Book Review: Everbloom

EverbloomFB

I belong to a writer’s guild made up of an amazing group of writers. We live in different cities. We have different “day jobs.” We come from different denominations.

But we all have two things in common–we are all Christ-followers and we all feel called to write.

These talented writers have put together a beautiful anthology of essays and poems that share stories of loss, grief, struggle, faith, and hope.

Here are a few highlights from the book:

Following Jesus requires my all, not pieces scattered here and there, given and then taken away because it doesn’t feel right. He calls for complete devotion, but allows the freedom of struggle as I mourn what I have given up in the process. (from “Untangle,” by Sarah Rennicke, p. 15)

When I am grounded in God’s love, I believe his promises and trust in his plan for my life. Only then can I find freedom from fear. (from “Finding Freedom from Fear,” by Angie Ryg, p. 23)

EverbloomPIN

I daily soak deep into my bones what it means that God loves me and that he wants to care for me. I focus on his character and goodness. Even if something bad happens to me, I know it has been run through the filter of God’s love. (from “Encasing My Fear,” by JoHannah Reardon, p. 54-55)

Are you living in fast-forward after loss (even months or years later)? Have you considered the invitation to slow down and sit with your grief for a season? Allow your whispers to be spoken to and heard by the God who weeps with you as you discover grief as teacher, companion, and friend. May you sit with your grief and be comforted by your God there. (from “Grief. Sit With It.” by Whitney R. Simpson, p. 59)

Father, for all the times You supplied my needs before I cried out for help; for all the moments You provided and I was too blind to see the source; for all the ways You comforted my anguish when I failed to ask; for all the prayers unspoken, but still heard–thank You. Amen. (from “The Motherless Mother,” by Adelle Gabrielson, p. 140)

This beautiful, heartfelt book would feel right at home on your bedside table. Through the pain, loss, beauty and redemption in these pages, you’ll discover freedom in Christ and the courage to embrace your own story. In the Everbloom collection, the writers share essays, stories, and poetry, and intensely personal accounts of transformation. And best of all, they invite you to join them, with writing prompts that encourage a response of honesty, faith and imagination. Accept the invitation: set out on the journey to find your own voice. Everbloom is a place to connect with other women who are facing grief and fear and uncertainty head-on because they know Christ is right there with them.

Everbloom is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble

3 Reasons Brokenness Can Lead to Joy

Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me— now let me rejoice.

When my children were very young we lived in the parsonage next to the church. I taught piano lessons in the afternoon and took my kids to a neighborhood babysitter before my students came. One day I was running a little late. I picked up my toddler, grabbed the diaper bag, and told my 4-year-old to hurry up. I rushed out the door and locked it behind me before realized I had left my keys in the house. Ordinarily, this would not have been a big problem because I could have just walked over to the church next door and gotten a set of keys from my pastor husband. But that particular day he was at a pastors’ conference an hour’s drive away.

My mind clicked through my options.

Option 1: Go to a neighbor’s house and call a locksmith. (Much too slow and expensive.)

Option 2: Break the small window in the door and unlock the lock. (Much faster and probably less expensive than the locksmith.)

So I grabbed a big rock and took my daughter’s doll blanket from her. I wrapped the blanket around the rock and my hand and smashed the window. Now I could unlock the door, grab the keys, take the kids to the babysitter and get back before my students came.

It all worked out very well—except for the fact that when my husband came home later that day he thought a robber had broken in!

And I had to admit that I was the one who had broken the window.

But I had to break the window in order to unlock the door.

I find this is true in my emotional life as well. Sometimes God uses painful experiences to break into my life. Sometimes it takes a disappointment or a sorrow for God to get my attention. I don’t enjoy the painful periods in my life, but sometimes it is as if those experiences break through the stuff of the world and help me feel God’s presence more clearly.

God Breaks Through 

King David experienced brokenness. The prophet Nathan confronted the king with his sin and David responded with repentance. His pride was broken. After he confessed his sin, he asked God to restore his joy:

Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me— now let me rejoice. Psalm 51:8

I, too, have experienced this brokenness. And this joy. When I realize my sin, I feel the burden of my mistake. But when I confess, God gives grace. My heavy spirit is once again free to enjoy the forgiveness and freedom of mercy.

But we are not always broken because of sin. Sometimes we are crushed by thoughtless comments of others. Our lives are shattered by tragedy. Our spirits are fragmented by grief. We don’t know if we will ever find joy again.

That’s when we need to remember that brokenness can be the beginning of joy–God’s incomprehensible joy. Our heavenly Father can use that very brokenness to break through with His presence.

3 Reasons Brokenness Can Be the Beginning of Joy

3 Reasons Brokenness Can Lead to Joy

Brokenness can be the beginning of joy because it tears away the unimportant. Without all the clutter of life in the way, we can see God.

Brokenness can be the beginning of joy because it pushes us to our Savior. We can see Him holding out His hands to us, waiting for us to step into His embrace. We can see the mercy and love in His eyes.

Brokenness can be the beginning of joy because God’s joy isn’t limited by our situation. Jesus can transform our brokenness into joy. A joy that can’t be explained by our circumstances. A bubbling up of peace and happiness that makes no sense except in the presence of God.

Sometimes our heavenly Father uses pain to break through the myriad of distractions in our lives and unlock the door to His presence.

Sometimes joy begins in brokenness.

easy joyIf you would like to uncover more joy in your life, check out my new eCourse titled Easy Joy: 12 Places to Find Joy in a Discouraging World.

 

This course helps readers:

  • Identify specific enemies of joy
  • Find joy even in darkness and disappointing circumstances
  • Learn how the joy of the Lord can be strength
  • Discover practical steps to a joy-filled life

Sign up now and you will also receive a bonus lesson that will help you continue to find joy even after the course is finished.

Click here for more information and to sign up for the course.

3 Myths About Joy

It is not joy that makes us grateful, it is gratitude that makes us joyful.

I’ve got joy like a fountain

I’ve got joy like a fountain

I’ve got joy like a fountain in my soul.

The preschoolers in my music class love to sing this song. And when they do, I have no doubt that they have joy.

But what do we do when joy doesn’t naturally bubble out of our souls?

When disappointments are around every corner and happiness is nowhere to be found?

When we feel sure that we will never see joy again?

Life is often difficult, discouraging, and disappointing. But before you give up on joy, see if you are believing one of these three myths about joy.

Myth 1: Joy and happiness are the same thing.

When you win a trip to the Bahamas or get a promotion it’s easy to find happiness. But when medical bills pile up and your job is teetering on the brink of corporate layoffs, happiness hides. Happiness is based on circumstances.

Joy, however, is a deeper sense of contentment that is available even when life is full of challenges. Think of the apostle Paul in the book of Acts. Even when he and his friend Silas have been beaten and thrown into prison, they spend their time in the jail cell joyfully praising God (Acts 16:16-40). God’s joy is present even in difficulty.

Remember:

Joy is the kind of happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens. David Stendl-Rast

3 Myths About

Myth 2: If I could only have __________, then I would have joy.

We often make joy contingent on certain criteria. When I get married, I’ll be happy. When I have a child, I’ll have joy. When I can afford that Dooney and Bourke designer bag, then I’ll know I’ve made it and then I’ll be satisfied. But studies show that making joy dependent on some future event or possession only postpones joy. Often when we finally get what we want, we start longing for the next thing on our wish list and simply move our criteria for joy further down the line.

But focusing on the blessings we already have, inspires joy in the present. There is a saying I love,

It is not joy that makes us grateful, it is gratitude that makes us joyful.

I’ve found this to be true. I may not have everything I want, but when I focus on the blessings I already have–like my loving family and supportive friends–I can find joy. When I appreciate a cup of my favorite Mango Passionfruit Tea or a hug from those preschoolers, I discover pockets of joy in disappointing days.

Myth 3: I don’t have any control over the amount of joy in my life.

It is true that we don’t have much control over what happens to us in life, but this does not have to banish joy. Theologian Henri Nouwen wrote,

Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.

That sounds a little like what James said in the Bible, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy” (James 1:2 NLT). Now most of us don’t view hardship as an opportunity for happiness, but James goes on, “For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow” (James 1:3 NLT).

If we can’t find joy in our circumstances, we can find it in what those circumstances bring us: Lessons learned. Endurance strengthened. Intimacy with God renewed.

We can choose joy because we know God is with us. In Emmanuel joy is always available.

Abandon the myths of joy. In this world we will always have disappointment. But in Christ, we can always have joy.

Next step: What myth about joy do you sometimes believe? Write out the quote or Bible passage that refutes that myth, and post it where you will see it often this week.

easy joyIf you would like to uncover more joy in your life, check out my new eCourse titled Easy Joy: 12 Places to Find Joy in a Discouraging World.

 

This course helps readers:

  • Identify specific enemies of joy
  • Find joy even in dark and disappointing circumstances
  • Learn how the joy of the Lord can be strength
  • Discover practical steps to a joy-filled life

Sign up now and you will also receive a bonus lesson that will help you continue to find joy even after the course is finished.

The regular price for this 12-week Easy Joy eCourse is $15!

But sign up now and you pay only $9! 

Last day of the sale is May 3. 

Click here for more information and to sign up for the course.

The Secret to Finding More Joy

we might not always sense God’s presence. It might be hidden behind some clouds.

It was a gloomy, dreary Friday.  

The doorbell rang and a crew of carpet layers entered. Soon my house was in a state of chaos. The noise of old carpet being scraped off and new carpet being nailed down filled the air. Every room was either crammed with workers or stuffed with the furniture from the rooms that were being worked on.

The only place left for me to sit was in a little corner of the kitchen.

To make the situation even more memorable, I had not rescued my computer from my desk before the workers completely blocked it off with dressers and mattresses. I couldn’t do any of the work I planned to do that day. To pass the time, I decided to read a book I had checked out of the library. It didn’t take me long to become completely engrossed in the novel City of Tranquil Light. I read page after page and cried through almost every one.

So here I was sitting in my kitchen listening to the pounding of the carpet layers, dabbing my eyes and blowing my nose as I read this heart-searing story. The view out of my patio door reflected the sadness of the book. Gray clouds still filled the sky. Thick storm clouds blocked out almost all the sunlight.

Then it happened. The sun peeked through a hole in the clouds. Light filled the kitchen. The atmosphere changed for just a moment.

I thought—that is what God’s joy is like. Even when your world is in chaos, even when your emotions are like a roller coaster, joy in the Lord is always available because He is always there.

The trouble is that we might not always sense God’s presence. It might be hidden behind some clouds.

But His joy is there. In the turmoil. In the noise. In the gloom.

King David wrote,

You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Psalm 16:11

According to David,

Joy is found in God’s presence. I often look for it in my current circumstances and am dismally disappointed. I can’t find it in the clouds of heartache. God is the only true source of joy.

God fills us with joy. The world tells me that success or cute shoes will fill me with joy, but that joy will never last. I have to look to the Father for a fresh supply.

Eternal pleasures are at God’s right hand. When we are with God–holding His hand–we are given lasting joy, not the fleeting happiness of the world that melts like a chocolate bar on a hot day.

The world may be a discouraging place, but when we wait in God’s presence, He will break through the chaos and darkness of our lives to give us a glimpse of joy.

Next step: Write out Psalm 16:11 on a sticky note and post it where you will see it often today. Remind yourself to wait in God’s presence when you need a fresh supply of joy.

easy joyIf you would like to uncover more joy in your life, check out my new eCourse titled Easy Joy: 12 Places to Find Joy in a Discouraging World.

 

This course helps readers:

  • Identify specific enemies of joy
  • Find joy even in darkness and disappointing circumstances
  • Learn how the joy of the Lord can be strength
  • Discover practical steps to a joy-filled life

Sign up now and you will also receive a bonus lesson that will help you continue to find joy even after the course is finished.

The regular price for the Easy Joy eCourse is $15. But sign up now and you will pay only $9!

Last day of the sale is May 3. 

Click here for more information and to sign up for the course.

The Secret to Finding More

 

 

12 Places to Find More Joy In Your Life

easy joy

Joy.

This word has been rolling around in my head for awhile. It all started a few years ago when my husband and I traveled to China to visit my daughter and her family. One day we decided to take a trip to visit the Stone Forest–a beautiful Chinese national park. My daughter and her husband don’t own a car in China, so we hired a driver to take us to this amazing park. On the way, the driver stopped at a gas station. The driver was already getting ready to drive away when I noticed the sign for the convenience store. I asked my husband to get a quick picture through the car window with his big zoom lens. The name of the store was: Easy Joy.

IMG_4095 - Copy

I wondered if this name was an example of Chinglish–the awkward and often humorous translation of Chinese into English. Maybe the concept they were really going for was something like Simple Pleasures, but I loved the idea of a store named Easy Joy. Wouldn’t it be great if there was an Easy Joy store in every town and city across America and when you got low on joy all you had to do was drive down to the shop and pick up a can of joy? When you faced a disappointment, you could buy a box of happiness? When you suffered a painful loss, all you had to do was purchase a jar of bliss?

Even though I am certain that no such shop exists, the concept of an Easy Joy Store got me thinking about joy and happiness. I wondered: What does the Bible have to say about happiness? Is there a biblical way to get Easy Joy?

One of the first things I discovered was that God wants us to have joy!

Jesus said,

“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11 ESV)

That word full means to supply liberally, to fill to the top. God doesn’t want us to simply have a drop of joy in our lives, He wants our hearts to be overflowing with joy. He wants our souls to be bursting at the seams with His gladness.

This is reassuring to me because I thought perhaps my quest was shallow. Life on earth is definitely not guaranteed to be a continual ball of fun. I wondered if God wanted me to seek something deeper.

But God does not consider this search superficial. He wants us to have joy–His joy.

So I began to explore this concept. I searched for answers to the questions:

  • Is there a biblical way to have Easy Joy?
  • What does God’s joy look like?
  • How can I have more joy in my life?
  • What are the secrets to a joy-filled life?

The result of my search is a new eCourse titled Easy Joy: 12 Places to Find Joy in a Discouraging World. In this course, I share that joy can be found in some surprising places. Joy can be found in:

  • darkness
  • brokenness
  • choosing to trust
  • rituals

These are only a few of the places I found joy. Explore this course and you will discover even more.

When you sign up for this course you will receive a series of email lessons in your inbox. First, an introductory message will arrive. Then once a week for the next 12 weeks you will receive a message about finding joy. The message will contain a short lesson and an assignment. Each lesson will take about 15-30 minutes. The rest of the week you will put the new knowledge into practice.

Sign up now and you will also receive a bonus lesson that will help you continue to find joy even after the course is finished.

Don’t you wish you could walk to the nearest Easy Joy store to buy a box of happiness when you’re feeling blue?

While that isn’t possible, you can find more joy for your life in God’s Word. Find specific ways in the Easy Joy eCourse.

This regular price for this course will be $15. But it is on sale through May 3 for only $9!

Click here for more information and to sign up for the course.

easyjoyecourse

Practicing Lent: Meditating on Bible Stories

practicing7

This post is part of my Practicing Lent series where we will explore Spiritual Disciplines that connect us with Jesus in His Word. If you want to find out more about Spiritual Disciplines you can look here. If you have signed up for the Practicing Lent Facebook group, click here to share your experience with others. If you would like to participate in the group, click here to request to join.

My favorite novels make my feel as if I’m part of the story. Through the author’s skillful use of word pictures, I can feel the sunshine warm my face or hear the burglar rattle the door. I can see the moon’s reflection on the lake or taste the buttery frosting on a cupcake. I can laugh at the character’s mishaps and cry with her in her pain.

God’s Word is a treasure trove of beautiful stories. Of course, the wonderful thing is that all these stories are true.

Yet Bible stories do have something in common with great novels: they tug at our hearts.

Jesus was the consummate story-teller. In just a few words He helped his listeners envision a forlorn sheep on a bleak hillside or an estranged son returning to his loving father’s arms.

One of my favorite ways to contemplate Scripture is to meditate on Bible stories–especially Gospel stories. Because I’ve known these stories ever since I was old enough to sit on a tiny chair and listen to a Sunday School teacher with a flannelgraph, it’s easy for me to gloss over these well-known accounts and miss their richness. But when I slow down and contemplate them, I notice things I’ve missed before. Jesus helps me see where I am in the story and teaches me truth for my life.

Martin Luther wrote about this way of meditating. He recommended that when we read a Gospel story, we see ourselves as the person coming to Jesus or the one being brought to Him.

When you see how he (Jesus) works, however, and he helps everyone to whom he comes or who is brought to him, then rest assured that faith is accomplishing this in you and that he is offering your soul exactly the same sort of help and favor through the Gospels…Christ is yours, presented to you as a gift. [Grace Upon Grace (p. 102), by John Kleinig]

practicingPIN 7

Meditating on Bible Stories

To meditate on a Bible story:

  1. Read the text.
  2. Close your eyes and use your five senses to imagine yourself in the story. What might have you seen? smelled? felt? heard? tasted?
  3. Picture yourself as one of the characters of the story. How would you have responded to what is happening? What thoughts would have gone through your mind? What emotions would have bubbled up?
  4. Apply the story to your life in the present. What is the story teaching you about Jesus? How is God wanting you to respond?

John Kleinig, in his excellent book, Grace Upon Grace tells that Luther emphasized two principles in this type of Scripture meditation. One: We are to meditate on the story as the Good News of Christ. Don’t just see the story as a call to obedience. As you meditate on the Gospel story, keep your eyes on Jesus–the giver of grace. Two: Meditate on the story in faith. This is not simply an intellectual exercise; it is a means to grow in trust in our Savior. God’s Word is living and active and works in our hearts to produce faith.

Lenten Meditation

The discipline of meditating on Gospel stories can be especially meaningful during Holy Week. Personally, I want to take the time to “watch” Jesus parade through the streets of Jerusalem. I want to imagine Christ stooping to wash my dusty feet. I want to feel the horror when Jesus announces that one of my colleagues is a traitor. I want to be present in the hush of the Garden of Gethsemane.

Although it might be painful, I want to fully appreciate Christ’s sacrifice for me by meditating on the account of the cross. And I want to relive the joy of the empty tomb and hear the angel say, “He is not here. He is risen!”

 Let’s all take time this week to meditate on the accounts leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection. Through God’s powerful Word, the Holy Spirit will lead us to a deeper appreciation of the Father’s love, the Son’s sacrifice, and the Spirit’s comfort.

God’s Word is more than a novel that takes us to times and places we cannot go. It has life-giving power.

Next step: Click here to access a resource that outlines how to meditate on a Bible story and lists Scripture references of stories relevant to Holy Week. Over the next five days spend some time each day meditating on and receiving grace from God’s Word.

204196 - Copy (2)If you would like more information about Spiritual Disciplines, check out my Bible study book: Soul Spa: 40 Days of Spiritual Renewal. It is a great way to find rest for your souls. This book can be used for personal or group study. More information here and here.

Practicing Lent: Silence

practicing6

This post is part of my Practicing Lent series where we will explore Spiritual Disciplines that connect us with Jesus in His Word. If you want to find out more about Spiritual Disciplines you can look here. If you have signed up for the Practicing Lent Facebook group, click here to share your experience with others. If you would like to participate in the group, click here to request to join.

My mother-in-law Shirley is known as a woman with the gift of gab. One thing I have always liked about her is that chats with her never have any of those awkward silences.

Once when I was with her, we went to visit an old friend of hers. The mother of the friend was with her and this mother also possessed the ability to make continual conversation. In this woman, Shirley had met her match.

When the visit ended and we got back in the car, Shirley expressed her frustration, “Oh, that woman!” I couldn’t get a word in edgewise!”

I wonder if that is how God feels sometimes. When we come to Him, we often come with our long lists of complaints, our litanies of needs. Our time with Him is often a one-sided conversation.

And when we’re not talking to Him, we fill our ears with music on the radio, chats on the phone, and movies on the big-screen TV.

Maybe God feels like He can’t get a word in edgewise.

Ecclesiastes 5:2 says:

Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.

Silence

In order to hear God speaking to our hearts, we sometimes need to practice the Spiritual Discipline of silence. We live in a noisy world.  It can be hard to hear God’s voice above the din. God may be speaking, but we may not be listening.

In my job as a music teacher at a Lutheran school, I have one rule for my students: When I am talking, they are to be quiet. This rule is necessary for them to hear the instructions for the next activity. When they are talking, they are not listening. If the class follows the rule reasonably well, I give the class a sticker on a chart. Ten stickers equal a reward of a movie day. But somehow, this simple rule is extraordinarily difficult for the students. We are already 24 weeks into the school year and one of the classes has only earned 3 stickers. Go figure.

I guess we all like to talk more than to be still. But that’s the beauty of the discipline of silence.

Silence enables us to listen. 

practicingPIN 6

King David wrote in Psalm 62:1

For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.

I cannot hear God’s words of grace if I’m always talking. I can’t listen to His gentle words of salvation if I’m not waiting in silence.

Sometimes I need to wait for some time before I hear God’s voice. Even if I’m in His Word, the noise in my head may drown out His voice. The conversation between me and my distracted self doesn’t allow me to listen.

Practicing Silence

So how can we practice silence? How can we hear God’s more clearly? Here are some ways that work for me.

Practice silence before reading God’s Word. Before jumping into your Bible study time, take a few minutes of silence to quiet your mind. Turn David’s words in Psalm 62:1 into a prayer: “God, my soul is waiting in silence for You alone. Enable me to hear Your words of grace and salvation in Scripture. Help me hear Your message to me in Your Holy Word.

Write down the noise in your head. Perhaps you have noticed that when you sit in silence, your thoughts are definitely not quiet. The voices of Doubt and Defeat speak up. Worry and Anxiety seem intent on not letting God get a word in edgewise. You feel like a failure before you even begin.

But you can use these noisy thoughts to your advantage. Sit quietly and pray David’s words, “I wait for God in silence.” As you quiet your mind, have a pen and paper ready. When distracting thoughts pop up, don’t berate yourself. Instead, write down a word or phrase that describes that thought. Quiet your mind again and repeat the process. After ten minutes, look at your list of distracting thoughts. What do they tell you about your life? What do they tell you about your relationship with God? Then take the whole list to God in prayer.

Schedule a personal retreat. This is one of my favorite things to do–but I’ll admit I don’t do it enough. Block out a day–or a morning–for a silent retreat. When I have a personal retreat, I love to go to a park if the weather is nice. But you could look for a retreat center in your area, book a hotel room, or simply find a quiet corner in the library. Bring only your Bible, journal, and willingness to wait in silence. Read a portion of Scripture and then wait for God’s words to you. Journal what you sense God is speaking to you in His Word. You could also use the disciplines of Palms Down, Palms Up Prayer; SACRED Reading; and Examen during this time. An extended time of silence like this refreshes my soul. (For more ideas for a personal spiritual retreat, read here or sign up for my Soul Spa Kit at the top of this blog.)

Wait in silence. Let God get a word in edgewise. He is longing to comfort your heart and care for your soul. He will faithfully speak words of love and forgiveness as you come to Him. Quiet your heart and hear His words of grace.

Next step: Click here to access a resource for the discipline of silence. Try the activities and read the Scriptures listed. For the next five days, schedule some time for Silence.

 

Don’t Miss the Bible Study Expo!

Learn About the Bible StudyExpo!

If you love to study God’s Word get ready for a treat! If you lead a women’s ministry or Bible study don’t miss this!

The Bible Study Expo!

It’s happening online this Friday, March 31st. This annual free event is hosted by Marnie Swedberg.  From 2-5 pm Marnie will interview 12 different Bible study authors and highlight their books. Every fifteen minutes she will talk with a different author. So you’re sure to get new ideas for the Bible study groups you lead and for your personal Bible study.

The list of authors includes Deb Potts, Suzanne Eller, Kristi Grigsby, Kathy Howard, Janet McHenry, Lindsey Bell, Shannon Popkin, Cathy McIntosh, Sherry Poundstone, Corey Brown, Liz Curtis Higgs, and one of my favorite authors–Sharon Jaynes. Find out when they’re speaking here. Don’t worry if you can’t listen to the whole Expo. Tune in when you can and also get a chance to win prizes!

Everything you need to know about connecting to the Expo is right here.

In the meantime, Sharon Jaynes was kind enough to share an excerpt from her book that includes a companion Bible study in the back of the book. Here is a sample of Take Hold of the Faith You Long For:

I was alone, or at least I felt that way. Women huddled in happy clusters chatting about first one thing and then another. Some propped babies on their hips. Others clutched Bibles in their hands.

Most wore smiles on their faces. I wore one too. But it wasn’t a reflection of what was in my heart. The upturned lips were simply the camouflage I wore to blend in—to avoid being found out.

That I wasn’t really all that I was cracked up to be.

What I really wanted to do was run and hide. On the outside I was a well-put-together church mom with cute shoes and snappy jeans, but on the inside I was a little girl cowering in the far recesses of the playground hoping no one would notice me.

What’s wrong with me? I wondered. Why don’t I feel the joy these other women feel? What holds me back from experiencing the confidence and assurance they seem to experience?

Why do I continue to act like the same old me, struggle with the same negative emotions, and wrestle with the same old sins?

I wonder if you’ve ever felt that way.

The problem was I was stuck. Yes, I had professed Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I knew I was going to heaven when I left this earth.

But I had a niggling feeling He meant something more than heaven when He said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

Have you ever watched a circus performer on a flying trapeze? The aerialist swings out, swings back, and then usually on the peak of the third swing he takes hold of another bar or performer.

That’s when the fun begins as backflips, somersaults, and triples twists wow the crowd.

But what if, when the trapeze artist took hold of the second bar, he refused to let go of the first?

He would be left hanging in the middle. Stuck. That would not be the greatest show on earth.

And that’s where many of us spend our lives…stuck…dangling over “life to the full” but never quite letting go of what holds us hostage to a mediocre “less than” faith.

I know it’s where I spent many years…until God challenged me to take hold of the truth and make it mine.

Her name was Mary Marshall Young–and older, wiser woman in my church.

One day she challenged me to learn about my true identity in Christ.

Then she did something even harder…she challenged me to believe it…to take hold of it and make it mine.

And that made all the difference.

Paul wrote, “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Philippians 3:12).

And in order to take hold and make our own everything that Christ has taken hold of for us and placed in us, we need to let go of everything that keeps us from doing so.

If we would grasp and make our own what Jesus has already done for us, and what He had deposited in us, our lives would look very different than the tepid faith of the average churchgoer.

God’s power, provision, and purposes are for “who so ever will” (Mark 8:34 KJV).

Will what? Will let go of all that holds you back from experiencing the abundant life of the adventurous faith and take hold of truth that makes it so.

So here’s what I’m challenging you to do:

• Let go of insecurity and take hold of your true identity as a child of God.

• Let go of the scarcity mentality that says that you’re not enough and take hold of God’s abundant promises that say you have everything you need.

• Let go of crippling bitterness and take hold of radical forgiveness.

• Let go of shame-filled condemnation and take hold of grace-filled acceptance.

• Let go of weak-kneed worry and take hold of sure-footed confidence.

• Let go of comparison to others and take hold of your God-fashioned uniqueness.

• Let go of debilitating discouragement and take hold of your next assignment.

• Let go of timid reluctance and take hold of bold believing.

I know that’s a tall order, but I know you can do it. I’m here to help you get there.

It’s what God wants for all of us.

So today, let’s ask ourselves if we’re hanging on to something that God is calling us to let go of. Shame? Resentment? Condemnation? Unbelief? Ingratitude? Bitterness? Unforgiveness? A false sense of who we are?

If He brings something to mind, let it go, move forward, and live bold.

The faith you’ve always longed for is just a decision away.

 

Sharon Jaynes is a conference speaker and author of 20 books, including her latest, Take Hold of the Faith You Long For: Let Go, Move Forward, Live Bold. She is past Vice President and Radio Co-host for Proverbs 31 Ministries, and co-founder/devotion writer for Girlfriends in God. To learn more visit www.sharonjaynes.com or www.takeholdthebook.com.

 

 

Learn about the

Practicing Lent: Slowing

practicing5

This post is part of my Practicing Lent series where we will explore Spiritual Disciplines that connect us with Jesus in His Word. If you want to find out more about Spiritual Disciplines you can look here. If you have signed up for the Practicing Lent Facebook group, click here to share your experience with others. If you would like to participate in the group, click here to request to join.

I once heard a story about an American traveler on an African safari. A typical type-A American, he wanted to see as much as possible in the time he had on the continent. And because he wanted to see parts of the land where travel was difficult, he hired some local people to carry his supplies.

On the first morning, they got up early and made encouraging progress. The second morning everyone once again rose with the sun and they covered a great distance. The third day the party traveled far. But on the fourth morning, the local people simply sat under the trees and refused to move on.

The American tourist became impatient, but no amount of coaxing would get the men moving again. Finally, through an interpreter, the tourist asked what the problem was.

The translator relayed their message, “They are waiting for their souls to catch up with their bodies.” [Adapted from Soul Keeping (p. 130), by John Ortberg]

Have you ever felt like that? Like you have hurried through your days, sped through your tasks, even rushed through your time with God so quickly that your soul has been left behind?

I know I have.

Our society is built on hurry. We try to pack our days like we pack for a 2-week vacation–into a carry-on suitcase. I see this in the lives of my piano students who hurry from school to piano lessons to soccer practice to math tutoring. I see it in the lives of those in ministry as they rush from church services to Bible studies to community volunteering to board meetings.

I’ll bet there are days or weeks or months when you too, live in a state of hurry. Modern lives are filled with a myriad of good things and we feel we need to rush to fit them all in.

But when we stop long enough to breathe we realize that our soul has been neglected. It’s Tuesday, but it feels like our soul has been left behind at Saturday.

Slowing

To remedy this situation, I suggest we practice the Spiritual Discipline of Slowing. Perhaps this is not a typical Spiritual Discipline. A search in the concordance confirmed that God’s Word does not say “slow down” in those exact words. Yet we see this concept in Scripture when God talks about our need for rest.

God Himself rested on the seventh day of creation. He commanded His people to rest on the Sabbath.

Through the prophet Isaiah, God told the disobedient Israelites:

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,
“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
    in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)

And the prophet Jeremiah declared,

Thus says the Lord:
“Stand by the roads, and look,
    and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way is; and walk in it,
    and find rest for your souls.
But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’” (Jeremiah 6:16)

God does not want us to live a life of hurry. In these passages, we see that hurry happens when we insist on relying on our own strength and knowledge. When we feel God’s way is simply too slow and we try to hurry Him along. We step out of His ancient paths in an effort to achieve our objectives–faster.

Jesus’ Example

Perhaps the best Scriptural example of slowing was Jesus Himself. His life was not one of idleness. He was always occupied with preaching, teaching, and healing. Yet in reading the Gospels, I never have the feeling that Jesus hurried. He always took the time that was needed. Even when he was on His way to a very sick twelve-year-old girl, He stopped to speak to a woman who had touched His cloak and been healed of a long, painful illness. (Mark 5:21-33)

practicingPIN 5

Jesus told His disciples:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

Jesus didn’t say that we should sit around and do nothing. Instead, we should work with Him. A yoke is a wooden crosspiece that is fastened over the necks of two animals and attached to a plow or cart. The yoke enables the animals to work together. Jesus invites us to take His yoke, work alongside Him.

I don’t know about you, but hurry frequently enters my life when I attempt to accomplish more than God intends. When I insist on trying to carry all the burdens of this life on my own. In the words of Matthew, I hear Jesus say, “Stop that. Work with me. Don’t take on too much. Don’t try to do it on your own. I have wonderful tasks planned for you, but when you work with Me, it won’t feel like hard labor or a heavy burden. It will be more like rest for your soul. Hurry won’t even enter into the equation.”

Practicing Slowness

So how can we practice slowness and eliminate hurry?

Here are a few suggestions:

Sabbath.The Lord commanded the Sabbath for a reason. He knew we needed it. Time to worship. Time to rest. Time to tend to our souls. If you don’t already observe the Sabbath, I encourage you to take one day a week to engage in corporate worship. To spend time with family and friends. To close the computer or put away the broom. Instead, spend time in God’s Word, read a good book, or take a walk in the woods. (Read more about observing Sabbath here.)

Examine your activities. Is your life one big hurry because you have taken on more than God intended? Take an hour to list all your activities and your family’s activities that involve your time. Prayerfully ask the Lord where you have stepped out of the yoke He has planned for you and tried to do things on your own.

Build a little margin in your day. I’ll admit this is still a hard one for me, but another suggestion for eliminating hurry is to allow more time between appointments and activities. Try not to schedule things back to back. When you need to go somewhere, estimate how long it will take to get there and then allow twice that amount of time. If the drive to the dentist’s office normally takes ten minutes, allow twenty. The extra margin gives you time to notice the lilacs on the way. Or really listen to the words of the song on the radio. If you arrive early, you have time to relax and breathe.

Modern life is fast. We feel we need to keep up. But Dallas Willard, an author who often writes about Spiritual Disciplines, reminds us:

Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.

God knows we need soul rest. And He will provide it.

Next step: Click here to access a free resource with a list of Scriptures about soul rest. Over the next five days, take time to read what God says about rest. Ask Him to teach you and invite Him to point out any changes that need to be made in your life. Thank Him for His promise of soul rest.

 

Practicing Lent: Examen

practicing4

This post is part of my Practicing Lent series where we will explore Spiritual Disciplines that connect us with Jesus in His Word. If you want to find out more about Spiritual Disciplines you can look here. If you have signed up for the Practicing Lent Facebook group, click here to share your experience with others. If you would like to participate in the group, click here to request to join.

Another busy day. Teaching music at the Lutheran school in the morning. Piano lessons in the afternoon. Dinner with my sweet hubby. Bible study with my small group in the evening.

I fall into bed exhausted. But before I step into dreamland, I take time to practice Examen. I close my eyes and watch a “video” replay of my day.

I thank God for the good things: a big hug from a preschooler at school, time with my husband, laughter with my awesome Bible study gals.

I ask the Holy Spirit to show me where I messed up that day–yep, I lost my patience with those antsy third-graders–forgive me. Lord.

I look for God’s presence in the ordinary moments of my day and I see Him in the unexpected warm weather in the middle of winter, in the faces of the children as they sing of God’s love, and in the words of hope in God’s Word.

I go to sleep forgiven and grateful.

The Spiritual Discipline of Examen

The practice of Examen is one of my favorite Spiritual Disciplines.

practicingPIN 4

I know intellectually that God is always with me. I grab onto God’s promise:

I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. (Joshua 1:5)

But sometimes I forget. I get caught up in my to-do list, in the hectic activities of each day. I forget that God is always with me to love me, guide me, and cheer me on. Examen helps me be more aware of Christ in the mundane moments of every day.

You too?

To practice the Spiritual Discipline of Examen, start by finding a quiet place and asking the Spirit to guide your time of reflection. Close your eyes and review the last 24 hours. Ask yourself questions like:

  • What inspired gratitude today?
  • What happened that was painful, sad, or disappointing?
  • What moment do I now regret and need to confess?
  • What moments of my day were life-giving?
  • What moments of my day were life-draining?
  • When did I sense God’s nearness?
  • When did my hectic pace of life crowd out a sense of God’s nearness?
  • When did I give and receive love?
  • When did I feel an absence of love?
  • What did God teach me today?

Spend some time thanking God for His presence throughout the day and thank Him for the things that brought joy. Confess the sins the Spirit brought to mind and receive forgiveness because of Jesus’ sacrifice.

Visual Examen

Recently, I discovered a more hands-on way to practice Examen in a book titled Praying in Color:  I have adapted this method for our Practicing Lent journey.

For this practice,

  1. Start by downloading and printing a sheet with a geometric pattern that will guide your experience.
  2. In the center of the pattern, write the words of Joshua 1:5: I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.
  3. Then, in the spaces closest to the center, write down things for which you are grateful. Did you get a hug from a preschooler? Did you see a spectacular sunset? Write down anything from the last 24 hours that brought you joy.
  4. Next, ask yourself a few questions about your day. In the outer ring of the pattern, write a word or two that recalls these moments:
  • When did I feel closest to God?
  • When did I feel distant?
  • When did I mess up and sin? Where do I need to confess and receive forgiveness?

End with a time of confession and thanksgiving. If you like, color the spaces of the design while you pray. Many people find the act of coloring focuses their thoughts. (I suggest that you at least darken the spaces listing your sins so the words are no longer visible–symbolizing God’s cleansing mercy.)

God is with us. But sometimes we forget. Examen helps us appreciate the Lord’s presence in the ordinary and mundane. During this holy season of Lent, appreciate anew Christ’s nearness.

Examen helps us appreciate the Lord's presence in the ordinary and mundane. Click To Tweet

Next step: Download and print the Examen pattern. For a summary of the Visual Examen practice and a list of Scirptures that will guide your practice–Click here.