The One Thing You Need to Do to Be Extraordinary

self-sacrifice-is-the-way

Last week the leaves on my Burning Bush turned from an ordinary green to an extraordinary red.

But here is an amazing fact: the leaves were actually red all summer long.

I didn’t see the red color until a week ago, but it was there. The brilliant red was hidden beneath the green.

During the growing season, a leaf produces chlorophyll which makes it appear green. As the days grow shorter, chlorophyll production slows and the leaf’s true colors appear.

In a way, the leaf has to die to be more beautiful.

This is also true in my spiritual life. In Matthew 16:25 Jesus says:

Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. (The Message)

This is one of those great puzzles of God’s kingdom. I think my ordinary self is my real self and so I carefully protect my desires, my needs, my interests. In a way, I desperately work to stay “green.”

But Jesus tells me, “Let all of that go. Let your ordinary self fade and your extraordinary self will appear.” When I let my “green” desires go, my beautiful “red” self will emerge. When I realize that all that I’m so carefully holding onto is actually holding me back, my true self begins to unfold.

Today I was reading C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. This is what he has to say on the subject.

“We take as starting point our ordinary self with its various desires and interests…We are hoping all the time that…the poor natural self will still have some chance, and some time, to get on with its own life and do what it likes…

Christ says, ‘Give me All…Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked–the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead.”

It’s amazing to realize that our extraordinary self is hiding beneath our ordinary lives.

Let’s learn to let it all go.

God wants to give us so much more.

Next Step: Spend a few minutes with God today. Ask Him what you need to hand over to Him. Receive the new self.

the-one-thing

You Are God’s Chosen Instrument: 3 Ways to Make Music in His Hands

choseninstrument

Piano is my chosen instrument. 

I started playing the piano when I was five years old and loved it from the beginning. The ability to make music with my own fingers seemed like magic to me.

After a year of piano, my parents bought a spinet organ and for about seven years I took lessons on that instrument, but it never had the same magic for me. When I switched back to the piano I was much happier. While a powerful organ can blow your socks off, an organist never has the same control of the touch and sound that a pianist does.

This week I was reading the well-known story of the conversion of Saul in Acts 9:1-19. I have read this story many times so I asked God to show me something new this time around.

And what I noticed was in the exchange between God and Ananais–the man God sent to Saul after Saul’s encounter with God on the road to Damascus. Ananais was pretty skeptical about going to see the man responsible for executing Christians all around the Roman kingdom. But God reassured Ananais that this was the plan:

“The Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.” Acts 1:15

Saul (or Paul–as he was later known) was God’s chosen instrument.

And I thought: What significance is in the phrase “chosen instrument”? If I am also an instrument of God, what does that mean?

First of all, when an instrumentalist performs, the audience rarely praises the instrument. They applaud the performer. As an instrument of God, I do not receive the admiration and acclaim. God does.

Second, the instrument cannot make music on its own. It relies on the hands of the performer. Yes, now there are marvelous machines that can be attached to pianos to make music automatically, but even there the machine is made and programmed by human hands. Music is dreamed up by talented composers. On its own, the piano can only sit on a stage and take up space. I sometimes think that I am like the machine that can produce something wonderful on my own, but in truth it is all in the hands of the Creator who made me, the Programmer who guides me, and the Performer who works through me.

piano keysFinally, I thought of how a piano doesn’t rebel in the hands of a musician. My piano doesn’t stop making sound if it doesn’t like the song I’m playing. It doesn’t run out of the room if it doesn’t agree with my musical interpretation. It doesn’t pout and complain if the song is too difficult. Here is where I am much different from my piano!

Paul was God’s chosen instrument to the Gentiles of his day. And he acted as an instrument should. He worked for the glory of the Performer. He relied on the power of the Creator. He didn’t complain if the song was too hard.

I believe we are each God’s chosen instrument. The Father lovingly chooses each of us to play for His glory. He works through each of us in various concert venues around the world. He produces beautiful music in those who yield to His gentle touch. 

Next step: Reflect on your role as God’s chosen instrument. How have you made beautiful music in the hands of God? How have you performed for your own glory or tried to make music on your own?

 

Freedom From The Tyranny Of People-Pleasing

freedom

The Fourth of July is upon us–a day of celebration in our country. A time to celebrate the freedom we enjoy in America. A time to be thankful for the fact that we still have the freedom to worship God.

With all the emphasis on freedom during the days ahead, it made me realize that even though God has given me freedom, I don’t always live as if I am free. I get tangled up in the chains of ambition and people-pleasing. Although I am free in Christ, I sometimes willingly step into shackles that prevent from living in that freedom.

It seems like this is nothing new. When the apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians, he said,

So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. (Galatians 5:1)

The Galatians had experienced the freedom of salvation in Christ–the joyous freedom that comes when we realize that there is nothing we can do to earn salvation. There is nothing we can do to make God love us more. Christ has already done everything necessary.

But they had been convinced by other people that they needed to follow some of the old laws, such as circumcision. They were willingly stepping into the shackles of trying to please other people by doing things God had told them they didn’t need to do.

And when I read this passage again, I realized that, in a way, I had done the same thing. Lofty ambitions, avid goals, and the desire to do what the “experts” tell me I need to do, have chained me to an unrealistic work pattern. I have probably been trying to do more than God has asked me to do–more than I was meant to do.

Sisters in Christ, I hope that you have not been shackled to people pleasing and working beyond what Christ has asked of you. But if you have, here a few steps you can take to break free of the chains.

  1. Write down everything that you do during a normal week and everything you feel you “should” be doing. Include everything from cooking meals and laundry to driving kids to school and organizing play dates.
  2. Take your long list into God’s presence and mentally lay it at His feet. Pray over each item. Ask yourself questions like: Is this activity necessary? Is there a simpler way to do this chore? Why am I choosing this activity–is it because God asked me to do it or I am doing this simply to impress the neighbors or please other people?
  3. Eliminate the activities that God asks you to purge from your calendar. Find simpler, less stressful ways to accomplish some of your chores. Do what God is calling you to do–but not more.

Experience the freedom of doing what God has asked you to do. Live free.

Next Step: Follow the three steps above to break free of the chains of people pleasing. Write Galatians 5:1 on a sticky note and display it where you will see it often.

Why Giving Up Control Isn’t Always a Bad Thing

giving up control

“Sharla, you most certainly would be classified as a Field Marshal.”

My sister-in-law’s words caught me off guard. I was sitting at the dinner table enjoying a relaxed meal with my extended family.  We were passing potatoes and sharing stories when my sister-in-law began talking about a personality test she was using at work. She was so excited about the test that she started to guess how each of us might be classified.

She went around the table, identifying each person: “You would probably be called a Mastermind.” “I think you would be a Champion.” “You might be a Healer.”

I wondered what I might be. Mastermind or Champion sounded impressive. But when my sister-in-law looked at me and called me a Field Marshal, I was stunned. How could she compare me to a bossy military commander who ordered troops?

Was she right? Did other people perceive me as bossy and controlling? Even though I wasn’t convinced I was the one wearing a field marshal uniform, my sister-in-law’s comment forced me to look at myself. Well, I did like to keep things organized. Like an army officer, I took charge of my surroundings: clothes arranged by color, kitchen utensils by use, and books by author’s last name. But did that make me a control freak?

OK, maybe I wore that field marshal uniform more often than I wanted to admit. I noticed my inner control freak often came out when working with others. I couldn’t help offering “suggestions”: “Don’t you think it would be better if we did it this way?” “I’ve found this method to be much more successful.” “I really don’t think that’s right.”

Then I realized I sometimes did the same thing with my heavenly Father: “God, my life would be so much better if You answered my prayers according to my plan.” “This is not the way my life should be going!”

When I looked at myself honestly, I couldn’t deny I had a few control issues. So I took my sister-in-law’s words to heart and tried to change my ways. I realized that my relationships with God and the people in my life could be improved if I stepped out of the commander’s uniform.

If we’re truthful, we all like to be in control. But when we’re ready to change, the first step is realizing that God is the One wearing the field marshal suit.

James 4:7 says,

“Submit yourselves therefore to God.”

The Greek word for submit is actually a military term meaning “to rank under.” In other words, if I am submitting to God, I am willing to obey Him. I am the one who takes orders, not gives them.

Okay, I admit this is not easy, especially for someone labeled a Field Marshal. It goes against everything in me to let God be in charge of my life. I want things to go my way.

But then I remember: God is God and I am not. No matter how badly I want to control the universe to my advantage, the truth is—God is in control. When I pull against His leading, I am only struggling out of His loving hand.

A surprising thing happens when I stop straining and allow my heavenly Father to lead me. When I let Him direct my life, I find that I’m happier than when I foolishly think I’m the one in charge. When I stop pounding my fists and demanding my way, I can open up my hands for God’s blessings.

When I stop pounding my fists and

 

 

Divine Makeover001

This post was adapted from my book for teens and young women:

Divine Makeover: God Makes You Beautiful.

Do you need a Christian gift for a graduate? A special present for a confirmand? A resource for a summer study with some awesome teens?

Check out Divine Makeover at CPH and Amazon.

If You’re Struggling with Emptiness, Learn How to Live Filled

Learn why emptiness can be a good thing and how God wants to fill up all the desperate corners of our hearts with himself

There is a story told of a professor who went to visit an old monk who was famous for his wisdom. The monk graciously welcomed him in and offered him a seat.

As soon as the professor sat down, he sat down and began to tell the monk all about his own accomplishments, ideas, and opinions.

The monk quietly listened for awhile and then asked, “Would you like some tea?”

The professor nodded and smiled, but kept right on talking. The monk handed him a tea cup and began pouring from his teapot. The tea filled the cup, but the monk kept right on pouring while the professor kept right on talking. Eventually the professor noticed the tea overflowing onto the saucer and shouted, “What do you think you are doing? Can’t you see the cup is full?”

And the monk replied, “This cup is just like your mind. It can’t take in anything new, because it is already full.”

Sometimes when I come to God, I come full. I am filled to the brim with my own ideas of how my life should go. I am overflowing with opinions of how God should answer my prayers. There simply isn’t room for God to work in me because I am too full of myself.

God wants to fill all the desperate little corners of our souls with Himself. To totally satisfy our hearts by saturating them with His love and peace, but we won’t experience that if our hearts are full of something else. I have found that when my heart is full of my own expectations, saturated with my own desires and demands I have no room for what God wants to pour into my spirit.

I try to avoid emptiness, but every empty spot is a potential vessel for God’s fullness. So the more empty places I give God to fill, the more space I make for Him in my life. God wants to fulfill all our longings and He does that by giving us Himself. Psalm 16:11 says,

“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.”

As we empty our hearts of our own ideas, demands, and expectations, God will fill us with His presence. He will pour in His joy until our hearts are overflowing.

God wants to fill all the desperate little corners of our souls with Himself.

Question: What is your reaction to the idea of living empty?

 

What Child is This: Enthroning Christ

loving hearts enthrone HimOne of my favorite Christmas carols is “What Child is This?” Somehow the hauntingly beautiful melody defines this poignant season for me.

But I’ve sung it so often that I can do so without really thinking about the words. “What Child is this, who laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping” conjures up Christmas card pictures of the crude stable but doesn’t change my heart.

Recently a line in the third verse caught my attention:

The King of kings salvation brings

Let loving hearts enthrone him.

This stirs up a couple of questions: “Does my heart enthrone Christ?” “How can my heart enthrone Him?”

Does my heart enthrone Christ? To answer this question honestly, I would have to say, “yes and no.” Some days I do live bowed to the majesty of the Almighty God. But many other days I live as if I am king (or queen) of my life. I make my own decision. I ignore the King’s edicts. I spend little time kneeling before the throne. I make demands and become discouraged and angry when the universe doesn’t revolve around me. I live as If I am in charge of my own little kingdom.

Eventually, living like this wearies my soul. Living as if I am in charge requires a lot of pulling against God’s loving hand. It wears me out.

How can my heart enthrone Him? So how can I daily put Christ back in His rightful place–on the throne of my heart? When I look at the words of the carol, I see one key, “let loving hearts enthrone Him.” When I remember God’s amazing love in sending the gift of salvation in the form of a baby, I can respond in love. And when I love, it’s easier to allow Him to sit on the throne. It’s (almost) natural to bow in humility before God’s grace.

I can also daily enthrone the King through prayer. Each day I need to approach Him in the throne room of my heart and ask Him to reveal just who is sitting on the throne right now. If it looks suspiciously like I’m on that seat, I need to ask Christ for the strength to jump off the throne. Allow Him to be the King of my life. Bow my heart to His loving grace.

This Christmas season let’s bring the gift Jesus truly deserves–our hearts.

Question: How do you consciously enthrone Christ in your heart?

Freedom from the Tyranny of People-Pleasing: 3 Steps to Live Free

freedomTomorrow is the Fourth of July–a day of celebration in our country. A time to celebrate the freedom we enjoy in America. A time to be thankful for the fact that we still have the freedom to worship God.

With all the emphasis on freedom during the days ahead, it made me realize that even though God has given me freedom, I don’t always live as if I am free. I get tangled up in the chains of ambition and people-pleasing. Although I am free in Christ, I sometimes willingly step into shackles that prevent from living in that freedom.

It seems like this is nothing new. When the apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians, he said,

So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. (Galatians 5:1)

The Galatians had experienced the freedom of salvation in Christ–the joyous freedom that comes when we realize that there is nothing we can do to earn salvation. There is nothing we can do to make God love us more. Christ has already done everything necessary.

But they had been convinced by other people that they needed to follow some of the old laws, such as circumcision. They were willingly stepping into the shackles of trying to please other people by doing things God had told them they didn’t need to do.

And when I read this passage again, I realized that, in a way, I had done the same thing. Lofty ambitions, avid goals, and the desire to do what the “experts” tell me I need to do, have chained me to an unrealistic work pattern. I have probably been trying to do more than God has asked me to do–more than I was meant to do.

Sisters in Christ, I hope that you have not been shackled to people pleasing and working beyond what Christ has asked of you. But if you have, here a few steps you can take to break free of the chains.

  1. Write down everything that you do during a normal week and everything you feel you “should” be doing. Include everything from cooking meals and laundry to driving kids to school and organizing play dates.
  2. Take your long list into God’s presence and mentally lay it at His feet. Pray over each item. Ask yourself questions like: Is this activity necessary? Is there a simpler way to do this chore? Why am I choosing this activity–is it because God asked me to do it or I am doing this simply to impress the neighbors or please other people?
  3. Eliminate the activities that God asks you to purge from your calendar. Find simpler, less stressful ways to accomplish some of your chores. Do what God is calling you to do–but not more.

Experience the freedom of doing what God has asked you to do. Live free.

How have you sometimes been chained to people-pleasing?

 

In Control

DiVineblogtour_3

“Sharla, you most certainly would be classified as a Field Marshal.”

My sister-in-law’s words caught me off guard. I was sitting at the dinner table enjoying a relaxed meal with my extended family.  We were passing potatoes and sharing stories when my sister-in-law began talking about a personality test she was using at work. She was so excited about the test that she started to guess how each of us might be classified.

She went around the table, identifying each person: “You would probably be called a Mastermind.” “I think you would be a Champion.” “You might be a Healer.”

I wondered what I might be. Mastermind or Champion sounded impressive. But when my sister-in-law looked at me and called me a Field Marshal, I was stunned. How could she compare me to a bossy military commander who ordered troops?

Was she right? Did other people perceive me as bossy and controlling? Even though I wasn’t convinced I was the one wearing a field marshal uniform, my sister-in-law’s comment forced me to look at myself. Well, I did like to keep things organized. Like an army officer, I took charge of my surroundings: clothes arranged by color, kitchen utensils by use, and books by author’s last name. But did that make me a control freak?

OK, maybe I wore that field marshal uniform more often than I wanted to admit. I noticed my inner control freak often came out when working with others. I couldn’t help offering “suggestions”: “Don’t you think it would be better if we did it this way?” “I’ve found this method to be much more successful.” “I really don’t think that’s right.”

Then I realized I sometimes did the same thing with my heavenly Father: “God, my life would be so much better if You answered my prayers according to my plan.” “This is not the way my life should be going!”

When I looked at myself honestly, I couldn’t deny I had a few control issues. So I took my sister-in-law’s words to heart and tried to change my ways. I realized that my relationships with God and the people in my life could be improved if I stepped out of the commander’s uniform.

If we’re truthful, we all like to be in control. But when we’re ready to change, the first step is realizing that God is the One wearing the field marshal suit.

James 4:7 says,

“Submit yourselves therefore to God.”

The Greek word for submit is actually a military term meaning “to rank under.” In other words, if I am submitting to God, I am willing to obey Him. I am the one who takes orders, not gives them.

Okay, I admit this is not easy, especially for someone labeled a Field Marshal. It goes against everything in me to let God be in charge of my life. I want things to go my way.

But then I remember: God is God and I am not. No matter how badly I want to control the universe to my advantage, the truth is—God is in control. When I pull against His leading, I am only struggling out of His loving hand.

A surprising thing happens when I stop straining and allow my heavenly Father to lead me. When I let Him direct my life, I find that I’m happier than when I foolishly think I’m the one in charge. When I stop pounding my fists and demanding my way, I can open up my hands for God’s blessings.

Question: What discoveries have you made when you have let God take control?

 

Divine Makeover001

This post was adapted from my new book for teens and young women:

Divine Makeover: God Makes You Beautiful.

Perhaps you have been looking for a resource for your youth group or a study to do with your daughter. Or maybe you need a confirmation or graduation gift for a lovely young woman.

Check out Divine Makeover at CPH and Amazon.