. When storms come or enemies attack, we are to run and seek refuge in Him. Does this mean that nothing bad will ever happen to me? That no one will ever hurt me?
But, it does mean that no matter what I face, I am not alone. The God who made the universe is on my side. He is with me wherever I go. He is my shelter in times of trouble. He is my source of strength and courage. He is the One I should run to first, when I need help.
Sometimes, my list of worries can be long and I feel overwhelmed by life pressing in on me. In those moments, I often find myself taking my concerns to everyone but God. It’s like I’m standing in an open field when a tornado is coming and I have taken shelter behind a blade of grass when a storm shelter is right in front of me.
God doesn’t promise us a life free of pain or struggles, but he does promise us a safe place to hide when we need it.
I challenge you today to trust God with whatever tornado you face today. Seek shelter in the strong tower of our Savior instead of the flimsy fortresses the world has to offer. He promises to keep us safe.
The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? Psalm 118:6
She doubles over, slaps her knee and laughs “How’s that BOLD coming?” Her eyes twinkle as she chides me about the need to make my one word for the year, bold. Not having a hesitant bone in her body, my friend shakes her head back and forth as I describe how hard it was for me to venture outside my comfort zone in order to take on a new bold adventure. “That’s it? That’s what you were so scared to do?” Her head shakes in disbelief. “That was easy.”
I love having a big, bold, bossy friend. She forces me to do things I wouldn’t normally considering doing. For example, she makes me ride roller coasters. She even tries to coax me into the front row. “It’s a smoother ride.” She purrs hoping to con me into it (It doesn’t work), but at least I get on the ride.
Regardless of whether or not I ride in the front row of a coaster, her sense of adventure and ability to laugh at life emboldens me. She makes me more daring. Her brave makes me braver. Her confidence strengthens my confidence.
Psalms 118:6 is a challenge for me. It is hard for me to state, “I will not fear.” I think I was born afraid. In fact, I have spent most of my life living under the shadow of fear. Fear of failing. Fear of disappointing someone. Fear of being rejected. Fear of looking stupid in front of others. My fears have kept me tethered to things I felt were safe and that I could control. Bold was not a word in my vocabulary; timid was.
But, timid is not the truth that God has for my life. God doesn’t want me to be afraid. God’s truth tells me to be brave. To be bold. To not be afraid. God’s truth tells me to not fear. God’s truth tells me that He is at my side. And, in truth, with God at my side, what do I have to fear? Because honestly, with God at my side, what can man do to me?
Just as my bold friend empowers me to be brave, the presence of God at my side, allows me to not be afraid. He enables me to step out and take risks for Him. He makes me brave enough to be bold in-spite of my fear.
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. I Peter 2:24
Just listen in on any conversation for a few minutes, or scroll through your social media feed, and it won’t take long before you hear about someone who is struggling with a health issue. It can be a personal struggle or it can be a loved one’s struggle. But, no matter what, the struggle is real. All around us people are battling illnesses: mental, physical, emotional, temporary, chronic, or even terminal.
When sin entered this world through the disobedient choices of Adam and Eve, the world became broken. Man’s infection of sin spread to all aspects of our environment making it ill. Tainted. Damaged. Diseased. Sick.
Struggling to stay healthy is a byproduct of living in a sin infected world. Getting sick should not surprise us. Staying well should motivate us. Healing should humble us.
I don’t know what health issue you may be struggling with today, but I do know there is healing in our Savior. It may not be the kind of healing we are begging God for, but it is the kind of healing we need.
My mom is currently dying from Alzheimer’s. It is so difficult to watch her slowly fade away, to become less and less of the person she used to be. To see the light of awareness dim in her eyes. I wish my mom could be healed from this terrible disease. I wish she could live her remaining years actively and vibrantly. But, she won’t. I have prayed that God would wrap His arms around her and take her home to be with Him where she will be whole once again. But, He hasn’t.
Does that mean he can’t? No.
Does that mean he won’t? Not yet.
So where is the healing then?
The healing is occurring in me. Each day as I die a little more to sin and live a little more to righteousness, I am healed. Each day as I surrender my selfish desires and lean into His ways, I am healed. Each day as I seek God’s face and pray for those around me, I am healed. Each day as I entrust my life to God to take care of me and to provide for me, I am healed.
You see, it is because of the struggle disease brings into my life that I am forced to go to my Savior. The struggle makes me return to the overseer of my soul. The struggle keeps me yielded and reliant on my Shepherd. It is in that total dependence that my healing begins. The healing that truly matters. The healing of my heart and soul.
Going Through the Motions
I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre. (Psalms 43:4)
My mouth will speak wisdom, the meditation of my heart shall be understanding. I will incline my ear to a proverb; I will solve my riddle to the music of the lyre.(Psalms 49:3-40)
For years now I have been using the 365 One Word commitment instead of making New Year’s resolutions and this year I adopted the word mindful. I was led to mindful after spending 2018 trying to be bold. Bold led me to say yes to things I wouldn’t normally commit to and to step out of my comfort zone more often than I usually would. But, by the end of the year I was finding myself going through the motions in my relationships, worship, work, and life. I was doing things but I was checked out mentally and emotionally. I wasn’t truly present in the moment. It was as if I was driving a familiar road reaching my destination but not really knowing how I got there.
In late December, God began laying several words on my heart -balance, present, engaged and mindful. Like an ice cube at the bottom of a glass of water, mindful began rising to the top of my word list. It surfaced to the top partially because I could empower other words by putting mindful in front of them. Mindfully present. Mindful running. Mindful study. Mindful eating. Mindful worship.
Mindful worship. There are so many times I have sat in attendance at church but didn’t truly worship. I wish I could say it only happened once or twice a month, but I would be lying. Months, or maybe even years, have passed with me being physically present in worship but not mindfully engaged.
In our scripture passages today the Psalmist challenges us to be mindfully present in our worship. Tucked in these verses are some guidelines for how to have mindful worship with God.
First, we are to go (Psalms 43:4). Our modern day altar of God is church. Just as the Israelites had to go to the Temple to worship at the altar of God, we need to go to church.
Second, we are to praise God in song (Psalms 43:4, 49:4). Music is the highway to our souls. It is the access point that opens our heart to hear the Lord. Let the words of the songs and the sound of the music move your heart to mindful remembrance of God’s goodness to you this week (Psalms 43:4, 45:17).
Thirdly, we are to listen (Psalms 49:3). Listen to the wisdom of the scripture. Incline your heart to what God wants you to hear from the scripture. Worship is not about the one delivering the message, it is about the Message.
Lastly, we are to share (Psalms 49:3). Use the truths God teaches you to strengthen someone else. Speak up in a small group Bible study and share your insights. Too shy to share? Write a card and share a verse. Drop a note and offer a prayer. Give a hug and whisper a word of encouragement.
When we go the altar of God this week, let’s purpose in our hearts to engage in mindful worship
I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. You have tried by heart, you have visited me by night, you have tested me, and you will find nothing; I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress. Psalms 16:7-8, 17:3
I don’t know about you but I feel like one of the greatest sacrifices I have ever made was sleep. It was not chocolate, coffee, or Netflix, it was sleep. I have always been a sleep needy person. I routinely went to bed by 11:00 PM in college. I often slept late on Saturdays. Less than eight hours of sleep at night resulted in a miserable twelve hour day for me and anyone close to me. I thrived best on nine to ten hours of sleep a night.
Oh to be young and single again!
These days I am lucky to get seven fairly decent hours of sleep a night. Dating a night owl was the first dent in my sleep armor. Staying up late to be with my sweetheart became the new norm for me. Marriage brought the next chink in my armor of slumber with the ending of my quiet uninterrupted night of sleep. The third fissure in my weakening armor protected sleep was motherhood. The cries of hungry infants and sick children wreaked havoc on my sleep cycle. Gone were the days of long stretches of deep undisturbed dream-filled sleep. Shallow, light, always listening sleep took up residence instead. Middle age brought the final blow to my ability to sleep well at night. Between night sweats, bathroom breaks and insomnia, I have come to the conclusion that eight hours of sleep at night is no longer a necessity, but a luxury reserved for vacations and illness.
I have spent many nights fighting against the invasions on my sleep by pounding my pillow, tossing and turning, letting out deep sighs, staring at a dark ceiling wishing for sleep to magically appear, I have wept quietly in my pillow pleading for just enough sleep to make it through the next day. My sleep battles were usually focused on regaining the ground that was being lost to awakenings. I didn’t think of the interruptions as divine appointments with God.
Our verses today tell us that God often speaks to us at night. He whispers into our hearts through our dreams at night. He awakens us with sudden thoughts of inspiration or words of conviction. He arouses us to pray for those who need us to intercede for them. There is something special about the night. Our most intimate conversations happen in the dark. The darkness of night frees us to share what we hide from each other during the day. We are most vulnerable at night. Nighttime makes us still. Nighttime heightens our senses. Nighttime makes us receptive. Nighttime is often when God speaks.
The question is will we listen? Will we stop fighting the interruptions of our sleep at night and embrace them instead? Will we re-frame those middle of the night disruptions into divine encounters? Will we use those moments of insomnia to make ourselves available to God for inspiration, conviction or intercession? Will we let God interrupt our sleep?
Maybe the sacrifice of sleep is actually a gift of worship offered up to God in the wee hours of the night.
And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home. Luke 1: 56
I remember the first three months of my pregnancies as being the longest three months of my life. The effort of keeping the news secret in case something happened to the baby was taxing on my inner spirit. Being nauseous and throwing up at the same time every day was tiring on my body. And my self-esteem took a beating while I was waiting to finally look pregnant and not like I was overindulging on Oreo's.
When the pregnancy was no longer a secret and I was free to share my experiences with others who were already mothers or in the midst of their own pregnancies (there were three of us teaching who were pregnant at the same time), I found comfort in the fact that I was not alone in my “I’m not so sure about what is happening to my body” experience. I found solace with the friends who hadn’t felt great either for the first few months of their pregnancies. Their tender eyes, quick hugs and encouraging words told me they understood and I didn’t feel guilty telling them I wasn’t enjoying this experience very much.
God knew Mary would need a trail blazer before her. He knew she would need someone who was a few months ahead of her on the pregnancy journey to provide her with advice on how to handle the changes that were about to occur in her body. He provided her with a role model to follow on how to handle a miracle pregnancy. Most of all, He knew she needed to help Elizabeth give birth to John in order to be able to give birth to Jesus alone with Joseph in the stable.
God knew what Mary needed and he provided it for her through her relationship with Elizabeth. Elizabeth’s willingness to let Mary stay with her for three months was a profound gift of friendship and faith. Elizabeth may not have realized it at the time, but sharing her life and experience with Mary must have strengthen and empowered her to withstand the challenging road that was ahead of her.
Sweet sisters, we are the greatest gift to each other. When we are willing to open up our hearts and share our faith experiences with each other great things happen. God doesn’t do things by accident. He didn’t send Mary to Elizabeth as a last resort. He guided that encounter on purpose.
I believe God places us in each other’s path for a purpose. Our purpose may change from year to year or from person to person. We may be there to point the way or to offer encouragement to someone who is searching. We may be the one who needs to ask for help or lend support. It might be that our experience uniquely qualifies us to offer compassion and understanding to a hurting heart. Or it could be that our youth might be required to inspire new ideas or to bring hope to someone who has been beaten down by the daily grind of life.
Dear reader, you may be the Mary who needs a mentor, or you may be the Elizabeth who is being called to mentor, but my prayer today is that as women of God we reach out, circle up, embrace our roles and help each other as only godly women can.
Between a husband, 2 sons, and teaching high school my sanity is found in running and Starbucks. I have a circle of running friends who inspire me to be authentic and real as I live a life of faith before them.