Everything that Hinders

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I memorized Hebrews 12:1 and in the middle of it are these words, “let us throw off everything that hinders”. I’ve thought about those words a lot over the last few weeks. I’ve been thinking about them because I knew God was asking me to do something I’ve failed at in the past (or at least I considered a failure). I spent a lot of time praying and asking if He truly was prompting me. I reminded Him of my past failures. I decided someone much more qualified should step in. I really didn’t want to mess things up or make any part of this situation about me. It must always be about Him, His plan, His purpose and His will. And so after wrestling for several days, I told God I would do whatever He wanted.

During those days of wrestling these words made me realize I had been wearing my past mistakes as a cloak. They were weighing me down preventing me from moving forward. The hurt had turned to fear and the fear was stifling me. Worst of all, I allowed it. I lived there, in the safe place unwilling to step out for fear of failure once again. That was until God told me to “throw off” the very thing that was hindering me.

So, I sit here a few weeks later, after completing the task, with a thankful heart. He truly was my strength in weakness. He did the very thing He said He would do. I doubted. I was fearful. I was sure I’d fail. But He knew the outcome. And He allowed me to step outside of my natural inclinations to do something special. The thing about it was the task He asked me to do wasn’t all that magnificent. It was something terribly simple. But the effects were huge.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Hebrews 12:1 NIV)

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Seasons

lemonThe Christmas decorations were placed back in their rightful containers. Some were wrapped with care, others placed without protection. They will stay in those boxes until the end of the year when we again celebrate the season. It’s always a sad time, packing away the trinkets. Many carry precious memories. But life moves on and it’s time for the next season. So we put them away until Christmas comes again.

Our lives are marked by seasons. Some seasons overflow with joy. We celebrate. We embrace the blessings God provides. We are thankful. Seasons of joy are what we live for. They excite us. They remind us we are loved. They give us a reason to celebrate. But would we honestly understand true joy without pain?

No one looks forward to seasons of pain. Not one person hopes for struggles. People don’t ask for hardship or tragedy or dark times and yet they come. They come because it is in those times we see strength. We persevere. We fall to our knees and beg for God to walk with us. It’s in those difficult times we understand God and His love a little more. And when we struggle through coming to the end of another season, we are forever changed. Our perception has been altered. The world around us hasn’t changed but the way we see it has. And joy, what about joy? Joy is that much sweeter.

Each January, we make promises and resolve to live better. It all sounds great but I have far more failed resolutions than successful ones. For me, change doesn’t come because of a date on the calendar or the time on a watch. My life changes through experiences. Those experiences are called seasons. And each season is important. It adds to my life. It changes me. It makes me the person God intended. As hard as life can be sometimes, I wouldn’t give up any seasons, good or difficult.

So, for the New Year I hope to look more intently to see God. I want to be thankful when life is grand and all of my prayers are answered. And I want to see His gentle hand when things seem unfair. More than anything, I want to use those seasons and memories and experiences to bless the people He places in my path.

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance,  perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:3-4 NIV)

Where is God When we Fall?

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Soccer season is in full swing. Early morning games on the weekends make us yearn for the off season until we arrive on the open field moistened with dew. The air is chilled and there is an underlying hope that this game will be epic. It wasn’t any different this weekend. Parents stood there with coffee as the girls began their warm-up routine. They had to win or tie to make the finals. After an hour, the team came away with another win. Oh it wasn’t an easy win, they had to fight for it making the victory that much sweeter. In the end, it moved them into a tie for first place. Their only reward was facing the aggressive and sometimes dirty team again. Regardless, they marched to the next battle.

Four games in two days will wear out even the most physically fit person. But these girls didn’t show any signs of exhaustion. They went to the field determined to win. They knew the championship was within reach because they had tied this team the day before. It was a tough game. The girls were aggressive, insulting and obnoxious but our team charged on. Every girl on that field fought hard and when their opponent scored, they fought even harder.

The score was 1-0 with the opposing team ahead. The clock was running out when our striker got the ball and headed for the goal. She outran their defenders but only by a few steps. We held our breath. This was it. When she made this goal she would tie the game pushing the deciding factor to penalty kicks. She planned her attack glancing toward the defenders when all of the sudden she tripped. She fell to her knees sitting on the ball. Her moment was over. The hope of a tie score had diminished as the ref blew his whistle giving the other team a free kick. Our striker was devastated. Those of us cheering her on fell silent.

My girl’s team lost. They finished in second place even though they played well. The coach worked hard to encourage them but their disappointment was obvious. Our striker hung her head refusing to be consoled. Her Dad, knowing her regret, made his way to her. Lifting her head, she looked at her father. Immediately her eyes flooded with tears. That tough young lady stood there and cried as her father held her.

Life is a battle. It’s hard to balance all we have to do. We have demands placed on us. There are things we are required to do. We struggle day in and day out to do the right thing, to have the right attitude and to honor Christ with our lives. Some days are victorious. Others we want to forget. But always, and I mean always, whether in joy or in pain, our Father is there. He celebrates with us and He comforts us when we fall down. There is nothing that can keep Him from coming to us because His deepest desire is to be with us.

As you walk through this week, know He walks with you. He is cheering you on. He is for you. He will guide you and show you the way. And when you trip and fall, He will offer you a hand up and a shoulder to cry on. He’s that kind of Father.

The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him;  though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.

(Psalm 37:23-24 NIV)

The Journey Home

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It’s been a while since I took the time to sit and write. We traveled to visit family this summer and returned with only one week before beginning the new school year. I’ve missed my time praying, pondering and waiting for the Lord to speak to my heart. I’ve been thinking of this post for a couple of weeks though. I hope you enjoy it.

Our journey to return home was not as we had anticipated. We hoped for light traffic. We wished for dry weather. Unfortunately, our expectations were shattered with the heaviest traffic we had ever experienced on a trip. When the traffic cleared, we were met with torrential downpours. It was slow going for much of the journey home but we stayed the course. We finished, even if it was a few hours later than we had planned.

God doesn’t always answer our prayers in our time. Sometimes, His answer comes later. A few years ago I read Crazy Love by Francis Chan. It was a book challenging readers to step out of comfort to work diligently for the Lord. At the time I prayed. I asked God to show me. I continued to serve where I was but I wanted more. The thing is, it’s now three years later and I finally see what God wants me to do. I’m joining a ministry that brings the gospel into public schools. Several months ago, my church asked for volunteers and I knew this was where God wanted me. But why did God wait three years to answer?

You see, four years ago, I put two of my children into public school. I had home schooled them but they wanted to go to school. I knew the Lord had been prompting me to send them but I didn’t want to obey. I reluctantly gave in and it has proven to be one of the biggest blessings of our lives. When they first started, I went and had lunch with them at school. They were allowed to invite two friends to join us. They became popular and I became the “Cool Mom”. But that wasn’t what God had in mind. He was working in my heart developing a love for the children. As I sat and listened to their stories, I saw how precious they were. I never expected God to use this situation to grow a burden to share Jesus.

At the time of my prayer, I couldn’t understand why God wouldn’t use me if I was so willing. Now I see that He was preparing me. Thinking back on our journey home, it reminded me there is a purpose in the slow traffic. There is a reason for the torrential downpours. If there is a delay, it is because God ordained it. And we will get to our destination precisely when the Lord determines.

I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees their fruit. (Lev. 26:4 NIV)

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He Never Gives Up

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When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved. (Acts 27:20 NIV)

This verse is tucked away in Acts. Paul, a prisoner, was being transported when the storm hit. It wasn’t just a little storm, the Bible says, “a wind of hurricane force, called the Northeaster” came upon them. They couldn’t sail into the storm. Instead, the storm pushed them around. It was relentless and eventually, after many days, the crew lost hope.

Hope is an interesting concept. If you have it, your outlook is bright. You can withstand anything knowing whatever circumstances you are in will end. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. If you can just hold on, everything will be alright, eventually. But the men on this ship had lost hope. They gave in to the fear of death. They assumed all was lost, until Paul spoke up.

Paul stood before them reminding them of his previous admonition to stay put. He told them not to sail but they didn’t listen. They sailed for a living. They knew what to look for. They had no idea the storm was coming and if they did, they didn’t expect it to be so severe. Now Paul stood again to speak, and they listened.

Time and time again, God speaks to His people and they don’t listen. Their arrogance keeps them from hearing and obeying. They finally had ears to hear once they were out of options. I have found myself doing the same thing in life. I am presented with a circumstance and rather than ask God for direction, I exhaust every other avenue. I come up with option after option to solve this problem. It isn’t until I realize I’ve done everything I can think of, do I seek wisdom from God.

Certainly, God gave us a brain to use. He gave us intelligence. But ultimately, He wants us to allow Him into every area of our lives. He wants to be involved but we forget to listen. I’m thankful He never loses hope in us. He keeps at it teaching and guiding and blessing. He never gives up!

For God so Loved…

 

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(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of my favorite shows of all time is Little House on the Prairie. The episodes were heartwarming and showed the struggles of living in such a time. One of my favorite episodes is a Christmas episode where Laura sells her horse in order to buy a much needed stove for her Mom. It’s a secret she has with the store owner who promises to deliver the stove on Christmas morning. Her love for her Mom prompted her to give up her most valued possession, her horse.

I thought of that episode as I was sitting and looking at my Christmas decorations this morning, specifically the manger scene. It’s just a little wooden barn holding some ceramic figurines, but it represents much more. It represents a loving God who was willing to surrender His most treasured possession in order to have a relationship with us.  

The first Christmas was ever so simplistic. There was no fanfare, no celebrities, and no lights. People were not camping out for the best deals or paying ridiculous prices for the most popular toy. There was just a young girl, her soon to be husband and a room full of animals. The most precious gift for all mankind came wrapped in a baby. Simple.

Everyone has different feelings this time of year. Some are excited while others are overwhelmed. There are those grieving and others who are filled with joy. Whatever you are feeling, the message of Christmas is the same. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 NIV)

Prayer Warrior Wednesday ~ Intercession

 

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(Photo credit: Waiting For The Word)

And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Romans 8:27 NIV)

Several months ago, I was answering phones at a ministry when I received a call from a very upset woman. She was overwhelmed with her situation and upset at the apparent outcome. She was worried about the opinions of others and she wondered if God saw her predicament. She knew what she had to do and was reluctant. Mostly, she was frustrated. She had tried everything and nothing worked. I think a part of her blamed God.

I listened as she shared her story. She was growing increasingly agitated so I asked if I could pray with her. Her reaction was one of relief. I wonder if she was struggling to pray. I know how that feels. So, I prayed with the woman. I asked God to work in her life. Mostly, I asked God to remind her she was loved. As I prayed, I could hear the woman crying. Her mood changed drastically. She went from anger to humility. What happened?

I can’t be sure, but it seemed to me the woman went from holding on to letting go and allowing God to move. She was holding tight to her answer to the solution. She knew if God would only do this or that, her problem would be solved. The reality was, God had another path He wanted to lead her on. He wanted her to trust Him.

By the end of that phone call, nearly an hour later, the woman was changed. She was no longer angry. The woman who formerly looked at her situation as hopeless had new joy. Her hope had been restored, not because her situation had changed, but because she had a change of heart. This transformation was the work of the Holy Spirit.

Our prayer focus today is intercession. There are times, prompted by the Holy Spirit; God calls us to pray for a specific person. Sometimes hearts are closed to the work of God, opening the door to frustration, anger or even stubbornness. The mind is convinced of the belief there is only one way to solve a problem. But God always has plan. To intercede means to open the pathway for God to work. Our prayers help to break down the barrier preventing progress. Sometimes, He calls another believer to step in to pray for the one who cannot pray for themselves.

I had the privilege of speaking to that woman on a couple other occasions. Her voice was joyful and more importantly, hopeful. That prayer had released the weight holding her back. She was free to walk the road the Lord had laid out for her. She now had complete confidence everything was in God’s hands. Most importantly, she knew she was loved.