The Art of Womanliness

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[Originally published HERE at www.desiringgod.org]

What does it mean to be a woman?

Few things evoke such emotion as someone questioning, or attempting to define, what it means to be a woman — especially, in my case, a Christian woman. The overarching concept of womanhood trickles down into so many of our roles and relationships that it can easily become the currency by which we measure our worth. We vehemently resist anything that might threaten the foundation of womanliness we’ve defined for ourselves.

What Matters Today?

Lately, I’ve devoted a lot of bandwidth to thinking about and studying the complexities of biblical womanhood, submission, and other gender controversies. One evening, I sat down and began furiously organizing my thoughts and observations into meaningful impactful words and sentences meant to analyze and “solve” the issues. . . .

And then I stopped. I looked at my passionately penned words and hesitated. Not so much over the words themselves, but the why behind them.

How will grasping these profound theological ideas before I climb into bed impact who I am when I climb back out in the morning? Will my day look different? Will I be a different wife, or mother, or friend? My current struggles and sins would still be there to greet me with the sunrise. I’ve never wanted to be another vague and distant voice adding to the noise.

So I put away my notes and went to bed wrestling with God. What do I need to know about womanhood right now? The next morning, as I woke up to the sun and its colors and God’s beautiful new mercies, I stepped out of bed with the question pressing on my soul, “How will I be an excellent woman and reflect God’s beauty today?”

The Always-Pressing Question

How do I reflect God’s beauty today? This is the question that should be at the forefront of our mind, longing for an answer every hour. It’s what lies beneath all our labels and arguments and definitions — whether you’re a young wife or a grandmother, single or married, eight-years-old or eighty.

It’s the question that mattered when I waved goodbye to the bus carrying my children off to public school, and it mattered when I sat for hours schooling them at home. It mattered when I was waitressing twelve-hour shifts, when I was in D.C. editing military plans to combat weapons of mass destruction, and when I was changing diapers and mediating temper tantrums as a stay-at-home mom.

“We put so much energy and effort into defining and promoting what we think real womanhood is, believing that the “right” definitions or labels will magically make us the real woman — strong, godly, compassionate, productive, respected, prized. But real women are willing to pay the steep cost of living out God’s vision for women in the details of our particular life.”

We put so much energy and effort into defining and promoting what we think real womanhood is, believing our “right” definitions or labels will magically make us more obedient and holy or a crusader who cares more about social justice or oppression — without the cost of actually living it out.

Like a carefully chosen tattoo on the forearm, we imagine the perfectly defined self-identification will mark us so powerfully as to change how we are perceived in the world. We believe our ideologies or labels will magically make us more obedient and holy or a crusader who cares more about social justice or oppression — without the cost of actually living it out. Too often, the vortex of discourse surrounding biblical womanhood blinds us to what it means to live excellently and reflect the beautiful image of God in this very moment, in the next thing we do, or type, or say.

Tell the Story of the Beautiful God

As women, our strengths, our beauty, our value, and the essence of who we are, all come from our Creator — the one whose image we bear —long before the gender debates of the twentieth century. My Maker defined me when he selectively impressed his fingerprints upon me as I was formed. He defines all women when he intentionally creates us to reflect unique facets of his beauty.

What does it mean to be an excellent woman, today? It is to tell that story with strength and passion, to magnify the beauty of Christ and delight ourselves in the joy of God as we reflect him in our own unique ways.

Satan hates beauty because he hates the one it reflects. He does his best to destroy it and abuse it and oppress it and contort it into reflecting the broken world rather than God. If he can’t destroy it, he is content to see us spend our days fighting and writing about it. Satan is happy to see us discuss the beauty of womanhood all we want — so long as it distracts us from living it. There is a way to be so paralyzed by every new “how-to,” and so divided by debate that we will never get around to actually submitting our lives to God with a willingness to be led by him wherever it may take us.

A Partial Picture of an Infinite Artwork

We often work backward, focusing so much on presenting ourselves to the world as image-bearers of our chosen ideologies, forgetting whose image we were made to bear. God’s glory needs to overflow into every single aspect of what we do as women — this is what it means to be conformed to the image of Christ.

But what does this look like?

Since the infinite God is the source of our beauty, we could never paint a complete picture of what an excellent and biblical woman looks like. Knowing the source of our beauty and excellence should give us purpose in the small things and humility in the big things. True beauty is not subjective — there are things which are not beautiful — but it is infinite, in that there are endless ways to truly reflect our Artist.

It’s letting go of what my fists are so tightly clenched onto when I’m fighting with my husband. It’s identifying the places my mind wanders when I’m angry or anxious. It’s seeking God’s kingdom at the expense of my own. It’s treating my body as a temple, but not an idol (1 Corinthians 6:19). It’s being greatly saddened by my sin, but joyful in God’s forgiveness of it. It’s putting aside the lesser things that hold me occupied to hold or read to my child, and it’s allowing someone else to hold or read to that same child when God puts other duties before me.

It might be letting others lead when I feel the most equipped, or leading when I feel most unable, because God’s power is perfected in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). It might be keeping quiet when I feel like shouting, or loudly proclaiming when I feel too timid to even whisper. It might be serving others when I most want to be served; it might be resting when serving draws people to me rather than Christ.

It’s doing my work with excellence. It’s allowing my womanhood and its beauty and its answers to be the fruit of God’s spirit within me, rather than my focus.

The Art of Womanliness

That’s biblical womanhood — the art of womanliness, if you will. It is actually living so beautifully and excellently that the symphony of our lives draws others to the infinite beauty of our designer, drowning out the provocative siren song of the world, whose fleeting and shallow beauty lures only to ugly brokenness.

Art can reflect but never surpass its artist, and when we climb out of bed with the goal of being a masterpiece whose beauty reflects our creator for his glory in the very next thing we do — only then will the ripples of our faithfulness carry on for eternity.

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The Ugly Snapshots

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I tend to write what I’m learning. What I am being convicted of, or truths God is putting before me over and over until my slow processor at long last recognizes the patterns and repetitions as the pictures they were meant to be, or in the very least that they are pictures. Sometimes beautiful pictures, sometimes ugly ones — ugly in that they capture weakness or brokenness or messiness. Though stirring I suppose, in the way that they are snapshots of something real and unfiltered and I am grateful for the glimpse of something as it is, rather than how I’d like it to be.

I then attempt to study and organize and string together these various snapshots into clear and meaningful strands that convey something truthful and useful and practical. It helps me attach meaning to those raw segments of life and emotion. It motivates me to seek God for answers and look for his providential thread being woven in my life. It excites me to share those fragments all sensically strung together in the hopes that others might appreciate the masterpieces God is slowing weaving in my life and more easily identify the ones being woven in their own.

It’s a craft I enjoy and see the utility of, but the more I do it, the more I’m starting to realize the limitations of it. I’ll have seasons and bursts of productivity when I feel as if I can barely write quickly enough to capture and properly organize all the pictures God is putting before me, like one of those old-fashioned slide projectors being advanced way too fast to really savor and experience the fleeting images. And then nothing. Though nothing isn’t quite the right word, because so often I’m thinking and feeling more than ever, but I feel as if I’m staring at a messy pile of snapshots, that aren’t particularly lovely or related and I just can’t quite figure out how to string them together into something logical or useful. Not as a lack of transparency, or a desire to only show the pretty things, because I’ve never been one to shy away from sharing my hard things or my struggles — more so a desire to share them in the most useful way possible. Isn’t it what we do with those ugly things that makes them beautiful?

And that’s often my problem, for as deeply as I think and feel about so many things, I’m hopelessly practical — even utilitarian at times. As if I’m stuck at the extreme ends of all the personality profiles and can’t figure out how to consistently migrate to the middle of any of them, which is where you feel like everything is supposed to mesh and all the magic happens.

Like when you realize you haven’t posted on Instagram in ages, and you flip through your photos and all you seem to have are utilitarian screenshots and grocery lists and things you’re selling on craigslist, or else those blurry shutter clicks of weeping babies or shattered coffee mugs sitting in puddles of never-sipped coffee, merely meant to quickly communicate life as it’s happening to your husband at work. In ways that effortlessly convey the depths of your emotions at that very second without necessitating words you don’t feel like (or probably shouldn’t be) forming. And you realized you haven’t documented anything in weeks that isn’t either sterile or blubbering — no feelings or all of them.

But I’m starting to realize that maybe I’m missing out on the value of trying to see God in those individual and unrelated snapshots. Maybe those micro-moments in life are meant to be lessons in and of themselves, and while I don’t know for sure, I do know that the uncertainty and unknowingness of it all is doing things to me that I think I need, even though I can’t quite articulate exactly what they are yet.

Perhaps I should start writing more often without having outlined exactly where it’s going to go and how it’s going to end. Maybe I need to practice and learn how to look and listen for God and his truths in all the little moments when I haven’t yet figured out the point or the lesson, or if there even is one.

That one paragraph I’ve re-read five times, in the book I’ve been trying to read for weeks but keep getting interrupted.

Those intense discussions about politics that bring out so many thoughts and so few answers.

The moments when I hate these culturally tumultuous times for revealing so much ugliness in the body of Christ, and yet I catch glimpses of realness and truth and feel like something better is just maybe beginning to emerge, albeit slowly.

That great dinner date I finally get to have with my husband where we at last share some food and drinks and excitement that God must be doing big things, but we can’t figure out for the life of us what they are.

Those conversations that are equal parts hard and frustrating and deep and true. And I can’t tell if we’ve moved forward or backward.

That acknowledgment that I’m struggling in so many areas of parenting, and I’m ready to make big changes, but can’t quite make them stick.

That realization that we’ve been “moving” for six months now and still have no forwarding address and still can’t figure out what God has for us in a town I don’t really want to be in, but I know it’s just gotta be something.

Those moments when I profoundly miss the community and ministry and relationships I had to leave, yet I know I’m being purposefully altered by the deep lessons God is carving out in my soul in all the quietness.

Those days when I have to fall to my knees over and over again because my ugly sin keeps re-surfacing and my knees are sore and I’m tired, but I feel profoundly impacted by all that time I’ve spent before a holy God.

Those few words of scripture that will pierce my soul unexpectedly, though I couldn’t even tell you why.

Those hours that string into days and months, and I live them feeling as if nothing is happening and nothing is changing and yet I feel like a completely different person than who I was half a year ago. Maybe in good ways, but I don’t feel quite ready for that adjective yet — more so, deep ways.

And if our God is the Lord of our lives, he’s also the Lord of our minutes and our seconds.

He already sees every single snapshot of my life from beginning to end. From the time he called me into this world to the time he’ll carry me out. And even the times I am unable to picture how they’ll all fall out into lovely arranged collages, or identify the chapters or even guess tomorrow’s pages, I know they are not haphazardly placed. Each one has a story and an aim and significance, even if only for the fingers that placed them there and the one who was with me as it was taken. There is value right then and right there in the things not fully understood, regardless of what is made of them later.

And I find comfort in words written long ago, reminding me of our wise and loving God who is directing all these mixed up snapshots of my life, as he soothes my heart into patience, lifts it in hope, and floods it with courage for the times ahead, whatever they may be.

“The whole creation groaneth and travaileth together in pain; but its groans shall not disturb the music of their life, nor its travail cloud the brightness of their little day. In contrast to this Pagan temper the Christian method is to look elements in the face, and see in them the promise of blessing. Christianity does not simply declare the inevitableness of sorrow, or merely lay down rules for lessening its bitterness. It discovers a wise and loving God directing all the mixed processes of life to a beneficient issue. And thus it soothes the heart into patience, lifts it into hope, and floods it with courage.” ~T. Hammond

 

 

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Why We Count Baskets: The Heart of Abundance & Need

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Mark 8:10. The scene has just shifted from the miraculous and climactic feeding of thousands with a mere seven loaves and a few fishes — Jesus filling the overwhelming deficit between his children’s needs and his abundance. He takes what little they had and gave them far more than they could ever need. More than enough.

Some disciples and Jesus push off in a boat from the eastern side of the Galilean Sea, met on another shore by some Pharisees who want more. His healings and feedings and abundant meeting of needs weren’t what they were looking for. It wasn’t enough.

So they cross the lake once more, distancing themselves from the prideful doubters. Jesus sighs deeply, his soul mourning over the Pharisees’ hardened hearts, their hypocrisy, their deceitfulness, their antagonism. Like leaven in bread, their false doctrine corrupts and spreads and infects, puffing themselves and others’ up with sinful self-sufficiency, leaving no room for truth and humble dependence. No room to be healed or fed. They thought they were enough.

Jesus warns his people — watch out. Be careful of that leaven.

But it’s quiet now. Safe. It’s just them and their rabbi on a boat. A boat not rocked by violent waves in an angry sea like others have been. The sky was likely blue and clear, not dark and menacing like skies that would come later. It’s hard to let warnings sink as deeply into our soul as they must when we’re comfortable.

Their minds wander, as they often do when things are going well… Wait. Someone forgot to bring lunch — at least not an adequate one. It’s not enough. I heard ‘leaven,’ he must be talking about bread. The bread we forgot. Because it’s all about us, our abilities, our planning, our lists, our tasks, our bellies that need filling. If we do everything just right, we’ll have enough for today and tomorrow and next year. And if we don’t do enough, we won’t have enough. Sometimes thinking we aren’t enough is just as dangerous as thinking we are. In both cases — whether we fail or succeed, we are the provider of our needs.

As the leaven even then was at work in their hearts, they too had already forgotten. The provision and the filling and the unplanned, abundant portion they had received, barely even digested. As their provider sat right next to them.

“Do you still not see or understand?”

Jesus had been talking about Pharisees, but for some reason now he asks them about earlier in their journey and earlier in the day. Their last meal.

“When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” “Twelve,” they say.

“And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” “Seven,” they say.

He has them go over the details. Not because they don’t know them, but because they must dwell on them. They remember the numbers of baskets, but they have forgotten or can’t see what those numbers mean. What they reflect. He does not ask them how much they gave, he asks them how much they got back. He draws them from what they did to what he did. For them.

The loaves and the fish and the overflowing baskets are lovely blessings, but the ultimate blessing is not the full belly, but having one who cares whether or not they are hungry or full. The one who took what they handed him, broke it, multiplied it, and handed back an amount far greater than the need. He gave them a tiny but incredible taste of God.

“Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!” (Psalm 34:8).

The only lesson worthy of the miracle, was that God cares for his children. Because that’s what remains whether their bellies are full or they are starving on a prison floor. That’s what would carry them to the end.

“This lesson they had not learned. No doubt the power of the miracle was some proof of his mission, but the love of it proved it better, for it made it worth proving: it was a throb of the Father’s heart. The ground of the Master’s upbraiding is not that they did not understand him, but that they did not trust God; that, after all they had seen, they yet troubled themselves about bread” (George MacDonald, ‘The Cause of Spiritual Stupidity’).

Jesus came not to give us bread, but to give us God. And he gave us himself so we could have God. We will never stop worrying about bread until we grasp this. When our minds are so full of worry, we can’t think with simplicity about anything else. We must stop and remember what we have seen, what we have been given, what we have eaten and tasted — not to add up and count and collect so we can throw up a lovely little #blessed — but to remember the hands it was given by and ponder why. We must learn to gaze up — in our abundance and in our want — to the God who loves us so fiercely and knows our needs long before the hunger pangs start. We must believe and trust that he will always be bigger than that measly little loaf and bigger still than more baskets of bread than we could ever eat.

“Distrust is atheism, and the barrier to all growth. Lord, we do not understand thee, because we do not trust thy Father… The things of thy world so crowd our hearts, that there is no room in them for the things of thy heart, which would raise ours above all fear, and make us merry children in our Father’s house! Surely many a whisper of the watching Spirit we let slip through brooding over a need not yet come to us! Tomorrow makes today’s whole head sick, its whole heart faint. When we should be still, sleeping or dreaming, we are fretting about an hour that lies a half sun’s-journey away!” (George MacDonald, ‘The Cause of Spiritual Stupidity’).

Help us to obey, to resist, to trust.

Help me to look back and count my baskets. Remember whose hands gave them. Recognize that he is enough. He was, he is, and he always will be. Know that I was provided for because I am deeply loved. Know that because I am deeply loved, I will be provided for. Not always in the ways I want but always in the ways I need. While I can’t follow the thread of providence forward to see the peaks and valleys where it will take me, I can trust and rest in the fact that I know where the thread I desperately cling to leads. My provider is on the boat with me, carrying me to my Father. And when my tired eyes are struggling to see what often feels so far away, I can always follow that providential thread back and clearly see from whom it came, for that is to whom I will go.

 

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Prayers Like Arrows

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[Read part one HERE (and a shorter version originally published HERE at www.desiringgod.com)]

My struggles with prayer run deep. The spiritual deserts in my life have always been accompanied by a parched prayer life. Eventually, I came to realize this was not only a symptom, but a cause. I was neglecting the very thing that would satisfy my weary, thirsty soul. I was ignoring the path that would not only lead me out of the desert, but keep me out of the wilderness in the first place.

I often fall short of my good intentions when I fail to view prayer as a discipline that needs to be learned and practiced and developed. We speak frequently of the importance of prayer, but often don’t know (or forget) the “hows” of prayer. Even Jesus’s own disciples had to ask Jesus how to pray (Luke 11:1). They saw something in the way he prayed so fervently and intimately to his Father that made them long to do the same. Lord, teach us to pray!

While it won’t be the same for everyone, here are specific actions that have really helped me in my battle against a weak prayer life.

Set prayer apart. The more we pray, the more we want to pray. To do this, you need to build it into the rhythm of your day any way you can: set alarms, leave notes, put it in your day planner. Prayer is a practice that requires discipline and perseverance, and we should own the cost. Prayer is the greatest act of our day, and we must fight for it. And not just in times of need. It matters how we train and prepare for the battle.

Learn to withdraw. Pull away from distractions — the phone, the computer, the TV, the constant noise of modern life — and find a way to separate yourself so you can be and feel “shut in with God.” It can be a challenge when you work away from home for long hours or are sharing your house from dawn-to-dusk with a bunch of loud and energetic children, but make it a priority. Your car on lunch break, a quiet corner in the office, a closet in between meals or feedings or naptimes, or simply the quiet of your heart if that’s all you can muster. But find solitude, and pray (Luke 4:425:1622:41).

Prepare for prayer. This one has really helped me. Just because I can pray anytime and anywhere I failed to realize the amazing benefits of truly preparing myself for prayer in advance and turning my soul towards God in anticipation of communion with my Creator. I’ve found that it helps me focus. I get excited as I seek the Spirit and think about what I’d like to pray for. I search my heart and repent of sins. *I have a purpose.* Don’t come thoughtlessly into His presence—remove your shoes before drawing near to the burning bush.

Have a posture of prayer. Do what you need to help you focus on what it is that you’re doing. Kneel, stand, close your eyes, look to the heavens — when your body is focused, it’s often easier for your soul to follow. If able, pray out loud. I’ve found that just softly whispering during my private prayer time is quiet enough that it doesn’t inhibit the flow of my praying, but loud enough that it keeps my mind from wandering. As C.S. Lewis observes, “The body ought to pray as well as the soul. Body and soul are both better for it.”

Pray Scripture. This is a great way to start. What joy it brings to a father to know his children hear his words, cherish them, believe them to be true, and then speak them back to him. So much of my prayers are “plagiarized” Scripture. Without even realizing it, they become the vocabulary of my prayers, sometimes because the beautiful promises make my heart sing, and sometimes because all I can do is desperately cling to his words.

Pray fervently. Praying should be active. We cannot truly come into contact with God and not be a different person, at least in some small degree, by the time we say, “Amen.” Struggle in prayer, wrestle with it, and let the Spirit move. Answers to prayer are a blessing, but prayer in and of itself is meant to be a blessing. Sometimes it feels like the moaning of parched lips in the desert, and we should still persevere because prayer is not just the fruit of spiritual life, but the means of attaining it. When words fail, try pausing to think about who God is, worship, then pick back up when words come. Let the Holy Spirit help you. He kindles our aspirations and does not let us rise from our knees until we have said something worth saying to God.

Pray specifically. Vagueness can be the death of prayer. Not that we can never be general, just not at the expense of praising God’s specific attributes, confessing specific sins, or thanking him and asking him for specific things. We must learn to pray specifically and boldly due to the status we have through Christ, while simultaneously being completely submissive to God’s will. Bold and expectant faith coupled with humble submission is a powerful thing.

Pray for and with others. Prayer is meant to knit together the children of God, oftentimes, people we have never even met. We share a Father, we are family, and we should bear each other’s burdens in prayer. We become invested in each other’s struggles and triumphs. We start to care more about the people we pray for and less about ourselves. What a beautiful thing to come before our Father of one accord with the same appeals out of love and care for each other. Prayer binds the church together.

Some friends and I started praying for each others’ children about a year ago. We spend a week praying for each child (usually a specific verse or trait that we want God to grow and develop in them), with an automated reminder every morning—separate, but together. It gives us accountability as we share the burdens of parenting and even better, the joys of watching God change the hearts of our children. Find people you can pray with.

 Talking about prayer. I worry we think of our prayer lives as something too personal to talk about, which is ironic in a culture where not much else is. Learn from the prayer warriors who have gone before us, talk about our struggles with prayer, ask for help, develop and teach others, teach our children—but with truth and transparency and *action.* Sometimes Christian language is filled with far more talk of prayer than actual prayer. “Asking for prayer” can become our means of venting or gossiping and we throw around “oh I’ll pray for you,” so readily without following through.

One thing that helps me is to set an alarm on my phone when someone asks me to pray for something. If their birthday or anniversary is December 31, I set a daily alarm for 12:31 and pray every time it goes off. Let prayer be a continual discussion among the church but always in ways that lead to fruit and action.

Prayers Like Arrows

Prayer is not a formula or something that only “works” if we do it perfectly, in just the right way. But it should never be careless. Careless prayers are like arrows that fall haphazardly at our feet. Prayers that we offer with little care or effort typically will do little after leaving our mouths (but be careful about underestimating God). On the other hand, when shot with strength and desire and fervor, our prayers fly swiftly toward heaven to the throne of God himself (Revelation 8:4):

It is not the arithmetic of our prayers — how many they be; nor the rhetoric of our prayers — how eloquent they be; nor their geometry — how long they be; nor their music — how sweet their voice may be; nor their logic — how argumentative they be; nor yet their method — how orderly they be; nor even their divinity — how good their doctrine may be, which God cares for: but it is the fervency of spirit which availeth much.
(Bishop Joseph Hall, 1808)

The fruit that God has graciously gifted my baby steps gives me hope. While it revealed how much I had been missing, it makes me excited to even just scratch the surface of the depth and the beauty and the nearness to God that prayer is meant to be for all of God’s people. May each and every one of us become like skilled archers in the discipline of prayer, with prayers like arrows — fervent and strong ones that change lives, bring healing, impact our nations, alter history, unite the church, and above all display God’s glory.

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Strong Emotions and Weak Prayers

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Originally published HERE at www.desiringgod.com

Prayer is hard. It’s always been the spiritual discipline I struggle with the most. I blame it on all sorts of things — my busy life, my easily distracted mind, my loud children, my personality, how I’m better at communicating through writing rather than verbally — the list goes on. “It’s not my gift,” I say. Some people are just gifted prayer warriors while I really love reading and studying God’s word, so God must have just wired us to serve different purposes and that’s okay, right?

No.

A thousand times, no. I thought like that for a long time and believing that lie was a tragedy. It’s ignoring one of the greatest gifts ever given to us.

Prayer is the recognition of and participation with God in our life. Our deficiencies in prayer cannot simply be compensated by increased Bible reading, ministry, community, or listening to sermons. Nothing can take the unique place of prayer in the Christian life.

I can say from experience that a prayerless soul is a dead soul.

Blessed Aren’t the Poor in Prayer

Realizing my struggles with prayer, I set out to study it. I talked to people about it and read sermons and commentaries on prayer from other generations, trying to figure it out. In doing so I came to the realization not only of my own poverty in prayer, but the depth of those deficiencies in much of the church — and in particular, my generation.

While it might not be fair to generalize an entire generation, virtually everything about our western culture and way of life is at odds with prayer in ways not at the forefront in generations past. Our schedules are filled to the brim. Smartphones and technology keep us connected to everyone but God. We pour out our lives and emotions on any number of social media platforms, leaving us little to set before God in prayer.

As I poured over commentaries and sermons about prayer from over a hundred years ago, I was struck, not only by how seriously they took prayer, but how much they discussed the care that should go into our prayers in order that they not be careless and ineffectual. They really got into the specifics of how to pray and how not to pray. *not* to pray.

This can be hard for us. We live in a culture of ‘anything goes.’ We often think that prayer should be anything we want it to be in any way we want to do it. It becomes primarily about us and our preferred methods of communicating and our preferred style. We don’t like being told how to do things that feel so personal. The result, however, is that our prayers can be weak and ineffective when they are meant to be a mighty weapon against darkness and accomplish great purposes.

Does God Get Your Leftovers?

For our own sakes, and the sake of our families, churches, and nation, we must not settle for a “something is better than nothing” approach. As Charles Spurgeon said:

There is a vulgar notion that prayer is a very easy thing, a kind of common business that may be done anyhow, without care or effort. . . . We should plow carefully and pray carefully. The better the work the more attention it deserves. To be anxious in the shop and thoughtless in the closet is little less than blasphemy, for it is an insinuation that anything will do for God, but the world must have our best.

Does prayer require so little of us that we’re content to give God our careless leftovers, when there’s nothing particularly pressing at work or interesting on Facebook? If we want to revive our families, and our church, and our nation, then we must revive prayer — and it must begin with us.

A good place for me to start was to understand what prayer is and what it isn’t.

What Prayer Is Not

Prayer is not a rote and empty ritual. How often do our lips move, yet our hearts are still? We “say our prayers” so very often, and yet how often do we really truly pray? If all we are offering is words, we may as well offer them to an idol of stone. May our prayers never be less fervent than our strongest opinions and emotions and social media posts.

Prayer is not simply “chatting” with God. “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) doesn’t mean we just incessantly chatter to God about anything and everything while neglecting the act of intentionally coming before the throne of God for focused and fervent heart-searching, soul-seeking, honest-to-goodness prayer. It’d be like a marriage that consisted solely on texting. I love when my thoughts wander to God as I offer up little praises and prayers all throughout the day. That should happen, but that can’t be it — we must go deeper.

The free access which Christ purchased for us is not a liberty for flippancy before God — it is an invitation to approach the throne of almighty God. The freedom to come boldly before God’s throne of grace does not change who God is (Hebrews 4:16). It was our status that changed, never that of the unchanging King.

Prayer is not about us; it’s about God. It’s the thing that draws our eyes away from ourselves and fixes them on our good and powerful God. The recipe for weak and barren prayers is self — self-sufficiency by thinking we don’t really need prayer in the first place; self-conceit by thinking much of our goodness and little of our sin; and selfishness by thinking primarily of our own needs and wants in prayer. Adore God for who he is, not for what he can give to us. God must be the object, Christ must be the medium, and the Spirit must help us.

What Prayer Is

Prayer is the turning of our soul towards God. It is communication with our heavenly Father, and the powerful force that links child and Father, earth and heaven, man’s impotence and God’s omnipotence. This direct contact is only made possible through Christ Jesus, whose righteousness covered us and provided us unlimited access to confidently approach a perfect God. It is accomplished by the Spirit’s groaning within us and supplicating on our behalf (Romans 8:26–27).

Prayer is the unified work of the triune God to connect with us himself — the Holy Spirit within us communicating through Christ the Son, to God the Father. When God feels distant, more often than not it’s because we are neglecting the very thing that spans the distance between Creator and creature. It is we who are distant, refusing the vital breath of our souls, without which our spiritual life cannot survive.

Lord, Teach Us to Pray

May our prayers not be careless or weak but powerful instruments of change through which the Spirit moves and breathes and eternity is impacted. Our Father is holy and good and worthy of excellent prayers, and he loves giving good things to his children:

Lord, teach us to pray! Against all odds, may we become mighty prayer warriors who in turn teach the next generation, because we have no hope of change apart from youin the name of your Son, for the sake of your church, and for the display of your glory. Amen

[Read part two that covers practical ways to do this HERE!]

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A Revolution for the Weary

Revolution for the weary

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I overheard one of my kids describing the New Year, as “that time when grown-ups make New Year’s revolutions.” It made me think. I’m not one for resolutions—the cold and dreary arrival of January rarely incites enough excitement for me to add things to my endless to-do list. The holidays are over, everything is starting up with a vengeance, the expectations of the new year are before me, and I am WEARY. And weary people have no business making resolutions. Those are the things I make every night of my life. Tomorrow, I’m going to [insert well-meaning and lofty goal]. So many things I could put there. I just can’t.

A revolution, however, is a dramatic and wide-reaching change in the way something works and by the time I actually get around to buying a calendar with the accurate year on the front of it, the reality that things just aren’t working could not be more apparent. A hard look at what my weary soul is revolving around is the only fix for something a resolution band-aid could never mend.

There are a thousand reasons I really, truly should exercise more, eat better, sleep longer, spend less, de-clutter, and parent more effectively but these things must never be my life’s orbit. My soul matters infinitely more than my body or my diet, God determines my future (not my savings account or 401K), my messy house and dirty laundry are not eternal (praise the Lord), and contrary to what all the blogs imply, motherhood is not my highest calling. There are so many good and noble things I can do, but the truth is, I will do them immeasurably better and more effectively and they will not be wasted when my life revolves around a perfect, holy, unchanging foundation—the person of God, rather than the hundreds of great things that will ultimately lead to the opposite of rest and peace when they become my focus, rather than my fruit.

“A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

We are drowning in choices. It’s hard to know which fight to pick, which cause to rally behind, or what to make our life’s work.  We can become so obsessed with finding our purpose and knowing God’s plan for our lives, that we forget HE is our purpose and knowing HIM is his plan. Not accomplishing our next (even godly) goal, but knowing the creator of the universe in a real and intimate way. God’s wisdom, direction, and his purposes are so intertwined with who he is. The deeper we know the person of God the more our hearts and passions (and resolutions!) will align with his. Oftentimes, this means letting go of the goals we already have.

I’m not sure why I fight this so much—embracing surrender. On paper it sounds beautiful and easier and simpler, but giving up goals is hard. “Surrender” is the last word that comes to mind when we think of revolutions. But God’s ways are not our ways. The world tells us to fight it and make it and do it and take it, while God says, “be still and know that I am God.” How’s that for a fight song? Instead of taking back our life we are called to give it up. We can say “in God we trust” all day long but if we can’t surrender our job, our children, our marriage, or our future then it’s not him we’re trusting in.

 “The Lord will fight for you. You only need to be still.” (Exodus 14:14)

Still can be the hardest. The word conjures up images of just sitting here oblivious to reality while our house degenerates into shambles, our children eat leftover Christmas candy for dinner, and our un-exercising selves just get more flabby and out-of-breath as we hide in our room reading the Bible all day. Or maybe that we give up on our dreams, stop applying ourselves to our work, or turn a deaf ear to the needs and battles around us because we need to “focus on God.” It just sounds lazy. But lest we think we are destined for a dreary existence of just quitting and eternal waiting, we must remind ourselves, that is not God. Why? Because that is not life, and God assures us that: “Whoever finds me finds life”! (Proverbs 8:35).

 “The people who know their God shall stand firm and take action.” (Daniel 11:32b)

God sent his own son to the middle of our mess and Jesus did not merely sit home all day praying and neglecting the broken world around him—because he was in perfect fellowship with his Father. He knew God’s will because he knew God. And there were times he waited. He was a carpenter for thirty years before starting full-time ministry because sometimes God’s purpose for him was to live excellently with what was before him, sometimes it was to turn tables, and sometimes it was to rest and pray and literally give up his life. The more we know our God, the more his wisdom overflows, and the clearer it becomes whether we need to sit still and stand firmly in his presence or whether it’s time to act and fight his holy battles. We must cease striving for one hot second and seek him before searching for answers.

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)

As we set out to know God and bring him glory he opens our eyes to paths we weren’t aware of before. He wants us to have that unrivaled feeling of living out what we were called to do. These changes often happen in subtle almost imperceptible ways, but when we walk in his presence he directs our days and our thoughts and our work and our conversations and our errands in ways we never would have on our own.

“Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will act.” (Psalm 37:5)

It can’t be an afterthought, checklist, or just another read-through-the-bible plan. If we truly want our life to revolve around God rather than all the things competing for our heart and our thoughts and our time, we must expect to do life differently. There is a cost. A revolution can’t be one of our many nightly resolutions to do better tomorrow—it’d be like the earth trying to revolve around the sun in addition to a dozen other things. It will fail. God wants our all not just our Sunday mornings. But this can be different than our feeble attempts that rarely make it to February, because this one doesn’t just depend on us. In our distractibility and weariness, he is strong. His power is perfected in sleepless nights, 60-hour-work-weeks, mom-brain, failing bodies, and A.D.H.D. prayers. We need to be willing and open and fervently commit this to the Lord, but it is him who will act. He will show up every day and do beautiful things and show us who he is. Will we stop and look and listen and learn? Will we let him change our days so he can change our life?

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) It’s the only answer to our busy, un-restful, un-peaceful lives. So let this be our desperate prayer and our rallying battle cry whether we’re crawling or sprinting into this new year before us:

Dear Lord,

Help me open my weary eyes in the morning and immediately seek you rather than the world. Turn my eyes from worthless things and let no sin rule over me. Make my weaknesses clear and your strength blindingly clearer. Transform my thoughts and my lists and my habits. 

Help me parent my children the way you parent me, and don’t let me forget that being filled by you first allows me to fill them better. Make the minutiae of my life matter eternally.

Trouble me more about the state of my heart than my body—help me train and exercise my soul to pursue you. Don’t let me use relationships to fulfill me in ways only meant to be satisfied by you. Enable me to use every cent that comes or goes to advance your purposes rather than my pleasures or security. Convict me that your Kingdom is more important than my house.

Help me rest in your hope rather than wallow in my fear. Thwart my feeble yet habitual attempts to rely on my own abilities. Burden my heart with what distresses you rather than what stresses me.

Help me seek you more than answers. Help me pray more than worry, and worship more than grumble. Be my rest after sleepless nights and my peace in the chaos.  Help my mind wander to you when I’m weary. Show me your glory today.

Amen.

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Lord, Help My Daily Unbelief

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Originally published HERE at www.desiringgod.com

I once sat in a hospital room and watched my incoherent eight-year-old boy battle a life-threatening intracranial blood clot. I was oddly calm. I clung to the goodness of God and did my best to trust that he held my son in his hands — at that point it was essentially my only option. There were no more decisions to make, no actions I could take, and nothing I could control.

It’s easy to look back at times of seemingly big faith, where I “let go” of things I never really had, and foolishly pat myself on the back a little and think, “Hey, I got this. I was faithful. It worked!” only to be blindsided as I fall apart during much smaller trials — the ones that require me to make decisions, solve problems, or actually do things based on my beliefs.

Now, not even a year later, I’m losing my temper with that now nine-year-old boy as he fights with his brother, or makes one of his little sisters cry. I’m weary from a hard move that’s not finished. Worried about a house that needs to sell so we can join my husband in a different state at a new job. Stressed about finances and the future. Losing my cool over a leaking washing machine and a kitchen being taken over by ants. Concerned that my offspring are planning a coup d’etat in response to my obvious weakness and lack of leadership.

I feel far from God. My quiet times, when they happen, seem rote and shallow. My prayers feel weak. I’m stripped of my usual security, and home, and church community, and ministry, and my support system. And what’s left isn’t pretty. My soul is at war.

Betraying Our Theology by Unbelief

Here I am, collapsing under the pressure of a move and ants and some immediate uncertainty. Why? Is the God I placed my trust in at the moment of my salvation any less good when I’m navigating my second hour in line at the DMV with weeping children? Even though I’d still vehemently defend God’s absolute sovereignty, my actions often reveal an unbelief that speaks louder than my words.

When my mind is consumed with my bank account, I’m believing that money provides my security rather than my Savior. When I yell at my children for leaving a mess I need to clean, I’m believing that my comfort comes from an orderly house rather than from the God of all comfort. When I become despondent over an uncertain future and lack of stability, I’m failing to believe that I am merely a pilgrim and this is not my home.

Every hour that goes by that I fail to pray and cry out to God is an hour that I’m telling him, “It’s okay, I got this.” And then I hypocritically wonder how I got here.

“Help Me If You Can”

This became evident to me as I wearily stumbled over Mark 9. A father desperately seeks healing for his son with an evil spirit. He’s tried everything in his own power, he’s tried the church, he’s even tried the disciples, until at last, when everything else has failed, it’s just him and Jesus. There’s nothing left but a feeble, “Help me if you can” (see Mark 9:22).

My prayers sound like that far too often. I exhaust all options before sheepishly coming to the one who has power over all, and then I pray as if I’m not totally sure he can even help. Or at least I don’t expect him to. But Jesus responds to him with such power and authority that the boy’s father immediately saw in this man something far more glorious and powerful than the darkness that tormented his poor son for years. And at that moment he believed.

But the mere presence of belief does not completely eradicate unbelief. He immediately and honestly beseeches Jesus to fill that gap. “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). Such a perfect and simple response. Raw faith combined with the confession that he needed Christ to attain the far more perfect faith he craved. And Jesus answered him with a wonderful miracle, because miracles are born of faith.

As I walk through my valley, I am struck by how easy it is to be blinded by unbelief. My problem goes far deeper than my present hardships. Understanding that unbelief is often the hidden root underneath a variety of different sins is an important part in being able to weed them out of our souls.

War Against the Glory-Thief

Belief and unbelief can exist side by side. In fact, in this fallen world where uncertainty and doubt find their home, there will always be a war raging between these opposing elements. This shouldn’t feel comfortable. If for the sake of ease, you try to pacify and accept the enemy of unbelief in your soul, you’ll only get more unrest by housing a ruthless enemy in your heart. Never become complacent with unbelief. The ease and comfort we seek in complacency is a weak and pale prize in comparison to purer belief.

“Unbelief robs God of his glory in every way,” said Charles Spurgeon. Just because there will always be a war between the two doesn’t mean we accept the presence of unbelief. Darkness thrives on unbelief, often leading us into sin. While doubting isn’t necessarily a sin in itself, the sin begins when our doubts lead to action. When we enthrone unbelief over belief and actively serve that falsehood, we are exchanging a truth for a lie.

We can’t pretend to know God’s ways, and the righteous will not escape hardship, but there are times when I truly believe my trials are lengthened or even repeated due to deeply-rooted habits of unbelief. I’m robbing God of the glory that comes from believing the truth of his sovereignty, even down to the frustrating little details of my day.

Pray in Faith

Prayer is medicine for unbelief. When belief and unbelief collide, let us turn to the one our belief comes from, the source and object of our faith. Personal contact with Jesus our Savior is how we drive away unbelief. Seek his face. Pray desperately and expectantly — the belief we do have is the only means of vanquishing the enemies of our peace. Let your weak faith cling to our mighty God. Repent and pray for deliverance from unbelief even before praying for deliverance from your circumstances.

Lord, forgive me for not believing that your truth permeates every single layer of my life. Fan my tiny smoldering little spark of faith into a burning and consuming fire that will bring you glory and drive out darkness. But don’t ever let me think it is strong enough or that I have any hope of stoking it and keeping it alive apart from you. I believe; help my unbelief!

 

 

 

 

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The Post-Election Calling of the Church

post-election church

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I’m just going to say it, this election has been horrible. And the anger and division and conflict did not magically disappear on Wednesday morning—in a lot of ways it got worse. It has stretched the church in ways I have not seen before. We had the chance to show the world a people with a single alliance and a single purpose to demonstrate our utter need for that alliance, and if we couldn’t figure out how to do that leading up to Tuesday we must figure out how to do that now. In fact, we have one of the biggest opportunities the church has ever had to be the healer and the helper it was designed to be. So many are in need of healing and help at this moment. There haven’t been a whole lot of winners here.

For once we actually have common ground with much of the world on something. They’ve seen in leaders the blatant sin and character flaws that are utterly opposed to the character of God. Don’t waste that. Don’t try to minimize it and shove it under the rug merely because it might weaken some political agenda or give more validity to political alliances we may hold. How many opportunities have we had to rally alongside the world and tell them, “You are right, this is disheartening! This is not the way this world should be and we are sorrowful with you.”

Let’s not throw phrases at them like “God is on his throne!” and “Let’s all pray for our new president!” as a way to illegitimize their fears and shut down conversation. Yes, those things are completely true and bring comfort to God’s children as they rightly should, but not the world—especially when our words are saying that God is all-powerful while our actions are saying that political positions are. Storms are scary and dangerous when you have no anchor of hope; let’s not ignore their cries for help.

Who we’ve been

I fear the church is forsaking their ability to be an influential voice of truth to our culture. There is a great opportunity before us that is lost when our political allegiances are stronger than our heavenly one. We say they’re not but actions and internet comment sections speak louder than words. After shouting at them (and each other) about politics what makes us think they’ll want to stick around to hear our far quieter message of salvation? The church was designed to be the representation of Christ when he left, and our purpose is to carry on his work not to get more votes for our personal political party regardless of what truths they do or do not stand for. While not mutually exclusive, we cannot forget our highest calling or in any way impede the former with the latter.

The danger of the church being entangled in politics is we become complacent and distant which does not lend itself to being a voice of truth. Relying on politics and ballots to fight our battles just makes our functional deism more palatable, as our opinions and Facebook posts far outnumber our prayers. It makes us feel as if we have more control than we do while fooling us into thinking that change requires little cost or effort.

Who God is

As Christians our battle cry should never be to “Make America Great,” as if we’ve learned nothing from Babel: “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name” (Genesis 11:4). We all remember how that ended.

It is God who raises up kings and nations and people like Daniel and Esther and Moses, but never us. It is God who tells his people: “And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing” (Gen. 12:2). As participants in this world who are blessed enough to be able to be involved in our country’s political process, God can use us for his purposes and impact politics, but let’s not pretend like he cannot do it without us. Let’s not pretend we know who will be a Nebuchadnezzar or a Daniel. Let’s not assume America is Israel when we could be Babylon.

Who we could be

As the hands and feet of Christ in this hurting, messed up, politically-charged world we have an enormous opportunity right now to be the salt and the light. We must be both. We can’t be the salt that preserves a decaying world without being the light that leads them to it—anymore than we can be their warmth and comfort while choosing not to provide them with the true solution to their dying. We can be really good at throwing salt because that’s the easiest thing to do from a distance and it costs us little, but the last thing the church should be doing right now is rubbing salt on the open wounds of the world. It is beyond me why we would rather be part of some moral majority that shouts our righteousness and others’ sins from the rooftops, than a loving minority that understands our own depravity apart from Christ and seeks healing for us both. Jesus offended the “established church” far more than he offended sinners.

There is a trend within the church of sacrificing truth for love and this travesty cannot be ignored, but church listen—the worst possible response we could have to this is to forfeit compassion and love. We need to seek the Spirit in this and pray for a real and effective outpouring of love that’s built on a foundation of truth, but we can’t remain at a distance and expect to impact others for eternity. It is not easy or without cost or comfort, but our light could shine so brightly right about now.

Thanks to this tumultuous election season we literally have a list of issues and areas where the world is hurting and in need of help:

  • There are people feeling cheated and lied to—we must display truth and transparency because Jesus is truth (John 8:32; John14:6).
  • There are youth feeling disenfranchised and hopeless—we must find ways to encourage and give them a reason to hope because Jesus is hope (I Peter 1:3; I Thes. 2:19).
  • There are women feeling devalued and victimized—we must figure out how to protect and value them because Jesus valued women in a culture that didn’t (Luke 7:36-50; Luke 13:16; Mark 8:48).
  • There are minorities carrying the weight of prejudice and discrimination who feel that their lives aren’t valued as much as another’s—we must understand how and what we can do to stop this because Jesus sought out the discriminated and fought for their equal worth (Gal. 3:28; James 2:8-9).
  • The LGBT community is feeling ostracized and hurt—we must figure out how to love them so much better in order for there to be healing because Jesus was a friend to the marginalized. Jesus was a healer (Mark 12:31; John 8:7; Rev. 21:4).
  • There are immigrants and refugees feeling oppressed and invisible—we must figure out how to protect them, and help them, and clothe them, and feed them because Jesus was a protector. He cared for the aliens and fed the poor  (James 1:27; Gal. 2:10; Matt. 25:40).
  • There are mothers facing abortion and women fearful of a reality without that option—we must figure out what is creating an environment so broken that a choice like that would be made and how we can improve it as well as care for these mothers because Jesus cares for the weakest—whether an unborn baby or a hurting mama. He is the reason we have nothing to fear (Matt. 18:10; John 14:27; Matt. 11:28).

This is not the first time the church has had to navigate being a light to a dark culture in need. The Christians in fourth century Rome set out to so love and care for those around them—the poor, the refugee, the sexually deviant, the murderers of babies and the disabled, the victimized women—that the pagan emperor, Julian the Apostate, had to brainstorm ways to create government programs—not out of need, but out of embarrassment that his people relied on the Christians rather than their government. He complained that their benevolence to strangers, their compassion, and their holiness were causing his people to turn from their pagan Roman gods. He goes on saying:

“These impious Galileans not only feed their own, but ours also; welcoming them with their agape, they attract them, as children are attracted with cakes… For it is disgraceful that, when no Jew ever has to beg, and the impious Galilaeans support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us. …Then let us not, by allowing others to outdo us in good works…Whilst the pagan priests neglect the poor, the hated Galileans devote themselves to works of charity… See their love-feasts, and their tables spread for the indigent. Such practice is common among them, and causes a contempt for our gods.”

Salt and light. Their light of true love and compassion for all drew the world in like hot cakes, while their salt of truth and personal holiness eventually led to the salvation of many.

It wasn’t a voted in leader, or a ballot, or a governmental program, or a new or repealed law that led to change (while all potentially very good things)—they didn’t wait for the government to do what the church was made for. We were made for so much more and our impact should be far greater. Let this nasty, loud, depressing election of 2016 be a turning point for the church. In our love, may we point ourselves and our hurting world to the only source of truth and hope and change.

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Busyness Is Not the Problem

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Originally published HERE at www.desiringgod.com

Every so often, my head hits the pillow and I curl into a fetal position, trying not to hyperventilate at the realization that in not nearly enough hours, this finish line will become the starting line. And I’ll have to tackle life all over again. Oh come again, Lord Jesus.

I wonder how I got here — the chaos, the mess, the failing — and I strategize how to make tomorrow better. This is just a season and it will pass. But is it? And will it? I suppose the seasons have been different. Whether it was adolescence, or insecurity, or exams, or finances, or breakups, or stressful jobs, or moves, or pregnancies, or anxiety, or babies, or hard relationships, or traveling, or sickness, or parenting, or just sheer exhaustion. But so often it’s just one thing replacing another thing. Another fire to put out. Another mountain to climb. And as a doer and a fixer, the to-do list is never-ending and there’s always something to improve or put back together.

I can do this. Just tweak the schedule. Get up a little earlier. Simplify. Re-organize. Streamline. Plan better. Focus. Pare down. Clear out. Divide and conquer. Tomorrow will be better. I’ll sleep more this weekend. It’ll slow down next week. Just waiting for summer. It’ll get easier when they’re older.

Self-Sufficiency in the Storm

But there are storms in every season. Whether it’s a constant, dreary spring rain, an unexpected summer thunderstorm, or a driving, relentless blizzard, there’s no avoiding storms.

And while I might cry out to God when the storms get really bad, it’s those long, weary rains that are most dangerous for my soul. Not quite bad enough to scare me, but they get me wet enough to distract me from my purpose. I put my head down, hide under the umbrella of my self-sufficiency, and forget to look up at the one who has power over every single raindrop.

Maybe it’ll hit me as I collapse into bed, battle already fought and lost. “Lord, please just pause life for a bit and stop the rain so I can catch a glimpse of you.”

But that’s not who God is.

He is not a genie who merely takes away bad things and gives me good things. He is my good thing. He is my peace and my rest and my life and my hope — in both the storms and the calm.

When Plans Fail

“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Rather than commanding us to try harder to find him, God tells us to be still and know him. Stop. Enough. Cease striving. Because he is God and he is moving and doing glorious things in both the sunshine and the rain, whether we stop and notice or not. We must not miss out because our hearts are too busy.

Though I would never admit it, it’s almost as if I want to streamline and organize and simplify my life to a point where I no longer need God to get me through my day. But my strengths and abilities will fail, again and again. I need a Savior every day.

Perhaps feeling overwhelmed and inadequate isn’t such a bad thing if that is what brings me to my knees and shatters my false sense of security. To the place where I realize my planning and intelligence and coping mechanisms mean absolutely nothing if I’m not becoming more and more like Christ and resting in the strength and presence of my creator, the author of my day. More of him and way, way less of me.

Christ Our Rest

We don’t need answers to all of our questions and problems; we need the onlyanswer. Seek him first and allow the Holy Spirit to lead and problem-solve and prioritize. He’s way better at it.

Yes, we probably are too busy. Yes, we probably have too much stuff. Yes, we probably need more sleep. But fixing these things should be the fruit of seeking first the face of God, trusting in the blood of Christ, and yielding to the power of the Spirit — not the focus.

This is not meant to sound pessimistic. I realize that when I say we will continually fail and face hardships, it can come across as bleak. But I’m telling you, battling the storms while understanding our utter hopelessness and resting in the power of Christ is infinitely more peaceful and invigorating and impactful than a thousand chaos-free days. He is our rest. He is our peace within the chaos. He is the means and the end. Don’t spend so much of your energy running from the mess that you’re too weary to run to him.

A Different To-Do List

But how do we do this? Knowing something means nothing if we aren’t letting it change us. We have to start right now. Ask him for help. It will look a bit different for everyone, but try putting aside your own list of things to accomplish today for just a few minutes, and make a spiritual to-do list. Here’s my own:

  • Before I even open my eyes in the morning, seek God’s face and bask in his presence. Awake, my soul. Turn my eyes, Lord, from things that are unworthy.
  • Before I climb out of bed and let my feet hit the floor, confess my sins and my weaknesses and mentally lean on him. Carry me, Lord, so I can accomplish your goals.
  • As I get dressed, beg God to cover my unworthiness with Christ’s righteousness. Lord, clothe me with your armor, because I need your power and protection for the dark parts of this day.
  • Before I gaze into a mirror or look at a screen or to a single thing of this world, pray that he will show me his glory and goodness today. That I will see it. And that I will reflect it.
  • As I sip my morning coffee or fill my belly, ask him to fill me with his Spirit and the joy of my salvation. That I would taste and see that he is good. That I would hunger and thirst for him.
  • As the world and the day get louder and louder, remember to stop and listen for the Spirit over the noise. Learn to recognize him.
  • When I find myself growing weary, run to my God any way I possibly can. Not to the world or to myself, but to him. Whether I read his words, worship him, pour out my heart to him, or ask his Spirit to pray on my behalf because I just can’t. And then repeat over and over again, until my mind effortlessly wanders to him.
  • Don’t let a single hour go by without asking God to sustain me. Not tomorrow, not next week, but right now. Set an alarm if I have to until it starts to come more naturally. Like breathing.
  • As I climb into my bed, look back and identify God’s providence woven throughout my day in both the good and the bad. Help me fall asleep praising him for his goodness to me.

Start Now

This is not something you learn, conquer, and move on. You can’t cross it off your list so you can tackle the next thing. I’m ashamed at how many times I’ve had to relearn this. How many wasted hours have gone by that I’ve forgotten him. How many days I’ve foolishly spent relying on my own strength and overlooking his presence. But if you didn’t seek him yesterday, seek him today. If you failed to look for his glory an hour ago, look for it now. If you forgot who gave you your last breath, remember who is giving you the next. Be still and know.

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Let’s Teach Our Kids ‘Beautiful’

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Originally published HERE on www.desiringgod.com

On a recent vacation, I sat on the beach enjoying a sliver of one of those exquisitely designed days: clear sunny sky, warm breeze, the Atlantic Ocean that stunning mix of clear and steel blue.

My four kids were content and un-requiring (for once), so I sunk into my chair to take it all in. Almost immediately, a child walked into the expanse of sand between me and the sea. I watched as he aimlessly wandered up and down the beach, cell phone in hand, eyes squinting at his little screen, completely oblivious to everything around him.

It made me think about parenting — not this particular kid or his particular parents — but my own parenting.

Oblivious to Beauty

Vacations tend to provoke all kinds of ideas about life, work, balance, and everything you want to do differently when you get back. The quietness and loveliness contrasts real life so much it begs for some recalibration. You realize, at some point along the way, you may have started heading the wrong direction.

It hit me as I watched this wandering, distracted kid, mesmerized by a tiny handheld device, oblivious to the glorious beauty stretching in every direction. Are the things I am consistently putting in front of my children helping them see and enjoy God, or are they blocking the view of him? It’s easy to simply focus on what not to put before them, but forget to show them beauty, or forget to teach them about beauty when they’re exposed to it.

Children Learn to See

My one-year-old was new to the beach this year. It wasn’t enough for me to plop her down in the hot sand, and tell her to have fun. I had to teach her how to experience and enjoy the beach — carry her to the water and help her begin to dip her toes in the waves. I had to point out the shells, and show her how to rinse the scratchy sand off her hands.

My five-year-old is a bit further along. She knows how to dig for sand crabs, and points out how the ocean changes shades of blue from day to day. My older boys can now swim out to the sand bar and catch waves. The oldest notices cloud formations, warning me there will likely be an evening storm. They’re each learning to see and savor the beach. Just like I am.

Five Ways to Teach Them Beauty

As I watched this all unfold, I realized how badly I want them to be able to experience and enjoy God. I want them to see him in ways I was oblivious to for such a huge portion of my life. My eyes were glued to lesser things that seemed so big and wonderful at the time, until I finally exchanged the poor shadows and reflections for the true and full source of all beauty.

And yet so easily with my parenting, I slip into rules and lecturing that (in the words of my 10-year-old) “make God sound like a grumpy old man.” I hide the beauty and the wonder.

How do I avoid this? Here are some resolutions I’m working through as a mother.

1. Put before my children what is true and lovely and excellent.

Saturate their lives with God’s word and God’s creation. What I put before them is often more important than what I am not. It’s so easy to surround them with what’s mediocre, flashy, and dumbed-down, and then wonder why they don’t respond to excellence when finally confronted with it.

2. Parent them like God parents me.

Am I parenting from God’s strength and grace, or from my emotions? My ultimate goal should be that my children desire to do what is good and right and excellent because that’s who God is, not just because I say so. Yes, children need to learn obedience and boundaries before they can enjoy freedom, but they are never too young to learn beauty.

3. Teach them and show them how everything points to God.

Teach them about beauty that makes our soul soar, and about ugliness that makes our soul ache. It could be the sunset, or an artistic masterpiece, or Greek mythology with its capricious and temperamental gods, or a musician singing about sorrow or longing, or a movie that make us laugh, or well-written literature about the triumph of good over evil. It all points to God.

And don’t waste the ugliness that ends up before them, because it can make the beauty that much clearer. Point it out if needed, and talk about it with them. The goal isn’t developing cynicism, but identifying truth and valuing beauty. If we’re regularly showing them beauty and excellence, it quickly becomes easier to identify a counterfeit.

We might talk about why an overheard word is wrong, or why acts of violence in our world are so contrary to God’s character, or what that TV commercial is trying to sell us and how. The light shines through far brighter in the darkness. Use discretion, but make sure they understand that it’s the gates of hell that shall not prevail against Christ and his church — not the other way around.

4. Stop relying on someone else to do the majority of this for me.

God has not given this particular job first to teachers, or Christian radio, or even our church. God entrusted these sons and daughters to my husband and me. Teaching them should be a constant, intentional, organic process in our home and outside of it — at times, requiring surprisingly few words.

Point out God’s handiwork in how plants grow and in the beauty of nature. Pray together and often, and about lots of things. Read God’s word, and memorize it together. Lead them to the source. Resist the urge to lecture or package it up into entertaining little child-friendly snippets, while underestimating the power that simply God’s word and his creation can have on a child over time. Let the Holy Spirit work. Allow them to experience the wonder and joy of God as he wants them to see it, not the weariness that can so easily come when I hit them over the head with God’s truth as I want them to see it.

5. Enjoy God in my own life and allow them to witness it.

Don’t focus so much on my children’s souls that I neglect my own. How can I point out beauty to them if I can’t see it myself? Why would they yearn for the joy of knowing God if that joy is not evident in me? My life needs to revolve around Christ, not my children. I can parent far better when my heart is set on him first.

I’m slowly learning this in my own life. I’m learning how to see and savor God in the peaceful moments, as well as in the chaos. But knowing God isn’t a journey we begin once we’ve hit adulthood; it’s one we embark on the second we can see, and hear, and smell, and taste, and touch.

My children belong to God, not to me, and they were created to know and enjoy their Maker in the same way I do. We are on that journey together. My job as their parent is to point them to their Father, teach them to truly see him, and help them grasp their need for a Savior. That is why we teach them “beautiful” — because there is nothing more beautiful than the cross and the One it purchased for us — the One whom every other beautiful thing reflects.

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