When You Feel Defeated

CUBS WIN! CUBS WIN! CUBS WIN!

My son texted me with these words when our home team, the loveable-loser Cubs got into the World Series. Truthfully, I was stunned. And even more amazed at what happened in the next week and a half.

On Sunday when the Cubs were down three games to one–I’ll admit, I thought this was the end of their remarkable season. A victory seemed too unlikely. Once again the team would go home as the loveable losers.

But then they won and won again and won again! After 108 years, the Chicago Cubs were once more the best in baseball.

If you don’t live in Chicago or don’t care much for baseball–this victory probably doesn’t matter to you.

But the whole scenario reminds me of another unlikely victory.

Ever since Adam and Eve bit into that apple, the human race was on a losing team. We lost our righteousness, our health, our very lives. Sin and pain and death entered into the world. We were forever lost.

But then a new player joined the team. A man, to be sure, but also God. Jesus came to bat for us–to do what we couldn’t do.

He lived the perfect life we were unable to manage. He took our sin and our punishment. On Good Friday, it looked like defeat. Everyone thought the worst. But three days later, Jesus rose again–the ultimate unlikely victory!

Now Jesus says to us,

These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world. John 16:33

Perhaps today you feel like you are losing. You are down three games to one and victory seems impossible. You’re beaten down by pain. Or by financial hardship. Or by disappointment and discouragement. That’s when you need to remember Jesus’ unlikely victory on your behalf.

In Jesus, we will overcome. It may not look exactly like the victory you envisioned. Perhaps you will have to battle through many more games to get victory. But in Jesus it is possible. He promises, “I have overcome the world. Anything that seems too hard for you, I can conquer. Trust me. Even when all seems lost. Trust me.”

Next step: What victory are you waiting for? Write out a prayer, thanking Jesus for the triumph that He will bring–in this world or the next.

when-you-feel-defeated

Three Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was Waiting

WaitingLingerInHisPresence

Are you sitting in one of life’s waiting rooms?

Waiting for Mr. Right? For a child? For a new job?

I’ve been there too. And I have to admit, I didn’t wait well.

I complained. I griped. I made sure God knew that I didn’t like the way things were going.

But I’ve been learning a bit about waiting lately. And what I’ve discovered is that although we may hate waiting–God can use the pause in our plans for our good.

This past week I read Psalm 130. I love these verses:

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
    and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
    more than watchmen for the morning,
    more than watchmen for the morning. (verses 5-6)

To dig into this passage a little deeper, I looked up the word wait in the Hebrew dictionary. The word translated “wait” in the ESV is from the Hebrew word qavah. This Hebrew word has several meanings–and teaches three things about waiting that I wish I had known when I was in experiencing a serious delay in my plans.

Three Lessons About Waiting from the Hebrew Word Qavah

3ThingsWaitingTo wait is to look eagerly for. The first meaning for qavah emphasizes how we are to wait–with eagerness and certainty. In verse 6 of Psalm 130 the psalmist compares the waiting of his soul to the waiting of the night watchman. The gloom of the night may seem long to the watchman, but he is sure of one thing–morning will come. While he is watching, he is certain there is an end to the wait.

Though our lives may seem terribly black at times, we can also be sure that God is always there for us. He is always working things out for our good. We can eagerly look for His solution to our problems.

To wait is to linger. The second meaning stresses a positive side of waiting. Usually waiting has a negative connotation. We hate waiting at the checkout line. Or for our food at Olive Garden. Or for someone to answer the phone after we’ve been on hold for 20 minutes!

But to linger is a contented way to wait. We linger over the last few drops of coffee with a friend–waiting just a few more minutes before we have to part. We linger in the sunshine at the beach–waiting a moment longer before going back to the noise of the world.

God invites us to view a season of waiting as a time to linger in His presence. Time to hang out with Him a few more hours. Time to linger in His love and peace.

God invites us to view a season of waiting as a time to linger in His presence. Click To Tweet

To wait is to collect or bind together. The third definition of the Hebrew word is a meaning we don’t have for our English word wait. Qavah can mean “to bind together.”  Waiting is hard. But it can be a time to grow closer to God–a time to connect with Him like never before. Think about it. When do you feel closest to God? When all your plans are moving along smoothly? Or when you are desperately wanting God to answer your prayers?

I have to admit–I spend a lot more time on my knees when life throws me a crisis and God isn’t fixing it as quickly as I would like. As I wait, God often reveals Himself to me in a way I haven’t experienced before. He shows me deep truths in His Word. He demonstrates His unfailing love in unexpected ways.

Are you experiencing a serious pause in your plans? Grab onto these three lessons while you’re waiting.

Look eagerly for God in your situation–expect Him to come through.

Linger in His presence.

Use the time of delay to grow closer to God.

Next step: Write out Psalm 130:5-6 on a note card or sticky note. Add the definition of qavah that speaks to you today. Post the note where you will see it often this week.

The Key to Unlock the Chains of “Doing”

being a doer can in the way of

“What did you do today?”

It’s an innocent question. One I usually like to answer. One I often use to get a conversation going.

It’s even a question I often ask myself.

I’m a doer. You too? We doers like to accomplish things. We make massive to-do lists and find glee in placing little check marks next to completed jobs. (Sometimes we even write down tasks we’ve finished that weren’t on the list just so we can make that satisfying check mark.)

But this week while I was reading and meditating on the psalms, God spoke to me about all my “doing.”

The Key to Unlock the Chains of -Doing-I was reading Psalm 118:5:

In my anguish I cried to the Lord, and he answered by setting me free.

And the Holy Spirit highlighted the phrase “setting me free.” The phrase unsettled my soul. But I couldn’t figure out why.

The phrase conjured up images of chains falling off swollen wrists. Of bursting out of a dark dungeon into blinding sunshine. Of running through a swaying field of flowers.

I asked God why my heart needed to hear that particular phrase.

And the answer was that I have been bound to the chains of “doing.” Being a doer is not a bad thing. But it can get in the way of being a child of God if I am basing my value on my accomplishments. If I’m focusing on what I can do. If I view myself as worthless when my efforts don’t get the results I would like.

In that simple little phrase, “setting me free,” the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart: What if instead of focusing on what you have done, instead of staring at what you haven’t done (ahem where I’ve failed), you began to concentrate on what God has done?

Later in Psalm 118 there is another phrase that grabbed my heart: “proclaim what the Lord has done” (verse 17).

In fact, Psalm 118 is full of things the Lord has done: He has

  • loved me forever (verse 1)
  • set me free (verse 5)
  • helped me (verse 7)
  • protected me (verse 8)
  • done mighty things (verse 16)

And when I look back on the past few weeks of my life, I see that He has:

  • given my husband a good health report–no cancer!
  • helped me recover from a bad cold
  • given me time with my daughter and her family
  • granted me a new book contract

When I focus on “what the Lord has done” the chains of doing and the pressure of accomplishing fall away. 

I am set free.

Next step: What has the Lord done for you this week? Make a list. And as you focus on what God has done, feel the pressure of accomplishment fall away. 

 

4 Steps to Take When You’re Discouraged

WHEN I'M IN THE DESERT OF DISAPPOINTMENTI NEED TO REMEMBERONLY GOD CAN QUENCH MY THRIST

Years ago a friend came to our house broken and discouraged. His heart was more than bruised. It had been stomped on, kicked in, and used as a punching bag.

His wife had just asked for a divorce.

My husband is a pastor and this man was not only a friend, but a member of our congregation. He came to my husband for counseling. For support.

That first night all we did was hug him. Cry with him.Sit in shock with him.

He came often to talk with my husband, but one day he arrived when my husband wasn’t home yet. This twenty-something man shuffled in like a person sixty years older. Shoulders slumped, he made his way to the sofa, but didn’t even make it to the seat. Instead he slid down to the floor in a ball of tears and desperation.

My kids were running around the house and I wasn’t sure what to do. So I just slumped down on the floor, leaning against a nearby chair, and sat with him.

As his sadness permeated the room and my own soul, I remembered Psalm 42–the place I always go when my heart is shattered. While we sat on the floor I shared how this psalm encourages me when I’m in a pit of discouragement.

Acknowledge the Feelings

King David must have been in a broken state when he wrote the words:

Why am I discouraged?
    Why is my heart so sad? (Psalm 42:5a)

I love how David talks to his soul. He takes the first step and acknowledges the sadness, the depression, the emptiness.

The first step I take is to recognize all the pain in my heart. I name the emotions no matter how ugly. 

4 STEPS-DISCOURAGEDLook Toward God

But David doesn’t let his heart stay in that desperate place. He immediately encourages his soul:

I will put my hope in God!
    I will praise him again—
    my Savior and  my God! (Psalm 42:5b)

The second step to take when I’m heartbroken and discouraged is to stop looking at the problem and remind my heart to look toward God. 

After I acknowledge my discouragement I need to turn to the Source of hope.

Remember God’s Help in the Past

Next I need to remember how God has brought me through all my other deep and desperate places. David wrote:

 Now I am deeply discouraged,
    but I will remember you—
even from distant Mount Hermon, the source of the Jordan,
    from the land of Mount Mizar. (Psalm 42:6)

I need to recall how the Lord has guided me through my valleys and back to the mountaintop. He has brought me through sadness and depression before. He will do it again.

Turn Times of Discouragement Into Times of Intimacy with God.

Finally, I need to realize that times of discouragement can be a time of intimacy with God. 

David wrote:

As the deer longs for streams of water,
    song for you, O God. Psalm 42:1

When the world stomps on my heart there is Someone who can mend it. and satisfy my soul. When I face deserts of disappointment, I need to realize that God is the only One who can truly quench my thirst and satisfy my soul.

When I face deserts of disappointment, I realize God is the only One who can truly quench my thirst. Click To Tweet

I’m not sure my words of encouragement helped my friend going through a divorce more than just sitting with him.

But Psalm 42 is the place I go when discouragement and disappointment visit my life.


Psalm 42 is the first psalm in Book II which includes Psalms 42-75. This book of psalms is sometimes called the “Elohim Psalter Part 1” because Elohim is the name for God used most often. Elohim is the Hebrew name for God that is used in the very first sentence of the Bible. So the name Elohim reminds us that He is the Creator, the One who began it all. Many of the psalms in Book II are written by David, but some are written by the sons of Korah– Levites that David put in charge of music at the tabernacle.


 

Next step: Are you brokenhearted or discouraged? Which of the four steps do you need to take today? Acknowledging your feeling? Looking away from the problem and toward God? Remember God’s help in the past? Realizing this time of disappointment may lead to greater intimacy with God? Journal your response.

Directions to the Perfect Way

 

God'sDirections

When my husband is driving, I sometimes  often need to resist the urge to give directions. You see, I want to say things like:

You’ll want to turn left here.

It’s better if you avoid that road.

You’re going that way?

And it’s all because I think my way is better.

Now, over the years my tendency to be a back-seat driver has slightly diminished because I have realized something:

My husband knows the way.

I have often struggled with being a backseat driver in my life as well. I know God is supposed to be the One steering me through the course of life, but I want to be the one in charge. 

As I have been reading through the psalms, God continually reminds me that He knows the way. The best way.

Psalm 18 says:

As for God, his way is perfect:
    The Lord’s word is flawless;
    he shields all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 18:30)

PerfectWayDavid tells me that God’s way is perfect. The Hebrew word for way is derek which means road, journey, path, or course of life. And the word perfect in Hebrew means complete and whole. It is used often in the Old Testament to describe the animals that were to be brought for sacrifice in the temple–without blemish.

God’s path or road through life is complete.

It isn’t deficient or lacking.

It is not defective or flawed.

Although the world continually tries to get me to follow current trends and popular advice, it usually doesn’t take me long to discover those ways are inadequate.

Only God’s way is perfect. In other words, if I follow God’s directions, I will always be on the right road.

David takes this idea of God’s perfect path a step further in verse 32:

It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. (Psalm 18:32)

This makes things a little more personal. It might be fairly easy for me to agree with the fact that God’s way is perfect–for other people.

But to believe that God makes my way perfect means I have to stop giving the directions and be willing to take them. It means I have to admit:

My way is flawed

My way is deficient

My way is not perfect.

Not very easy for this recovering control freak.

But God invites me to take His hand while He guides me on the path He has designed and trust that it truly is perfect for me.

God invites me to take His hand and trust that the path He has designed is truly perfect for me. Click To Tweet

In His love, the Father has laid out a road that brings me closer to Him.

In His wisdom He has found the best lane to travel in.

In His power He enables me to follow the route He has planned.


Background information: Psalm 18 is a personal psalm of praise. It was written by David, a “servant of the Lord.” David instructed the choirmaster to use this song to the Lord on the day when the Lord rescued him form the hand of his enemies–especially Saul. If you would like to join me in reading through the psalms during this Lenten season, download this free reading guide.


Next step: Pray with me, “Lord, forgive me when I have doubted that Your way is perfect. When I have insisted on a path of my own choosing, no matter how flawed or incomplete it was. Help me to wholeheartedly believe that You are guiding me on the best possible path to a fulfilling life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

The Mystery of Psalm 23

JesusShepherd

During the 40 days of Lent I am reading through the Psalms. Why don’t you join me? Click here to download the Lenten reading guide. 

When I was a little girl I loved hearing Psalm 23 read in church. It was easy to picture Jesus as a shepherd because in the sanctuary there was a huge stained glass window of Jesus holding a staff in one hand and a snow-white lamb in the other.

However, there was one thing about that psalm that always puzzled me. When the pastor read, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” it sounded like the guy who wrote the psalm didn’t want Jesus to be his shepherd.

And that just didn’t make any sense.

Finally, one Sunday I asked my mother to explain that verse. She told me that the writer was trying to say that because Jesus was his shepherd he didn’t want anything else.

Well, that made a little more sense, but how could that be?

I mean, how could you not want chocolate ice-cream cones? Or Barbie dolls? Or sleepover parties?

Even now–all grown up–I want Jesus to be my Shepherd. But sometimes it’s hard not to want other things. Like family to be close. Like friends who don’t move away. Like health for my loved ones.

mysteryPsalm23But maybe having Jesus as my Shepherd, doesn’t necessarily mean automatic contentment here on earth.

Look at the way the NIV (1984) translates that verse:

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.” Psalm 23:1

This take on the verse assures me that Jesus my Shepherd will give me what I need. I won’t be in a state of want. I might not have everything I desire, but I will have everything I need.

The rest of Psalm 23 tells us everything that God provides:

  • food and water (v. 2)
  • rest (v. 2)
  • restoration (v.3)
  • guidance (v. 3)
  • protection (v. 4)
  • His presence (v. 4)
  • goodness and love (v. 6)
  • eternal life (v. 6)

What do you most need today? Where does it fit in the list above? Look up that verse now.

Maybe you no longer yearn for Barbie dolls or sleepovers. But life is hard and we often have unfulfilled longings.

Take all your desires to the Shepherd. Trust that He will carry you in His arms today and give you exactly what you need.


 

Background information for Psalm 23: Psalm 23 is in the first book of Psalms (which includes Psalms 1-41). The psalm is a psalm of trust. It was written by David who grew up tending sheep. He knew firsthand the duties and responsibilities of a shepherd. Read the psalm here.


 

Next step: Write down your greatest need (or desire). Look up the corresponding verse in Psalm 23. Write it on a card to carry with you today or on sticky note to post it where you can see it often. Picture yourself being carried like a lamb in the arms of Jesus.

 

When Your Life Takes a Plot Twist

This week I’m privileged to be featured on the incourage site. If you’re not familiar with this site you might want to sign up to get their posts–wonderful, encouraging stuff every day!

I love a good story. I like getting lost in a fictional world filled with interesting characters and an intriguing plot. Give me romance and mystery. Provide me with adventure and astonishing developments in the storyline.

In my own life, however, I greatly prefer a predictable plot. I would like my life to have the pace of a well-crafted story of my own choosing. No unexpected plot twists for me, please. Just pleasant days filled with laughter and friends. Years of successful work and close family ties.

Unfortunately real life isn’t like that. The plot that I planned out for my time on earth simply hasn’t materialized. Every chapter has had surprise twists. Events I expected to happen never did. Things I said I would not do under any circumstances became the very things God asked me to embrace.

Recently life delivered an unexpected development in my life tale.

My husband has been diagnosed with lymphoma….

To continue reading, click here to head over to (in)courage

When You’re In the Waiting Room of Life

 

waitingroomoflife

Are you in a season of waiting?

One of my friends feels like she is in a state of limbo right now. She and her husband are considering moving away from cold Illinois winters to a warmer climate. But because they have not yet made the decision to move to a new location, my friend also feels like she can’t move forward in life. Should she avoid getting involved in activities here because they will be moving soon? Or should she dive into new experiences because they are staying?

The waiting room of life is an uncomfortable spot. As we sit, waiting for a door to open to our next phase of life, we wonder, “What now?” and “What next?”

And just like in a doctor’s waiting room, when we are forced to wait we are at a loss of what to do. How many times can you read the same 6-month-old Golf Digest magazine? How many times can you pray the same prayer for direction?

One of the verses I hang onto when I’m in the waiting room of life is Psalm 5:3:

In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice, in the morning I lay my request before you and wait in expectation.

waitingroomoflifePinI love the last phrase, “Wait in expectation.” When we’re waiting on God we can expect Him to do something wonderful. He promises you that He has “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). He assures you and me that He can rearrange all our rotten circumstances because He “works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

The problem comes when I place my expectations in something other than God. I get in trouble when I expect life to be free of disappointment. Jesus told us to expect life problems, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). I will often be disillusioned when I expect people to fill all my needs.

So when I’m in the waiting room of life I need to go back to God. Like the psalmist, I need to bring my request every morning, trusting that He will hear my voice. I need to hang onto His promises. I need to believe in His goodness.When I'm in the waiting room of life, I need to hang onto God's promises and trust in His goodness. Click To Tweet

And then I need to wait in expectation. Hang onto His promised plan. Trust in His amazing love. Relax in His enveloping peace.

Wait in expectation.

 

 

Finding Faith When Life Hurts

GoToJesus

Today I’m over at my friend Meadow Rue’s blog. Meadow Rue Merrill is an award-winning writer, contributing magazine editor and mom of six including Ruth, who was adopted from Uganda. Meadow doesn’t wear a clerical collar. She didn’t graduate from seminary, but she believes that God is intimately involved in her everyday life, an experience she shares in her weekly newspaper column, “Faith Notes.”

The year started with ominous news. A few days into 2015 our family doctor called with the results of my husband’s recent CT scan. “Sorry to say—” His voice broke. “It looks like lymphoma.”

So began a journey we never wanted. After the initial phone call there were biopsies and PET scans. My husband, John, had appointments with cancer specialists and oncology nurses. We learned the jargon of sickness that no one really wants to know.

The first day of chemotherapy, John sat in the infusion chair for seven hours having two powerful medicines pumped into the port near his right shoulder. The first medicine had to be administered slowly – for five hours it slowly dripped into his veins. When the oncology nurse came with the second bag, she wore a Hazmat-style suit of goggles, gown, and gloves. And this is what they are putting inside my husband? I thought…

Continue reading at Meadow Rue’s site

Great Expectations: What to Do When Life Disappoints

 

great expectations

A while back, my husband and I were scrolling through Netflix, trying to find something to watch. I spied a movie with a plot line described as, “An accomplished pianist’s life takes a terrible turn. An aimless college students becomes her caregiver and the two form a bond that enriches both their lives.”

The movie had me at “accomplished pianist.” As a pianist myself, I’m drawn to stories about musicians. This movie sounded perfect.

The only problem was the movie wasn’t really about a musician. The main character only played the piano once. Music never had a major role in the plot. I was disappointed.

The movie did not live up to my expectations.

Life is like that too, right? I mean, most of us have experienced disappointments, setbacks, even tragedies that we did not expect. All our hopes and dreams become like deflated balloons that sink from the ceiling and lay around on the floor.

And if we’re not careful, our joy and trust can burst and disappear.

I think the problem is when we put our hopes and expectations in the wrong things. We expect life to treat us well. If you live in America, the land based on the “pursuit of happiness,” you expect your life to improve, to get better every day.

However, Jesus told us if that is our view of life, it will not live up to our expectations. He said, “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). Living in this sin-sickened world, we really can’t assume we’ll have a perfect life. Instead we can expect pain, sickness, and stinking problems.

This sounds pretty grim, until I realize that there is Someone worthy of my expectations. God has promised to never leave me, never forsake me. He is faithful. He is loving. He is good. While my life here won’t be perfect, I can expect God to always come through when I need Him. I can trust that He has a fantastic plan for my life.

John 3:14-15 (MSG) says:

In the same way that Moses lifted the serpent in the desert so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up—and everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life.

John 315

Look to Jesus–trusting and expectant–and your life will be real. Maybe it won’t be the life you had planned. Maybe it won’t be the life you had carefully arranged. Maybe it won’t be the life you had shaped in your mind. But trusting in the God who loves you more than you know will give the life you were meant for.

Life won’t live up to our expectations. But God will never let us down.

Next step: What part of your life is not living up to your expectations right now? Write it on a piece of paper and offer it to God in prayer. Ask Him to help you let it go. Pray that He will help you trust Him for the most awesome life possible.